Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Paying the Bill

The last time I took the dog to the vet, there was a young man with a very sick pit bull who was concluding his visit while I waited. The vet gave him detailed instructions and said she wanted to see the dog again in few days to see how the dog was getting on. And then the discussion turned to how he was going to pay the bill. He wanted to arrange to make payments, and as part of that process, they asked him for his driver’s license.

Well, there was a problem: he couldn’t give them his driver’s license because the police had confiscated it. He promised to bring the money when he came for the follow-up visit.

Somehow, I was not very surprised when he got behind the wheel of the SUV parked next to my car and drove off… so in addition to whatever he had done to lose his license, he was now “driving while revoked.”

Taking a sick pet to the vet can get very expensive very quickly:

My husband’s sister spent $15,000 or more on her dog.

My niece spent $5,000 on her cat. 

So the $156 it cost us to treat Mollywog that day and the $300 vet bill we just paid when my husband took the Squeaker in a few days ago don't seem quite that bad.

It is not hard to imagine the emotional turmoil people who are poor or who are living on a fixed income must go through when their beloved pet is sick and they have to figure out how to pay for it, or simply not take the pet in for treatment and hope it gets better.

We began taking Squeaker to that vet 16 years ago, and she was probably already 2 years old when our son gave her to us in trade for the miserable cat I had rescued from the vet, who hated us but loved him.

So she is old, and she is declining, and we don’t think she will live very much longer. So why bother? Why not let nature take its course?

Well, we have never forgiven ourselves for neglecting to properly take care of our first dog—we failed to get his teeth cleaned, an infection developed in a tooth, which made an abscess that formed a fistula into his nasal cavity, and infection spread throughout his body and caused his organs to start failing and we had to put him down—so we have to make sure for our own conscience that anything that is wrong with her that can be reasonably treated is taken care of.

So we now we know she does not have diabetes and she does not have a thyroid condition, and other things that can plague a cat are being treated.

She may indeed drop dead tomorrow, but at least we have done what we could.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Serious Booty

On Wednesday, for the first time in 2 months, I was able get in the house by walking up the stairs without him having to push me around the house in the wheelchair so I could use the ramp. Our house is on a slope, so pushing me around the house was a strenuous ordeal for him and rather scary for me (he ran me into the side of the house twice). What a relief!

Walking in the “boot” is not exactly easy, however, even with a walker. Imagine wearing a 2-inch platform-type shoe on one foot and a perfectly flat shoe on the other. Aside from the extra height, the bottom of the boot is slightly rounded to distribute the pressure evenly, which creates a rocking effect. So in addition to some added stress on the joints from having legs that are two different lengths, it is easy to loose one’s balance.

I have visited with two women recently who had similar operations on their feet and were supposed to wear a boot neither of them could do it. I understand why.

I don’t have a 2-inch platform shoe to wear on my right foot, so I initially thought wearing the boot that Richard wore after his Achilles tendon repair might be a solution.

I thought walking would be a little easier because both feet would be about even. And at first it was. But after several hours though, I realized that plan wasn’t going to work. His boot came up too high on my leg and made it difficult to bend my knee when I wanted to stand up or sit down. And with two “rocking” feet, I almost fell several times trying to get up.

The muscles in both of my legs have atrophied because of lack of use for 2 months so I tire easily. That’s okay though. I’ll get my strength back.

He did indeed hear the words he did not want to hear: I will be in the boot for 3 weeks before I can transition to a regular shoe with a brace, so he is not done with his dog walking duties. But I am happy to report that he did not become homicidal when he heard the news (see the previous post), and the surgeon survived our visit with his throat intact.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Decision-Day Approaches

He returned early this morning from taking Molly the Moron (as he has taken to calling her) on her walk, with thunder on his face, and I think he must have brooded about what went on during the walk most of the morning. He has been a trooper taking over for me with her during the past two months, but he does not like walking the dog.

She is a very difficult dog to walk if one is intending to make it a “power walk,” which is what he wants to do. If one wants to just stroll along with plenty of stops on the way, then all is good.

She only weighs 15 pounds, so it isn’t like one has to try to control a big powerful dog like a Labrador Retriever or a German Shepherd that wants to do what it wants to do and drags the hapless owner along behind.

No, the problem is that what she wants to do is to stop every 10 feet or so to sniff and check out the area for something to hunt.

Thus, for your walk, we took ourselves, and went
Out by the hedge and the tree to the open ground.
You ran, in delightful strata of wafted scent,
Over the hill without seeing the view;
Beauty is smell upon primitive smell to you:
To you, as to us, it is distant and rarely found.
Harold Monro

And if she does find something interesting, then she will dig in her heels and refuse to budge from that spot. If one isn’t careful and has forgotten to attach the safety strap that connects the harness to the collar, it will pull right off, leaving her loose.

It is particularly bad along the rights of way where he walks her because the grass is tall and teeming with small mammals and snakes.

He came back one day marveling at her athleticism. "She knew there was something in the tall grass alongside the road," he said, "and she stood there and cocked her head, listening for it, and then leaped 6 feet to get it, but it got away."

The breeds that were combined to create the Schnauzer (which she almost certainly is) were highly motivated to hunt, and she has all of their genes operating at full force in the instincts that drive her to obsess about catching and killing things. I have stopped trying to keep a tally of things she has killed (or almost killed if we were quick enough to rescue it) but the list includes shrews (at least 2), a squirrel, voles, mice, lizards, and several birds, and attempts to kill at least 2 snakes, which brought my heart into my throat worrying that it might be a copperhead she was going after.

He wasn't marveling at her today, though. Over lunch he turned to me and said,

“If he tells you you can’t walk for another 3 weeks I am going for the guy’s throat. I am becoming homicidal.”


It is too much to hope that I will be fully bipedal after tomorrow’s visit, but if I am allowed to at least partially walk with the boot and crutches, I might be able to get myself and the knee walker to the park and resume walking the Mollywog.

Keeping fingers crossed.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Kindness of Strangers

Once upon a time I started reading the “Series of Unfortunate Events” books by the author writing under the name of Lemony Snicket about three children whose “lives are filled with bad luck and misery. All of the stories about these three children are unhappy and wretched and will most likely fill you with deep despair…” and this quote from the author’s Web site is totally accurate. I started checking them out from the library. I read a few books in the series but finally quit because they really were just too depressing.

When unfortunate events befall our friends, however, we just can’t “quit” because what has happened to them is sad and depressing. Last summer a series of unfortunate events befell Judy, the woman who I consider my best friend. Her husband died of cancer on August 21. Charlie donated his body to a medical research institute, and she began to plan his memorial service and set the date in October.

However, those plans came to an abrupt halt because at the beginning of October, she fell off a step stool and broke the bones in her lower leg. She thinks she fell because the bones actually broke first. The break was very bad. The operation to permanently fix her leg had to be delayed because of the swelling, so during the first operation a temporary “erector set” was attached to her leg to keep it stable. Her leg was permanently repaired some weeks later... plates, pins, bone grafts. It took the orthopedic surgeon 9 hours to do it.

She was in the nursing home from October 2 until a day or two before Christmas. I became part of the cadre who went to her house during this time and fetched and carried and did “stuff” and visited her at the nursing home, where I met some delightful folk. I think it quite a remarkable testimony to Judy’s personality and how she affects people that her many friends were not just “fair weather” friends. They did not put her on the shelf, so to speak, because of the depressing things that were happening to her. She was not abandoned. In fact, two separate sets of friends invited her into their homes after she left the nursing home for some further rehab before she finally returned to her house.

And so Judy once again began planning Charlie’s memorial service, and we gathered on Saturday to honor his memory. It was quite a lovely tribute to him. She and the friends who helped her did an amazing job of presenting Charlie’s life in pictures and in displays of the things he was interested in, including books, the pottery he made, and the Native American artifacts and arrowheads he had collected along the way.

One feels that it is not quite right to say they had “fun” at a memorial service, but there were some very lighthearted moments after the service was over and the buffet was served.

Richard and I were among the first people through the buffet line, and we were sitting at a table by ourselves. I don’t know how long the table would have remained empty except for us, but I’ll never know because a woman named Marideth Sisco, a member of the Unitarian Universalist (UU) Fellowship Charlie and Judy belong to, got up from where she was sitting at another table and came over and sat across from Richard, saying, “You shouldn’t be sitting by yourselves. You need someone to talk to.”

We knew who she was, yes indeed we did, but she had no clue who we were. We were strangers.

Marideth Sisco is a local celebrity. She has a regular program on the local National Public Radio station, and she gained some national attention by performing some of the music on the soundtrack of the film Winter's Bone, which won the grand prize at the Sundance Film Festival the year it was released.

And because she was sitting at our table, others from the UU Fellowship, who probably would not have sat there otherwise, also drifted over, and lively conversation erupted.

Her act of kindness, which I appreciated very much, meant we did not spend the meal isolated and feeling awkward. I'm thinking this is a "go and do likewise" situation for the future.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

How Big Was It?

Well, it was pretty darn big. But before I go further, I better start at the beginning.

In the beginning, I was born with no aptitude whatsoever for mathematics. I got good grades in elementary school except in two subjects: handwriting and mathematics. My parents could do something about my bad handwriting – “When you start junior high school, you will take typing,” my father thundered at me. And they bought me Royal typewriter for 6th grade graduation.

However, they couldn't do anything about my problems with math, and they just about went nuts trying to help me. Later when I was in high school, they even hired a tutor for a while, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

I got really good grades in all of the other subjects I took through junior high, and when I started high school I was immediately shunted into the “college prep” track, which meant I got to take some serious math classes – no “dumbbell math” for me, no sirree.

I’ll spare the stories of my struggles with algebra 1 and 2 (one of which I had to take over in summer school) and geometry 1 and 2, and finally, trigonometry.

My high school counselor was a math teacher, and I think she was very disappointed that she couldn’t persuade me into calculus, but the hands writing on the report cards by this point were pretty conclusive, and I had had ENOUGH. Enough, I say.

I started college with the intent of becoming a biologist in the footsteps of my beloved Aunt Betty, but my ineptitude in math scuttled those plans, and so I studied history and American culture, which prepared me very well for being a teacher, but that plan got changed as well and so I ended up working at a newspaper and editing manuscripts.

But back to how big it was. One of the manuscripts I worked on this week was by authors who have made use of innovations in software to develop a technique where they can create 3D models of lung tumors from 2D imaging studies. For certain kinds of cancer, putting the patient through an operation is futile if the tumor is a certain size, which is sometimes hard to tell from the 2D images.

They reported tumor volumes of various sizes, including 500 and 450 cubic centimeters, etc.

Then I started thinking about it, which nearly got me into trouble. Just as a linear measurement, 500 cm seemed rather large: 500 cm is a little over 16 feet, so then extrapolating that out, 500 cubic centimeters would be the equivalent of 16 cubic feet, which is the size of a refrigerator.

Obviously, one cannot have a tumor the size of a refrigerator in their chest. Ridiculous.

Then I got to thinking some more and realized I almost certainly had misunderstood something. The minister of our church has taught math at the college level, so I figured she could help, and indeed she did. She explained what was wrong with my logic in such a kind and gentle way. Bless her. She suggested I calculate the volume of one of my books, which I did, and it all became clear. 

But the worst thing that almost happened is that I had put a query in the manuscript to the authors pointing all this out (ie, 500 cubic centimeters was the equivalent size of a refrigerator). I can’t even imagine what would have happened if I had not removed that query before I sent the manuscript back.

No, that’s not true – I can imagine very well what might have happened… and it isn’t pretty.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Starting the Day Off Right

“…the dawn chorus would subside in another hour, but the wood thrush would persist for a long time into the morning, then pick up again in the early evening or even at midday if it was cloudy… she lived with the wood thrushes for company…” Prodigal Summer, Barbara Kingsolver

As Richard was preparing dinner in the kitchen the other day, he called to me, “Do you know what a red-winged blackbird sounds like?”

“Well yes, I do…”

“Come listen to this, then, and tell me if this is a red-winged blackbird."

It takes me a minute to turn around from in front of the computer and maneuver the knee scooter so I can get on it and into the kitchen, thinking that by time I get there the bird will have shut up and flown away.

But no, just as I arrive at the counter next to him, I hear it.

Not a red-winged blackbird, although I can understand why he might think it is. No, what we are hearing is the clear flute-like song of the wood thrush.

Years ago when we attended a church that had a rather late service in the mornings, we ate breakfast in bed and watched the Sunday Morning program hosted by Charles Kuralt. I remember one program ending with a video segment of some woods where a wood thrush was singing, with the voice over lamenting that the habitat of this bird was shrinking and wondering if the song of this bird would someday be silenced.   

Perhaps in some places this has come true, but not here, not on our little bit of land in south central Missouri.

The last thing I heard last night before I fell asleep was the noise of incredibly loud fireworks being set off by our neighbor. I assume these were the full-size skyrockets or else firecrackers the size of hot dogs. I remember how much fun July 4 was when I was a kid, and I am very happy they were enjoying the fireworks with their children and also that they stopped by 10 p.m.

This morning I woke up to the song of the wood thrush very near the bedroom window. What a lovely way to start the day.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Adventures in breadmaking

The last time I made bread for Richard, I explained where the whole wheat flour was on top of the cabinet in the room where I keep it, and he dutifully brought me the right container with the whole wheat flour.

When it came time to make bread again earlier in the week, I asked him to get the whole wheat flour and just assumed he would remember where it was and bring me the right container.

Unfortunately, I keep the corn meal I use to make the concoction I feed the birds during the winter in an identical container on top of a different cabinet. Unfortunately, this is white cornmeal, which was on sale and is fine for the birds, and it is about the same color as the white whole wheat flour that I happen to be using at the moment. There is no obvious difference between the two.

Of course, he brought me the cornmeal instead of the whole wheat flour, but it didn’t register that I was adding to the yeast 2 cups of cornmeal to every 1 cup of white flour instead of 2 cups of whole wheat flour. I thought it didn’t feel quite right – sort of gritty -- when I was kneading it, but it wasn’t until it had risen once and I began shaping the dough into loaves that I realized what had happened.

I abandoned the loaves and patted it into the cast iron skillet and went ahead and put it in the oven to rise again, I asked him to get the other container.

I started over with the whole wheat flour. The regular bread went into the baguette pans and they both went in the oven to bake. In the meantime, Richard produced two labels so that the containers are now marked and this won’t happen again.

I figured the cornmeal “bread” would be similar to regular cornbread. It isn’t. It doesn’t taste like bread and it doesn’t taste like cornbread. Its not horrible, but it isn’t all that great.

The bread that I baked along with the cornmeal bread wasn’t exactly a rousing success either, because I left it in the oven just a little too long. It didn’t burn, exactly, but it is too brown. He has a recipe for garlic toast which is quite good and that is what he is using it for.

Sometimes mistakes in the kitchen turn out to be quite good, but this wasn’t one of them.