Let me tell you a story

Cedric uses an oxygen concentrator to help his breathing. It has a 50-foot tube, which means he can move all over the apartment and even sit on the porch. But it’s connected to power, so when the power goes out we have a problem. At 4 this morning, a truck hit a utility pole on the road, knocking out power over a large area. The concentrator shrieks to warn us of a power disconnection. That woke me up. I grabbed a battery-powered lantern that a neighbor kindly bought for me after the last power cut and connected the tube to the oxygen cylinder. Easy peasy – I’ve done that before. But I knew there was not a lot of juice left in that cylinder. I went back to bed for a bit but knew it wouldn’t be long before I had to connect to the next cylinder. I hadn’t done that before – taking the connection piece off one cylinder and connecting it to the next with a series of lug nuts, twisty things and levers. The vendor, when he delivered the spare cylinders said that you simply popped it off and popped it on … uh huh!

I’m not practical in terms of lug nuts and screws – Cedric always teases me that I can never turn the light bulb in the correct direction. I kept saying, Lefty Loosey, Righty Tighty – and when I heard the hiss of oxygen, I was mighty relieved. With all the activity, Savannah decided it was time to get up so I took her out navigating the hall and stairway in the gloom – there is emergency lighting for a few hours but it was pitch dark outside and I’m glad I had grabbed a flashlight. I think we then got another hour of sleep before getting up and dressed as best we could with no power. I called the emergency number to request more oxygen; each cylinder lasts about two hours so I had about three hours of oxygen left. They confirmed the vendor would call me to confirm delivery.

On the neighborhood text chain, everyone was updating the group with news and my neighbor, Kay, called to ask if I needed anything – COFFEE!!! I took Savannah out again timing it to meet Kay driving into the square with my coffee which she handed through her car window with assorted croissants for sustenance – what a friend! I then navigated back into the building holding precious coffee. By this time, it was pitch dark in the hallway. I had to drag Savannah along – she evidently does not like the dark. Halfway along the corridor, my phone rang. I put everything down to answer it thinking it was the oxygen vendor. It was Kay saying she had left me the wrong muffin! I think I said I’ll eat it and we continued our way to the stairwell and I got up to the 4th floor without spilling a drop of coffee! The latest text indicated the power would not be reconnected until the afternoon.

Finally, I sat down with Cedric in his study and then changed his tubing to the final cylinder. He watched in amazement as I connected the correct pieces and turned the knobs the right way. I even told him I was reducing the oxygen to make it last longer … how did I even know what I was talking about? I looked at him and said, “They say that you find an inner strength when you need it.” I had kept myself together since he came home from the hospital but then I broke down – I was sobbing and saying that I couldn’t do this, that I didn’t know what I was doing, that I’m not wired like this and I was worried I was doing it wrong and all I could think of was that I would be harming him by doing the wrong thing. And then, just like that, the lights came on! At that exact moment when, like the Psalmist, I was crying out from the depths of my despair, the Lord answered. I fell to my knees and sobbed in Cedric’s lap. We were both crying by then.

And now the sun is out and all is well. We have some extra cylinders and we know we can do it. We are strong and we are surrounded by love.

The Silent Spring: Farewell, hummers!

Farewell, hummingbirds! The hummingbirds have gone … correction, the one hummingbird has gone. This year, however, we barely said, “Welcome, oh hummingbirds.” They never really arrived. My unscientific theory is that the gorgeous, abundant, succulent spring resulting from less traffic and pollution meant the hummingbirds didn’t have to venture to our porch feeders – there was simply enough nectar for them on every flowering plant. It’s bittersweet – they didn’t have to work so hard to get their fill each day; but oh, we sure missed their antics. We had one or two the last few weeks and a couple even hovered right in front of us and one found its favorite perch on our weather stick (that’s another blog to come.) But compared to last year, there were far fewer and the feeders stayed full.

Our hope for more hummingbirds next summer goes hand in hand with our (and everyone else’s) hope for a return to a normal and safe environment in 2021. Both would be a blessing.

The Silent Spring: It’s unconscionable

Once a cancer patient, always a cancer patient. I’m almost 10 years cancer free – my 10-year anniversary is October 2, but I am still a patient of The Piedmont Cancer Institute and have an annual follow-up with my oncologist.  It was, therefore, distressing to receive a letter from the Institute advising me that all their patients’ personal information and medical histories had been compromised. The letter encouraged us to place fraud alerts and security freezes on our credit files. The letter was well worded and included an apology. But after spending some time in several credit agencies’ voice mail systems this morning, I am more than upset.

It’s unconscionable. We’ll never know whether a laptop was stolen from an employee’s trunk or even from their home – something that can happen to anyone; we’ll never know whether the “unauthorized individual” in the incident was an employee or a hacker; we’ll never really know anything. And not that it matters. What does matter is that some very sick people are now having to take time out from getting well to focus on identity theft. It’s not easy having cancer. Chemo and radiation are strenuous treatments and many people during the pandemic do not have the family or community support that I had.

Shame on whoever has caused this extra stress on cancer patients. It’s unconscionable and unfair. But life’s unfair, which is why some of us get cancer to start with. Life is unfair, which is why some people have lost their homes recently in wildfires or hurricanes. Life is unfair, which is why some people have caught the coronavirus. Yes, life is unfair – there’s no denying it. I send good thoughts to all those who need extra good thoughts this week. I’m sorry you are going through this and I hope the sun comes out tomorrow.

The Silent Spring: What the what?

We’re all Zoomed out but we better just get used to it – Zoom’s not going to go away any time soon. So I thought we should upgrade our Internet to the fastest speed possible, especially since I’m doing many classes on the Zoom platform and it’s frustrating enough without super speedy access.

I called Comcast. The agent was very nice and read beautifully from the script. It sounded as if she was working from home and sitting on her balcony overlooking breaking waves and with a family party taking place at the same time. I could even hear her dog barking. We upgraded the system and the new super duper router arrived – I won’t say “in a box” because there were no corners left in the packaging. Inside, with the router, which fortunately was not damaged, was a letter to Dear Customer headed, “Please pardon our appearance.” I couldn’t follow the logic exactly but basically to limit contact between customers and employees, Comcast are encouraging people to self-install. They didn’t want to delay the procedure by producing traditional packaging so to get items into customers’ hands as quickly as possible, they evidently bought the cheapest and flimsiest boxes they could find. You gotta admire Amazon even more.

They emailed us a nice video outlining the steps to instal our router. Good start. We watched the intro, assuring us several times that we were almost there. The next step was, “Unplug your router …” OK, we did that. Bleep … no more video showing the step after that. Yep, without Internet, we couldn’t watch the video. Where is the logic in that? Doesn’t anyone at Comcast think? Or call their customer care line (which was our next step and you know how long that took – we never did get out of voice mail hell.) Fortunately I was able to pull up the next steps on my iPhone. Cedric doesn’t have a smart phone so it’s lucky we had at least one with a screen.

It’s working – more by luck than judgement I believe. I have used the original packaging to send back the old box. I covered it from edge to edge with duct tape and it’s much stronger now than the original. I know we all have Comcast stories and I know I’ll have many more. Meanwhile, back to Zoom.

The Silent Spring: Sew, sew, sew

Sew, I sew … I think I was born with a thimble on my finger. I remember as a very young child turning the handle of my mother’s treadle machine as she sewed clothes for me and my doll. I still have those doll’s clothes. I also still have the clothes that I made for that same doll. She was definitely better dressed in some outfits than others!

Sew, I decided, with Cedric’s blessing, to turn our living room into one huge sewing room. My sewing room was the dining area off the kitchen and that worked out very nicely but I was constantly swapping machines, lifting one off the table and replacing it with another. I looked at the open space that an absence of visitors has made even emptier and had an aha moment – sewing space!

In came two 6-ft tables creating a massive sewing area. Next, we assembled a rolling chair. Interestingly, many colors weren’t available because so many people are buying chairs for their home offices. A portentous snafu by the online furniture company validated the sewing area decision – two days later, a second chair arrived. When I called the company asking what to do with a chair I had not ordered, they thanked me for my honesty and said I could keep it and not ship it back. So the matching chair sits on the other side of the tables. I had already thought that it would be nice to have two matching chairs – serendipity indeed.

I only have five working sewing machines. Plus an antique one that acts as a piece of furniture to display tchotchkes. One machine is now back in its box waiting to be picked up by a friend whose young girls are learning to sew. That leaves four – an electronic Bernina; an old Bernina with a British plug that needs a transformer to work in the U.S.; a 1935 Featherweight Singer; and a BabyLock serger that is fairly new. When I retired, I went in to the sewing machine store to trade in my old Bernina; I saw a gorgeous fabric bag and when I was told it was sewn on a serger, I walked out with a serger and a new Bernina. A serger does an overlock stitch – look at any seam in your clothing and you will see how the stitches loop over – that’s an overlock. But my serger only does serging … duh. But other machines do what’s called coverstitch and boy do I need a coverstitch machine. Sew, guess what I’m getting for Christmas? Yep, a new BabyLock coverstitch machine. They are so new that the dealer hasn’t got them in yet, but I’m third on the list and as soon as they come in, I’ll get my Christmas gift very early. Well, I’ve got 30 square feet of sewing table to cover with something!

Happy sewing!

The Silent Spring: Looking forward to the past

I looked longingly at a rack of clothes this morning. Every item was in my style and size, sorted by type – shells, short-sleeved T-shirts, longer sleeves, palazzo pants, regular pants, jeans, skirts, suits, jackets, dresses, casual wear, track suits – bottoms and tops hung together. In fact, sadly, I was in my own walk-in closet. I haven’t worn real clothes for so long, it was like seeing them anew.

Some days I decide to wear something other than crops and a shell … but the moment doesn’t last long. Like many of my neighbors, sorties are reserved for taking our dogs out and walking to the mail room.

It’s the absence of anticipation that is so dispiriting. There’s nothing tangible to look forward to because we can’t make plans. Yes, we can hope to take a vacation or visit friends and family … one day … but my favorite craft festival is postponed and I suspect will be canceled and who knows what 2021 will bring. But if we can’t look forward to the future, let’s look back to the past. I’m having a blast looking out old photos and posting them in my high school Facebook group; I’m sending copies of family photos to other family members around the world; I got out my mother’s recipe binder and plan to make an old-fashioned refrigerator date cake that I loved as a child; and I looked at my retirement to-do list and checked off several items as completed. As I’ve said before, they can’t take memories away; we might not be making many new memories but there’s nothing wrong with the old ones.

The Silent Spring: The astronaut will see you now

I had my routine annual physical yesterday. I knew my doctor would be wearing a mask, as was I, but I didn’t expect her to come into the examination room suited up in PEP, mask, gloves, cap and visor. I took it in good faith that it was my doctor, but it could have been any short person impersonating my petite doctor.

The examination was, in fact, mostly complete when she came into the room. The protocol has you call from the parking lot where the medical tech completes check-in and reviews your medical history by phone; one of the questions is always, “Have you recently felt sad or depressed?” Yep, like the rest of the world right now, don’t yer think? You then wait until they call you to permit you to leave your vehicle and walk into the building. It was hot and humid in Atlanta yesterday, typical July weather. I melted in the car for 25 minutes – they were running late – because I didn’t want to risk putting on the air conditioning and running down the battery that has barely had a charge since March. I was concerned my body would evidence a high temperature, which sent my blood pressure up.

The nurse meets you at the door, takes your temperature (normal fortunately) and you follow her immediately into the examination room. I noticed that all the magazines have been removed from the rack – I never liked touching them anyway. After a few more questions, she took my blood pressure (slightly high, not surprising) and because it’s a formal age-related (65+) examination left me the cognitive behavior paperwork to complete. She has given me three words to remember and to write down on the sheet. I know the drill now; the first time I only remembered two out of three, but now I make up a sentence and keep repeating it to myself so when I am given the test, I quickly go to page 3 and write the words down, before going back and filling in the rest of the form. You have to draw a clock face and put the hands at 8:15. Sounds easy, but when you start overthinking it, it’s hard to remember which is the little hand and which is the big hand. I make them sort of even so it could be 8:15 or 3:40 just in case.

Then you wait until the doctor calls you from her office to review your answers over the phone, which means when she finally enters the examination room, she need only listen to your heart and lungs, prod your tummy a bit and you are all done. It’s efficient but soulless. I keep thinking about patients being given bad test results or serious news. I remember it was in that exact examination room that I was given the news of my breast cancer diagnosis in 2010. My doctor at the time didn’t exactly hold my hand, but at least I could see his face.

Yes, life is definitely different now, doctors look like astronauts and who knows if they are smiling. I hesitate to change the current title of my blog to The Lost Summer but sadly I think we are headed in that direction. But we continue to be blessed, unlike so many others and count our blessings by the hour.

The Silent Spring: If it’s not birds, it’s …

The bamboo screen curtain is brilliant and has done its job so well that it has successfully scared away all avian life from our porch. A few intrepid souls have begun to venture back to perch on the railings but the screen is acting much like a scarecrow. I think it’s the waving in the breeze, accompanied by the clicking of the beads that’s doing the trick. We have had the door open in the cool mornings and Savannah ducks and goes in and out under the strands that don’t reach all the way to the floor.

But, now it’s lizards … well, just one so far but a huge one at that. There are lizards and there are LIZARDS and either this one was a pregnant female or just fat. I turned around and it was all the way inside near the coffee table. I know not to grab a lizard by the tail – they really do shed their tails; I tested this many times growing up. I grabbed a tea towel and flung it over the lizard, not relishing the prospect of scooping it up without squishing too much. But it slithered out and disappeared. I moved a chair and prowled around. There it was! I didn’t want to scare it into venturing further inside so I waved the tea towel and yelled, “Get out!” Fortunately, it understood English and dashed out the open porch door. It took me a while and lots of prodding with a brush to flush it out from behind the flower pots, but eventually it ran over the edge and disappeared.

So the door is now firmly shut. Perhaps I’ll find a draft excluder that I can fit under the curtain. Savannah will have quite the obstacle course to get in and out. Otherwise, welcome to my wildlife refuge.

The Silent Spring: Bird in the House x 2

We have lived in this building for 12 years and are always the first to keep the patio doors open in the spring and the last to close them in the fall. We keep our air conditioning and heating off for as long as possible. And we’ve never had an avian visitor, until now. But, we’ve had two in the last four days. The first flew in and got trapped behind the blinds of the French door. I grabbed a tea towel, having read somewhere that the best approach is to throw something over the bird to both corral and protect it. It was easier than I thought to grab the poor thing – probably some sort of sparrow – by the tail feathers and propel it through the open door over the railings. In spite of several tail feathers floating down onto the patio and several more still grasped in the tea towel, it flew over to the oak trees in the square, so I knew it was unharmed. Not so me … in my haste to fling it into the open air, I hurt my arm on the door frame. It wasn’t a bad cut, but enough for me to brag about a planet salvation wound garnered in the noble pursuit of saving an endangered species.

The second visitor flew in and announced itself with very loud chirping. I knew instantly it was inside as it was using an outside chirp inside. Fortunately, before I even had time to stand up, it flew right out the way it had come in. I shut the door and shut it has stayed.

For me, our visitors are proof that birdlife is proliferating during the pandemic. We are seeing American goldfinches and cardinals on our railings for the first time. But I’ve ordered a bamboo screen to prevent further visitations. Cedric says he’ll feel like he’s living in an exotic restaurant. If I can get Savannah to come in and out between the beads, I can keep the door open. If not, I’ll have to decide if fresh air and the occasional visitor are compatible. Chirp, chirp.

The Silent Spring: My heart breaks

Be careful what you wish for. I have found so many old school friends on Facebook, but sadly learned today that my best friend from high school, Lexie, died in 2017. We were best friends even in primary school. There are other deaths noted in posts over the years and it makes me sad. I feel they’ve been snatched away from me before I could ask, “Remember when …” So, mixed in with the excitement of connecting with girls I knew more than 50 years ago, there’s a feeling of melancholy in my soul. We all had the same dreams, we could do whatever we put our minds and hearts into, but for some of us, it ended sooner than it should have.

Farewell, Lexie – I’ll never forget you.