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.

The Silent Spring: Memories, memories

I’ve successfully avoided the tempting clutches of Facebook. I joined a couple of sewing/quilting groups but I didn’t have a profile picture, any bio details, or any friends. Until now …

But let’s back up a bit. Cedric has been working on a memoir of the first 20 years of his life, encompassing his early years in France, the family’s evacuation to England and their return to Paris after the Liberation. His memory of dates, names and addresses is spectacular. He asked me to look at the first draft – I was very impressed. If anyone would like a copy to read, let me know and I’ll send you a PDF. But it also got me thinking … we all have a story, even if it doesn’t include evading invading Germans. So, I looked up my old high school on Facebook, wondering if there was a dedicated group. Oh was there! Nearly 1,500 members. I asked to join.

And I’m hooked!

I went to the Kenya High School, a girls’ boarding school in Nairobi, Kenya, at the age of 11 in 1963, graduating in 1969. I was in Nightingale House. Each house had 50 girls of various ages and there were 12 houses. Belonging to a house was like being part of a tribe. I posted my maiden name and my house and the years I attended and went to bed. In the morning, there were dozens and dozens of comments from all over the world. Many girls had been looking for me for years! It’s been very emotional looking through photos and sending private messages to special friends who I haven’t seen for 50 years or more.

Now, I’ve got a profile picture, and even some friends. But I’m not turning on audible notifications and I won’t check the page more than once a day – I won’t, I won’t, I won’t … well, maybe twice a day!

The Silent Spring: In a time warp

All winter, I look forward to the warmer days when I don’t have to dress in layers for my sorties with Savannah. I anticipate being able to pop out in flip-flops and a T-shirt holding merely a poop bag and her leash. All winter, I hear myself whining that it takes me 10 minutes extra to don wooly hat, coat, scarf, gloves, socks and boots, plus another five minutes to loop Savannah’s coat round her legs and under her tummy. Yes, it gets that cold in Atlanta, contrary to what “they” told me when we first arrived in Georgia (but that’s a blog for another time.)

I’ve ditched the coat and scarf, but I’m still whining. On with the mask and gloves which just don’t match the flip-flops. And when I take off the gloves, my fingers are all wrinkly as if I’ve been in the bath too long. Life is no longer spontaneous. The sanitation station inside our front door holds a selection of alcohol wipes and anti-bacterial spray, as well as gloves and masks and piles of newspaper so that, heaven’s forbid, no package touches the floor before being sanitized. I’m adept at removing my gloves with nary a finger touching a clean surface, thanks to YouTube tutorials – you can learn anything from YouTube.

We are exhorted, daily, to find at least one positive, one sliver of silver lining: I only have to put sunscreen on my forehead.

The Silent Spring: Memories, memories

When chemo had zapped my immune system, my medical team warned me to take extra care to avoid people with coughs and colds. The vicar of our church, Beth, even called to counsel me NOT to come to Sunday services because so many members of the congregation were coughing and hacking their way through the hymns. Beth had sat in the waiting room with Cedric during my surgery and joined us for my first chemo session, so she wasn’t taking any chances.

I recall one day at the office when I was in the elevator. It stopped and the person who got on was sniffling visibly. I held my breath all the way down, deciding that I would rather expire from asphyxiation than catch an infection with a compromised immune system. I feel the same way now. I wear a mask at all times when I leave the apartment. If I’m already waiting in the elevator lobby and a neighbor appears or if the elevator stops half-way up or down, I ask people if they can get the next one. Fortunately, our building only has four floors. Everyone is very understanding although sometimes it takes them a moment to process what I’m saying. The jury is out on whether germs can linger in the air in the enclosed elevator cab, but I’m not taking any chances and I’m practicing holding my breath on each elevator ride, which isn’t easy – it’s hard to take that first huge breath with a mask on. Catch-22 for sure.

The Silent Spring: When life gives you lemons …

Everyone knows the proverbial phrase that if life gives you lemons, make lemonade. I put my own spin on that today. My dear friend, Morgan, once again picked up some groceries for me. I’m not really fussy, but I do like certain brands, so of course I sent her a barrage of photos to show her precisely which reduced fat milk I wanted, the brand of unsweetened almond milk, the whole milk with the picture of the cow on the front. No, I’m really not that fussy. And I sent her a picture of the eggs that come from happy hens – at least that’s what the box assures me.

Morgan called me before leaving my groceries outside the door. Oops – she had dropped the bag with the eggs on the steps outside our building and some were broken. If life gives you broken eggs, you make a cake. Ten minutes later, a cake was in the oven. And yes, I’m giving a big piece to Morgan.

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The Silent Spring: What’s the time?

I know the date but I don’t know what time it is. It’s May 1, the anniversary of my mother’s death in 1986. I always know when May 1 is. It’s a bittersweet day, sad but with the promise of spring. But I don’t know the time because I’ve taken off my Apple Watch. I’ve been wearing it every day for more than three years and decided that in May, I can exist without knowing the precise time, the weather, the wind speed, the stock market index, my heart beat, a reminder to take a deep breath – and all before I even get out of bed.

I’m taking poetic license here because my laptop gives me the time, so I can either get a piece of masking tape and hide the clock, or just ignore it as best I can. In the bubble we are living in, we don’t need to know exactly what time it is – Savannah tells me when it’s time to go out, we know if we are hungry, if I see the mail truck, I know the mail’s arrived, but time has become so fluid that I’m sure I’ll get used to being without a watch for the month of May at least.

We are all getting used to a new normal – I’m using a new flavor of mouthwash as my regular brand is out of stock. Now that will take some adjustment.