Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wherefore art thou, Whimsy? Part 1

You look like you could use a dash of whimsy today. Put on your fluffy slippers and hop aboard the Whimsymobile.

As many readers noted after the previous post on my adventures in appendectomy, humor can be healing. Whimsy and humor are kissing cousins. Trust me.

Last weekend, to encourage more healing, the hubs and I went on a road trip in search of wonder. We went four miles down the road to an alpaca farm. We're such inveterate road warriors, I tell you.

Why are decrepit barns so danged photogenic?
Suburbia disappeared behind us as the road curved around vineyards, orchards, dairies and meadows. It may already be snowing where you live, but here in California's Central Valley, we are at the peak of blissful, lovely, clear days. Until Friday, anyway. Don't hate us; our gas prices are probably among the highest.

We pulled up and sprung from the Whimsymobile, ready for a petting frenzy. The sign said, "Open," but the gate stayed locked. The best we could manage was a glimpse through the fence. The herd came up to see if I had brought any food. I had imagined they'd be about the size of goats, but these were nearly my height (5'3"). A few let me pet them on the nose. They felt like plump pin cushions. The poor dears kept having to shake off the flies that buzzed around their big, beautiful eyes. Unlike a dairy, an alpaca ranch does not have unsightly poo cakes and the accompanying stench for a mile around.

Undeterred that a locked gate had foiled Plan Alpaca, we moved on to Plan B. There was a pomegranate orchard the next block over. The gate was open, and we crunched up the walk. 

I heard the barking before I saw the blur of fur coming at us. I was out the gate on winged feet before I dared look back. So much for a slow recovery from surgery!
Farmer Gordon called off the German Shepherd and asked me back in. I had assumed my husband was right behind me, but there he stood, back where I'd left him. Boy, did I feel like a ninny.

"I offered myself as sacrifice," the hubs said. Farmer G assured me Sissy likes girls and would be nice to me. "But you should never run," he scolded gently. I knew that. But I'd banked on my bionic legs more than counter-intuitive wisdom.

Look at that face. Who would suspect she has a fierce side? She came to me for a petting.

The hubs and Farmer G talked pomegranates while I poked about the place, Sissy keeping me company. They had pomegranates in front and a Christmas tree farm in back, with delightful spots to discover in between.

I had a gazing ball like this in my back yard once. Mine was cobalt blue. Gazing balls of lore were meant to ward off witches, supposedly from alarm at their own reflection. I was careless with the hose one day and knocked it off its stand. So far I haven't been beset with witches. Maybe the gnome population keeps the ecological balance.

Rose bushes flank a path that ushers you to the koi pond. Towering above the pond are sequoias and eucalyptus. Farmer G's wife, Lorraine, remarked on their age.

"We've been married 50 years, and these trees were here before we were married," she said.

Fandando, the resident rooster, and his ladies beat a hasty retreat into the chicken coop when Sissy showed off her rambunctious side again. Then she settled down in the sunshine.

By then, I'd grown quite fond of her and had forgiven her for the scare she gave me.

"Come back and chop down your own Christmas tree," Farmer G told us as we said goodbye. The hubs took his pomegranate loot and we hiked back to the car.

To think we've lived here some twenty years, driving past this place hundreds of times on our way to work, and never until now thinking to stop and be neighborly.

Next post, we return to the alpaca farm and actually get in!

Monday, November 7, 2011

When orange Jello was nectar of the gods

Hung out to dry. That's how I felt last week after I surrendered my appendix. It was all shredded anyway. Excuse me while I unkink my drainage tube. 

I had called the advice nurse that morning in case it wasn't just gas. They asked me to come in. I held my breath as instructed by a mechanical voice while my prone body slid into the CAT scanner.

Next thing I know, they had clad me in one of those bedsheet-soft gowns. It was three days before Halloween, and this year I came as a patient.

The ER nurse says, "For someone with acute appendicitis, you're sure smiley."
“I was dreaming about food,” I say.
“It’s always the skinny ones who do,” he replies, hooking up another bag to my IV. Bless his studly heart.

The admin staffer hands us a health care directive. My husband and I weigh how much decision-making power to assign him.

“You’re too young for that,” the nurse assures me. He is looking more studly by the minute. I tell him that’s a refreshing thing to hear, considering how all I’ve heard from the medical community since rounding the corner into my 40s is “for your age…”

But now I know why they call me the patient. I'd had nothing to eat all day. I couldn’t eat nor drink until the next day. This is unthinkable for someone who grazes every three hours and never fasts, no matter how spiritual I aspire to be, as I would only become cranky and start dry heaving.

I am patient. I wait serenely all afternoon and into the wee hours, eight more hours before the surgery department can take me.  My CAT scan had shown my appendix had "possibly" ruptured. They must figure the worst was behind me, and are shooting me full of antibiotics in the meantime. When they finally come to get me, I insist the husband go home and get some rest. He's recovering from hernia surgery. He kisses me goodbye but insists on waiting until after the operation. I remember being wheeled into the elevator, then suddenly waking up in recovery.

"I don't remember being in the OR," I say to a nurse.
"You didn't miss anything," she replies.

The clock says it's 2:30 a.m. I've been wheeled into a private room. A woman is in there with me. I presume she's a nurse. I jerk awake each time she asks a question.

"Full name? Verify your address...What is your biggest fear? What is your biggest need?"

Huh? I want to say that she ought to let me sleep and come back at a decent hour. But I am mysteriously acquiescent, like someone under hypnosis. This is out of character for me.

"My biggest fear is drowning. My biggest need is respect," I intone like a drone. I wonder if she should also ask if I were I tree, what tree I’d want to be.

Fade to black

So here's what was on the menu at Chez L'hôpital: 

Ice chips with a swab, and strict instructions not to drink the melted ice

Orange Jello

One bowl of clear chicken broth
One small box of juice

(I did a happy dance in my head. Sincerely.)

Repeats of Day One's dinner

French toast for breakfast! Turkey croissant for lunch! Pork cutlets for dinner!
(I applaud each time a tray appears.)

What I enjoyed the most? That first scoop of orange Jello. Cool and heavenly on the taste buds. After that, though, I developed a metallic taste in my mouth that rendered all food uniformly blech.

There is a point to my dwelling on food. Sunday was a day of reckoning. Up to that point I had been stoic. The bobbleheadedness and exhaustion, the muscle twitching, the serious decline in grooming—I’d taken it all in stride.

They have shower caps now that let you shampoo in bed.

But then: Bladder blockage. Had they removed the catheter a day early? Studly Nurse No. 2 insists I get up and empty my bladder the old-fashioned way. I parcel out his commands thusly:

Get up. Involving actually moving legs, then raising my torso, while gripping both nurse and husband, and no longer caring that I am grunting and grimacing. The hospital gown starts slipping off, but when I observe this out loud, cool professional nurse says grimly, “We have bigger problems right now."

Empty bladder. I assume the position over the porcelain throne. Nothing. Chat with husband, pretend it’s business as usual. A slight trickle. I’m all for giving it more time, but I hear the nurse calling for backup. “We have a medical emergency.” Catheter time again. The first one went in when I was knocked out; this time I am wide awake, and worried.

“I’ve done this thousands of times,” Studly Nurse 2 assures me beforehand. “It takes five minutes to set up and five seconds to get in.” If only.

How detailed can I get? If you’re squeamish, skip this paragraph. Two more nurses assemble around the bed where I have been returned. Cold swabs, fingers stretching me down there, wrong entry, try again, break out new sterile kit, try different kind of catheter, grip hubby’s hand, blow-blow-blow like I’m giving birth, third time’s the charm. Catheter bag fills up in seconds as my pain recedes and the nurse remarks that the smile has come back to my face.

This picture tells the story better.
Studly Nurse #2 mentions he’s off the next day and gives me instructions. The feeling of abandoned kittenhood descends upon me. I try not to weep as I confide that I am worried about failing the catheter test, and the consequences for it.

“Worry about dinner. Then worry about brushing your teeth,” he imparts, among other thoughts. It does help to put it in food terms. Plus the fact that he introduced me to the nurse who would be taking over. She was sweet as molasses.

Next day they take the catheter out. They give me six hours to pee on my own or that damned catheter goes back in and I don’t get to go home. I decline all pain meds so that my insides might wake up and eliminate in earnest. The hospital’s assistant chaplain walks in and asks if I need prayer. Yes, I say conversationally, please pray that I pee and poo so I can go home today.

“I’ve never had anyone put it that specifically,” he says nonchalantly. He prays with my husband and me. Five minutes after he leaves I get the #2 part done. Check! Now I need the bladder to cooperate. I am not as confident about it.

We trudge around the hospital floor, my husband and I, willing my bladder awake. I find out much later the toll that pained stroll has taken on my soles: my massage therapist only has to touch them to make me yowl. He pronounces them “messed up.” I must’ve been curling my toes under.

We did make it home that night. They didn’t have to put the catheter back in. I wore a drain tube from the appendectomy site for a week, measuring the output each day and marveling at what my inside liquid looks like. Today, since the fluid level has declined, the wound care nurse pulled the tube out.

“First time anyone almost jumped off the table,” she remarked, as I giggled in relief and my husband uncovered his face.

This is the eve of our 25th anniversary. Tomorrow we can go out to dinner without a drain tube dangling out of my pants. Best anniversary present ever!

Cat pics from