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July 2009

Back to Bickering

If last week were a fish, I'd throw it back.

It was one of those weeks when everything was more difficult than it should have been. The stress I felt when I didn't hear from Peter's surgeon after his pacemaker was inserted on Tuesday had a lot to do with it. Even though the operation is considered minor surgery, just entering a hospital poses some risk, so I was very worried.

The recovery days at home can be difficult too. We had a bad moment, for example, when in a gesture of affection, I accidentally patted his sore incision. He was already in an ongoing state of grumpiness over being ordered not to exercise for six weeks, and my "mistake" didn't help.

But the frosting on the cake came Friday night when Peter didn't turn off the broiler after taking out some lamb chops. Unfortunately, the grease-filled broiling pan was still in the oven and it caught fire.

Our lives were never in danger, but in spite of the fact that we turned the oven fan on immediately, the fire left soot from ceiling to floor in the kitchen and even made its way upstairs to the printer in our study and the Venetian blinds in our bedroom. My attempts to wipe up the mess only caused the soot to spread. It was a nightmare, and I still haven't finished cleaning it up.

So when we went for our usual walk Saturday morning, we bickered big time. We couldn't agree about anything, not even the weather. I decided we had to put the week behind us, and declared our walk a bicker-free zone.

We had a very quiet walk.



I hadn’t seen my Aunt Ruth since her 95th birthday in 2007.  She lives in Buffalo, New York, an under-appreciated town, especially when it isn’t winter.  Aunt Ruth is a big booster of her city, and although Denver-born has been a Buffalonian for 70 years.  About 30 family members attended her birthday party, two years ago, and she was by far the most beautiful person there.

Now, at 97, still beautiful, still sharp, a self-professed political junkie, she is the only living person who has known me since I was a week old. When we visited last weekend, she told me that she came to meet my parents with her fiancé, my mother’s brother when I was brand new.  She said I was a beautiful baby.  (This is dubious, at least according to the faded photos of me as a new born.)

Aunt Ruth hosted Peter and me in her still-elegant home where she lives on her own.  (She admits that her kitchen “closes” at noon, and she mostly eats dinner out with friends, almost all of whom are younger than she is.)  She is still beautiful and as gracious as ever.  She thanked us over and over again for coming to visit her.

On the morning after we arrived, she made us a delicious breakfast.  When we came downstairs, she was impeccably groomed, her make-up perfect.  The table was elegantly set—no jams in their jars on a table in her home!  She refused to let us carry a plate to the sink.  “When I want help, I’ll ask for it,” she said sternly. 

We had a great weekend in Buffalo, even got to see some cousins and some impressive sights.  Aunt Ruth reminded us more than once that we are quite young which doesn’t happen much these days. 

We didn’t hear a single complaint from her all weekend, although we know she has some aches and pains.  She told us she hopes to just not wake up one morning.

We hope that doesn’t happen soon.


After the good outcome of my cataract surgery in March, Peter decided he'd like to see better too. So, he scheduled cataract surgery. During his pre-op checkup, his cardiologist determined that Peter's heartbeat was so slow that the surgery would be risky. Peter needed a pacemaker.

And that is why I had one of the worst days in recent memory on Tuesday. I dropped Peter off at the hospital at 6:00 a.m. to have a pacemaker implanted. I went to work to wait to hear from the surgeon. I told Peter to give her my cell phone number because my phone would always be with me.

His "minor" surgery was scheduled for 8:00 o'clock, and when I hadn't heard by 12:30, I called the hospital's patient information line and was told Peter had just been brought to the recovery room.

I will hear from the surgeon momentarily, I thought. But that didn't happen. At 2:00 I called again and was told that Peter had just been taken to his room. I asked why I hadn't heard from the doctor and the nurse told me she would page the doctor and ask her to call me. "Let's double-check your phone number," she said. It was not correct, and I assumed Peter had reversed the two digits that were wrong. At that moment, I was praying for Peter to survive the surgery so that I would have the chance to kill him myself for causing me this added worry.

When it was 2:45 and the doctor still had not called, I decided to drive to the hospital to see for myself. I walked into Peter's room forty-five minutes later and he looked fine. I pulled a chair up to his bed and promptly burst into tears. Exhaustion, frustration, terror, relief, joy? I'm not sure what caused me to cry, but I was inconsolable.

Finally, at 4:30, while I was sitting at his bedside, the doctor called me to report that the surgery had gone well and Peter was fine. She explained that she had left a message at what turned out to be the wrong number. By the way, it wasn't Peter's fault after all. He told me he had read my number from his cell phone address book. Therefore, the attendant who checked him in got it wrong.

So, I didn't have to kill him. Which is a good thing because our 41st anniversary is next week.


Merci,Gracias, etc.

 No matter how you express your gratitude, saying “thank you” can be very powerful.  For example, on Thursday afternoon, I sent an email to the facilities department at work, asking them if I could get some help because the crank on my office window had become so tight that it was almost impossible to turn.  It was frustrating enough not to be able to open the window easily, but I kept trying, and each time I tried, my three framed family photos on a shelf in front of the window toppled over. 

I thought a bit of oil would do the trick.

Gina, one of my favorite people in facilities, emailed back saying that someone would fix it before I got to work the next day.  And sure enough, my window opened easily on Friday morning.  I could have sent Gina a quick email, but I decided to run down to her office and thank her in person.  Her face lit up like a Christmas tree. I got a warm “you’re welcome,” and it made me feel great that I had made the extra effort to show my appreciation for her quick response.

 I know how it brightens my day when someone goes out of their way to thank me. I have decided that I need to remember to say thank you more often.  In these somewhat grim times, we all could use a reason to feel good.

And thank you for reading this.




I try to be good about processing news that I'd rather not get.   So when I received a diagnosis of CLL in late May, with its potential for turning to lymphoma in the future, (It could be very far in the future.) I worked at not dwelling on something I couldn't do anything about.  Now there are days when CLL doesn't enter my mind at all.

 At the time of my diagnosis, my internist told me I should see an endocrinologist, but I wasn't sure why until yesterday when I had the appointment.  Sure enough, I have yet another condition that showed up in my blood work.  It seems that my parathyroid is producing too much of something that (to simplify it greatly) is stealing calcium from my bones.  The condition is hyperparathyroidism, and the only cure for it is surgery. Not right now, but at some point yet to be determined.


 I know that more health issues come after you turn 70, but I spend more than ten hours a week exercising like mad to ward off disease and this is the thanks I get? 

I'm now in my processing mode.


While biking to work on Friday, I saw an 80-something woman going for a walk.  Good for her, I thought.  But those clunky leather tie-shoes and old-fashioned shorts framing legs that might have been great at one time but should be covered now, got me to thinking about my wardrobe.

 Summer is pretty late in these parts this year, and since most of my winter and transitional clothes have been cleaned and put away, getting dressed for work in the morning has been a challenge.  Peter, of course, cannot relate.  In the winter, he puts on a long-sleeved shirt and trousers; in the summer, a short sleeved shirt and trousers. If it's a bit cool, he adds a sweater.  For the most part, he wears the same pair of shoes. 

 One rainy day earlier in the week, I decided to wear a white suit.  Of course I would have to cover it with rain paints and jacket for my bike ride, but I thought it would be an upbeat thing to do on such a dreary day.  My white suit is cotton pique.  It is a Calvin Klein.  Mostly, Calvin Klein clothes are youth-oriented, but when I bought it last year, I thought it looked pretty good on me. Of course, standing in a dressing room and looking in the mirror is not the same as walking, sitting at a desk, going up and down stairs, just living your day.

When I wore it to work the first time last year, I realized that the pants were really low-waisted and the jacket barely touched my waist.  The black top I wore was form-fitted and 50% spandex.  Are you beginning to see my problem?  When I bend over or get out of a chair, no matter how quickly I pull down the shirt it is impossible not to have a look at a few inches of my lower back. 

 I asked Peter for his view of this matter at breakfast that rainy morning.  Looking up briefly from his newspaper, he said, "You have a really nice lower back."

 I wore the suit.

Searching for Muriel, Part II

Today I found my friend Muriel. Actually, I found one of her daughters thanks to my membership in Linkedin, a website for professional contacts. I left her a message at her work, and heard back within minutes. We talked a bit about how hard it had been for me to find her—a change in her email provider from AOL to gmail was what tripped me up. Then I asked about her mother. I closed my eyes and held my breath as I waited for her answer.

Muriel is alive, she told me. She will be celebrating her 85th birthday at the end of this month. But her life is not great. She is in the early stages of dementia and has poor short-term memory. She is living on her own in the assisted-living complex where she had lived with her husband. But it is only a matter of time until she is unable to live that way.

Her children have a plan, and she will have good care as long as she needs it. She is fighting against getting more help, even though she is aware of her problem. Without her husband, it seems, she is losing the will to carry on.

But her daughter assures me that Muriel is still beautiful and still has her marvelous sense of humor. Although she was always petite, she is even smaller now. It is so hard for me to picture a diminished version of this person who was so important to me for so long.

I asked if there was some way I could see her and if she might remember me. Yes, I was told, she would remember me—it is the short-term memory that is seeping away.

Perhaps one day her daughter will take me to see Muriel, and we will take her out to lunch. I think I would like that.

Yet I know it will be hard.

Searching for Muriel

I met my friend Muriel in 1972. I helped get her a part-time job at the place where I worked.

She was in her late forties at that time, a strikingly beautiful woman whose smile lit up the room. We started walking together at lunchtime on the days we overlapped at work. There weren't chic walking shoes then, so we both left a pair of clunky Wallabees in the office for our two-mile route. When we started, I had a two-year old and a newborn. She had raised four children, and she had seen everything. Needless to say she was an endless source of advice.

Muriel came to value my advice as well, and we became fast friends. After eight years and a few pair of Wallabees, I took a job elsewhere, but we still walked when we could. When she retired and moved to the Cape, she would take the bus to Boston and stay with me overnight. Her pajamas and a tooth brush were always waiting for her in our guest room.

Her overnight visits stopped after a while because her husband wasn't doing all that well. Eventually they moved to an assisted-living facility, and I heard little from her, until after her husband passed away, perhaps two years ago.

Recently, I've heard nothing, so I decided to investigate. I started with her eldest son whose phone number I actually had. The number was not in service. So I tried the online white pages and found a couple of people with his (not-unusual) name who lived in that area. One person's phone was out of service, but I did leave a message for the other even though his voice didn't sound familiar.

Sure enough, the guy called back. No, he wasn't Muriel's son, but he had met him a couple of times. No idea where he was now. Of course I tried the other three children, one of whom I actually knew pretty well, but the email address I had for her didn't work. I also failed to find either of the other two.

I tried calling the office of her retirement village, but could only get the voice mail of the sales department, and I am not so sure they would tell me anything about her anyway.

So today, I called the number I had for Muriel. I had hoped to talk to someone in her family first to see how she was doing, but that didn't work. I was anxious as the phone was ringing. I heard a computer-generated voice say. "Hello. No one is here to take your call. Please leave a message." I don't know if that number is still hers, but I left a message anyway.

I still miss her.

The Visit

My friend Suzanne looked a little sad when she came to work this afternoon. She had just dropped her 12-year old son off at overnight camp. I know that sadness. Both of our boys went to camp for years, and I always had that empty feeling in my stomach that comes with giving responsibility for your children to someone else. However, the thought of eating all the fish we wanted for four weeks helped.

Now things are different. We can have fish all the time. Our kids have lived elsewhere starting with college. But except for Jeremy's year in Chile and Seth's semester in France, they were never more than a short plane ride away until Seth moved to Brazil.

Luckily for us, one of his best high school friends got married in Montreal this past weekend, and he visited us on the way there and back. We had three great days with him. We talked a lot. We cooked his favorite dinners, he took his father to lunch as a late Father's Day present, and I took a day off from work to shop with him for his birthday. We watched some episodes of "In Treatment" and some Red Sox together.

After supper on his last evening here, I did my best to not feel sad. He left at 7:30 the next morning.

I am getting good at not crying, but my stomach ached all day.