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March 2018


It was the calm before the storm, literally. When Peter was released from rehab, we headed home just hours before the snow that shut down Washington for a day.

Leaving rehab wasn’t easy. Endless forms to sign. Endless instructions for physical and occupational therapy sessions and nurses’ visits at home.  Phone, computer, and electric razor chargers and other belongings accumulated during five weeks in the hospital to be packed up.

We hired a caregiver to help get Peter from the car to our apartment, two elevator rides and two long corridors away from our parking space and to help us rearrange the furniture to make it easier for him to manage on a walker. Our daughter-in-law Katrina was there to lend a hand.  It was a team effort.

Miracle of miracles, it all worked

And so began another phase in our “new normal”.  No more daily trips to the hospital, but other challenges. Life could not be more different than it was six months ago.

But Peter is home, and that is what matters.

Living on My Own

Since Peter has been in the hospital and rehab for six weeks with a broken femur, I have been living alone for the first time in fifty years.

I have managed to do things like reset all the clocks (even the car!) to daylight savings time, work the three TV remotes, pound in a nail or two and handle other household chores that were always Peter’s responsibility. It’s nice to know that I can do those things.

But I’d rather not.

On the other hand, there are some things that aren’t so bad. The apartment is much neater. I can eat when I want to, what I want to, or not eat at all. I can watch TV or not. I can go to bed on my schedule.

But I’d rather not.

Nose Mohs

Mohs surgery is a technique to remove skin-cancer cells. Like many in my generation, a suntan was a priority for me, and now I am paying the price. My new dermatologist found several suspicious spots on my face, and I just had the first, and hopefully the only, malignant one removed. There is a 99% cure rate with this surgery so I can be optimistic.

A couple of years ago, I had a similar procedure, and it was easy. This one, on the side of my nose, was more complicated, and so I have a black eye and a face that looks like it’s been to war. I can’t bend over, pick up anything weighing more than ten pounds, blow my nose, and, worst of all, I can’t exercise for a week.

In our retirement community, people know Mohs surgery. Upon seeing a large bandage on my face, people greet me knowingly with...

“Been to the dermatologist?”

Phone Calls from Friends

Life is fairly frantic for this newly-turned-eighty-year-old. Visiting Peter daily in the rehab hospital, “shopping” classes at American University, and participating in some of our retirement community’s activities, have left me hopelessly behind in everything else.

But I always have time for phone calls from friends.

Several from home check in with me a few times a week, others less often. All have provided tremendous support as I adjust to our new surroundings and new challenges.

I like hearing what’s going on in their lives too. I try not to sound too smug about our winter being so much easier than the endless one they are enduring in Massachusetts.

Our conversations are never short.

My new friends here have been caring and quick to offer help. But there is nothing better than friends of fifty-plus years. They always have my back

Out of Power

Everybody on the East coast seems to have a power-loss story. When we lost ours during the recent storm, our retirement community’s generators kept the health center and the hallway lights on, but the apartments were dark.

With my phone battery running down, I looked everywhere for our flashlight. Then I looked at the same places again, fully aware that repeating what already didn’t work was useless.

I decided to light a candle. In the drawer with the candles…our flashlight! I lit a candle anyway, promptly knocked it off the table and broke my favorite crystal candlestick.

By then it was 9:00 and going to bed was my best option. I woke at 1:30 a.m. when the lights came on, but because the refrigerator wasn’t humming, I called our security officer for help, hoping to save its contents. He agreed to have a look. Moments later, he called to say he couldn’t get into our building, and asked me to come down and open the emergency door. So there I was at 2:00 a.m., raincoat over my pajamas, flashlight in hand walking down two dark flights of stairs to open the emergency door.

He and I flipped circuit breakers and unplugged and plugged in the refrigerator. Nothing worked until additional power was restored an hour later.

In the morning, I questioned my wisdom in inviting a stranger into my apartment at 2:00 a.m. But the food in my refrigerator was just fine.

The New Normal

I like challenges. But Peter’s shattered femur has set the bar very high.  

I am taking it one day at a time. I spend three-to-four hours every day at the hospital’s rehab center. I bring Peter the newspaper, his mail and fresh clothes. He is making progress, but the road ahead seems long.

His caregivers are very skilled. Marsha, his occupational therapist, has been helping patients for decades. I had to look away when he winced in pain as she gently coached him into the front seat of a fake car. Renee, his physical therapist, knows just how far she can push him. They are professionals with the patience of saints.

I miss Peter all the time. I miss our reading the paper to each other at breakfast. I miss him as my co-pilot as I try to navigate Washington. I miss his warm body next to mine at night.

The surgeon says that it will take time, but he will recover.


P.S. Many thanks to 80-something readers for your speedy recovery wishes for Peter

A Break at the Rehab Center

Peter used to keep his cell phone in a case on his belt. However, because he couldn’t remove it quickly, he missed some calls. So he stopped using the case.

I decided that was a bad idea, and ordered a case that would fit in his pocket. I brought it to the hospital rehab center where he is recovering from his broken femur only to find that it was too small for his phone.

To make matters worse, seconds later, his uncased phone slipped out of my hand, and landed on the floor. The glass shattered.

I was inconsolable.

The good news is that UbreakIfix, a chain of stores that can replace broken cell phone glass in two hours (for a small fortune), wasn’t far away.  A friend visiting Peter took the phone there for me, and on my way home, I picked up a good-as-new phone.

A case that is the correct size has been ordered.

Being 80

I have been noticing different things now that I am eighty.

For example, in ten years I will be ninety. During this decade I will go from being old to being "old-old," that is, if I am lucky. And lately, friends tell me about a lot more falls and cancer diagnoses and a lot fewer new adventures.

I see that my generation’s children are middle-aged now. They are watching their waistlines expand and their nests empty. They are thinking about last chances to have the career of their dreams.

And I am paying attention to our generation’s grandchildren and their challenges. I hate that their schools have become war zones and that their backpacks have to be bulletproof. They deserve to be playful and carefree.

In my eighties I don't plan to forgo adventure. I also don't plan to fall.  We’ll see how that works out.


On a Lighter Note

It’s not easy to find something amusing when one’s spouse is in a rehab facility facing a long and painful recovery from a fractured femur.

Fortunately, our son Jeremy can always make me laugh.

Here’s what happened. On a summer-like day last week. I took an afternoon break from the rehab center to walk with my friend Carrie, a Kennedy School graduate and friend who lives not too far from the hospital. We walked for over an hour, chatting non-stop about everything except Peter’s broken femur.

At one point, she asked me to guess who she was having a drink with that evening. I mentioned a mutual friend. “No,” she said, “although that’s a good guess.” In fact, she was going to meet a friend she knows through her daughters’ school. And who might that be? Michelle Obama. Just the two of them!

I mentioned this to Jeremy that evening, telling him how excited I was for Carrie. Jeremy’s response:

“Well I wonder what Michelle Obama thought when she heard who Carrie walked with today!”