Wimpy Palms and Tradition

Ever since I can remember, my father and I have braided palms together on Palm Sunday. I have written about this previously, but each year is special for different reasons.

Now my father is aging and the most obvious aspect of that is neuropathy in his hands. He struggles to write legibly and my step-mother and I help him when needed for correspondence and etc. The way he eats has also changed. His hands don’t shake, but he’s lost the grip that he once had and now it’s a more deliberate process. He holds onto his utensils differently, but still makes it work.

He and Diane went to Mass last night he and brought some good palms home. The long, green, thick kind. But it was a bit late and so we decided to braid them today. I went to Mass this morning but the ones I got weren’t good for braiding. They were short, cut off at an angle. No base to work with. Then today I had to study and do some things first, so it took awhile before we could do this together.

I saw him tonight sitting with the palms, struggling to fold them the way he’s always shown me. Not complaining, just quietly persevering. The palms were partially curled up and dried, so not as bendable and sturdy. More yellow and crinkly than green.

My father’s sheer determination and doggedness has gotten him through life. I am happy to say that I am mostly the same way. I’ll figure things out, even if it takes me longer or I need to find a different way that makes sense for me.

Tonight I offered to help him finish the braid. “The palms are wimpy,” I said, commenting on how they had changed from last night.

“MY palms are wimpy,” he said. We laughed, but I reassured him that his own hands are still strong. He still gets done what needs doing. He doesn’t just give up on things if he’s frustrated.

But I’m glad to share this with him. We only made one this year. It’s small. I asked him to take a picture with it and he was happy to do that. I feel very blessed, indeed.

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Valentine to My Parents and Single Chicas

I think my Valentine this year, truly, is my parents.

November 2, we moved from Illinois to Kansas. They were retiring here and I have been wanting to come home to Wichita at least five years, since all our family is still here.

I took a huge risk. I left 30 years of stability — and 3.5 years with a job– to start over.

I just wanted to be where all the love is. I miss my Illinois friends, sure.

But some four months in, I don’t regret any of that decision. I’m slowly building a life in Kansas. I haven’t found a job yet, I’m still searching.

And I tend to be an anxious woman, imagining the worst case of every scenario.  But in the past month I’m settling into a burgeoning sense of optimism. I believe that I will continue to propel myself forward.  That only good things are coming my way. I believe in my own judgement and ability to discern the right time when making choices.

And my parents are the ones who gave that to me. They are both conservative people raised in large, close families. Both deeply rooted in Catholicism, Stoicism, and work.

One of my biggest doubts when deciding to move here was about whether I should give up all my independence and live with them again. I’ve been out of the home since 18 except for summers in college and a few months until I got my first job after graduation.

I’m used to living alone. Taking a bath at 4 a.m. if I want. Coming in whatever time I want. Having all the living space to spread out. To make and receive calls randomly.

It’s been an adjustment, three adults sharing living space with vastly different habits.

It’s also been a tremendous gift. I will get my own place and move out, but this time right now is something I’ll remember. Proximity forces you to notice each other in new ways.

My parents have also made Valentine’s Day a special day for us as a family by exchanging gifts with each other and me each year. My Dad brought chocolate for us both and a generous bouquet of red roses. I got some dark chocolate truffles for Diane and deviled eggs for my Dad, and a card for them both. Diane does so much for us every day. Little practical things like getting the coffee ready to go.

One of the best moments today was putting make-up on with Diane. I’m going out with some new chicas tonight to see “Isn’t it Romantic?” starring the brilliant Rebel Wilson. We bought our tickets ahead online. I’m smuggling in some candy to save cash– cherry Blow Pops. I suggested wearing red lipstick and they were game!

Diane complimented my make-up and I showed her what products I used. She then showed me some of her reds and let me try a few on. I had said that my original one made my lips look a little thin. She thought I looked better with a slightly darker tone.

I don’t remember doing this with her as a young girl. But I’m glad we did tonight. Just having her share her make-up with me and look at me to give me advice felt special.

She is going out tonight to dinner with my Dad and another couple. They’re helping each other find pieces of their ensembles, fixing collars. It’s sweet to watch.

Maybe one day I’ll be able to do that with my own husband. I can hope, right?

So this year, I claim Valentine’s Day for celebrating family love and new female friendships. All my female friends back home were either married or in serious relationships or had moved away, so I could never make “Galentine’s Day” plans like this with them. Now here in Wichita, I have new single friends and I love it!

2019 is off to a great start!

 

 

 

 

Care, Competency and Consent: What Four Nights in the Hospital Taught Me

Thursday night I was admitted to the hospital and this morning I awoke in my own bed.

It’s been a long time since I was in the hospital that long. I had a lot of feelings about it. At first I felt anxiety and boredom, along with mild annoyance. I had stuff to do. The bed had no back support and was intermittently moving around thanks to new technology to prevent bed sores. After two days I felt like a “sick person,” and didn’t like it.

But on a deep level, I felt secure. I had done my research and chosen doctors affiliated with this hospital after seeking recommendations from local family members. I had established relationships with these doctors and my relevant specialists came to see me. This hospital was close to home, part of a large network, but a smaller branch. It had an excellent reputation and my aunt had recommended it. I knew that I was safe there. And that helped me to relax.

A major reason why I preferred this hospital was rooted in something practical: all the phlebotomists and nurses were competent and respectful about getting lab work done. They found a vein quickly and often without pain. They didn’t argue when I told them to use my hands, not my arm. Staff at other hospitals I had visited for lab work and tests struggled, needed multiple sticks and often had to change staff to someone more skilled. When an IV was needed and I consented to them using my arm for a bigger needle, it was difficult for them. The staff that this hospital were all excellent with such a delicate but ordinary routine– and to me that’s vital.

When you’re hospitalized, it’s easy to let your fear and pain, if you’re afflicted with it, consume you.  Luckily this time I had no pain. Discomfort, yes. But not pain. Regardless it’s to easy to detach from the immediacy of your care and let others take the reigns– if they are competent and you trust them. If you’re able to think on that level, which many are not because they are too sick. My Dad has been there at every hospital stay, and most of my doctor visits. And that was needed, because he was the calming presence who reassured me to trust my doctors and that it was important to make decisions and get things fixed rather than avoid them. He was there to squeeze my hand when I needed blood work or IV’s that caused me to breathe deep because my veins are collapsed and scarred in many places. He helped me pay. In the past I would look to him to help me understand the most important information and usually go with his advice.

But I was younger then. So was my Dad.  Now he’s 76 and I’m 38. He falls asleep in his chair more often. He doesn’t chat as much. I don’t need to ask him as much and we share companionable silences. I have done a lot without his help and done it successfully. Without realizing it, I did absorb his analytical nature and ability to cut through the bullshit and find out what needs answering by the doctors and hospital staff. I taught myself to have a list of questions ready along with suggestions. I have spent much of my life in a hospital setting and handle it better than most. I realized it was up to me to help myself heal and actively participate in my care and recovery.

And I realized something  wonderful: I am a competent woman even when I feel uncertain and stressed. My Dad visited me every day, but was only present once when my doctors were visiting me. That first night. He stayed till 12:30 a.m., making sure there was a plan and I was safe.

So I asked all the important questions to learn about my diagnosis and options. I called and texted my friends and relatives to learn if anyone in our family had my symptoms. I asked my friends if they had ever dealt with something similar. I Googled away to educate myself as best I could. I questioned the nurses about updates and the next step in my treatment.

And I became a strong advocate on my own behalf. I realized at one point I no longer needed input from anyone else, even the doctors. I had made decisions. Obviously every doctor is prepared to make the ultimate decision when necessary and to negotiate aggressively for treatments families may want to avoid because of risk, price, or an inability to accept their loved one is sick enough to warrant that level of intervention. But it’s up to us as patients to make sure we understand what’s happening and draw the boundaries about what is an option and what is a hard “no.” We need to know our bodies and what we feel and not hold back when something makes us uncomfortable.

They had goals for my treatment plan and release and they met those goals in the predicted timeframe. They were patient enough to advocate for the least-invasive course of action, rather than the quickest solution. They decided to use meds rather than surgery and wait it out an extra couple of days to let me heal, and that was reassuring to me. They explained why I wasn’t a good candidate for that surgery and that it was an option but more likely a short-term fix that would bear addressing again in the future. I agreed with them and we proceeded with success. But the whole way through, they cared about my safety and consent.

At 4 a.m. when I was being woken up for blood work, they were kind and did not rush me. Every time, I was asked if it was okay. Most times they knew to use my hand, so a note must have been in my chart. I woke up just enough to move my arm for their access and then luckily fell back asleep instantly.

Once my symptoms were gone for a satisfactory amount of time and my lab work had returned to healthy stable levels for more than 8 hours, I was released quickly. They didn’t drag the paperwork out. I felt exuberant and 200 percent better.

I was grateful. During those four nights I had no responsibility other than seeing to my immediate needs: going to the bathroom, ordering my meals from food service and eating them, and answering questions about what was bothering me and what was working. I asked for a fresh hospital gown, to have a nurse wrap my IV so I could shower, to have another glass of water or more blankets. I brushed my teeth and washed my hair. Otherwise I received the IVs ordered and relaxed. I took my meds when they were brought to me on a schedule. I was able to text and call my family and friends, and receive visitors.

I slept when I needed and watched TV when I wanted. I got to catch up on some re-runs of the original “Roseanne,” which delighted me. I watched the Grammys Sunday night and squealed about each gown and musical performance.

Now I am healthier and comfortable with renewed energy.

I had been telling one of the nurses who I interacted with the most about Lady Gaga’s Grammy win for “Shallow” from her soundtrack contributions to “A Star is Born.” I told him that he NEEDED to watch this song and that it would *CLEAN UP at the Oscars. He hadn’t seen the movie yet but agreed she and Bradley Cooper have insane chemistry and they should just get together already! As he was wheeling me out to exit, my Dad went to get the car. I had declined a wheelchair but it’s just a service they provide to help your transition and show you that last bit of care as you leave. So I allowed myself to accept it.

My nurse surprised me by finding “Shallow,” on his phone and playing it close to my ear. He didn’t tell me, he just let me notice it, which is interesting because my left ear is my deaf ear and it’s a surprise I didn’t miss it.

“Tell me something, girl….” The song was close enough that I heard it.

“Are you happy in this modern world?”

It was so unexpected and considerate. It even seemed a bit romantic. I just enjoyed the moment– that my favorite song for more than six months was being played for me by someone. A stranger, really.  A female trainee nurse was there also so I didn’t comment or flirt, but if I hadn’t already been sitting down I might have swooned or asked him to dance with me.

Maybe that moment was a little gesture from God, reminding me that he’s paying attention to this girl. To keep believing and that the Next Good Thing in my life will be happening soon.

Regardless, not a bad last moment to remember in that hospital. I may be single this Valentine’s Day, but I’ll remember that song and that bearded male nurse and smile on February 14.

My First 15k: Calm and Capable

Two weeks ago now, I smashed my first 15k AKA 9.3 miles!

October 29, I completed my first true distance race past a 10k in Chicago– The Hot Chocolate Run. And God bless my Dad, he went to support me. At 4:45 we drove up together. And I learned so much about myself that made me feel confident. I even got myself and my Dad signed up for updates on my progress en route: me on facebook and him via text messages.

Prior, I didn’t have anxiety about the race. I knew I could cover the distance because my last training run was 8.33 miles– with the last four in driving cold rain and headwinds.

But I did have anxiety about other aspects: finding parking for the expo: at the Shamrock Shuffle 8k last April I went to three flippin’ spaces before I found a spot. I worried about the parking garage I chose for the race, and then helping my 75-year-old father find the finish line and meeting up with him afterwards. What if I picked the wrong garage and it was full? What if we were late finding the start? What if one our phones died and I couldn’t find him afterward?

This was my first Chicago race where I wouldn’t be riding with a friend who knew where to park, who I could just follow to the start line. My Dad drove, but I made all the decisions. Instead of using SpotHero, which has proved unreliable, I chose one of the five garages suggested on the race website. I used the discount they offered instead. And everything worked out. I even used gear check, something I used to be too anxious to do.

I had a blast at the expo the day before, and things were easy from the beginning. I even found my car after without a problem! I stayed from 10:00 a.m. to 3 p.m. because why not? I had no other plans, nothing else pressing to do. I tried on shoes, got fitted for a bra (none of which I bought)– sampled different flavors of nunn. Ambled around and passed by most of what I saw. Tried a rolling stick on my calves and feet. Tried on my racing shirt to make sure it fit. And I bought a few things I needed– including The Tube, a soft belt with three pouches, two zippered, that you can wear on your hips on race day. It’s snug and secure and actually comfortable.

I also bought my first medal rack. There were several for sale in different colors: silver, black, hot pink. I ended up going with a black one that says,

“Courage to start
Strength to endure
Resolve to finish.”

It has 10 hooks on it, and I got a hot pink magnet to go with it that says 15k.

I’m excited to put it up in my apartment! I have enough medals now.

On the way out, I stopped at a table and made myself a race poster. Why not? I was going to ask my Dad to hold it, but figured it best to keep it simple and left it at home. But he did hold it up for a picture for me after.

The race was amazing. So many people were complaining about the cold, but I was fine. I didn’t need a gaitor. I finally know how to adapt my clothes to races: in layers. I had on a t-shirt, the racing half-zip, and a waterproof thin jacket over it, plus gloves. I had on two pairs of tights and wool socks. My New Balances.

I also ran the full 9.3 miles WITHOUT music or my running app, since my battery was depleted so fast before the race even started. I had no idea bout my pace, and lost the 14:00 minute pacer around the 5 mile mark. I started out with a nun’s veil as a costume, but ditched it after mile four: it was too heavy and hot. And I ain’t no nun anyway!

At the 8th mile I called my Dad to alert him to watch for me.

And as I crossed that finish line, I didn’t cry like I had expected. I wasn’t even emotional. Instead, I was just very calm. Happy with myself. Even without my pacer, I still hit my goal of staying under 14:00 minutes per mile! My final time was 2:08:39 seconds at a 13:49 pace!

I had stayed moving for an entire 9.3 miles! It brought me back to the Cinco de Miler in 2016, my first five mile race, where I had to walk the last three miles and had terrible knee pain. I almost quit three times.

Now I can cover 9.3 miles moving continuously, NO PAIN!

And my Dad was right where I asked him to be: on the left. And truthfully, I didn’t need him to hold up a sign or even to yell my name as I crossed the finish line. Just seeing him there, my reliable wonderful father, was enough. Strong and silent. Then he took pictures of me through the fence, and we met up and he gave me a hug. I got someone to take a picture of us.

All the race photos were wonderful as well.

The way we took care of each other at this race was very special. Before the race started, he wouldn’t leave me until I got to my assigned corral. He was still concerned about me. At the gear check, I led him by the hand because there were so many people and it was dark pre-dawn, I didn’t want to lose him. Afterward we went to gear check and picked up my stuff, then to redeem my hot chocolate bowl! We shared my chocolate snacks and then went to breakfast after.

Just spending so much time with him was wonderful. Normally I can only see him at my parents’ house, or if he comes over to fix something or we go to dinner or a movie. He’s a man of routine! But being with with him in the big city, I felt so grateful and safe, too. I worry about him getting older, but he got around just fine to the finish line without my help.

Although now I walk faster than him, which makes me a bit sad. I used to always have to walk so fast to keep up with him as a little girl. I’d hold his thumb in my fist, his hands are so big. I slowed down and we walked together. He did this for me because he knew it was important, and that’s what I’d asked for as my 37th birthday present, that he come to one of my races.

And he picked the most important one.

I did one more race the following week: The Carrera de los Muertos in Pilsen. But it was rained out due to thunder, lightening, and some flooding on the course. We were still given our medals. It was actually November 4, the morning of my 37th birthday. But I had so much fun just dressing up, driving with my friend Heather, and taking pictures that it didn’t even matter. I met up with Diana, a friend from my run club, plus another girl I’d met in line for packet pick-up. The day was amazing!

Now my next goals will be a 10 mile and a half-marathon. I know I can do it. At work the next day a co-worker was impressed that I was walking without a limp. He said when he did the same race and distance last year, he had been in pain!

It seems my body is slowly acclimating to running and I recover quickly.

But I’m taking a little break from racing. Not because of winter. But because races are expensive and I was very social in September and October. I really got into Halloween. I want to save some money and catch up on some other things, too. I’ve been so focused on running the past few months and over the summer that I’ve fallen behind in some other areas. Plus, I need to recharge a bit.

I also have had a small cold for the past two weeks. Still a bit sniffly. Want to get that gone before I start running in the cold and risk another one.

There’s a race in December I may do, but no Turkey Trots yet this year.

I’m feeling amazing. It’s like a a new relationship where you feel secure in the connection and can take a little space knowing it won’t compromise what you share together already.

Excavating the Splinter

I feel seriously tough tonight!

For a week, I’ve had a splinter festering. The culprit was a wooden fan.

I kept hoping it would work it’s way out– but it was burrowing deeper. Worse, it was underneath the skin; nothing was poking out.

Like most kids, I grew up with my Dad doing the minor surgery required in the past. We always used a needle and alcohol– usually at the kitchen table.

I could feel it had already been too long and knew I had to take action today.

I asked a co-worker who is a mother of two to appraise it: she suggested tweezers. Obviously I didn’t have the tools at work.

This evening, I called over and asked for my parents’ help.

I brought my own needle and alcohol pad wipes over.

With a new sewing needle wiped clean and sterilized, my Dad broke the skin and then used the needle to try and push it out by dragging the needle across it. It wasn’t working. It made me sad that he didn’t seem to know anymore how to fix it.

He’s always known exactly what to do– always able to make quick decisions.

Luckily, I was paying attention all those times as a kid. And *I remembered the routine he had shown me myriad times in my life. Plus, my hands are smaller. I can maneuver better.

But he did help me– with moral support. My Step-mom Diane, too. And I needed it.

He held my finger steady while I poked around with the needle to dig it out. I YELLED. Doesn’t matter what age you are, splinters are always a bitch!

Then I asked Diane for some tweezers and she went upstairs to loan me hers. As she returned, they were gleaming. Might as well have been a surgical instrument! She stood by.

I grasped the edge of that splinter and –with my LEFT hand, mind you!!– yanked!!

I GOT IT!

It wasn’t long, but was a good size. Underneath the skin. It was square and jagged. It appeared to have all come out intact, what a relief! I yelled in joy.

“YES!!”

We worked as a team. They were happy to help and we all laughed about it.

Sometimes life gives us those little problems to remind us that we’re loved.

That it’s okay, and even good, to ask for help.

And maybe one day, I’ll be lucky enough to help my own kid excavate their splinter– just like my Dad taught me.

Peace at the the Dinner Table

Tonight I ran the 1.27 miles to my parents’ home, since my Dad invited me to dinner. I took a rest day last night so wanted to get going again. He promised to drive me home.

I achieved something interesting: shaving at least four minutes off my typical time. It was so cold that I stuffed my phone in my jacket pocket and didn’t have time to check my mileage or mess with the songs playing. I could only think to keep moving, to warm myself up and get there faster. And I just let GO. I felt very grounded in the moment and mindful.

I just enjoyed the hustle.

As we ate the Chinese food my Dad had picked up, Diane asked some great questions. And I learned that she’s much more liberal and open-minded than I would have ever guessed.

And she nonchalantly commented about how I’m doing well, I’ve made good choices. We had some great discussions about current affairs and how we feel about them. With respect! We laughed and talked about our plans as a family for this year, goals we all have.

And I felt this sudden, deep peace.

I often worry about their age and health, being in their mid-70’s.  But when my Dad spilled some food on his sleeve, Diane joked, “I can’t wait to see him at 85.”

That gave me a deep sense of relief. She, his wife, isn’t worried about his health.

I realized that things really are okay, with all of us. That what I feel is truly anxiety– that there’s no basis for me to worry as much as I do about their health and how much time may be left with them.

That maybe, just maybe, God really IS looking out for us. As individuals, and as a family.

Things are only getting better, and tonight I’ll sleep like a young child.  Thank you, Lord.