Monday, August 29, 2011

Surviving Hurricane Irene

The first time I got caught in the throws of a natural disaster was when I was eight years old. It was the end of May and to make matters worse, my mother was in the hospital recovering from an etopic pregnancy. My father was with her at the hospital so my brother and I were in babysitting care of neighbors. Tom and I were placidly watching I Love Lucy when the weather man kept interupting the program about these tornado warnings. I kept pointed out the announcements to Beverly but she told me not to worry.

Hail balls started coming down the size of eggs. I looked out the window and saw my friend Rita running out to grab one like it was a souvenir. Than the power went out. We ran down the stairs when a window blew out and the glass came flying at us. I screamed and thought, here I am just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz going through a tornado. It turns out three tornados blasted through Fridley, Minnesota that night. My brother and I relied totally on the kindness of neighbors to get us through the night.

The next morning the neighborhood was in total devastation. The cross from the church across the street sat mangled and bent in our front yard. The grocery store roof totally caved in. Some homes were flattened.

Now some forty years later, my brother and I shared a natural disaster together again. Since my brother lives in a beach community, Rowayton, CT, he got a knock on the door at 1pm on Saturday and was ordered to evacuate. I picked him up at 3pm and decided to make the best of the situation and had my neighbor and her guests over for dinner Saturday night. I did my best to create a festive mood, preparing my signature dishes--ceasar salad, chicken picata, the best baguette bread I know of, blueberry pie--and LOTS of candles.

About 11pm we went to bed and hoped for the best. I tried to sleep, but this howling wind started up. I kept one window in my bedroom cracked, and I remember this strong force of air pushing through my room, making me toss and turn. At about 3:30pm I heard this hard thump, then went back into a restless sleep.

At 7:30am I walked upstairs to make coffee and noticed something different. There was more light in the kitchen window. Then I looked out and realized the big tree in my front yard was gone. I ran outside and saw the tree laying across my driveway with the branches cradling the back of my car.

My neighbor called out from her window upstairs and said: don't worry the fire department has been here, and the condo association would be there shortly so my car wouldn't be trapped in the driveway. Neighhbors walked by and shook there heads. Most everyone said: "It's a miracle that tree missed your car."

A few hours later, I walked through the neighborhood and realized I was not alone. There were at least 6 trees down. Miraculously, they all fell into the street and not one dived into someone's roof. I consider myself lucky. When I drove my brother back to his house, at about 6pm Sunday night, it was clear his evacuation was a good decision. all the roads were flooded and people were walking around in those those rubber "Wellie" boots. My brother had wanted to get rid of his gravel driveway in favor of tar paving, but I believe the gravel driveway prevented the flooding from creeping inside his home. His house surived Irene unscathed.

It just goes to show, none of the flashlights, candles and bottled water could have prevented that tree from falling down in my front yard. You just never know when mother nature decides to knock on your door and blow hard.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Family First

Last Saturday I drove my brother up to Boston for what I believe is his sixth leg surgery over the past five years. Like me, he is a cancer survivor. He got the same kind of tumor in his leg that Ted Kennedy Junior had, but Mass General Hospital in Boston decided to make him a guinea pig by trying this revolutionary radiation back in 1982. The treatment worked and they were able to spare his leg from getting amputated. They also predicted almost 30 years ago that his leg would start to deteriorate from the radiation as he entered middle age. The complications started some five years ago right on schedule.

The doctors down here in Connecticut don't want to mess with his beaten and battle-worn leg anymore and all of them recommend amputation. But the team up at Mass General--who see tons of cases like his every week that hail from all over the world--feel differently.

His surgery lasted almost five hours on Saturday so I killed time by taking a tour of Boston, walking through the park in Beacon Hill and having a beer at Cheers. When the doctor finally called me on my cellphone, he said all went well. This is his last shot. If he gets just one more infection in his leg, it's a done deal and they MUST amputate his leg because he risks losing his life since the infection could travel swiftly through the rest of his body.

My brother's quality of life has been seriously compromised by his leg. Yet I have to support every choice he makes regarding what to do about it. I just pray to God this surgery will alleviate some of his pain and help him enjoy a few activities he's always enjoyed, such as golf. All I know it that when someone in your immediate family has a health crisis, you've got to be there for them. It makes all the difference in the world.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Giving Books and Saving Worms

A few years ago I was eating breakfast at a diner with my friend Dawn when the waitress came up to us and said the man sitting in the next booth had paid for our breakfasts. We wanted to thank him, but he was already out the door and getting into his car. So we gave him an appreciative wave from the window and he responded with a nod and smile before driving away.

We asked the waitress what precipitated his kindness and we found out this man came to the diner a few times a week and always picks someone to pay for their meal. "He does it because he wants to do one good deed a day without asking anything in return," she told us. "So paying for someone's breakfast is his way of getting that done for the day."

At first, I was a little disappointed by her explanation. I kind of hoped the guy was doing it as a way to break the ice and ask one of us out--preferably me. But then I realized his good deed strategy was ingenious. I firmly believe in karma, and what better way to build a good karma bank account then to simply do one good deed a day?

I'm too cheap to pay for someone's breakfast every day, but of late I've been making a consientous effort to follow this guy's daily mission. If I'm sitting at a traffic light and a homeless person is standing there, I'll give them a few bucks. When I see a couple kids sitting on the street selling lemonade, I turn around to buy a drink even if it's that crappy powdered mix stuff. For a buck, I just reinforced a child's work ethic.

Lately I've been wondering what to do with all my books. So when a friend confides in me with an issue, I think of a book on my shelf that might help with her problem. It's so much nicer than just dropping them a bunch of books at Goodwill.

Sometimes a deed is a no brainer, like sending a birthday ecard to a friend. Now that I've been walking almost every day, I've taken to saving the lives of worms. That's right. There's this stretch of a worm grave yard on the trail I walk and there's always one worm squirming on the tar--just barely alive. I pick the worm up gently and throw it into the moist grass. I feel proud that my small act gave one living creative on this planet a second chance. I'd like to do more, but its a start.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Growing Old Isn't For Sissies

It's Saturday morning and as usual, I struggled to get out of bed because my legs and feet are stiff, achey and swollen. They've been this way for three years now. I was told it is a side effect from chemotherapy. I remember Dr. Fischbach, rattling off a laundry list of possible side effects as I was about to commence chemotherapy. When he said possible numbness of the extremities such as feet and hands, I thought he meant the numbness would be temporary while I was undergoing treatment. I had no idea it would be a chronic condition.

But it is. Now every morning as I wobble out of my bedroom, I am reminded that my body just ain't what it used to be--thanks to my battle with cancer. This slight neuropathy has also insidiously impacted my ability to exercise more, which in turn has hurt my physical fitness, and my weight and my overall health. Now I have to go to the doctor every three months in order for my blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure to be closely monitored.

The days of getting an annual check-up and clean bill of health ended for me more than six years ago. Now it's always something. I feel the effects of aging every time I huff and puff up a hill, struggle to bend over and buckle a shoe strap or sleep too much. Growing old sucks--for all of us. At each major birthday--65, 70, 75, my mother would borrow a famous quote from Betty Davis, which she swears Betty Davis stole from her mother: "Growing old isn't for sissies" She is so right. Each year brings on more aches and mounting blonde moments (which others call senior moments). But at least I'm not alone.

I watch helplessly as my younger brother battles with a deteriorating leg that was massively radiated on 30 years ago in order to save it from a cancerous tumor. He was an enthusiastic athlete all his life and it breaks my heart to see how a bum leg has taken away so many activities he loved. There are days his leg pain is so great that he downs multiple pain medication only to vomit later from nausea. We are prisoners to our bodies' limitations. Yet somehow, some way, we've got to hurdle through the pain and try to maintain our health.

By passively making excuses and not at least trying to take care of our bodies, it gets harder to make a comeback with our strength, our energy, our vitality. So on that note, its time for me to creakily bend over and lace up my tennis shoes so I can embark on a brisk, 40 minute walk. Now that I am in the HOPE exercise study, I must do at least 150 minutes of aerobic activity a week. So far I've only clocked in 80 minutes for the week. I've got some catching up to do. But I've been doing the 150 minutes of walking for three straight weeks religiously. After all, I'm no sissie.