Winners and Losers

There are winners and losers in an election. That’s just the way it works, the way it has always worked. The person with the most votes wins. Sometimes that person is the one you wanted and sometimes it’s not. But wishing won’t change the reality.

I’ve lost races before. We all have. We didn’t get elected to the student council or officer in an association – or elected to Congress or president. It’s just not possible for everyone to win. And I grew up in an America where, if you didn’t win, you conceded defeat gracefully (if not happily) and stepped aside for the winner to take the spot you wanted for yourself. You looked at what worked and what didn’t and decided whether or not to try again. You let go and moved on.

But the idea of simply saying you won’t accept the result of an election unless you win is an alien concept. Everyone can’t win. That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works. Sometimes you just lose because more people vote for the other person, even if you don’t understand or like that they did.

In this midterm election we find candidate after candidate already anouncing that they would not admit defeat, that losing a race automatically means there is fraud or irregularity because of COURSE they would win.

Losing is a bitter pill, and the higher the office, the harder that pill is to swallow for both the candidate and their followers. There have been many elections where the person I supported lost and I had to simply accept it even while seething at the jubilation of the winning side. But those losing candidates understood that two people can’t win the same race for a single spot. One of them wins, the other loses.

I’m afraid for our country. I’m afraid of the hatred and vitriol that I see spilling out of political ads and news broadcasts. And I’m afraid of the same words hurled by neighbor against neighbor when they hold different positions. More people are so full of anger and pent up violence, and more of them have guns and the freedom to carry and use them. That doesn’t make me feel more secure; it makes me more afraid that innocents will be shot because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. We live in a climate of violence all the time now and it’s going to erupt in dangerous ways. I’m afraid of what’s coming.

Isolation of the Home

I’ve been in a nursing home for almost five weeks. Oh, they call it a “skilled nursing facility” but it’s a nursing home with three sections: skilled care, memory care, and assisted living. We’re here because we need help that we can’t get at home. I’m the youngest person I’ve seen so far, though granted I haven’t seen most of the residents, just the ones in my unit and the ones who go to rehab.

But this is a lonely place. It’s regimented with wake up time, meal times, rehab time, and some scheduled activities for those in Assisted Living; not sure about Memory Care. But we skilled people mostly sit around in our rooms and wait for visitors or rehab or naps or whatever. Some people never have visitors that we see, and I wonder about their support and say a prayer for them. Of course, they could have lots of phone calls and visitors I don’t see, but I’m not betting on it. Because they are so quiet when I see them in the halls, and stare vacantly ahead at something that may or may not be there.

Meal times are particularly odd for me. It’s like eating dinner by myself surrounded by other people also eating dinner alone. We share a table and eat the same foods but no one talks unless I start a conversation. There’s only so many chats we can have about how therapy was or what we did this afternoon, because we didn’t do anything. No talk of family, homes, children, things we like to do. We don’t know what’s wrong with each other and what brings us here. And I think most people are not sure where they are going; they may or may not get well enough to go home again.

It’s terrifying to be alone in a room with a body that’s not working the way it used to for reasons you may not understand, and to not know what’s ahead. Time stands still. Your mind short-circuits the thoughts about how to handle it all and you just start to shut down mentally because it’s too hard to process the pain, the uncertainty, and the isolation.

That’s where I was when I was first at the Olympic Center. My body was doing alien things, people wanted me to do impossible things, and I could see no way out. Add in the “no visitors” policy and I could just deal with whatever was immediately in front of me, without being able to think ahead. When I got to this second place, my mind was clearer but I bawled like a baby when I was shut inside this room and realized this was my space for an indefinite period of time. It’s been brightened up by colorful things including my gorgeous quilt and when the sun shines in, it’s not too bad. But I spend a lot of time here on my own. My attention span is narrow. I can’t concentrate on a lot, including some great books waiting on the Kindle, and waste time watching Food Network shows which have no plot to follow.

If you know someone in one of “those places”, brighten their day with a card or a note. They can pick it up and see that they are remembered even while they are alone. Flowers from the grocery store, a box of soft Puffs for a sore nose, some scented lotion are all lovely and inexpensive gifts. But mostly just remember that people are here, and keep them in your prayers. It can be a very lonely place for most of us. You don’t want to be here unless you have to be – and when you are, you want to be remembered.

Life Threw Me a Curve

A lot has changed since last I wrote. I moved into my new home on Thursday, August 5th and was excited to begin my new life at Meadow Lake. I was already scheduled for spine surgery at Tuesday, August 24th and wanted to get my home organized and ready before that happened. The reason for the surgery was severe spinal stenosis, which was messing up my right foot and leg.

Then I fell. Again. Since November, I’ve fallen at least 8 times, which is 8 too many. I used the magic alert button to get help to get me up, but even I could see that I was weaker than I had been. And my left leg began to give me trouble, too. That was on Saturday, August 7th. Two days later I fell again, this time in the bathroom, when I let go of my walker and my legs collapsed under me. Not good. This time when I used the alert button, I had them call the EMTs to get me to the hospital. And before they arrived, I was giving instructions to help feed cats and collect charge cords and important things to shove into my purse.

I spent the day in the ER at UTHealth Tyler, which was like a circus. They did a CT scan of my head to be sure there wasn’t a brain bleed, since I hit my head in the fall. And x-rays of my back to be sure nothing had chipped off. When the doctors learned that I was scheduled for spine surgery, they arranged to talk with my surgeon, who also practices at the hospital. They did another back MRI and when I came out at 5:30pm, my surgeon was waiting to talk with me. It wasn’t safe for me to go home alone. And waiting for surgery 2 weeks later wasn’t advised, because hospitals were starting to cancel elective surgeries. The plan was to have the same spine surgery but moved up 2 weeks and at this hospital instead.

So I spent a few days in the hospital, able to get myself to the bedside commode using a walker, but finding that harder to do. Surgery went well and I ended up in ICU at 11:15pm on August 12th. Post-op I worked with someone from physical therapy but my legs were basically dead weight from the waist down. They did another back MRI which confirmed that surgery did what it was expected to do. And an MRI of my brain to be sure I hadn’t had a stroke, which I didn’t.

What the neurologists finally decided was that there were two different things going on. The stenosis surgery should help my right foot, but the nerves were so badly compressed that it will likely take 6-8 months. The muscle weakness is probably due to swelling in the conus area at the tail of the spinal cord – the spot that I kept reinjuring every time I fell on my butt, which I did a lot. It’s very unhappy and is going to take a lot of time to heal – if it does. Right now my best hope is that it gets a little better.

I moved to the Olympic Center Rehabilitation Facility at the UT Hospital on Tuesday, August 17th. My physical therapist explained when I asked that my condition is incomplete paraplegia. I have some limited control of my legs and the ability to pee and poop. Which are huge things. But it takes two people to get me out of bed now, or moved to a bedside commode or wheelchair. My upper body is strong and getting stronger. My lower body had a huge day on Saturday when I stood for 90 seconds, hanging on for dear life to the parallel bars while others helped hold me up. Success in very small things.

This is only the very first step in healing. I can only stay here 2 weeks, and then I will be off to somewhere else for longer-term care and rehab. I’m thinking that will probably be at Meadow Lake, since I’m a resident now and get priority access. The case manager will talk with me about what discharge means and what my options are, probably on Wednesday. I will leave here in a wheelchair.

And because this is going to take a lot of energy and work, I resigned from my job this week because I couldn’t figure out how to concentrate on healing and also do a job. Someone else can figure out bulletins and newsletters. I need to figure out how to stand.

I miss my cats. I miss my home. I miss the ability to throw off covers and walk. I miss having clean hair. I miss being independent.

I’m afraid and I’m grieving. And I’m also aware of how many small acts of kindness have been poured in my direction. People stepping up to care for my kitties. Friends unpacking boxes and moving things around so it will be easier for me to navigate when I can get back home. Friends shopping Walmart for comfortable loungewear and mini cans of Diet Pepsi. I can’t have visitors now – new Covid policy – but I so appreciate the texts, calls, and email. I’m alone. But I’m not.

More on this journey to come. I wanted to get down the details while I was still sure of what they were, especially timing. That I know I’ll forget as time passes.

To Mask or Not to Mask

Everyone is sick of wearing masks. Me, too. It’s become an extension of myself when I leave the safe cocoon of my home, my car, my office – though at work I wear my mask on a chain around my neck so I can pull it up fast if anyone comes in. When I’m out in public and see someone not wearing a mask or, heaven forbid wearing one on their chin, I find myself moving away and keeping extra distance.

Well, that got just got harder to do. As of today, thanks to our governor, Texas is wide open 100% – no limits on business capacity, and no mask mandates. Let’s open up restaurants, bars, businesses, arenas, stadiums, theaters, and pack ’em in, no masks required. Except … that’s not what the CDC says. So it leads us to a dilemma: to wear a mask as urged by the CDC, or don’t wear a mask and go back to business as usual pre-pandemic. There was a middle ground that the governor chose not to try: open up the businesses but still require masks, at least for another two months, so more people can be vaccinated. Many businesses ARE continuing to require masks but it’s unenforceable except for federal buildings, and it was very weird to be in a store with half of the people masked and the other half looking naked.

I’ve had both of my Moderna vaccine shots though I need another week before I’m considered fully covered. But with that vaccination, I know that I won’t die of Covid and probably wouldn’t be hospitalized if I catch it. I could still get sick and I could infect someone else – and that’s why I wear a mask. I do not want to risk infecting someone else, especially all those store clerks, wait staff, service workers, you know, the essential workers, who haven’t yet been able to get vaccinated.

According to the CDC, I know that I will soon be able to get together in small groups with other fully vaccinated people or with those not vaccinated but at low risks. But I’m not ready to rip off the mask and go to a party at the club, or to a crowded restaurant, or to see a movie. I feel naked when I don’t have it on and don’t know how to feel safe again without it. That’s going to be a harder adjustment than putting them on in the first place.

I’m not going to the mask burning party at the club, though. I still need it.

Post-vaccination thoughts

Arm With Bandaid After Vaccination

It has been a crazy, stressed, isolated, angry, and terrifying year; Covid19 changed everything for all of us, though not in the same ways. Last year at this time we were about to be completely shut down, with those who could beginning to work from home. Schools closed and families scrambled to homeschool AND work from home without preparation or equipment. Zoom became a verb as we taught classes, held meetings, went to church, celebrated birthdays and holidays. We lived in pods and wore masks to protect ourselves and others when we went into the few places that were open or gathered in socially distant groups for wary, careful visits. Those of us living alone were the most isolated, and all of us are sick of living limited, restricted lives. Unfathomable numbers of people died of Covid or Covid-related illnesses. Everyone I know knows of at least one person who died and many who were seriously ill, some living with long-term complications.

The promise of a vaccine was tied to our ability to return to some semblance of normal. A vaccine doesn’t erradicate a disease but it does protect the vaccinated so they get a more mild case of whatever the disease is. Two, then three Covid vaccines emerged from testing to provide protection but the distribution process was a dismal failure of confusion and delay. No one knew how to get a vaccine, who would provide it, when it would come, or how to know where you fell on a waiting list. Things worked differently in different states, different counties, different cities. And those without computers and cell phones found themselves at a great disadvantage in getting any information at all. Massive winter storms disrupted transportation lines even more.

I am one of the lucky ones who got Moderna vaccine shots. I am over 65 and am morbidly obese, which is one of the co-morbidities that could make me seriously ill if I got Covid, and I was alert and persistent in getting on waiting lists and following up on possibilities, so I qualified for the first round here in Texas. It required two shots one month apart, and I have to wait two weeks for all the antibodies to kick in, but what I’m feeling is …relief. I am so, so lucky, so grateful that this was possible – that the vaccines were developed so quickly, that I was able to get one, that I can start to think about traveling or simply going out with also-vaccinated friends. That I can get a hug. That I don’t have to be so alone.

But it’s not over yet. Covid isn’t gone and there are more variants popping up that may be immune to the vaccines. Not enough people have had a chance to get vaccinated, and those who have could still get sick and give it to someone else. States, including mine, are starting to open up and remove mask mandates and limits on business capacity. While we’re still be urged to use “personal responsibility” and mask up, I’m not expecting to see much of it in my part of Texas. I’m expecting to be ridiculed when I’m out in a mask, and have already decided to stick closer to home even while others are jubilantly filling restaurants, stadiums, and stores. I just don’t feel that safe. It’s still a confusing time.

It’s not over yet.