New and Newer Normal

Friday night, wind howling outside, snow already on the ground.  But at least the phone has stopped ringing, Election Day having come and gone.  This is not the place to chew over the results, just glad it’s over.

Welcome distraction from  all the political noise came from  reading the reprint  of an article from the 2007 issue of The New York Review of Books. The article was a review of books about the founding of Jamestown.  The reviewer was Edmund Morgan, one of the main secondary sources for my dissertation and I was always immensely impressed not only by his scholarship but the clarity of his prose, a pleasure to read.  Reacquainting myself with him was like getting back in touch with an old and valued friend.

This morning as I stood next to Carol’s bed, she said in the most plaintive tones “Steve.”  At least my memory now some eighteen hours later tells me that was her tone.  I can recall her expression, but I hesitate to label it lest my emotions intervene, but I will say it looked troubled.  About what, of course, I have no idea.  I believe I had just said my usual good morning and perhaps started, as is my wont, to chatter about the breakfast menu she would soon be offered.

Hearing my name, in whatever tone of voice, accompanied by whatever facial expression, in whatever circumstance, however everyday or not, whatever the context , always provokes a strong but ambivalent response.

On one level, I am pleased my name is still in her memory.

On another, I have no way of knowing whether she associates that name with me as I stand next to her.

I tried to clarify that point.

For her.

And for me

“I’m right here,” I say.  “Steve is right here, as he always is.”

She does nor respond either verbally or with a change of her expression.

I go on chatting about the upcoming breakfast, the usual toast, breakfast sausage, juice, a fruit of some variety.

I suppose one day I will no longer hear her call my name.

I’m not going to dwell on that unpleasant eventuality.

Better to think about the weather.  Will I be snow blowing tomorrow morning?  I have no place I have to go this weekend, nor do I expect any visitors, so the weather is no great concern.  I’ll just listen to the wind and let it lull me into sleep.

Monday night.  Carol asleep.  The dog snoring.

Winter arrived over the weekend.  I woke up to a snow covered driveway Sunday morning.  Only a couple of inches so I didn’t think it would be much of an impediment for me to deal with on my way to the store for Carol’s muffin and my Times.

I was wrong.  Underneath the thin layer of snow was a coating of ice.  I could not get past the end of the driveway where it grades up toward the road.  At that point, the car just slid sideways.  I tried a number of times giving myself more of a running start each time until I managed to sit on the edge of the road.

On the edge.  Not on it.

It would be criminally stupid to back onto the road without stopping to make sure the way was clear.  As it turned out, it wasn’t.  Cars coming one at a time from north and south.   When finally the way was clear I tried to back onto the road.  But lacking traction I went nowhere.

There was nothing to it but to put the car back in the garage, fire up the recently repaired snowblower and roll it out onto the driveway.  It managed to take the snow off and just enough of the ice so that when next I reversed out of the driveway I could get up to the top of the driveway, pause, and then onto the road.

Which itself was covered in snow and ice.  The four and a half mile drive to the store and back took at least twice as long as usual, as I kept my speed down to between 35 and 40.

Which almost seemed a bit too fast.

But I was dealing with conflicting pressures.

I did not want to leave Carol much longer than usual.  But I also didn’t want to risk an accident.

Now, I’ve been dealing with these roads in this kind of weather for sixteen winters.  Ordinarily, I am confident and comfortable.

Not this time.

Because I could not permit myself to get stuck or worse. Carol was alone back in the house in bed.  She cannot get out of bed to the phone, nor would she be able to use that device if it were within her grasp.  I would not be able to call her, nor would she be able to summon help if she needed it.

As usual, I know I was not being rational in that my concern for Carol was exaggerated.  Short of my being rendered unconscious, I would be able to summon help for her.  Yet, I still found myself tense as I navigated the ups and downs and curves of the road.  I was especially alert to the occasional oncoming car who might not be as careful or as experienced as I and so a head on collision was not beyond possibility.

I pulled into the parking lot outside of the store, a little surprised that there were several other cars there, more than I would have expected on a bad weather day.  But this is northern Michigan where people are not easily deterred from going to where they want to be.  I bought Carol’s muffin, and the Times, exchanged pleasantries about the early winter with the clerk as I checked out and drove back still much more carefully than usual.

Not a bad thing.

And I was more than usually happy to get back home to ask Carol if she missed me.

I don’ remember what she said.

It doesn’t matter.

Tuesday night after a troubling day.  Carol continues dealing with accumulated phlegm, resulting in much coughing and a gurgling sound as though she were drowning.

It was worse yesterday, much worse.  At one point, I gave her a little water, thinking, hoping, that it would somehow do some good.  What it accomplished was to cause her to spew out a mixture of the water and the phlegm.

This was worrisome.  I didn’t know if something serious was going on.  I checked her blood oxygen, found it to be 98%, a very good reading, but I wanted more support so I called Chronic Care and spoke to a nurse.  She asked me the color of what was spewed.  Clear, like water, I said.  Any sign of fever.  No, I replied.  And then, since this was someone I had never spoken to before, questions about the history of this problem, which I recounted to her.

By this time, Carol seemed to have settled down somewhat.  Less coughing, little gurgling.

The nurse said she would look into seeing what else could, or should be done.  A little later,Chronic Care called to say Clare, the nurse practitioner who usually sees Carol, wanted to come tomorrow morning.

Pizza supper that evening with Ryan was almost as usual, except Carol had little appetite and dozed off without eating much.

The next morning at breakfast, she ate with better appetite.  Still some sounds coming from her that I did not like.

Clare arrived, checked blood pressure, listened to her lungs, announced they were clear, recommended I begin again to give her Claritin, which I had stopped administering a while ago when the problem seemed to have mostly disappeared.  Clare said it would be good to suction out the phlegm but that cannot be done in the home.

Then, she said, she wanted to have a serious talk.

About hospice, its advantages.

I listened and agreed to an evaluation.

But there is much more to be thought about and written about on that subject, so as it is beginning to get late, I’ll tackle it next time.

The new normal for winter driving and perhaps a newer still version upcoming.

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