Friday, April 29, 2016

Good News from the Spaceship

I'm sitting here at 2:21 a.m. in my dad's hospital room, watching the NFL Draft with the sound off, which is the only way I can stand it -- and even then, only barely. My dad is mostly asleep, though he's restless, lying on a gigantic white plastic-framed bed that looks like a spaceship. Hospital beds are just immense now.

The good news is that his surgery went well -- about as well as possible, in fact. Afterwards they brought him to the ICU where we all met him, and once he'd awakened a bit, he feebly talked and joked with us (declaring, among other things, that Dilaudid is "powerful shit"). My brother and I spent the night in his room, while he mostly drifted and slept.

This hospital is nice, with shiny, clean public areas in tones of brown and dark blue, and gigantic, colorful photos of flowers on the walls. (There is not, however, a giant fish.) From all I can tell, the care has been excellent.

I could do without the NFL Draft, though. Seriously. What a mystifying, tedious experience. My siblings know all the players and have endless conversations pairing individual names and teams and speculating how one draft pick affects the others. All the rounds and numbers -- it's like a foreign language that everyone in the room except me can speak. How do they know all these players? How are they so famous?

I can't help but think that if humankind invested the collective time and energy spent on the NFL Draft, not to mention football in general, in developing alternative energy sources or managing climate change, we could transform the planet.

(Photo: My dad and stepmother's side patio. I think my stepmother uses the soap jugs for watering plants.)

Thursday, April 28, 2016


You may be looking at that photo, taken out a rain-spattered car window, and thinking, "Gee, that doesn't look like England."

And you'd be right. Because I'm in....Florida.

I know, I know. Dave is sick, and about to have surgery, and no doubt it seems like I chose the worst time in the world to suddenly fly across the ocean. But that's because I didn't really choose it. My dad's brain chose it.

I got a text from my stepsister late Tuesday night saying my dad was in the hospital. He'd been feeling numb on his left side for a while, but he wouldn't go to the doctor before his regularly scheduled appointment this week. Well, the doctor admitted him right away. A stroke was initially suspected, but we've subsequently learned that my dad has small lesions on his brain, including one that is surrounded by a fluid-filled cyst that is exerting pressure on his cerebellum and affecting his balance.

The nature of these lesions is not exactly clear. But surgery is required to remove the cyst, and that will occur this morning.

My dad is 79 years old, so brain surgery is not a minor thing. I talked it over with Dave, got online at 3 a.m. Wednesday morning and bought a ticket. I made arrangements with work, and now I've joined my stepmother, brother, stepbrother and stepsister to help see my dad through.

I'll then return to England on Sunday, arriving Monday morning, a few days in advance of Dave's surgery next week. He should be fine in my absence, as he's basically just in a holding pattern. I've asked some coworkers to look in on him.

When it rains, it pours -- and sometimes it just keeps on pouring.

Let's have a photo of Olga, perfectly lit on Tuesday by the afternoon sun, to cheer us up.

Yesterday on my flight I got a beef cottage pie for lunch. Among the listed ingredients: fish. I cannot begin to imagine why beef cottage pie would contain fish. Cowfish, maybe?

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Walker

Months ago, while walking Olga, I saw this walker propped up outside a modest council flat in our neighborhood. I loved the tape wrapping and its well-used condition, which seemed to say something about being cheerful in the face of adversity -- making a utilitarian tool, a symbol of disability, into something colorful and even fun. But of course I didn't have my camera. No problem, I thought. If it's there one day, it's likely to be there again soon enough.

And it was -- but only on days when I didn't have my camera. It was like the photography gods were playing cruel tricks on me. Over and over again, the dog and I walked past it on days when I was photographically unprepared. I carry my camera about 70 percent of the time, so as the weeks and months passed, the statistical probability of me continually not having it when encountering the walker began to seem truly outlandish.

(Walkers like this, by the way, are called "Zimmer Frames" here in England. Apparently this name comes from their manufacturer. The first time I heard someone refer to a Zimmer Frame I had no idea what they were talking about, and then I saw a photo: "Oh! You mean a walker!")

Anyway, finally, Olga and I came across the walker last week -- and I had my camera! Hallelujah! So I bent down to get a photo, and just as I clicked the shutter, Olga -- lurching after a cat, or maybe the ghost of a cat, or some hallucinated cat that only she could see -- pulled me off balance, causing me to fall against the front door of the flat in question. Mercifully it was locked, or at least latched, and didn't burst open -- but I'm sure I caused a resounding thud inside the apartment. I didn't wait to take a picture. I got the hell out of there before someone yelled at me.

Was I fated to never get a photo of this stupid walker?

At this point, feeling absurdly challenged by the universe, I began carrying the camera every day. And at long last, Olga and I again found the walker unattended yesterday morning. She did not pull me off balance, and I got my photos.

And that's the longest story about nothing you're likely to read today.

We have had very weird weather. Yesterday morning was biting cold -- like, wintry cold. Heavy coat weather, with cheek-slapping wind. And after I came home from work, a strange meteorological phenomenon occurred. It was like God was spitting spitballs at us: little chunks of snow, about the size of a pea. Not quite hail, but definitely not rain. They spattered on the patio and bounced around on the lawn, beneath the forget-me-nots, like little bits of styrofoam.

I've since learned that this is called graupel. At least, I think so. I am not a hail expert.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Itchy Spots, and Prince

I didn't mention that when Olga and I walked on the Heath on Sunday, she once again dropped her Kong toy into a deep, dark, leafy puddle. And once again I was forced to wade in and retrieve it, standing in the opaque water and feeling around with my hand.

I hate having to do that. I would never do it in Florida, where I grew up, because God only knows what could be living in a Floridian puddle. Here, at least, snakes are comparatively rare.

But after our walk, my ankles began itching, and sure enough I've been bitten -- on one leg particularly -- in five or six places. They could just be bites from mosquitoes or black gnats, or midges -- whatever those bugs are that gnaw on me in our back garden every year. But part of me wonders if I didn't pick something up in that puddle. I am resisting Googling "itchy spots bites puddle Hampstead Heath." I don't want to know.

In all the craziness of the past week or so, I also never mentioned Prince's death. I was not a huge fan. But I owned the "Purple Rain" album and there was a period in the early to mid-'80s when my girlfriend Barbara (this was a long time ago) and I spent many hours listening to it in her beige Dodge Omni. We went to see the "Purple Rain" movie -- a few times, I think -- and she adopted Apollonia's lacy gloves and dangly mismatched earrings. When I heard Prince had died, I thought immediately of Barbara and wrote to her on Facebook. It's strange to think we've lost another crucial element of the soundtrack of our lives.

I thought Ms. Moon said it best -- that like David Bowie, Prince "did not seem human. He transcended sex and race and gender and any sort of description. He was male/female. He was tiny, he was huge, he was a screamer, a whisperer, a musician who let loose the hounds of hell and the doves of peace."

His influence also reached into many corners of pop music in the '80s and afterwards. For example, most of us probably know that he wrote "Nothing Compares 2 U," Sinead O'Connor's huge hit. I just learned he also wrote "Manic Monday," which The Bangles made famous. And when Y2K rolled around, we literally partied like it was 1999, to that very song.

Oh, Lord. I feel old.

(Photo: Notting Hill, last week.)

Monday, April 25, 2016

Olga with Deconstructed Spring Bouquet

Olga and I went to Hampstead Heath yesterday, where we encountered all kinds of spring flowers. There were bluebells -- although Olga was less interested in them than in nearby squirrels.

We found a tulip on the way, which Olga claimed as her own in true dog fashion immediately after I took this photo.

There was Scotch broom...

...and there was an apple tree blooming white, and something else covered with light yellow-green.

And of course, you can't have spring flowers without dirt!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Resting at Home

Good news! Dave has come home. He basically talked the hospital staff into releasing him -- they were reluctant because that blood protein level still isn't as low as they want it to be, but given that all other signs of infection are better and he's only on oral medications they agreed.

He was so relieved to get out of there. Not that the care wasn't good, but you know how hospitals are. He was never able to sleep very well and he had no privacy. He was especially irked by the nurses' penchant for knocking around and banging metal instruments and pans, even at 3 a.m.! Apparently there was a closet or something outside his room, and every time someone opened and closed that door they slammed it. He finally got up in the middle of the night and told them to stop it. (Evidence that, in his increasingly cantankerous state, it was probably better for him to come home.)

I went grocery shopping yesterday and bought easily digestible things I thought would appeal to him -- soup, white bread, yogurt, stuff like that. Olga slept at his feet on the couch while we watched reruns of "The West Wing." Home sweet home!

He's scheduled for surgery in about a week, but at least in the meantime he can now rest and enjoy the garden -- the bluebells and daffodils and forget-me-nots, and the crabapples, which are about to bloom next door.

(Photo: Reflections in shop windows near Sloane Square, Chelsea.)

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Bring Me No Flowers

Here's one thing I've learned about certain (maybe all) NHS hospitals: They don't allow flowers.

Isn't it a tradition, a requirement even, to bring people flowers when they're in the hospital? I always thought so. But Dave's coworkers wanted to send him something, and they clued me in to the flower prohibition -- so they asked what they should send instead.

I talked to one of Dave's nurses and she confirmed that although cut flowers are prohibited, a plant in a pot is OK. That seemed strange to me, but I figured maybe they were trying to avoid the profusion of vases and messy water spillage that bouquets would bring.

So I told Dave's coworkers to send a plant, and yesterday, Dave got a beautiful live anthurium in a ridiculously large box. We unpacked it and put it on his bedside table, where he was able to enjoy it for about two hours before a different nurse came in and said plants weren't allowed either -- for infection control reasons.

So I brought the plant home. Sigh.

Hopefully it won't matter much, because Dave may soon be joining us here at home. Yesterday the doctors decided to keep him another night, even though he feels much better, has no temperature, is becoming an increasingly curmudgeonly patient and seems to be eating and drinking relatively normally. (For someone who's just lying in bed all day.) Apparently they're concerned about a protein level in his blood test that indicates his body is still under some stress -- even though his white blood cells are normal.

My hunch is that a cost-conscious American hospital would have kicked him out days ago. The British appear to be more civilized about this kind of thing.

We watched "Auntie Mame" on DVD over the last two nights, each of us with a pair of headphones plugged into my laptop with a cable splitter I checked out from the school library. I plan to stop by the hospital again today after French class -- which apparently really does begin this week.

(Photo: Despite the tiny sign on the fence reading "Please Do Not Feed the Pigeons," someone always feeds the pigeons on this street corner near our house.)