It Can Be Fixed

My two year old granddaughter’s face appeared on my phone before I could even answer. Alligator tears were streaming down her face and clearly something was wrong, something it seemed I was needed to fix. We, her mother on one end of the call and I on the other, eventually got Adela settled down enough to show me the problem. Some thirty-five years ago, I had made a small rocking chair for my daughter. Please understand that other than the fact that it was still in use all these years later, it was not exactly a work of craftsmanship, hardly worth the effort it would require to fix it. It was however, clearly loaded with sentimental value. My granddaughter Adela had now claimed it as her own. But accidents do happen. She had been towing the chair to her downstairs playroom when it found it’s way down the stairs the hard way. She was now showing me her rocking chair with the lower half of the rocker broken off, and thus the tears as she pleaded with her Opa to fix it!

Long story shortened, the chair was just returned to her, fixed, almost good as new! After a trip to the “furniture hospital”, aka my good friend Larry’s unbelievable wood shop, some glue, clamps and a patch, the chair now sits proudly in Adela’s playroom, once again allowing her to rock and coo her babies.

Things can be fixed and there in lies the point of this story. Even though we try our best to be careful, things break. Sometimes they are just that, things. Other times they are much more important, our relationships. When we believe they can’t be fixed, we tend to take the easy route and toss them away. All too often we don’t take the time nor put forth the effort to repair them. But remember, it is only a mistake if we fail to try. If there are things or relationships in your life that are broken, consider this. Look at the problem, consider any possible solution and then put forth the effort, even if it means swallowing your pride, and attack the problem.

It was only a chair, but what it represented for my granddaughter meant the world to her. Thank you Larry for helping me resurrect a crude little rocking chair and thank you Adela for having faith that I could.

Lost and Found

We all lose things. Some big, some small. And of course it’s never complete without someone asking the classic question, “where did you lose it?” Would it actually be lost if I knew the answer to that question? That said, our family seems to own the record on losing things, phones, wallets, coins, rings and yes, keys. In the midst of this, it has usually been me that finds them. Even though my family members didn’t know where they lost them, I seemed to have known where they did. My secret, think like I’m the item lost and then ask myself where would I have tried to make my escape.

Yesterday, it was my turn to lose something. While traipsing through fields of Christmas trees, searching for the perfect one, I managed to lose my car keys. Of course that hadn’t become apparent until we headed to the car, ready to load our trees. It was a family outing and all three families had cut trees. There I stood, all eyes on me as I frantically searched every pocket of my pants, sweatshirt and coat for what I immediately knew wasn’t there. Now this isn’t the first time I have lost my keys, If you read my blogs you will remember an episode on a trip to Seattle; see “Angels Among Us”.

It was my wife who issued the obvious question, “where did you lose them?” And at that moment I definitely was wishing I knew. Time to begin retracing my steps. There was that point where I pulled my gloves out of my coat, but no. Then it was probably when I laid down to cut the tree. That meant finding the right spot and the exact stump, but even when I did, still no. So how about when I trudged back out to the field to find my grandchildren. Could I have dropped them when I picked up Adela. Yeah, no. Well, I carried her what seemed like a mile, so lets back track through that trek. No luck. Maybe when we climbed on board the hay wagon for our ride back, no help. At this point things were looking bleak but at least I was getting my steps in.

Now you would have thought I’d have started with lost and found. Of course I didn’t, so we headed to the cute and cozy gift shop next. You maybe thought this is where the story would end. And for that moment, I had you. Gift shop, no luck either. Time to split up. Eli takes our path out to the field. Kathryn heads for the play area, Adela and I had visited there earlier. John heads for the tree bundling area. Bailey takes the high ground and watches the kids in the warm environs of the gift shop. Her claim later was that she had total faith in my finding them, the logic of a math teacher. And me, I had one last ditch place to check.

I saw her there in her bright yellow jacket and thought why not. As I walked by her work station at the tree shaker, I asked, with desperation in my voice, “any chance you found some keys?” And to my amazement and relief she replied, “oh, I did but I haven’t turned them in yet.” As she reached in her pocket, I just knew they were going to be mine. And they were.

If there is a message in this story, and there are many, the one that sticks out is never stop looking, even when you think you looked everywhere. Patience IS a virtue. Of course asking the girl in the yellow coat before walking a couple of miles might have been a good one too.

Denali…”The High One”

My wife described the view from our plane as “vast and desolate.” A strange combination of adjectives. Rather like saying “he was an exceptional criminal.” In reality, it is a fitting description in that Alaska is vast and yet as you look out over the landscape from the air it appears empty of human inhabitants. That changes as you land and though sparsely populated, is full of extremely friendly people, both indigenous as well as those who have come here to make Alaska their home.

We are guests of Princess Cruise Lines and our accommodations on land are expansive lodges bordered by rivers and mountain backdrops. First stop was the city of Fairbanks where we took a river cruise and got an introduction to Alaskan culture. The most striking impact this far north, is the midnight sun. You can read about it or hear it described, but these descriptions cannot come close to the reality of its effect. I am a person who suffers from FOMO, the fear of missing out. After being up for 20 hours, including a three hour time shift, I still could not go to bed. It was 10:00 pm but the sun was still at the equivalent of 6:00 pm and the lodge was a buzz with activity. The sun finally set around 12:30 am and was back up at 3:15 am. I can testify to that because I witnessed both events.

Midnight sun

The end of day two found us in Denali, the village, not the mountain. After a dinner revue, we were headed for bed knowing we were facing a 6:00 am start time for our Denali bus adventure. The trip into our hopeful viewing point of the great mountain covered sixty miles of mostly gravel road winding its way through the Denali National Park Preserve and at times, precariously hanging on the edge of mountains over seven hundred feet above the valley floor. After riding for nearly three hours, we reached the end of the road roughly thirty-five miles from the base of the mountain. The indigenous people called it Denali, meaning “the high one.” On a clear day, the view is spectacular, as the snow capped mountain literally rises up to completely fill the horizon and live up to its majestic name. On a clear day, it does just that. But not today, not for us. None the less, the Alaskan Range and the surrounding scenery does not disappoint. With a little imagination and enough visual cues from what we can see, the mind does the rest.

Denali panorama

When visiting Denali, the quest is to sight the Big Five. That is the five biggest animals of the park; the wolf, moose, grizzly bear, dall sheep and the caribou. We were no more than a mile in, when the bus in unison yelled out moose. There on the side of the road was a moose cow and her calf. Another mile down the road and we spied a second moose. One down four to go and sixty miles to find them in. Our final tally turned out to be around twenty caribou in several herds, an equivalent number of dall sheep also in several flocks, four grizzly bears but unfortunately, no wolf. The grizzly bears were the most spectacular. With roughly three hundred grizzlies spread out through six million acres, seeing one is considered lucky. Sighting four, well you can do the math. Our first was spied up in a high meadow just barely within our ability to see it. We saw another, much closer this time, walking along the gravel bed of one of the many glacial rivers we passed. The last two were the winners. We spied the first high up on a ridge above tree line and were wondering what it was doing up there and why it was still climbing higher. That is when we spied the other bear climbing up some three hundred feet below. The only explanation was that the lower bear was driving the other bear off. It may have been a female grizzly protecting its cubs or possible a female grizzly driving off its own too fully grown cub so that she might mate again. The guide let it up to us to speculate.

Denali buss

Though not sighting a wolf was a disappointment, they are very rare. We did, however, replace the wolf with many other sightings; snow hares, ground squirrels and even a golden eagle. All this while seeing the changing eco-spheres of taiga forest, tundra, glacial kettles and rivers and of course the majestic peaks towering above tree line with some heading toward 17,000 feet and higher.

Tomorrow we head down range, crossing over to the eastern side where if we are lucky, we get one more chance to see Denali. It is possible that we will avoid two overcast days in a row and get an unobstructed view of the giant. The question is, do we feel lucky?

I Rolled the Window Down Today

I debated with titling this blog as I did or “It’s Wisconsin, Wait a Week”. I was headed home this noon from a meeting and when I realized the temperature outside was now in the 50’s, the window had to come down. What a glorious feeling as finally, the spring like breeze slid through my open window and cascaded around the interior of my car. All that stale winter air trapped inside my vehicle for the last four months was pushed out and replaced by the hope of sunshine and warmer days ahead.

Now to be true, we need some perspective here. Just five days ago, the temperature hovered at five below zero with a wind chill of negative thirty degrees. Spring was something we wistfully spoke of but believed had been banished forever. With a foot and a half of snow on the ground and no warming trend in sight, hope had been buried somewhere under the five foot drift marking the edges of my driveway. My lawn mower hid timidly behind my snowblower considering permanent retirement.

The irony of this is that in another four or five months, we will treat weather in the 50’s as the time to pull out our sweaters and roll the window back up. We have been slowly cooled through our long winter to the point that 50 degrees somehow feels like we should head to the beach and at the very least don a short sleeve shirt. We are conditioned, slowly and deliberately to accept our fate. When the change comes, what was intolerable before is now not only comfortable, but enjoyable.

But wait, this too is likely fleeting. Give it another week and we may be right back into winter. What we need to remember if this unthinkable possibility becomes reality, is that for even a day, spring proved that she was not dead, just waiting to push winter back where it belonged. Spring will eventually defeat winter and will bring with her the promise of summer.

So what is this all about. Simply put, our weather is a metaphor for life. About the time we are ready to give up hope, everything changes. Hope re-emerges as a warm breeze ready to renew our faith. An intolerable condition gives way to new opportunities and we are reminded to never give up hope. If you are currently suffering through a tough time or maybe just the depression of a long winter, remember that tomorrow the breeze may just swing around to the south and change will bring back renewed energy. So for now, roll down the window and let the breeze in. With it will come a promise of better weather ahead.

On the Road Again

I’ve been lax in updating my progress since getting my latest bionic knee. It’s been six weeks and I thought I better say something.

I adopted a mantra along the way to answer the reoccurring question, “How are you feeling?” My response has been, “Better than yesterday but hopefully not as good as tomorrow.” Two thoughts on this. First, it hasn’t always been true. There have been days where progress clearly took one step forward and two steps back but that is to be expected with this kind of recovery. Sometimes you work the exercises a little too hard only to wake the next morning too sore to do your best rehab. Fortunately, there have only been a few of these and they seem to be fading in the rear view mirror.

The second and more random thought about this statement, is that it really could apply in general. As good as today was, there is no reason to not hope that tomorrow just may be even better. If we can approach life with this positive attitude, we won’t be likely to miss the opportunities that can in fact make tomorrow even better than today. As I said, it was a random thought, but in this shut in, cooped up, measure every little bit of progress day to day grind, two hours of sleep a night routine, one has a lot of time to think pretty randomly.

I have with my past updates tried to recognize my heroes, the surgery staff, the hospital nurses and eventually the host of physical therapists. I added to that those friends and neighbors that have, without even being asked, stepped in to clear my sidewalk and driveway, drive me to appointments and just plain showed up when I needed a little conversation break.

Today marks the six week anniversary of the surgery. I am walking without a cane for the most part. My wife/ nurse / coach / still makes me take it with me outside of the house for some added support in this weather, but in reality, I just end up carrying it. I have started to leave the house now with much more regularity and have returned to my old bad habit of going out for breakfast and consuming too much coffee. I even returned to the gym a couple of times to start building back up what I clearly lost. I will accept the new aches and pains as something refreshingly different and just my upper body muscles saying thank you.

The big progress marker, I got cleared to drive again. Deb, bless her heart, has been driving me everywhere, and I have been….well a s**t about it. It is a difficult task to be the rider when you have always been the driver and especially hard to take when my style is, to put it mildly, a bit aggressive. I have a new and far better understanding of why our elder parents fight so hard when they are being asked, mostly told, to surrender their driving privileges. Of all our independent activities, most of them have no bearing if we can’t drive. Don’t get me wrong, I am not advocating for hundred year old’s out cruising the boulevards, but we all need to be a tad more empathetic when approaching that treacherous crossroad on life’s highway.

I am close to dancing, but just have a few more “stretches” to go. Their target, the PT people, is 120 degrees of bend and 0 degrees on extension. Currently my numbers sit at 110 and 4 degrees respective, close, but not enough just yet. As I near this end of my recovery journey, I want to thank everyone who has been kind enough to check on my progress and at times, to just be there for me when I needed an ear to bend instead of my knee.

With that said, I’m going to close. It seems I still have miles to log before I am caught up on my driving and right now, I feel the need for speed. Beware you drivers out there going too slow. This whole recovery thing has been slow enough.

The Four “P’s”

Two weeks have passed since I had my knee replacement surgery. Up to this point I was not quite ready to write about the experience. This reluctance has been due to multiple reasons not least of which was the inability to focus on something other than the pain. Additionally, I felt that until I could regain perspective, the dialog would be too negative.

The knee is an incredibly complex joint and to have it removed and replaced requires a great deal of tolerance and motivation to even begin to approach the rehab required to not only heal but to regain the functionality. That journey has taken me all of these first two weeks and I have a lot more work ahead. The good news, each day restores a little more strength and a little more flexibility and that makes the journey a little more bearable.

Lying in the hospital, trying to justify what you have done, considering the possibility that you could have just accepted your condition and continued to limp along, you get the warning of the four P’s; Pain, Pee, Poop and Patience.
Pain is inevitable and the gate I must go through to get to a pain free knee going forward. The doctors and nurses explain that it will be the management of pain that will help spell success. And thus begins a carefully balanced approach to just how much medication will leave me lucid enough to function while still knocking back enough of the pain to allow me to begin the regiment of exercises. I am happy to say that though rough for awhile, the program is working and each day is a little less uncomfortable with longer periods of both sleep and almost pain free periods.

The second P stands for pee. From the moment the surgery is over, the simple act of peeing becomes your first hurdle. It is explained that until I can pee, I can’t go home. It is funny how a topic you would not generally bring up at a gathering, “I think I will go for a nice pee. Be back in a minute”, is now seemingly all they want to talk about. Good news, I conquered the act within the first twenty four hours. And with that, at least I was cleared to start planning on going home. A little rehab would await before I was completely cleared, but this had been an important step. Once I could show some motion and independence, I would be on my way. Not to skip a very important step, they needed to guarantee I wasn’t going home alone. My coach, Deb, would take over the nurses’ role in the next stage of my recovery. There is no way to diminish the role she has played in all of this. She assists, she monitors and she encourages me at every step of my journey. She loads me into the car and delvers me home.

Poop, like pee now becomes the goal. Where peeing was not so difficult, pooping is another task all together. It seems the opiods, designed to hold back the pain, hold back appetite, and yes, pooping as well. I get introduced to my new favorite cocktail, apple juice and Miralax. Each new trip down the hallway is followed up with “Any luck in the poop department?” Like peeing, this just seems like everyday conversation. “Had a good bowel movement today?” As with the first two P’s, pooping finally resumed sometime around day four of returning home. I must say, a real relief both figuratively and literally. I think I announced it as a lumberjack would, “Log jam cleared,river traffic flowing again.”

That just leaves patience. Pain management, peeing and pooping were all important steps, but patience is the real trick. Somewhere along the way I had made the decision to stop living with the limitations of my increasingly arthritic knee and crossed the decision threshold to agree with the knee replacement. Now, rehabbing my new knee and dealing with the associated pain, it was too easy to question my decision. How long would this take? Would I ever completely recover? It becomes so easy to dismiss everyone’s judgement of my progress in favor of my anxiety driven over analytical self analysis. It is only through good analogies from my physical therapists and a daily dose of comparisons to yesterday, that the timeline begins to take shape. As slow as it might seem, I start to mark progress.

My journey is only two weeks old. Driving is still four weeks off. Simply climbing stairs another week away. I am told that at three months, I will feel well enough to stop questioning my decision and at six months will dance into my surgeons office for my checkup. In the meantime, I’ve accomplished those first three P’s and have a better handle on the patience.

My final goal, become a more patient patient.

I’ll take room service

Tomorrow morning I will be checking into an all
inclusive for a 2-4 day vacation. I have read nothing but great reviews. The spacious rooms come with all the amenities, you know, big TV, cable, internet and even adjustable sleep number beds. Stunning vistas of the countryside can be taken in from the room’s floor to ceiling windows. They even offer a workout gym staffed with personal trainers. And for my shopping needs, a well stocked gift shop in the main lobby teaming with tempting souvenirs.

Included with the price, semi private waitress and room service 24/7. The menu looks so good I doubt I’ll leave the room other than my trainer workouts in the gym. I figure I’ll just take all my meals via room service. On top of all of this, I am promised a nice memory drug to forget any less than five star experience during my stay. Best part, I got a really good deal on the price. Apparently I am on their off season. Any part not covered by my government handout will be picked up by an unknown third party leaving me with just a small deductible on the room.

Stay tuned for the pics as they are sure to be spectacular. Got to get packing. Catch you on the rebound.

I’ve Been Down This Road Before

In just a few weeks I will be repeating a process I am still all too familiar with.  Though I doubt I will experience the complications of the first time, I know the time and effort it is going to take.

I’ve managed to put this off for nearly three years, but I am about to have my second knee replaced.  Thanks to the marvels of modern medicine, and apparently a 3-D printer, this has become a rather routine surgery.  At least that is what they say.  None the less, I am not relishing the rehab and yes, in the short run, the pain that the rehab will provide.  The only bright side … I know what to expect and I think I am so much better prepared this time around.  To that end, I just returned from the preparation class.  What was obvious, was the additional detail and information this time around.

Of course all of this is still a too fresh memory.  I am committed at this point though I won’t lie.  Every day finds me questioning my decision at least once and I am in that moment, tempted to call it off.  After all, my limp is hardly noticeable and my pain, though …. a pain, is manageable.  So why do it?  Bottom line; the stiffness, the arthritic pain at night and the fact that I am feeling limited, has me believing as my doctor puts it, “why wait until it is so bad that you can’t do anything?”  I have too many things that I want to do, for me to wait until I have even less time TO DO them.  I have great faith in the surgeon and the team of professional assistants, nurses and rehab specialists that will be assisting and encouraging me as I heal and progress.  And of course there will be my coach at home keeping me focused and if I’m lucky, a little pampered.

So I know I’ve been down this road before, but I suspect the ride will be different this time.  Each experience prepares us for the next.  I am prepared for this journey and am looking forward to my new bionic knees and the activities they will re-afford me.  I was even told it could improve my golf game.  Now that is something to look forward to.

And for my friends, “Don’t cry for me Argentina.”  Shameful, but I loved the line and always wanted a place to use it.  Editorial freedom is an earned right.