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Sunday, June 24, 2012

Heavy Lifting

Most marriages or other partnership living arrangements, I suppose, evolve in time to a point where each of the partners has his or her own household duties. Some partners talk about the issues of who does what for the common good and make decisions, I am told; others just drift into it. We may have been in the first category at some time--it's been so long I can hardly remember--but if so, we are certainly also in the second.

That's why, when I am suddenly called upon to assume the duties of the other partner because of temporary disability, I find myself in the ludicrous position of not knowing basic things. In which of the five or six grocery stores that we frequent is it possible to buy his favorite gaseosa drink? What about his Caesar salad dressing? Is Goldie (the cat) going to accept any old brand of moist food and kitty litter, or do I have to buy that special brand? Where, by the way, do I actually find the two different kinds of waters that we drink, once I have nailed down the right store? We usually split up when we go in to a grocery store, each with a list of our specific items, and meet at the checkout counter.

We each have our separate duties, and the shopping questions are managed mostly by talking them over. Others are not resolved quite as quickly. The first two bags of kitty litter that I bought sat for several days before it finally dawned on me that I had better empty the old and put out the new. The other major issue is driving out to stores; when we first moved to Spain we downsized to no car, because we lived in town and could walk everywhere. Now we live in a neighborhood in the country and we have to drive, so we have a car, but it is one car. And guess who drives it most? Well, he is not able to drive it for a few weeks after the operation, so I am doing the driving. Driving is not a problem for me, though I really don't like having to manually shift down and then up going through the numerous infernal rotaries that we have in Spain, and I am one of those people who doesn't mind driving around the block to avoid making a dangerous left turn.  But it's the parking that is the real problem. I don't like the tiny parking spaces; I don't like parallel parking, especially when the available space is on the left side of the street, and especially when it is on a hill. And I don't like dark, underground parking garages.

All of these little adventures are presenting themselves to me now, and guess what? I am mastering them. But the interesting thing is how many of them involve heavy lifting.Those kitty litter bags are really heavy. So are all the agua con gas one-liter bottles for me, and the gaseosa one-liter bottles for Johannes, and the one-liter milk brick packs. And not only is each of these items heavy, it used to be that we were two to carry in the groceries, but now we are just one. Plus it's not just carrying in groceries, it's also carrying them out, in the form of recyclables. I have a lovely six-bottle canvas bag from Meijer that we use to recycle the wine bottles, herring glasses, and occasional other containers, so that doesn't get too heavy. The Cambridge nylon bag that we use to stuff plastic beverage, salad dressing, and other envases in doesn't get heavy. And the bag that we use to collect paper doesn't get very heavy. But I found myself at the neighborhood recycling station this morning with a very sturdy carton that had held six bottles of wine. and I realized that there was no way that I could break down that carton without breaking down at least one finger nail. So I brought it home again. Johannes broke it down with five strong swipes of his hands, and I deposited the sides and bottom in the bag that I will eventually take back up to the paper recycling station.

Then, of course, there is a certain amount of additional lifting, of extra laundry, of rolling up the carpets when they were in the way, of moving things from upstairs to downstairs, of the walker, and chairs in the house, and the wheelchair, and even occasionally of the person. And did I mention  the watering can and hose that I use to feed the upstairs and downstairs gardens at least every second day--never a job that was on my list before.

Which all goes to show that it is easy to forget those tasks that the other person in a partnership performs on a regular basis, simply because they get done on a regular basis, by habit, and they don't get announced. So now I can say thanks, dear, for taking care of so many things that I never realize that you do.

"Can I Help You?"

This blog post is dedicated to the lady who appeared suddenly, unnoticed by me, behind my back in the Consum parking lot yesterday morning, offering help in getting a wheelchair, which I had just--for the first time--succeeded in disassembling according to plan, into the trunk of the Ford Fusion.

I turned toward her, startled, and her eyes said it all. "I've been there, too," she said. "My husband had a stroke and I had to learn about wheelchairs and everything suddenly. He's better now, he can walk again and has a "rollator" with a seat. But no one understands how tiring it is to move this stuff around--and no one ever thinks about the caregiver."

At least she said something like that. I may well have gotten the details wrong, because I am, admittedly, very tired from my unexpected care giving duties and I find it increasingly hard to focus and remember all the things I need to remember. Not that I didn't anticipate that this summer would feature a lot of fetch and carry--of course I knew that a knee replacement patient would have a hard and painful recovery, with lots of exercises to concentrate on in order to regain full use of the leg. We knew that driving was off-limits for six weeks and that he probably wouldn't be able to handle stairs for a long time, so we had prepared a downstairs bedroom and explored options for an in-tub chair, since the downstairs bath does not have a free-standing shower. But we also had talked with everyone we knew who had ever had a knee replacement--or knew someone who had--and they all told us that within 24 hours they were expected to be up walking with assistance, that strenuous therapy began immediately, and that one soon moves from a walker to crutches, to perhaps a cane. And that it is important to do the exercises!

So it came as a complete surprise to us both when the surgeon explained that for this procedure, the patient could not put any weight on the operated leg for a minimum of six weeks. Not only did that restriction delay the recovery period considerably, it changed it completely. I put away the crutches and cane we had acquired and rented a wheelchair. By using a Zimmer frame stationary walker and a 5-wheel rolling office chair, the patient can make his way around the first floor of the house fairly well; the walker and wheelchair--and someone to manage them--are necessary when leaving the house. And it was necessary to leave the house almost immediately, for trips to change the dressing, for doctor's appointments, and just to get out in the world to maintain sanity.

The man in the rental store showed me quickly how neatly the wheels and foot rests come off the wheelchair, and then with one upward hand motion, the seat comes up and the chair folds in two and can be placed easily in the trunk of the car. Yes, watching it and doing it, and then doing it again, and alone, are two different things. I wasn't even able to get the chair from the trunk of the car into the house without getting grease all over my pants and shirt the first time. Reassembling the chair that first evening was not difficult, but when it came time to take out the four movable parts and whack the seat upright, I had lost the secret. I am not mechanically inclined, and the subtleties of design of a black-on-black apparatus are beyond me. Fortunately my husband is mechanically inclined and can see the various working parts. With practice over the past two weeks, we have slowly gotten to the point where we can do a chair-to-car transfer of both patient and chair in five or six minutes and without too many visible sighs of frustration on my part.

The worst "practice" session was in the basement parking garage of the Habaneras shopping center, curiously unlighted, where I could discern no handicapped parking spots and so was panicking that a car would pull in to the "empty" spot next to our car where patient and chair were situated far too long in various stages of assembly. Of course I'm not sure whether we legally qualify for a handicapped spot during this temporary situation and don't really have time to investigate that, but on the way out of the shopping center, I left the patient in his chair at a well-lighted, extra-wide, "pre-mama" parking space, went and retrieved our car, and drove it into the expectant mother's slot--clearly one that we were not authorized to use. But it worked, and no one criticized or hit us.

A couple days later when we went to the grocery store, it wasn't busy and there were lots of parking spaces, and lots of light in the ground-level parking lot. I had no trouble at all assembling the wheelchair, and we both went into the coolness of the air-conditioned Consum to do our shopping. Leaving some time later, I discovered that a motorcycle had parked smack dab in the middle of the regular spot next to me, so there was plenty of room to get the patient into the car and dismantle the wheelchair. This time it only required a couple extra motions, and no swear words passed my lips. It was just as I went to lift the chair into the trunk that the nice lady hailed me. So she didn't need to help me lift the chair in--or worse--dismantle it. But she helped, just by understanding and sharing the experience. Some things you can understand, appreciate, and sympathize with in theory, but some you really can only understand by living them. Our brief talk, and hearing her story, lightened my load. She also pointed out a handicapped spot closer to the store, for next time.

There was one thought I did not share with her, because apparently I am a lot luckier than she was. My friends do think about the caregiver--almost all the people who have written and asked about our patient have also asked me how I am doing. So have the visitors who have made it to the house. That is very comforting, and it also helps lighten the load.

The patient improves a little more every day, conscientiously does his bending but none-weight-bearing exercises, and is counting the days until the end of the six-week prohibition. And the caregiver is hanging on.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Hospital Time

I never got back to the Algorfa ayuntamiento to deposit entries into the tapas festival drawing. I got so tied up in the busyness of knee replacement surgery that it slipped my mind until--amazingly--almost the exact hour of the drawing last Friday. At that time I was in a hospital room with the official photographer of this blog, into whose knee a prosthesis had been placed on Tuesday afternoon.

I had no personal experience with knee surgery before, so I cannot offer comparisons between anyone else and the way it went for us, but it has certainly been an interesting and tiring week. When we arrived at the hospital on Tuesday noon, we were shown to a room which was to become home for the next several days. There was one of those mechanically sophisticated hospital beds with all sorts of contraptions, a sturdy chair with movable arms, a long and fairly wide couch, and a private bathroom with toilet, sink, and shower. I've stayed in less well-fitted hotel rooms. In the next two hours various persons came into the room and prepared the patient. Then at 3:00 they wheeled him out in the bed, and at 9:00 that evening they wheeled him back in. Surprisingly and disappointingly, no meal was available at this time, at least for this patient who had been fasting for over 24 hours, so I went out and bought a sandwich for him at the vending machine in the hall. Nurses came in to check various signs and one brought me sheets and a pillow for my couch bed. In the morning, they offered me towels in case I wanted to take a shower.

Time, especially mealtime, is different in Spain than it is in the U.S., but maybe hospital time is more similar across cultures than normal time. Since I have never been in a hospital more than over one night in the U.S. I don't really know. This patient was mighty glad when the breakfast service came in the next morning at a little after 8:00, even though breakfast turned out to be only coffee (decaffeinated) and a choice of bread, donuts, or sweet rolls. Not too substantial, but meriendas came at 10:30: this snack offered fruit drinks, coffee or tea, and cookies. At some time each morning a one-liter bottle of still water also appeared. Lunchtime was served at about 1:30--early according to Spanish custom, but per Spanish custom, comida consisted of a first course, a main course, bread, and dessert. Never what I would call noisy--even when we left the door to the room open, any personnel coming in to attend us would automatically close it on the way out--the hospital became very quiet after lunch. It was, after all, siesta time. Almost on the dot of 4:00 siesta was over, the shift had changed, and the merienda service came by again with its cart of beverages, cookies, and more sweets. The main event of the "afternoon," as this period of time is called in Spain, was the doctor's visit. The first day he came at 7:00 PM; we figured that was probably exactly 24 hours after the end of the surgery. Then at 8:00 (this is more like Spanish dinner time) dinner, or la cena, arrived. Here again there was a first course, main course, bread, and dessert. I left after dinner, so I do not know if meriendas were offered again as a bedtime snack; I doubt it.

When dinner came the first night, we were also presented with a menu for the next day. Three choices were offered for each course for comida and cena, including soup or salad as a first course; fish, meat, or a somewhat vegetarian main course; ice cream, pudding, yogurt, or "fruit natural" for dessert. During his stay, the patient had some excellent fish that was completely boneless, roasted chicken, a French omelet, sliced tomatoes with olive oil dressing and salt (the only time I saw a vegetable as an accompaniment, except for the salad starter), and some delicious cremas, thick "creamed" soup, and one was crema de alcochofa, artichokes, a specialty of this region. He never graduated to caffeinated coffee--I asked--but no one objected when I went down to the hospital cafeteria and ordered two cafes con leche para llevar. I usually ate the individual bread loaf that came with the meal, sans butter, and I also appropriated the "fruit natural" ordered the first day--a kiwi, unpeeled, hard as a rock (which at first I mistook for a baked potato) with only a regular dinner knife to peel it. It's sitting downstairs in my kitchen still, ripening--maybe tomorrow for our lunchtime fruit salad.

Each day was long and tedious, punctuated only with meals, exercises, a sponge bath, the room cleaning, various nursing checks, and the doctor visit--typically, everything was quiet until the patient fell into sleep and then someone knocked on the door and came in to do something. And yet, we were only there three days following the procedure. When the doctor came at 5:30 Friday afternoon he was satisfied with the progress and offered the patient the choice of going home that night or Saturday morning. You can guess what the patient chose (and perhaps what his caregiver would have preferred). "The discharge instructions will come from the doctor in 20 minutes," said the head nurse. An hour and 30 minutes later, the instructions came. The patient could go home either in our car or in an ambulance, but he might have to wait for the ambulance. Given the experience of time for dismissal so far, it was our car. They wheeled him down to the main entrance while I fetched the car, and we left the luxury of the hospital to be at home. And that began a different adventure.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Algorfa Tapas, Part 2

Yesterday we went back for the second Saturday of the spring Algorfa Tapas Route. After all, we had only managed to get four stamps on our entry card last week, and we needed two more stamps to qualify to enter in the drawing for various prizes put up by the bars and restaurants that were participating. Most of the prizes would be nice but not terribly exciting: breakfast for two at Mañanas cafe, drinks, even a dinner at others. The grand prize is a night for two at La Finca Golf Resort hotel, easily the classiest place in Algorfa. We got a royal tour of the guest rooms, public rooms, restaurant, and spa area a couple  years ago one weekend when the hotel was new and neither it nor we were busy, and we just happened by to see the view and check it out as a possible place to house guests who may come our way. It's a lovely view and I wouldn't mind at all if we won a night there, even though it is only 10 minutes from our doorstep. As for the tapas drawing, once you get stamps from six different participating restaurants, you can fill out your personal information and deposit the card in a container at the town hall, and on June 8 at 2:00 there will be a drawing for the winners. What I don't know yet is whether one has to be present to win or not. I hope not, because I expect to be otherwise occupied.

Yesterday afternoon we parked on the main street a little after noon, after a morning of errands, and headed for a bar on the other side of the street. It turned out to be a Spanish bar, with only one other table occupied. In typical Spanish fashion, there were five or six tapas in serving plates behind the bar. I chose the magro en tomate (pork cubes in tomato) and Johannes had pulpo (squid). Neither was exceptional, but the bartender was kind enough to explain that the spectacle that was showing on television, where I was watching Spain's king and queen arrive, was the celebration of a national holiday. I hadn't noticed that it was a red-letter day on my calendar, but this was apparently the equivalent of Armed Forces Day. The ceremony did not last long, however. Soon it was replaced by some American movie, the name of which I missed,  dubbed in Spanish. We went on to the next bar.

That was Mañanas, which means not only "tomorrows" but also "mornings" in Spanish. It's an English restaurant, specializing in English breakfast, but today they were offering two simple but delightful tapas: a slice of baguette topped with crab salad, or baguette topped with tomato, onion, and pepper--a sort of bruschetta. Mañanas is on a side street leading up from the main road through town to the lovely town plaza, so we could sit and watch people slightly up the hill in the plaza.

Even though our card was filled by this time, we were drawn to the plaza, so up we went to La Taberna, on the east side of the plaza--a restaurant that we had hardly noticed before, because we usually go to El Badulake when we come to the plaza to do business. La Taberna offered four tapas; I chose the paella and Johannes had albondigas (meatballs). He declared them the best meatballs he has had in Spain, and as far as I am concerned I rarely meet a paella I do not like. This one had an exceptional amount of pork and chicken in it, and the rice was nicely flavored. We enjoyed our cañas (small beers) and tapas while watching the stage at the opposite end of the plaza. There was a sign about the dance school, and young girls were rehearsing for what I imagine will be a presentation later in the month. La Taberna, meanwhile, was all decked out in Union Jack colors in preparation for one of the many celebrations here of Queen Elizabeth's Jubilee this weekend. But by this time--and it was only mid-afternoon--we had partied enough, and I had enjoyed a perfectly balanced lunch of meat, rice, and tomatoes, so we collected our stamped entry cards and went home for the day. It would have been nice if we could deposit our entries at the town hall as we left, but no, that is only possible between 10:00 and 2:00 on weekdays. We have to get them in before Friday (June 8) at 2:00 to be in the running.