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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Painted Sepulchres

The Georgetown district of Washington, DC, is oh-so-very conscious of its historicity in a way that is peculiarly American. Thus, cobblestone streets are left with long-unused tram-tracks rusting in situ, the metal rails jutting sometimes a foot above the unkempt pavement, which has sunk haphazardly over the years (a configuration that plays merry hell with automobile-wheel alignment as you try to steer a fine crooked course between rails, drops and cobbles, axles groaning at every jolt) and 100 to 200-year-old shacks that would be pulled down without a qualm in Europe are relentlessly maintained, though (and this is true for almost all that aren’t brick) they have developed a distinct list to one side or the other.

Given wood siding, the aforementioned dwellings must be repainted on a regular basis—I sometimes think it is the accumulated layers of paint alone that keep many of them standing. As I walked out the university’s front gate yesterday evening, I noticed one that was freshly colored a particularly pungent pumpkin shade. Galileo could have successfully tested his mass/weight/gravity theories from atop the western side of this brightly-tinted rhomboid. As I sauntered on, mentally remarking on the fa├žade’s seasonal brilliance, I passed another lopsided house—painted pink. Apparently I was not the only person to be struck by the color—in the downstairs window, there was a hand-lettered sign: “It’s SALMON.”

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Another Quick Post

Yesterday was my best day at the market since last Christmas. I was praying, "Thank you, Lord!" the better part of my stay--at one point Anita and I were rushed by customers, and were attempting to handle three transactions at once. Sweet. This more than made up for the Saturday I spent in Rhode Island and last week's being in Pennsylvania. Coral necklaces are apparently The Thing this season.

Susan and I spent this evening processing a peck of the bushel-and-a-peck of apples we picked at the Masonic Reserve orchard in PA this past weekend. We already froze a bunch of peeled and cut pieces earlier this week, but these we want to cook and whip into apple butter.

I made a huge pot of lentil soup (more like stew, given its consistency) last night, which we enjoyed for lunch today without making much of a dent in the quantity. We'll be freezing a lot of that, too. It'll be nice on cold winter days.

I am looking forward to going home at the end of this month (my boss should be back from her chemotherapy, and I'll be able to escape for a while). I hope I'll be able to spend a little while in North Carolina in November, too. I've got a major jewelry show in DC mid-month, and then two huge ones taking up a total of 4 days the first week in December, but other than that, odd-jobs at the History Department, the occasional grant-work for my mentor, dissertation-planning (there'll be no Fulbright or NSF grant applications for me this year--I just don't have time, and both are due November 3/4) and a possible diamond-digging trip to Arkansas, my schedule's open.

Susan and I thought about roadtripping this afternoon over to my alma mater in the Shenandoah Valley (this is a lovely time of year to go), but decided to stay home and go on a short walk instead. There was a time in my life that I could make the distance in 2 1/2 hours, but I'm more law-abiding these days, and so the round trip would comprise some 7 hours, too much time in the car for an afternoon excursion. Maybe it would be nice for a day--if someone else were doing the driving, and I could nap on the way...

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

This'll Be Quick

...As Blogger is supposed to go down in just a few minutes for a "scheduled outage." My old laptop, which I've been using for 10 months past its expiration date, as originally thought, is about to give up the ghost in earnest (the screen has gone dark several times, which I suspect is associated somehow with the cracks in the hinge area) and so I'm copying the hard drive contents onto a 4 GB flash drive preparatory to moving all my regular business over to the new laptop that's been gathering dust in a corner of my room since last December. This is taking a long time. I have a lot of pictures saved on this thing.

Rita is supposed to come home from the hospital for good tomorrow. She seems considerably more chipper than she has in a month, and although the swelling in her optic nerves has not yet gone down, it is expected to do so in the coming weeks.

I have a dissertation topic. At last. My mentor came into the department with the words, "I need to talk to you, do you have a few minutes?" this morning, and I followed him back to his office. He handed me a 3x5 index card with a title penned on one side. "This is a book I think you need," he said. "Does that title excite you?" "Who wrote it?" I asked, flipping over the card. There was my name. "You will," my mentor responded. "What do you think?"

It took me several hours to get over my shock, but I think this is what I'll do for my research. It's on the World War I and Russian Civil War era, public-health related, and potentially quite interesting. Plus, there are resources here in DC I can consult, and a main Russian archive dealing with the subject is in St. Petersburg, where I have friends. Beats the heck out of going to Siberia to research gold mining.

Now if I can just cobble together a Fulbright proposal in the next two weeks...

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Tuesday Afternoon Post

The train is gliding quietly southward along the warm rails, past seaside views of marshes filled with golden reeds and stretches of open blue water dotted with sailboats. On land, the leaves are beginning to turn. The edges of clumps of green trees and bushes show rims of red and ocher. Elsewhere, ancient rocks sit silently on embankments, waiting for cold to petrify everything around them. In a few months, the colors of autumn will be just warm memories as the winter paints the world a stony palette of grey and black. But now, the sun shines, still high enough at 4 PM to glaze my computer screen with impenetrable patches of glare, slowing my typing and sending my gaze out the window, at the steel-wired rail yard where we are pausing for passengers.

I little thought that I would be on this comfortable journey today when two nights ago I was in the emergency room of Rhode Island’s Hasbro Hospital, holding my tubby and energetic seven-month-old nephew, who was still awake, curious, and cheerful at midnight, and waiting with my worried sister and brother-in-law to hear the professional medical verdict on my niece, who had only just been discharged from that hospital Sunday afternoon, some five hours before we brought her back.

When her father carried Rita through the rain into the house on Sunday, I was surprised to see that she had grown—she is several inches taller than when I saw her last, a month ago. But thin, painfully thin. And her olive skin had paled to the point where she looked positively green against her dark hair and blood-colored lips. In fact, with her long, tapered fingers and fine features, she looked like nothing so much as a miniature version of the classic Victorian maiden, wasting away from some hopeless undiagnosed condition. Or like a Victorian witch—two weeks of lying in a hospital bed had teased her hair into an electric-shock halo of tangles, and made it stand out in wild rats-nests all over her head. Rita, however weak, has a straightforward personality, and her first question to me was “Where is Grandmommy?” (Aunt Kyp obviously being a poor substitute in her eyes). She also noticed immediately that we’d taken down the pictures that were hanging on the walls—so they wouldn’t be knocked down by the siding-installers banging on the outside of the house, I explained. She was pleased, however, with the colorful apron I’d bought for her, and insisted on putting on the “dress” for her nap and leaving it on for eating ice cream afterwards.

She was tucking into a small scoop of ice cream while sitting in her booster seat at the kitchen table when the pupil of her left eye rolled inward towards her nose, and she vomited up everything she’d eaten all day, saying piteously, “I’m making a big mess.” Something was obviously badly wrong—people’s eyes don’t misbehave like that without some cause. And in a three-year-old who has spent almost two weeks in the hospital, who is on multiple medicines—including blood thinners—and has a monster clot in a sinus vein, vomiting and eye-disjunction can be signs of something truly dangerous. We changed her soiled clothes, my sister (who’d been downstairs running on the treadmill) rushed up to telephone her pediatrician, and within ten minutes we were out the door—my nephew was packed into the car along with his still-hungry sister, who was begging piteously for chicken nuggets—and we were on our way to the ER in Providence. We made a quick run through the local Wendy’s drive-thru for chicken nuggets and chocolate milk for Rita (and a bacon cheeseburger and Frosty for me), and then were racing towards the hospital.

Rita ate 4 chicken nuggets (with mayonnaise) and drank half the bottle of milk before we got to Hasbro. They all stayed down. Her eye was still drifting noseward, but less dramatically than earlier. We all piled out at the ER (the valet people whisked away the station wagon after we unloaded ourselves and Brad’s stroller) and after a preliminary exam by nurses who (unfortunately) recognized the family from their latest ER trip, Rita was taken back into the inner sanctum of the ER.

They put on a heart-rate monitor—a bright red-lighted band taped to her big toe—and her daddy helped her change from her jeans and pull-over into thin cotton hospital pajamas printed with cartoon pictures and the phrase “tired little tiger” all over them. Rita put her head on her daddy’s knee and cried herself to sleep, her lips looking almost black in her peaked face. He set gently to work on her wild hair with a comb my sister dug out of her purse. An hour or so after we arrived, he’d worked out the tangles, and a nurse came in with an interesting little instrument on a rolling stand and stroked it softly over Rita’s forehead and around her ear. She had a fever of 102.6. At home, it’d been only a little past 99.

Throughout this time, nurses had been taking case histories, her not-so-old hospital chart had been pulled up on the computer, and my sister talking with the medical staff. I was bouncing Brad, who was interested by the whole procedure, all the new people and things there were to see, and anxious to get down to explore, which I wouldn’t let him do.

We’d arrived at the hospital about 6-6:30. By 10 pm, they’d arranged for a CT scan—not my sister’s first choice, as Rita had already had one and a collection of x-rays just last week, and the radiation exposure was starting to accumulate. After considerable waiting, we all rushed over to CT, the gurney rolling through the halls of the almost-empty hospital at a tremendous clip, pushed by an energetic red-haired, cleft-chinned Adonis of a pediatric intern and a new nurse (who gave me a shock when we finally paused in the imaging room—Rita’s eyes had been getting more out of kilter at times, but this nurse’s were permanently off). My sister and I looked at each other surreptitiously—were we both going crazy from worry and fatigue, or were everybody’s eyes wonky?

They were just about to slide her into the CT scanner—Rita was weeping, begging for her daddy to hold her, and we were trying to distract her by getting her to spell her name, sing the alphabet song, and asking her questions about who was whom—when the RCA (red/cleft/Adonis) got a call from MRI—they could work her in there, she wouldn’t have to go through the CT after all. We were all relieved—my brother-in-law patted his distraught daughter’s hand and said, “Don’t worry, sweetie, the governor called.” And we all returned to the ER, where we had to wait yet another hour—until Rita had been food/drink free for 4 hours, and they could safely sedate her. I felt so sorry for all of them—Rita was begging piteously for a juice box—which we couldn’t give her—her father smoothed her hair and assured her that we’d get her a juice “after we go to the other room”—and my sister, dressed in a black gym suit, wore an expression I’d previously seen only on the face of the Madonna in Michelango’s Pieta: superficially calm, but drawn, tired, full of indefinable, lingering sorrow. “This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me,” she confided later, “And it’s not even me that’s sick.”

Merry ol’ Brad, meanwhile, was breaking out in hives. The RCA was so concerned (“How old is he? My wife and I have a nine-month-old.” Talking to Brad: “You’re a big, guy, aren’t you?!” Then again to his parents: “I know he’s not the patient, but let me check his breathing.”) that he stethoscoped him, but found Brad’s respiration was not affected by the white-red blotches which besmirched his round baby cheeks. [A pediatrician’s visit the next day eventually confirmed that Brad “may just be a hivey baby” but that his mother should avoid eating peanut products just in case and keep some Benadryl on hand—half a teaspoon the prescribed dose.] My sister looked miserable: “My kids are both falling apart,” she told the RCA, who offered sympathy.

Brad did not cry at all throughout the whole ordeal—the ER nurses were amazed and said as much. Given his phenomenal cuteness—a Betty Boop-style face on a baby Buddha body—he was constantly being admired by passersby, which certainly contributed to my good humor, even if he didn’t agree to grin at these complimentary strangers. He kept busy: when not trying to escape, he gummed my chin, my shirt, the knee of my pants, my knuckles. I was absolutely covered in slime. He occasionally consented to nurse (the reason my sister had decided to bring him along—she hopes to be able to breastfeed him until he is one), but was mostly too engrossed by his surroundings to think about eating. Or sleeping. He didn’t doze off until 12:25, while I was rocking him in the hall near the ER nurse’s station, waiting for the on-call neurologist and the blood-drawing nurses to be finished harassing my small miserable niece, who would cry, “Nee-no-nee-no-nee-no” when they prodded her awake for yet another examination.

At 2 AM, they finally decided to admit her to the hospital itself. They hadn’t been able to document the eye-problem, the MRI “looked the same as it had,” but the fever was worrisome. By this time, she was sleeping with her spidery little arms and legs wrapped around her father, a half-empty bottle of apple juice nearby (he’d gotten her juice as promised after the MRI). I kissed her thin flour-colored cheek, patted her father’s shoulder, and went out into the cool night with my sister. Thank God we made it home in one piece—there was a speeding 18-wheeler on the highway that unnerved us both, and we were too tired to think coherently, much less practice appropriate defensive driving.

When we got home, there was some good news: my mother had already bought tickets to fly up to Providence, to arrive at what was already then “later today.” My sister, nephew and I were unable to sleep well, but when the sun was up, S Dawg and I took my him to his pediatrician to find out about the hives. Then, she went off to the hospital, leaving me to resume babysitting and waiting for news of my niece’s condition. It actually came with my mother at 7 pm, as my sister was too preoccupied to call me, but was regularly on the phone with my doctor father. Rita had gotten worse, both eyes crossed dramatically, obvious to the neurologists who had been unable to see the problem the previous evening.

S Dawg and I had prayed Sunday, before we went to the ER, that whatever was causing the problem would be detected, and while the MRI hadn’t and the neurological exams hadn’t, the fever had kept her at Hasbro until the ophthalmological symptoms were too clear to be overlooked. She did have pressure on her brain, as my sister had feared—if the eyes were affected and it went untreated, she could go blind. She did need more surgery, as my father had suspected: a mastoidectomy, to “powerwash” the cavity in the bone behind her right ear, where the infection which felled her two weeks ago was still raging. And a lumbar puncture to temporarily relieve some of the pressure in her skull.

So, this morning, beginning at about 10, my mom, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Brad, and I went to the hospital (my sister had gone before 7). Rita was just being anesthetized for surgery—I didn’t see her, but her father said she objected mightily (after all her discomfort, I imagine she just wants all these doctors to leave her alone). At 1:25, a genial surgeon came out to us in the waiting room and said everything had proceeded smoothly. She hadn’t bled overmuch. They hadn’t had to take apart her ear bones, but the right mastoid had indeed been completely infected and they’d done a thorough job of scrubbing it. “Her hearing should be good in just a couple of days,” he assured us. Hopefully, her eyesight will return to normal too. We don’t know how long she’ll be in the hospital this time, but we are praying that when she comes home she’ll be there to get completely well. The blood clot is still there, lurking in her jugular. I want her to be happy and wholly healthy again, able to climb the monkey bars to her heart’s content.

Perhaps a Victorian rest-cure would be just the thing for the whole family: a month or two at a warm-weather seaside resort—if only we could afford it (in the Victorian period, given the strength of the British pound, going abroad was always less expensive than staying at home)—Rita needs some sunshine after all this literal and metaphorical rain! And I don’t think getting rest and a tan would do either of her parents any harm, either.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Suddenly, In Rhode Island

My sister called me late Thursday, about 11 pm, to say that Rita was being re-admitted to the hospital. Her temperature had climbed again, and another infection was suspected. She needed me on a train as early as possible in the AM to take care of Brad.

The NPV, despite severe fatigue, gamely volunteered to drive me to Union Station, and I made the 7:25 train with ten minutes to spare. By 2:45, I was in Providence, and my brother-in-law dropped me and his son off at Hasbro hospital with directions on how to get to the surgery center. He went to park the car, and once my niece was sedated my sister joined the three of us in the post-op waiting room.

They can't extract the clot--it reaches into her jugular vein--but they did decide to go ahead and put tubes in her ears. A good thing, as there was more infection and fluid build-up behind her little eardrum, and this relieved the pressure. The surgery was smooth, and by yesterday evening Rita was sitting up in bed demanding spaghetti and meatballs, which she consumed with gusto (and two chicken McNuggets and a sip of milkshake) and did not regurgitate.

I haven't seen her yet--I've been at home with Brad, who, when he's awake, has been intensely interested in the construction going on the outside of the house. The old deteriorated shakes are being removed preparatory to installing vinyl siding. Pictures hanging on the walls were literally bounding off their nails this morning from all the pounding outside, but Brad slept like a rock--two hours for his nap. He's such a cheerful little soul, with giant liquid brown eyes, long thick dark lashes, and big ears that droop over slightly. My mother says he reminds her of a basset hound--always damp beneath the chin. So cuddly, too, with a "rawr" of happy excitement that makes him sound like a lion cub.

Rita should be home from the hospital (again!) tomorrow. My sister and I stocked the fridge with her favorite foods today (we got her blood-thinner and syringes last night). I've got a ticket to leave for DC on Tuesday, arriving just after 9 PM. It's been a nuts two weeks. I am looking forward to Columbus Day weekend--Susan and I are supposed to go to Pennsylvania this coming Friday.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Pipsqueak is Home

My little niece came home from the hospital yesterday afternoon. The clot will continue to be treated with blood-thinning injections, twice daily and not fun, but at least the medical technology is there.

Rita is ravenous. Apparently she ate almost an entire grapefruit yesterday evening, and this morning has been begging for any and all foods she ever found palatable. She's still too weak to climb the stairs, but hopefully, given a good appetite and continued convalescence, she will gain weight and strength.

Thanks to everyone for praying!