Category Archives: Lydia LaFleur

ME AND MY DESCARTES

Story by Lydia LaFleur

It’s now a little over a year since I broke my right hip and elbow, nearly died from pneumonia and congestive heart failure, and contracted a stage 4 open bed sore on my coccyx for which a nurse came every day for seven months to change the bandages.  During these months I took pain medication at night and sometimes during the day when the pain got to be severe.  On arriving home after spending four months in a nursing home, I found it difficult to care for myself.  But rather than coddle me, my daughter Ingrid pushed me to try to do things for myself.  I wondered about going to a assisted living facility, but I’m now so happy that I didn’t; if I had, my brain would have turned to mush from having so much done for me.  But for months every task took physical and mental effort which I didn’t have: weak and oh, so slow!  Even my speech, and I became winded talking to people who spoke fast (I had always mimicked the speech pattern of others).   When I complained to my cardiologist, he said I should talk only to those who speak slowly or to Southerners.  Then came an evening when I was able to wash the day’s dishes (thank goodness for paper plates and frozen Fresh Direct meals).  A few nights later I was strong enough not only to take the garbage out, but to hoist it up to the incinerator in the hallway.  And then I could walk to the incinerator without using my cane.  I could carry my food unspilled to the table without using the cane.  I felt elated with each accomplishment!  Working out twice a week with my physical therapist, I had graduated from a walker to a cane when in my apartment (even without the cane in my apartment but not recommended) and when walking around my coop’s grounds.   But as for giving myself a bath, forget it; no way I could aim the shower hose on my body instead of the bathroom floor.  That problem was resolved by Becilla, a wonderful woman quite a bit younger than I, who comes twice a week, gives me a bath and keeps my household running smoothly.   So physically I was recovering, but during all this time, my brain was in a fog.  Read a book?  It was an effort just to read the headlines in The New York Times.  The Arts section that I had enjoyed for years held no interest for me.  Even my favorite, the Obituary section, got hardly a glance.  Thank God, for my pocket radio and NPR.  Just as in the nursing home it was the only activity that didn’t take effort.   It was somewhat reassuring to know that I was still interested in what was going on in the world.   My wonderful granddaughter Sarah and her husband Chris took me out every Sunday evening, pushing me in my wheelchair to our favorite neighborhood restaurant Pisticci’s.  Always in the past I had a great time going with them. Especially because by now we knew all the staff, a collection of opera singers, poets, artists, photographers, and because on Sunday evenings there was live music with an ensemble and superb jazz and pop singer Pamela.  However for months, although it was pleasant to get out, I got no joy from it.  I felt as if I were only partially there looking in on the activity around me.  And this was how my life had shaped up till now; it was depressing.

For years I had done most of my shopping from catalogs.  I always loved looking through them which keep on coming, no doubt even when you’re dead.  They held a vague interest now, but during these months my cloudy brain wouldn’t cooperate when it came to the actual ordering.  I needed some summer nightgowns and it was now the month of June. I had leafed through the Vermont Country Store’s catalog several different times looking at the Eileen West nightgowns, and saw two that I liked very much, one especially which was white with a lavender (my favorite color) flower print.  Came one evening when perusing them once again while eating dinner, my brain magically cleared and I could focus.   Finally I knew I could do it; I immediately called up the company and put in my order for the nightgowns, but also for a set of bed sheets that had the same print of lavender flowers to match the nightgown.  There was no stopping me now.  I got out the Land’s End and Talbot catalogs, both of which announced sales and free shipping, and ordered four pairs of pants, towels and several blouses.  I was reminded when they came, that there are risks when buying mail order; the towels which must be of the best quality ever made are so heavy and big that Becilla refuses to use them, and two of the blouses, though beautiful, were of a cotton that need ironing, and I no  longer have the strength to open up an ironing board.  I was afraid I’d have to get rid of them until Becilla, bless her, offered to iron them for me.

About this time I noticed my interest in reading the daily paper had returned; I could now manage a whole article.  And I no longer was winded when conversing with neighbors; in fact you couldn’t stop me from talking once I got started. I found people fascinating.  And going to Pisticci’s with Sarah and Chris was once again lots of fun.  The Joy in my life had come back – seeing a new flower sprung up on our grounds, toddlers walking on their tottering little legs just like me on my tottering old legs, getting a video of my granddaughter Emma on a TV show in Japan belting out a terrific jazz rendition of ‘Mack the Knife.’  Joy even in seemingly inconsequential things.   One Sunday Sarah took me to a trendy nail salon where I had my nails painted lavender; it gave me so much pleasure when going bed to see them against the lavender nightgown and the lavender flowered sheets.  I like that with my walker I can make it across Broadway with all its traffic to the deli that sells the best bran muffins made with yogurt and talk with the young Middle Eastern man who greets me now as ‘friend.’ Recently my mind was sharp enough to finally get together all the necessary information needed for my accountant to file my 2015 and 2016 tax returns.

I think my body and mind began to come out of their once comatose state as I cut down gradually on the opioids I’d been taking for pain; after almost a year my bedsore had finally healed.  I feel like I’ve been given one more stage of life to experience, and a very happy one.  It’s interesting to observe my gradual decline, and I‘m comforted by the thought my family will come to accept this gradual decline rather than if I were to die suddenly like I almost did a year ago.  I don’t want to die, but I’m focusing on living, believing that when the time comes, my body and mind will take care of the dying.  Even though my life has limitations (I could not go to Japan for my granddaughter’s formal wedding this summer), there is so much for me to enjoy.  Of course, the times I share with my family bring me the most joy.

When did I know I had finally recovered?   Why, when I was able to order that lavender nightgown and lavender sheets.   Descartes said, “I think, therefore I am.”  As for me, it’s “I shop, therefore I am!”

 

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Love

By Lydia LaFleur

Not only was it raining with a forecast of heavy at times but the wind was fierce, making it treacherous for me to venture out.  When I called the Eye Institute, I was told that if I canceled my appointment, the ophthalmologist wouldn’t be able to see me for at least two more weeks.  But I have to see her as soon as possible, because I might have glaucoma and if it’s diagnosed early enough, they can inject medication in the eye so I won’t go blind. Sorry.  Rather than worrying for the next two weeks, I said I’d keep the appointment.  I’d have to go out come what may, hoping that someone would come to my rescue.  That someone was down in the lobby – Marlo who had been my personal trainer for several years, asking where I was going in this weather.  My guardian angel was already at her job. The last time Marlo had appeared at my door was over a year ago when I was close to dying from congestive heart failure, taking me to the hospital and probably saving my life.  I knew he was on the verge of saying he would drive me this time too, but I told him car service was waiting outside for me.  He walked me the distance to the car holding my arm firmly as we battled the wind.  I would surely have been knocked down if I’d been by myself.  The cab driver, Mr. Gomez, was just as solicitous.  When I told him I was wondering how I’d get back home, he wrote down his cell phone number so I could call him fifteen minutes before leaving.  When we arrived at the Eye Institute, he got out to accompany me to the entrance getting drenched himself, because an umbrella in this wind was useless.  The waiting room was full of patients including several mothers with babies, one looking as if newly born.  I wondered how in the world they managed to get here.

I had been there only the previous week for my six months’ check up seeing a specialist for my macular degeneration.  Nothing had changed I was relieved to hear.  However, further tests when I told her that for the past month I’d been having a grating like pain in my right eye; she said the eye was clear but that I should see a glaucoma doctor to rule out my having that disease.  Now I was concerned; I had known a neighbor who lost most of her vision to glaucoma.   Hence my return to the Institute four days later.  I was there for two hours having more tests, some of which appeared to be a repeat from last week’s.   Ophthalmologists seem to have an easy job these days; their assistants doing all the preliminary work, the doctor coming in only at the end for five minutes or so to make the diagnosis.  After all that, the verdict was no glaucoma.  But why does the eye ache?  It’s from the dryness of the air.  That’s it? After braving buffeting winds and rain and after two hours of tests, it’s only dry air? I remembered that during the cold spells, I had used a space heater, but some fresh air had surely come in through the window cracks and air conditioners.  Solution: increase the eye drops to three times a day, use GenTeal, an eye lubricant at night, and warm compresses.

The waiting room was almost empty by the time I left.  I was relieved to see the rain had stopped and the wind died down.  Mr. Gomez came to get me and once again got out to help me into his car.  When I held out $22 (the fare going had been $12) saying if that was enough, he looked perplexed and asked me what it was for, but when I told him that’s what I was paying him for taking care of me that day, he said, “That’s too much.” I insisted he take $20, but he seemed hesitant.  Amazing! I needed to pick up my new glasses so asked him to take me to LensCrafters on 107th St. and B’way. It was now beginning to get dark and had turned very cold.  I was wearing my red hood, boots, and voluminous red down coat that is down to my ankles, my having shrunk two and a half inches since I bought it forty-five years ago.  I was very tired and remembered that all I’d had to eat that day was the delicious smoothie that my granddaughter Sarah and her husband Chris make me every morning and which usually keeps me going for several hours.  But by now, I was walking in slow motion.

At 110th Street I saw the #4 bus at the corner waiting for the light to change.  Usually when the street light signals ten seconds or less, I don’t attempt to cross, but maybe this time I could make it and catch that bus.  I waved with my cane to the bus driver to wait, but couldn’t see the driver’s face in the dark.  At that moment someone took my arm saying, “I’ll get you across.”  I looked up to see a young African American youth who could not have been more than 19 or 20 years old smiling at me.  “I hope that bus driver waits for me.”

“You want to get that bus?  We’ll make it,” and he signaled to the bus driver as he brought me to the bus.  Grateful to the bus driver for waiting but at the same time wondering if the young man was going to ask me for some tip money and wondering how to deal with that and get out my bus pass at the same time.  The young man followed helping me get up into the bus.  Oh, he too was going to take this bus. “I’ll get the card out when I sit down,” I told the bus driver as I heard the young man insert his card. The bus driver said. “Sit down” to me at the same time I heard the young man say, “I already paid for you” and leaped off the bus.  I’m sure he saw the surprise and gratitude on my face and my mouthing “thank you” as we smiled warmly at each other through the bus window.  I watched him go in the opposite direction, so I realized that he had been crossing the street when he saw me struggling to make it to the curb and turned around to help me. It was an act of Love that I had just experienced, of one human being for another.  Such a feeling of love enveloped my whole being!  I had encountered love that day from the moment I had left my apartment.

What Do 88 and Rice Have in Common?

By Lydia LaFleur

Plans to celebrate my birthday were simple enough, inkeeping I thought with the number 88; it wasn’t as if I was going to be 90 when I would be expecting family to put on a bash!  I did like the sound of 88, however, and it’s formation into four circles was pleasing to my eye.  Continue reading