New Family Member

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, was the day we decorated the graves of soldiers and loved ones, followed by picnics, a day at the beach, or the first dip in the pool. While the decoration part has been forgotten by most of us, I’m glad to hear about certain groups who plant thousands of flags in a field to commemorate the sacrifices made by our Armed Forces. If you haven’t seen one of these fields, you’ve missed a moving experience. So why did I not show a photo of one of these memorial fields of flags? Mostly, because I don’t have one.

But I do have a photo that commemorates another aspect of this holiday to be celebrated. Families gather to share food and fun, and my family celebrated a new member, and her name is Marley. My granddaughters, Meghan and McKenzie adopted a sweet Golden Retriever puppy, and she met my Dora today.

When she first arrived this morning, I took Dora out in the front to meet and greet, and we all know how dogs get to know each other. After the preliminary inspections, we all trooped out to the back yard for lots of “ahs” and “Oh how cute” and “See how nice they are playing.” Of course Dora was much more interested in having Steve toss the ball for her, but at least she didn’t run over her little guest as she ran back to have it thrown again. She’d stop and wait until Marley got out of the way before she’d run back to Steve. After running from one fence to another to say hello to neighboring dogs, who were just as interested to see the new kid on the block, Marley seemed content to lie in the grass while we humans had our picnic inside the screened in patio. Dora came in with us, not to beg, but to bounce the ball now and then to remind us that she was still waiting for someone, anyone, to notice that the ball was not being thrown.

We don’t know how big Marley will get to be, but I’ll keep you posted with more adorable pictures.

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going Steady

“Going steady” has a whole new meaning for me. If you know someone who uses a Seeing Eye ® dog, and you do, because you read my blog, you might hear that person giving her dog certain commands, such as “hup up,” which means “hurry up” or “let’s go,” or “pfui!” which means “Bad girl,” or “Stop sniffing.” And of course, you’ll here the universal commands of sit and down. We say “rest” instead of “stay.” But the one I want to talk about today is the command “Steady.” I’ll get to what it means in a minute.

Since my spinal fusion surgery 6 weeks ago, I have not been able to use my sweet girl, Dora, because of her strong pull. I had to be very cautious when I walked around the house on my own and very slow when I walked with a friend outside. Poor Dora had to stay home from the few outtings I had, such as doctors’ appointments and a rare lunch at a restaurant. I just couldn’t risk having her pull too hard on me and undo the repairs on my back. I certainly did not want to go through that again.

Many friends brought in food and often stayed to have the meal with me, which was very kind. But what pleased me most were the energetic folks who took my athletic dog for good long walks, often with a vigorous game of fetch thrown in. She’d come home panting with a big grin on her face, and that made me happy.

I would have been happier still if I could have taken her out for a brisk walk myself. But no, I had to be the one staying behind, resting, and healing. “Rest” and “Heel” had a whole new meaning for us.

Then almost exactly at the 6-week mark, I decided it was time to try putting on the harness, along with a “gentle leader,” a soft strap that goes over the dog’s nose and mouth, (not a muzzle) just to remind her that she needs to slow down and pull only gently. Putting her harness on her without bending over was a trick in itself. I had to kneel beside her, being careful not to twiwst my body, because that was forbidden too, and then hoist myself back up on a nearby chair, so as not to strain my back. What joy I felt as we stepped out the door into the sunshine and started down the driveway and on up the street. It reminded me of the day I stepped off with my first Seeing Eye, Mindy. It was a joyous occasion. But we did not march off as in our previous days before back pain. No, I gently tugged on that gentle leader and repeated softly to her, “Steady … steady … steady.” There’s that command I mentioned earlier. And she remembered what that meant. Slowing her pace, we managed to walk out for 3 blocks and then home again with no pain in my back. And that’s not all she remembered. I had worried a little that with all the walking with friends, and therefore with no real commands, she’d get lazy in her responses to certain situations. As we stopped at a corner ramp, I gave her the forward command to cross the street, but she stayed put. This is called “intelligent disobedience,” because it was at that moment that a driver who was in a big hurry to beat us to the corner, swung right in front of us and continued making the turn without so much as a hesitation. In our training at The Seeing Eye, we call this situation a “traffic check,” and I was thrilled to see that even though we had not encountered one for years, she was “on it.” She might as well have said, “I got this Mom.”

As we made our way home, at a fairly slow pace, I thought to myself, “Yes, by the time the 12-week recuperation is up, we’ll be back to marching along, but in the meantime, we’re going steady. “Steady … steady … steady.

Mother’s Day

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Mothers, remember those days when you were instructed to stay in bed, because your little darlings were bringing breakfast to you in bed? You had to act delighted with the tray that was decorated with paper flowers, hand-drawn placemat and something that resembled, some sort of food, such as burned toast with jelly and a glass of kool-aid. You would read the handmade card, and then tear up with love and joy that were expressed so eloquently. Or maybe you woke to the sounds of your kids arguing in the kitchen, plates and pans being dropped or thrown, the smoke detector screaming, and then at least one of them crying and the others stomping off to their rooms, and the littlest one presenting you with the remains of what was meant to be your Mother’s Day breakfast. And you wished you could just go downstairs, make yourself a bowl of raisin bran and eat it peacefully while you read the paper and sipped your coffee. Or maybe you requested a way to prevent all that, and you went out for breakfast. You stood in line for a half hour, while your kid’s fidgitted and poked each other and then complained loudly to you that “He’s touching me.” When you were finally seated, the coffee was cold, and the eggs were overdone, and the family in the next booth kept bumping into your back, and a doll came flying over into your table and landed in the syrup. Or maybe you had the perfect Mother’s Day breakfast, as I did this morning.

The plan was that I would call my son Steve when I awoke, which could be anywhere from 5:30 to 8:30, but it happened that I slept in this morning until 9:30. Guilt swept over me as I pictured my son not only starving to death but wondering if I’d died in my sleep. After guiltily taking my patient dog outside to empty and then scooping up her long awaited food, I called Steve, and he was very gracious about my tardiness. He said he was glad I could sleep in. Then in about 10 minutes, he appeared at my door with ingredients for one of the most delicious breakfasts a Mother could wish for. Blueberry pancakes, bacon, orange juice, and hot tea were served to me at my kitchen table with the patio door open so I could hear the birds, with classical music playing in the background. OK. I was responsible for the classical music, but it was such a delight to have breakfast with my grownup son with grownup conversation. I think you have to get past the young-children-in-your-life stage before you can truly enjoy Mother’s day. When the meal was over, Steve, in his typical fashion, whisked away the dishes, loaded the dishwasher, and cleaned up the kitchen. As a finishing touch, we went outside to throw the ball for Dora. A perfect ending of a perfect visit. Oh, but we weren’t quite finished. Steve had to pick up a few things I had dropped over the last couple days, since I’m still not allowed to bend over, and he filled both of Dora’s water bowls, since that’s impossible to do without bending or lifting. Off he went to go on a fishing trip with his buddies, as I settled down with a cup of coffee to write to you. I wonder how my daughter in Syracuse is doing with her special day. She’ll call me later, and I’ll open the thoughtful gift she sent me. I am one lucky mom. I hope you mothers are having as nice a day as I am.

Centerfold

My friend Dan was sorting my mail one day last week, while he was here for an exercise session for Dora, when he opened an envelope that contained the annual report from the Gahanna Y. I instructed him to toss it, because I don’t go to the trouble of reading annual reports, but he ignored me and asked me, “Have you ever wanted to be a PlayBoy Magazine Centerfold?” Of course I hadn’t so I couldn’t imagine what he was getting at. Then he explained that a picture of Dora and me at the Y was the centerfold for the annual report. That was a total surprise for me, and I was delighted. Later that day, Hulalor, pronounced you-lay-la, the woman at the front desk at the Y who has always been extremely nice to me and very helpful, brought over an arrangement of chocolate covered fruit, a gift from the staff at the Y to cheer me after my surgery. No wonder they’ve been treating me like a celebrity. I guess, in a way, I am. I mean how many people get to be the centerfold of an annual report? I had given a speech 2 years ago and also this year for their kickoff for their annual fund-raiser and appeared in the accompanying video, so it was all coming together now. It will be several weeks before I can get back into a swim suit, because of my recent spine surgery, but it will not be a moment too soon. I love to tswim at the Y. Everyone there is so attentive to my needs. I don’t have to worry about finding an empty lane, because Hulalor walks with me into the pool area, spots an empty lane, and finds a bench nearby for me to secure Dora too. If there isn’t an empty lane, she asks the swimmer if he or she minds sharing a lane with someone else. Most people are very cooperative. I really can’t share, because I don’t swim in a straight line, and hugging one side or the other is stressful, and one of the most enjoyable parts of swimming for me is the lack of stress. Then while I’m sitting on the edge, adjusting to the coolness of the water, Hulalor goes and gets a noodle and set of water weights for me. Part of my routine is to use them for warmup exercises before my laps. Once I’m all set, she returns to her post at the front desk. Dora knows her way to the hot tub, which is my next stop, and to the lockerroom, our next to the last stop. She knows where my locker is and how to find an empty shower stall. She has learned that if the curtain is closed, she is not to poke her head inside. Once I’m in the tiny changing room, and have secured her to a hook, she likes to poke her head out of my stall and watch everybody as they walk by. I’m sure she gets a little pat on the head there, but that’s okay. After I’m dressed, and we’ve deposited my towels into a big barrel, we head out to the lobby to wait for my ride with the Red Cross. If I have time, Hulalor fixes me a cup of coffee, and if someone has brought in cake for a special occasion, she insists that I have a slice. More often than not, she tells me when the Red Cross van has pulled up. When Ulalor is not available, one of the other front desk ladies jumps in to take her place in treating me like royalty. I bet you’d go to the Y more often if you became a celebrity too. Give it a try. You might get to be a centerfold someday.

Little Victories

Each day of my convalescence, I take note of a small victory over the trauma of spine surgery. It helps me focus on the progress I’ve made, rather than the obstacles I face and will face for the next several weeks. After being in a fog for about a week, due to pain meds and a lot of sleep, I suddenly found myself humming along to one of my favorite pieces of classical music I was hearing on the radio. I realized that I hadn’t hummed or sung since before the surgery, and here I was, finding my voice. On another day soon after, I suddenly remembered that I had a blog, and it was time to let my readers know that I was alive, and I was enjoying the exercise of finding just the right words to describe how I felt. . Next, I opened my calendar, finally caring what I had scheduled for after the surgery, and just in time, I discovered a couple of birthdays I needed to acknowledge. To me, this meant that I was slowly starting to care about people other than myself. Then I began to get serious about obeying the rules my doctor and my physical therapist had pounded into my head. I had thought I could get away with bending them a little, and I use the word bending on purpose, because that’s the hardest one to obey, no bending. Have you ever considered how many times you bend over in a day, especially when you have a dog? One of my biggest challenges was how to lower the bowl of food to the floor for Dora. I thought if I could just do a very deep squat, or for you ballet dancers, a very deep second position plie, I could almost reach the floor, only dropping the bowl an inch or 2. But my PT didn’t like that, because coming back up would put strain on my back. To pick it up when empty, I could use the “reacher,” or what I lovingly call the “grabber.” It’s a stick with a jaw-like contraption on the end. I had been skeptical that I would be able to use it without sight, but once I tried it and had success, I became quite proficient. Some objects are more difficult, such as a landline phone, but I’ve devised a way to solve that crisis too. If it’s close to the bed, I scoot it over with my foot to the bed, and then lie down on the bed and reach down and grab it with my very own hand. I do the same when I want to retrieve a clean pair of socks from the drawer under my bed. I should show that one off to my PT, because he had no suggestions. Meanwhile, I solved the dog food dilemma by sitting on the edge of a chair and holding the bowl down as far as possible without bending, and she happily scarfed up the food, and it was easy for me.

While I was in the hospital, Dora’s grooming was completely forgotten. I can’t blame my kids, because they were totally absorbed in my recovery, but when I woke from my fog and saw that she had become a furry mess, and her breath was offputting to say the least, it was time for me to do something. I needed a low seat, so I could reach her without bending or twisting, and the best seat in the house was the toilet lid . Now, each day, we make a trip to the bathroom in the utility room for a good brushing and toothbrushing. I don’t know why I never thought of that before, because it’s backbreaking work even if you haven’t had surgery.

What bothered me the most was not being able to put things away. I have to keep my shoes at a level where I can reach them, same for shirts, nightgowns, and other clothing I normally keep tucked away in drawers. The dog food container is on top of the stove. The dish soap is on top of the counter, instead of beneath the sink. And some things just have to lie where they fall. I don’t like this arrangement, but in 9 more weeks, I pray my life will return to normal. And instead of humming now and then, I’ll be singing out with gusto.

Fan Mail

When I returned home after having spinal fusion surgery, it took me several days before I had the energy to sit down at my computer and sift through the stack of email messages. Gosh, was I ever rewarded for my effort. The following message buoyed me for the rest of the day, so I want to share it with you. I deleted the sender’s last name for her privacy.

> On Apr 12, 2018, at 8:33 AM, Tracy wrote:
> Dear Ms. Hiland,
> I found your book, “The Bumpy Road to Assisted Living”, through Joe Blundo’s column in the Columbus Dispatch. The book shows your courage and your sense of humor. I truly enjoyed the sharing of your journey with your mother. It gives good insight into life situations that most of us have to experience.
> You are an inspiration to me as a low vision individual myself. I was brought up hiding and being ashamed of my poor vision. At the age of 58, I am finally letting go of these beliefs and I believe that your book was brought to me so that I could see that there is another way.
> I applaud the work that you have done on behalf of visually impaired people. Thank you for your inspiration.
> Tracy
> Sent from my iPad

Thank you Tracy, and thank you Joe.