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.
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.
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.
> Sent from my iPad
Thank you Tracy, and thank you Joe.
Recovering from major surgery is a full time job. That’s why you haven’t seen anything from me lately. Following spinal fusion, my focus has just been to get through the day. Pain meds and strict instructions not to bend, lift, or twist, have limited not only my activity, but also my powers of concentration. Slowly, little by little, the curtain of mental fog is starting to part, and I’m recognizing that there is more to my day than when I can take the next pill, what I should eat for lunch, how I’m going to manage certain tasks without bending, lifting or twisting, and binge-watching a show on Netflix.
Six days passed before I felt like wearing clothes. I had been greeting guests and helpers in my pajamas and robe, which, after all, I felt was the appropriate dress code for a person who was accepting prepared meals from a stream of church volunteers. I am extremely grateful to my friends at Stonybrook Church, who not only brought me food, but also did little chores around the house, like loading the dishwasher, and retrieving the clothes from the washer and putting them in the dryer. Yes, that task requires bending, so for now, somebody else has to do that. Good thing I was a volunteer coordinator for over 22 years in my pre-retirement life, so I could schedule all the helpers and orchestrate my day so that certain tasks, like picking up a dropped object from the floor could be done by the next helper coming with a meal.
My daughter Kara was my guardian angel through this whole ordeal, staying with me 24/7 during the surgery and hospital stay. My son Steve did his part too, but it was Kara who made the greater sacrifice, flying in from out of state, leaving her family for 7 days, and being my advocate in the hospital, an absolute must for any overnight patient, and I was there for 4 nights. For most of that time, I wasn’t there mentally, due to a bad reaction to the cocktail of pain meds they gave me.
I’m also very grateful for special friends like Tricia and Dan, who have given Dora the much-needed exercise I’m not able to provide. Filling Dora’s water bowl was a challenge, so I had to remember to ask each visitor to check on her water. Several folks have come to take Dora for a walk, since I am not allowed to walk her yet. Just yesterday, I got to walk for a whole 6 minutes with the physical therapist. My doctor warned me that I would feel so good after this surgery that I would be tempted to overdo, which would impede my progress, and that the only therapy for me is to walk. Nothing could make me happier. I can’t wait until I’m allowed to put Dora’s harness on and give her the forward command. She’s been rather spoiled by her volunteer walkers, as they’ve let her sniff and eat grass, both of which are a no-no.
On the 10th day, I had no visitors, and I had to face getting all 3 meals on my own. But my freezer was full of leftovers, so it was just a matter of making choices.
As I became more independent with tasks to take care of myself, my dog, and my house, I began to be more aware of little jobs I had been neglecting. I made doctors’ appointments, made transportation arrangements, answered emails, and yes, started thinking about this blog. It was time to let you know that I am back among the living.
Last week, I wrote about speaking to business leaders in Columbus about the YMCA, but I have a lot more to say about the Y. If you’re like me, when you think of the Y, you think of the pool, basketball courts, racket ball, yoga, Zoomba, pre-school tumbling, weight machines, and a walking track. But there’s so much more that we, the affluent middle class never have had to think about.
As I watched the video and listened to the accompanying speakers, I learned that the Y extends its services way beyond the the traditional activities.
For instance, a young black man spoke eloquently about his activities as a Y volunteer. He goes to playgrounds at recess times and engages the kids in constructive and organized games. Too often, these kids, without complete supervision, can get into trouble, such as fighting or throwing rocks at passing cars. This young man has a technique for getting their attention and diverting it to more acceptable behavior. Instead of yelling at them to stop whatever misbehavior they are engaged in, he holds out his hands and beckons them to come and “have a conversation” with them. As he explained to us, having a conversation is much more effective.
Another story was about a young woman whose home life was a struggle every day. With no husband to help with the young children, little money, and a low-paying job, coordinating her mornings and evenings with job and school schedules was a challenge, and the Y was there to help. Her children went to the Y in the morning as their mother left on the bus to work, and stayed their until their own bus to school arrived. And in the afternoons, they went to the Y until their mother came to collect them. These kids were not left at home by themselves to get into trouble or fall prey to other kids in the neighborhood or worse. In fact, in some cases, volunteers escorted the kids to their homes in dangerous neighborhoods. We who live behind our white picket fences with two cars in the driveway rarely see or understand these situations, but the Y is very much aware and has a corps of volunteers to insure the safety and wellbeing of all our children.
I spoke as a member of the Silver Sneakers set, who have the opportunity to recover from surgeries or debilitating conditions, to keep fit and healthy, or just have something to do in what could be an empty life after retirement. The name, YMCA encompasses much more than I ever knew. I rarely get sucked into a fund-raiser event by writing a check on the spot, but this time I did. The Y is good to me, and while my check isn’t very big, it’s one way I can say thank-you.
Last year about this time, I was asked to speak at a fund-raiser kickoff breakfast for the Gahanna Y. I had a wonderful time using my Toastmasters skills and entertaining my audience with silly jokes like, “I must be the poster child for Silver Sneakers.” My audience members were big wigs at the Y and the community business leaders of Gahanna, people who could be inspired to donate big bucks for the Y. They must have enjoyed it, because I was invited this year to speak to even bigger wigs and business leaders from all over Columbus. About 200 people were gathered at an exclusive restaurant for the gourmet breakfast and the hour-long presentation. Featured were several speakers and a video that was broken into clips to show what the next speaker would be promoting. Now you’ve probably guessed that I was in the video and that I got to speak about my experience at the Y as part of their “Diversability” program. BTW, as coined words go, this one is a whole lot better than some others I’ve heard. Anyway, it was really fun to be part of a well-produced video, part of which I shall present to you. After my part of the video was shown, I gave a brief overview of the events leading up to my becoming a huge fan of the Gahanna Y.
I used to never consider myself an athlete, but after I became involved with Ski for Light and learned to ski at the age of 41, I found myself joining my cross country ski friends in other athletic endeavors, such as tandem cycling for long distances, taking longer walks, hiking, and even running. As I told my audience today, one of the highlights of my life was running in The Race for the Cure with my daughter on her 26th birthday. I told them about my friends at church who graciously offered to take me to the Y and help me with the weight machines. It was amazing to me how much I enjoyed working out. In fact, I came to the discovery that OMG, I was becoming a gym rat. And I finished up by telling them how much I enjoyed the pool, although I did admit that the hot tub was my “favorite exercise machine.” I told them how Dora watches my every move from the sidelines while I’m in the pool and how she knows my routine well. I don’t even have to give her the commands to the next place to go.She knows that after swimming, we head directly to the hot tub. I complimented the staff, especially the gals at the front desk who make me feel like a “rock star” each time I come in, and at the end of my session, as I wait for my ride with The Red Cross, I am usually handed a cup of coffee fixed just the way I like it.. Everybody is always very nice, not only to me but to each other. We all know that it’s important to improve our lives, and we all know that the best place to do it is at the Gahanna Y.
Enjoy the video.
When the phone rang at 4:00 on that Friday afternoon, I thought, “What now? What else could go wrong?” I had come home to make dinner, after five days of unpacking box after box of too much stuff and too many things that my mother insisted on bringing. Kara was still at the assisted living home, helping her grandmother get settled. I thought she was going to tell me that she had done all she could do, and was at the end of her rope. But what I heard in the background was the reason for the call.
My daughter’s voice was tinged with weariness and cautious hope. “Listen to this, Mom,” she said. Someone was playing the piano. I recognized her style immediately. It was my mother, playing “Stardust,” my father’s favorite. This was my mother, playing the piano, as in happier times.
We didn’t speak for a full minute, as we listened and choked back tears. After losing the battle for her independence, after having her life turned inside out, after being forced to face institutional living, Mom finally relaxed and found what would soothe her sense of loss, her music. Several other residents stopped in to ask who was playing the piano so beautifully, and my mom was finally in her element. The new girl in town was making music for her neighbors.
As I heard the familiar melodies, “The Old Rugged Cross,” “In the Garden,“ “Sentimental Journey,“ I pictured those ninety-six-year-old arthritic hands, finding their way through the chords with the same precision and ease as of the past 80 years.
To read the whole story, you’ll need to buy the book at