Blogging while distracted

Lately I’ve been trying to blog more often than I did before. Before what? Well, before I started trying to blog more often. I’ve realized that some of my favorite bloggers simply rabbit on about their everyday lives and random thoughts. Others among my favorites put serious thought and research into their posts.

In a spirit of blatant self-indulgence I have to confess that I’m too lazy to emulate the second kind – at any rate, not on a consistent basis. Also, who am I to pose as an expert on anything except my own small life? Fact: this blog is intended to entertain (mainly me) and also to record Thoughts And Happenings That Are Interesting (at least to me), as well as getting the old verbal juices flowing so that I’m able to glide smoothly into Serious Writing Of The Novel. So that’s why I want to blog more often, and if I manage to do so in a way that makes you want to stick around for the coffee and donuts served after, so much the better!

The problem I have with blogging … Well, there are several problems, actually. Sometimes the Black Dog pins me down and … I … just … can’t. Other times I’m so busy Doing or Being Done To that I don’t have the time or energy to write about it. That’s frustrating, because I’ll be going through the doings, and quite often my primary link to sanity and a sense of “this too shall pass” is the mantra “blog fodder”. I write so many posts in my head while on the run!

Road trips with Argos
Road trips – so much more fun with a Malinois!

Somewhere I have one of those little digital recorders. I really need to learn to use it.

Actually, I think my phone might have a digital recorder app. Hmmm.

Right … where was I? Oh yes – another problem is the perpetual presence of distractions. I mean, just two paragraphs up I was about to abandon this leaky little boat and go in search of the digital recorder. The only thing that stopped me was the recollection that the Evernote app on my phone might do the job.

Do you know how much I want to get up now and rush off and find my phone and test it???

Seriously … where is my dang phone?

Moving on! Then there’s deciding what to write about, and when to write about it. Should I start a post in the middle of the events I want to write about? If I do, will I remember to come back with a second post to tell how the story ends? (So far that would be a no; usually I wind up telling the ending in the comments, if people ask.) If I wait until I know the ending, will I still feel like writing about it? (Quite often not – either because I’m in the middle of something else, or because I’ve blogged about it so relentlessly in my head that it’s just not entertaining any more.)

Anyway, all this is merely a prelude to telling about what happened yesterday, which I can do very quickly because it’s not that big a story, but it caused some palpitations and foaming at the mouth all the same.

There’s this blogger I follow, David Bennett – his photographs are lovely. You should go take a look. Not now – later! For now I’ll just tell you they make me want to rush out and take pictures – which is a challenge all on its own because a few birthdays back I bought the Hubbit a rather nice camera after years of listening to him boast of his photographic prowess, and he has lost the charger.

Okay, it’s possible that I put the charger Somewhere when I was reorganizing his Hubbit Hole while he was in rehab early this year – which, by the way, is a classic example of an activity I blogged about extensively and hilariously in my head for so long that I could not bring myself to sit and write it all down … The point is, the charger wasn’t in the fancy camera case I also bought him. So now the camera is friggin’ useless.

Not that I ever really figured out how to use it. Cameras have changed a lot since I bought my first one, a Box Brownie I got for R5.00 (that’s five rand, South African money, which back then was worth US$10, but today would be worth around US$0.75) that I carefully saved up when I was ten years old. I take pictures with my cell phone, and sometimes I’m pleased with them – they’re better than anything I managed with the Box Brownie, anyway. In fact, since this post really doesn’t lend itself to illustrations, and just for the heck of it, I’ll include a few of them here.

Suffusion of yellow
A suffusion of yellow. I spent fall gorging on colors until I was ready to burst with pleasure.

The reason I mention David today, however, is that in addition to sharing his photographs he tends to write his way through various technical challenges, and lately he’s been fiddling around with the design theme of his blog. So there are these posts referring to this theme and that theme that he’s been trying out, and to be honest I don’t read those in depth … but I notice them.

So yesterday I slapped myself around the head because it’s been more than a month since my last post, and I’ve been writing and writing inside my head but never quite making it as far as butt-in-chair, fingers-on-keyboard. After the head slap I plonked myself down, fired up the laptop, and prepared to Expound.

Garcia
Two-dimensional horse – Cherry Garcia at the vet a couple days after he moved in with Vos

But … about what? I have things to say about Trump – but those require research if I don’t want to be just another liberal whiner. I want to update you about Zeus, and I have other thoughts to share about rescue. I read a post recently that calls for a response. I don’t think I’ve ever told you about Garcia – did I  mention I got my horse a horse? There was a minor disaster with our Thanksgiving turkey, which has led to the production of fabulous bone broth, and I really should tell you about bone broth. So Many Things!

Well, I clicked over to see what other people were writing about – not so much for inspiration as to give my subconscious time to chew over the matter – and there was David, with a gorgeous picture of an iris, yattering away about his latest blog theme adventure.

He distracted me! It’s his fault!

Because obviously after that I wandered over to the WordPress collection of themes to take a look. After all, I’d been thinking my blog needed sprucing up. One theme looked interesting, and I wondered how it would look on my blog.

There were two icons – one labeled “Activate”, the other “Preview”.

Just then, the dogs broke out in an uproar, and as I irritably rose from my seat to find out what the problem was … guess which icon I clicked?

Just like that, everything went beige! It was horrible! And there was no way to un-activate it!

I wrote a frantic appeal for help to the WordPress Happiness Engineers, and spent a palpitating few hours restlessly clicking between forum responses to people who had also accidentally destroyed the careful design of their blog, and also bouncing around the house distracting myself with chores, and, of course, periodically clicking hopefully on my blog to see if it had magically returned to normal.

It hadn’t. Also I learned, during the course of all this clicking, that the theme I’d been using was “no longer supported”.

So eventually last night, at only about half an hour past my intended bedtime, I went “Screw it” and sat down and test drove a bunch of themes. Found one I liked. Got it all set up. And here it is! Voila!

It doesn’t do all the things I want … but for that I’d need to (a) spend a lot more time searching through hundreds of themes, (b) probably pay for it, and (c) figure out how to make it work. Ehhh … Life’s short. I think this one works, and the picture I took last summer of our little farm and our cows is okay – don’t you agree?

Between one beat and the next

Photo by Patricia Tser on Unsplash

My friend Bridie and I used to ride our bikes to school together. Every morning I rode the half mile or so to the corner near her house, and then we rode the remaining two or three miles side by side, giggling, ignoring her bossy older sister Jan who pedaled and puffed behind us. One morning Bridie wasn’t there so I rode to her house, leaned my bike against the wall, started to walk through the back door.

Someone – her mother? – grabbed my arms and stopped me. Told me Bridie wouldn’t be coming to school that day because her father had died. He and her mom had gone to bed the night before, but only her mom had woken up. His heart just stopped beating.

Some time later I stormed into her house, raging over the latest fight I’d had with my father. “You should be grateful you still have him,” Jan told me – so pompous! I snarled at her, “You have no idea how lucky you are!” and her face went white as her heart missed a beat. After that we didn’t speak for a long time.

By the time my father had his first heart attack, I think in 1997, which was the year before I married the Hubbit and moved to the US, he and I had achieved a truce of sorts. I was on my way to an interview when someone – my mother? – called me on my cell phone and I changed direction and sped to the hospital. The Egg and her husband were already there, huddled together on one of the long benches in the large, empty waiting area. They directed me to another waiting area next door, where I found Marmeee standing beside him, clutching his hand and looking scared. He was on one of those narrow, wheeled metal hospital beds, gasping for breath, his face the dull yellow of old fat that’s been exposed to air.

Not far from them was a counter, and behind it an empty reception area, and beyond that a room full of nurses engaged in loud conversation while they drank their tea. There was a bell, which I rang furiously with one hand while slapping the wood of the counter with my other hand. A nurse emerged and looked me up and down. “Yes?” she asked.

“My father needs attention!” I demanded.

She glanced dismissively at him. “We are waiting for his file,” she said.

“Where is his file?”

She flipped a languid finger back toward the room where the Egg and her husband were waiting. “The messenger will get it. But now he is on his break,” she said. I stormed through the door, rang a different bell, slapped a different counter. Demanded the file, which I carried back and slammed down in front of the nurse. She rolled her eyes, flicked the file open, froze. Called more nurses. Moments later they wheeled him away, Marmeee scurrying alongside as he clung to her hand.

There was nothing left for me to do, except … I could call for favors. I called Cass, a cardiologist I’d interviewed a few weeks previously. He was a hot shot, associated with a private hospital. My father, who didn’t have medical insurance, was in a state hospital. Cass had liked the story I wrote about him, and had asked me to write another story about organ transplants and the need for donors. I’d told him I would, but that it would be a better story if I could actually witness and write about a heart transplant. So at that point – the point I was at, sitting in the waiting room while my father clung to my mother’s hand in a different room full of machines beeping and nurses scurrying and doctors barking instructions – at that point, we were waiting for one of Cass’s patients to be matched with a donor heart.

Well, if your father has a heart attack and you happen to know the top cardiologist in town, maybe happen to have impressed him enough that he wants a favor, obviously you call him. And even if he can’t personally get involved in the case, he makes a few calls, lets it be known that he has an interest, and the awed cardiac team responsible for your father’s care snaps to attention and gets the job done. The Olde Buzzard had surgery and it went well and he got medical insurance and started seeing Cass regularly, and his heart kept up a steady thump for nearly twenty more years, until Marmeee’s stopped and his no longer had a reason to keep on beating.

It was late Friday afternoon, a hot day at the end of a too-long week. The voice on the phone was warm. Sexy. “Hey there – would you like to spend the night with me?”

My pulse quickened … but … I was in Johannesburg, and the only man at that time likely to make me such an offer was on the other side of the planet. “Who is this?” I squeaked.

He chuckled. “It’s Cass,” he said. We had a heart!

I met him at the hospital a couple hours later, and he took me to meet the patient’s wife. I had forgotten the wife until I read my notes today. At the time she was merely background, barely relevant to the story. It’s interesting how life has a way of teaching one empathy.

I had my laptop with me, and I made my notes in the form of a letter to the Hubbit. He wasn’t my Hubbit yet, of course; we were still at the internet romance stage of our relationship, he in the US and I in South Africa. We didn’t yet expect to meet, but we’d got into the habit of sharing the events of our lives.

Hiya, honeybun!

I’m sitting on the floor of a large passage in the hospital. Nothing much is happening … I need to write down what I’m experiencing, and – hope you don’t mind – it’ll be a lot easier just to tell it all to you. I guess it’s one way to spend the night with you … <smial>

Oh yeah – we got pretty steamy back then. Even with the full bulk of the planet between us he could make my heart flutter!

I told him about the family – Hindu, a large crowd, the women all dressed in saris. The mother, who sat lotus-legged and praying on a plastic chair, one eye covered by an eye patch held in place by masking tape – she’d had cataract surgery a few days previously. Three sons, the youngest 13. A brother who was a cardiologist, who later showed up in the operating theater.

The patient is only 47. He has had heart disease for about six years and they had been keeping it under control with medication, but early this year he went into heart arrest and Cass said it was time to plan for a transplant. He’s been incredibly lucky – he’s had to wait only five weeks. Some people wait years.

An orderly brought him his pre-med while I was there – a tiny plastic tot glass of water and a handful of pills. The orderly told him not to drink more of the water than he absolutely had to, but he must have been thirsty – he downed the whole lot almost compulsively. Then they had to give him an injection; wanted to give it into his shoulder, but he’s so thin there’s not enough flesh there. They had to inject him in the buttock.

Suddenly it was time to take him away. Orderlies pushed his hospital bed speedily toward the operating theater, and his family streamed behind, keeping pace with his bed until a nurse stopped them, gently told them to say goodbye, that they’d see him the next day. They stood in a small cluster, waving and smiling with determination, and kept waving even after he was out of sight, their fear surrounding them like a fog.

Then a nurse brought me a hideous green overall to wear. Needless to say the one-size-fits-all trousers didn’t, but she found me some bigger ones. I had the MOST frustrating time trying to persuade my hair to stay tucked inside a silly little cap. I’m wearing nothing but thin plastic overshoes on my feet, because I didn’t think to change into sneakers and the overshoes won’t work with the heels I was wearing. My feet are freezing! Now I’m sitting in a little room outside the theater, drinking tea and waiting for something to happen. In TV hospital programs hospital life looks like one adrenaline rush after another. Not so. This evening has been mainly waiting.

And now I’m in the theater! I rushed in and was promptly chased out – I’d forgotten my face mask! Put it on – how do doctors wear these things? After less than a minute I felt as though I was suffocating.

The operating theater was a small room crammed with equipment and crowded with people – several nurses, an anesthetist, two cardiologists, all chatting and joking as though they were at a party. The perfusionist – the person responsible for the heart-lung machine – sat next to the patient reading a Playboy magazine. The two cardiac surgeons had their own extra-high-sterility area, separated from everyone else by a low divider covered with hanging towels.

At the center of it all is the patient. He is very still, and is almost completely covered by green sheets; even his face is covered, except for a little slit where a tube goes in. On the cardiac monitor his heartbeat is erratic, frantic… They’ve started cutting and his heart is going crazy… They’ve sawed open his sternum. It looks like meat, but the smell is strange, nasty.

Okay … I went to stand above the patient’s head, and watched the surgeon cut open the pericardium. I saw inside his body. I saw his heart, laboring sluggishly to keep going. And now … we wait. The new heart is on its way. They are ready.

Time is of the essence in a heart transplant. The donor heart must be in and beating within four hours or tissues start to break down. In this case, the donor heart was flown up to Johannesburg from a town on the coast. To save time they opened up the patient and were ready to go, but they didn’t disconnect his old heart until the new one had actually arrived.

The heart is packed in ice, inside a plastic bag, the whole kaboodle inside the kind of polystyrene cooler box one uses for picnics. They’ve put it next to an identical box that’s full of ice and soft drinks. The packaged heart looks like someone’s groceries.

They have taken out the old heart. It fibrillated for about 15 minutes while they were connecting the heart-lung machine, before they removed it and the monitor finally fell silent. Now it’s lying off to one side in a kidney dish, still trying its best to beat. Cass says it wouldn’t have lasted longer than a few more weeks. It makes me sad to think of it being thrown away now, though, when it’s tried so hard.

The new heart looks more solid, meatier, than the old one. The surgeons agree that it’s a nice heart. It used to belong to a 43-year-old woman who lived in a small coastal town. Today she had a cerebral aneurysm – she had a massive bleed and died – just like that. Well, technically, she didn’t die until they took her heart out about two-and-a-half hours ago. I wonder what she’d planned to do today.

And right now, technically, this patient is also dead. A machine is doing his breathing and moving his blood, and his temperature’s right down at 28 Celsius. Every now and then a nurse takes some ice out of the picnic box and puts it into his heart cavity to keep it cold. I touched his head. It felt … horrible. Icy. Not alive.

The surgery I watched was something of a milestone. I’d forgotten that too, until reading my notes. It was the first time of using surgical superglue in a heart transplant in South Africa. They spent an hour stitching the heart and supplemented the stitches with glue. I’m sure by now surgeons use glue alone to connect the blood vessels to the heart tissue. According to my notes that was the goal, anyway.

They’re trying to start the heart by pumping blood into it, massaging it gently by hand, and shocking it. It doesn’t want to start. They massage, shock, look at the monitor. It fibrillates, then stops. They try again and again. They look like Sunday afternoon mechanics huddled around a car engine, coaxing it to life.

Ten minutes in the beat is strong and steady. There are a few little leaks, which the surgeons are stitching and gluing. There’s gore everywhere, and the surgeons are spattered with blood.

Everyone is tired, coming down off a high. The final stage of the process is mechanical. They disconnect the heart-lung machine and the perfusionist packs it and his magazines away. Release the clamps that have been holding his rib cage open, remove the swabs, finish cauterizing the wound – that disgusting smell again. Insert drains and sew him up.

I thanked the hot cardiologist for giving me one of the best nights of my life. “I learned a lot!” I told him, and went home.

The Hubbit’s new cardiologist isn’t especially hot. He’s a large, blustery man, a kind man, I believe a good doctor, but as hard to pin down as a picnic blanket on a windy day. I’m learning from him that the language of the heart is imprecise. Love … fear … loss … failure … What do these words actually mean? I tried to ask him: in the context of this husband, in this consulting room, at this moment, what exactly is heart failure?

I asked him question after question, and his words were like bits of dry grass swept up by a dust devil. They had no shape or pattern. He tried to answer. He opened a folder and showed me printouts – the results of many tests over the past few weeks. He used words like “ventricle”, “left”, “right”, “congestion”. I think he may have showed me a diagram. At last he gave up, ordered another test. It’s scheduled for the day after tomorrow.

Perhaps it’s not his answers that are imprecise, but my questions. I will rephrase them.

Will his heart keep going, or will it just stop between one beat and the next?

Will I wake up one night, hear the soft snores of the dogs snuggled between us, raise my head and strain my failing ears, hear silence from his side of the bed, reach out and touch him and find him cold as ice?

Can you fix it?

In the context of right here, right now, how best should I cherish him?

Usually I end with questions for you, dear reader. An invitation to engage. This time, my questions are all directed elsewhere … but please engage anyway.

So I got phished

Well, that’s three hours of my life I won’t get back.

It’s my own fault. I was supposed to be Writing The Book, and instead I let myself be distracted by a [presumably fascinating, but I don’t really know, since I didn’t actually get to read it] article about how some stars appear to be older than the universe.

Suddenly this enormous red square bloomed on my monitor, and upon it a lot of words, the largest of which read MOZILLA FIREFOX CRITICAL ERROR. The gist of the subsequent, smaller words was that my computer was being hacked, my data was at risk, and I had to call the Microsoft help desk.

There was also a phone number.

Which I called.

Yes, really.

rachel bloom bang head on desk GIF by Portlandia

Look, that square? It was really red. Not a bright happy red, like cherries or a toddler’s cheeks on a cold day. It was a gory, gloomy sort of red, like old ketchup the morning after you brought dinner home in a paper bag because you’d had a shitty day and were too tired to cook, but you’re not a complete slob so you ate off plates, only you were too tired to wash up afterwards. And it took up the whole screen.

Anyway, the young man who offered was so helpful and sympathetic, and he explained that it was our “home network” that was infected, not just the computer. We don’t actually have a home network, as such … but I figured he meant the bad stuff was leaking in through the modem and into both the Hubbit’s and my computers and our smart phones.

Naturally, when he said he needed to access my computer over the internet in order to see what damage may have been done, I couldn’t wait to say yes.

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Well, sort of. I did have a moment of sanity. You see, you have to hold down the Windows icon key on your keyboard and another key – I think “S” but not sure – and then a window pops up on your screen. And you type some things and click on things and then you have to input a special number, which the helpful person on the other end of the phone gives you. And then your computer asks you if you want to give that person permission to access your shit … and at that moment I did hesitate.

“Wait,” I said. “Give me a moment. I need to verify that you’re real.”

He was a little impatient, but polite. If he’d been more impatient and less polite he’d have lost me … but he was reassuring. He gave me his name and his employee number. So when Google didn’t immediately scream “SCAM!” I went ahead and clicked yes, and he was in. Then I sat and watched as he poked around my computer. It was a bit like having a plumber in to fix a leak and to do it they have to empty your sink and – oops – you have underwear soaking in there. I mean, my internet habits are boring (as is my underwear, to be honest) … but still.

Eww.

So then a display appeared on the screen, and it was this long list of attacks. More than 1,500 warnings (bright yellow) and error messages (bright red) zipped up the screen. My new friend tutted in my ear. “See?” he said. “This is just from this month. You’ve been under a heavy attack!”

“But what could anyone possibly want?” I asked plaintively. It’s not as though we have any serious money, or interesting secrets.

“Well,” he said. “They could be using your personal data to commit international fraud. See there?” He showed me columns where the action was headed “Local” and “Foreign”. “Or maybe they’re after your money. It doesn’t matter how much or how little it is – they want it all! Tut tut tut. This is terrible. I’m so sorry,” he said. Then he showed me where I had a trojan – only, he said, he couldn’t fix it. It wasn’t clear why not.

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Helplessly I sat and watched file names scroll rapidly up my screen, and after a while he said he needed me to wait on hold for a minute or two while he spoke with his supervisor to try to figure out the best way to help me.

Well, waiting is boring. And since I wasn’t actually doing anything with my phone, I clicked over to Google again … and found … this.

Sigh.

So I ended the call and ignored his attempts to call back, and logged off my computer, and unplugged the modem just to be sure. And then I went and confessed to the Hubbit, who sighed and rolled his eyes but was otherwise forbearing. I figured out how to change the access to my computer, and I changed our most critical passwords. And then I called Microsoft – the real one, this time – and paid $99 for a year’s worth of technical support for all the internet devices in the House of Took. And after that I spent about an hour and a half on the phone with a very nice young man, who also requested permission to prowl around in my underwear computer, and while he was in there he did a whole lot of necessary housekeeping.

Which is something I didn’t get to do today, owing to spending the entire damn day on the computer – and not a fresh writerly word to show for it.

Except this post, of course. Does this count? Probably not … but it does make me feel better!

Have you ever been scammed? How stupid, exactly, did it make you feel?

 

 

Channeling my inner little old lady

So you know how sometimes you have to dial an 800 number, and from the first syllable emitted by the robot voice you can tell by the roiling in your gut and the pricking of your thumbs that this isn’t going to go well, but you persevere because you screwed up and now you’re in a panic?

And the reason you’re in a panic is that you’ve just woken up to the fact that your husband’s insurance has been blithely denying all the claims relating to his tractor accident? Okay, in all honesty I don’t know they were necessarily blithe about it. They may have been in ho hum mode, thinking about the past weekend or looking forward to the next one. No reason for me to presume there were any shrill cackles of banshee glee. Either way, to get back to my point…

What this means, in ordinary everyday terms, is that the giant wodge of papers covered with numbers and headed, reassuringly, “Explanation of benefits” and “This is not a bill”, which you’ve been ignoring because, seriously, who reads those things … but then you do, and HOLY CRAP!!

Paper pile (2).jpg
The actual wodge, artistically draped over a pile of fresh bills.

Oh – and I should mention that the reason you’re reading the wodge is that suddenly you’re getting actual bills – $1,814 for the emergency physician, who is the guy who essentially saved the Hubbit’s life, so it was totally worth it (most of the time, although maybe not so much when he refuses to wear his hearing aids) but, you know, on the other hand, you could do a lot with $1,814, if you had it. For example, that’s pretty much the cost of a pregnant cow around these parts.

But I digress. I was telling you about bills you might happen to receive following a major medical event.

Like $961 for the emergency hospital. You go “Ouch” because, after all, he was there for only a couple hours before they shipped him off to a hospital that was actually capable of keeping him alive – and then you look again and you realize the $961 is what’s left over after insurance kicked in $25,765 – and I mean, seriously, that’s more than $10,000 per hour! The Hubbit’s a smart guy who was highly qualified and certified up the wazoo back in his pre-retirement days, but no one ever thought he was worth that much back then! If they had, we’d probably be in ho hum mode at the sight of these numbers. Or maybe not, because … there’s more. So much more.

A whole sheaf of bills for the ambulance services that got him from home to the local emergency hospital, and from there to the bigger hospital in Spokane … and bills for the rehab facility, and the orthopedic clinic, and the imaging company, and the physical therapist. But that pile of bills is still smaller than the “explanation of benefits” wodge, so you start flicking through it, and you come across one for $25,765, which is the amount due for the local emergency hospital, and you realize that when the hospital sent you a bill for $981 they were (blithely?) assuming that the insurance company was going to pay – only this particular benefit explanation says, in a word, “Nope”. And you keep going and you find one for $99,285.97, which is just for that first day at the hospital in Spokane – less than a day – he arrived there after 6.00PM, for crying out loud. But that’s what it cost to make it so that he didn’t die right away.

Bill
You see that number? Someone tells me that’s my “total responsibility” – except that it isn’t, because this is only one of 55 pages of ridiculous numbers that came in a single envelope; other envelopes have come bearing additional pages – and all I can do is laugh. Shrug my shoulders. Vote for Bernie. Because this is absurd – not because magical medical technology isn’t worth what it costs, but because no individual human can or should shoulder such a responsibility.

And you look at it and you think, “Well, he’s alive. So there’s that.” But at the same time you realize your heart is going “Ofuckit Ofuckit Ofuckit” like The Little Engine That Could, after it made it to the top of the hill and headed down the other side and then gravity took over just as it noticed there was a wide, churning river at the bottom … and no bridge.

You know how that feels?

I really hope not, because if you’re taking the time to read this blog I like you, and I value you as an important source of warm fuzzies and endorphins, and I don’t want you either to plunge headfirst into a river or succumb to a heart attack.

Anyway, at that point, feelings aren’t really the issue. The issue is, what are you going to do? What I did was clutch the wodge in sweaty hands and take it to the Hubbit, and pick a fight with him about politics – his being conservative, and therefore opposed to state-funded universal healthcare. That urgent business having been satisfactorily concluded (it’s hard to concentrate on defending a philosophical point of view when your doting wife has just delivered a quarter million dollar-or-so whack upon your shiny pate), we agreed that there was no point in worrying about it, since payment was impossible. I promised to call the insurer on the next business day for a WT actual F conversation, organized the wodge into a neat stack (ordered by date and page number), put it on my desk, and promptly forgot about it.

I have an excuse. The Girl Child has been visiting and I’ve had coffee to drink and arguments to have and … oh, just generally more interesting things to do. Every few days a fresh bill would arrive, sometimes with a plaintive note scrawled across it from a medically-oriented bookkeeping person dismayed by the failure of the insurance to pay, and I would snicker at their naivete and rush out to suck down another coffee with the Girl Child. A couple included a form and a request that we complete it with the details of the “motor vehicle accident”, and I’d roll my eyes, because a tractor is not a motor vehicle, it’s farm equipment, and the reason I know this is that it’s not insured as a motor vehicle, so obviously it can’t be one! I’d add each bill to the growing pile on my desk and promise myself (and, occasionally, the Hubbit) to deal with the matter “tomorrow” – which, as we all know, is always a day away. Hooray for tomorrow!

Well, a couple days ago I was poking around on my desk and I came across a letter from the insurer dated April 12. It was addressed to “Dear Sir or Madam”, and expressed regret at our injury/accident and a wish for “good luck with your recovery”. There was also some reference to the need for a prompt reply.

Ofuckit Ofuckit Ofuckit.

They provided a post office box address, and a phone number.

I pondered my strategy while remembering how to breathe.

It was clear that a snail mail letter wouldn’t work. For one thing, my hands were trembling too much to type. Also, my grammatical synapses felt out of whack. And this wasn’t all bad. While tremor and grammatical uncertainty are a problem when one is wording a professional-sounding business letter, they can be helpful in presenting the persona of a slightly dotty and forgetful old lady.

I picked up my phone and dialed 1-800-ETC-ETRA – as provided at the end of the insurance company’s letter for the Other Party Liability office. A chirpy young woman answered, and introduced herself as Jessica. She asked for my name, and I gave it. With cheerful enthusiasm she expressed her eager willingness to help me. “But first,” she said, “I’d like to tell you about a great opportunity we can offer you.” Then she asked whether anyone in our household was over fifty years of age. I didn’t feel like listening to a sales pitch, but on the other hand she sounded so hopeful and eager that I decided to humor her. “Yes,” I said warily, “we’re both over fifty.” She launched into a description of a medical alert system the company was offering. She was clearly new to selling – she said “um” a lot, and a couple times she forgot to tell me something and had to backtrack, and although she was very sweet after a while I ran out of humor and cut her off.

That is, I tried to cut her off. “You know, I don’t want to waste your time. I really just want to deal with my query. Can you put me through to someone?” She ignored me. Just kept right on talking, rolling over me. “Hey!” I said. “Jessica, stop! I’m not interested!”

There was a pause, then she asked, “Would you like to talk to one of our representatives?”

“NO!” I shouted. “Just put me through to customer service!”

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“Oh! Okay!” she chirped, perky as ever. I ground my teeth and breathed deeply, and a new voice came on. This sounded like a more mature, experienced woman. She also expressed a desire to help me – but first, she said, she’d like to offer me a great opportunity. Did I have a cellphone? I exploded – I was totally and irredeemably out of humor by then – and blow me down, she also just rolled straight into her pitch.

It finally dawned on me that she wasn’t human, and nor was Jessica. Nor was the woman who invited me to sign up for a roadside assistance program, or the friendly young man who wanted to know whether we had a TV. They were all, every one of them, bots. Not even real artificial intelligence.

The fact that Jessica had fooled me was profoundly embarrassing!

So, anyway, by the time the fourth robot voice came on I gave up on the number provided in the letter. If you’re wondering why I didn’t hang up sooner, it was because I kept hoping for a human! There comes a point in any venture where you’ve invested so much time and emotional energy that you can’t stand to quit, in case you’re just one cuss word away from Nirvana.  Come to think of it, that’s probably also why I keep buying Lotto tickets.

Anyway, eventually I called the number on the back of the Hubbit’s medical insurance card. That got me through to someone who could find no record that I had authority to speak with them on his behalf, so we got to have one of those super-fun threesomes that so enrich the lives of partners of the hearing impaired. You know how those go: you turn on the speaker phone so you can both hear, and he leans over the phone, breathing heavily into your ear, and then the person on the other end says something and he says, “Huh? Whut?” So you repeat it, and he loudly and clearly enunciates his response, and … rinse and repeat, for however long it takes. In this case it took a while, and the grand finale was when she read back a contract, and every time he started to say “Huh? Whut?” I’d frantically flap my hands in his face, because we did NOT need to be interrupting an electronic recording of a legal document. Eventually he got to say the required legally binding words, and he was given leave to kiss the telephone, and they were married. Or something like that.

We all heaved a sigh of relief and the Hubbit trundled off to play with his tractor, leaving me to explain the difference between a tractor (wheeled farm equipment) and a vehicle. “Oh,” she said, “No problem. You just need to speak with the Other Party Liability department. I’ll give you the number.”

“Oh no you don’t!” I exclaimed. “If the number you’re planning to give me is ETC-ETRA, forget it. That’s the number I called before this one and it connects directly to the fifth circle of Hell!”

There was a slightly stunned silence. “Are you sure you dialed the right number?” she asked. I said I was, and launched into a tirade about companies that infest the ether with robo-voices and inflict sales pitches on helpless little old ladies (at this point I remembered to insert a slight tremor into my voice) who are exhausted by caring for their injured and aging spouses, and also potentially facing homelessness because of denied claims and unpayable medical bills in a world that keeps voting for Damn Capitalists who refuse to support Medicare For All and just want us all to die in penury..

She offered to connect me directly to someone in the Other Party Liability department, and I said that would be acceptable provided she could vouch that they were human.

So that’s what she did, and this time I remembered right from the start of the conversation to quaver and dodder and make reference to how slowly old men heal after running over themselves with heavy equipment (which is not the same thing as a vehicle), and how stressful that was, and how difficult it was to remember everything, especially when we’d dealt with all sorts of paperwork at the hospital and I’d no idea there was more. I should mention that by this time I was tired, which meant I had to pause and say um occasionally while I thought about what to say, and I tended to forget details, which made it necessary to keep backtracking and repeating elements of my story, and all I’ll say about this particular young woman is that she sounded perky enough but she didn’t exhibit much empathy or compassion. She abruptly cut me off. “Was he at work when the accident happened?” I explained that he was loading up the tractor to get feed to the animals, right here at our little farm, and that he’s been retired for more than fifteen years now. She interrupted me again. “Okay,” she said.

“Um,” I said. “So what happens now?”

“I’ll adjust the record and pass it along to the appropriate department,” she said.

“But what do I have to do?” I quavered

“Nothing,” she said.

And that was it. What had been building up to be a fabulous blog post on the fundamental awfulness of the American medical insurance system fizzled with a soft pop. Which doesn’t mean I won’t still write it … but maybe not today.

Instead I thought I should write a blog post on the fundamental awfulness of insurance companies that use robots to try to sell services to people who want to deal with serious business, so I decided to call back 1-800-ETC-ETRA and find out just how many exciting new opportunities they’d offer me before connecting me to a human. I looked up the number on the insurance company letter.

That’s when I realized that the number they’d provided was in fact 1-866-ETC-ETRA. The 1-800 version of the number connects to a company that sells panic buttons, roadside assistance, and similar products.

So what the heck am I supposed to blog about now?

Please talk to me! What do you think about the cost of healthcare, and how it should be funded? Do you talk to robots on the phone, and do you find it reassuring or terrifying when they sound human? How do you decide what to blog about?

So long, sweet and crazy

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My beautiful girl left us tonight.

Destra came to us as a five month old puppy who needed a safe place to recuperate after breaking her leg. She’d been in the very early stages of training for a career with the police or military when she broke her leg while playing with her trainer. The trainer was going to have her euthanized but a rescue stepped in and arranged for her to have surgery. After a month of crate rest they asked us to take her in for a month of R&R while she finished her recovery.

A few days after she arrived we started seeing bloody footprints all over the house. It took a while to figure out who had been injured – she wasn’t limping, because either the initial accident or the surgery had damaged the nerves in her leg and she couldn’t feel anything. By the time we figured it out, she’d run the pads right off her foot.

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Nine long months of fighting infection followed. Every morning I’d throw a blanket over my dining table and she’d jump up onto it and flop over onto her side with a sigh of resignation, and I’d clean and treat and dress her foot, and then all day she’d fuss and beg to be let out to play with the big dogs. I tried to keep her occupied with games and toys; she loved “packaged meals” – I’d wrap up her kibble, a few bits at a time, in layer after layer of newspaper, each layer thoroughly duct taped, and she’d get to spend a glorious fifteen minutes shredding her way through it. But every few days she’d sneak out, or brazenly break out, and go running in the pastures with the big dogs, and come back with her tongue lolling with joy and her paw bloody. Sometimes she ran it clear down to the bone.

So of course she developed a bone infection, and it didn’t get better no matter what remedies I tried – and I tried everything from a poultice of raw honey to various creams and unguents the vet recommended, in addition to pills that had to be rammed down her throat because she never, ever, ever consented to swallow them, no matter how deliciously disguised or carefully wrapped. She’d nibble off the tasty stuff and spit the pill on the floor. The vet recommended amputation. The rescue that had been providing for her care cut off funding; they said it was time to euthanize. We didn’t have the money for surgery, but we found another rescue that did.

Her amputation surgery was scheduled for a Thursday afternoon. I called the next morning. “So … how is she doing? May I visit her? Maybe bring her something to chew?” She loved to chew almost as much as she loved to run. They said I could, and on my way in I stopped at our local butcher. It was late fall, the time of year when butchers are usually very busy cutting and wrapping farm raised beef, but they didn’t yet have ours. I rushed inside and demanded to speak with him. “My dog just had her let amputated and she needs a really big bone!” I informed him, and after only the briefest pause for bewilderment he gave me the biggest, juiciest, meatiest bone I ever saw.

At the vet I sat in the little consulting room, waiting for them to wheel her in on a trolley (they’d warned me, before the surgery, that she might need help learning to walk). Well, she’d heard my voice and came barreling through the door, dragging the vet tech behind her, and flung herself joyously into my lap. They told me they’d knocked her out after the surgery, wanting her to have a good night’s sleep, but when they’d come in that morning she’d been standing up on her one remaining hind leg, tail wagging, waiting to hear what fun was planned for that day.

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She spent the weekend at the vet, working her way through that bone, and by Sunday afternoon she was well and truly ready to come home. We pulled up at the gate at the end of our long driveway. One of her favorite tricks before the surgery had been to jump out of the car and take off up the driveway, her feet hammering the gravel and ripping her pads to shreds. She’d always got into trouble for that. But as I pulled through the gate I asked her, “You want to run?” She looked at me, not quite believing. “Go on. Run!” I said.

She leaped out of the car and took off up the driveway, and she didn’t care one iota that she had only one hind leg to hammer. That was my girl … Her focus was always on what was in front of her. Hind legs? They were history, and she paid them no mind.

We were still planning to give her up for adoption. I loved her, but even with only three legs she was capable of so much in terms of training – and I was so taken up by rescue that I didn’t have the time to give her what I felt she needed. But then she let us know that she really didn’t like kids – she said they were creepy, stunted and weird, and needed to be bitten. The Malinois rescue that had taken her on had a zero tolerance policy for aggression – and rightly so; Mals can be dangerous. So we kept her; we don’t often have kids visit, and after a few years she decided maybe they were okay after all and the issue went away.

She remained a complete lunatic – really smart, quick to learn how to please, even quicker to learn how to get away with murder. She slaughtered a couple of my goat kids and numerous chickens. She shrieked with excitement, bossed the other dogs, made me laugh every day, and drove the Hubbit crazy.

I wish I’d done more with her. I think she’d have enjoyed being challenged more. But life was good all the same … For most of her life she went everywhere with me, and right up to a few weeks ago she loved going to the river. She loved to swim.

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Over the years, inevitably, she slowed down. Her forequarters, which did most of the work when she ran, grew big while her hindquarters became skinny. Her spine twisted into an S-curve. She needed heavy doses of medication to manage the pain of arthritis. She still liked riding along but needed help getting into the car, and being in unfamiliar places began to bother her. She shared car-dog duties with Argos, and increasingly was content to be left at home.

The vet found a lump on her throat, an inoperable tumor, probably thyroid cancer, about a year ago. It didn’t seem to slow her down, though – no more than she was already slowing down just from being old and achy. We’ve been monitoring her health; last time she had blood work it looked pretty good, and she was due to go in for another test around about now. She collapsed a few weeks ago and I thought then that she was on her way to the Rainbow Bridge, but she rallied and has been her usual self – bossy and impatient with the other dogs, but eager to eat, play, get loves, ride in the car,

She went down this evening, though, and an hour later she was gone. She’s on her cushion near me as I write this. I look at her every now and then, and even though I know she’s gone, it’s hard to believe she really isn’t breathing. I stare at her ribs and they seem to move. I know I’m just imagining it, but all the same when the Hubbit suggested moving her outside for the night I couldn’t stand the thought of leaving her out in the cold.

Tomorrow we’ll bury her in the yard in front of the house, and in spring I’ll plant a tree on her grave.

And that’s all there is to say about that, really. I feel this post hasn’t done her justice. I’ve spilled out a whole lot of words and, in the end, they don’t say much. I haven’t told you how soft her coat was, or how intensely alive she was, or how maddeningly shrill her bark was, or how funny and smart she was, or how totally she didn’t give a shit about being a tripod. I haven’t described how, when I took her and Argos to the park and threw the ball, I’d have to keep her on a leash so she didn’t hurt herself trying to beat him to it, and every now and then I’d make him sit/stay and toss the ball close by so she could have a turn without hurting herself. She would never bring the ball back to me and if ever I tried to take it from her she’d be so excited I’d get bitten, so I learned to wait until she decided where to drop it, and then Argos would fetch it. And when she was tired she’d take the ball back to the car, and that was the end of our outing to the park.

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I guess that’s what happened this evening. She got tired, so she grabbed the piece of my heart I threw for her and she’s taken it to the Bridge. I’ll get it back one day, but there’s no hurry. It’s hers, after all.

Please talk to me. There’s no easy way to lose a friend, but sometimes shared stories help.