Some Days . . .

June 8, 2014

Some days just don’t turn out the way you hope they will. But then again, maybe they do.

Our day began today as it did yesterday, with a simple breakfast, then piling into the van for the 45 +/- drive to the town of Daule, where we have been working this week. While yesterday we were working next door to one another, today turned out differently. We arrived at a build site, where one of the men we work with, Gato, waved “his team” over. We piled out of the van, as the other team (Ivan’s team) headed somewhere else. We’d enjoyed being together yesterday, and separation today was a disappointment.
Team Ivan built in an incredibly tight spot, but as the family they were building for—really only a couple, Guillermo (80) and Maria Teresa (78) are old enough, their build was only about three feet off the ground. The site was so tight, sandwiched between walls, and so gravelly and rocky, however, the augers were unusable. But this team prevailed for this couple who survive—if you can call it that, with no income, and only one meal a day, either provided by or made and delivered by their daughter who lives nearby. No job, Guillermo is unable to work (at 80, one would think SHOULD he?!), survive is the best they can do.
Team Gato had a seemingly nicer build site, next to a pond and marsh, but the site was terribly rock-filled, making sinking the nine posts that must go into the ground to support every home very difficult. Matters were made worse, when Gato turned funny to grab a piece of lumber, and blew out his back. The team was sidelined for the better part of an hour until he was able to operate again, and it took some time before he was moving with any ease. Clemente (75) and Anna (38, believe it or not!), similar to the other couple, have no work, but they have a $50 government stipend they receive every month, and have a sister-in-law nearby who looks in on them.Guillermo and Maria family
The team had to leave the site unfinished (but with Gato and Ivan and two Hogar de Cristo interns there) putting finishing touches on the stairs, as the delay was allowing dusk to move in, and we have been warned by Anna that there was a dengue fever risk from mosquitos in the pond. We parted, with stern words to Gato to rest tomorrow so he can join us again on Monday.
Chuck with Anna & Clemente  family
We wrapped the night up with a trip to Sports Planet, a restaurant we found about four years ago that we frequent every year. But even that experience, as similar as it is to one we would have in the States, is in sharp contrast to the experiences we have had building the last two days. We have been hungry, but we get more than one meal a day, and often we leave food on our plates, when others wish for another spoonful (or more). We have worked to the point of exhaustion, but we rest behind solid, secure walls, in the comfort of air conditioning. We shower daily, while those we build for may have a sponge bath now and then.
We debriefed last night, and talked some about the call of Abraham (Genesis 12.1-9), and were reminded that we are blessed—not by God so we can feel secure and comfortable, but we are blessed to be a blessing. We hope to be able to do that for the families we build for this week.
Tomorrow will be a day off to let our bodies recover to be ready for two more days of building. We’ll play tourist, and take it easy, but only so others can be further blessed.

In June of 1998, I was living in Pascagoula, MS, where I was the Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church. One Saturday, my family and I, along with two other families, got on a boat owned by one of those, and went out to Sand Island to spend the day. The water in the Mississippi Coast Sound is pretty churned up with a great deal of industrial traffic, so locals who have a boat, for a “day on the beach,” go out to the barrier islands.

What we did upon arrival at Sand Island was to decide where we wanted to anchor the boat; once that was determined, the pilot pulled away from the island a bit, and said, “OK, drop the bow anchor there.” I went forward and did that, then walked back along the deck towards the cabin as the pilot backed the boat towards the island. When he was as far back/close to the island as he wanted to be, he said, “OK, now take the stern anchor onshore.” That’s what you did; then the bow and stern anchors would hold the boat in place.

Standing there, I looked towards the stern and saw my friend Steve holding the anchor. I placed the bow, so he gets the stern, right? He looked at me with a “Go on, what are you waiting for?” look. So I took off my hat and sunglasses, looked at the water, and started to dive in—but then Boy Scout training kicked in, and I remembered that you never dive in water when you do not know it’s depth. I jumped in.

Water that I thought was probably over my head was about knee deep, and let’s just say that when I hit the bottom, my left ankle rolled. I totally blew it out, twisting it so badly that I got a spiral crack in the fibula (fortunately the non-weight bearing bone in the shin). Long story short, we’d just arrived, but I was done for the day. I made it to shore, where I was given a beer and a handful of Advil (I know, but he was an ER Doc, so I did what he said), and proceeded to camp out under a beach umbrella.

A couple of hours later, another Doctor took me ashore in his boat, where we went to the hospital and after several X-rays, I was placed on crutches and in a ski-boot cast.

I was in the ski-boot for about four or five weeks, then my follow-up appointment was cancelled, and then I went on vacation, and there ended my recovery. No PT, no follow-up X-rays, no nothing.

I’ve always had some issues with that ankle, but I come from the “spit on it, rub some dirt in it, and keep on playing school.” So when I was having some problems on the outside of that foot, after X-rays and exams, my Sports Orthopedic Doctor (new one, new town), said, “MRI.”

I’ve met deductible, insurance said “OK,” so I did. This week I met with my Doc to talk about the MRI and what he learned from it.

In a nutshell, there was some damage done in that jump back in ’98 that has not healed. Tendons and ligaments don’t necessarily repair themselves, and bone spurs have developed, etc., etc., etc. The recent pain I’ve had is referent pain from the damage that remains in the ankle, and when I’m running (OK, probably jogging), backpacking, etc., there are going to be issues. Surgery is in my future. Not now, not in the immediate future, but one day. “You’ll know when the time has come,” the Doc said.

But here are a couple of lines from the MRI report:

“There is attenuation of the anterior talofibular ligament consistent with sequelae of prior partial tear.” (I have no idea what that means.)

“Fairly prominent is trigonum with moderate posterior subtalar degenerative osteoarthritic changes manifested by narrowed joint space, marginal osteophytosis, and subcortical degenerative cystic changes of the opposing articular surfaces.” (Huh? WHAT?!)

“Mild tenosynovitis of the otherwise intact tibialis posterior and peroneal tendons.”  (one more posterior comment and someone is going to get hurt.)

So it’s been 15 years since I blew my ankle out, and I am facing the reality that one day (no time soon), I’ll have to deal with it. Great. But can someone please—Radiologist, Orthopedist, someone, please learn to speak and write (or dictate) in English that a relatively intelligent person like me can actually understand?

Yeesh. Knowledge is power, but this is disabling. Not the injury, the report. I need a medical dictionary!


March 6, 2013

By the time my family and I moved to Pascagoula in 1995, Bessie Ham was homebound. A legend to several generations in the community, Bessie taught English at “PJ” (Pascagoula Junior High, since renamed Trent Lott Middle School) to hundreds, yea, verily, thousands of students who all carried the highest regard and utmost respect for this lady.

Bessie could not get out, and made only a few excursions from time to time for Doctor visits and the like. Her Women’s Circle (what Presbyterians sometimes call a Bible Study) would meet in her home on rare occasions, as I recall, simply so she could be included.

Bessie’s husband had died years earlier, and she lived in this simple little, concrete-block “Navy house” (so called because when the community grew fast during World War II thanks to the ships needed and built for the Navy) with her son Robert.

Robert can be the subject of a number of other postings in the future, for the record. A great guy, but with some seeming developmental challenges. But Lord, his mind could hold information. OK, another day.

I would stop by and see Bessie from time to time, always calling in advance to make sure it was a good time or day, and always found her mentally alert, in full command of her faculties, but trapped in a body that was worn out and breaking down.

Bessie had been in the hospital for a few days, and been released, but not to her home, to an assisted living facility across the street from the hospital. I learned this as I tried to visit her, so after I left the hospital, I went across the street, found out which room she was in, and headed in that direction.

As I approached her room, I could hear a conversation that was going on in there, recognizing her voice, and easily hearing that of the person who was addressing her. Bessie was a little hard of hearing, you see, so one had to raise one’s voice. . .

As I turned and eased through the door—of the two-bed room, nodding a greeting to the person in the other bed as I moved toward Bessie in the “bed by the window,” I grasped what was going on. The Occupational Terrorists (ah, ‘scuse me, “Therapists”) were working with Bessie. Apparently Robert had been feeding her, and they were working to get her to feed herself. As I saw Bessie, she was in the hospital bed with one rail up, and the tray in front of her, lunch on it. She was slumped over, listing to starboard (the right), with a fork dangling weakly from her right hand, a small bit of creamed spinach about to fall off it. Her eyes were half open.

The conversation I heard went something like this:

Therapist: “Would you like some dessert? I believe we have some sherbet.”

Bessie: “Yes, some sherbet would be nice.”

“What flavor would you like?” The young man listed several flavors, and Bessie made a choice. I don’t recall what she chose, it really does not matter. I stepped up alongside the Therapist as he said, “OK, I’ll go find it, I don’t know where it’s at.”

I cringed and winced.

Bessie, in her early 90’s (she died soon after this at 92), suddenly shook off about 35 years of aging! She sat straight up, her eyes opened wide, and with a strong, firm, and Teacher’s voice, looked at this poor therapist  and said, “Young man, you never, but NEVER, end a sentence with a preposition!”

The guy turned and looked at me, and I simply raised my hands, palms out, and shrugged my shoulders. I saw it coming the minute he said it.

“Yes ma’am,” he said, as he slunk away to find some sherbet.

Bessie stabbed the spinach into her mouth, chewed and swallowed it, and looked at me.

“You know, Chuck, there ARE times when it IS proper to end a sentence with a preposition; ‘What were you thinking OF?’”

“Yes ma’am,” I said, laughing to myself, thinking that this was going to preach one day at her funeral.

And it did. At the graveside, after we’d left the Church with a long string of cars creeping into the cemetery for the interment, the Funeral Director told me that after Bessie’s most famous student, Trent Lott, was elected to the United States Senate, he sent her a speech he had delivered on the floor of the Senate chambers.

Bessie marked it up with a red pencil, and sent it back to him.

What a great lady

I called my sister this morning; today is her birthday, and while it is not a significant one, the next one will be. I’ll not give it away, but it has a 6 in it next year. We chit-chatted for a while, and then she said that she remembered the summer that our parents were both the age she reached today. She remembered that I was living outside Charlotte, NC, working in the Hopewell Presbyterian Church for the summer. She flew out to visit me over the 4th of July holiday, and she said that it was that Summer that she decided to “move back home.”

After college she had left our home in Pine Bluff, AR for a job in Dallas. Some time later she moved to Oklahoma City, and over that summer of 1980 she decided that our parents were getting older, and she needed to move to be closer to them to help them. Soon thereafter she moved to Little Rock, where she has lived ever since.

For the record, our parents lived another 23 years after that summer, on their own and independently for the most part. After Dad’s unexpected death, Mom started a slow, then speedy downhill slide, and my sister took advantage of the Family Medical Leave Act to care for her until she follwed Dad to the Church Triumphant 10 weeks after he died.

But I suggested to Kaki that she at her age is really in a much better place than our parents at the same age. As she pointed out, they had both been in the hospital several times. I ran a quick calculation and remembered that Dad had been in coronary care that same summer. While I have had a few bouts in and out of the hospital, it has (with the exception of an emergency appendectomy in college) been pretty weel elective, outpatient surgery. As Kaki said, “It’s all been repair work, right?”

Yup. Both knees scoped, sinuses cleaned up, both shoulders worked on.

All, well, with the exception of the sinuses, were the cost of trying to thumb my nose at Father Time. when I have reached what I call certain “benchmark” birthdays, I have done what I could to prove that I was still alive, and could still keep an edge. On my 40th birthday, I swam the fastest mile I ever completed (don’t ask, I just do not recall the time.) At 45, I don’t recall if I did anything. On my 50th, I rode a solo century (100 miles); my goal was to break 6 hours, and I did not reach it; 6:10:31, which I blame on a long, slow uphill of several miles when I was also fighting a headwind.

Staring 55 in the face this year, I’m trying to decide whether to go for the solo century again, or whether to convince a life-long friend to tackle the GA section of the Appalachain Trail with me. A conversation tomorrow night (with him) may settle that.

My friend Mitch Purvis hit 60 this year, and said that he has hit the stage where everything “clicks.” His knees click, his hips click, etc. I understand that. I’m feeling it, as I continue to rehab a shoulder that I had surgery on at the first of February. I’m recalling that when I had similar surgery on the other shoulder 14 years ago, rehab was faster. In other words, as I get older, it’s taking longer to heal.

I’m facing the fact that I am not as young as I used to be, I am not as strong as I used to be, I am not as fast as I used to be. But my earning potential is better, I don’t make as many mistakes as I used to make, relationships with spouse, family, and friends (and God!) are deeper and more meaningful, and I don’t feel that I have as much to prove.

Unless I am trying to prove something to myself, and to Father Time. If “50 is the new 30”, then I have a lot yet to do. If you see someone broken down on the side of the road, exhausted, gasping for air, it won’t be me. It’ll be Father Time.