Brahms and Death and what to say

Our local music community is tight knit. We may all excel in different genres of music, we may all play or sing different instruments, but the common thread of music runs strong in all of us. Indy performers, backstage technicians, classroom teachers, and more; we appreciate each other for the diverse talents and thrive on the knowledge that builds enjoyment.

When a musician dies – oh, whenever someone special and amazing passes on – I think of Brahms. In my teens I was a pretty good pianist. I loved to play Debussy, Chopin, Bach, and works by other composers. I couldn’t quite get the hang of playing Brahms. I could play the notes and handle the technique, but I couldn’t master the emotion and the expression that really gave the piece the richness that was Brahms. 

My teacher stopped me mid-phrase and began to talk. “When I was young, I didn’t know what to say at funerals. And when I was young, I couldn’t play Brahms well, either.” 

I took my hands off the keyboard and listened. 

“And then my husband died.” She was young, in her twenties, with a toddler daughter, when her husband died from a massive heart attack. “And I learned that there is nothing you can say at a funeral. All you can do is be there.” She paused. “And then, I could play Brahms.” 

This conversation happened about forty years ago. I was a teenager at the time. Despite the years, I remember it clearly. I can see the room, the other person in the conversation, and I can hear the words in her voice. I remember my initial reaction was to balk at Brahms and his connection with death. As I grew older and experienced more life, I learned to understand and enjoy the exceptional depth of Johannes Brahms’ compositions.

This conversation happened about forty years ago. I was a teenager at the time. Despite the years, I remember it clearly. I can see the room, the other person in the conversation, and I can hear the words in her voice. And that catch in my throat? Maybe it’s Brahms; maybe it’s knowing that music soothes as it allows us to grieve. Maybe it’s the bittersweet nature of musicians, the sensitivity that leads us to enrich lives of others as we enrich our own. 

Amigo’s Turn on Injured Reserve

Amigo asked me to look at a “mole” on his hip. This mole had always been there, as far as he knew, but it had started hurting. At first glance it looked like a big bug bite: raised center, red rash around it. I touched it, he flinched, and I realized there was more under the skin.

We made an appointment to see Family Doc, the guy who knows us best.  The pain had increased overnight, and the red rash had also gotten bigger. Doc gave Amigo the news: it was a cyst, the cyst was infected, and it had to be lanced and drained. He would numb the area first, and then get all the gunk out.

Oh, it wasn’t pleasant, but Amigo took it like a trooper. He managed to stay still despite the pain of the numbing agent, and then accepted a damp compress on his forehead to help him focus and relax. Doc removed what he needed, stitched the area closed, and then covered it with a piece of gauze and tape.

We’ve been back twice to have Family Doc monitor his progress. Amigo took antibiotics to kill the infection, too. At this time, I’m checking on how it’s healing and putting clean gauze on the wound each night. Eventually, he will need the cyst removed. Neither of us are looking forward to this.

Fortunately, a cyst on the hip doesn’t stop him from singing. Amigo has joined a small group in the barbershop chorus: the Mixmasters. More music is good music! or something like that.

Injured Reserve

I’m temporarily on injured reserve, as Chuck puts it. I cannot lift anything heavier than 5 pounds or handle anything dirty or germ-laden. Such is life as an artery heals!

Friday went smoothly overall. Pre-procedure fast: check. Light breakfast (two frozen waffles, toasted): check. Morning medication: check. Doze off while reading newspaper: check. Oh, I admit it, that wasn’t on the list, but a nap was still a good thing. Anti-germ shower with soap from doc’s office: check.

Arrive at hospital on time: check. Find registration in a labyrinth that is the hospital: with the help of a volunteer: check. Change into hospital gown and socks: check. Vital signs: check. Blood draw, IV inserted, etc.: check. Admire the nurse’s Crocs featuring the Swedish Chef: check, bort! bort! bort!

Procedure: one long involved check. The purpose for Friday’s O.R. encounter was to insert a catheter through my wrist and send dye coursing through the arteries in my head to confirm what the MRA and Doppler Ultrasound showed. Stent in right interior carotid is working well; blood is flowing through the artery as it’s intended. Aneurysm on the left: somewhat larger than it was a year ago.

Recovery! Remove catheter from artery: check. Place pressure bandage over artery: wow, check. This thing was “blown up” with air to hold it tightly on the artery and prevent bleeding. Move patient (me!) upstairs to hospital room for observation while recovering: relief of sorts, check. Nice view of the river below and the pelicans and geese feeding. Rather fun, really. If I had to stay longer, I’d like a room like that. But anyway, over a span of a few hours the nurse gradually let the air out of the pressure bandage and verified that the artery was closing. I had a hospital supper: baked penne pasta with marinara sauce and a small lettuce salad. Yum. Hospital food has come a long way since I was a teenager working in a hospital kitchen!

Well, folks, that was Friday. The prep, the procedure, the recovery, then home. My discharge instructions were what put me on Injured Reserve, in Chuck’s words. The remaining bandage stayed on for 24 hours. Limit lifting to 5 pounds. Avoid contact with contaminated items, including litter boxes or gardening. These limitations are in effect for 3 days or until the wound heals. I can water the garden using my left hand, but I can’t weed it or otherwise play in the dirt.

I might be sore and tender for a week or two. There’s a little bruising, and that’s considered normal. As I heal, I’ll get back to the normal roster of gardening and cooking and other daily tasks. Meanwhile, I might just hang out with my laptop and rest. After all, I am on injured reserve.

Making and Keeping Rules

I told myself I’d never risk my health – my life, even – for my job. That was in November of 2010. I’d landed in the ER with chest pains, much worse than the average Sunday evening stress-stomachache. I went to school at 10 that night to leave sub plans instead of staying overnight in the cardiac care unit. Long story short, it wasn’t worthwhile.

In spring of 2014 I advised my coworkers “Don’t Wait!” I’d just found an interior carotid artery 99% blocked. Thanks to the timing and to the good luck of having an amazing doctor, the blockage was cleared and a stent installed.

So when the phone rang and I was offered Friday or the Monday or Tuesday that followed,  I looked at everything else on the calendar, took a deep breath, and said yes, I’d take the appointment. I didn’t put it off. I didn’t work around my staff development schedule.

Taking this appointment meant postponing the family garage sale indefinitely. It meant that La Petite will come home to help with the driving duties because Amigo has an important appointment an hour earlier than mine – in a different location, of course.

Rather than tie myself in knots to put everyone else first, I’m following my rules. I’ll have my head examined (a cerebral angiogram), get the results, and then plan for treatment of this rogue aneurysm if we find it has grown.

And that, my dear readers, is playing by all the rules.

Cooking without a Kitchen – still

Monday was a Planned-overs type of day. Planned overs are like leftovers, but cooked on purpose. In this Era of No Kitchen, we are cooking planned overs at least once a week so we have something decent that can be reheated in the microwave.

So, Monday. Burgers were on the menu. Side dishes, cooked on the coals in foil, were potatoes – diced reds and fingerlings with Scarborough Fair seasoning (parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme) and green & yellow zucchini squash with onion, salt, and pepper. These turned out very well.

Ah, the planned overs. We had a pound of French Onion bratwurst from the local meat market, and brats are always better on the grill, so I jabbed them with a fork and cooked them on the top rack. Someone recently suggested cooking bacon on the grill, so I tried it. As I pushed the burgers out of the flames so they wouldn’t get charred, I wondered if Someone had cooked bacon on a gas grill, not charcoal. The bacon smelled good, as bacon does, but it had a definite char look to it. I tried a piece on a BLT, and it tasted like bacon. Okay, it was okay, but I don’t think I’ll try that trick again.

Monday, as you see, was an adventure. I didn’t take any pictures because I was too busy moving bacon around to prevent total burn-to-a-crisp status. The veggies were a hit, the burgers were delicious (Amigo had two), and the bacon and brats went into the meat drawer for later.

Tuesday, I learned how to bake a pot pie in the toaster oven. Here I am, in my 50s, and I’ve never used a toaster oven. Now I can cross “Toaster Oven Use” off my bucket list.

Tuesday night I decided to do an experiment with the multitude of green onions in my garden. I pulled up several. Okay, if I’m honest about it, I pulled up a lot. I cleaned them up in the bathtub – no sink, remember – and packed the green tops into a crock pot set on low. I left it on Keep Warm overnight. In the morning, I removed the green tops, added the white bulbs sliced small, and seasoned the onion broth with a little salt and pepper and garlic.

Mars? In Retrograde?

I didn’t say it. I didn’t ask, “What else can go wrong?!” I just looked at the calendar and added one new commitment. One! And it messed up much of the summer. According to The Tarot Lady, here’s why the remainder of the summer might be difficult.

Mars will be retrograde today (Tuesday) starting at 5:04 PM EDT. We’ve been in the shadow period for a bit now so the energy has already been evident. Mars retrograde tends to bring out aggression while at the same time slowing down progress and ambition. Frustration is the norm and everyone wants to vent at SOMEONE or SOMETHING.

Because this Mars will be in Aquarius, the online world will be especially testy for the next few months. We can expect people to be at their worst, most aggressive behavior. Some people should just put their phones away and stay off social media until they can keep that crap in check. For the rest of us, do NOT feed the trolls. Do NOT let the news get you down. Watch your anger. Use it as fuel for art, good things but don’t bother trying to educate the angry (xxx) who wants to crash your party with their vitriol. Keep STRICT boundaries both online and off (especially online). This will help you to remain sane and productive, rather than mired in BS and drama.

Oh, dear. I guess I’d better stay off Twitter – or at least refuse to read anything tweeted by POTUS. After all, Mars is in retrograde, and the negative energy is everywhere.

Civility, Nonviolence

“Is this what we’ve become? Is this what we’ve come to?” she exclaimed. She had just come from a campaign event in the 2012 election and behavior had gotten out of hand. One of ours – a Democrat volunteer well known to most of us – had turned to spit on a Republican standing next to her. The Republican had retaliated by scratching the Democrat, drawing blood.

So come back to 2018 and think about Trump’s staffers running into trouble outside their White House offices. Being refused service at a small, elite restaurant, leaving a Mexican restaurant to find noisy protesters holding immigration signs and shouting “Families belong together!” Is there more?

In all of these cases, the actions were nonviolent. Loud, maybe, but not dangerous. The question still remains: is this the end of civility? Is it enough to be nonviolent, or do we need to be more?

The country is split into factions divided so severely that “They go low, we go high” doesn’t seem to be enough any more. Demonstrations and protests continue, and progressives continue to persist. Saturday, my small city’s center will play host to more than Pokemon Go as a demonstration organized by MoveOn takes place. MoveOn asks that all participants agree to these terms and more.

By choosing to attend this event, you are committing to participate nonviolently and in accordance with the law, to work to de-escalate confrontations with others, and to obey the orders of authorized event marshals and of law enforcement that ensure the safety of everyone at these events.

De-escalate confrontations. Ensure the safety of everyone attending. Easier said than done, but at least at this level, the persistent actions will peacefully call attention to an important issue.

Questions. I have questions.

When Aaron Rodgers and Danica Patrick go somewhere, who drives?

Why does The Weather Channel still think we live in Spindale, North Carolina?

If the Schwann’s food truck goes through the McDonald’s drive-through, is that a negative for Schwann’s or a positive for McDonald’s? Or does it have no meaning at all?

Where is Spindale, North Carolina?

When will our kitchen be finished? Never mind, don’t answer that. Let me live in my dream world of “soon, very soon” instead.

 

Health Care is Complicated: The Letters

I didn’t actually send these letters. Blogging the thoughts helps me settle down and control the stress-related blood pressure spikes that occur when, irony or ironies, I’m attempting to use the health insurance company web site. 

Dear Customer Service Department;

I found what I needed while waiting on hold. That means the information was too hard to find, the web site is not user-friendly, and the time on hold to reach a representative is much too long.

Sincerely,

Techno Geek

Dear Benefits Service;

Thank you for your prompt assistance and good advice. I’m pleased you walked me through the process to make sure it worked rather than just handing out pithy advice like “Use a different browser.” In fact, I should have thought of it myself. My geek brain was exhausted from searching for the EOBs while on hold waiting for customer service.

Much Relieved,

Daisy

Dear Colleagues:

Thank you for your moral support as we navigate the mazes of these online services.

Yours forever,

Daisy