THE FALL

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I entered a large department store on a rainy Sunday two weeks ago. My foot hit a slick spot and I became airborne. You know that awful feeling when you’re going down and there is nothing you can do about it. I drifted in slow motion closer and closer to a display table, finally making contact with my right temple, surely breaking the skin. My glasses flew off my face. I landed on the ground, half sitting and half lying. The two men who had been looking at clothing—this was the men’s department—when I first walked in started to run toward me. They could have been father and son.

“Are you alright,” the dad said.

“Let me help you up,” the young one said.

By that time I had grabbed a wad of tissues stored my jacket pocket and slapped them on the side of my head, pressing hard. I knew the laceration would bleed profusely. Thank goodness I had tissues in my pocket ready for an episode of coughing. I was recovering from a mild case of walking pneumonia.

“No, I’ll sit here a while,” I said as I reached over to retrieve my glasses. They weren’t damaged.

The nurse in me did a quick assessment. Nothing hurt. In spite of feeling a little shaky from the surprise of the accident, I was oriented and felt in control.

I pulled the tissues away from my face. They were soaked with blood. I could feel the stream of blood oozing down my skin. I quickly put the pressure back on.

“I’ll get help,” the older man said and hobbled down the long aisle. The younger fellow stood guard beside me. If we made small talk I don’t remember. In short order, two women with department store nametags rushed up to me.

Did I want an ambulance? Of course not. What I wanted was that this had never happened and get on my way looking for a pair of slippers.

I asked for some ice and time to think about what to do.

One of the women moved the jeans that were folded neatly on the display table that just damaged my face, making space for me to sit while I pondered my dilemma.

I took a selfie picture of my wound. There was no denying it would need attention. I called my husband to schlep me to yet another urgent care facility.

This would be my second trip to urgent care in less then two weeks.

Christmas Eve, after a bout of coughing and shortness of breath, I decided to head to an urgent care to forestall any problems I might face over the Christmas holiday. My daughter drove me to the closest one. Did I mention how I hate to admit I’m sick? I am the ultimate denier that anything is wrong. Is this a nursing trait?

The two urgent care units were vastly different. The one I went to on Christmas Eve was a clean, well-lighted facility with a couple of adjoining waiting rooms with comfortable chairs. A nurse introduced herself, asked what was wrong and if I had allergies and some other pertinent information that I had already put on the four pages of admitting paperwork. The repetition was reassuring. And the doctor was attentive and sat down to talk with my daughter and me as if he had all the time in the world. Both the nurse and doctor washed their hands in the sink in the room before touching me.

When we left, the receptionist wished me a speedy recovery.

The urgent care I went to the day I fell—nearest to the department store—had a bleak and dreary waiting room with white washed walls, scruffy linoleum and metal folding chairs. After filling out one page of admitting info, I was called into a room. The physician’s assistant came promptly and introduced herself but didn’t wash her hands or put on gloves before she touched my laceration.

“Glue,” she said. “The nurse will get your vital signs.” She left.

A young man in blue scrubs motioned to me from the hall to follow him and had me sit next to a exam table where he rolled up my sweater sleeve, took my blood pressure, stuck a thermometer under my tongue and a pulse ox clip on my finger with minimal words and no eye contact. When he sat on a chair at the end of the table to jot down the numbers, I asked his name and if he were the nurse. He was. He didn’t wash his hands either.

Oh, how I wanted to step into my long ago role of nursing instructor and berate him for not identifying himself or washing his hands. And I didn’t say anything later when the PA came back and put on gloves without washing her hands first before she proceeded to glue me up. I figured I wasn’t having brain surgery and just wanted to have my cut sealed so the bleeding would stop and I could go home.

After she was done, she stood by the exam table where I still reclined and ticked off what complications to watch out for. No smile, no handshake and she was gone. The receptionist told me I could go home.

What a contrast in urgent care facilities. I could bemoan my behavior at not speaking up at the last one. But you know, I really don’t care because I never want to visit another urgent care center again.

PERSISTENCE

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In 2014, I finished my memoir.

In spite of myself, I persisted and finished.

Ten years ago, I left a full time nurse practitioner job and began to write in earnest. The book I just birthed is not the one I started then. It has been configured many times: moving chapters, changing tenses from past to present and back to past again, deleting some stories and adding others. I went through seven titles.

I recognize now that I did everything to prolong that actual moment when I would let the book go. But then 2014 came along. A busy year of interviewing realtors, decluttering our old home, making improvements to increase the potential for the house to sell. And sell it did—quickly.images-3

Somewhere in the midst of all this, I managed to keep writing, gave the manuscript to two more beta-readers and hired a line-by-line editor. And even settled on a title.

How do I explain my success? First I think I was so busy with the distractions of selling and buying homes that I forgot to further undermine the completion of my book and second, some inner determination took hold.

It’s now that I remember a quote I long ago ripped out of a magazine and saved over the years. When I find the yellowed page, I will frame it and hang it on the wall of my new office.

In the meantime, I googled the quote for you.

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

Calvin Coolidge

I have made only one New Year resolution: to keep up my persistence and determination in getting published.

May the New Year hold many pleasant, surprising moments for you.

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TAKING THE BUS

My husband and I will move into in our new Raleigh town house at the end of the week. Part of the reason for our move, besides being nearer to the grandchildren, is that we want more of a city life. Our last house, in a lovely forested neighborhood, was tranquil and isolated. We needed a car to go anywhere. We were happy to discover that a city bus passes by our new development.

I haven’t taken a bus in years.

I grew up in Jersey City where, as children, my best friend, Carol, and I would hop on the bus—any bus—and ride it to the end of the line and back. I think the fare was nine cents. The bus drivers had coin dispensers

Coin Dispenser
Coin Dispenser

to give us change and then we would drop the correct amount in the fare box.

Fare Box
Fare Box

At least that’s what I remember happened back then. Later, we used tokens.

Carol and I felt independent and adventurous. We never told our mothers.

In other cities where I lived, I took mass transportation, not only buses but more frequently trains:

Chicago El
Chicago El

the El in Chicago and the

Metro in the greater Washington DC area,

DC Metro
DC Metro

and on frequent visits to NYC, the subway.

NYC subway
NYC subway

What a liberating feeling not to depend on a car.

I have a brochure of the Capital Area Transit (cat) bus route. The bus starts from the northern part of Raleigh, passes our home and turns south toward the city. Seniors ride free. I plan to call my friend, Carol, who lives a suburb not far from our new home. (How’s that for serendipity?) I’m sure she will be excited to join me on an adventurous bus ride.

And we won’t tell our mothers.

HOLDING ON

We met soon after my husband and I moved into a house in a forested community in Chapel Hill. Still working full time, I took my long walks over the weekend. As I trudged up a particularly steep hill, an older man wearing a floppy hat and listing slightly towards the right, ambled towards me. Happy to meet someone from the neighborhood, I stopped to speak with him. He told me that he was a retired physiology professor and strolled the neighborhood trails twice a day to “keep in shape.” When we parted, he touched the brim of his hat and said, “Good day.”

So dignified, I thought.images

The professor and I met sporadically until I retired. Now, each year, after the winter yields to spring, I run into him a few times a week. I know that he takes a different path in the morning and afternoon. Sometimes when we meet, he just tips his floppy hat as I pass by. Other times we stop to banter about the weather, or how fast I walk, or how slow he walks.

Once we strolled a while together as he spoke of hearing loss, memory problems, and stiffness in his joints.

“My neighbor always tells me to ‘take care.’ What do I have to take care of?” He laughed. “I’m eighty-eight years old.” He stopped to catch his breath and his smile faded

“Walking is a good way to slow the aging process.”

“Yep,” I agreed. His words unearthed my own fear of getting older. I wanted to hug him, pump him up with clichés of “use it or lose it” and encourage him to “keep on truckin.”

I did none of those things. I smiled and picked up my pace.

Somehow the professor’s longevity has become bound up in my own fear of deterioration. I want him to keep his mind sharp and his conversation snappy. I don’t want him to wear out.

Weeks pass by before I see his familiar shape again: a thin man listing to the right, trudging down the road. The signature floppy hat.

I rev up my pace. When I sidle beside him, he smiles his bucktooth smile. He dark face wrinkles and crumples his eyes into slits. He lifts his hand to the rim of his cap.

“I haven’t seen you for a while,” I say.

“Well, you know the weather has been cold and I’ve been busy with my income tax. Got to find all the information. Takes a while.”

“Guess I’ll see you more now that the weather is getting mild.” Before he can respond I add, as casually as I can, “By the way, we have been talking to each other for a few years now and I never did learn your name.”

His name is Joe. His last name is a string of consonants. He spells it out for me. I know that this is a name I’ll recognize if it appears in the obituary section in our local newspaper.

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Trotting along side of him, I note his slower pace. He looks a little thinner. He makes some comment about never being able to catch up with me. We laugh. I jog ahead as he trudges behind me.

Two days later, I spot the professor in Dillard’s department store on the arm of a white haired woman wearing a deep red jacket. Her lips match her coat. Her eyes are bright and alert. Her posture’s perfect. I approach them. He recognizes me. He smiles.

“This is my wife, Helen, she just had a bad fall and I’m holding her up.” This is probably a well-worn joke between them because they both laugh.

I tell Helen that I run into her husband frequently on either his morning or afternoon walk to different parts of the neighborhood.

“Oh, he walks the same path morning and afternoon now,” she says. “The afternoon way became too hilly for him.”

He nods. His eyes look unhappy. When did that happen?

After we chat a bit more, I say as I turn to leave, “See you on your walk later.”

“No” he answers, “This shopping trip will tire me out. I won’t be walking this afternoon.”

Again, I sense sadness in his voice, or is it my own sadness?

I circle the cosmetic counter so I can watch the professor and his wife clinging to each other as they saunter towards the men’s department. He lists towards her, their heads almost touching as they talk and walk. It disheartens me that aging is wearing him down but I’m glad to know that he has someone to hold on to.

A NEW BEGINNING

I sit in a one-bedroom furnished unit on the 2nd floor of an immense apartment picture-uh=cc70a6247f6d9f682bb52dfcf6c33e88-ps=cda78b55a912998faf611fa8fbfeca29-4209-Lassiter-Mill-Rd-Raleigh-NC-27609complex nestled in a shopping mall in northern Raleigh while writing this post.
Two weeks ago we moved out of our house in Chapel Hill after 14 years. A cold heavy rain began to fall as we pulled the door behind us for the last time.
A week before that, amid packed boxes stacked in various sections of ourIMG_1692 house, Layne Sizemore, photographer, came to take a portrait of me for the book jacket. See how positive I am? IMG_1684 (1)A friend and fellow writer, Linda Jay, also had her photo taken. On that warm autumn day the leaves and acorns rained from the towering oaks that surround our deck. We lucked out that none of us was hit by a projectile nut.
We have five more weeks until our townhouse is completed. Besides my sending off my manuscript to small presses, my husband and I will frequently check the progress of the new construction, take daily walks, explore the neighborhoods, have lunch and dinner out more than we normally do and, best of all, see more of the grandkids.IMG_1742 - Version 2

MY NURSING CAP

I have finally cleaned out the attic in preparation for a move. My speed at tackling this chore is directly related to what “treasures” I find. Sometimes I need to take time to look over the objects, reminisce and then struggle whether they get packed or pitched.

A few days ago I found two of my nursing caps tossed together in a plastic bag. My particular cap was a linen rectangle that needed to be starched before it was folded into a wing-sided emblem of the nursing profession that sat on the back of my head—held on with a bobby pin. It looked something like this.images-1

What I found was one flat cap and one that had been worn, still with the bobby pin, two straight pins that held the black band on and a stud that joined the cap together in the back. I bet I took the cap off years ago not thinking I would never wear it again. Both caps were dotted with rust spots.

I didn’t feel any sentimentality when I tossed the caps away. Many years ago I had come to terms with the reality that their inconvenience out ranked their symbolism. One thing I did like about my cap was that is was so simple compared to other caps—like the cup cake ones that sat on top of a nurse’s head.aae6c77bf34f5827a797719ea73d8ef8

So simple that, when nursing caps still held prestige, I would make a miniature version with a sheet of letter size white paper and give it to my young female patients.

One recipient stands out in my memory.

In the 60s, I worked on a small cardiology research unit. Our patients, from babies to adults, stayed for days and sometimes weeks. One girl, about 14, with congenital heart problems had an impoverished background. Her brother made money by forcing her to have sex with his friends. Her mother was in prison. She couldn’t read or write.

After lunch, she and I would sit in the patient lounge reading outdated magazines. I don’t remember how long she stayed on the unit or how much progress we made. I do remember making her a nurse’s cap, which she immediately put on her head.

After she was discharged, she sent me a letter addressed to the hospital that was written by her mother’s cellmate. I recall that she told me how she was doing and what efforts she was making to learn to read.

I didn’t respond.

My old nursing caps brought back long forgotten remembrances. I don’t regret tossing them into the trash but I do regret not answering that letter.