I can’t find a to-go cup for my coffee. I’m juggling my car keys and my phone, and I say goodbye to the dogs. “Be good,” I say. They look at me like they won’t.
It’s 75F at 7 am and raining in bursts like a car wash. I keep trying to turn the wipers up, and they don’t go any faster. I spill a couple of spoonfuls of coffee out of my cupand three long trails traverse the dashboard. I plug in my phone and it plays that one Clem Snide song (1989) instead of the book I’m trying to read. A Toyota pulls up to the red light ahead of me, pauses to look without stopping completely and runs the red.
I fight with the phone-car interface and get another song, Billie Holiday singing “You Go to my Head.” On the way to the barn it plays five, six times. I sing along for parts of it. It is my car’s second favorite song.
At the barn my arm gets soaked punching the buttons at the locked gate. I am there to put sport tape on my horse for her trip up to Vermont. Staff ask me what it is and why I’m doing it and what it’s supposed to do. I run out of explanations and say simply that it can’t hurt and might help.
I stop for breakfast at a diner where a handwritten sign on the door says they don’t take credit cards. I order eggs. The waitress calls me hon when I ask for the restroom. There is no mobile coverage here. The music asks do you like piña coladas and says she’s a rich girl but it’s gone too far. Sweet home Alabama and my coffee cup is refilled three times.
She brings the check during desperado and it’s for $10.31.
Gimme the beat boys that frees my soul I wanna get lost in your rock and roll when I put my raincoat back on.
I have cash and I’m out of here, but I do buy the five flavors roll of Lifesavers at the register, and this is the ticket to 1972, when the rainbow roll of Lifesavers was my favorite.
Despite the three cups of diner coffee, I’m feeling a little sleepy when I get in the car.
The navigation software has failed to hold onto the route I picked and tries to send me to the big boring interstate, back down the Taconic the way I came. I pull a U-ey and head north without anything but a vague sense that it’s the right way to go.
This year I had a goal to read books by female authors. I read 58 different books, including 29 novels and 17 memoirs; I try to alternate between fiction and non-fiction. There are many books on this list I would recommend and there is exactly one book on this list that I hated and struggled to finish. Looking back on this list, I see that 18 of this year’s books had death as a primary theme, including the stand-out, “The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying” by Nina Riggs. If you have the courage to read a book written by a woman who is dying from cancer, give it a go. It was one of the highlights of my list.
Hannah Arendt’s classic, “The Origins of Totalitarianism”
Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”
“Furiously Happy” by Jenny Lawson
Kate DiCamillo’s “The Illuminated Adventures of Flora & Ulysses”
Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”
Issa Rae’s “Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl”
Magda Szabó’s exquisite novel “The Door”
Blair Braverman’s “Welcome to the Goddam Ice Cube”
“Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Isabel Wilkerson’s “The Warmth of Other Sons”
bell hooks’s “Bone Black”
“Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” by Lisa See
“The Vegetarian” by Han Kang
“The Story of My Teeth” by Valeria Luiselli
“The Conservationist” by Nadine Gordimer
“Down City” by Leah Carroll
“Howl’s Moving Castle” by Diana Wynne Jones
“Word by Word” by Kory Stamper
“The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas
“Working Stiff” by Judy Melinik MD and TJ Mitchell
“The Lovely Bones,” by Alice Sebold
“West with the Night” by Beryl Markham
“West with the Night” by Beryl Markham (yes, twice in a row)
Joy Fielding’s “She’s Not There”
Jennifer Egan’s “A Visit from the Goon Squad”
Jhumpa Lahiri’s “The Namesake”
“Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock’s Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout” by Laura Jane Grace
Patti Smith’s “Just Kids”
Anita Brookner’s “Rules of Engagement”
Madeleine Eagle’s “A Wrinkle in Time”
Chrissie Hynde’s “Reckless: My Life as a Pretender”
“The Left Hand of Darkness” by Ursula K. Le Guin
Sarah Hepola’s “Blackout: Remembering the Things I Drank to Forget”
“The Problem with Forever” by Jennifer L. Armentrout
TIna Fey’s “Bossypants”
“The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir” by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
Janet Benton’s “Lilli De Jong”
“We Have Always Lived in the Castle” by Shirley Jackson
“The Bright Hour: A Memoir of Living and Dying” by Nina Riggs
“The Time Traveler’s Wife” by Audrey Niffnegger
“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” by Rebecca Skloot
Joan Aiken’s “The Wolves of Willoughby Chase”
“Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution,” by Ji-li Jiang
“An Unsuitable Job for a Woman,” by P.D. James
“Cover Her Face,” by P.D. James
“The Skull Beneath the Skin” by P.D. James
“We Were Feminists Once” by Andi Zeisler
“News of the World” by Paulette Jiles
“Shrill” by Lindy West
“Uncle Tom’s Cabin” by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Hillary Rodham Clinton’s “What Happened”
Alice Herdan-Zuckmayer’s excellent memoir “The Farm in the Green Mountains”
“Daughter of Smoke and Bone” by Laini Taylor
“Never Caught: the Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of their Runaway Slave Ona Judge,” by Erica Armstrong Dunbar
“The Children of Men,” by P.D. James
“Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest” by Zeynep Tufekci
“You & a Bike & a Road” by Eleanor Davis
Myriam Gurba’s “Mean”
My goal for 2018 is to keep reading books by women.
What I saw: x-rays of my foot, six weeks and two days after surgery
What TV shows did I watch beforehand: Bojack Horseman, all of Breaking Bad, all of Better Call Saul, seasons 7 and 8 of Doctor Who, 10 episodes of the Magicians, two episodes of Halt and Catch Fire, all of Alias Grace, all three seasons of Broadchurch, season one of the Crown (three times), 13th, two episodes of Godless, Mudbound, half an episode of Rake, two episodes of the Indian Doctor, all of the Handmaid’s Tale, 6 episodes of Brooklyn 99, one episode of Gravity Falls, and probably some other stuff.
Something I ate: fries and bubble tea and hot and sour soup that we can get delivered.
What I wore: the bear sweater. Did I tell you about it?
How I got the bear sweater: I don’t like shopping, but I do like tigers. I was looking for something with a tiger on it when I found the bear sweater (and also a unicorn sweater). Panicked, I reached out to a friend to ask which one to get, and she wisely advised that I get both. She is a good friend who understands what is important to me. I got her a plain sweater for X-mas. I hope she isn’t reading this.
Why I saw so much TV: I am too exhausted to say.
What the hell is wrong with me: three weeks after getting my walking cast, I had a follow-up appointment with the doctor. I had to drive the Connecticut to see him, even though I am allergic to Connecticut, and lose all hope for humanity as I pass through the border. You can tell when you’ve left New York because the stacked stone walls along the way go from charmingly tumbled and to obsessively tended. A Connecticut stone wall is tall and set in mortar. I don’t know what they’re so afraid of in Connecticut, but they are prepared to defend themselves against the invasion when it comes. The other way you know is that the pavement in Connecticut is a smooth as the glossy pink bottom of an Episcopalian’s first-born daughter.
Things that were not funny: there was ample parking, though some of the luxury SUVs were parked like the driver skidded in sideways at great speed and leapt from the driver’s seat. One might have asked, “Where’s the fire?”
But we know the answer to that these days (Sorry, California).
The staff wear uniforms and are efficient and polite, which is to say that they are humorless but at least they don’t ask me about the weather (I have missed all the weather these past two months, what with the foot surgery and the walking cast and all, and I do so love fall weather, leaving the house, doing exercise, alas). I was shown to exam room 6 and told to take off both shoes and socks. My plastic cast landed with a cracking plastic thud.
Who should see it: next the nurse whose name is like Penny or Jerry or Patsy or something came in and told me I was going to x-ray. I am disgusted with myself that I can’t remember her name because I can learn the names of 50 people over lunch (this is actually true because I did it once). Nurse Penn/Jerr/Patsy asked if I was weight-bearing yet. I said I wasn’t. So I had to climb down and pick up the walking cast and put it back on and limp down the hall in the crooked way that I do when I don’t have a shoe on to balance the height of the cast. I arrived at x-ray and was passed off to an x-ray technician with a practiced instructional patter that was eerily sing-song but also in this monotone that was hard to understand. It reminded me of that thing, you know, where you see a bunch of words for colors like it says red but it’s actually yellow? There was a question in there about whether there was any possibility that I was pregnant and I didn’t so much say no as say no?
Anyway, she didn’t have a prepared speech for telling me to take off my cast so she said nothing and went to get an x-ray plate. Alone in the room, I sat in the only available chair and took off my walking cast in silence. Then she came back and resumed with the uninflected lie down and I realized once the instructions filtered down from the air into my ears and through my brain comprehension matrix that I was supposed to get up from the chair and go over to the table using the naked foot that is not weight-bearing and lie down. I did some unsupported lurching and flopping. Drone Voice put an X-ray plate under my foot and had me adjust three ways and then, at the last possible second, handed me big square lead apron. I knew what to do with it and it was a good thing I did because she didn’t say anything about how to hold it or where. Drone Voice said now tilt your leg and I tried to and she said more and just at the point where she goes perfect it was the moment where it actually hurt to be in that position and I was about to grunt.
Next I had to walk across the room and stand like the gold medalist on the top of the three squishy foam-covered stairs and Drone Voice moved the table closer because she could and while she explained what she was doing and why the words went up and around and flew some circles in the room and slipped out past the illuminated red EXIT sign.
I took my steps up the balance-destroying squishy foam steps and stood for more angles, holding the apron awkwardly around myself, hoping to hide my delicate innards from the horrors of repeated x-rays.
Things that were sad: when I was in high school my physics teacher gave this one oral exam where we each had to walk in and answer one question and then go sit down and wait for the next person and hear them give a better answer. I was asked to tell everything I knew about x-rays. I studied in high school, although the thing then was to be too cool to admit to it, but I remember nothing about x-rays.
What I can tell you about x-rays: they go in a straight line. There was this German guy experimenting with electrical currents through glass cathode-ray tubes, and instead of inventing the computer monitor fifty years before anyone needed one, Röntgen discovered a mystery radiation and punted on finding a good name.
Something I made up about x-rays: because of the different densities of materials, your malevolence, your damaged soul, your biases, your mistaken preconceptions, and your failures will all show up brightly on an x-ray.
Something else I made up about x-rays: x-rays are also known as longevity rays and especially good for you and you should get them as often as you can.
Things that were funny: while I was standing on the squishy foam-covered stairs and holding the apron in front of my delicate innards, Drone Voice made a face at me and exclaimed in her perfectly flat voice It’s your bear. It’s peeking out at me. That made my day.
Drone Voice showed me her teeth. I think she took smiling lessons from Sarah “Aunt Lydia” Huckabee Sanders. The bear on my sweater made her day.
After the X-ray I strapped my plastic boot/trap/cast back on and limped down the hall to wait in room 6. The doctor came in, looked at my latest foot x-ray and said, meh, he couldn’t actually see from an x-ray if the damned airplane parts they’ve screwed into the joint have actually fused at this point, so, uh, just wear the cast for about 4 more weeks.
I smiled and acted all cheery and agreeable and ha, ha, ha, I couldn’t tell the difference between this x-ray and the one they took in October but on the inside the words were bouncing around and flying in circles and looking for the red illuminated EXIT sign.
After two weeks, suggested the doctor (maybe because my eyes weren’t smiling), I could experiment with little walking in a shoe. And did I want to go to PT? I told him I’d think about PT (I should have told him that the last time I went to PT the therapist made rape jokes and I hope to never go back to any PT ever).
But anyway I guess in a couple weeks I get to experiment with my foot without the plastic walking cast.
What is the inverse square law: stand back from the source of the x-ray and hold your square apron upside down.
What I saw on the way home: the mortar fell out of the stone walls and I went back to my charmingly tumbled life.
What I wore: four weeks after the foot surgery, I finally got an air-cast. It is a two piece plastic walking-boot/contraption that you wear over a giant white tube sock and secure in place with three enormous velcro straps. The nurse fitted it to me and said “This will be a transition week. You’ll still need your scooter for distances. But do what you can. Your body will let you know what is too much.”
How I got red eyes and a blotchy nose: I couldn’t actually stand in the air-cast at first, and used my knee-scooter to get to the car.
I went to my room and got into bed, bitching to no one in particular about not being able to walk in the walking cast. I took it off and had a long, self-pitying cry.
Who went with me: a couple of hours later FedEx wanted a signature so I strapped the medical-device-gray ski boot back on. To my surprise I found that I actually could take some steps unassisted. Yes, I was wobbly. Yes, it was stompy. But I got up the killer three stairs and to the front door and realized I was walking. 20 and I went for a short dog walk with the knee scooter just in case. 20 took Captain and I took our 15 year old dog Cherry.
It was not too bright, not too cold, and there weren’t any cars on our road. The feeling of liberation was real.
What I did beforehand: as Cherry has been disintegrating in her advancing age, I have been throwing remedies at her which seemed necessary and reasonable. It started with joint supplements. Next I got her dog hoodies and a pressure-sensitive electrically-heated dog bed. After that it was laser treatments for her ear infections and acupuncture for her weak hind-end. I got her some toenail covers to help with traction, and some Doggles (dog goggles) for when the sun was too bright. And when she started being picky about her food, I started cooking for her. Over the course of two years she went from an old dog to a reason we couldn’t travel.
Where I sat: the next morning I went to the barn and went for a walk on horseback. Staff were divided between the folks who thought it was awesome that I would get on a horse in a plastic walking cast and the folks who thought I was completely, certifiably, nuts. One person actually told me he thought I was crazy to get on a horse with a cast on my foot. The rest of them just looked at me with what appeared to be bemused alarm. The ones who thought it was awesome said so. I was so happy to be there and not just standing around answering questions about my progress that I didn’t care. I rode about 20 minutes and got off.
Why I saw this show: I wanted a dog almost as much as I wanted a pony as a kid, and I have loved having them in my life, even when they do embarrassing things, or annoy the neighbors, or have violent diarrhea.
Why my sun-room is now a questionable shade of yellow: the next day was Saturday and the Bacon Provider left for a week-long business trip. I have been very sad about the pace of travel in his job this fall, and never more so than on this weekend. Also, the painters showed up and took over several rooms. I made some impulsive choices about paint colors.
How I got wet: the following day it was warm enough to give the dogs a bath. Cherry loved a bath even though she needs help getting in and out, but afterward she wouldn’t settle down on the pile of towels I spread on the bathroom floor and ended up wandering around the bathroom and got stuck in the shower.
Things that were not funny: the day after that Cherry went outside to go potty and never came back in. I found her collapsed in the grass. I stood her up and got her to follow me in. She was not alarmed. I was.
Things that were sad: two days later she could not stand, even with help. She was covered in pee and didn’t want to be wiped off, so after cleaning her, I pulled out an old bottle of dog massage oil and after a few minutes of my attention, I settled her back down. I used up the oil and went online and ordered several essential oils.
Then: I called the vet and explained that I needed to bring my dog in but that I was in a walking cast and would need help getting her out of the car. The receptionist gave me the names of three vets who do house calls in my area. I called the first name on the list and left a message. I think he was a vet I had seen in the past. After about an hour I got anxious from not hearing from him and I looked up the other two vets online. The last one seemed to specialize in end-of-life veterinary care, including hospice and euthanasia. She also had online booking. I was able to make an appointment for the next morning without having to burst into tears again on the phone.
Cherry started screaming again and I changed the house-training pads under her. The supply of pads was down to a half dozen and I had to go to Petco for more. I found that when I lived in North Dreadful visits to Petco could be very sad and lonely for no reason I can easily explain, and this quick trip felt especially echo-y and poorly lit. I bought pee pads and a pink stuffed pig toy with a good squeaker in it for Captain.
Who should see it: the next day the painters arrived early. From her heated bed, Cherry drank a mouthful of water and a bite of food but no more. The vet came in one of those Mini Coopers that looks like a mini hearse. She wore scrubs and brought in a big old-fashioned black leather doctor’s case and sat down on the floor with me and Cherry. She asked a lot of questions. Captain brought her his Kong toy and made a nuisance of himself. Her opinion was that the dog was pretty far gone already. I got 20 to come down and hear the vet say that again. “If she isn’t drinking,” she said, “She won’t last more than three more days.”
I think I’ve been getting ready for her to be put down for a few months. I don’t remember when she last wagged her tail. 20 had to get ready over the course of a few days.
Anyway somehow in the middle of this difficult conversation the electrician showed up and I had to get up from the kitchen floor and stomp with my plastic cast up the stairs and show him which fixtures we didn’t have yet and which we did and where they went.
Then I stomped back to the kitchen and sat down on the floor and tried to convey to the vet that despite the flood of tears that had suddenly burst out of my face I was in fact ready to do this very hard thing. I announced to the room that there was no treatment at this point that was going to make her strong or well enough to stand and walk again, like it needed to be said. It didn’t.
I stroked Cherry’s face.
What I saw: Cherry’s last four breaths.
What else I saw: Captain sat on his big new monogrammed Orvis ™ bed and saw the whole thing. He stood and came over an checked her out before she was wheeled away.
And: The vet made a print of Cherry’s paw in clay, and left it on the kitchen counter. I said goodbye to the vet on the driveway, thanking her for doing a hard and important job. She gave me one of the nicest hugs I’ve had in a while. Certainly the best hug Ive ever had from someone I’d just met.
I went in and put Cherry’s bedding the wash, unplugged her heating pad and folded it up, wiped the floor, and moved Captain’s bed to conceal the hole left by Cherry’s departure. I texted the Bacon Provider with the news and a picture or two. I did not know he was sitting at his boss’s keynote speech, between two board members.
The very next thing that happened was someone came from the kitchen cabinet shop to measure.
And: a fancy box containing Cherry’s remains were returned to us by the vet a few days later. And a few days after that a bunch of essential oils arrived which I had little memory of ordering. I mixed up a small bottle of oil with lavender and bergamot and gave Captain a little massage. He loved every bit of it, but he loves everything.
What I saw at home: I am looking at some of the new paint colors with suspicion, but I’m avoiding it by getting back in bed. My body has let me know that it is too much.
Things that were sad: we said good bye to Cherry this week, at age 15. She died peacefully at home (thanks to a veterinarian who specializes in both end-of-life pet care and house calls), surrounded by some of her people and Captain, her companion of 9 years. I will write a longer post about her soon. In the meantime, enjoy this story about pests.
What I saw: I have graduated to a walking cast, but when I was still on the knee scooter, I had trouble by the back door. Turning around was a process of bashing into walls, running over shoes, inventing new cuss words, and trying not to fall. As long as the weather stayed unseasonably warm (thank you, catastrophic global climate change), my solution was to open the door and leave it open for Captain. I have taught Captain he is not supposed to charge out an open door, and he has learned to wait, even if there are squirrels; so, he stands, sometimes trembling with anticipation, and waits for permission to go.
Things that were funny: by leaving the door open for him, Captain just stood in front of it wagging and asking to go out. He needed to be told it was ok. I was in the kitchen trying to do ordinary things, like unloading the dishwasher one cup at a time, spilling water, bashing into the cupboards, and trying to make tea that all take forever on a knee scooter, and there was Captain standing at the open door unable to go out. I said something encouraging. Now he was whining. I finished unloading the dishwasher one plate at a time and went to see what was wrong. There was a big spotted slug in the doorway.
What I did beforehand: I had foot surgery in mid-October. I’ve been putting it off since seeing a creepy podiatrist in Seattle in 2000, but I realized as I limped around a horse show early this summer that I’d waited long enough.
What I wore: yoga pants
Who went with me: while I’ve been recovering from foot surgery, I’ve spent long days flopped out in bed, and Schwartz has been a shitty cat, not being nearly as snuggly as he should be, and finally curling up with me but not letting me actually pat him.
Why I saw this show: because of remodeling in other parts of the house, Schwartz is mostly confined to my bedroom during the day, and he has a cardboard box we put catnip in to entertain him. He likes his box and thrashes around in it.
One thing that was not funny: one night, Schwartz brought a mouse up from the basement and put it in the box so he could play with it and it wouldn’t get away.
Another thing that was not funny: when the mouse abruptly disappeared, leaving two drops of blood behind, I assumed Schwartz had eaten it. This is a ridiculous assumption.
Still more things that were not funny: I was wrong, of course. The next night he was at it again, batting the mouse, enticing it to squeak and run and try to jump out of the box, and Schwartz was having the finest of fine times playing with it and not killing it.
Yet another thing that was not funny: the following morning I saw the mouse running around my bedroom, and I, temporarily one-footed and historically the only person in the house willing to catch and/or dispatch an injured mouse, was not able to do a damned thing about it.
Where I stood: then Schwartz showed up and recaptured the damned mouse and started for the bed with it in his mouth, I leapt to my feet, reacting from instinct, and nearly went down. Because I couldn’t put any weight on the left foot yet.
Something I watched: that night, there was a big storm and we were watching a few episodes of season 2 of Stranger Things. We have a generator, and an expensive service contract for it, so we weren’t even worried about the power going out.
What it is: meanwhile, the Bacon Provider updated all our water treatment stuff, but the plumbers failed to install the air-gap we requested, and before the situation could be corrected, the heavy rain caused a bunch of water to back up into our basement. As a relentless troubleshooter, the Bacon Provider went out and got a sump pump to address it.
Who should see it: when the power did go out, quite late and in the middle of the episode, the generator did not fire up as it is supposed to. I found myself sitting in the living room in silence and almost complete darkness, and not sure where I’d left my knee scooter. I crawled around groping the air. The Bacon Provider went out to see if he could start the generator manually. It sputtered like it wanted to start, but couldn’t. He checked the fuel, and the oil. It was still raining quite heavily still and the wind was so strong as to seem threatening. And now our sump pump solution was no longer a solution.
The least funny thing of all: I scootered around in the dark house, first looking for the number of the generator service company and then looking for mobile phone reception. After the call dropped twice I got through. The tired woman who answered started off by asking my area code. I told her I didn’t have a landline and don’t know the local area code. She was indignant. I was more indignant. “I am sitting in the dark, I can hear water coming into my basement because the sump pump is off, I had foot surgery two weeks ago so I can’t walk, and you’re telling me the expensive service contract doesn’t include you being able to look up my account some other way?”
The Bacon Provider walked in, looking, by the light of his ever-handy pocket flashlight through the gloom even more alarmed, I told him, without muting myself, that I was on the phone with Sarah Huckabee Sanders (America’s grumpiest professional liar).
Eventually, after more arguing, she took my number and said we could expect a service call. My phone was down to 9% battery life, and my backup charger, when I found it, was almost dead.
I went to bed.
In the morning, I found out that the Bacon Provider had called the generator service company himself, after me, and got a call back. He was offered a technician at $480/hr with a two hour minimum in the middle of the night, or the normal day rate of $145/hour in the morning. He opted for the latter and went to bed. When they called in the morning to confirm, they told me that our service plan had lapsed two years ago. I begged to differ. They checked again, and found nothing. I insisted. On the third try they found my contract, up to date, under my correctly spelled name, at my address on my street, misspelled, and my town also misspelled.
I can’t wait until they call me in March about renewing!
What they saw when they showed up: the technician finally arrived mid-morning, and found that there was a big, spotted slug on an air vent of the generator, preventing it from starting.
What I saw: the physician’s assistant handed me a stack of pages of pre-operative instructions, including a page of “Helpful Items,” with pictures of crutches and canes and walkers and wheelchairs (things that no one ever thinks they’re going to need) and said, “You will want a knee-scooter.” It had been hurriedly circled in ball-point pen. I did not want it. She went on, “You can rent them, but…,” she said, glancing at my feet, “If you’re going to have to get both feet done, you’re probably better off just buying one.”
What I did beforehand: I avoid shopping with the Massive Online Retail Monopoly, but they have all the things and also all the reviews. You simply must read the reviews of these knee scooters or you might end up with the wrong one. As for me, I had to read the reviews of the wrong scooter after I had found the right one to figure out that I was actually wrong. I had to get the child-sized scooter, because the manufacturer makes a “regular” sized scooter for people who are larger than the average size woman.
I got the one with the three wheels (instead of four) in the hopes of not hitting myself constantly in the ankle of my “good” foot. And I got the one with the bigger, 9” tires in the hopes of not wiping out thanks to a pea-sized bit of gravel on my driveway, or succumbing to the enormous thresholds of the doorways in Mrs. Gardenwinkle’s 80s museum. It came in a big box that arrived via drone only three minutes after I ordered it, and I had to put it together with the shiny, enclosed tools. It came with lots of written instructions, stern warnings about not backing up, and even has a training wheel, to put on the side opposite your good foot, for people with stability issues. I had the Bacon Provider adjust the brakes and finish the tire inflation. We took turns riding on it before my foot surgery, to see how it cornered (not especially well), to see how fast it could go (not especially fast), and to see how it stopped (well enough). It sat in the corner of the dining room like a vague threat until the surgery.
What I wore: the wrong pajamas.
Who went with me: I have to back up a little and say that Cherry turned 15 this summer and is now completely deaf. When she was a younger dog, she knew a good number of useful commands like sit, come, stay, down, don’t touch, and take it. I even taught her hand signals for sit, stay and down because I always thought that’s what good dog owners did to prepare for the day when their dog could no longer hear. Cherry’s hearing seemed to vanish suddenly and completely about two years ago, but in retrospect it was probably failing for a while and she masked the loss by continuing to seem obedient by making educated guesses about what she was supposed to do. Those educated guesses were her forte from a young age, and it was why I was able to get her to climb on top of things like big rocks or tree stumps for pictures. We are unprepared for her diminished vision, though. You cannot call a deaf dog. And you can wave all you want to a dog who can’t see, but she’s not coming to you except by luck.
How I got tickets to the shit-show: Cherry seems to be able sometimes to see a waving hand about 6 feet away. She gets up and down the stairs from the kitchen to the yard with a great, clumsy leap. Sometimes Cherry wanders around the kitchen looking for people to stand next to, which is sweet but kind of annoying when you’re cooking. When she rises from her dog bed and starts wandering around the kitchen, then we wave our hands to try to shoo her out the door. She makes her leap off the stairs having no better plan. Some mornings we get up and she’s had more than one accident in the kitchen. The sting of frustration about this is dwindling as she becomes more and more frail.
Why I saw this show: so, the Bacon Provider had to do a webinar one morning, just a couple of days after my foot surgery. I was still unable to put any weight on the bad foot, spending most of my days with it elevated in bed, and taking pain meds. I said derisive, colorful things about the word “webinar,” and some insightful things about capitalism. Only the cat heard me. He agreed, I think.
Things that were not funny: before you need your knee scooter you can tool around your dining room, but it will never prepare you for the horror of a bathmat, a narrow bathroom, a pile of laundry, or a pair of shoes in your way. You can’t pick them up. You can’t go over them. You can’t go around them. The turning-radius a knee scooter is one half to two feet to large for most of this 80s museum. Also, you will come close to falling for surprising reasons, like missing the pad where you’re supposed to kneel, or smashing yourself in the good ankle, or the unexpected shoe (and it’s never your shoe, because all you need now is one sad shoe for your right foot, a sacrificial shoe, chosen to get extra, uneven wear and be forever associated with the dark days of recovery from surgery).
What it is: somehow, thanks to the webinar, I got stuck with feeding the dogs breakfast.
Things that were sad: there were dog blankets all over the kitchen floor. People in my family cover the dogs with blankets when they sleep. Yes, this is ridiculous, but Cherry gets cold. But also, she is a dog, and being a dog, she wakes up and gets a drink and the blankets come sliding off and get dragged across the floor and left there when she goes back to her bed.
Who should watch their step: of course, Cherry is no longer really very housebroken so sometimes she gets up to go on the floor and other times she just poops in her sleep.
Things that were funny: so when I scootered across the kitchen to get a can of dog food and there was a dog blanket on the floor and I tried to back up, bend over, and pick it up, I was showered with dog-poo nuggets. And I don’t know if I was like, trying to nugget-dodge or maybe bounce them away from me like they were dog-poo-hacky-sacks, but I wobbled. Cherry, who was hungry, which was the whole reason I was trying to do things in the kitchen at all, was right up against me, keeping track of me the only way she can anymore.
Where I sat: so when I started to fall, I also hit the old dog, who also fell. No one was hurt, though the scooter and I were kind of tangled up and the poo nuggets were involved. Cherry wasn’t so much hurt as she was startled, and so she kind of had the shit scared out of her. The exertion of trying to get back up made her poop some more, and because she and I fell together, now she was pretty much just pooping on me. I’ve had dogs for about 25 years, but I think that was the first time I was pooped on directly by one.
When that was over, I righted the scooter and tried to stand. My pajama pants (these being the sub-optimal pajamas and not one of the two pairs of optimal, post-operative lounge-wear) got caught on one of the bigger, 9” tires of my five-star-reviewed knee scooter as I was trying to stand up so I fell again.
Where I sat on the way home: so I had to crawl around picking up the poo-nuggets, take off my clothes, wash my good foot, and still feed the dogs, and when I was done I had so much leftover angry energy I hauled the vacuum cleaner out, and took out the trash. I can’t say why exactly I sat down on the floor of the garage while I was taking out the trash, but I did. It was cold, and quite gritty, but not nearly as bad as falling in dog shit.
What I saw: maybe in 2000 I had my first inkling that everyday foot pain wasn’t normal/good and I went to see My First Foot Doctor who told me about his passion for tap dancing and about all the different bunion-prone races of people in the world. In addition to (incorrectly) guessing my ethnicity, and sharing his theories on race that he should have kept to himself, My First Foot Doctor described (too much like Dr. Frankenstein leaping around the lab shouting, “It’s alive!”) an unnamed surgery where he would cut my feet open, break certain bones and screw them back together. When he saw my enthusiasm wasn’t up to the same level as his, he sent me to get some custom orthotics, and told me, with authority, “Your feet have no integrity. Never run.”
No problem there. Running is for fugitives.
What it is: I wore the orthotics, got rid of both pairs of my beloved, ankle-spraining Dasko clogs, started wearing more boots and fewer heels. Ten years later I tried again, with a different doctor. This one was a little less creepy but so completely impressed with himself, in a way that only a credentialed white-coat-wearing tall white man who wants to cut your feet open, saw your bones into pieces, and screw them back together can be. He was disappointed not to be The First Man Ever to tell me to get orthotics and throw away all my high heels.
Things that were not funny: I had yet to have a doctor use the word “bunionectomy” with me, and I had yet to hear what the surgeries they were so eager to perform would do to correct the underlying cause. While addressing the problems, their bone-breaking-and-screwing-back-together had nothing to offer to prevent the recurrence. Also, the bone breaking and screws sounded pretty terrible. I could also say something here about the really terrific health insurance Microsoft used to offer back then, but I make it a policy not to say nice things about them.
Why I saw this show:New York is brutal on feet. Even if you mostly stay out of the city it will give you blisters when you don’t. My feet hurt and I’m getting too old for this shit. I tried a nearby podiatrist in Bedhead Hills. I could have guessed from the incomprehensibly ugly angular building, clad in pale green roofing shingles that it would be a no-go. The stained waiting room carpet was warped and curling in the corners. The receptionist did not greet me because she was on the phone talking about shit she shouldn’t have been talking about at work. There was original Weldwood paneling. The only other patient looked like she was going to die of ennui. The Bedhead Hills podiatrist held my foot in his hand and didn’t let go. He told me my good foot was actually worse than my bad foot. And he dropped the b word on me.
How I found a doctor that didn’t give me the willies: I go to Pilates a couple of times a week, not because I’m trying to be a cliche or anything but because I like it. Some of the people at Pilates talk too much. I try not to be that person, the one who complains about her anxious kids, or her friends and their poor choice of partners, or her husband’s career, or her feet. I don’t want to blurt things out about my children and their anxiety, or my friends’ relationships, or my husband or my feet, so I let my Pilates teacher do the talking. She counts and tells me things. The subject got around to foot doctors and she claimed to know The Guy.
“He did my sister’s feet. He’s done several of my clients’ feet. He’s The Guy.”
I kept the piece of paper she gave me with The Guy’s name on it for a few months, pretending that I couldn’t read it or that I thought his name was a misspelling. I didn’t want to see a doctor in Connecticut because I have a known allergy to Connecticut, but as if to prove to myself that this guy would be just as creepy as the rest, I made an appointment. The office was clean and professional, and I was seen on time. I met his nurse and liked her. And The Guy himself was clear, upbeat, and unafraid to use the real names for things. He told me that if I’d had surgery 10 years ago it would have failed by now.
He described a procedure that would leave me with some airplane parts in my foot. Those parts would be the actual solution to the cause of the problem.
What I did beforehand: I remember being a kid and writing “1976” in my diary and thinking about how weird it would be that someday I would write “1980” or “1990.” I counted how old I would be in “2000.” I spent this summer thinking about the perfect date to do a surgery–a surgery more unimaginable than being 37 is to a 13 year old. Who plans to give up walking for a while? How do you put something off for almost 20 years, and then wake up one Thursday and look for a spot in your calendar for it?
And then there was the Bacon Provider’s work schedule to consider. I imagined I was going to need him at home for about two weeks, and it would be fine to do calls after the first couple of days. Then I thought my normal self-sufficiency would return.
What I wore: I really only have two pairs of pants that work with the dressing on my foot post-surgery. This would be enough if I were currently the person in charge of the laundry. So I am wearing pajamas all day which is fine anyway because mostly I’m in bed.
Who went with me: the Bacon Provider drove me to the ambulatory surgical center. When I checked in, I had to prove my identity with a photo ID and my health insurance card. The Guy greeted us and wrote on my foot so they did the right one. A nurse gave me something to make me sleepy and someone else did a nerve block behind my knee and I don’t remember anything after that.
Things that were funny: when I woke up, they let me have a delicious cup of ice chips. I smiled at everyone like I’d done a fine job. The surgeon came and showed the Bacon Provider before and after x-rays of my foot, adding, “This is as bad as they get.”
“How do you even walk on a foot like that?” asked my husband.
“I don’t know,” said The Guy.
Something I ate: the next day, my friend S. sent us turkey and pastrami sandwiches and matzo ball soup and it was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever had.
Things that were sad: I came out of surgery with pins sticking out of my toes and couldn’t get my foot wet for a couple of weeks. The nerve block was supposed to last about 20 hours, but lasted longer, with a prolonged couple of days of bad foot feelings as the block wore off. I took the pain meds ’round the clock until I didn’t have to (and mostly it seemed like they don’t do anything about the pain they make it so you just don’t care). After two weeks I got my stitches out, and The Guy pulled the pins out of my toes (which felt a way I would forget if I could). Then I was cleared to take a shower, but showers are scary when you have to stand on one leg.
How I get around: I have a knee-scooter until the day when I get a walking cast, which is an exciting prospect about a week away.
Who should do it: lots of people get foot surgery, and even more need it and put it off for years because they hear/fear it will hurt and it will be inconvenient. My experience has been that it hurts, and is inconvenient. My estimates of how much help I’d need, and for how long, were completely unrealistic.
What I saw at home: the cat has been disappointingly aloof, napping near me but not with me, trying to bite me if I try to pet him, and hiding from the knee-scooter like it offends him.
One more thing: I have to do the other foot someday.