Scenes From the Week


Scenes From the Week

(From the Community Caregiving Journal 3-word prompt Test, Upset, Halo.)

The wee hours of Monday

Each lamp wears a halo, but the fog isn't dense. If it were I'd be much more upset, driving down our state road in the long stretch between towns. To my left are businesses long closed for the night. To my right is forest.

Between the lanes, narrow columns of unearthly light shoot up as reflectors in the road catch my beams. The fog has sculpted them into luminous bars extending toward the low sky. Above us, a radio tower's red light dissipates into fuzz.

Beside me my partner sits, quiet. I have warned her that the fog and my lack of sleep are "cars on the road," even though actual cars on the road are few and far between. Basically it's our euphemism for, "Don't distract me."

We're on our way to the hospital in the county seat, roughly a 30-mile round trip, but this time there's no emergency. This time I'm bringing her to the lab for a routine blood test, pulling out of our garage at roughly two o'clock on Monday morning.

The last time I had done a drive like this it had been an emergency, leading to her second four-day hospitalization of 2009. The first had been for surgery. The second had been for a bowel obstruction after she had wolfed down many hazelnuts.

That drive had been a scary one. I had been thankful that all our traffic lights were green.

They are almost all green this time, too, taking their cue from whatever cars need to advance. "More energy efficient that way," my partner says when I mention it.

She carries two lab requisitions -- one from her GP, whom she's seeing next week and one from her neurologist, whom she's seeing next month. The lab will combine the results, which will go to both doctors.

We have a local collection center less than a mile from home, but it's the fasting part that gives my partner problems. When she needs food, she needs food! When she needs sleep, she needs sleep. And her sleep cycles are -- well, they aren't. Ordinary business hours don't work for her when she has to restrict food. Just thinking about it gets her upset.

The hospital's lab is open 24/7. My partner slept for four hours and then was awake for four hours without food, though she admitted to ingesting a magnesium pill and some salt. It let her quiet her appetite.

The test of my patience came before we left the house, when my partner insisted she was holding the right requisition forms. I pointed out that the one from the neurologist, who is 75 miles and three counties away, would not be imprinted with the name of our county hospital.

My partner insisted she didn't have the form from him.

Fortunately, I had scanned both requisition forms when we had gotten them, anticipating something like this. Eventually my partner found the originals, which she had put in the back of her folder.

Given her general disorganization, I give her a lot of credit for putting them in a folder in the first place.

The blood tests are mostly routine. But they will also check her thyroid function along with her Vitamin D and aluminum levels.

The man at the hospital's main desk guides us to the lab when we arrive. The waiting room TV is on, tuned to the "local" news station, which is not local.

My partner tells me to take a number in case other people come in. You never know, she says. Except for hospital staff, we are the only ones there.

When we are called up, I tell the lab tech about the magnesium and salt my partner ingested. The lab tech calls to get instructions about the aluminum test, which she has never done before.

My partner fills out a staff appreciation form, thanking the lab tech for being available in the middle of the night. I put the laminated card imprinted with a big "1" back in its holder.

Before we leave the hospital, my partner sits near the main entrance and eats an energy bar. She is famished. I'm curious about whether the thyroid tests will reveal anything, since to me she has the metabolism of a jackrabbit.

I pray the fog will not thicken during our drive back home. My prayers are answered. Once home, I finish up a job for a client and send it on its way, thankful for flex time and the chance for an afternoon nap.


The wee hours of Wednesday

A halo of light extends from the lamp on my bedside table. The bed, table, and lamp are about as (at least as?) old as I am. They rank among my earliest memories of furniture.

In their age they stand in stark contrast to the slim four-by-five-inch item in my hand. On its screen, in type that's large enough for my presbyopic eyes to read easily, is Charles Darwin's The Voyage of the Beagle.


I am having a glorious insomniac night.

Behind my head, stored inside the headboard, are my wrist braces. I wear them to sleep when my carpal tunnel syndrome flares up. It's the reason why, until now, I have not read a book in bed in years.

My new e-reader, weighing less than five ounces, has changed that.

I don't make New Year's resolutions, but I hope to do more leisure reading in 2013. On Tuesday afternoon I had picked up my package at the post office. I had held off on buying an e-reader, in part because I can read ebooks on my computer thanks to programs like Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.

But a special last month changed my mind, in large part because the sale benefited an independent bookstore. I want to support those. The price was right enough so that I bought two, in case my partner would be interested (it was going to be a quasi surprise and part belated Christmas/anniversary present). She hasn't decided yet, but she has been doing quite well with our many dead tree books.

Before going to bed on Tuesday night I loaded the e-reader with 161 free books courtesy of Project Gutenberg, Manybooks, and the free monthly ebooks I get from the University of Chicago Press. All of them together use up only one tenth of the e-reader's storage capacity.

The e-reader liberates me. These past few years I have been upset because I haven't been able to concentrate on a book the way I used to. In a sense, I use the e-reader to test my own abilities. There's a rhythm I need to return to.

In bed in the wee hours of Wednesday I am playing. I read a little of one book, then some of another, from nonfiction to fiction to poetry and back. The little gadget thrills me. When I shift in bed I can easily catch the light again to read. There are no pages to hold open, no torque on my wrists that make my fingers numb. No strain on my presbyopic eyes. It's heavenly.


After my errands I spend some time in our community park. In natural sunlight I continue to read Darwin:

On approaching the house of a stranger, it is usual to follow several little points of etiquette: riding up slowly to the door, the salutation of Ave Maria is given, and until somebody comes out and asks you to alight, it is not customary even to get off your horse: the formal answer of the owner is, "sin pecado concebida" — that is, conceived without sin. Having entered the house, some general conversation is kept up for a few minutes, till permission is asked to pass the night there.

I hear the gleeful shouts of children in the playground behind my picnic table; more children have gathered at the soccer field. I have already spent time writing in my journal. Now I coexist in my small town and in the Maldonado of Darwin's time. The Pampas of Uruguay.

After I return home I borrow an ebook for the first time. I've been reading my paperback copy of Robert Prehoda's Your Next Fifty Years, which is filled with futurist predictions published in 1980. (Some are considerably less accurate than others; it's fun to view them from the other side.) Thanks to Open Library, I now have the electronic version on both my computer and my e-reader for the next two weeks.

Years ago my partner and I read books together. We lay side by side in bed and read aloud, taking turns. One sleepless night we had been left breathless by Microcosmos: Four Billion Years of Microbial Evolution by Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan, talking excitedly at five in the morning. On other, tamer nights we enjoyed E.B. White's Charlotte's Web and the Swallows and Amazons books of Arthur Ransome.

My partner walks into the studio, awake from her nap, as I write this post. She needs to talk to me about the tiny bits that have fallen off the grapes I've washed. She worries about the plumbing. The bits are in her hand because she has picked them out of the plastic tub we keep in the sink. She saves the sink water for flushing the toilet.

She asks if the e-reader is easier on my eyes. When I say yes, she asks me to explain, and I show her the enlarged font size.

She reminds me that we already have a copy of Voyage of the Beagle. It's in a thick, heavy hardcover edition of Darwin's works.

She questions me about the text on the screen (what animal is he writing about?), then about how I advance through the pages. Do I have to tap the screen all the way to the right? How about just to the right of center?

Before I can answer, she says abruptly that she can't stay here talking about this because she needs food. There's irritation in her voice as she heads for the door.

I pitch my voice to neutral and call after her, "Go get food."


Normally I wave my partner off when she starts talking to me as soon as I am out of bed (this time I need food, or at least coffee to start). But this time she reads aloud a paragraph she likes from The Next Million Years, written by Charles Galton Darwin (grandson of Charles Darwin):

The reason for the impossibility of making a prescription for the master breed is that it is not a breed at all; to call it so is to change the sense of the word. Breeds are specialized for particular purposes, but the essence of masters is that they must not be specialized. They have to be able to deal with totally unforeseen conditions, and this is a quality of wild, not of tame, life. No prescription for the master breed is possible.

She holds a slim paperback that smells faintly of mold. It was one of many books that we had gotten at the Cambridge DPW, where we could literally go dumpster diving for literature. I find a PDF copy online and put it on my e-reader. Maybe we could read it together, I say.

She doesn't like the mold smell of the paperback. Now she is interested in the second e-reader.

But she wants a way to attach a ribbon to it so she can find it. She wants to tape things on it so she can wear it around her neck. She doesn't like the roundness of the backing and says the manufacturer purposely designed it that way so that people would drop and break the e-reader and have to get a new one. She is upset with the way things are.

In the meantime, she has sent me an email that consists only of percentages of "colors in coffee" because she says the coffee company puts dyes into the beans so that they stain plastic. I take one look at the percentages and say, "These colors are for the packaging."

She insists it's the coffee. I look it up. It's the packaging. The coffee beans are not colored magenta, for example.

Later she says she felt as though I were competing with her about the coffee colors. When I ask her why she felt that way, she says she heard it in my tone of voice.

"That was frustration," I say. "I was frustrated."

I try to explain why I was frustrated but she interrupts me -- to tell me that we should communicate by paraphrasing what the other person says, to make sure that we understand.

All I can see is wheels within wheels. I tell her I still haven't had my coffee yet. Before we go any further than this, I need my coffee.

And -- because I can't resist (let's test out her little rule, I think) -- I ask her to paraphrase that back to me.

She weaves a wonderful little story about getting me coffee as soon as I wake up -- pouring it into my cup, pushing the cup under my nose -- regardless of whether or not any has been made yet.

As I drink fresh-brewed coffee, still writing this post, she bursts into the studio to tell me she thought of a joke. She says it has to do with difficulties in communication -- where she sometimes needs to paraphrase what she herself says in order to get her point across. That instead of "six sick sheep," she sometimes has to backtrack and say, "half a dozen ruminants puking." That's her joke.

It gives me some more insight into her processing problem, which is frustrating for both of us.

I tell her that one of the books on my e-reader is the 1911 edition of Roget's Thesaurus.

Now she wants that on her e-reader, too. :-)


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Hi EJ--I love dumpster diving for literature!! I love that.\r\n\r\nOh, I loved reading about you reading. What a love story to reading. :) I'm so glad you have your ereader which gives you back something you dearly love. As a loss circles, I'm so glad a gain comforts. \r\n\r\nAnother beautiful post, EJ.


Hi, S=S -- Thanks for your input. As an outsider I value your perspective on this. I try to understand the cognitive connections my partner makes and why/how she makes them. (Sometimes asking her directly doesn't get me an answer that I understand.) Thanks also for your kind words on my writing. I've been published in various books and magazines over the years.