29 Mar From a Sociable Distance: A Spring Update & My Visit to the ER

May this post find you safe and well. Both Jill and I have jobs that allow us to teach and counsel from home. I must say, I’m impressed by Zoom. When I convened the class I teach, my screen looked like Hollywood Squares–or the opening credits of the Brady Bunch, if you prefer. There I was, staring into the rec rooms, offices, hallways, alcoves, and dens of my students, only one of whom spent the class period reading his phone.

This hiatus–our nearly-empty streets, our ravaged grocery stores, our shuttered businesses–reminds me of the last scenes of  On the Beach, a novel, then a movie (1959), about the final days after nuclear fallout. The story’s appeal is that nobody in those last days goes berserk or crazy. No post-apocalyptic zombies. Just a quiet waiting in the farthest reaches of the now increasingly silent globe. Well, that’s the weirdness now, isn’t it: the quiet. Though this is not the end of the world, it gives us a taste of end-times.

our grand magnolia

Our work on the farm has not slowed–because Nature will continue to do what it does, bringing forth its tsunami of weeds and rampant whatnot. So we’ve got to prepare the land. That means weeding and fertilizing the raised beds in the kitchen garden; spreading a couple tons of topsoil–seeded with grass–to mend the side yard; retrieving, splitting, then stacking firewood from two felled trees that have sat through the winter (makes about three cords); picking up dead fall (twigs) so that Jill can mow our six acres; hanging soap on the budding trees and bushes to ward of invading deer who have already eaten one apple sapling; hoeing up last year’s weeds and so on.

forsythia, spring’s earliest harbinger

Our two basset hounds alternately frolic in the fields and nap on the porch all day. I’m still building the Hen House Cottage, our tiny house. Jill is steeling herself for the first mowing of the season. The first cut is always the toughest. But the mower’s been serviced and ready to go. I’ve already brought out the push mower (I don’t go near Jill’s big ride-on mower). The trick is figuring out which chore is most pressing. I’ve already gotten into the biggest of the bramble thickets to extricate the last (I hope) of the wild grape vines, which are really insidious and parasitic. Soon, the thickets will impenetrable with vines and thorn bushes.

Drying firewood

All that said, however, I’ll have to slow down for awhile. Just yesterday, while working on the Hen House Cottage, the ladder I stood on slipped from under me and I fell hard, my left side slamming straight down into the stainless steel kitchen counter. I collapsed to the floor, on all fours, gasping, trying to assess the damage. It was like getting clipped by a speeding truck. I wasn’t sure if I’d pass out from the pain. It took a while to get my breath and, light-headed, climb back to my feet.

I retreated to the house, called Jill downstairs to let her know I was in a bad way, maybe with a ruptured spleen or broken rib. I was still light-headed. We decided it’d be wise to phone my GP. He said I’d better go to the ER. “And wear a mask,” he cautioned. Needless to say, while no time is ideal to visit the ER, this particular moment in history is the worst time of all. Still, I needed answers.

We make our own: 60% alcohol; 40% aloe

Two masked nurses were in the ER foyer to screen patients before they even entered the hospital. Their first line of defense: no visitors allowed, not even spouses, which was fine with me because I wasn’t going to make Jill wait around. A cancer survivor with a compromised immune system, she’s a much higher risk for the Covid-19 corona virus than I. As this was my fourth hospital visit in as many years, I can say with confidence that the ER is a four hour investment at minimum.

Everybody was wearing a mask, no surprise there. I was too. I happened to have found several new construction masks in my shop. Mine was too tight but serviceable. After submitting my personal data at the check-in desk, I was sent to an isolated seat, where I didn’t have to wait long. Soon, I was alone in an examining room, where I’d spend most of the night.

I’d brought a book to re-read, Slaughterhouse Five, by Kurt Vonnegut. A great American novel, a mix of sci-fi and meta-fiction, a compassionate anti-war theme — really amazing stuff. Outside my little room, the hallway resounded with a beeping–all night–that sounded something like the ping of your smart phone. I was having trouble breathing, a sure sign of a broken rib.

They took a blood sample. My blood pressure was high and they told me to watch that (it’s been high all year). I didn’t know why they left a stint in me until, some hours later, I was escorted to the MRI room. They injected me with an iodine tracer, which would tell them if I had internal bleeding. Lying on the  scanning bed, my mask too tight, my left side aching, hard to breath, and now my arms raised over my head, I was feeling extremely claustrophobic. The scanning tech failed to mention that the iodine would burn a bit as it raced through my body, landing at its hottest in my groin. But I’d done this before, so that didn’t freak me out.

As I sat, again, in my empty examining room, I saw patients wheeled by now and then,and at one point I heard somebody coughing, but it was in no way the freaky scene I’d imagined. The nurses said that the usual ER-goers, hypochondriacs and poor people without insurance, were staying away, fearing the ER was crowded with corona virus victims.

It hasn’t happened yet but it’s coming. A nearby nursing home has just had an outbreak. Everybody on the county hospital staff is bracing for the worst.

By the night’s end, five hours later, I had finished my book. The diagnosis was a broken rib. The doctor told me to get another scan in a week to double check that all organs were fine–he seemed concerned about “fluid” surrounding my stomach and urged me to return ASAP if I experienced any unusual stomach pain. Also, something I didn’t know, one complication of a broken rib is a higher susceptibility to pneumonia, due to the patient’s constricted breathing. So I’m doing (slightly painful) deep-breathing exercises.

Lots of farm chores beckon and I’m kind of obsessive about getting things done, but I’ll pace myself and take it easy this week. There’s a hundred-pound slate kitchen counter that I’ve got to carry to the Hen House Cottage but that will have to wait, obviously. Maybe today I’ll just comment on student papers. This could have gone worse–that’s always my concluding thought. They kept asking me, Did you hit your head? I kept saying, No, not this time.