Oct 21

Concluding this little trip

It takes about 15 minutes, they said, to get your car out of the valet garage. So you call down and ask for yours and then the clock is ticking in your head. Now, we’re only on the second floor of this hotel, and it doesn’t seem especially busy, but I still have a slow-moving person on crutches and I’m carrying two people’s worth of luggage.

It’s a good thing, then, that our room was close to the elevator and the elevator itself opened into the lobby and directly across from the front door. Hauled all the stuff down the hall, banging walls and pinching fingers as we slowly went. Dropped our room keys off at the desk just as my car pulled up. Perfect timing.

I lost the valet ticket for a full day, and looked everywhere for the thing, twice. I’d resigned myself to having to say I lost it, knowing this sort of thing has surely happened before. I was planning to go with the classic “Shucks, what can you do?” routine when I had to call and confess I’d lost the ticket. Finally, though, I found it on top of the blankets on the bed. On the ticket it said you’d have to present a photo ID and the car’s registration.

Fine, can you bring the car up so I can root around in the glove compartment for my registration?

That’s not a problem. I keep a tidy glove compartment. I need to wash the car and thin out some of the things in the trunk, but the interior storage areas are well maintained. It’s a point of pride, and necessity. You need to know where everything is.

We, by the way, made it back to the house. It’s a six-hour drive. We stopped every hour or so to walk around for a few minutes. It makes, somehow, for a full day. But the weather was grand, the interstates in northern Ohio are of good quality, and once you were out of the cities the views along the way are nice enough.

The map routed us through Cincinnati. There’s a Mellow Mushroom there, so we picked up dinner for the next few nights. Pretzels and spring dough slices! The consensus best pizza in this, a college town, is reminiscent of Pizza Hut in their glory days, and so we sadly have to wait for good pizza when we travel, which, of course, doesn’t happen much these days.

Anyway, got to the house, unloaded the car and dumped all the clothes in the laundry. Walked around putting things away, basically counting the steps until I could pronounce the trip completed. The Yankee is sitting comfortably, after spending all of that time in the back seat of the car. Tomorrow it is back to work. Tonight, I’m hoping for more sleep than I got last night.

I wound up driving more today than I slept last night. Can’t imagine why I’m so tired this evening. My own pillows await!

Oct 21

Discharged and resting comfortably

The only minor surgery, my mother said, is someone else’s surgery. And I suppose that’s probably true. As this week drew closer, I found myself doing a great job of concentrating on all of the other things in life, but on Monday during the pre-op stuff, when you walk by a sign that says Vascular Surgery you are unavoidably confronted by the thing.

My wife’s surgery yesterday went well, before, during and after. Today, a staff physical therapist came by and before long The Yankee was walking down the hall of the Cleveland Clinic unassisted. It was slow, but she put away the crutches. This is about 28 hours after having two chunks of muscle removed from her leg to improve arterial blood flow. (And, I am contractually obligated to say, just nine days removed from an Ironman.) Maybe the worst part of the whole thing was having to say goodnight, last night, and leave her hospital room. The people we’ve met in the Cleveland Clinic have been amazing — and who knows what kind of 18 months these people have had — so I didn’t even make jokes about how that visiting hours rule didn’t apply to me.

I walked down the hall at the appropriate time, before anyone had to run me off, and a woman passing the other way wished me a good night. I was thinking about what one of the staff members had replied to almost everything we’d said earlier in the day, “It’s a blessing.”

So I was in a philosophical mood as I walked back to the hotel room, just two blocks from where The Yankee would fitfully try to get some hospital rest. Probably because we had to spend so much of our relationship apart — a year while we were dating, and five years-plus after we were married — I am keenly aware of the distance when we are close, but apart.

I walked by this on the way back to the room. It’s not a Spock thing.

I knew the gesture made famous in Star Trek had Jewish religious origins, and I stood there for a while trying to remember if I’d ever read what the salute Leonard Nimoy incorporated into the show meant in the real world. We go to Chabad for an explanation:

(T)he Vulcan salute is an authentic imitation of the manner by which Cohanim spread their hands in most congregations when blessing the congregation to this day.

Cohanim are those people that today comprise about four to five percent of the Jewish population, all of whom trace their paternal lineage back to Aaron, brother of Moses, who was also the first High Priest. The Cohanim performed the offerings in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple in Jerusalem. They are still afforded certain honors, and they still bless the congregation with exactly the same words with which Aaron blessed us over 3,300 years ago when we finally got the first Tabernacle up and standing.

All of that is very interesting, but we’re after the real substance here:

The reason the Cohanim raise and spread out their hands is because that’s just what Aaron did when he blessed us: “And Aaron lifted up his hands towards the people and blessed them …”

But why do they spread their fingers? The Midrash explains that the Shechinah—the divine presence, peers through the fingers of the Cohanim during the priestly blessing, in keeping with the verse, “…behold, He is standing behind our wall, looking from the windows, peering between the cracks.”

The explanation notes the priestly blessing ends with “and give you peace.” A reference in between hospital buildings which is surely welcome to those who know what they are seeing.

Also welcome today was the discharge from the hospital and getting back to the room with ease, via the hospital’s shuttle. I had to pick up some prescriptions and a late lunch and then, finally, we could take a nap. No one sleeps well in the few nights before a surgery — even a minor one! And no patient can sleep well in a hospital bed. So this was one of those late afternoon naps which was so necessary that it didn’t in any way seem indulgent.

There’s a nice little restaurant in our hotel, and I picked up a light dinner there. We had a cookie treat which was in every way an indulgence, before calling it a night.

The doctor had asked us to stay in town an extra night as a just-in-case. Better to be here than six hours away should something unexpected arise, he said. I think he was simply doing me a favor. The idea of driving back today would have been daunting. Today’s nap and a full night of sleep will make a day in the car easier to manage tomorrow.

Oct 21

A small, planned, surgery

Everyone is fine. Everything was scheduled and everything went just as expected and everyone is healthy and happy.

But we’re at the Cleveland Clinic because The Yankee finally found the proper diagnosis for a leg issue that’s vexed her for years. She’s gone through many doctors — some doing diligent troubleshooting to eliminate possibilities, others stymied by the problem and at least one that said “Oh, that’s just stress” — and it finally led to an answer, and a reminder of what it means for some people who are ‘practicing medicine.’

Anyway, one doctor somewhere along the way uttered a medical term and she came back to the house and looked it up and read about it and then, mindful of her training as a social scientist, she deliberately stopped reading about it, hoping to avoid confirmation bias. We talked about it at great length, medical doctors that we aren’t. And we went to see a guy here:

Because one of the things we know how to do is research. And when you have a tricky and difficult and rare circumstance you want the very best specialist in the game. There are two figures at the top of the list on this particular artery problem, and one of them works at the Cleveland Clinic. So we went over for a visit in July and met The Expert, Dr. Sean Lyden, and part of his team.

He heard the story, even guessed at some of it, as he explained how this came to be his specialty, and did some demos on our arms to demonstrate the problem in a different way. He drew a picture of how it was all supposed to work and a picture of how it probably looked. Then he sent my lovely bride off for some scans. And, wouldn’t you know, the scans came back exactly as his drawings. He’s The Expert, you see.

You have five arteries in your leg. One of them, the popliteal, is the focus here. It’s a rare thing, but in some people the muscles surrounding that artery can move it out of position. That can cause problems with the circulation into your calf and foot. So you get tingling, numbness, discoloration and some other uncomfortable complications. It’s a lot like crimping a water hose, if the water hose was moving blood around your body.

So this week, today, was the time for a small surgery to correct the problem in one leg. We came to Cleveland yesterday and had the pre-op meetings with a physician’s assistant, an anesthesiology fellow (or maybe he was a hospital painter, the uniforms make it hard to tell) and to do some bloodwork. All of the pre-op stuff was perfect, of course. So, this morning, we got up at 5-something and she was admitted and had the surgery at 6-something.

I sat in an uncrowded waiting room and read for a while. Then I dozed off because who can sleep in the nights before a loved one’s surgery? They give you pagers while you wait. You get text updates about the procedure and, eventually there’s a message that says come to the desk for a surgical update. At the front desk a woman who has what I will always think of as the most peaceful stroll in the world walks you back to a room to wait for the doctor.

There’s a love seat there, and two chairs. There’s a coffee table with a giant sketch pad and a phone. There are two doors. Everything is gray or brown. It’s a deliberately muted space. Eventually the doctor comes in from the other door. He re-introduced himself, sits down next to me and again makes his drawing on the sketch pad. Everything went just as planned, he said, and the rest of it doesn’t matter too much, plus he is, by now, also deeply into his morning’s ration of Red Bulls. “You’ll get to go back and see her,” he says, “in about an hour.” And then we chat about last weekend’s Ironman. I told him she won the whole thing because it’s a mental thing and she’s very strong.

So I stepped outside and called my mother-in-law to share the good news. And I called my mom with the good news and texted the rest of the people on the update list. By the time all of that was done it was time to be reunited. Up one floor, through some double doors and then sit in the step-down area. She wasn’t in pain, very calm and entirely lucid — but that part of mental processing that’s important for writing memories was still foggy from the anesthesia. After a while, she got a room elsewhere in the hospital, where we spent the rest of the day starting the recuperation.

She’s staying there overnight. All part of the plan. She has wonderful nurses and everyone in this place is incredibly helpful and kind. The only downside is that I couldn’t stay. Visiting hours ended at 9 p.m.

Almost all of the hospital stuff we’ve done over the years has been outpatient — modern medicine and insurance and good fortune. The one time she had an overnight hospital stay I spent a long, restless night in an uncomfortable recliner, just two weeks after a surgery of my own. (I can’t recommend that sequence of events.) Tonight, though, I had to leave her in her hospital room all alone, which is, to me, one of the worst sounding things imaginable.

We said our goodnights and managed not to cause a scene. I walked two blocks to the right to the drug store to get a snack and then the four blocks the other way to our hotel room. I turned the volume on my phone all the way up, wishing I could turn it up louder. I’ll go back in the morning, of course. The plan is to check out, staying local one more night, before leaving C-Town for B-Town. Tomorrow, we can rest.

Oct 21

In The Forest City

I wonder when we’ll get tired of seeing signs like this? I wonder if it’ll be about the same time we stop seeing signs like this.

That’s at Urban Kitchen, a little deli in Cleveland. (Order the herb encrusted chicken!)

I suppose that is perhaps the most positive spin on a sign of this sort I’ve seen. I wonder how many people they are down. And I wonder what prompted someone to type that up and tape it to the door.

The people inside were delightful. We did a pickup, of course, and so there was no wait or service, but the food was good.

And we’re in Cleveland for most of the week, this restaurant is four blocks from the hotel, which was six hours from our driveway. So it was an early morning and then some meetings and then dinner and an even earlier morning tomorrow.

More on the why, then.

Oct 21

Ironman Indiana

This weekend we were in beautiful, bucolic Selma, Indiana, a rural community just outside exotic Muncie, which is in Indiana. And so it was that they named the event Ironman Indiana. It’s a bit of a one-off from the Ironman company. A lot of races were shut down last year. A lot of events didn’t get the chance to make money; a lot of outstanding athletes didn’t get to do their thing. So, this year, they decided “Let’s run a half Ironman and a full Ironman on the same day in the middle of a pandemic!”

We drove up Friday evening, because The Yankee was in this race. She did her packet pickup in Muncie, indoors but there was no one around. We went to the hotel(s) — and more on that in a moment. Saturday morning she got up very early and started the race.

Here she is after the 2.4 mile swim, and the conclusion of her 112 mile bike ride. Still a great big smile …

This is just outside the transition area, so she’s slowed down enough to allow us a glimpse as she’s preparing for the run.

Again, a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile run, and then you wrap up a light day’s work with a 26.2 mile run, which she’s starting here.

At some point on the run it becomes a mental thing as much as a physical thing. You’ve been out there for hours. You’ve surpassed your longest workouts. It can be tedious or boring or painful or entertaining. And as this course was a series of out-and-backs, you only saw your personal cheering sections a few times. But at least the weather was nice and mild today, and downright cool after the last of the rain had passed through. Really, it was a bit of everything, and so much of this particular course is in such a delightfully rural area that the only people you would see for long stretches of time are other athletes and the occasional aid station. You spend a lot of time in your head. A lot of time.

And yet, having done half the run, 13.1 miles down and 13.1 to go, she’s still got that big smile.

Later in the evening, having slashed through the water and ground on the pedals and pounded the pavement, the finish line.

This is her third Ironman. First there was Ironman Louisville in 2017. Then there was the North American Championship in Texas in 2019. And now, Ironman Indiana.

She finished, got her medal, took the publicity photos, grabbed a roast beef sandwich and sat on a bench to collect herself with her coach and his wife. And then we carried all of the tools of the Ironman trade to the car. Then she shivered as we drove back to the hotel.

We had two hotels this weekend. The first place had to put some rooms out of order, which we’re guessing, means they overbooked. But they were nice enough to reserve us a room in a much less nice hotel across town.

The sign out front inspires a lot of confidence.

But! We got a room with a king size bed, better than we were expecting in the first hotel. This place was undergoing renovations, however, and smelled funny. It probably always smells funny.

It was a smell that was even weirder through your mask.

So we settled in there Friday. On Saturday, the desk manager says to me “Checkout is at 11.

“No sir, it is not. The other hotel booked us for two nights.”

He had our little note from the other hotel right there on the desk. He was waiting on me.

It says here one night.

“Yes it does,” I said. “And the attendant there assured me this was a typo on a form letter and that our visit with you was for two nights.”

OK, let me call them.

“Yes, please do call them. Call Chris, the manager. Call Chris at home.

He calls, asks for Chris. Chris isn’t there, because it is Saturday on one of the busiest weekends in their town. Why would the manager of a teaching hotel be on hand?

He asks for whoever was close by. He gets put on hold.

Then the desk manager gentleman turns to me and nicely says “I know this isn’t your fault.

I said, “And I know this isn’t your fault. I also know I have two nights with you.”

At which point he hangs up and says “They were taking too long. I’m going to make them pay for it anyway.

Which is where I say, “And when I come back tonight, my stuff is still going to be in the room, and not on the curb, and this key is going to still work, right?”

Which is a question I asked him two different ways, just to be sure we had an understanding. And we did.

You put that out of your head for the day, but after the triathlon it’s a half-hour ride back to the hotel and you’re wondering the whole way: Is our stuff still going to be in the room? Is this key still going to work? It’ll be a whole new shift of people working in the hotel this time of night. What if Robert didn’t pass along this information, and we’re tired and hungry and cold and it’s late and we’re also sweaty? No one wants a scene in their smelly, renovating hotel, in front of people putting “cigerettes” out in the flower pots.

But the key worked, our things were still in the room. The three-time Ironman had a nice soothing shower and a snack and I said, “Since we’re safely in the room I can tell you this story now … ” which she laughed at until she fell asleep.

And on Sunday, we left exotic Muncie, got a quick breakfast and drove back to Bloomington. Sunday was a low key day spent resting and cleaning. Today was a Monday; tomorrow will be a full Tuesday.