Saturday night in the OR
I met her in the Emergency Room. It was late on a Saturday night, maybe even Sunday morning, and I’d been called in for an auto crash victim who needed surgery.
I talked to her as we wheeled her to the OR. She was conscious, crying and asking me not to tell her parents that she had been drinking. She was 15.
After we transferred her to the OR table, I stood at her side, assisting the anesthesiologist while holding her hand and telling her that her parents loved her and that everything was going to be all right. She would see her parents soon, right after surgery, and they would be overjoyed to see her.
We kept her alive during surgery, but her internal injuries weren’t able to be fully repaired and weren’t compatible with life and she bled out and died in the ICU shortly after surgery. I know she never woke up. That’s all I will ever know.
40 years later, I think of her from time to time, and keep her in my heart.
When I retired, I beat an immediate path to the YMCA.
At the Y, I was dazzled by the array of things to do. Water classes, aerobic exercise, a walking track, lots of equipment and exercise machines to learn.
And yoga, of course. Yoga, that I was never going to try again. Because I wasn’t flexible. And didn’t enjoy it. And wasn’t good at it. So, I tried lots of things, but not yoga.
For a few weeks I was obsessed by machines that worked every area of the body and counted repetitions. I challenged myself to perform more reps each week. I could link my workouts to an online program that showed my progress and measure myself against the progress of other users as well. I loved the competition of those workouts.
The Y then discontinued that particular equipment and somehow I never quite enjoyed the replacement equipment as much. The new machines had no online component. I used them, but the feelings of competition and challenge were gone.
Around this time, to my surprise, I began to feel the pull of the yoga studio. I saw people of all ages, but mostly younger than me, carrying mats, and would glimpse them stretched out in the semi darkness of the yoga studio.
I decided to drop in for a class. The instructor, recognizing that I was new, approached me and urged me to take it easy and not overstretch when attempting poses.
Beginning the class, she discussed the importance of breathing, and led us in several different breathing techniques. We started moving into slow, simple poses that were accessible and gentle, then gradually moved on to poses that were more challenging.
The instructor talked about body alignment, and about each of us working within our own level of comfort and ability. She stressed that yoga was non-competitive, and that we could each focus on our own practice. I couldn't perform all of the poses, but she gave options to modify the poses and I felt I was accomplishing what I could.
With the class nearing conclusion, we spent a few minutes stretched out in a comfortable pose known as Savasana, or Corpse pose. I felt relaxed and almost as if I was floating slightly above the yoga mat.
So this was what yoga was supposed to feel like!
I became a regular at this class. I adored the instructor, whom I trusted to safely guide me in this new practice. And, that's when I fell in love with yoga, not yet realizing that in less than a year I would be teaching my own yoga classes.
When I met Yoga
Yoga and I met when I was in my 40’s and it didn’t go well.
I was fairly fit and accustomed to exercise. Active in my job, I also biked and enjoyed regular aerobic dance classes. Looking for something new and different, I registered for a series of yoga classes.
Classes were described as suitable for all levels of experience. I knew that yoga was related to peace and relaxation, flexibility and strength. That sounded appealing. Yoga featured challenging poses I could learn. This was going to be great!
At the first class, I didn’t let the instructor know I was new and she didn’t ask. The class started, the instructor called out poses and I tried to emulate her, and those around me. Then we moved on to another pose that I didn’t know how to do.
There was no explanation of poses, no mention of body alignment, breathing or working within our own abilities. The other class members seemed to be experienced in practicing yoga.
For me, the class was awkward, uncomfortable and demoralizing. After two classes, my body felt stiff and sore. I couldn’t seem to get into any of the poses and it all felt wrong.
I reasoned that yoga was not for me. I wasn’t flexible enough to do the poses, and there was nothing relaxing going on.
I quit the class, and was relieved to get back to aerobic dance, sure I was leaving yoga behind forever.
But yoga had other plans for me.
I have loved to read for as long as I can remember.
When I was 4 or 5 years old, I was introduced to books by a little boy named Tommy and his mother Esther, who lived in our neighborhood. I don’t remember having books at home, but Tommy had lots, and Esther was happy to read book after book to Tommy and me.
Soon I was trying to read to Esther. She helped me sound out words and it was slow going at first and then suddenly, like magic, I could read.
Cereal boxes, signs, anything with words was there for me to read. Esther introduced me to the public library and a library card, and I became a lifelong reader.
Reading sometimes got me into trouble. In elementary school I was deeply engrossed in a book when I gradually noticed that the rest of the class was in the middle of a spelling test. Out for recess I would sometimes bring a book with me and read, my back to the playground noise and activity. I would daydream about being able to read regardless of whatever else I was doing.
As I grew older, I read less for pleasure. With work, a family and a home to take care of, it was hard to find reading time, until I discovered audio books.
At first most audiobooks were abridged, not ideal for me because I couldn’t bear to miss a word, Later, they were recorded full length, and I could get the whole story.
I would slip a cassette into my Sony Walkman, clip it to my waistband and, with a set of headphones and plenty of batteries, I could read while cooking, cleaning, gardening and walking. The magic was back. My dream had come true.
Cassettes were unreliable, though. They jammed and occasionally were eaten by the player. Audio books became available on compact discs which had better quality, but the device that played them was large and clumsy to carry around.
Then, I received an iPod as a gift, and everything changed again.
Now I was in the world of digital audio books. Books that could be downloaded onto my computer from the library and directly to my tiny device. The sound was 1,000 times better than the snap crackle cassette tapes and digital recordings never jammed. Once again, books and reading were a dream come true.
We moved from that neighborhood when I was still quite small, and I lost touch with Esther. I feel a connection to her still, as I warmly remember the patience and generosity she extended to a little girl who just loved to read.
Not exactly Retirement
At the end of March, 2014, I retired after working as a Registered Nurse almost continuously for 45 years.
I retired partly because my husband wanted us to retire together. In good health at retirement age, he had successfully fought through a bad bout with cancer a couple of years earlier. I supported his wish to be done with work, to golf as much as possible and to enjoy the rest of our years together.
About a week into retirement I realized that I needed a routine and purpose each day. So, I joined the YMCA. I thought I'd walk the track and maybe get on an elliptical and stationary bike a couple of times a week.
Instead, I started taking classe in Yoga, Chair Yoga, Water Strength and Aerobics, CardioSculpt, and Zumba Gold. I also took a Women and Weights class and learned a lot about using free weights and weight machines. I was certainly developing a routine and purpose each day.
A couple of months later I was asked if I’d be interested in getting certified to teach Silver Sneakers classes to active older adults.
There was an available Chair Yoga class once a week that needed an instructor. I agreed, received training and by August I was teaching not one but four Chair Yoga classes a week, along with a Water class.
That soon expanded to another Chair Yoga class, a Gentle Yoga class (via a further certification in Yoga) and a Tai Chi class.
Teaching 8 classes a week, plus subbing from time to time, keeps me busy and focused on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays I'm happy to relax or stay busy as the day unfolds. Go out to lunch or read a book. Volunteer at the library or visit an art museum. Maybe cook a gourmet meal in the middle of the week.
Life right now feels pretty perfect. If I could I would press pause and stay right here in this so-called retirement for a very long time.
I love to walk. I’m not so fond of cars, and I hope I can live in my walkable neighborhood for as much of the rest of my life as possible.
I can walk to the library, to my favorite coffee shop, to the drug store, and to a fitness club where I bike after I walk there.
I walk to the polling place at city hall when it’s time to vote, and to the shop where I buy wine. Also, to my hair salon and to the Thai place where I get takeout every week or two.
It’s fun to walk to the small art gallery that just opened nearby, and when I needed therapy for my knee, I was able to walk to get it three times a week.
I meet and talk to neighbors while walking, although sometimes I remember the names of their dogs better than the names of the neighbors.
I can walk to our neighborhood park, pool and beer garden. I often walk the beautiful river parkway that leads to the charming village district in my city.
Other places I could walk to, but seldom do, are a Chinese restaurant, a pizza place, a nail salon, a dry cleaners and a tavern that’s been in the neighborhood for many years and that somehow I've never entered. Also, a chiropractor.
I could walk to the gas station, but without my car I wouldn’t really need to be there.
The place I walk to the most is the supermarket. It’s small, crowded and busy and so is the parking lot. Walking instead of parking is a real advantage.
Though small, the market has a fine selection of fresh fruit and produce, cheese and deli items and a full service meat and seafood department. I could put a pot of water on to boil, walk to the supermarket to buy pasta and be back before the water boils, but I would never leave a pot on the stove unattended, even though I'm pretty sure in this case it would be fine.
Although I walk less during winter, I’m grateful to be able to walk most of the year, and grateful that, for the most part, my body is allowing me to be a walker.
Fighting the flu
My final position in Nursing was at a long term care and rehabilitation facility, as a Nurse Educator. I was responsible for the educational needs of the Nursing Department as well as the mandatory educational requirements for all departments.
I was accustomed to being busy and having lots of interaction with about 200 employees and department heads.
In addition, I was responsible for the annual influenza (flu) vaccine campaign. As a huge supporter of the vaccine, I was always eager to get started.
The flu is dangerous for everyone, but especially for the population of long term care and rehab facilities. Patients who have compromised health need extra protection even if they themselves are vaccinated against the flu. That extra protection comes from surrounding patients with health care workers who are also vaccinated.
Each year in August I started education. I discussed the flu vaccine at leadership meetings, staff meetings, new employee orientation classes and, probably, in my sleep.
I created and distributed posters on the importance of the flu vaccine and how to avoid getting and spreading the flu.
I stocked the vaccine and related supplies and scheduled mass vaccine events where employees could come to a central place in our building to receive their vaccine. I also created a portable vaccine kit that could bring the vaccine directly to staff members anywhere in the building at a moment’s notice.
Receiving the flu vaccine at work was at first optional but encouraged. A few years later, my organization decided that receiving the flu vaccine would no longer be a gentle suggestion. It would be mandatory for all employees. Our goal: 100% compliance.
While the majority received the vaccine, employees who wished to opt out took up a considerable amount of time over many, many weeks. I found myself tracking down employees on all three shifts and using my powers of persuasion and scientific facts to convince them to get the vaccine.
They didn’t want the vaccine, but did want to talk about why they didn't want it. Reasons ranged from “I just don’t believe in it”, to, “I think it will give me the flu”, and “I’m pretty sure I’m allergic”. Also, “the vaccine is a scam by pharmaceutical companies”. Sometimes religious reasons were cited.
I helped refusers fill out refusal forms, submitted the forms and waited for a response to each employee. Most were told their refusal was not accepted. Others were told they could opt out of the vaccine, but would need to wear a paper mask at work during influenza season (roughly October through April).
A couple of people left our employ over their refusal to be vaccinated. A few wore masks for months. They included people in every department, and some department leaders as well.
Even as a supporter of vaccine efforts, each year, near the end of summer, I began to dread the start of flu season. I knew that instead of working on projects and offering needed educational programs, a lot of my time was going to be directed towards the mandatory influenza vaccine campaign.
I’m retired now, and last week my husband and I stopped in at a local pharmacy to get our flu shots. The pharmacy was quiet and calm, the pharmacist was congenial and soon we were on our way with matching tiny bandaids on our left arms.
I spent about 10 minutes thinking about the flu vaccine this year. Yes, life is good.
Rocking the market cart
I recently purchased a Market Cart. It was a tough decision. With my white hair and “mature” looks, pulling a wire cart does nothing to make me look on trend.
But, I wanted to be able to expand what I can purchase when walking to the supermarket, so I decided to do it.
My cart is sturdy aluminum with a tasteful taupe fabric case that zips nicely and protects my purchases from rain or snow. The wheels work smoothly and navigate curbs and steps with ease.
I get smiles from neighbors and even people just driving by as I wait to cross busy North Avenue. I try to walk straight and tall with an easy, casual step that I imagine a much younger person would use to try to balance out the aging effect of the cart.
I tell myself that my cart is delightfully European. People in Europe walk everywhere, and they use a cart to carry the purchases they make in the many small shops they visit in their delightful little European towns.
At the supermarket or farmer’s market I lock my cart to a bicycle rack, and shop away. When done, I transfer items to my cart, unlock it from the rack, and off I go. I’ve been able to purchase previously un-walkable items (A gallon of milk! A watermelon! 5 pounds of potatoes!) and wheel them home, no problem.
Recently, a neighbor looked me right in the eye and mentioned, twice, how much she liked my “old lady cart”. Each time she laughed and said she shouldn’t call it that, but in the end I guess she just couldn’t resist. I decided not to take it personally.
She’s actually a very nice neighbor, and she’ll be my age before she knows it.
And, I may start calling it my Euro Cart. Has a certain quality of je ne sais quoi, oui?
Why I Went to Nursing School
On June 13, 2019, I celebrated the 50th anniversary of my Nursing School graduation. I attended Milwaukee County General Hospital School of Nursing, a three-year diploma program that I entered after graduating from high school.
I was only 17 when I entered the program, a fact that astonishes me now.
County was a tough school to get into. Competition was high with hundreds applying and about 90 students admitted to my class. I remember the extensive testing and interviews we endured before we found out we had made it.
Some of the tests were math and science-based. One was a psychological test in which we had to choose how we felt about two very different and often very negative concepts. (Hmmm - who would you save in case of a fire - a small child or your much-loved grandmother?).
As part of the psychological test we were asked to draw a person. I drew a stick figure, and at the end of the session noticed another candidate's test. Her very detailed drawing was a woman sitting in a garden with her chin resting on her hand. I felt devastated about my very inferior drawing, but apparently my stick figure passed the test.
I decided to become a nurse because I didn’t want to be a secretary or a teacher and I honestly couldn’t think of many other things I wanted to be. I briefly thought about joining the Peace Corps but read an article that said as a Peace Corps volunteer I might have to kill a chicken, so I decided against it.
I’m not sure why I thought nursing would be easier than killing a chicken, but I was only 17 and I had no idea what nurses actually did. Later though, I found out.