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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Agent Orange is Deadly.

Oh my!  Two posts in two days!  The world must be coming to an end! No, I'm just trying to keep the ball rolling, because if I don't, it will be months before I get back to my blog.

I did some reading of back posts, and I can see I need to catch my readers, all two of you, up on what has happened in the past few years.  

I did post that I had retired from nursing a little more than a year ago.  Difficulties in finding a job that I could do with my health issues, plus dealing with hubby's health issues and multiple surgeries convinced me that it was time for me to retire.  

Dennis had been having some chest pain issues, and at the urging of myself and our daughter, Becky, he finally agreed to go to the emergency room.  From there, within a few minutes, he was in an ambulance, heading for Stormont-Vail hospital in Topeka.  Soon after that, he began a series of surgeries.  

First it was a carotid bypass.  As a nurse, I've seen some pretty disgusting things, but when the surgeon brought a section of Dennis' carotid artery in a petrie dish, and proceeds to poke a paper clip tip inside it, I almost lost my lunch.  It wouldn't even begin to fit inside that artery, which should have housed several paper clips. It would have been fascinating, were it someone else's.  But my Dennis's?  Not cool at all. He was 100% blocked. Anyway, he survived that surgery.  But then we found out, there would be more surgeries.

The next surgery was five cardiac bypasses.  All at the same time. His cardiac arteries were over 90% blocked. He was a ticking time bomb. When he came out of recovery, and we went to see him in CICU, he had tubes sticking out of every orifice, a large one running down his throat helping him to breathe.  I saw a panicked look on his face, and tears running down his cheeks. I felt so helpless.  What could I do for him?  He couldn't talk, because of the tubes.  

Later, when all the tubes were out and he could talk, he told me that he was having such intense pain.  They "cracked" his chest and bone pain is so terrible.  He also said he had "Nurse Cratchet" who took care of him the first night, who wouldn't give him any pain medication.  He swore he would always watch his weight and diet, so he wouldn't have to go through that ever again.  He did pretty well..for a while.

Next, we found out he had prostate cancer. So the prostate came out. Unfortunately, the cancer had spread to the bladder, but just on the outside.  Frequent PSA tests have not shown any spread from there, thank God. He is in remission.

The next thing was his thyroid. He was having a lot of symptoms that looked like thyroid cancer.  He grew very anxious, and kept making cryptic remarks about what I should do after he was gone.
Depression set in to a point.  He often says, "I knew when I went to Vietnam that I might get killed, but I didn't know my own country would be the cause.  Agent Orange is killing me."

The bills kept coming in, he was trying to drive the truck, and yet he had doctor appointments every week, sometimes up to three times a week.  It was impossible for him to make a living. 

With the help of Becky, our daughter, and her husband, we applied for VA benefits.  After a ton of paperwork, and multiple trips to Junction City, and Topeka, and collecting doctor's signatures for over six months, he finally got 100% disability.  That has made such a difference in our lives. 

Not long ago, he had his right shoulder replaced.  After over 35 years of not being able to raise his arm up over shoulder height, his muscles are slowly beginning to limber up. A little.

Now, he is scheduled for bilateral cataract surgeries next month. That will be a piece of cake, compared to what he has already been through.

We still have money problems from time to time. But we are able to eat well, we can go to our grandkids' games, and we are planning a short vacation soon, something we haven't done since about 2005, when I had my own health crisis.  

But that's a different story.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Lesson One - The Spirit of Jefferson Library

I met the Spirit of the Jefferson Library when I closed.  A sudden chill resulted in goose bumps on my arms, and I felt a waft of foul air pass in front of me.

The day started with a sudden storm, dumping almost an inch of cold rain.  The wind blew eddies around on the street, picking up fallen autumn leaves and creating little tornadoes that swirled around.  After the storm ended, the library smelled dank and sour.  Buckets sitting around on the floors began making music as rain drops, having soaked through the roof and ceiling fell into the buckets, strategically placed during prior storms.

The patrons didn’t make much fuss about the drips. After the first drop fell on them or the table, they calmly moved a few feet away and quietly resumed their reading or studying.  A few minutes before closing time, they closed their books, filled their book bags, and left for the evening.

I re-shelved the last book and started toward the desk to retrieve my purse.  I gasped as the lights suddenly went out.  I looked around toward the front door, believing it was a patron playing a trick on me.  It was dark, but still light enough that I could see that no one stood by the front door. 

“H-hello?,” I called out, looking around me in every direction.  “Is anyone there?”

Dead silence. 

“The library is closing,” I continued, while edging toward the desk and the phone.  “If you need a book, please come back tomorrow during regular library hours.”

A book slammed to the floor from the shelf directly behind me.  I screamed and whirled around.  The book lay opened, its pages parted in the middle.  I could see a passage in the book had been circled in red permanent marker.  I picked the book up and carried it to the desk.  Flipping a light switch to the on position, I was horrified to find it didn’t work. Maybe a bulb burned out.  

I grabbed a flashlight from under my desk.  A quick glance around with the light revealed no living person in the room with me.  I used the light to read the passage in the book.

“This place is not your home. You must leave at once.  Staying here may result in your death,” the passage read. 

Oh my goodness.  My heart was beating so fast and so hard, it felt like it was going to climb up my throat and jump out of my mouth.  My stomach felt queasy.  I was sweating profusely.

Suddenly, an apparition in old clothes, like someone from another century, appeared in front of me. The odor of death was all around me. The ghost didn’t say a word.  He just extended his long raggedy arm and pointed to the front door.

I obeyed.  I called the library the next day and resigned.  No one seemed surprised or argued.

The Spirit of Jefferson Library may still be there today. I know I won’t be.

F2K Starts Another Session.

F2K is the name of a free fiction writing class I take whenever I feel a need to awaken my muse.  It is a favorite class at Writers Village University, and once writers take it once, it becomes an addiction.  This session, which started the first week of September, has a stellar cast of writers, both published and unpublished.

I usually use the class to help with my current work in progress, A Door In Time, which I have worked on over a spread of almost ten years. A young adult novel, it starts out in the current year, and takes three teenagers from Wichita, Kansas back in time to 1887.  Without their electronic toys, cell phones, I-pads, computers, cars, motorcycles, and other inventions, the kids go through a culture shock.  The farm family who takes them in also goes through cultural trauma as they try to decide whether the kids are actually witches and warlocks practicing their beliefs.  It makes for some delightful fun.

This session of F2K, however, I am introducing a new short story, currently under the working title of The Spirit of Jefferson Library.  It's about a ghost, living in a public library, who does not like the intrusion of living humans in his inner sanctum, the library.  The librarian, who at first is terrorized by the hostile spirit infesting her library, begins to feel sorry for the misplaced ghost, and tries to help him find some answers and closure, so he can rest in peace.  But getting the ghost to cooperate with her is quite a challenge.  He fights her at every turn.  I'm hoping this story will be a good one.

The nice part about F2K, is the quality and quantity of feedback that storytellers receive, and give to each other. It can be difficult in many cases, to get the advice of seasoned writers and readers, and in F2K, the feedback is part of the lesson, and is required of each writer.  The storytellers are taught what constitutes good feedback, and how to give it, and receive it, gracefully and respectfully.

Starting out, the class offers some orientation to the website, and allows the students a chance to get acquainted and meet the mentors.  The assignment is to write an introduction of the author in the voice of one of the characters they have invented.  The rest of the class, then, must respond with their criticisms and praise, to the character, not the author.  This can be confusing to some students.  The assignment has a word count limit of 500 words, which can also be difficult for more "wordy" writers.

Each student, besides submitting their own author introduction, is required to offer feedback to at least four or more students, and the mentors and their assistants do keep track of those figures.  At the end of the course, all those who have submitted every lesson and the assigned critiques, will earn a certificate of completion.  In years past, there have been contests, too.  The last lesson is when a complete short story of fifteen hundred words or less will be submitted and the mentors and classes will vote on the "best story" for each classroom, with a champion over all the classrooms.  That keeps the competitiveness sharp.

So, for the rest of tonight, I will be doing my feedback for Lesson 2, which is on the senses, all eight of them. What?  Yes, for our lesson, we acknowledge eight senses: sound, smell, taste, feel, sight, time, space, and unknown.  We write some sentences for each sense, and a paragraph that includes all eight senses, and we also take a story by James Joyce and identify the senses in as few sentences as possible.  The story is over 11,000 words, so it is a challenge.  The Holy Grail of this lesson is to find one sentence in the story that holds all eight senses.

I guess I'd better get at it.  I'm always glad when this lesson is over.  I don't mind writing the sentences and paragraph, but I am definitely not a James Joyce fan, and I'm not alone in that feeling. After tonight, the rest of the lessons are fun.  I will share my lesson one assignment in a separate post.