Archive for the ‘Nyel Stevens’ Category

Names and Numbers

Friday, August 18th, 2017

Nyel’s Door

The more time we spend around doctors and hospitals, the more we realize how little we know.  I sometimes think we should all be born with an instruction manual attached.  One with an up-to-date glossary and lots of diagrams.  It almost seems like a cruel joke that in all of the millennia of human existence, we still are breaking new ground with regard to our own care and repair and — very few of us know even the basics.

Right now, for instance, we are waiting for a decision by Nyel’s doctor which will be based on the numbers revealed by his 4:30 a.m. blood draw.  We were told, within an hour of the draw, that the results show a reduction in numbers for both his INR and creatinine but, until the doctor weighs in, no one knows whether those numbers (especially the INR) have reduced enough.

We feel “very much accomplished” at this point just knowing a tad about ‘creatinine’ and ‘INR.’   Creatinine – a waste product that comes from the normal wear and tear on muscles of the body and can be used as one indicator of kidney function.  INR – an abbreviation for reporting the results of blood coagulation tests.

The Most Important Meal of the Day

Terminology is a steep learning curve in itself – never mind the numbers, levels, and upward or downward trends involved.  Like every other niche in life, the medical profession has its own vocabulary – most of which we lay-persons learn about on a need-to-know basis.

Terminology and  complex definitions notwithstanding, though, what it all boils down to for Nyel (and the part that concerns him the most!) right now is that the sign outside his door says NPO.  Translation:  Nothing by Mouth.  Further translation: nothing to eat or drink after midnight last night because a ‘procedure’ is scheduled for one o’clock this afternoon.  The big question is, has that pesky INR level lowered enough so that it’s safe for the procedure to be done.  And, if not, can he get some breakfast?

Nyel is a great believer in the adage, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”  He is remarkably accepting of the NPO designation when needed but is feeling a little anxious that perhaps the procedure will not take place today, after all.  In which case, presumably, he can eat until midnight tonight and precious meal time is being wasted as he waits!  One thing for sure – there is nothing wrong with the man’s appetite!

Hunches, Inklings, and Glimmers… Oh My!

Thursday, August 17th, 2017

Ready and Waiting

Of the two of us, Nyel is the ‘just the facts’ one.  He’s not much for surmising or second-guessing, or speculating.  So, yesterday morning when he said, “…and you probably should bring an overnight bag…” I didn’t question his judgement. Meds, cosmetics, toothbrush, a couple of changes of clothes and my trusty computer went along with us to his appointment with his cardiologist.  When Nyel has a hunch, I’ve found it best to listen.

It was a regularly scheduled appointment but…   as it turned out, Nyel was absolutely right.  After a brief meeting with the doctor, he arranged for a bed in the cardiac unit at Emanuel Hospital and here we are.  Again.  Probably until Tuesday.  I think it’s the seventh time since last Christmas.

Solar Eclpise 1999

This time, the plan is to bring in a team of specialists and to run a series of tests to find out why in the world Nyel has been on this revolving door plan between hospital and home.  At the end of each stay here, everything looks good; a few days at home and not good at all.  Perhaps, the doctor says, it’s because one of his key meds is being delivered by IV in the hospital and orally at home.  Perhaps his system is having trouble absorbing the oral delivery. That’s his hunch, anyway.  And that’s what he hopes to determine.  We aren’t sure what that might mean but, presumably, if they can find out the cause of the problem, then a more effective plan for treatment can be developed.  We feel a glimmer of hope.

Meanwhile, as we watched the news last night we suddenly realized that we may well be here in the big city for the eclipse on Monday.  Damn!  I was planning to do a little chicken research that day.  I had thought that I’d park myself out by the coop for an hour or so on either side of the magic two minutes of totality and see what our girls do.  Will they go to roost?  And will they ‘wake up’ when the light level returns?  I’m pretty sure they will… but it’s just an inkling.  I’ve asked them, but they don’t seem to have a plan.  Or even know what I’m talking about.  Not a glimmer.

Safety First!

In a way, though, we are hoping for a late rather than early discharge.  We are thinking that the traffic coming and going from Portland will be unmanageable for a while.  And it could be a serendipity that the hospital’s helicopter pad is just off the cardiac unit.  We have gone there many a-time on Nyel’s obligatory walks through the hallways.  If it’s not in use on Sunday, I wonder if it will be a gathering place for elipse viewingg by staff and mobile patients?  Will someone have the solar-eclipse-viewing glasses-franchise?  My pinhole camera is the one thing I didn’t think to pack!

Birthday Balancing Act

Saturday, August 5th, 2017

Birthday Baoy

Our long-planned birthday excursion for Nyel – a traditional August 4th event – took an unexpected turn yesterday when his destination suddenly became Ocean Beach Hospital.  The balancing act between medications for his CHF (congestive heart failure) needed fine-tuning… once again!  But this time, his cardiologist thought that his situation could be managed here, rather than in Portland.  In the grand scheme of things, that was a big plus and we are hoping for the best.

Meanwhile… our plans to meet for dinner with friends had to be put on hold.  Our plans for our usual overnight adventure at the Tokeland Hotel had to be put on hold.  And, once again we reminded one another that things could be worse.

Let him eat cake!

We also noted that this hospital thing on special days is beginning to be a habit.  Nyel spent Christmas at Good Samaritan in Portland, my birthday at Emanuel Hospital (also in Portland and now…this!  Our 30th anniversary is coming up and we’ve decided to avoid making plans…

As it turned out, Petra and Michael came over from Astoria for a visit – brought him two big pieces of dark chocolate cake, and diverted us with stories about Michael’s photographing ventures on the Columbia.  We laughed a lot – the best medicine, as they say, though Nyel might argue that dark chocolate is right up near the top of the list, no matter what the heart healthy diet may say!  Besides, a birthday is a birthday!!

Birthday Bird

Jeanne Bellinger dropped in, too, and brought Nyel one of her little bird mobiles with a sweet birthday note attached.  (There are a lot of perks to being at your ‘hometown’ hospital and knowing most of the folks who work there!)  The bird is flying around near his bedside, tethered to an IV pole which, fortunately, is not needed right now.

Birthday Visitors

It seemed odd to drive home in the gloaming, all alone.  On the other hand, asking for a cot for a sleepover (as I do in Portland) didn’t seem appropriate or necessary.  And, Farmer Nyel was concerned about the chickens.  As it turned out, there was one perfect egg in the nest box.  Considering that the girls have been on strike for five or six days (maybe a work slow-down during the heat) I was pretty sure it was a birthday present for the boss.  I called him to say so and I could feel the smile from seventeen miles away.

We count our blessings!


The pleasure is all mine!

Friday, August 4th, 2017

In Carol’s Greenhouse

We were really pleased when Tucker and Carol put us in charge of the birds and plants at their place for a few weeks.  Finally!  We could return just a bit of their many, many caretaking duties with our chickens!  Nyel said he’d scatter birdseed each early morning; I offered to water Carol’s gorgeous potted plants – berries and vegetables and colorful flowers both in and out of her greenhouse.  “Every other day would be fine,” she said.  No one thought “heatwave!”

Things didn’t start well, though.  Nyel was in the hospital the day they left and for most of that first week.  But the gods were smiling on us all.  Tucker and Carol’s son Clark was at their place for exactly the right time period – we couldn’t have planned it better!  So, when we were finally home and could take up our tasks, all was well.  Except Nyel, who is not so spiffy.

Peter Amongst The Lettuces

So, I’ve been doing ‘double duty’ and, I have to say, I am enjoying my experience immensely.  The birds were a bit skittish at first.  I felt them watching me from the trees, but they were shy about showing themselves.  Gradually, they have become braver and this morning I practically had to shoo them away – goldfinches at the thistle feeders, stellar jays and juncos, a robin or two, and a couple of mourning doves, all after their favorites from the wild bird seed Tucker left.

But that wasn’t all the wildlife that greeted me.  In the greenhouse, a bright green tree frog hopped out from behind a tomato plant and we looked at each other for quite a while.  S/he seemed in no hurry to return to protective cover and I enjoyed the early morning company.  And then… a gray squirrel came off the deck as I headed for the hanging basket of fuchsias.  Unlike the frog, though, she didn’t hang around to get fully acquainted.   One quick look at me and she was off, darting behind the big pot of peas next to the boathouse.

Carol’s Fuchsia

I wanted to linger to see who else might arrive but… it’s Nyel’s birthday and we have places to go and people to see (and miles to go before we sleep!).  I almost felt guilty when I got home and described my feeding and watering adventures to him.  It was one time that I really didn’t want to admit that the pleasure was all mine.

No matter what, it’s still scary!

Thursday, July 27th, 2017

The routine has become all too familiar.  Wait and wait and wait until the nurses come up from the first floor to wheel Nyel to the cath lab*.  I follow behind, into the service elevator, down four stories and to the outside of the big double doors.  “This is where we part company,” they say.  “Time to send him off with a kiss.”

I watch as they wheel Nyel on through and wait a few moments while they bring me a pager.  It looks a lot like the ones you are given when you wait for a table at the Outback. But I know from past experience that any similarity ends when the pager goes off.  The one I will be carrying around with me for the next few hours absolutely vibrates right out of your grasp if you are not careful, and the alarm is so loud that everyone around you leaps to attention.  It is scary-to-the-max!

“Past Experience.”   Those are the operable words.  This is Nyel’s second trip to the cath lab during this hospital stay and we think (we’ve sort of lost count) it’s his fifth since October. The first time and these two recent times were to send a teeny-tiny camera (and other measuring equipment?) up through an artery from groin to heart.

On the second occasion, a surgeon reamed out a calcified artery with a teeny-tiny drill (also sent up the artery from groin to heart) and placed four stents**.  Nyel’s third and longest stay (nine hours!) in the cath lab was for an ablation*** during which another surgeon used a teeny-tiny laser tool to modify individual cells in various places in his heart.

Yesterday’s procedure was so short by comparison to the others, it was hard to believe it was over.  Plus, the scary pager never went off.  I had hardly returned to the Cath Lab Waiting Area after a Caesar salad in the Heart Beat Café when here came Nyel’s doctor, all smiles.  I very nearly said to him, “Wait a minute.  Aren’t you supposed to be in the Cath Lab with Nyel?”  But, he looked so pleased and was so eager to tell me that Nyel’s heart looked better than it had since February, that I just smiled and smiled right along with him.

Home today!  Woot! Woot!

*A catheterization laboratory or cath lab is an examination room in a hospital or clinic with diagnostic imaging equipment used to visualize the arteries of the heart and the chambers of the heart and treat any stenosis or abnormality found.

** Stents are small, expandable tubes, usually made of metal mesh, put into arteries in a procedure called a percutaneous coronary intervention or, its more common name, angioplasty.

***Cardiac ablation uses long, flexible tubes (catheters) inserted through a vein or artery in the groin and threaded to the heart to deliver energy in the form of heat or extreme cold to modify the tissues in the heart that cause an arrhythmia.

The Queen of Flowers – Fit for a King!

Saturday, June 10th, 2017

Peonies from Stephanie

Our Friday night gathering had already begun by the time Nyel and I arrived yesterday, thanks to our neighbors Tucker and Carol.  They had graciously agreed to be surrogate hosts when, suddenly, yet another test was scheduled for Nyel. In Portland. Yesterday afternoon.

We knew we’d get home a little late, plus we knew we’d be tired, having travelled from Seattle to Portland to home…  It was definitely one of those everything-happens-at-once times.  (We seem to be having a lot of those lately.)

It was lovely to arrive to a houseful of friends – and with several more coming through the gate just behind us.  It felt warm and welcoming and cheerful.  “I hope that’s how our usual Friday night guests feel when they come through the door,” was my fleeting thought.

Red Peonies c. 1850 by Pierre-Auguste Renoir

It was a few minutes before I had occasion to go to the kitchen for something and there, on the counter, was a bouquet of white peonies, still wrapped in their florist’s paper!  Stephanie!  I knew they were from her.  She often arrives at this house with flowers.  The part I also knew (but she didn’t) is that peonies are Nyel’s all-time, top of the list, favorite flowers.

Nyel’s grandmother grew peonies.  She and his grandpa lived just a few blocks away, in Montpelier, Idaho, and Nyel has fond memories of those peonies – memories so vividly described to me that this morning I asked him for “that picture of his grandmother in her peony garden.”  I swear I’ve seen it, but Nyel says that, as far as he knows, there never has been such a picture!

Peony, by Chinese artist Wang Qian, Yuan dynasty (1271–1368)

Our own attempts at growing peonies have been dismal.  Teresa at the Planter Box says it’s because our winters are too mild (which, Nyel says, was certainly not true of Idaho) and she suggested that we take ice outside every morning for a few weeks in winter and place it around the plants.   (Like that’s going to happen…)  So, we are content with the one or two blossoms that come to fruition each spring.

And here was a whole bouquet!  Until I buried my nose in them, I had no idea of their delicately sweet fragrance.  No wonder the Chinese call the peony “Queen of Flowers!”  They are said to remind people of wealth, fortune, and prosperity.  I don’t know about that, but peonies definitely make me think of Nyel… and of his grandmother who I never met.

Remembering Chester

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

Dennis Weaver as Chester

Probably everybody of a certain age remembers Chester Goode, Marshal Dillon’s trusty sidekick on the popular television series “Gunsmoke.”  The show became highest-rated the longest-running live action series in United States television history (1955 to 1975) and, for his portrayal of Chester, actor Dennis Weaver received an Emmy Award in 1959 for Best Supporting Actor (Continuing Character) in a Dramatic Series.

What most folks probably do not know is that, instead of going to Hollywood and becoming the well-known Chester, Weaver very nearly ended up on the Peninsula – maybe even in Oysterville.  He and his family were part of a large group of friends who came west in 1935 from Joplin, Missouri when the lead mines closed.  My childhood friend Memi Wagoner Sherwood and her sister and mother were part of that group as was Pat Dalton Hammond who many remember as a partner in P&J’s Fish Market in Ocean Park.  They all piled into Neal Wagoner’s truck and headed out to find work on the Pacific Coast.

Dennis Weaver, Actor

Weaver’s dream was to become an actor, so his supportive family left the group and headed for California.  He worked diligently at his craft and then, in 1955, his big break came – a chance to audition for the part of Chester.  It was his decision to make himself stand out from all the other actors who were auditioning that gave him the edge.  He decided to give Chester a limp – a choice he came to regret as time went on.  Playing a character with a stiff leg – and a character in a Western, at that – was hard work.

Nyel and I talk about Chester every now and again – especially when Nyel has a bad fall as he did last night.  Chester was the main subject of our ‘conversation’ on the way to and from the ER.  Like Chester, Nyel has the option of having his knee “frozen” to prevent it from giving way and causing him to crash downward without warning.  But, unlike Chester, he wouldn’t be going stiff-legged just sometimes.  It would be forever.

Nyel’s (Ineffective) Knee Brace

After a knee replacement, a quadriceps repair, and two years ago, a quadriceps ‘replacement’ (which has failed), he has few remaining options.  He wears the sturdiest knee brace available but… down he goes.  Hard!  And fast!  Mostly, he hurts little but his dignity.  However, once he bashed in his head – blood, nine-one-one, stitches – and this time he fell hard against a chair.  Fortunately, no internal bleeding, no kidney or lung damage, no broken ribs.  Just a terrible bruise and pain.  This time.

Next month he has yet another appointment with his orthopedic surgeon at Rebound.  The ER doctor today suggested “perhaps a trial stiff leg.”  Maybe a non-bending brace just to see if he could do the Chester walk on a full-time basis.  It’s a hard call.  What would Chester say?

Sweet Relief

Friday, March 24th, 2017

Early Nahcotta

On Wednesday, against all odds, I presented a Power Point Program, “Peninsula Settlement” to the Community Historian group at the Columbia Heritage Museum. And I do mean “against all odds.” Just as I began to put the presentation together – which photos in which order with what titles and what subtitles, my computer screen went black. Or maybe it was royal blue. Then, marching across the screen came the white letters: Microsoft Windows Update. Say what???

It was seven a-frigging-o’clock at night. Prime time for computer business. MY computer business. And, sure enough, along flashed something, faster than my eyes could focus, about the unusual time of the update. I’ve never actually seen one in progress before; I think they must happen in the middle of the night. Not that I saw this one either – mostly a continuous warning not to turn off my computer.

Two hours later, it was done – presumably updated. I thought I could work a few hours, then sleep fast for that four a.m. alarm so that we could get Nyel to the hospital in time for his ablation. And while in the waiting room, I could continue working. After all, I had days and days yet. But come to find out, during this long, mysterious ‘updating’ process, my computer had had a stroke. It no longer had the space bar function of the use of the first four number keys. And who knew what else.

Isaac and MaryAnn Whealdon

For days I stewed and fumed and figured ways to work around the problem. Hours went by – scary hours with Nyel on the operating table for nine of them and then the interminable days of his recovery interspersed with the inevitable setbacks. My computer continued to function by fits and starts. I tried not to think of it as a metaphor for Nyel’s situation….

By Wednesday, I had a sixty-minute program ready to present with only a few glitches that my community historian colleagues gently pointed out. They get high marks for ‘editing!’ And they were so complimentary with many suggestions that I “take it on the road.” Actually, I’m thinking about it. Perhaps I could do one of those Salt programs down at the Port of Ilwaco next year. The teacher in me would love to explain to an audience the whys and wherefores that answer the perennial question from newcomers: “Why can’t all the communities on the beach cooperate on …” this or that project.? Oh my. Let me count the ways.

Ocean Park’s “All Boy Players”

And so many stories – about John Douglas who died with his boots on. Literally. Or Isaac Whealdon who had to choose between his church and the devil in the music box. Or how about the Kola brothers who, in their youth, had a disagreement about green paint and never spoke to one another again, though they fished from the same gillnet boat for the rest of their lives. Yep. I’m thinking about taking it on the road!

Meanwhile, I get my replacement computer today. Definitely not a metaphor for anything.  Nyel would be the first to tell you that I can still push all of his buttons as usual….

Home Away From Home

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

Nyel’s Room

To paraphrase the chorus from singer/songwriter Jill Trenholm’s “Looking Forward” – Nyel and I are definitely ‘looking forward to looking back on all this.’  As laudatory as I try to be about Portland’s Legacy Emanuel Hospital, it’s still not a perfect answer to being a home-away-from-home.

I’m not complaining, mind you.  There isn’t a single place in all the world that we’d rather be right now, given Nyel’s current circumstances.  I can say in all honesty that ‘home is where the heart is’ and, for the time being, Nyel’s big wonky heart needs to be here with the doctors and nurses who know him and his history.  Kindly, they put up with me being part of the package.  Yesterday, Dr. God even thought to wish me a Happy Birthday!

Guest Cot

The nurses supply me with a cot and bedding, provide me with coffee now and then, and are friendly and informative about procedures and plans.  Meals are available (at a slight charge) if I choose to order from the Guest Menu and are delivered with a smile – never mind that they are dreadful and arrive lukewarm-to-cold.  (Oh.  I guess I lied.  That sounded a lot like a complaint.)

So, as long as I’ve opened that floodgate (so to speak) I will say that I do have one rather serious objection to our accommodations this time – no bathroom in this room.  I don’t know the original purpose of the rooms in this section of the hospital, but I do not think they were for overnight stays. However, Nyel was admitted with little advanced notice and we are grateful that they had space at all.


There is a nearby bathroom for ‘Patients Only’ use, but I have been asked to use the nearest public restroom.  “Out the door to the left, another left into the main hallway, go on down through the next unit and there is a restroom on your left.”  One hundred long strides or an indeterminate number of mincing little gotta-go gotta-go steps, depending on the urgency of nature’s call.  For those necessary middle-of-the-night trips, it’s less than ideal.

However, I doubt that they’ll be giving me one of those “How was your stay?” surveys.  I probably would remain silent, anyway.  I am way too grateful that I’m allowed to be here – taking up space and asking too many questions – to even dream of objecting to any of it.  I well remember the days when even relatives were kicked out at the end of visiting hours.

Right now, it’s looking like we might be headed back to Oysterville on Friday with a return hospital visit planned for a few weeks down the line.  I’m vowing to appreciate everything about home in extra measure – stocking up on all those taken-for-granted amenities to tide me over during the next visit to this home-away-from-home.

Just tagging along… again!

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

Newton-Wellsley Hosptial, 1880-1995

Today marks the second time in all of my eighty-one years that I’ve wakened in the hospital on my birthday.  On both occasions I was accompanying someone else.  The first time, on February 28, 1936, I was with my mom at the Newton Hospital in Newton, Massachusetts. This time I’m with Nyel at Legacy Emanuel in Portland, Oregon – a continent and a lifetime away!

I don’t believe I planned the first hospital stay and I certainly didn’t anticipate this one.  On the other hand, you never do know with Nyel.  He definitely has a habit of catching me off guard on my birthday!  Last year it was 80 long-stemmed red roses, the Rose City Mixed Quartet and surprise party all planned in secret and taking me totally by surprise!

The Announcement

This year, we were both surprised when a ‘regular check-up’ with Nyel’s cardiologist segued into his admission to the hospital yesterday.  That Nyel!  He really knows how to show a girl a good time – which is exactly what he said of himself when the doctor came by to see him on his evening rounds last night.  I think I need to have a little chat with this sweetie of mine when we him get out of here.  I do believe that going into heart failure is a rather extreme measure to take in the interests of birthday fun.

Four Generations, 1936

This time, we were aware of the beginning signs of trouble as early as Thursday so his already scheduled appointment with Dr. God on Monday seemed perfect.  And it was.  He was able to come into the hospital on his own steam and it looks as though he will get poked, prodded, tested today and have his first “procedure” (a cardioversion) tomorrow.  After that… we’ll see.  Maybe an adjustment in medications.  Maybe another procedure – an ablation – and meanwhile, more fine-tuning.

Nyel – February 28, 2017

No projected ETD yet, though.  Our stay will probably be less than our ‘usual’ six days which is what it’s been the last three times (Oct. Dec. Jan.).  And, hopefully, this time they can get him calibrated for a much longer duration of stability!  That would surely be the best birthday present ever!

Meanwhile… I was interested to learn that the original part of the Newton Hospital campus – the part where I made my debut all those years ago – is now on the National Register of Historic Places.  Is it just me, or am I right in connecting those dots and thinking, “Of course it is!”