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The Learning Curve and Me

Saturday, June 8th, 2019

Why?The other day a friend asked, “What kind of a learner were you?  Slow or fast?”  We had been having one of those rambling, disconnected discussions and her question seemed to come out of the blue.  So did my answer.  “Neither,” I said.  “I think I was sort of a skeptical learner.”

It was hard to explain.  I was a compliant student — always followed directions, completed assignments, did the extra credit stuff.  But I was a questioner.  The “why” of things always troubled me and so it was often what I asked.

Before I began school, and I was asking those unremitting “why” questions of my mother, she would finally answer, “Why’s a hen?”  Early on I understood that this meant that she was exasperated with me, wanted me to go outside and play, and that there was probably no answer to my question, or at least not one that she was ready to impart.  I have no idea of the literal meaning of that expression nor do I know where it originated.

Wound-vac Attached to Patient

Teachers usually don’t avail themselves of those sorts of parental responses and so I probably pushed a lot of buttons during my school years.  I think I still do.  These days it’s the medical profession that is getting the full benefit of my questioning ways.  Take Nyel’s wound-vac, for instance.

The wound-vac is a fancy schmancy pumping device designed to suck out the excess fluids and blood from a “wound” or, in Nyel’s case, from his surgical incision.  The day before Nyel left St. Vincent’s for the Seaside rehab facility, a dressing change and wound examination was scheduled at a time when both his surgeon and I could be present.  At that time, the surgeon removed a few sutures, spread apart a two- or three-inch part of the incision and had me look at the gaping “hole.”

“This goes clear to the bone,” he told me.  “Our hope is that it will heal from the inside out.  The wound vac helps in that process.”  When I asked how long Nyel would be hooked up to the wound-ac, the doctor was vague.  “For some time,” was the answer.  “You will go home with it after rehab and the home health nurses will deal with it.  They do that all the time,” I was told by way of reassurance.

The Professionals

So, day before yesterday — not even a week since Nyel had been in rehab — when the Seaside wound care nurse and doctor-on-duty made the decision to not replace the wound-vac after a dressing change, you can bet I had more than one “why” question.  The ‘answer’ I was given: “The wound-care nurse and the doctor are the professionals.”  End of discussion.

Fortunately, next Tuesday is the first follow-up appointment scheduled at St. Vincents with the surgeon.  I imagine that it could go in one of several directions:  Maybe the doctor will find that the rehab people made the right call and we will proceed without the wound vac;  or maybe he will see to it that it is replaced and give them specific orders regarding how long it is to stay there; or… worst case scenario, he doesn’t like what is happening and Nyel is readmitted to St. Vincent’s…  I hope that whatever transpires isn’t a part of some corporate protocol.  The Seaside Hospital is, after all, a part of the Providence Medical Group.

Meanwhile, we wait and I bite my tongue.  That’s how is when you are a skeptic and you’ve been summarily notified that you are dealing with professionals…

Underwhelmed at St. Vincent’s

Wednesday, March 6th, 2019

Nyel at St. Vincent’s 3-6-19

So far here at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Portland, it’s been a matter of hurry up and wait.  Nyel was ambulanced here from the Ocean Beach Hospital ER late Thursday night.  He had a badly broken hip.  His surgery took place Friday morning.  The surgeon called me during the procedure to ask if, prior to his fall, he had been complaining about his knee.  It was an inauspicious beginning.

The surgeon was unaware that Nyel has had two (ultimately unsuccessful) surgeries to repair his quadriceps which failed following a knee replacement in 2010.  “I just wondered if this break to his hip somehow caused an injury to his quadriceps,” he said.  Obviously, he didn’t get the patient’s medical history…

Since the surgery, Nyel’s blood pressure has plummeted to the point that they cannot safely have him stand so he can begin walking – an urgent priority, it seems, after hip surgery.  Over the last three days they have given him five units of blood, two boluses (intravenously delivered saline solutions) and encouraged him to drink fluids to the point that he felt sick and could not eat for two days.  All this to get his blood pressure up.

Broken Hip Repair

They have stopped getting him up to stand on the scales (because of lightheadedness from low blood pressure) but as of day before yesterday, he had gained 17 pounds of weight (from fluids) in twenty-four hours.  This morning: 25-pound weight gain over his ‘protocol’ weight at which point, in the normal course of events, his regular cardiologist wants him to double his ‘usual’ dosage of diuretics.  Here at St. Vincents, they have given him no diuretics, usual or otherwise – because of the blood pressure issue, they say.  “It’s a balancing act,” they tell us.

Since Sunday, I have requested that they bring a staff cardiologist in for a consult.  So far (this is Wednesday) that has not happened.  Because he has had congestive heart failure for five years and is on a strict protocol regarding weight gain from fluids, I’ve asked why they have stopped his regular regimen of diuretics.  “We are waiting to see…” is the answer.  “Could he please talk to a cardiologist?” I ask.   “Yes, we’ve noted your concern…” is the answer.  “Maybe today…”

First Steps

Always ‘The Plan’ seems to be “let’s wait to see if this transfusion (or this orange juice or this Gatorade) will help.”  They’ve taken hm off all pain meds and muscle relaxants though his pain level is elevated from muscle spasming.  “Analgesics tend to lower blood pressure.  Let’s see if eliminating them will help,” they say.  Each time I ask for a cardiologist’s input they say, “You have the absolute right to advocate for your loved one.”  (Duh!)  Somehow, my advocacy is going nowhere at all.

Nyel told me a few minutes ago that he’d like to be moved to the Seattle Medical Center where his cardiologist is.  If they can’t honor his request to bring a cardiologist in from another floor in this very hospital, I wonder what response he will get to the transfer request…

I keep thinking about the Hippocratic mantra, “Do no harm.”  I wonder where that fits into the St. Vincent’s picture.

Late Breaking News!

Thursday, January 24th, 2019

I understand that the Ocean Beach School Board came to a decision last night concerning the next configuration of the schools:

Pre-k will be in Long Beach, most likely at the Early Childhood Center
k-2 Long Beach3-5 Ocean Park (The Interim Superintendent is looking into buying a portable for OP school)
6-8 Hilltop
9-12 Ilwaco High School

Ocean Park School, 1936

Except for the “portable” (do they ever really move?), it looks like a good solution to the perennial problem of fitting kids into currently available spaces.  But, if I were a betting woman, I’d take odds on it not lasting very long.  These days of high mobility and with the population increasing mainly at the north end of the Peninsula, stability in school population numbers is not the name of the game.

Those who will feel it most, of course, are the parents of youngsters just beginning kindergarten or first grade.  As one of my own former students said to me at a recent school configuration meeting, “With all the threats ‘out there,’ I’d just feel better if my little ones were closer to home in the event of an emergency.”

Long Beach Schoolhouse, 1915

It’s a totally normal and healthy reaction, at least to me.  I remember back to my own beginning teaching days – the early 1960s – when we were still having Stop/Drop/Cover drills in case of air raids.  It was during the Cold War and the “answer” to the threat of atomic and hydrogen bombs was much the same as it had been to the “more benign” bomb threats during my World War II childhood.

In the faculty meetings of those days, when we talked about preparedness, we were told that if there was an emergency during school hours, we were to stay at school with our classes for the duration – even if that meant for several days.  We were not to go home to our own families or to try to get our own children.  Our responsibility was to the children at school.  My silent thought was always, “In a pig’s eye.”  Fortunately, we were never put to the test.

Hilltop School, c, 2017

I use that example only to say that no matter how well trained the school staff is and no matter what statistical evidence might be available to say that kids would be safer staying at school, parental instincts are strong and the desire to have your kids nearby, whether or not there is an emergency, is a legitimate consideration.

But, in rural and semi-rural areas, home-to-school proximity is not always feasible.  The best we can do is prepare for the worst-case scenario and hope for the best.  Be informed.  Be involved.  Be supportive.  And, if you are all those things, consider running for the School Board.  I understand that there will be vacancies the next time around.

Tante Lina’s Bakery

Saturday, December 8th, 2018

Tucker with Breadboard

Like Father Christmas himself, Tucker came over for our Friday Night Gathering with a big cloth sack that looked enticingly lumpy and full of hidden surprises.  It contained his “show and tell” for the evening – a weekly event that he began several years ago.  Each Friday he shares something from his seemingly endless trove of treasures.  Tucker is a Collector Extraordinaire and I think our Friday Nighters are the only people outside his family and closest friends who have any idea of the width and breadth of his interests and accumulation.

First out of the bag came a photo album from Carol and Tucker’s first trip to visit the relatives in Germany.  It was 1970 and they looked oh so young!  “I think we were 22,” he said.  He showed us the big stone building that had been his great-grandfather’s bakery and then belonged to his great aunt, Tante Lina.  She was there, in many of the pictures – a short woman standing tall.  I didn’t ask Tucker, but she looked like a force to reckon with.

Mark with Rolling Pin

Once we had been introduced to the ‘setting,’ out came a large round bread board with a handle – wooden and all of a piece.  It looked and felt as though it had supported many hundreds of loaves.  I think everyone in the room coveted that bread board!  Then came the rolling pins – longer than the one you might still use in your kitchen – all solid pieces of wood, some with handles, some without.

Finally, there came the metal “stamps” – I’m sure they have a name, but I don’t know it.  They reminded me a lot of my grandfather’s cattle branding iron, but these were used to label the weights of each loaf – 1K (one kilo), 2K (two kilos) and, my favorite 1-1/2 K! Like old-fashioned moveable type, they read right-to-left until they were imprinted on the bread.  Fabulous!

1-1/2 Kilo Stamp (upside down and backwards)

I’m not clear if the bakery was still in use when Carol and Tucker made that first trip or when, exactly, he acquired these mementos.   Whenever it was, I’m so glad he shared them.  And last night seemed perfect.  As we were oohing and aahing, Nyel’s bread dough was rising in the kitchen!  About a kilo (2.20 pounds), maybe and the perfect accompaniment to our meals for the next few days.  And with every bite, we’ll be thinking of Tante Lina’s Bakery, even though we never had the pleasure of seeing it first-hand!

Stand Up Straight and Other Bad Advice

Tuesday, November 6th, 2018

Security Guard Richard Schroeder, 2017

Richard Schroeder makes the best ever Security Guard for the 6×6 Art Auction at the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum.  He is a natural.  He stands motionless for hours at a time.  He remains expressionless.  His mirrored dark glasses look… well, ominous.  And, this year, the handcuffs dangling at his waist cause most of the riff-raff to keep their distance.

In fact, when Richard toppled over the other night while on duty, not a single riff or raff took advantage of the situation.  No one stormed the art-filled cases.  No one snuck along on tippy-toe silently taking artwork off the silent auction tables.  In fact, a respectful hush fell over the crowd.  Richard the Indomitable had collapsed.  Whatever had happened?

I messaged his wife Dian the next morning to see how he was doing.  Her response: “Sydney and Nyel – thank you for your concern.  He’s ok, heck of a goose egg & probably two black eyes, about a 2 inch cut on his head.  No stitches, they just closed the laceration with surgical glue.  He basically fainted… vasovagal syncope … drop in blood pressure, dehydration, no food & standing too long without movement.  All tests were negative re: any other damage but we’ll be checking in with our primary physician tomorrow.”

The Presbyterian Choir with The Singing Saints, 2007

Whew!  And click, click, click.  It all fell into place, just like that.  Vasovagal syncope is something we warn school kids about – or at least we used to back when I was teaching.  With little kids we usually didn’t use the “vasovagal syncope” words.  We just said something like “Don’t let your knees lock. Keep them a little bit bent.”  Those words weren’t heard often – mostly just before a class was to go on stage and stand on the bleachers through a few songs at the Christmas program or the Spring Sing.

I can’t remember if we’d warn them that they might faint if they forgot and stiffened their legs.  It was all an oversimplification, anyway, but in the 39 years of school programs I attended, we never had a kid go down.  I wish someone has given Richard a little pre-performance pep talk.  It was usually the music teacher who did it at Ocean Park and Long Beach Schools.

Richard and Betsy – Before the Fall

According to one online site:
Vasovagal syncope (vay-zoh-VAY-gul SING-kuh-pee) occurs when you faint because your body overreacts to certain triggers, such as the sight of blood or extreme emotional distress. It may also be called neurocardiogenic syncope. The vasovagal syncope trigger causes your heart rate and blood pressure to drop suddenly. That leads to reduced blood flow to your brain, causing you to briefly lose consciousness. Vasovagal syncope is usually harmless and requires no treatment. But it’s possible you may injure yourself during a vasovagal syncope episode. Your doctor may recommend tests to rule out more serious causes of fainting, such as heart disorders.

The Well-Guarded Culprits

Before you faint due to vasovagal syncope, you may experience some of the following:
     Pale skin
     Tunnel vision — your field of vision narrows so that you see only what’s in front of you
     Feeling warm
     A cold, clammy sweat
     Blurred vision
During a vasovagal syncope episode, bystanders may notice:
     Jerky, abnormal movements
     A slow, weak pulse
     Dilated pupils
Recovery after a vasovagal episode generally begins in less than a minute. However, if you stand up too soon after fainting — within about 15 to 30 minutes — you’re at risk of fainting again.

UPDATE FROM DIAN:  ” … turns out he did have a concussion. Now dealing with post concussion symptoms. Headaches, dizziness, nausea etc.”

We are so sorry.  Next year:  a Security Guard for the Security Guard?


Yellow Stripes and Rumble Strips

Thursday, September 20th, 2018

Pass With Care

Yay!!  We drove back from Seattle last evening, through South Bend and around the bay, with ‘nary a “Pass with Care” nor a “Do Not Pass” sign either coming or going.  Never mind that we were slowed down a bit on our way in early morning – stuck behind the striping machine.  We were clapping and cheering!  And, Frank, you were so right.  We had no idea that it would all happen so quickly!  (Is this still Pacific County???  You know… the one way off in the southwest corner of the State???)

For readers who are mystified by all the above –  ten days or so ago, I wrote a rather snarky blog about the proliferation of Pass and Don’t Pass signs along the highway between the 101 turn-off and South Bend.  And, I lamented the apparent try at over-riding what I consider the tried-and-true yellow striping that traditionally indicates those important directions.  Our neighbor and County Commissioner Frank Wolfe wrote immediately:

Do Not Pass

The signs are “temporary” and have been erected as part of the “rumble strip project” on 101. The process of grinding the “gashes” in the center of the road (so your tires will sound like they are coming off your car and your steering wheel will jerk in your hands when you start to cross the center-line) obliterates the (recently re-applied) paint lines. So the signs have to be put in place until such time as the paint lines are re-applied. As Nyel pointed out, we would normally take our “pass/no-pass” cue from the paint lines.

I was glad to learn this but, I have to say, I wasn’t hopeful that it would happen anytime soon.  I apologize for my disbelieving attitude.  The stripes are in place and the signs are gone!  Yay!  And I love the rumble strips.  Somehow, in conjunction with those bright yellow stripes, they make me think there’s a tiger in the middle of the road – constantly on guard against careless and inattentive drivers.

Meeting with Carolyn Long

Sunday, August 26th, 2018

Carolyn Long

I sort of felt like I had made her up.  You know… fantasized a person who could be the perfect candidate to run for office against our current representative to Congress.  And there she was yesterday in Ilwaco – Carolyn Long at a Town Meeting talking to forty or fifty of us, not only answering our questions but explaining some of the whys and wherefores about our broken system of checks and balances!

She began with a quick description of her background: grew up in rural America in a family that sometimes had to seek public assistance to get by;  dropped out of school in 7th grade when she was needed to work in the family fruit stand for a while;  went on to get her PhD in political science;  has been teaching for 23 years as a professor at WSU, Vancouver, teaching classes in American Institutions, Public Law, American Public Policy and Public Civility.  (OMG!  She’s a living fairy-tale-come-true!)

Then, Carolyn… but wait! Did I say that as we were seating ourselves in the meeting room at the Ilwaco Library, she walked up to each person, shook hands, introduced herself and asked our names?  Throughout the 90-minute meeting, she called on those who raised their hands – by name!  We all felt a personal connection by the time the meeting was over.   Before she began that question and answer period, though, she told about her reasons for running for this office.  (Yep!  I made her up!)

I was delighted to hear her say that first and foremost, she was running to unseat Jaime HB.  I had felt a little guilty that I had voted for Carolyn in the primary for that very reason without even knowing much about what she stood for. Turns out, my instincts were absolutely right!  Keeping and bolstering Social Security and Medicaid, lowering the cost of prescription drugs, reforming our tax structure, supporting affordable education for all whether we are college-bound or not, revamping the rules under which Congress has been operating so that across-the-aisle cooperation is again possible – every issue  that we angst about every day. (Wow!  I definitely imagined her into reality!)

Oh – and did I say that she opened the meeting talking about the attention the Chinook Observer articles (my “Stories from the Heart” series) had brought to the Hispanic crisis?  And she also mentioned that she had just met with people from our local shellfish industry and expressed her concern about the burrowing shrimp catastrophe and the consequences to the community as a whole if that situation cannot be solved.  Soon.   (Talk about bonding!  With those thoughts, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in the room who was feeling a personal connection to Carolyn Long.)

No matter which side of that aisle you gravitate toward, I hope you will avail yourself of any upcoming opportunity to meet Carolyn.  She’s young.  She’s informed.  She has practical ideas about fixing our democratic process so it will work again.  We need to make Carolyn Long a key part of a Happily Ever After conversation by electing her to Congress.   (And so you can see for yourself that I didn’t make her up, check out her website:

Degrees of Separation? None!

Monday, June 25th, 2018

Sandy and Nyel

As we gathered around the big kitchen table, I realized that this was a family reunion of sorts.  Every one of the eight of us were related in some way by blood or marriage – three generations of strong and disparate personalities assembled for what we all fervently hoped would not be the last time.

When Sandy wrote that the Stanford Hospital had send her home with pain pills and no hope, Nyel and I planned our trip and packed our bags.  Sandy and I go back a long way.  We were college roommates.  We married brothers.  Our children are first cousins.  She and I are, in some ways, as different as night and day.  But sixty-two years of shared memories and family connections make any disparities blur beyond recollection.

The Music Studio

Son Charlie drove up from L.A. and we all had dinner in Aptos at Sandy’s daughter Karen’s lovely large home.  Her sons Rory (24) and Elijah (20) were there as was Mark, Rory’s dad.  And, of course, Charlie, Nyel and me.  The men all gathered around Charlie and talked music, film, acting, comedy, and even “Pinky and the Brain”.  It was so interesting to watch and listen to my son in the role of “old man of the industry” telling of his early days in “the business” and how things had changed… or not.  And to listen to the adulation of his fans —  never mind that they are related.

We went outside and steep stairs to Rory’s studio(s) – a sound studio full of instruments and possibilities and, in another room (but somehow electronically connected) his recording studio that he has been building for some time.  “OH! WOW!” Charlie said as we entered the room!  And, for me, anyway, that said it all.  It was Rory’s turn to shine as he explained the intricacies of equipment and played a few demo recordings – some of his own compositions with himself playing five or six instruments.  And then, “Grandma playing her alto sax with some of her musician friends.”

Rory’s Retreat

I hadn’t heard Sandy play since we spent part of a summer on Bainbridge Island with her family – probably sixty years ago.  I was overwhelmed.  And overcome when Rory said, “I’ve only done four recordings of her.  I hope she can get some of her strength back so we can do more.  She can’t play now…”  His voice and his eyes said what we all were feeling.

To say “I’m so glad we came” seems the understatement of a lifetime.

Gathering to Meet and Greet

Saturday, June 16th, 2018

In our many years of Friday Night gatherings, there are a few subjects that we seldom broach.  One of those is politics although I have to say that in the last two or three years we have, indeed, done a bit of serious broaching…  How can anyone avoid it these days?

But any political discussions we have are mostly about national concerns.  We have stayed away from local politics.  In a small community (and I’m talking the Peninsula or even Pacific County here – not our miniscule village of Oysterville) where friendships and politics often overlap in strange ways, it makes for better social gatherings to leave political opinions out of our chit-chat.  Last night was a huge exception.

We devoted our Friday Night to a Meet and Greet for Pam Nogueira Maneman who is running as an Independent for the office of Pacific County Prosecutor.  We had met her at a similar gathering at the Shelburne a month or so ago and we were impressed.  We wanted our friends to meet her and to hear what she had to say about her own plans if she is elected and how her philosophy differs from the current status.

Usually, attendees at our Friday Nights are a bit of a surprise – our friends just come if they can, knowing we’ll be here unless we’ve let them know otherwise.  There have been a few times when only two or three other people have been here but usually it’s more like thirteen or fourteen.  However, for this Meet and Greet, we wanted to be sure that Pam would have an audience, so I let our “regulars” and a few others know and asked for RSVPs.

There were fourteen of us and it was a perfect number. Pam took ten or fifteen minutes to talk about her background and experience – born in Brazil 27 years ago, an exchange student at Raymond High School, graduated from high school in Brazil, undergraduate work at UW, completed three-year UW law school program in two years, became a U.S. citizen, has worked in law offices in both Pacific and Grays Harbor Counties etc. – and then it was just questions, answers, and lively discussion.  Everyone seemed appreciative of this opportunity to meet Pam and I believe the feeling was mutual.

I understand that the AAUW will be sponsoring a Candidates Forum for all those running for County offices – July 10th, Ilwaco High School, 6:30 – 9:00 p.m.  Pam says she will be there for sure.  So will we!  (I didn’t realize until last night that voting in the primaries begin July 20th here!  High time to become better informed!)

Monday, March 29, 1915

Thursday, March 29th, 2018

Medora, 1915

My Aunt Medora has been gone more than a hundred years now.  Yet, sometimes I wonder what she might have been doing on this month and day when she was living.  According to her diary, this is what she was doing on March 29,1915:

I am really home and sitting on the edge of Willard’s bed that has been everything from a boat to a forest full of bears, in the dear old shabby nursery.  I love this old old-fashioned house with all its nooks and corners that are so very hard to clean – I arrived safely in Nahcotta Saturday morning.  It seemed so funny to see all the business buildings gone… I found Sue up and well though still thin and weak.  She doesn’t do anything about the house but amuses herself all day which is so different…scrubbed the kitchen and dining room thoroughly but that is all I really accomplished.

Suzita Espy, c. 1920

It’s odd to read her words all these years later.  Less than a year after she wrote these thoughts she died in her sleep at her boarding house at the Portland Academy.  Willard, who was five when she sat on the edge of his bed that Monday morning, would lead a complicated, fulfilling life and would immortalize their beloved Oysterville.  Sue, just recovering from pneumonia, would become a flapper, marry a rum runner and leave two young children when she once again contracted pneumonia and, this time, died – also in Portland.

This “old old-fashioned house with all its nooks and corners” is still “so very hard to clean” and Nahcotta never did recover completely from the fire that swept through the town in January 1915.  I can’t help but envy her sixteen-year-old energy – scrubbing the kitchen and the dining room “thoroughly” sounds like an overwhelming chore to me.  Sorry to say, the thought isn’t very inspirational.

Medora’s Diary, August 1914

I’m grateful I have her diaries and letters. (Actually, copies.  The originals are at the Washington State Historical Society Research Center in Tacoma.)  Sometimes it just seems nice to check in with the past.  Especially with someone as grounded as Medora.  I wonder who the people a hundred years from now will be checking back with.  Do teenagers write diaries anymore?