Of Whirlwinds and Whirligigs

November 21st, 2017

UWMC Ambulance

Our whirlwind began yesterday afternoon about 2:45 when Dr. R. stopped in Nyel’s room to say the UW Medical Center would review his case and would send an ambulance to Portland for him in a day or two.  It would be a hospital-to-hospital transfer.

It couldn’t have been more than five minutes later that Nyel’s nurse came in to say that Nyel had just been assigned a room at the UWMC and the ambulance was on its way!  (The updated information was right there on the computer!  Wow!)


By 3:00 it was a quick kiss farewell, belongings grabbed, and I was in our car headed for Oysterville before my night blindness could set in.  I was not even over the I-5 Vancouver bridge (we figured out later) before Nyel’s ‘ambulance’ arrived at Emanuel – a very small helicopter staffed with an EMT, a nurse, and the pilot. Nyel reported later that his six-foot-tw0-inch frame barely fit and his nose was only four inches from the ‘ceiling’;  he didn’t think it counted as his first-ever helicopter ride.  “I couldn’t even see outside.”)

By 6:10 we were having a catch-up phone chat – Nyel at the UW Medical Center; I in Oysterville.  A whirlwind three hours for sure.  Nyel had already had an x-ray (to see where the picc-line ends) and a EKG and a blood draw.  More whirlwind activity.


I spent my evening (at the earlier suggestion of Dr, God’s assistant) packing a bag for each of us – in case we need to hang around for a few days after Nyel’s discharge from the hospital.  Initially, they are poking and prodding, testing and measuring, in order to come up with their own baseline.  That process will take five days.  We really don’t know what will be next but Nyel will have clean clothes, by Godfrey Daniel!  (The washing machine and dryer went well into the night.)  And, if nothing else, I will have my eyebrow pencil this time.  (A yellow pencil with a #2 lead will do in a pinch, but it isn’t my enhancement method of choice.)

Cousin Ruth has offered me a room plus chauffeur service to and from the hospital each day!  How lucky can a girl get!  Now if I can just find the Yellow Brick Road, I’ll be on my way to the Emerald City and my very own Wizard-of-Everything…

Moving to the Fast Track?

November 20th, 2017

Nyel is still on the Hurry-Up-and-Wait plan here at Emanuel Hospital but it looks like he’ll be moving to the fast track sometime soon – maybe even tomorrow or the next day.  It seems that the University of Washington Medical Center has agreed to review his case and they will be sending an ambulance for him so they can meet him in person and involve him in the planning process!!  Woot! Woot!

As soon as we learn the timeline, I will beat feet out of here to Oysterville, collect our mail, pack a bag for each of us, say hello-goodbye to the chickens and head north, myself.  “You need to be a part of the conversations up there, Sydney,” I was told.  Not that there was even a glimmer of doubt in my mind about where I’d be, but it’s nice to know that the medical team here sees me as a necessary part of the equation.

I’ve already had a couple of “stay with us” offers but haven’t fine-tuned that part of the plan yet.  The timing is sorta sucky – what with Thanksgiving looming, holiday traffic, and everybody heading for grandmother’s house.  I’m thinking that, no matter where I stay in the Seattle area, I’ll travel to and from Nyel’s hospital bedside via Uber or one of those other fancy schmancy auto options.

So, there you have it!  The cutting-edge plan as of this moment! Another adventure in the making, I say!

Totally Tubular Troublemaker

November 19th, 2017

The IV Drip Bags

The annoying BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! from one of Nyel’s IV drip bags (probably not a technical term) brought a gaggle of nurses to the door about five o’clock this morning,  “Troublemaker!” said the Charge Nurse, popping her head in, and everyone laughed.

If you know Nyel, even slightly, you know him to be a low-key, non-complainer to the max.  “Troublemaker” is about the least descriptive word imaginable for him and the Charge Nurse’s playful teasing was the perfect tension dissipater.  “It’s just that you’re totally tubular right now,” said his Night Nurse.  More laughter.

Nyel is, quite literally, a mass of tubes – to the point that there is only one area, on his left forearm, with enough space for a blood pressure cuff.  So, getting a kink or a crossed wire or something else to cause the alarm bells to sound, is an imminent and constant possibility.  Even so, the nurses come running when they hear that annoying distress signal and we are ever-grateful for their attentive watching and listening.

More Connections for Nyel

Almost as importantly as their attentiveness – they are fun.  As soon as the kink in his picc-line was straightened out, they got into a guessing game about the origin ‘totally tubular.’  “It’s from California in the eighties,” said one.  “Yeah.  I think it’s one of those Valley Girls expressions,” said another.  “I’m thinking it’s a surfer term,” said the Night Nurse.

According to Google, there was merit to all of their explanations but the one no one thought of was the one I liked best:   tubular is an old term meaning awesome. That I know. It originates from vacuum tube amplifiers sounding better than other amps, so a “tubular” sound was preferred. Eventually tubular came to mean anything cool or awesome.  And more recently, it is used to mean “lame” or “nerdy.”

Tubular Bells

The surfing explanation came up most often:  Surfing Pipeline. When the wave closed over itself it was “Totally Tubular”, the perfect wave.  And, according to some, the term goes clear back to the Mike Oldfield’s 1973 recording of  Tubular Bells, the most famous progrock “symphony” of them all—and a bit of a “love it or hate it” affair amongst music snobs—but in actual fact, most of the instruments played on the album are played by Oldfield himself, layered during the recording process.

And… here endeth the first lesson for this Sunday, November 19th at Legacy Emanuel, room 5305!

Option #2

November 18th, 2017

Nyel Under the Sterile Blue Tent

Yesterday was a very full and completely draining day if both of those things are possible simultaneously.  It was a day of the PICC (aka Peripherally Inserted Central Catheter) Line and the Urinary Catheter Leg Bag insertions.  Plus, an Echocardiogram and a Right Heart Cath (aka a pulmonary artery catheterization).  Most of it (except the Right Heart Cath) happened in Nyel’s hospital room which, for the insertion of the PICC, was made sterile within a three-foot perimeter of  the patient.


The Big Deal was the Right Heart Cath –or rather what was conveyed to the doctor through that procedure.  He, in turn, explained that information to us around 8:30 last night in “the talk” which all of us dread.  Essentially, Nyel’s heart is pumping at about half normal capacity while, at the same time, the pressure from the fluids in the heart is at about twice what would be normal.  “If you took a fully inflated football and added enough air to make it twice its size, you know what would happen,” he said.  Way too graphic… but the analogy was clear.

The Masked Companion

He then went on to explain Nyel’s options which are (really not) three.  Option #1 – Do nothing resulting in death; Option #2 – Insert a heart pump which is a battery-operated device which will assist the heart do its job; Option 3 – A heart implant for which the cut-off age is 70 and for Nyel, at 74, is a non-option.  It’s probably an absolute no-brainer to say that Nyel chose Option #2.

The doctor said there is a ‘huge’ list of qualifying conditions, but he thinks Nyel is a good candidate.  He recommended that it be done at the University of Washington Medical Center – “the very best place” for this cutting-edge procedure.  Nyel, as a UW grad felt good about that and he and Dr. Reddy joked about an alumni discount.

Dr. R. will start the inquiries to the U on Monday.  Other than that, we have no timelines at all.  First, we have our fingers crossed that Nyel will ‘qualify’ and that it will all happen sooner rather than later – even if it means putting plans for our Christmas Party on hold until Valentine’s Day.  Which, come to think of it, might be appropriate all the way around!

Meds and Makeup? Really, Mrs. Crouch?

November 17th, 2017

The Get-Away Bag

Now that Nyel seems to be on the Emanuel Hospital Fast Track, I keep a get-away bag handy for myself.  Nyel-the-patient has every need supplied when he is admitted but for me, as the patient’s wife-and-faithful-companion… not so much.  I am eternally grateful that they supply me with a cot and linens and endless cups of decaf-on-demand.  I am happy to bring whatever else is required so that I can stay in Nyel’s room – a blessing of modern-day hospitalizations that I don’t remember back in the day.

Yesterday Nyel was scheduled for a pre-scheduled blood draw at Ocean Beach Hospital and, from the results, Dr. God’s assistant was going to determine what should happen next – return home or another stay at Columbia Memorial or a trek to Portland and admission to Legacy Emanuel.  “Better bring your suitcase,” said Nyel.  He wasn’t feeling at all well.  He had an inkling.  Quickly, I added my make-up and my own meds and away we went.

This morning I discovered that two (thankfully, not all-that-important) items had been left behind – calcium and my eyebrow pencil.  Fortunately, the calcium is a supplement rather than a prescription and can be replaced without having to call our pharmacy at home etc. etc.  The eyebrow pencil is more complicated – it’s the last of a discontinued color (charcoal gray) by Maybelline – not that there is a makeup store nearby, anyway.  Oh well…

Larry Murante who made Mrs. Crouch famous in song!

But a more serious concern is my inability to locate my debit card.  It’s not with me.  Probably it’s at home in a pocket.  I did my due diligence – calBled the bank etc. etc. but, since I can’t just hop home, I’ll have to wait for a while to solve the mystery.  In the meantime, I’m pretty sure that I’m in no way at fault for any of these ‘problems.’  I’d give odds that it’s Mrs. Crouch, our resident ghost.  It’s been some time since she’s weighed in and it’s just like her to want to reinforce her ancient bones, get decked out up to the eyebrows, and go on a shopping spree!

And, if you have not yet had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Crouch, check out this website – she’s definitely a force to reckon with at our house (and beyond, apparently!):      http://sydneyofoysterville.com/category/the-ghost-of-mrs-crouch/

…with pinballs and the Brownsmead Flats

November 16th, 2017

The Brownsmead Flats

“Flashback: Remembering the 60s, Part 2” tomorrow evening at the Columbia Pacific Heritage Museum with a “Coffeehouse Concert” featuring the music of the Brownsmead Flats.  There will also be a few minutes to peek at the expanded 60s exhibit which now includes a couple of our neighbor Tucker Wachsmuth’s pinball machines.   Woot! Woot!  It’s not clear yet if Nyel and I will be there but I have my fingers crossed.  I am eager to celebrate the sixties – even though I’m a decade or two off, memory-wise.

The pinball games I remember were often going on at the Pool Hall in San Rafael during the 1950s.  Not that I was a participant.  Heavens no!  Until my friends and I were old enough to drive and could finagle a way to borrow the family car, we walked to high school.  For me, it was a mile or two down Fourth Street, right through a rather questionable part of town – past the Greyhound Bus Depot on one side of the street and the Pool Hall on the other.

Tucker wih His Pinball Machines

There were a lot of sleazy characters hanging out around both buildings, but we walked on the Pool Hall side – mostly so we could glance in and see which of our classmates (the guys with DA haircuts and cigarette packs tucked into their rolled-up tee shirt sleeves) were catching a few games before classes began.  Mostly they played pool but, occasionally we’d see them at the pinball machines, always looking a bit frantic or desperate it seemed to me.  Money was scarce in those years (1953-1957) and ‘wasting’ a quarter on pinball or pool seemed the height of decadence, at least to me.

Coffee Houses were big in the fifties, too, but mostly in North Beach in San Francisco – way off limits to ‘nice girls’ in Marin County, clear across the Golden Gate.  It wasn’t until the seventies that I had a hands-on Coffee House experience.  I was teaching in Hayward and a group of parents wanted to bring folksinger Stan Wilson to Hayward, especially for the teenagers of the area.  Since Stan was a friend of mine, I was the one who was asked to convince him to donate an evening.  It wasn’t a problem – Stan was all about kids and music and readily agreed to make the trip from Berkeley for the evening.

Charlie’s Coffee House Poster c. 1970

The organizers rented ‘a hall’ – an abandoned restaurant in the old Green Shutter Hotel in Hayward (also sorta sleazy as I recall) – and we had a decorating session with a bunch of local high school kids.  I took Charlie along (I think he was a freshman) and he set about making a huge poster (that I still have) full of pop comic book characters.  I remember being blown away that he didn’t us a single reference – all drawn by memory with felt-tipped markers in an hour or two.  It was my first real inkling of the extent of his art abilities.

I find it interesting to think about how we dignify ideas and experiences as time passes.  Things that might have been just a little edgy (perhaps not quite in a good way) when they began and then became popular, but take on a patina of gentrification as we look back on them.  Or maybe I’ve always been half a bubble off.  In any case, I can’t wait to see what other memories Friday night’s experience at CPHM will trigger.

We didn’t hear the scream.

November 15th, 2017

A Peter Janke Photograph

When something dire happens, thoughts often fly off to an entirely irrelevant situation.  Or yesterday, in my case irreverent.  “Did anyone hear the crash?” I wondered.  “Or was it one of those ‘when a tree falls in the woods and nobody’s there… ‘ situations?”

We came upon the horror of the downed Monterey Cypress as we headed home from the post office.  Property owners Anne and Jim were there, each on a cell phone, Jim in the lane and Anne in their yard, both screened by the huge needled branches that were where they were never meant to be.  The trunk of the tree was sheared in two, revealing a rotten core that not even the arborists knew was there.

“It happened yesterday,” Ann said.  They had come from Portland and were making arrangements.  “We’ll have it taken down to the ground,” she said, matter-of-factly – with the familiar tone of competent people dealing with an emergency.  I knew her heart was breaking, as was mine.  We’ve known that Monterey Cypress and its neighbors all of our lives.  They are as much a part of the village as the oldest of the buildings, defining its streetscape and giving visual testimony to the feeling of nurture that Oysterville seems to provide.

November 14, 2017

They are also a tangible reminder of our close, historic connection to California.  As any schoolchild can figure out, Oysterville’s founding in 1854 was based upon the abundance of oysters in Shoalwater (now Willapa) Bay, right at the village doorstep. Espy and Clark came here on the search for oysters and immediately became a part of the “Shoalwater Bay Trade” – the principal oyster source in the 1850s and 1860s for the burgeoning San Francisco market.

Many of the early settlers came here directly from San Francisco and their descendants live here still – Wachsmuths, Nelsons, Espys, Andrews all had early connections with California.  Charlotte Jacobs, a descendant of the Oysterville Andrews Family has told us that the Monterey Cypress trees were brought here as seedlings from California  in the early 1900s by her great-great uncle Tom Andrews.  Brought, perhaps, on one of the old oyster schooners as ballast.

On the Corner of Division Street and Territory Road

Although there is no documentation for Charlotte’s story, there is little doubt that it is true.  The trees are, indeed, Monterey Cypress, native to the central coast of California where some have reached the venerable age of 2,000 years – this despite the strong winds which stunt their growth, distort their silhouettes, and give them a flat-topped appearance.  Here, in Oysterville, they grow taller and bigger around, approaching the forty meter height and two-and-a-half meter circumference that is possible in ideal growing conditions.

I wanted to wrap my arms around that jagged, remaining tree trunk yesterday.  I wanted to say how sorry I was and how much I will miss the stately protection it had given us all these years.  I wanted to scream, too, and in fact, I did.  It’s just that neither of our screams was heard.

And before you know it…

November 14th, 2017

Ocean Beach Hospital

Life has a way of happening to you before you really get a sense of the direction it’s taking.  You go along doing whatever needs to be done, adjusting here and adjusting there, paying your dues, cleaning up your messes, breaking new ground… and suddenly what might have been completely unheard of becomes the norm.

Take yesterday, for instance.  It was stormy. For a time, every road out of Astoria was closed with downed power lines or toppled trees.  Yet, we gave all that ‘nary a thought as we headed out to Nyel’s cardio appointment with Doctor God’s assistant at Legacy Emanuel Hospital in Portland.  After all, commuting back and forth to the Rose City is what we do these days.  It’s been the ‘norm’ since last Christmas Eve when Nyel was taken there by ambulance – suffering, we found out, from acute congestive heart failure.

Columbia Memorial Hospital

Another thing about yesterday… we went to two other hospitals before we ever left ‘the area’ – that being the region of the Lower Columbia River.  Our first stop was in Ilwaco at Ocean Beach Hospital.  Nyel has been going there monthly, weekly, or sometimes daily for the last fifteen years or so – since he was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. This past year, the blood tests have become more complex having to do with kidneys as well as his heart  and ‘everybody knows his name.’

After our stop at OBH, we headed toward the bridge, the river splashing over the rip-rap, kissing us as we passed by and then the bridge rocking and rolling with the big gusts of wind.  We more-or-less blew into Columbia Memorial Hospital but, wonder of wonders, not for a medical procedure this time.  Nyel had left his cell phone re-charger there last week when he was in the ICU for three or four days; they had saved it in the “patient lost and found.”  (I didn’t ask which usage of the word ‘patient’ was more apropos.)

Legacy Emanuel

Then on to Legacy Emanuel via U.S. 30 and I5.  Traffic moderate and moving at the speed limit.  No slow-downs or mishaps along the way.  Everybody apparently driving with due caution.  The blow-down and slashing rain were moderately scary for me and I chose to become the passenger after a pit stop in Longview.  (Nyel is always intrepid.)  We arrived at Emanuel in time for a sandwich at the Heartbeat Café and then had a long, catching-up sort of appointment with Amy, Dr. God’s assistant.  Nyel is trying to sort out who can do what for him and which doctors at which hospitals can be of greatest service and under what circumstances.

On our way home, we stopped for dinner at the Roo – another part of our ‘new normal’ it seems.  Who’d a thunk that we’d find traveling up and back to Portland on a dark and stormy day an acceptable, (nay, even a preferable) use of our time.  To say nothing of visiting several hospitals in a day, no matter what the reason. Sometimes, life just sneaks up on you!

Nyel Says It’s “Global Darkening”

November 13th, 2017


It seemed unusually dark the other morning – especially for this time of year, we thought – and Nyel and I got to talking about moonrise and cloud cover and all those celestial phenomena that have transformed the nightly weatherman into a meteorologist who clots up the news with charts and graphs and boredom-a-nauseum night after night.  Nyel, who often cuts right to the chase, said: “I think it has to do with Global Darkening.”

Immediately, we began to talk about the dark side of everything human – all those dread diseases and mass shootings and nations of refugees on the move and the rash (ahem!) of sexual predators and the rise of fascism across the planet… and on and on.  It was Depressing with a capital D.  Like the D is Global Darkening.

Lord of the Flies

Although neither of us had heard the term before, I couldn’t believe that Nyel had really coined such a clever phrase.  Not because he’s not clever, but just because ‘they’ say that there has never been a new thought – or probably not in Oysterville, Washington.  So, I Googled “Global Darkening.”

What popped up immediately was “Global Dimming” which, according to Wikipedia is the gradual reduction in the amount of global direct irradiance at the Earth’s surface that was observed for several decades after the start of systematic measurements in the 1950s. The effect varies by location, but worldwide it has been estimated to be of the order of a 4% reduction over the three decades from 1960–1990.  Well… close, but way too limiting.

I personally think that Nyel’s term is right on the money.  What we are seeing, hearing, learning, and being horrified by in news report after news report has to do with the dark side of human nature.  Dim may be part of it – as in dull-witted and stupid or, even, as in hard to see.  But the Darkening that Nyel is talking about is exactly as it sounds – the dark side of humanity as a global circumstance beyond any one person’s control.  It’s the Lord of the Flies all grown up and out of control.

“Peter, Paul, and Mary”

Again, I went to Google and took a look at sites that explore such topics.  What is the dark side of a human being?  Beware of the “dark side” of humanity during any collapse.  Infamous study of humanity’s ‘dark side.’  The titles were all very depressing.  Not very informative.  What we need is a Sigmund Freud, or perhaps a Carl Jung in combination with an Al Gore, the World Health Organization, and perhaps a little Yin Yang theory thrown in for good measure, to get to work on it.

I’m not suggesting that we put our concerns about Climate Change on hold.  But perhaps we’d better give equal time to the issue of Global Darkening.  As Peter, Paul and Mary sang (but did we listen?), “Don’t let the light go out…”

A Glimpse From Beyond My Own Grave

November 12th, 2017

“Oystervile Cemetery Sketches” by Marie Oesting

Yesterday, I finally understood a little bit better about why we never asked the right questions of our grandparents or our parents or someone else who has now gone on to their ‘great reward.’.  It’s a familiar theme. “Why didn’t I ever have that conversation with my great aunt?”  Or, “Why didn’t my mother tell me about that?”

My conversation was with my friend and neighbor, Cyndy, who is the President of the Oysterville Restoration Foundation – the organization that owns and manages the church and much of the open space here in Oysterville.  She and I served as Co-Presidents until last May when my term on the Board was up and I chose not to run again.  Nyel, too, was on the Board as Treasurer for a number of years until he resigned last month for health reasons.

We were talking about the church and its need for new or repaired wallpaper.  Cyndy had recently been over there with a ‘wallpaper expert’ and was telling us with some amazement that the wallpaper is applied directly to the boards.  “Yes,” Nyel and I said.  “The church is single-wall construction.”

Biggs and Dutton Album, 1993

Cyndy went on to tell us that the wallpaper expert had suggested lining the walls with a “very thin” wallboard to give additional stability to the repaired/replaced wallpaper when the time comes.  “But, I think that would ruin the acoustics in the church,” I said.

It was an “aha” moment for Cyndy.  She, like most people who have been to musical events in the church, is well aware of its fine acoustics.  Musicians from her Willapa Bay Artists in Residence Retreat often go there to play their instruments.  One group even had a small concert there.  The church has become the ‘recording studio’ for more than one CD over the years – the first one I’m aware of was “Christmas with Biggs & Dutton” recorded in the historic Oysterville Church March 7-9, 1993, according to the liner notesBut Cyndy had never put that together with the single-wall-construction part of the picture.

We continued discussing the wallpaper situation and Nyel and I mentioned that we have all the unused rolls and remnants from the last time the church was papered.  “You do?” Again, pure amazement.  “Yes, of course,” Nyel said.  “Where else would it be?”  (What he didn’t say was that this house has been the repository for almost everything to do with the church, ever since it was built in 1892.)  “But why didn’t you say something?” Cyndy said.  “All those years you were on the board and all the times we’ve talked about wallpaper?”

Inside the Oysterville Church

I don’t have a really good answer for that.  There were, indeed, many discussions about the need to “do something” about the wallpaper.  Our friend Ray Hansen has actually done several repairs over the years and has offered to come and do whatever is needed if the ORF Board would like him to.  “I know we’ve mentioned Ray and his offer,” I said.  “Yes, but I don’t know who Ray is,” Cyndy said.

That’s when I began thinking about all those questions I should’ve asked my grandparents.  And all the conversations we must have had in which they mentioned things that simply didn’t register… because I didn’t know the people or the circumstances or have any need to pay heed.  And that’s when I had a glimpse of what it might be like here in Oysterville when I am dead.