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“Do we have any plans?”

A simple question yes, but I’ve been hearing it alot lately. At the end of this month my husband Bob will retire. You heard me correctly, he will hang up his stethoscope for maybe the last time. And like most American housewives of the newly retired, I am beginning to wonder what the rest of my life will be like.

Our cousin Anita tells me that men who golf do much better in retirement. Her friends are not complaining so much. They don’t require lunch, they make dates with their friends and get their manly fix swinging sword-like putters on the golf course, returning home from their natural habitat conquering (or quivering) heroes.

Bob doesn’t golf. But he does fly.

Unfortunately, someone is flying up from Florida this weekend (we shall see how Hurricane Matthew affects this plan) to buy his little Arrow four-seater. It’s been on the market since his surgery last year; so hanging in the hangar so to speak will be off the table.

Our friend MJ tells me that when her husband retired, at about the same time her daughter’s family moved out of her second floor and into their new newly built home, she was trepidatious. After all, her husband was a businessman who travelled the world frequently. But men in the business world can remain as consultants, and that is exactly what her husband has done. Plus, he can drop in on his grand daughter anytime he wants.

Bob’s always been the leader of his pack, the director, the owner.

Bob’s grandkids are in Nashville with my grandkids and doctors rarely consult after retirement. When we visited his UVA doctor this past year for a check-up – a man about the same age who is cutting back on patients and teaching more – he swiveled away from his computer and looked Bob right in the eye, saying bluntly.

“What are you going to do? You’re not the kind of guy who goes to Lowe’s every day.”

True. And do doctors ever really retire? I’ve known some to work right up into their 80s, but these are usually Internists, GPs who sit and swivel mostly. Not ER docs who run around the clock moving all sorts of serious and semi-serious emergencies in and out the doors like a Roadrunner…24/7 every day of the year…

It’s hard to imagine my husband doing nothing, literally. And to be honest, there are a few new things he can dabble with in medicine. After all, he’s been doing telemedicine his whole life with our family and friends. Rashes are sent via text, foreign objects in the eye are discussed. But the cord to a hospital will be cut for good.

He doesn’t do laundry, even though he likes folding. He is an excellent sous chef in the kitchen, when asked. And strangely enough, I didn’t think this whole retirement phase would bother me. After all, he never worked a 9 to 5 job and often works weekends and holidays; I am used to him puttering around the house, mowing the lawn on good ole John Deere, editing medical journals in his office and catching up with charts. Once upon a time he would cut down trees for firewood and tend a garden…

Long ago I put my foot down – I don’t do lunch. So when Bob’s home during the day, we often go out to lunch, or just “pick.” That’s one of those generational things, like Ada makes lunch for the world should they stop by. That greatest generation would leave a cooked dinner covered in the fridge for the hubby if they happened to be out one night. Millennials order food online and cook it together.

My generation was stuck in the middle, fledgling feminists feeling the need to hunt and supply a “home-cooked” meal every night. Last night I made bangers and mash. WHY? Because sausages were on sale at Whole Foods, and I was thinking about those beer gardens in Eastern Europe since a friend is posting her travel pix on Facebook! Thank God I didn’t Instagram it.

Last night I politely asked Bob to stop asking me about plans. He said he thinks maybe he should get another job! Will we travel more? Take long walks on the beach? Talk? Make more vegetable soup? To quote Disney’s Chef Gusteau:   793759230-f6b3178ce351ee8f3901fe91febe95fb

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Do you believe in fate? Bashert is the Yiddish word for destiny, and since I was just visiting Great Grandma Ada and Hudson, I was the happy recipient of a certain cultural recap (or comeuppance). Acceptance of our fate, our place in this world is the touchstone of religious thought and certain ideologies. Why suffer and struggle? Remember that famous theologian’s prayer; “God grant us the serenity to accept the things I cannot change….”

Well Ada is reading “Fates and Furies,” by Lauren Groff – her book club assigned this book to her. She must report on it at their next meeting and believe me, it’s a long and complicated piece of fiction. Full of sub-plots and interesting characters. The protagonist, Mathilde’s husband Lancelot (Lotto), grows up in Florida – a place someone on our Viking ship said is for “Golfers and Alcoholics” to retire, and he said this lovingly since he was from FL!  I read the book many months ago and suggested she watch this video – https://charlierose.com/videos/23139

The author is writing about love, friendship and marriage. Since Ada has been a marriage counselor most of her adult life, I get why the group picked her! But she hasn’t finished the book yet and I remember how it ends. The long denouement of Mathilde, her tragic backstory, her isolation and abandonment. Should I tell Ada? I kept this to myself, and just told her that Groff is a feminist. An author who is taking us deep inside a woman’s rage. An author who writes in longhand from 5 am to 3 pm every day when she picks up her children from school. What a good husband!

The novel tells the story of Lotto and Mathilde Satterwhite. He is the darling of a prosperous Florida family – “Lotto was special. Golden”. She, an apparent “ice princess”, is the survivor of a past about which her husband has only the fuzziest idea beyond it being “sad and dark”, and above all “blank behind her”. The first half of the book offers Lotto’s view of their life together as he rises from charming but failed actor to celebrated playwright, thanks in no small part to Mathilde’s editorial finesse. The second half reveals that Mathilde has, through implacable willpower, transcended circumstances that read like a hotchpotch of Greek tragedy, fable and detective novel. Much of what Lotto takes for granted in his good fortune, it turns out, is due to Mathilde’s ruthless machination, right down to their marriage itself. She genuinely loves him, but she initially set out to win him for mercenary reasons.  https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/dec/24/why-the-fates-and-furies-this-years-most-talked-about-novel

Groff tells us that any good marriage must retain an air of mystery. I love that idea, but I could see that Ada wasn’t quite buying it. After all, therapy is about laying your heart out on the rug and trampling all over it, right?

Spending a few days back in NJ, to attend cousin Harriet’s funeral and the shiva calls that are part of this world, I learned more about her life. Harriet, like Mathilde, was slightly mysterious. She once sang on the radio, and she went para-sailing with a grandson at the age of 80! I loved learning new things about her; she and Perry once owned a condo in Boca. Who knew?

But navigating the maddening crowds at Shop Rite and Bob’s family has taught me one thing. You really can’t go home again. My old Queen Anne house on Orchard Street is now a duplex, and the Jewish Center across the street is a Baptist Church. Was it really fate that led Bob to meet me there, in front of my old house, one summer day in 1962?

I’m not a great believer in destiny.

We make our own luck, and if we don’t like where we are, we have the freedom in this country to change it. There is a semi-opaque membrane between our young selves and our future. Some people get stuck along the way. They define themselves as a certain type of person, and they settle into that role. I would not want to look back on my life, and wonder how I got there. IMG_4698

 

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…or determination?

Yesterday, I got up early and drove North to attend the public opening of a community hospital’s new ED. Yes folks, it’s a “department” not a “room,” one of the many changes I’ve witnessed tagging along with Bob over the years. “I can’t run a room,” was his constant semantic complaint. But it seems he can run a department.

When we first settled in the Blue Ridge, I thought it would be like old times. Bob would do some shift work at the local hospital, and we’d slide into a comfortable retirement; plenty of time together to visit grandbabies and pursue some new hobbies, maybe  keep a few alpacas? Or donkeys, or chickens? Then one year in, the Emergency Department Director just up and quits, asking Bob if he’d like the honor!

And just when I thought his directing days were over, he not only took over the reins, he became Chief of Staff and sat on the Board for many years. We had plans to go to Australia for a sabbatical that were put on hold, but we did manage to build our little house with a view. And one day he presented a plan to that Board for a new Emergency Department – they were bursting at the seams and the population was growing. He wanted a state-of-the-art facility and he managed to persuade the leaders and shakers with his constant optimism and tenacity.

Yesterday, the ribbon was cut joining the new building with the renovated old department, virtually tripling the space of the old ED. Twelve million dollars and five years later, the CEO introduced Bob and kindly said this project was his baby, and without his “persistence” we wouldn’t be here. Everyone nodded their heads, because everyone who works with my husband knows he can be pretty determined to achieve excellence in emergency medicine. He wrote the book on managing an ED and he served as President of ACEP in MA when we were young and just starting out in the Berkshires.

Unlike lots of physicians his age, he never gave up on medicine and he taught our daughter to love the profession too. To never forget the sacred trust a patient shares with them.

I was pretty proud of Bob yesterday, but we couldn’t celebrate yet. He had a lunch meeting with a colleague and then he was scheduled to work the 8 hour evening shift. Kudos to Bob, his assistant director Harvey, who followed him here from the Berkshires, and all the nurses and administrators who helped to make this remarkable transformation possible.

Maybe someday he’ll slow down, just a little? 19114_10152801541071943_7135939311025461658_n

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“…cause I’ll never stay,” said Lesley Gore in her 1964 song, “You Don’t Own Me.” It was a feminist anthem long before its time and I was sad to hear of her passing this weekend at the young age of 68 from lung cancer. We lost a beautiful woman and a talented singer/songwriter while celebrating St Valentine and flocking to the latest bondage movie, “Fifty Shades of Gray.”

Fifty years later, women must still remind men that we cannot be owned, our bodies will not be legislated, and our minds are not built for submission, unless of course you like that sort of thing. I’ve been strolling down memory lane lately because a friend has reminded me that my 50th High School Reunion is fast approaching; the Dover High School Class of 1966 is gearing up to party like it’s, well 1966.

“Oh, I don’t tell you what to say
I don’t tell you what to do
So just let me be myself
That’s all I ask of you.”
— Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me”

I met my husband our Freshman year in high school, by Junior year we were dating. It was a short-lived romance since, once in college, he went to Woodstock and I went to Westchester. But we never really lost touch, and who knew that 70% of couples who reunite with their first loves would find love again? At the ripe old age of thirty we married, and Bob is still playing the Nathan to my Adelaide.

Fifty years later, we were talking about the wind this weekend. And Bob recalled how he had been blown off Windsor mountain when the Bride was just a baby. His little white Honda was wheels up in a snowdrift on the side of the road, and he was hanging from his seat belt upside down, watching his coffee drip from the door frame.

Luckily he walked away and someone stopped on the road and picked him up. But what if he couldn’t unlock his seatbelt? What if no one came along? In his line of work, and with my history, we’re both aware of how your life can change in a split second. I couldn’t even imagine going through this life without him, without my son who was not yet born.

No, he doesn’t own me, but he signed a long term lease on my heart. Today I’m dreaming of warmer, tropical winds, and I’ll let him take the helm if the water gets choppy. Sao Mai CLR Sunset 0208

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How to Evade Ebola by Flying Yourself!

A man for all seasons, Bob is also a private pilot. I haven’t flown with him in awhile, for many reasons. But mostly it’s because the weather has to be perfect, and I have to have a destination in mind. Like the Love Bug. You won’t find me flying over to Newport News for lunch. And also there’s this, I just don’t like flying! But yesterday, I squeezed myself into the plane.

Pre-flight Check

Pre-flight Check

Me:  The interior looks great! Ouch, oh yeah I forgot I’ve got to take my earrings off before I put the headset on. Thinking to myself – Let’s see where can I stow them? Can’t reach my bag in the back… wait, I’ll just clip them onto my necklace.

Bob:  What? Here you’ve got to have the mic right up to your mouth, like this, like you’re kissing it

Me:  OK, are we clear? What about those clouds?

Bob:  We’re clear to 9,000 ft. Those clouds are around 5

Me:  Good, so it’s smooth sailing?

And it was pretty smooth, the clouds underneath us looked like marshmallow fluff, until I noticed a little red button light up and Bob started fooling around, quickly, and he’s never quick in the cockpit, with the throttle and the landing gear

Me:  What’s up? (said meekly and like I didn’t know something was wrong). Thinking to myself – we are 9,000 ft in the air and the landing gear isn’t supposed to come down until we descend in another 200 miles or so

Bob:  We’re just going to slow down a little  

Me:  Straining to read the red button on Bob’s panel – WARNING GEAR UNSAFE!   

Warning Light

Warning Light

Bob:  The door’s probably not fully closing (the Piper Arrow has retractable wheels, and the doors to said wheels were just replaced in its annual)

Me:  Thinking to myself – So this is it, we’ll have to fly around the airport to burn off all the fuel and then land on foam, if Charlottesville even has foam to put down on the runway, and we’ll make the local news, there will be fire trucks…

Bob:  We’ve got three green (which means all three wheels have come down) so it’s not a problem.

For an emergency physician/pilot, nothing is a problem. These people are the epitome of cool under pressure. Remember the voice recording of Sully landing in the Hudson? That’s Bob, telling me there’s nothing to worry about.

It wasn’t like flying around the Jersey Shore this time of year, with its kaleidoscope of pink and red cranberry bogs. But it was autumn in the Shenandoah Valley and beautiful just the same. It is also Homecoming weekend for UVA, so yesterday we landed amid the Big Jets with all their private pilots in uniform hanging around talking about who was getting enough sleep.

There wasn’t another plane in the sky all the way from Nashville, but three hours later and finally on the ground – all three green down – our little four-seater Piper was the poor relative to the top 1% of the 1% of alums flying in to see the Hoos play the Heels.

Me:  Perfect landing. Thanks honey, that beats 9 hours in the car!

Bob:  Smiling, thinking to himself – I’m gonna call that mechanic first thing Monday morning.  IMG_1478

 

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After our sudden trip North to Sue’s funeral, followed by our planned trip North for Ada’s birthday party, followed by a week of the Bride and Bug visiting, Bob and I were supposed to have a few days mid-summer to ourselves. He might get to mow the lawn, I might actually get to finish doing laundry. Maybe we’d go out to dinner? But no, the Joints have arrived!

The Joint Commission http://www.jointcommission.org/accreditation/hospitals.aspx is the national agency that wanders into your hospital without warning for a few days of fun and relaxing oversight. I remember when I was teaching and was told the Principal would have to evaluate my performance, but I’d get a few days notice and would I mind sending him my plans for the week? Brand new to the profession, I thought well that’s kinda like cheating. If someone really wants to evaluate you, why not just walk in one day? Well, the teacher’s union would have none of that.

And a few years ago, the Joints felt the same way – unannounced visits are now de rigeur.

You never know when they might arrive to evaluate your system. If standards are not met, a hospital might lose its accreditation, ie funding, ie money. A residency may have to shut down, which happened recently at Berkshire Medical Center, where I delivered my children. Surgical residents in the Berkshires are now scrambling for another hospital to accept them. So as you can see, it’s a very BIG deal when they show up, and poor Bob is one of three hospital board members not on vacation.

People have always assumed that because we have so many doctors in our family, that I would know about such things. In fact, I don’t. I cannot tell if a baby is dehydrated, or if a cut needs sutures.  I can’t tell heartburn from a heart attack. And I certainly can’t distinguish between a bug bite and shingles…or psoriasis. I knew very little about the Joints until Bob told me about them this week.

But if you live in VA and want to know what it feels like to go to medical school, you can sign up for UVA’s Mini-Med School in the Fall! http://www.medicine.virginia.edu/community-service/more/minimed/about-mini-med.html

During the 7 week program enthusiastic UVa faculty members, with assistance from current medical students, will lead the group in exploration of a wide range of topics in medical education. Participants will experience such integral parts of medical school as match day, research labs, patient interviews, and more. Mini-Med will provide a behind the scenes look at the training of those we entrust with our health, a greater sense of health literacy, and forge new connections between the health system and our community. Mini-Med will also feature entertainment provided by our talented medical students. There is no cost to participate and while participants will not leave Mini-Med School with a medical degree they will leave with knowledge, resources, and a certificate of attendance.”

For me, well I think I’ll pass. Unless they have a really good jazz singer this year. I’m happy giving kisses to the Love Bug when she gets an “ouchy,” and for now, that and some well placed Disney band-aids always do the trick!

PopBob entertaining the troops in Dover

PopBob entertaining the troops in Dover

 

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This getting back to normal business can be frustrating. Obviously it’s difficult waking up and not having a toddler waltz into your room to escort you to breakfast; or should I say the feast of fresh fruits and juices and any other breakfast food imaginable no longer awaits you on a breezy terrace with the ocean looking on. No, it’s back to making my own coffee and cutting up my own banana in yogurt looking at the mountains, all the while waiting for a single crocus to bloom…really, shouldn’t that have happened already?

So I did what any red-blooded American woman would do after finally getting over my flu-like illness. I went to the gym – I figured if I kept waiting for spring it would never come. Like the proverbial boiling pot. And on my way home just now, I  listened to an author on NPR about feeling time crunched because she was a working mom. Way to put my problems into perspective! My daughter was returning to her everyday life which included the usual; grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning and laundry and also a sick toddler and a job that was anything but 9 to 5. It was more like 11pm to 7am, then she’d get some sleep and wake up to write her charts while the Love Bug napped.

I thought she must be feeling overwhelmed about now. So I made a mental note to tell her about this book since its author was heartbreakingly good on the radio. Brigid Schulte, a Washington Post columnist, wrote Overwhelmed; Work Love and Play When No One Has the Time. She talked about her generation and how they didn’t want to have a traditional marriage, the kind their parents had where the woman was in charge of the home, even if she had a full or part-time job. She wanted a more equitable distribution of work – like one always loads the dishwasher at night and one will always empty in the morning.

Last one out of bed makes the bed, and even if he forgets to put the pillows back on the bed you don’t do it…you leave them on the floor. I don’t think men understand just how hard that is for us, not picking up pillows.

Eventually Schulte and her husband did get to that place of marital housework justice, but it was a shock to see how far they had slipped into a more traditional model. She had to rewrite her to-do list, which is surprisingly the cover art of her book. Because after writing down every single thing she was trying to cram into her days, she realized that if she didn’t plan for her own recreational time, it would not happen.

I was just with my father who’s had a stroke, and sitting in a hospital room really makes you remember: … We don’t have that much time; what do you want to make of your life here on this Earth? And so, my to-do list is really: What are my priorities? What is most important to me? And then everything else, everything my to-do list used to be, I call the other 5 percent — it shouldn’t take more than 5 percent of my time or energy. There’s a lot of stuff that I used to do that I don’t do anymore. http://www.npr.org/2014/03/11/288596888/not-enough-hours-in-the-day-we-all-feel-a-little-overwhelmed

In many ways the Bride is lucky. Her Groom does his fair share around the house and truly shares child care when he is at home. Maybe my SIL could use this book? In Mexico she said she never gets any down time. To which I foolishly replied, but doesn’t your daughter go to school every day? Because she said, “Yes, but I go to work.”

If I were a list maker, this would be my list for today: 1) make bed, 2) pick up tickets for Book Festival, 3) search for a purple crocus. And I only make the bed because Nell said even if that’s all you do in a day, at least you did something!

Breakfast Anyone?

Breakfast Anyone?

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