Wednesday, May 24, 2017

The quiet between

We're in the sky now, flying home to Seattle for the summer. The last 17 days in Tucson have been the quiet between.

The before:

  • Five months in Tucson, at our winter place, a park model (trailer) at the Voyager RV Resort where, in the winter, 3000 adults do as much or as little as they want. I call The Voyager RV Resort "camp for grandmas". There I play handbells, discuss current events and foreign affairs, exercise, assist in dramatic productions, and enjoy time with friends. We agree with people there that we have more friends at the Voyager than we do where we live the rest of the year. It is easy to be fully involved and very busy. 
  • Then, a month at Oinofyta refugee camp in Greece, doing whatever is needed, including the accounting for Do Your Part, the nonprofit I volunteer for there. Two weeks sitting in the seat of the camp manager during her speaking trip to the US. Long days, the routine and the unexpected, with 500 residents - including 192 children - and a dozen volunteers. Living in a community house. 
  • Then, ten days in Seattle being an efficient companion to my husband Art as he resolves medical issues: kidney stone surgery and a beeping pacemaker.
And the after:
  • Sliding back in to my life in Washington, mediating in small claims court, participating in the business we have an ownership interest in, helping my son take the reins of the business he owns with a friend who was in a serious accident last week, returning to my wonderful faith community and deciding what part I want to play in the social justice work being done there, meeting friends for coffee - and always, maintaining the financial records for Do Your Part, on whose board I now serve.
I have loved the quiet between:
  • Sleeping in the morning until the sun wakes me, walking the quiet streets of the resort where nearly all the winter residents have already left, reading the paper, reading books that have been waiting for me all season, watching season five of Scandal on Netflix - and, for the first time in my life, meditating every day via streaming Insight Timer on my phone.
I consider making the quiet between my revised normal. I note the newly diagnosed asthma that troubled me all winter has dissipated and no longer requires medication. I wonder whether it was aggravated by the stress of my self-selected busy-ness. The daily meditation has slowed the pace of my body and my mind.

I probably won't revise my normal very much. I'll keep doing the meditation, though. I really like it. That may be just the quiet I need in the after.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The case of the beeping pacemaker

One day last month in Greece, my husband Art started beeping from inside his body. I looked at him. He said, "It started this morning. I thought at first it was my cell phone, but I didn't have it in my pocket. I looked around and didn't see anything. Then I realized it was coming from inside of me."

"How often has it happened?"

"Oh, I don't know. Every couple of hours or so."

It's been over three years since Art had a cardiac arrest and had a pacemaker/defibrillator installed. His defibrillator shocked him twice in the first 18 months, and each time an adjustment was made to the device or his meds. He has had only a few episodes of atrial fibrillation, the last one nearly a year ago. And he has never beeped.

I'm the vigilant one for health issues. I insisted he talk to the camp doctor. Zisimos Solomos was friendly and helpful. He said, "You need to go to the ER at the G. Gennimatas Hospital in Athens. It's a public hospital but has excellent cardiology doctors. You should have your heart checked out right away."

I was the driver on this first venture into Athens. I relied on Google Maps. What should have been a 55-minute drive took over two hours. The Google Voice spoke English but got confused on the busy streets of Athens.

We parked in the large lot and walked toward the hospital. All the signs were in Greek. We looked for an ER sign and finally got directions by way of pointing and gesturing. In the lobby we approached the desk. One women of the three spoke limited English. She asked a few questions, then gave us a number and said, "Wait here," pointing to a long row of mostly-occupied chairs. And we did. For two hours. While people on gurneys were rolled by attached to their IV lines, followed by multiple family members. People shouted in worry or protest. Art said it looked like Harborview Medical Center in Seattle on a Saturday night. It was Wednesday afternoon. We had filled out no paperwork. No one knew Art's name.

Finally Art's number 14 was called. He followed someone into the ER and the door closed. I waited next to a wall outlet while I charged my phone. A man lying on a gurney next to me threw himself on the floor, shouting. People gathered. Art emerged from the ER. "They did an EKG and my heart is fine. I need to come back tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. to have the device checked."

We left the volunteer house in Dilesi the next morning at 6:30 for what, again, should have been a 55-minute drive. Google Maps took us on a different route, and we got seriously lost. We arrived at the hospital at 8:40. "English?" I said, multiple times. People pointed down a hall or up a flight of stairs or "end of the hall on the left". We found a doctor who spoke English and told him the story. "That doctor is installing a pacemaker right now. He can see you in about an hour. Sit here and wait."

We waited for an hour and 45 minutes. A man with a stethoscope said, "Are you the man with the pacemaker beeping?" Art and I followed him into a small room where he checked out Art and his pacemaker. After five minutes he called another man into the room. They had a discussion in Greek while Art lay on the table. The man with the stethoscope said, "We made a few adjustments. The beeping should stop now. Come back Tuesday."

There were no further beeps. We went back Tuesday, took a number and waited for an hour. Art was cleared. No paperwork, no insurance inquiries, no bill. No one ever asked his name.

The next day Art said, "You know, I think the pacemaker might have gotten screwed up when I got shocked by the stove last week."

"How did you get shocked?"

"Touched a pan on the stove with bare feet. They have 220 here."

I had no idea what that meant. 220? So what? I Googled "pacemaker beeping" and learned that sometimes an electrical shock will be interpreted by the device as a problem. I guessed that might have happened. But beeping?

A month later, Art started beeping again. This time we were home in Seattle for ten days before returning to Tucson to close up our winter home and retrieve our cat. We called our local pacemaker nurse and she said we should come in right away. We did. She analyzed the data and said, "You had an eight-hour episode of atrial fibrillation earlier this week."

"What happens," she continued, "is that your pacemaker has been programmed to detect irregularities. If it finds one, it tries to send a message to your remote device, which relays the message to us. It tries for three days. If it can't send the message, it starts to beep every four hours on the hour so you will pay attention."

Ah! Art's remote device is on the wall of our bedroom in Tucson. Not in Dilesi, Greece. And not in Seattle, until we bring it home.

Art hadn't had an a-fib episode in ten months, though. So what had happened?

"Well," he said, "I packed all my meds in my checked bag. In three bottles. When I unpacked my bag in Greece, only two bottles were there. Maybe TSA took one of them out, I don't know. So I had to ration my meds for a month."

That would be the meds for his blood pressure, for his high cholesterol, for his low potassium, for the top part of his heart, and for the bottom part of his heart!

What could I say? How about, "Next time, text the doctor in Seattle and ask him to prescribe meds for you from a pharmacy in Greece." Or "Next time, tell me this when it happens so I can do the texting." Or, "Next time, pack your meds in your carry-on like every other traveler I know."

Probably wouldn't have done any good, though. Art is pretty sure I'm oversensitive about medical issues.

This week we're in Tucson with the remote device. If there's a problem, the device will relay it to our pacemaker nurse, and she will call.

From now on when we travel, I will make sure that Art packs his meds and his remote device in his carry-on. It will save a lot of time and aggravation. And I won't have to drive in a busy, unfamiliar city.

And Art will not beep.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

What the Bag Lady learned in Greece this time

This was the third time I'd volunteered at the Oinofyta refugee camp. Some things were the same, of course: the daily routines of the men and women; the shouts and laughter of children playing; the procession of students across the field to their school; the clusters of men in conversation. And some faces I recognized from last October when I spent two weeks at the camp.

There were differences, too. The sewing room was active with residents making cloth tote bags from the canvas of tents that were taken down when the building was expanded to a second floor. The workers earn an hourly wage based on the sale of the bags on Classes were beginning in the computer lab. And there were new faces.

This time I was here for a month, and I had been asked by Lisa Campbell, Executive Director of Do Your Part ( and the Oinofyta camp manager, to relieve her in that role for two weeks while she spoke at multiple fundraising venues in the US. This time I brought my husband Art - he'd be shopping for food and running errands and preparing meals for the dozen or so Do Your Part volunteers. And, for 15 days of the month, my son James Granholm would be one of those volunteers.

Here's what I learned at the volunteer house in Dilesi, where each person pays 10 euros a day for room and board.
  • Sharing a two-bedroom, one-bath apartment with five other people - most of them under 30 - is not as easy as it was when I was in college. Housekeeping standards, random refrigerator items left by already-departed volunteers, full-up ashtrays on the deck, unknown individuals' wet clothes left all day in the washing machine and damp ones left all night in the dryer, rising water in the bathroom until I insisted on a plumber, a puppy (Art is allergic to dogs), poor to nonexistent internet access, a shortage of adapters to European electricity, and trash sacks full up with empty soda and beer cans in the morning.  
  • I was okay with the noise. Art and I have a blended family of eight kids, and you learn to tune some things out.
  • The energy of people under 30 is refreshing - especially when you're sitting around a table with young men and women from Spain, UK, Germany, Canada and the US. Or blowing bubbles in the kitchen.
  • I snore more loudly than I thought. I drove two roommates out of our room before I yielded and had my CPAP shipped from Tucson to Athens.
  • I am not too adept with a hand-held shower.

And at the Oinofyta camp, the exact same kind of things I experienced in the workplace:
  • It's sometimes hard for experienced young people to accept the leadership of a temporary manager - even low-key leadership.
  • It is really nice to have your own key to the volunteer bathroom.
  • It is great to have one volunteer who feeds you lunch every day.
  • It is super important that the primary players in the running of the camp be accessible - either face to face, or by radio or cellphone. Otherwise, there's a lot of waiting around until the primary player is available. Bottlenecks are frustrating.
  • If people feel confined - as you might if you were one of 500+ people living in cubicles in a single building - anger can build up. Sometimes it's directed at other residents and sometimes at the people trying to help.
  • If the solution to problems - for example, the ability to apply for asylum or migrate to another country - is really quite high up in an agency or government - the people trying to help quite often get blamed anyway.

And about my family:
  • My husband Art came with me this time because he was curious. He was assigned a job and he performed it every day, even when he was in pain from bursitis in his hip and from a kidney stone. He did the weekly shopping for the camp staples.The fridge was clean, the cupboards were stocked, and we never ran out of toilet paper. He made his signature macaroni salad twice - one version for the vegetarians and one for the the rest of us.
  • When I was under stress one day, I said, "I need you to support me and listen to me. I need to be able to lean on you and trust your judgment." And he did. Art supported me and listened to me and was there for me. For that whole month he totally had my back.
  • My son James worked for two weeks building a gazebo for residents so that when the hot summer comes they'll have a place to gather. He listened to me also, called me out when I was overstressing, and put a friendship bracelet on my wrist purchased in Athens one Sunday. I still haven't taken it off.  James has friends now in the UK, Germany and Spain from his time at the camp - and a three-year-old Afghan buddy - and realizes that, really, we are all the same.

I also learned these things about myself:
  • I can handle the unexpected pretty well: a beeping pacemaker in my husband's chest, a piece of missing luggage; a CPAP machine waylaid in Customs; a 24-hour flight delay.
  • I am very patient, but I can lose my temper. That happened twice at camp - the first time in many years. I yelled at my 37-year-old son because I'd lost my entire set of keys to the camp. I suspected him of borrowing them and not returning them. He protested vigorously and told me I was out of line. Then he found them in his back pocket.
  • When people are mad at me, and tell me I am a liar or a person who creates conflict and hostility, I take what they say personally even though I know I am not a liar or a conflict creator. I carry the stress of it for days. At my age I think I should be able to brush it off. Something to strive for.
  • The sight of blood does not bother me.
  • I am a mediator, and I can do some of it even when the other person doesn't speak the same language as me. Body language goes a long way, and eye contact, and smiles and nods. One day I was in a gathering. One person spoke Greek and English. Another spoke English and Farsi. A third spoke Farsi and Greek. The rest of us spoke only one language. We figured it out.
I'm very glad I spent the month at Oinofyta. And I'm very glad and grateful to be home.