Posts Tagged ‘recovery’

Music and Iced Tea

Posted: April 29, 2014 by writingsprint in Drama
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coffee shop musicGary wiped his eyes as the singers in the coffee house left the stage. The woman’s guitar had a sticker of Mona Lisa close to the fret boards and one of the Earth near the bottom of the box. Her partner had wavy hair, walked slowly, and had a voice that made you believe.

A year ago tonight, Gary had committed to getting himself sober. He used to hold on to beers for dear life. He remembered the infinite fall to the floor, where his lifeless life would shatter into a million particles of dust, and then just blow away. On the outside he’d looked like everything was in control. His insides had felt like a weeping, belching, puking bag of stress and desperation.

Tonight, though, it was tears of joy. Tonight it was all about music and iced tea.

He traveled his empty glass of tea in paths on the table. He watched the condensation changing shape as the glass passed by. Maybe this was how God painted the stars into the sky, painting his brush over them again and again until they lay out in a pattern that he found beautiful.

The tears were coming down faster. Gary hadn’t felt happy in a long time. He was starting to lose it. It felt good, but it was going to look embarrassing if he blubbered his way through their next set.

As he paid his bill, he put down another forty dollars. “For whatever the musicians order.”

“Do you want me to tell them?”

“No. Don’t. Random act of kindness.”

“You sure? They’ll really appreciate this.”

“Some other time.”

Gary left with a bag of Earl Gray tea, a slice of pound cake, and one of the musicians’ CD’s. He made it two blocks before he started crying. He sat down on the concrete parking space blocks in front of a furniture store. The lot was half-lit. He hoped any passing police cars didn’t think he was some kind of vagrant.

The sobs shook him. The tears tasted sweet. He wept because the smell of the iced tea inside his empty glass had been like cinnamon, only sweeter, and more like home than anything he’d known in a long time. He hadn’t smelled anything like it in over five years.

“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you,” he whispered.

Back in the coffee shop, he could see the singers warming up again. From here they were only shadows. Her face and his, the mikes, just hints of their guitars, reflections of something shiny. It felt pure.

Photo credit: “Looking In” by Amancay Maahs, unmodified
Shared under Creative Commons license


Whisky Celebration

Posted: February 2, 2014 by writingsprint in The New Nurse
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scotch whisky“Hell no.”

“That’s what I want to do.”

“I want to drive a Maserati on a race track. No.”

“I can arrange that, y’know.”

“Dad, listen to him.”

“It’s what I want to do.”

“Hell. No.”

Allen was stalling. For the past ten minutes he’d been insisting that they go down to Cliff Walk for his last diagnostic. He wanted to go up and down those stairs. Afterwards they could pop a bottle of champagne.

Allen was about to reply when Jonathan said, “I’m not arguing this. I’m your nurse. It’s not safe. If you have an accident on those steps we’re going to have a hell of a time getting an ambulance to you.”

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Since when do the Scots not know how to celebrate?”

“Since this one became a nurse, and I celebrate with whisky or beer, not champagne.”

Caroline shook her head. “You need to learn a thing or two about celebrating.”

Allen said, “Honest to God. No pratfalls this time.”

“Allen, I can’t encourage you to do things that are unsafe while your body’s recovering from a surgery. What the hell kind of nurse would I be if I did that?”

“Ugh.” Allen threw up his hands. That was a good sign. Jonathan, Caroline, Allen, Zeus and Apollo all looked at each other. Jonathan was waiting for Allen to make the next move. He would either throw his next excuse back at him, or accept his defeat. There wasn’t going to be a halfway.

Allen said, “All right. But I’m getting piss drunk on the champagne after we’re done our test.”

“As long as you don’t go walking on the cliffs, I approve.”

Allen walked one hundred steps around the foyer without support, with Jonathan alongside him just in case, and Caroline for company. Check. He walked up and down twenty stairs, three times. Check. Very carefully, he squatted while holding a ten-pound weight, ten times. Check.

Allen made some notes on his evaluation form. He’ d have to write a full report later, but it would be a very simple summary. He held out his hand. “Congratulations, mate. You’re healthy again.”

Caroline applauded as they shook hands. Allen suffered through a hug and kiss from her. He seemed more embarrassed than angry, and Jonathan thought it was from having his crusty exterior softened more than not liking it.

Allen and Caroline drank champagne, while Jonathan drank 18-year-old Talisker and made hot dogs on a barbecue that overlooked the ocean. The dogs seemed to know it was a special night, too, and were chilling out nearby. The three of them watched the sun go down over the island, turning the sky orange, then scarlet. Jonathan reflected that his next apartment certainly wouldn’t have a view like this, though it might be a while before then.

Caroline tapped Jonathan’s glass with the stem of her own. Jonathan caught a look from Allen. “So. Are you going home, then?”

“Eventually,” Jonathan said. “We had a long talk this morning.”

Allen suppressed a chuckle. Caroline looked from him back to Jonathan. She eyed him like a hostile witness. “And?”

“I would feel more comfortable if Allen had a stronger support network here. I’d like for him to get more social interaction. You. Mark. Jess. Other things around town.”

“I’m thinking of therapeutic horseback riding first,” Allen added.

She sipped her glass. “Go on.”

“I can help with that better from here than I can from Scotland.”

“Meet my new roommate,” Allen said.

Caroline coughed, spitting champagne. “What?”

Allen laughed, slapping his knee. His other knee, not the one that just recovered. Thank God. Allen wasn’t going to get off that easy now that Jonathan had just given him a clean bill of health. Jonathan said, “My agency can find me work here for nursing. No rent, I won’t have to cook his meals anymore, and I get a stipend as his personal assistant.”

Caroline’s mouth hung open. She looked at her father. Allen rolled his eyes. “Bastard drives a hard bargain.” He grinned. “So you kids haven’t heard the last of me.”

Caroline looked at Jonathan. He shrugged. “It was a great offer. See the States for free? Get to see what happens when treatment’s finished? How could I say no?”

Caroline held up her glass. “Well then. I suppose we’ll have to make the best of it.”

The three of them clinked glasses. “That we will,” Jonathan said.

You Don’t Fool Me

Posted: January 31, 2014 by writingsprint in Drama, The New Nurse
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marble staircaseCaroline, Mark, and Caroline’s sister Jessica took turns coming up on the weekend to help Allen’s physical therapy. Caroline stopped by during the week if her schedule permitted, in return for one favor every time she visited. Jonathan had the feeling that she liked seeing how many hoops she could make him jump through. Jonathan was starting to think that the family had a mean streak.

First she had him run errands for her. Then she had him take her on a walking tour of Newport. The night before Allen’s next diagnostic evaluation, he had to take her to dinner. Allen was glad to get them both out of the house, and it was good to spend an evening with someone other than Allen or Skyping his friends back home who were on graveyard shift.

When Jonathan came back to the mansion, he saw lights on in the main hall. Allen had given him a key, so he came in through the front door. The far side of the main hall was a set of marble stairs that reached a landing, then split off left and right to a gallery that overlooked the hall. Allen sat on the landing, with Zeus and Apollo alongside him. The dogs barked when they saw Jonathan. He thought it sounded like recognition, not menace.

“Welcome home, Jonathan. How was your date?”

“It was just dinner.”

“Trust me. It was a date. You made it through round one, and this is round two.”

“We shook hands after dinner, like a business meeting.”

“Don’t be fooled.”

Jonathan turned red. He couldn’t tell if Allen was serious or if he was messing with him. He also couldn’t think of anything he’d said that would’ve given Caroline a wrong idea. He liked her, but he’d planned to go home after his service to Allen was finished. Speaking of which… “What are you doing here?”

“I was getting some exercise. I went up and down the stairs.”

A little sharply, Jonathan said, “Allen, you shouldn’t have done that without my supervision.”

“Piss on that. I’m strong enough and you know it.”

He did know it. “That’s not the point.”

Allen waved his hand dismissively. “Whatever. Three times. Minimal pain.” He said angrily, “I know what you did. Bringing the kids around. The excursions. You gave me someone else to beat up on, didn’t you?”

“That wasn’t the idea,” Jonathan took a chance, “and you know it.”

Allen looked sad. Jonathan walked up the steps and sat down next to him. The dogs let him. Allen sighed, and said, “I had a manager, just like you. Thought I could bully him like everyone else. Nothing rattled him. He was the only one who’d speak his mind to me no matter what. One day, after a real barn burner of a meeting, I asked him how he did it. He looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘You don’t fool me.’ That was all he said.”

“You’re all piss and vinegar, Allen, but we’re still people underneath.”

Allen groaned. “Don’t get mushy on me. I’ll throw you down these stairs.”

“Like to see you try.”

“You think I can’t?” One of the dogs barked. “Easy, boys. We’re just playing.” The dog lay his head back down.

“I’ll say it another way. Tough is your language. I just knew how to speak it.”

Allen looked at him. “Jonathan Miller, the tough nurse from Scotland. Did you play football back home?”


“That explains that.” Allen said, “Well, you bastard, it worked. You got me on my feet. I got to see my kids again. I always wanted to give people a tour of the town.”

“You’re not going to kneecap yourself before tomorrow’s evaluation, are you?”

Allen looked genuinely hurt. “That was an accident!”


“Well… half an accident. I didn’t plan to hit the fucking ground so hard.” Jonathan laughed. “Asshole,” Allen said.

Jonathan thought of putting his hand on Allen’s shoulder, but didn’t think they were that warm and fuzzy just yet. “Fair enough,” he said. “Well, I’m going to bed. You should do the same, or at least move someplace better for your posture.”

“Do you want to watch me climb the stairs to the second floor?”

“As a matter of fact, yes, I would.”

Allen chuckled. Then Jonathan watched him gingerly make his way from the landing to the second floor, step by step, with his hand on the railing just in case. Jonathan applauded when he reached the top.

Time to Get Help

Posted: January 28, 2014 by writingsprint in Drama, The New Nurse
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Jonathan spoke to Caroline in the morning, and she came to the mansion for lunch. Allen was back in the wheelchair, rolling around on the path outside with the dogs. Jonathan and Caroline were walking nearby, to keep an eye on him.

Jonathan said, “Tomorrow he goes back on crutches. He’s supposed to test his weight on his knee, but only under my supervision, and no walking on it. We have an appointment with his PT next week for another X-ray. If things look good, we’ll go back to regular exercises.”

“I’m glad it wasn’t worse.”

The dogs barked as Allen threw a tennis ball. Zeus and Apollo chased it like puppies. Jonathan could see a small slice of what Allen wanted in this picture where they were all framed.

“I wanted to talk to you about that. I think he did it to himself.”

Caroline was silent, leaving the crashing waves and the dogs barking as the only sounds. Then she said, “Go on.”

He told her what he’d said to Dan about the injury, less Dan’s commentary. Jonathan added, “We were talking about the end of his treatment before it happened. I think he doesn’t want me to go.”

“I can see why. You’re polite. You cook. You put up with him. You’re a captive audience.”

Jonathan nodded, “And you’re here, and he feels safer going outside. Was he this active before his surgery?”

“No. Well… I really don’t know.” That spoke volumes. Jonathan was about to say something, but Caroline asked, “Can you stay another month? Wean him off having you around?”

Jonathan wanted to yell. He’d had a feeling she’d ask that. “I can stay longer, but it’s not about weaning him off me. It’s about giving him reasons not to need me.”

Caroline frowned. “Now you sound like a psychologist.”

“You won’t find a home care nurse who isn’t.” Jonathan stopped walking. He looked right at her. “Caroline, I need your help.”

“Name it. We can hire—”

“I need you to help me with his recovery. You and your siblings.”

Caroline shook her head. “No.”

“It’s not as bad as you think. We need to find something he likes. Between socialization and physical activity, we can get the ball rolling.”

“I don’t have time, and none of us wants to. That’s why we hired a nurse.”

“And his recovery has taken twice as long as it should. If we don’t start changing his habits now, right now, this is just the beginning.”

Caroline laughed. “What? You think he’s going to jump off the cliffs?”

“Not today. But yesterday, he showed his willingness to hurt himself.” Jonathan let that sink in. Caroline shivered, even in the eighty degree heat. She watched her father, throwing the ball to his dogs again.

Looking Ahead to Independence

Posted: January 24, 2014 by writingsprint in Drama, The New Nurse
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blueberry pancakesAllen didn’t get any easier. The more progress he made, the harder he became to work with. It was like fencing. Every procedure, every step, Allen badgered, whined, bitched, complained, and otherwise made a nuisance of himself. Then he would do whatever Jonathan had asked him to do, and he would make progress. Jonathan reflected that if he really was tougher than granite, then Allen was a granite statue in progress, made with crude tools by hand. Slowly, painfully, he was taking shape.

Jonathan was making breakfast on the morning at the end of their second week. He flipped a pancake in the frying pan. He heard the dogs barking in the main hall. They seemed to know when Allen came downstairs, as opposed to when Jonathan came down. Jonathan got a kick out of that.

Allen hobbled into the kitchen on his crutches. He was putting weight on his knee, and only used them for additional support. It had been a tough negotiation just to get him to stop sitting in the wheelchair. Allen sniffed the air. “Are those blueberries I smell?” he asked.

“That they are.”

“Do they have blueberries in Scotland?”

“Not as much as here. Raspberries are our national fruit. I read about blueberry pancakes on my flight over. I thought this would be a good treat.”

“Now I’ve seen everything.” Allen sat down. Jonathan flipped the pancake again. “You seem chipper. You didn’t get laid last night, so what are you so happy about?”

“You’ve been making good progress. So… we should start looking ahead to your independence.”

“My what?”

“Living independently. Completion of physical therapy.”

“Oh. Yes. Well… good. When will that be?”

“Soon. We’re going to run through your diagnostic test again today. If all goes well, and I think it will, we can set up a schedule for putting aside those crutches for good.” Allen didn’t say anything. Jonathan looked over his shoulder. “All right?”

“Yes. Of course. I’m just surprised, that’s all.”

Allen didn’t sound happy. What was going on? “It’ll be good to go walking outside again. I’ll bet the dogs would love that.”

Allen didn’t say anything. He opened the newspaper and started reading.

Jonathan served the pancakes. Allen had to crack a smile at those. His mother had taught Jonathan how to make them when he was little, and they were the one thing he knew how to cook the best.

Immovable as Granite

Posted: January 23, 2014 by writingsprint in Drama, The New Nurse
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“I’m being straight with him, and I don’t rattle easily. He’s not the worst patient I ever had,” Jonathan said.

“Who was the worst?”

“My stepdad. Rheumatoid arthritis. I helped my mother take care of him for six years, all through secondary and university. He died after that.”

“I’m sorry.”

Jonathan sat down across from her. Caroline was dressed in a black pantsuit with a cream-colored top underneath. Her jewelry was simple. She radiated “edge.” Allen’s application said he had three children through two women he’d married, both divorced. Neither of them wanted anything to do with him. “Thank you,” Jonathan said, “and thank you for coming today. He needs support. Are either of your siblings local?”

“My brother’s in Maine, and my sister is in Connecticut. They won’t come, though.”

Jonathan felt a chill. The doors to the hall had been opened for cross ventilation, and the sea breeze felt warm and salty. “That’s a shame. It’ll make his recovery more difficult.”

“I know, but you’ve seen him. He’s impossible to please and impossible to work with. If he wasn’t a brilliant investor and a ruthless businessman he’d be a cranky lobster fisherman with a cirrhotic liver.”

Jonathan’s projection of the recovery, long-term, jumped by another month. “I can’t keep him practicing good habits all the time. If he stays lazy like this, without family support – friends, somebody – he’ll develop poor motion. He could reinjure himself.”

Caroline shook her head.

That made Jonathan angry. He fell back on his training. “Nice” was far more effective than “ass-kicking,” though that time would come, too. “Well then. I appreciate your coming, and I’m sure Allen does, too. Even if he won’t admit it.”

“Money’s not the problem, Jonathan. You don’t have to worry about that. I just….” She gestured toward the elevator, where Allen had gone, and dropped her hand. “I lived with that for eighteen years. It was enough.”

“Can I ask… if you won’t help, why did you come here today?”

She smiled. “He called yesterday, and told me he had a new nurse who was immovable as granite. He sounded beside himself. Maybe it was cruel but I wanted to see it in person.”

That made Jonathan angrier. Disinterested relatives were bad. People getting a kick out of other people’s suffering was worse. “I hope you enjoyed the show.”

“Actually I was disappointed. You’re not granite. You’re just tougher than he is. I think it’s good for him. And you.” Caroline stood. “You’ll have to excuse me. I have to make a few calls before my father comes back.” She handed him a business card. Caroline was a lawyer – a partner in the firm, in fact. “You can call if you need anything. My private line is on the back. If it’s busy, tell my secretary who you are and she’ll put you through.”

They shook hands. “Don’t be a stranger,” Jonathan said.

She laughed. “You see? It’s that kind of persistence that drives him nuts.”

Checking Out the Patient

Posted: January 19, 2014 by writingsprint in Drama, The New Nurse
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poached eggsThey went through the kitchen to an elevator upstairs. Mr. Keyhull showed Jonathan to his room, a suite which Keyhull said had been the room where the first son of the house had lived when the mansion had first been built. The furniture was all cutting edge contemporary, black mahogany with soft white cushions. Jonathan thought it would have looked stylish in a high roller’s room in Las Vegas. His bathroom was done up in black tile, with a heated floor, with a grand white bowl for a sink and an even bigger one for a tub. Breakfast would be at nine, and they could discuss their arrangement then.

Jonathan woke to brilliant light streaming in the doors to his balcony. He’d forgotten to close the blackout curtains last night. He opened them and was greeted to a spectacular view of the Atlantic. The sun was only an inch of two above the horizon. Jonathan ran back in and checked his phone: eight o’clock. Whew.

He came back to the window. Waves crashed below at the bottom of the cliffs, shooting spray up the thirty-foot faces of beaten, crumbled rock. He was definitely glad he hadn’t taken the wrong way around the house. He would have wound up with beaten, crumbled legs.

Jonathan took a deep breath of the salt air. He imagined the merchants who had first settled here, vying with each other to stake out the best view. The original owners of this house had won.

Time to get ready.

Jonathan meant to get to the kitchen ahead of Mr. Keyhull and impress him with his preparedness, but he was greeted with the sizzle and meaty smell of bacon cooking as he got off the elevator. Mr. Keyhull leaned on crutches as he made eggs. “Ah, good morning. Have a seat. I’m making us eggs.”

“Thank you very much! May I have two over easy, then?”

Mr. Keyhull looked over his shoulder. “Some other time. I prefer poached.”

Ugh. “Poached would be delicious. Can I help?”

“No, I’ve got it.”

Jonathan studied him as he moved about the kitchen. Mr. Keyhull had good dexterity and good awareness of his surroundings. He also practiced safety with the stove, keeping the pots and pans on it to a minimum. If he could get him to work as diligently with his physical therapy, he should be walking again in no time. He refused to put weight on his knee at all. It was understandable, but he was at the stage when he should be testing his weight.

I liked the characters from yesterday’s post so much that I want to keep it going into a larger story. We’ll see where this relationship goes.

The story came from another roll of Rory’s Story Cubes. Usually I would break them up into chunks that represented beginning, middle and end, but I really felt like I was suffocating yesterday. Instead I took the whole roll — all nine cubes — as source material and started picking them up one at a time as a I felt inspired. I called it doodling. Oh, it felt so much better.

The rolls were Plane (Jonathan’s from abroad), Alien (ditto), Castle (there’s a mansion), House (he’s living there), Lock with Keyhole (his client’s name), Key (ditto), Flower (he walks through the garden). As usual, I had a hard time finding a use for the Abacus. I’m thinking that Mr. Keyhull is a retired investment banker, so maybe that’ll count for him 🙂

A friend of mine once said that therapy was like peeling back an onion: you do it layer by layer. I remember not liking it. Peeling anything reminded me of peeling skin, which made me think of pain. I wanted to avoid that.

Some people would say it’s unavoidable. I certainly pushed myself over some awful emotional bridges in my day. The best advice I ever got from my therapist was not to tackle anything I wasn’t ready for. Sure, I could rattle off every problem I was wrestling with, plus all the ones I wasn’t dealing with at the time but that I knew were out there. I could also build a house with my own bare hands, right here, right now, if I had all the supplies in front of me and enough time to do it. I wouldn’t want to live in that house. Just because I could didn’t mean I was ready to.

I trusted her, so I started dealing with one thin layer at a time. Some problems would come back around. That’s normal. As opposed to driving myself to be perfect, now, I accepted myself and worked on growing in a direction I wanted to. I also accepted that these things, like most averages, are made up of ups and downs. Years later, I have to admit the onion metaphor’s a pretty good one. You start where you are, working on your life on the outside.

The strangest thing lately has been the time traveling. Choices become actions, become habits, become our lives. As I started to undo old bad habits and create new ones, I would remember bad habits that I picked up from longer and longer ago. Not just the habit, but when it happened and the choice that I made. Last week I had to concentrate on something to get work done. I originally learned to concentrate by kicking myself in the ass at age six. The moment that it happened, the very first time, blinked into my head. I could remember how the room looked, how I felt – a lot smaller – and it was like being able to make a different choice. Instead of focusing through anger and frustration, I breathed, focused, and flexed the concentration muscles because I wanted to. It’s a subtle difference.

If I’ve peeled back the layers to age six, what happens next? Soon I’ll be going so far back that I don’t remember why I started doing what I did, only that I want to change it now. What happens after that? Past lives? Some of my friends would say yes. All I know is that we live our lives moving forward, with the occasional time jump. I’ve undone a lot of bad habits. There are good new ones to build.


Posted: July 25, 2011 by writingsprint in postaday2011, postaweek2011, Writing
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What day is it?

Ugh... what day is it?

Sorry, Chris. It gave me an idea.

Tara woke up with what felt like a dozen bricks sitting on her head, and a bottle of vodka still in her hand with about half an inch of Russia’s finest, tastiest brain softener sitting in it. “Huh. How did I not drink that?” she asked. She started to get up and winced. Little needles jabbed her behind the eyes. It hurt to move. The good news was, she smelled like alcohol, not puke.

“Just like my mama,” she said. For years she had come home to find her mama passed out on the couch, a bottle of Stoli on the floor or in her hand, and the TV still showing soap opera reruns on. Tara felt disgusted. She’d sworn she would never end up like her mama, but here she was, and all over a jerk of a man who couldn’t see the good thing he had in front of him.