Is There a Doctor or a Nurse On Board?

“Is there a doctor or a nurse onboard?  Would you be willing to assist with one of our passengers?”

Not what I wanted to hear.

I took a deep breath, deciding if I’d be a nurse today.

We’d been in the air for maybe 30 minutes. I was settled in my comfy bulkhead window seat, sharing the row with a nice family of three – mom, dad, baby girl.  While waiting for our flight, I’d noticed this little 3-month old cradled in her mother’s arms as she sat on the floor in the crowded terminal, surrounded by baby totes.  Calm baby, loving mother, attentive dad.  Still, I hoped they wouldn’t be sitting close to me on the flight.

Well, there you go.

“We’re going to San Francisco for Valentine’s Day,” she told me.

Sweet.  

After a week away from home for a wonderful vacation in Florida, I’d said my goodbyes to my brother and sister-in-law and headed home.   A precious week, it was the first time in our lives that we were able to spend so much time together not surrounded by all of our children and grandchildren. We had a fabulous time playing tourist, hanging out at the golf club, or just doing nothing at all, in their new home town of retirement.

I was on my second plane of the day after changing planes in Atlanta, headed for San Francisco. Settled in, I was looking forward to a little rest after a sleepless last night in Lakeland.  I knew Howie, Heather and Sami were picking me up in the City and we were going out for a late bite to eat.  Get my rest now was my mantra of the day.

Of course I offered my help.  After a long internal debate that lasted at least three seconds.  I pressed the call light as instructed. Evidently there was no doctor on board. Up and out of my seat, I followed the attendant down the tight aisle where I introduced myself as an RN to the assembled crew and passengers.

Another of our throng spoke up, “An RN? Well, she trumps me.”

He chuckled as he headed on back to his own seat.

The attendants report to me that the passenger in question is complaining of numbness and tingling in his feet and hands. I see an anxious looking Indian gentleman, approximately 75 years old, sitting in the middle seat. I move into the vacated aisle seat to establish eye contact and be closer to speak with him. His female companion from the aisle seat now hovers over us in the crowded walkway.

“Hello, my name is Kathleen.  What is your name?”

Furrowed forehead, his eyes question me.  I reach for his hand, press it to my chest, and repeat my name, asking again for his name, and then pressing my hand with his against his chest, repeating myself. I have some difficulty dealing with his strong Indian accent, and I echo his name as best as I can. He nods his head in agreement. Good, step one. Establish rapport. Reduce his anxiety.

“Do you speak English?”

“I speak little bit English,” he replies.

Still holding onto his warm left hand, I ask him a series of questions, one by one, to help me get a feel for what’s going on with this guy.

“What are you feeling right now? Are you having pain in your chest? Any pain at all? Is your head hurting?”

“My hands, my feet, they are tingly and numb.  No, I have no pain. No, I am not cold, I’m not feeling hot.  I had this feeling only one time before, this morning on the plane from Orlando.”

Same one I was on.

“Do you travel often? Is this something that has happened before?” I ask.

“Yes, I travel. No, no, just this morning – and now,” he replies, as he repeatedly opens and closes his fingers, grasping them or clapping them together to get a feel for them.

Shaking his head, he indicates that he hasn’t had any water to drink today, or much to eat, either.

I take his pulse.  Regular, a bit on the fast side, not out of the ordinary.  Normal respirations.  The woman with him says repeatedly, ‘my son, my son.’  She looks a heck of a lot older than he does.  I wonder if she has her personal pronouns confused.  Maybe she’s his daughter. She dotes on him and doesn’t speak or understand English.

I figure he’s somewhat dehydrated, with some sort of circulatory challenge and a bit of anxiety thrown in. I advise the attendants that he ought to have some water, as well as sit somewhere he could elevate his legs. He needs to relax.

The crew reports that there are 12 empty seats.  I remember seeing a few vacant seats in my area of the plane.  Okay, let’s get some people moved around.

“ Mr. ____, do you think you can walk to another place in the plane so that you can put your feet up and rest?” I ask.

He nods in agreement, “Yes, yes, I can do that.  I can walk.”

With two flight attendants in the lead, Mr. ___ follows, firmly gripping each seatback as he slowly makes his way, almost in a standing crawl. Smart guy. I walk behind him, ready to reach out and grab him if he falters. The third crewmember brings up the rear. Other passengers are craning their necks, peeking around, watching and wondering what’s going on.

Up near the front of the plane now, I offer my bulkhead seat to a woman sitting in the window seat behind mine, if she’d like to move, explaining to her that this gentleman  needs to lie down.  She readily agrees.  There’s an empty middle seat and the guy on the aisle has offered to move to another seat as well.  Before two minutes have gone by, our gentleman has a full three seats to himself.

As he sits to relax after that brief walk, the crew bring him a plastic glass of water which he quickly empties. They set up an oxygen tank for him. He sits there, his companion at his side, his head leaned back, calmly breathing O2 with an oxygen mask. Soon enough, he dispatches with the O2, and his female companion.  He lies down to nap with a pillow and blanket provided by the crew.

His daughter/mother was now sitting behind him, thanks to another volunteer seat-mover. She would get up every now and then to gently rest her hand on his shoulder.

My new place was in the aisle seat across from Mr. ___, ostensibly to keep an eye on him.  My new seatmate had earlier upgraded his boarding pass in Atlanta to get the aisle seat I was now seated in.

He’d quickly offered it up to me.

“You have enough on your plate. Why don’t you sit here?”

“Thank you,” I answered,  “I know you had other plans for this seat.”

He slid over into the empty center seat and we had a good laugh at our mislaid seating plans.

Soon enough, I was called to the crew’s staging area where I agreed to provide my name, address, phone number.  If I’d had my RN license on me, or remembered the number, I could have given that as well.  No worries.  Sure, I told them, you can call me if need be for follow-up.

Somewhat later, I walked to the back of the plane to the bathroom.   There was a professional looking guy loitering there, playing with his phone. He looked up at me.

“Save a life!” he quipped, smiling. I laughed. Well, not quite.

He asked me what hospital I worked. I answered that I’d recently retired from Napa State. Turns out, he’d been a sales rep peddling psych meds at various hospitals and clinics in the area. Small world.

On arrival, a wheelchair was on hand to get our guy through the airport. All was well. After we’d settled him in a row of his own, there were no further complaints.

And the baby? Not a peep.

I like to think that at an altitude thousands of feet above the earth, the positive attitude in this plane full of ‘Californians’, and travelers to California, was at least partially responsible for the calm, helpful and concerned manner in which each person played their part.

We didn’t really save a life, we just showed some compassion for our fellow travelers in need.

Here’s to you, Flight Crew and passengers on Southwest Flight 3745, Atlanta to San Francisco.  Good job, well done.

 

 

Postcards in Paradise – Letters from Home

The postcard in my hand is so old I’d expect it to be worn and frail and downright unimportant.  It’s not, though.  It’s one more amazing golden star resting among years of memories.  Life and love that I’ve discovered again in a bin in the basement.

Cattle punching on a jack rabbit in Arizona
Cattle punching on a jack rabbit in Arizona

The cowboy doing his day’s work on the back of a jack rabbit still cracks me up.  Cristy’s words touch my heart, make me laugh and warm my toes.  Long flowing letters from Lynda fill my heart with joy.  I chew on my bottom lip and take a deep breath reading love words from a lover long gone.

For days now, I’ve been walking from the warmth of my home, across the driveway in the rain and into the dank basement.  Each trip, I grab one more plastic bin full of flashbacks to carry into my study.

Hand painted by Fleta Stephens
Hand painted by Fleta Stephens

I’m in no hurry as I bend over and pick up a memory, one at a time.  Photographs, loosely tossed  among letters and proclamations and typewritten resumes and newsletters.  Handwritten postcards and Christmas cards and birthday cards, sympathy cards.

Bent or broken picture frames, some empty, others as if they just fell off the shelf.  Drawings by young children and more than a pair of white leather baby shoes.

Three Baby Shoes
Three Baby Shoes

Sure, I have picture albums.  They sit on my bookcase.  They’ve been sitting around on my bookcases for years.  We look at them on occasion, friends and family.  And, yes, I have thousands of jpgs and pdfs and pngs in folders all over my computer.  I print them out often enough.

Memory Bins
Memory Bins

But the bins, that’s where the real treasure lives.  What draws me into the bins is not the written word or the color on the postcards, the letters, or the drawings.  It’s the love stretched across the years from one hand to another.

I’m afraid that all of our easily computerized ‘stuff’ could be depriving us of a future full of overflowing boxes and bins in the basement.  We need to hold those sentiments in our fingers, in our hands, as surely as we need to hold a book bound by stitching in our lap.

hat day yankees05122014So, today, before I completed this story to you, I wrote a letter to someone dear to me.  I’m going to lick that stamp and stick it in the top right corner of an envelope and send it off.  And then I’m going to print off this page, sign it and put it in a new book for someone to pick up years from now when they’re going through bins in the basement.   Maybe it will be me.

Are you missing that feeling of having a letter in your fingers, or a postcard from paradise?  Send me your address.  I’ll send you one.  From my hand to yours.  Who knows?  We could start a trend.

As for the bins in the basement, I have a plan.

 

Mexico City Meets San Rafael? San Francisco CA?

It’s amazing to me how my day, the day that I had planned, can change in the blink of an eye.  When I awoke this morning, I had no idea I’d be writing about strangers I haven’t even met.  To you.  Readers and writers all, we’re open to new experiences.  We have to be.

Travel and travelers are a rich and tasty source of stories and poetry, surprising delights in all the five senses.  It’s always been that way, for travelers and writers everywhere.  I know it certainly rocks my boat.

Today I bring to you an opportunity to meet someone new, to learn something new. Perhaps, gain a new perspective about my world.   Perhaps about yourself.

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I’ve been part of an international travelers organization for many years.

https://www.couchsurfing.org/

Because of this partnership, my life has changed in more ways than I ever imagined.  In 2013, I spent a spring week, sleeping evenings in a small home outside Paris, thanks to the generosity of a couchsurfer I met online.  A quaint place with windows overlooking a quiet little road, a brief and leisurely train ride from the City, a walk meandering through the Farmer’s Market and in and around several little shops along the road, through a public park full of children laughing, flowers blooming, trees of green and the aroma of French pastries on my tongue.

IMG_0077 (1)I spent a week in Morocco.  We walked through the hot sun during the day, into the shaded and cool medina full of music, food and trained snakes at night.  After which we traveled over the High Atlas Peak Mountains in a rickety bus to visit 3 days in the Berber desert in Mimoune’s family home.  Mimoune’s family communicated with me through Mimoune, the one English speaking family member to translate for all of us.  By the end of my visit, having savored fresh bread baked daily in a clay, fruit and vegetables that grow on their spring fed and irrigated land, they invited me to stay and be a special guest in Mimoune’s sister’s wedding.  Sweet Moroccan tea lingers on my lips.

In Coventry, I learned all about Snooker and ‘Bowls’.  I sipped tea each morning from 100_4177dainty china cups and wandered along the countryside with my friend Tim who had visited  Napa years before.

Yucatan Eco Resort
Yucatan Eco Resort

In the Yucatan, I net Carmen’s young daughter, stayed in their beautiful home, armed myself with travel tips for the best local places to visit, to eat and linger and I learned that folks who need care can go to the medical clinic in the evening, after work, any working day.

In Belgium, along the Meuse River, I was treated to Belgian waffles and thousand of beers in one place, not to mention new friends who have now come to visit me here in U.S. bringing with them even more of that delicious Belgium chocolate.

Belgian Breakfast
Belgian Breakfast

None of what I experience when I travel with couchsurfers can be found in a guide book.

I received a message this morning and am hoping someone out there might see an opportunity to help out a couple of folks from Mexico City.  I don’t have a space to do so right now.  Life for me is people, travel, writing, sharing, fun, helping.  So I thought I’d pass this along. If you want to know more, please contact me.

From Rick Schmidt in Mexico City:
Here’s my situation: my wife will be studying at Dominican University for the month of December … she’s got room/board provided by the school. I will accompany her but need a room for a month. We tried airbnb and craigslist but no luck: either too expensive or too far away from San Rafael. I don’t need anything fancy, but need safe place to park car. I am quiet, clean and interesting conversationalist … having travelled to many parts of the world all my life, including the recent 12 years of attending conferences; my host would not regret having met me, I’m sure. If you have friends, acquaintances or just a suggestion, I would be very appreciative. We live in Mexico City and have enjoyed hosting CSers a few times in the past ten years. We have references and are homeowners ourselves so we know how to treat our environment. Thank you so much for any suggestion. Cheers….Rick Schmidt, Ana Cazares
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Are You Voting?

Vote?
Vote?

Plutocracy: Government by the wealthy; a country or society governed in this way.

Democracy: System of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.

The plutocrats continue to dangle the carrot in front of us as we minions queue up to the polls. After billions earned off us have been spent to make sure ‘their’ guy wins. Wow. Yes, I do believe it’s us and them. And we’re losing. Look around.

For years, I was knee deep in politics, campaigning, believing it all. Seriously into it. For years, I didn’t vote. NOT because I was apathetic, not because I was a loser. Because I believe the game is over. This season is done. Not many marks to make on the ballot.

I’m not proud to vote. I’m not happy to vote. It’s a flashjob. I’m proud and happy to live to write about it. Thanks to our democracy, not to the plutocracy.

Carlin Vote

I Am Not a Genre

For most of my life, I’ve struggled with labels. I think I’m not alone in this.

Either I’ve been boxed in by others, or I’ve boxed myself into this label or that. I’ve been guilty of boxing others as well. Inevitably, at just the right time, if luck has it, the labels slide off into the muck and mire of true life.   And when we are lucky, we get to choose our own silky ribbons instead of another unforgiving box.

“What genre do you write?” asks a writer when we meet for a glass of wine.

“Uh, well, I write fiction, poetry. Non-fiction. Sometimes, memoir, sometimes flash fiction, I’ve written a bit of creative non-fiction, some travel stuff. Once in a while, for kids,” I reply, pretty sure I haven’t supplied the politically correct answer.

“What about you?” I ask my new acquaintance.

“Oh, I write fantasy,” she answers.

Fantasy? Fiction? Is fiction fantasy? Fantasy is fiction? We‘re all making up stories.

Stories are one thing. People are another.

Conclusion. I am not a genre.

Define genre. A noun.

‘New Oxford American Dictionary’ at my fingertips: a category of artistic composition, as in music or literature, characterized by similarities in form, style or subject matter.

There are numerous synonym citations at www.thesaurus.com:

style               sort                species

category            

kind                variety

In www.dictionary.com: a class or category of artistic endeavor having a particular form, content, technique, or the like: the genre of epic poetry.

My favorite, seen here at www.urbandictionarycom: an

unnecessary 

label attached to music, movies,novels, etc. giving way to discrimination, stereotypes, and prejudice.

While I was reading and thinking and writing and pondering, a friend called asking me to pick up and bring to her the pain medication she’d forgotten at home that she desperately desired. Yes, I know I’m labeling her as a friend. Let’s not get too carried away here. She couldn’t leave work; she was in a lot of pain.

I’m in the car, sitting at a stoplight, looking around.   A truck heading into the intersection to my right catches my eye. Big dark maroon truck. I don’t know if it was a Dodge, or a Ford, or a Chevy. One word printed on the sides and the back screamed right at me:

D E F I N E

It was a sign. A sign, I tell you.  How often have you seen something like that and not known it was a sign?

You may not know that I’ve been blogging off and on for years, may not have seen much of it. I don’t have millions of followers. Yet. Some of my older pieces I’m not really happy with any longer. Typical of most writers.

During the past few years, I’ve created and followed my own internal blogging labels. Genre labels. One page for poetry. This site for essay. This one for non-fiction. That one for travel stories.

Ad infinitum.

Ad nauseum.

So, loyal readers, soon, I pretty much won’t be doing that. I’ll be here.  In one place.   www.writerpaints.wordpress.com. If I change my mind later, I’ll let you know.  If you want the addresses of the pages that have come before, just ask.  I’ll be happy to pass them along.

My intention is to review the old posts on the other pages. The ones I don’t outright delete,

I’ll retrieve  and

dress them

update ‘em

redraft and/or revise

and

perhaps…

include them here.

I feel better already.

Oeuvre and out.

WriterPaints
WriterPaints

Batter Up!

First Game, World Series, 2014

Ball 1. 

Before we met, long before he was my husband, when he was just a kid, Matt was a bat boy for the Cubbies.  My heart often wanders to him during baseball season.  He was the super baseball fan – stats, hits, runs, errors, he knew them all.  Until the last inning when he shocked his fans.  When he decided he wasn’t going to take another hit.   He grabbed a foul ball and walked off, leaving the infield torn and wondering, even now, after years of tears.

Strike 1.  Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the USA.

Ball 2.

If his heart was still pumping, Matt’d have a hard time choosing where to watch the game tonight.  I can still see the picture of our oldest son, 6 weeks old, on the front page of The New York Post, October ’81 in his baby Yankees warm-up suit.  ‘Still hate the Dodgers. Now the kids are San Francisco Giants Fans – Always October.  Would he partner up with the guys?  The youngest one, he definately inherited Matt’s sports fan genes.  Glove in hand, they’d catch every minute – breathless for the win.

Strike 2.

With our daughter?  In her black and orange, cheering sparkling wet eyes on the game, sorrow in her heart, rubbing her abdomen, ever so gently, grieving for the baby we all thought would show up just in time for spring training.  Struck out with no chance to suit up.

Ball 3.

One out of 5 pregnancies ends in miscarriage.

Full Count – Homerun!

Giants take the lead!  Everyone on their feet!!  Cheers and beers!

Batter up.

Grab your hat.  Grab your glove.  Wait for the next pitch.  And hold onto your heart.

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The Warmest Year

IMG_1037

The experts say our planet had the warmest year ever.

The warmest year since they’ve have been counting.

My eye catches the clouds soaring over our dying tomato vines,

Green and orange fruit still struggling to ripen.

Raindrops drizzling their softness on the baby blue pool cover.

And I wonder.

What will the experts say about my saddest year ever?

The Bruce of It

Getting older has just made me dance a bit faster. I’m always ready for one more taste, a new touch, a new smell, a good mystery, a little more rock ‘n roll, a smear of bright paint or the sound of a fresh tongue. It’s part of why I travel, usually solo, meeting up with good friends or finding new ones who were strangers somewhere.

Early spring of ‘13, I boarded a plane headed to Asia, Africa and Europe. That trip, all one hundred and ten days and nights of it, was the latest twinkle in a string of bright lights that started – with Bruce.

After years of living or traveling most of the U.S., it was time for me to cross that international line. But where? Canada? Too close. Mexico? Not yet.

I was looking for travel inspiration when I landed on an announcement of Bruce Springsteen’s upcoming tour. I’m a huge Springsteen fan. I could feel my heart buzzing, looking down the list of cities and then landing on Bilbao. Bilbao, Spain. Well, that’s where I was going.

I arranged for time off the job, told everyone I knew where I was going and what I was doing. I was excited.

So, two nights before Thanksgiving, 2007, I left for Spain’s Basque country. Late night flight, dinner at midnight flying over who knows where. We had turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie. A nice Chardonnay, a few walks up and down the aisle, a little nap and, voila! Just after breakfast, we were landing at l’Aeropuerto de Bilbao.

Stepping through immigration and security, returning locals and international lines were separated by red velvet ropes. A few folks just couldn’t get through fast enough, though, as I thought, would you like a little wine with that whine?

I grabbed some local currency from the airport ATM, and camera in hand, I walked out the revolving glass door into the sunny crisp air of Bilbao straight into a cab to the City Centre. I was a kid in a candy store. My Spanish/English dictionary was my new best friend.

“Perdone, por favor, dos ‘batteries?’” I asked the clerk, smiling politely.

“Miss, I speak English. What would you like?”

Exploring courtyards, plazas, alleyways, shops with their doors wide open, waterfronts in Bilbao and Donostia, San Sebastian, the second city I visited, grinning like a Cheshire cat.

I’d just boarded a train one morning from Bilbao to Donostia, I watched a young man, about my oldest son’s age, get up from his seat to come sit across from me.

“Excuse me, Miss, do you speak English?” Ferdinand asked.

“Si, I speak English, me llamo Kathleen,” I answered, nodding and smiling.

“You are American! My premier English conversation with American,” he replied enthusiastically.

Ferdinand announced he was ‘pleased to enjoy practicing English’ with me. We talked about Spain, the booming economy, giant construction cranes everywhere. He worked as a caregiver in an ‘Old Folks Residence’, plays piano, is an artist. We discovered that not only did he resemble my son, they

drawn by Ferdinand...
drawn by Ferdinand…

share the same birthdate. Sadly, he shared that he’d just left his parents’ home, ‘I’m gay, Kathleen, and my parents cannot accept me, even after five years.’

We truly enjoyed our brief 2 1/2 hours together on the Euskotren, our adióses a mix of good fortune and sadness when we reached the end of the line.

My soul soared through Donostia and Bilbao. Historic stone churches, cathedrals reaching to the clouds. Mass sung in Latin by a priest with the voice of an angel. Sunshine warmed my shoulders as I meandered along wide boulevards beneath bare trees stretching up from earth, fur-wrapped women chatting and window shopping, their leather high-heel boots clacking on the cobblestones.

Sweet, fresh pastries in what turned out to be the same bakery my good friend visited 30 years earlier. Porcelain cup & saucer, café sitting atop a tiny marble table as I scanned the local newspaper.

Scrumptious tapas, so many flavors and sizes and textures, in a wide assortment of bars, cafés and restaurants. Ordering from menu la Español, I was often laughingly surprised at what appeared on my plate.

One beautifully clear evening, rambling along the Donostia pier, I walked into a quaint seaside restaurant. It was early, no other diners at the time, the owner at the front was cheerful, talkative, welcoming.

Soon enough I was seated in a window seat, watching folks here and there in the small working marina across from me. Relaxing with a fine Cabernet, dinner arrived. Black ink squid resting on a bright ball of white rice, served by my own private English speaking waitress courtesy of the owner who had engaged me in conversation about, what else? San Francisco.

B R U C E !!!!
B R U C E !!!!

Oh, and I went to a concert. After ten days of warm and comfy hostels, a bit of rain, trams, trains, buses, jamón, pescado, cheese, vino, bread, bookstores, benches and museums. Yes, the Guggenheim, with a timely Special Exhibition of ‘American artists’. Ha ha. It was time to see the Boss.

The train to the concert was awfully quiet. Too quiet. I soon realized I was on the wrong side of the Nervión River, on the wrong train. Fortunately for me, two locals, a bit of English, and a little Español

put me on the right train. Jam-packed, fans of all ages, laughing, raucous, music blaring on a boom box. And I was right there with ‘em.

Cigarette smoke filled the arena. First stop, the bar. Excitement filled the air in voices from everywhere.

I met Kasa when I got to my seat, a quiet mid-40’s English speaking Japanese businessman sitting to the right of me. Several young and wild Spaniards in the seats front of me, an empty seat to my left. Perfect.

Kasa owns several Eric Clapton guitars he’s picked up in charity auctions, he’d attended every Springsteen show on the tour so far. We were so thrilled!

The show opened with ‘Radio Nowhere’, the Boss covered the stage. Kids in front, and me, jumping, screaming with delight. I turned to Kasa, who was grinning ear to ear, standing and tapping his fingers to the rhythm, wrists bouncing at the base of his thumbs, his brown

eyes twinkling

with delight as

the crowd ROARED

…………….… B R U C E !!!