Bugging the elders

To save money, I’ve been staying with an older woman who lives in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina.  As I mentioned before, she’s 82 and delightful.  And we’ve spent hours talking.  Our topics range from her time in the Air Force, dating life (hers and mine), racism in the South, racism in the North, the children we both love (but never birthed), and memories of childhood.

Her honesty is refreshing.  And I’m happy that she likes me.  I was even shown a picture of her single nephew who’s about my age, with the slightest hints of our future together (though she doubts he’ll ever marry).

But there’s just this one thing that came up recently: Continue reading

The Relative Nature of Problems

Problems, problems, problems
Woe is me, I’m havin’
Problems, problems, problems
– Tribe Called Quest, 8 Million Stories

Phife described problems with women, clothes, and theft. Endless problems that warranted lengthy and numerous verses. But I’m still pretty sure for the last couple of weeks I’ve had him beat. Did he really think those were problems?

This is how my thinking has turned. I’ve developed some sort of anguish snobbery. Arguments with other drivers, missing the train, the general annoyances of my job. Sure, these can all be frustrating. And they really are. I don’t want to discount the fact that even the little things can have a big effect. And I don’t want to say that every time I’m upset about something I must let it roll off my back in light of the people with real problems. Because even the smallest issues have their place on a scale of frustration. But it’s just that I have earned some type of (temporary) right to judge other people’s problems and, in most cases, deem my circumstances more dire. Although I’m nowhere near the end of the scale involving terminal illness, insurmountable poverty, or gruesome death, I’m definitely far superior to the road ragers and reality tv “stars” of the world.

My climb into the range of superior problems began a couple of weeks ago when I began to feel pain in my back, reminiscent of what brought on a need for surgery last year. No big deal though. I had been stretching and doing strengthening exercises that I assumed were pushing it a bit (although that falsely implies I was working out aggressively). This type of pain has come up a couple of times since last year’s surgery. And once it required a couple of vicodin. But it never took more than a few stretches, some rest, and a few days to subside. However, a week later – on a Saturday, it was much worse this time. Sciatica in my left leg was in full effect. And if you’re not familiar with the pains of sciatica…well, you’re really lucky. The best way I can describe it is the brief, sharp, pulling pain you get in your legs when you over-stretch your hamstring, thigh, or calf muscles. But imagine that feeling all the time, in any and all resting positions. Last year the sciatica was in my right leg and accompanied by total numbess of my foot and much of my leg. Pain on the inside and numbess on the outside.

Wong-Baker Pain Scale

When I woke up on Saturday with the crazy pain in my leg and persistent pain in my back, I thought my whole weekend would be blown as I waited it out. By Saturday evening I was completely collapsed on my kitchen floor, literally screaming, having sneezed and taken level 9 pain to something off the charts. I’m not sure how many vicodin I took. But it didn’t matter. I watched the sun rise without even the briefest reprieve. And somewhere around 5am, if you can believe it, it became worse. As I shifted from one painful position to another, the pain in my back suddenly became more acute. As if the knife that were already there were twisted and lodged further in with a hammer. And at the same time, a cruel person pulled every nerve out of my left leg with bare, dirty hands, only to play them like a harp. I’m not sure I even got a scream out – nothing but the pain seemed clear…that is until I felt the feeling in my foot fading. The little toe, all the toes, my heel, then my calf. I begged…literally begged. “Please don’t let this happen to me again. PLEASE!!”

It didn’t stop. In fact, through Sunday, the numbness and pain were only accompanied by severe weakness. Twice I fell over when putting my weight on my left leg for only a moment. Monday I barely moved. Tuesday morning I took my last remaining vicodin and dragged myself out of the house to see my spine doctor (that’s right – I have a doctor just for my spine). Not so sure how I survived that journey, but it did involve some crying in the taxi. And incidentally, once I stopped crying, the driver and I had a delightful conversation about Amsterdam. He promised to pray first that I would feel better, and second that I would find love and happiness in Amsterdam. He was a bright spot. But I digress.

Wednesday morning was the MRI, to which my brother-in-law drove me. Wednesday afternoon was a call from my doctor. A disk herniation would have been bad. But this was a super duper sized herniated disk, that had broken off, and was hanging out in my spinal canal and severely compressing the area nerves, causing almost the complete breakdown of my leg. What’s more, there was blood that had gathered where it was not supposed to be. And since he was going on vacation in two days, I had two choices: wait for two weeks to reassess when he returned, or get myself to the hospital that night to have surgery on Thursday.

Woe is me, I’m havin’ problems, problems, problems. Pray for me, I’m havin’ problems, problems, problems.

Wednesday night I checked into the hospital (I’ll spare you the details of how I got there and how I found my final pre-surgery meal). Thursday morning I was wearing all the surgery gear, including a very unflattering cap that barely fit my hair, and rolling over to have the doctor sign my back. I was too dazed by all of it to even register fear.

I woke up from a pleasant dream to find myself in the surgery recovery room. I don’t remember much – except there was no more pain in my leg. I later learned that although there was no more pain, so much of my disk had been lost (between last year and this year’s incident) that I’m about 10% of a disk away from being “bone to bone” in the lowest part of my spine.  I can live with it.  But if the thought of it isn’t cringe-worthy, I’m not sure what is.

Friday morning, I passed the physical therapy test (which basically just told them I wouldn’t tumble down a flight of stairs the moment I left the hospital) and was discharged.

Problems over, you wonder?

My sister picked me up from the hospital to drive me home in my car. Almost in tears, she ran into my hospital room explaining that the driver-side window wouldn’t roll up. There was just no window. After driving me to Brooklyn, she and her husband found a lot for my car for the evening because parking on the street for even a moment wasn’t an option. But the good news was my sister would stay with me for a couple of nights to take care of me. She would just get some much needed work done while at my place. But when she tried to get online…fail. My internet wasn’t working. I called the cable company. The neighborhood was fine. It was only my connection – but it was so broken that it would require a technician to come to my place. My sister’s plans of working were destroyed and her options for staying as long as she planned became blurry.

Lord knows I’m havin’ problems, problems, problems.

Saturday evening my sister drove my three-windowed car to her much safer neighborhood in Jersey. She’d figure out how to get it fixed on Monday. Sunday afternoon her car broke down. Monday morning both of our cars were taken to the car doctor – $350 later, my car window was fixed and her car needed more time. Monday evening my brother-in-law was forced to drive my car an hour or so south to pick up my nephews from his sister’s house. Two exits into the drive, my car started overheating. As I chewed on numerous vicodin, I listened to him describe the many things the Pep Boys guy said it could be. $200 later, I had a new thermostat and the car was still overheating. Nephews still at their aunt’s house, brother-in-law turned back, barely getting home in my smoking car with all types of things bursting and blowing out.

Tuesday morning I had my car towed from my sister’s house to a local dealership. I also had to make an early morning call to my doctor’s office, reporting continuous, unexplained bleeding from my incision.

Help me out, I’m havin’ problems, problems, problems.

Wednesday morning I was feeling much stronger, even able to hobble around my apartment without crutches and taking fewer vicodin to get through the day. The bleeding still persisted, but I had an appointment to have my incision looked at in the morning. After a much less dramatic taxi ride, and receiving yet another prescription, things in the health and pain departments seemed to be calming down.

And the car? Another $1,150 later to replace all types of parts, it was fixed and ready to be driven by Wednesday afternoon, windows up and all.

So it’s been a rough couple of weeks. Yes, I’m thankful for the many blessings that have gotten me through it (and in a short period of time, I should add) – including family and friends to take care of me and persistently check on me, an incredible doctor who was able to squeeze me in for an emergency surgery, and medical insurance to make surgery an option. But boy oh boy. I will be milking this right to judge other people’s problems, and reflecting on my superior coping skills for quite some time. I’ve earned it. And until I can completely feel my left leg and foot, and walk like a normal person again, as far as I’m concerned, I’ve still got some problems, problems, problems.

Woe is me.

A Birthday and a Prince

Today is Prince’s birthday.

I know. I know. Since I started this little blog, the birthdays of many heroes have come and gone: Frederick Douglass, Malcolm X, Bob Marley, and Oprah Winfrey. The anniversaries of significant events in history have passed: the murders of Patrice Lumumba, Dr. King, and Biggie, Ghana’s independence, Brown v. Bd. of Ed. But you can just assume all of those days are significant to me (I remembered and acknowledged most of them this year…promise). What you may not know (if you’ve known me for less than 2 hours) is that I’m a die hard Prince fan. I just can’t help it.

So on his birthday, I figured it only appropriate for me to pay some type of tribute.

52 years blessing this earth with your genius and crazy. In your words, I truly adore U.

Hey Stranger…

This past weekend I took a road trip to Philadelphia with a friend from work. This trip had a dual purpose: 1) eat tasty vegetarian sandwiches from a restaurant that opened up since I left the city (discovered and enthusiastically recommended by said friend); and 2) drive by my childhood home just because.

We lucked out because, in spite of consecutive weeks of miserable weather consisting of rain, sleet, and snow, we planned our trip for the first weekend the sun and warmer temperatures had emerged since the beginning of winter. Almost 60 degrees and sunny – certainly an occasion calling for rolled down windows and good moods. So we excitedly hit the road in my VW, driving nonstop from Brooklyn to Govinda‘s (the tasty veggie spot) at S. Broad & South – btw, check it out if you’re in the area.

I was born and raised in Philadelphia. And although I lived in a couple of apartments in different Philly neighborhoods as an adult during the law school years (including the one year of semi-unemployment following law school), I lived in the same house with my parents from the time I was a baby until I went to college. Same house, same neighbors, same park, same mailman (well, maybe not the mailman). In a sense, the stability of my childhood can be viewed in stark contrast to the adult life I’ve carved out for myself, which is somewhat less stable. But since I left Philadelphia in 2004, I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been back. My mother was the only family member I still had ties with in the city. And when she moved and sold the house in 2006, there really wasn’t a reason to be there. Fast forwarding to last weekend, I was looking forward to taking a quick drive down memory lane – and dragging a friend along for the ride.

So after stuffing our faces with veggie chicken cheese steak sandwiches and buying more sandwiches to eat later (seriously, check out this place if you’re in the area), we drove out to Southwest Philadelphia for the memory lane drive-by. I used to drive that route on a regular basis, visiting my parents when I lived no more than 20 minutes away. But I haven’t made the drive since 2004.  In spite of the 6 years of distance, it felt like no time had passed as I made right turns and left turns, straddled the trolley tracks, and avoided the potholes.  As we approached my block, I said to my friend, “wouldn’t it be funny if we ran into someone I knew from back in the day?”  It all felt so familiar, it wasn’t such an unreasonable expectation.

So he said, “hey stranger.”  We hadn’t been pulled up in front of my house for more than 30 seconds before the two men standing across the street, attending to a disabled car, were bridging the gaps between present and past.  Peter and Gordon both remembered me.  I only remembered Gordon.  And strangely, I also remembered Peter’s dog, Sheba. Regardless of my failing memory, Peter is the one who acted like we were friends at one point (we weren’t), noting how long my hair had gotten since I first started growing it (1995) and asking about my older sister’s well-being.  Oh, and I remembered that Gordon and I used to ride the school bus together.

After learning that a new, quiet family has moved into my old home (described by Peter as being either Haitian or Jamaican…I bet they’re West African), chit chatting a bit about vague updates, and sharing a few anecdotes about my childhood with my friend, that was it.

The experience was strange in a way. So little had changed, with the exception of Gordon’s voice, of course. And running into two people who knew me as a child, and feeling so familiar with my surroundings, made me feel a sense of home and belonging. I didn’t realize I had that at all, much less in a city where I no longer have any ties. But I actually do!  And there I was, proving it to a real life witness.  Felt pretty good.

We drove back to Brooklyn with full bellies and happy moods. I enjoyed my second sandwich the next day.