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It’s  been a year since my first surgery to correct a fistula (hole connecting urinary track with colon),  a result of tissue damaged in proton radiation when I was treated for prostrate cancer.  The surgery failed.  I had additional surgery to make a colostomy  and urostomy permanate.  Before that could happen I had triple bypass heart surgery.  From September 2015 to June 2016, I spent weeks in the  Pennsylvania Hospital.  Months later I have a fistula that still leaks (docs want to wait and see), nerve damage in left hand (result of heart surgery, should heal they say).  I’m weak, get tired quickly and I’m  limited in what I can do.

Not complaining; just assessing.  This is retirement, year 3.  The good life.  How good?  We did go to Cape Cod for two weeks with Jen and family.  Drove to Ann Arbor for the wedding of best friends, Paglione’s daughter.  Spent a week in Maine with friends, Sears.  Next leave for Seattle, two weeks with sister, Marylee.  That sounds pretty good.

But I wonder.  Will I feel whole again?  Will I have the energy to ride a bike?  Or to put the kayak on the car for an explore.  Decided not to go to Portland OR on our Seattle trip because I can’t walk all day.  An urban environment probably requires too much.  We will spend the days in a coastal B and B.

Some discomfort is physical.  Some is mental.  It takes me a lot longer to do things from taking a bath, dressing, climbing or descending steps.  I try to bend to pick something off the floor (therapy gave me pick up stick).  I try to exercise.  I try to tell myself that moving slower is OK.  Some might say better.  I try.  But I’m anxious.

I believe each day (or week, month)  should include (1) some work — being retired it’s house cleaning, repairs, gardening, yard work, cleaning out, getting rid of stuff;  (2) there should be some creative academic activity —  reading, writing, carpentry, volunteering and finally (3) some learning-exploration — field trips, to a farm, a museum, a back road, a cooking class, trip to Cape Cod, Maine or China.  This is particularly important in retirement when we don’t spend eight hours or more a day at a job.

Year one of retirement was great, and followed the plan.  All three areas mentioned above were addressed.    It was obviously much harder if not impossible last year.  Now it’s  five months into year three.  Can I can back into the rhythm?  Anxious but trying.

There are so many questions.  The biggest is what do I want from the years remaining?  Hopefully a couple of decades, maybe just one, maybe just a few years.  We usually don’t get an advance timetable.

I know I want to spend time with family.  So, this week I bought tickets for McCarter Theatre’s Christmas Carol for the Kwaits. Eli and Viv are ready for this great show.  We’re headed to visit my sister in Olympia, WA.   I totally enjoy most of the time (we have some rough moments) Diane and I spend together — trip to a local farm, lunch in a new restaurant, watching a movie, an exhibit at the Mitchener. There is  so much we can enjoy together  — 49 years this August anniversary.

I want to stay in contact with friends and relatives.  Recent trips to Ann Arbor (Pagliones) and Maine (Sears) play into this.  Maybe a November visit to Cousin Ellen in D.C.  Then there was the recent crab dinner with Taylor’s at Lovin Oven in Frenchtown.  Or Vault beers with Kathy Posey, Matt Jordan, Trish O’Connor and other remains of the HGP friday club.  We had dinner, Mexican, recently with Edna and Dave Ramirez, Tony Fig, and Father Chris.  It’s a lot less personal but I enjoy Facebook contact.   Some are people I’ve seen recently; others are “ghosts” from the past

I want to travel.  Following the mix of the familiar and new explores.  Some travel is just local field trips. Diane and I do a lot of drives in Bucks and NJ.  We could expand this to more counties in PA.  During year one, I was committed to a day in Philadelphia — train explores, urban adventures.   In year two, Philadelphia was all doctor appointments and time in the hospital.  A limited perspective.  Need to return to City trips probably in the Spring and add monthly New York City trips.

Travel is also longer trips. On a recent DC trip, I bought a new journal at the Library of Congress.  It  was to be a record of  what many call a “bucket list.”  Notes on places I think about visiting.  Again the familiar — I want to return to Europe.  Have a dream of spending months — maybe in Italy, Ireland could also work.  Then there are Eastern European countries?  Something new.

It would be fun to return to Mexico and Nicaragua — important trips in my life.  And there are other southern places I’ve considered — spent some time looking at Carribean islands — not sure which is right for us.  Costa Rica has a draw.

Then there is Africa and Asia.  When Diane and I went into the Peace Corps, we wanted  sub-Saharan Africa — safari country.  Maybe Kenya, Tanzania.  Instead we drew Libya and then the Gaddafi coup kept us from going.  I thought we would go in retirement.  Then there are so many possibilities in Asia — each offering a different  culture and experience — Japan, China, Vietnam, India (to name some obvious choices). Can I travel to places like this with my medical baggage.  I know the answer is yes.  But it makes it harder. I’m still a bit scared.

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New England,  New York, and the Chesapeake has been and will continue to be a regular destination for us but there are many other places in the US that we’ve talked about.  A trip to the southwest — New Mexico, Arixonia.  The western national parks.  Our friends, Alonzos, have bought a travel trailer.  We’ve looked at one but . . . I have reservations.  We also thought that we should explore the South more.  We liked Charleston and Savannah and some aspects of Florida are inviting but that’s ben  it so far for our  experience.

Since we’re slowly getting back to traveling,  I must get that bucket list dream journal and prioritize where we would like to go (I mix “I” and “We” — most travel Diane and I plan and do together, although personal trips aren’t out of the question). I believe reading, dreaming, writing is part of making it happen.

I like to be engaged in some creative activity.  Thought maybe I’d do some carpentry in retirement, following in my father’s footsteps.  Although I have some of his tools (others mysteriously disappeared), I don’t think I will create much from wood.  As much as I admire someone like Dave Sears who began to seriously paint, that’s not me.  Certainly not music.

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But as I decided in the 1970s,  photography could again be my art.   I helped organize a Yardley Photography club (meets monthly at the Continental) when I discovered some very talented local photographers sharing on Facebook.  Haven’t made a meet since surgery.  I’ve also had plans to buy new Nikon equipment rather that buy Canon lenses for the Rebel I use.  That hasn’t happened yet.  I have been re-reading-looking  at my 100 plus photography books (before selling them).  Trying to use the review to recapture my photographic vision (if I had one).  What do I want to photograph and why?  I have been shooting a bit more than family photos which is nearly all I did for quite a few years.

I need to organize.  We’ve been in this house over 35 years.  I am a collector (you name it) and a hoarder. The number of photographs I have is amazing.  There is a double closet full of yellow Kodak boxes containing trays of 80 or 140 slides.  Digitize or destroy.  I have Over ten feet feet of print albums — these have been recently organized.  Then on the computer I have thousands of images.  Unfortunately I am confused — folders in “Pictures” I-Photo Library, and now the new “Photos Library,”  I even bought Lightroom.  Trying to see the relationship between programs and how to organize.  Some of it is computer programs’s  ability to provide too much.

There are other collections.  I sold two boxes of proof coins but have kept the main coin collection.  What do I do with stamps, post cards, buttons, all kinds of teaching realia, hundreds of LPs — vinyl is making a come back, I know, sell, sell, sell, not to mention tapes and CDs.  I have hundreds of DVDs (teaching, particular the  film course) and several boxes of VHS (throw them out but I pulled out a Nearing tape last week and watched it; wouldn’t be easy to get it any other place).

Then there are books — thousands.  I’ve sold about 35 boxes to a Princeton bookstore (about $500).  Am getting ready to sell the photo books, then children’s books, and on with other collections.  But my plan with organization  (understandably too slow for Diane) is to review, maybe reread, rewatch, relisten, consider is it something for Eli or Viv. Then sell, give away, or trash.  We also need to have a garage-yard sale.  Lots of useless, unused stuff, in the basement, in storage, boxed and sometimes forgotten.

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Finally there is home maintenance.  This ranges from cooking and baking, tending the garden, fixing or replacing things that are broken, repairing and painting in the house.  Some of this is fun — I really enjoy baking bread, making apple butter, grilling vegetables or fish.  Much of gardening, buying, planting, harvesting, even preserving excess is fun.  Prepping, mulching, watering, weeding is less fun.  It’s the same with home repairs.  Satisfying when accomplished if not fun, but it’s increasingly difficult. We’ve paid someone for exterior painting and may need to do the same for interior work.

All of this ramble is related to reviewing my life, where I’ve been, why I think, why I believe, who am I?   And then, where am  I going.    I know I want it to involve family and friends, travel, creative activity, organization and home maintenance.  Many more specifics need to be filled in.

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My last thought is more difficult.  When I taught I felt I was doing something worthwhile.  How do I continue the worthwhile.  I thought about volunteering.  At several historic sites we’ve visited recently, I met retired teachers who were docents or guides.  Some were even paid.  I thought Independence Historic Park would be perfect for me.  I also thought about the Mercer Museum.  Then one day Jenny emailed me asking, was I going to do something socially significant, socially worthwhile, contributing to a better community, a better world.  There are so many ways.  There are medical issues, with Eli we’ve been drawn to childhood cancer.  And maybe annually supporting the Parkway and Lemon runs isn’t enough.

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For years I volunteered on Yardley Borough Council and a variety of local community groups.  It’s all stopped years ago; should some start again?  There are so many opportunities to volunteer, what is right for me?  I’m not looking for fireworks.  Just “value” in how I spend some of my time.  This takes some thought and commitment; and I’m not too satisfied with not having acted on this.  It’s probably the most important thing on this to-do list.

 

 

 

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Slow cooking

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I’ve been home from the hospital two weeks.  Haven’t done much.  Just feel tired, washed out.  Might be a bit mental.  I’m just tired of the entire recovery routine.  Haven’t felt like house walking for 15 minute stretches.  Appetite has been limited.  No cooking or baking.  Don’t clean up dinner dishes.  Then I began with some low grade fevers. Several were on days that I had sat in the sun.  Wednesday, no sun but fever in late afternoon.  Kovell recommended Penn’s ER.  No surprise, a urinary track infection.  Antibiotics.  Didn’t get discharged till after 1 am.  Thursday was nap, nap day.

Yesterday a PT came.  First visit since this surgery discharge.  She went through the routine.  And it helped with motivation.  Walked more.  Did a few minor projects.   In the mail got a new SCOBY for making Kombucha; believe we have milk to make yogurt.  In the kitchen, slow cooking.

When I people watch, I wonder.  At the beach, in a kayak or canoe, riding a bicycle, hiking (not just walking the canal, but climbing some elevation), full gardening, house projects — will I be back doing any of these activities.    How easy will it be to care for my appliances?  Travel, dressing normally?  I booked a Hampton in Ann Arbor for Libby Paglione’s wedding in mid August.  Will I be ready?

This morning I have something like a stomach cramp; gas pains.   I suspect activity in my colon.  Always something to make me uncomfortable.  My skin dries out and becomes itchy.  The chest incision from heart surgery is not totally healed.  Need a dressing now which I didn’t need a month ago.  Part of my left hand is still numb, another legacy of heart surgery.  Despite my anxiety, annoyance, I realize there are people with more serious, critical health conditions.

We have a house rented in Cape Cod the last week of July, first week in August.  It will be the 4th year on the Cape with Jen, Rob, Eli and Viv.  I feel confident I can make the trip.  Also we have airline reservations for Seattle in October to visit my sister, Marylee.

Everything moves slower.  In the ER the other night, there seemed to be an hour between every event — check vitals, take blood, an IV, see the ER doctor, see a doc from Urology.  I don’t watch TV.  I wait, think, question, plan.  Diane would say I worry  and sometimes I do.  At home I wait for the home care nurse.  I eat slower; and walk slower.

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Several days I have sat on the back deck.  Sun, warmth, some birds pass through the yard from tree to tree.  A light breeze moves through the wind chimes.  The sound of the large Woodstock recalls Nantucket.  One year the chime was missing, we immediately went out to purchase a replacement.  Depending on the time of day, I look at a  palette of greens.  I recall the Irish landscape, brushed with every shade of green.  Slow isn’t always a bad thing.

One or more times each day, I lay back, eyes closed, attempting to peer into the future.  I need to be self-sufficient.  The strain on Diane this past year has been too much.  I need to get back to year 1 of retirement.  In the early 1970s, I took a photography workshop with National Geographic photographer, Bruce Curtsinger.  In his mid 20s, Bruce was only a few years older than me.  Around a camp fire on a small Maine island, Bruce shared how in his lifetime he would only have so many photo assignments.  Some, shooting wolves in Alaska for instance, might end up taking one or more years.  He needed to choose assignments carefully.  This led to a discussion of limits — travel destinations, books read, movies seen — always limits.

Maybe the past year, this pause, has given me time to reflect.  I have many fewer years   than I had around the campfire in Maine. I need to make choices.  Slow cooking maybe ok for now.

 

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The miracle of pizza

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Hanging on the wall in front of my hospital bed the past two weeks was a colorful triangular drawing — yellow, orange, red, brown and a specks of green. Printed across the top in red, “After you get out of the hospital we can go out on a pizza outing!!  At the bottom of the page in blue, “Love, Eli.”  A similar drawing hung on the wall in February-March when I was hospitalized for heart surgery.

For me, my grandson’s pizza drawings function as a talisman.  Pizza has a special meaning for us.  The drawings have also served as a gatekeeper.  When nurses, doctors, and other hospital staff first enter my room, do they notice the drawing, do they make a comment?  “Who is Eli?”  “Beautiful.”  “Makes me hungry.”  ” Are you ready for some pizza.”  I smile.  “Eli is my grandson, pizza has a special meaning for us.”  Many will continue, “How old is Eli?”  “Nine, great kid,” I respond.

I lay back feeling good.  The staff that notice and comment on the drawing will treat me as an individual.  I will be “Vince” or “Mr. Profy.” They know I have a grandson Eli and we both like pizza.  I will be much more than just another patient on a hospital assembly line, “Here to check you vitals”  or  “I need to draw blood.”  On my first hospital stay in September, I wrote that staff need to be Competent, Confident and Caring.  The pizza drawing helps to separate the caring from the strictly functional (I won’t say non-caring).

For those that return, glancing at the drawing or continuing our conversation. I share,   “Eli has a sister, Viv.”  She drew the picture of connected hearts, stars, and abstract spirals higher up on the wall.  If they seem to have the time, I explain why pizza is so special for Eli and me.  “Eli had neuroblastoma when he was 4 years old.  After every treatment, chemo, surgery, radiation, when he came home, we went out for pizza.  I gave him a copy of Philadelphia magazines, 50 best pizza.  Taught him to use the GPS and off we’d go.  Usually after pizza, Eli liked an ice cream treat.  And maybe about 3 he’d ask, ‘Grandpop, can we get a hamburger?'”  I told them in 18 months of treatment, Eli never needed a feeding tube.  Pretty amazing for a 4-5 year old.  “Pizza has a special meaning for us.

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Our pizza outings included Pizza Palace (Bryn Mawr), Conestoga Pizza (Bryn Mawr), George’s (Wayne), Franzone’s (Manayunk), Sal’s Pizza Box (Phoenixville), Jules Thin Crust (Newtown), Brother’s (Langhorne). Vic & Dean’s (Wayne) was an Eli favorite.  The next day, after our trip, he took his father.  At Stella (2nd street) Eli sat at the counter and interviewed the guy at the wood oven. “Did you go to school for pizza . . . How long does it cook . . . How did you get this job.”  We concluded visits with a one or two thumbs up or down photograph. Eli usually grinning from ear to ear.  Ice cream stops were various daries on the Main Line or Bucks;  burgers were almost always Elevation.

 

Our pizza enthusiasm jumped to another level when I bought Eli traditional chef whites — double breasted jacket and toque.  We began to make pizza at home.  Eli learned to make dough and choose toppings, usually tomatoes, mozzarella, and canned black olives.  Maybe mushrooms or pepperoni.  My favorite video shot during this period was Eli dressed in whites, traditional Italian dance  muisic, with Viv, making pizza in their family kitchen.  Eli is intense, cooking is a serious activity.  As they near the end, Viv turns to the camera, dancing and eating mushroom pieces.  The 2 minute clips captured their emerging personalities.  Eli the studius, methodical, comfortable, at ease in adult roles, straight man.   Viv the actress, singer and dancer, joker, seeking her share of attention.  I named them George and Gracie.

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Eli has been cancer free for 4 years.  But our pizza outings continue.  We’ve been to DiLorenzo’s of Trenton tomato pies, Vetri’s of Callow Hill, and Caesar’s in Bristol.  Earlier this week I went to Santucci’s and have begun to make a destination list — Tacconelli’s (order your dough in advance), Pizzeria Beddia, Pizza Brain (we’ve stopped in but didn’t eat there).  A month ago Eli and Viv took a pizza making class at the Farm Cooking School in Stockton, NJ.  To guide our explores, I recently bought “Pizza: a slice of American History,” by Liz Barrett.  It describes different styles — like Neapolitan, New York, Tomato Pie, Sicilian, Deep-Dish.  Cheese on top; cheese on bottom, thin or thick crust, marinara sauce or margarita.  And today traditions give way to all kinds of gourmet toppings.

Pizza is special.  For Eli and his grandfather, pizza works miracles.

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Retirement: round three

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Holy Ghost Prep’s graduation was yesterday.  As the class of 2016 waited for their diplomas, I waited for wheel chair transport out of Pennsylvania Hospital.  Discharge is always slow on weekends.  Finally Trisha, my nurse for the day came with a wheel chair, “Do you want me to take you down.”  Diane headed out to get the car; Trisha and I chatted about travels, past and future.   And so began the third year of my retirement from HGP.

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Just after 1, we drove to Santucci’s at Woodhaven and Knghts Road.  Although the HGP graduates were headed home, the class of 1966 (a year after my graduation) were holding a reunion on campus. Should I stop?  No, a different plan.  I’ve had Santucci famous square pizza many times. It was frequently served at HGP on parent-teacher meeting nights.  But I’d never been to one of the family restaurants.   Joe and Philomena Santucci entered the pizza business in 1959 in Northeast Philadelphia.  Since then family members have opened Santucci’s in South Philadelphia, North Broad,  and Northeast locations.  All serve the  “original square pizza.”  I didn’t feel like a lot of tomato so Diane ordered a white mushroom and we decided to stop along the river in Bristol to eat.

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We detoured slightly in Croydon.  Somehow the night before my Internet searches discovered a new looking restaurant, High Tides, on the Neshaminy Creek.  What drew me to it was the large deck over the creek.  It looked like a nice place for lunch or just a drink.  As a kid I sometimes asked my father to drive along the creek to State Road as the way home to Bristol.  My trip to Santucci’s and detour along the Neshaminy were part of that impulse.  Retirement: round three might need to start with many short local explores; little adventures.

The waterfront in Bristol was busy with people walking dogs, kids running through the marsh path, families sitting in the sun and then there were guys that hang out in their cars facing the river.  The one next to us was watching TV.  Some day we’d go back to High Tides for a drink.  I thought our mushroom white was tasty; Diane thought it needed some basil and hot pepper. But we will return; small discoveries.

Year two of retirement just ending has been tough.  My medical problems started last June on my return from Italy.  A fistula (holes linking the bowel and urinary system was discovered.)   It was the result of radiation treatment I had at the University of Pennsylvania.  Sadly my Penn radiation was Proton, newer, promoted as safer, and one of the many cancer treatments experienced by my grandson, Eli.  For a while we were the same room although at different times for our Proton radiation.  Thankfully Eli is four years out with no identified side effects or return of cancer. But I ended up in the wrong (I’m told small) percentage.

Surgery to repair the fistula was held off till September — surgeon schedules but also the doctors gave us the opportunity to enjoy a planned vacation in Cape Cod with Jen, Rob, Viv and Eli.  My September surgery was 11 hours and within weeks had been identified as a failure.  I liked both of my primary surgeons, Joshua Blier (Colo-rectal) and Robert Kovell (Urology) but the failure was devastating. Both advised against further surgery.  It became clear that the best would be permanent colostomy and  urostomy.  My recovery was slow and I was hospitalized for two weeks; followed by weeks in a Lower Makefield facility (a nightmare).

Surgery to make my appliances permanent was planned for March.  (Family joke: Cousin Philomena questioned whether the new appliances would be GE.)  Kevin Steinberg, my Penn cardiologist, (I have a heart doctor now), discovered multiple heart issues. Triple by pass heart surgery (CABG, pronounced, “Did you have your ‘cabbage’ done here?” was necessary. One carotid artery was 100% blocked  (need to monitor the second one for life) and a bit of luck, possible valve repair was determined unnecessary. But there is always the possibility of complications. This time mine came in the form of an infected abscess at the site of the original surgery.  For days I waited as the Heart team demanded no infection before surgery; Urology and Colo- Rectal decided what to do. After a week I was taken in for minor surgical drainage of the infected area. Satoshi Furukawa was my cardiac surgeon.  He radiated an eastern calm and confidence. In and out.   I was amazed after waiting for over a week for the heart surgery, I was discharged within days.  Back to recovery in Yardley with the help of Penn Care home nurses.

The heart issues came as a surprise. Particularly the severity.  Prior to, I thought my heart was fine; no recognized symptoms of heart disease.  Lesson, a bit late, see a cardiologist, have a stress test. The discovery of my heart problems have been the silver lining.  March, April, re-scheduled for the new appliance surgery at the end of May.  A typical five day stay turned into a week, then two weeks plus, until my bowels straightened out and began to function.  But yesterday I got out of bed, dressed, and headed home.  Enjoying my small adventures, explores.

My weight is 163 pounds.  Last September I weighed about 208.  I have several healing wounds and two new appliances (not GE). I realize full recovery will be months but I am determined that Retirement: round three will be better than the second.  I’ve started making the list — what I must do to recover; to live; but also what  I want to do to enjoy living.

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Now it’s time for some breakfast and house organization.

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