Monday, February 25, 2008

I can walk!

Take my word for it, donating a kidney is a thousand times easier than getting hit by a car -- less painful and much more gratifying. It’s nine days since I got clipped by a slow-moving vehicle while trying to defy traffic regulations and cross on a red light in Amsterdam. Jim has already described the accident in some detail. The first few days were pretty bad. I camped out on the living room couch for several days and could only get to the bathroom by swinging through the kitchen like Tarzan (this is the only time I’ve appreciated our tiny, narrow kitchen). Then came the dining room chair stage when I navigated by pushing a chair across the room, the way Dutch children learn to ice skate (back when we used to have ice). Then I moved on to a wooden cane. Today, for the first time, I walked from the bedroom to the upstairs bathroom without any assistance.

My knee is quite unstable, and until today I couldn’t trust it to hold me up. It sort of slipped out of the socket and splayed outwards, a weird feeling but painless. When I got up this morning I realized the knee felt stronger, and that I could actually walk on it. I went to the doctor this morning, who told me she didn’t think there was any tearing and that the knee was healing. Good news. Wednesday I start physical therapy.

I’m taking a strong painkiller, which forces me to nap a couple of times a day. I’ve had to simply stop doing everything I normally do, sit back and heal. Jim has been wonderful. He’s actually a very good cook, but I tended to monopolize the kitchen. This may change. I think I’ve been taking on way too much, and it may have taken a slow-moving car to get me to ponder the consequences of this. If it hadn’t been the car it would have been something else -- illness, perhaps.

Life is more than doing your best, or striving for excellence, or even being good. It’s not just a one-man operation. It’s about building community and friendships, sharing chores, learning how to delegate, admitting shortcomings and areas of weakness, and understanding there are some things you just can’t do yourself. In short, it’s all about learning humility. Some people know this instinctively. Others have to step in front of a car to find it out.

(The photo: a bouquet of tulips sent by our parish council.)

Friday, February 22, 2008

upward bound

It’s going better with Nancy. Last night, for the first time since Saturday, she was able to climb the stairs -- very carefully, operating herself like a crane lifting fragile cargo -- and was rewarded by being able to sleep in our bed instead of downstairs on the couch. (This means I’m no longer hauling our guest mattress downstairs each night and camping out on the living room floor.)

Her knee was significantly less swollen this morning and the bruising much less in evidence. The mummy-like leg wrapping she had been given at the hospital on Saturday has now been replaced by a trim elasticized bandage, a type mainly meant for people with sports injuries, that I found at the local pharmacy.

After a few days of worry about long-term problems walking, we are daring to hope that her knee will heal without special treatment or surgery

She still tires easily.

Since late yesterday afternoon, she is on prescription pain medication that is working quite well.

For all those who have been keeping Nancy in their prayers, our thanks. If human beings had sails, prayer would be the wind.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Slowly mending

It is not entirely a play on words to say that we are hard-hit. If a slow moving car can disrupt one’s life so significantly, what must it be like to have a more serious accident? Nancy’s main worry at present is that, although the x-rays taken Saturday showed no broken bones, damage may have been done to the soft tissues, something that can only be spotted with an MRI. She has an appointment to see our GP on Monday morning, by which times she hopes that walking will not be so painful. Unless things have taken a turn for the better, I expect he will refer her to the local hospital for a closer look at her knee.

Nancy wrote to a friend last night: “This morning Jim helped me take off the pressure bandage to take a much anticipated shower. We were startled to see how wretched my poor old knee looks -- all swollen, like a lumpy grapefruit, black and blue up and down the leg with a big nasty patch at the hip. As the pain level is pretty high, I'm switching from paracetamol to Aleve in hopes that this will help. I hate medication, but I also hate pain. It's much worse than the kidney transplant -- that was a piece of cake.”

The Aleve really helped, but only if she took more than the recommended dosage. This morning Nancy contacted our GP to see if he would prescribe something more effective.

As Nancy’s office is currently inaccessible because of the staircase that stands in the way, yesterday she and I set up a laptop computer for her with all the files and programs she needs. She is hoping today to work on a children’s book she is translating into English for a Dutch publisher.

There is truly such a thing as laugh therapy. Nancy has been hugely enjoying an anthology of short essays by S.J. Perelman, most of them originally published in The New Yorker, and also Bill Bryson’s memoir of growing up in the fifties, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid.

Last night, at Anne's recommendation, we watched an excellent documentary called "The Architect" about the strange life of the American architect Louis Kahn. It was made by his son. Kahn had three parallel families who didn't know each other, and after his death his son decided to find out about his father's life. Very moving.

Spring is hard at work just outside our windows with its own news of healing. Crosuses and snow-drops are plentiful.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

The day after

Nancy has been home a full day and little by little is mending. For the time being, she has to live downstairs. Climbing stairs is currently not an option. She walks with difficulty and pain, doing so only to go to the bathroom in the back of the house. Every move she makes requires careful planning. To make it easier, I’ve placed a few wooden chairs in spots where Nancy can use them for support. Her blood pressure is low, though better than it was yesterday. She tires quickly and then has to nap; in the photo you see after waking up from a nap late this afternoon. She counts it as a major achievement that earlier today she was able to feed our cat, Beckett, while passing through the kitchen.

If one must get hit by a car, the results could have been far worse. No broken bones. No concussion. No damage to her kidney. The main impact area was her right knee. The only bleeding was from a wound in the back of her head.

I'm taking a crash course in home nursing. I would give myself mixed grades. At breakfast I managed to spill the freshly-squeezed orange juice (one of my normal morning chores) all over the living room carpet. On the other hand lunch and supper went well. I’ve also washed the blood off the canvas bag she was carrying -- it hasn’t been this clean in years -- and also off the wool sweater she was wearing.

Nancy has done a good deal of reading these past 24 hours, mainly the novel, Pillars of the Earth, but also an anthology of humorous pieces written by S.J. Perelman. It was a joy to hear her laughing.

She arranged this accident, several few members of our parish have suggested, in order not to have to attend the parish meeting that followed the liturgy today. Nonetheless she was elected secretary of the new parish council, to be installed in March.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

An unexpected visit to the hospital

It has been in our thoughts in recent days that it was about time -- about a hundred days after the transplant -- to add an entry to our kidney journal.

What had especially been in both Nancy’s thoughts and mine was a growing awareness that, since Nancy’s gift of a kidney, giving comes more easily than in the past. While neither of us are the tight-fisted sort, still -- self-employed people that we are, with income being far from predicable month to month -- we tend to watch expenses fairly carefully and sometimes think long and hard about gifts and donations to be made. Now we find it much easier making gifts.

Lesson: Once you have donated a kidney, or received such a gift, other donations come much easier.

There you have, in brief, what might have been a longer journal entry, but I make it brief to add the day’s main domestic headline -- that Nancy was hit by a car just after noon today when on her way to a lunch in Amsterdam with other translators. Crossing a street, she saw a green light on the far side of the street but failed to notice a red light for the lane closer to her. She stepped out into the street and was hit by a slow moving car making a turn. Knocked down, her right knee and the back of her head took most of the impact.

The distressed driver and a number of bystanders immediately did all they could to help her. They were really wonderful, Nancy reports. Should you ever want to get hit by a car, she recommends you do it in Amsterdam. Friendly strangers will rush to your assistance.

One of them called for an ambulance. Soon after, she was brought to the emergency section of the nearby Lucas Andreas Hospital.

The head wound, though bloody, was quickly closed -- no stitches were needed. Nancy’s gray air now includes a punkish pale purple halo.

After two x-rays were made, Nancy was given the good news that, though the right knee was painful, bruised and swollen, no bones had been broken. Her right knee was bandaged.

Nancy’s main worry was that her one kidney might have been injured. She was hugely relieved when a urine test showed no trace of bleeding or other indication of damage. (On Monday we’ll contact the kidney staff at the AMC to see if they want to do any further testing.)

Luckily, Nancy had our mobile phone with her. As soon as she was able, she called me. Dan happened to be at our house just then. As soon as I left for Amsterdam, he made calls to the rest of the family, at least those here in Holland. As a result, by the time I got to the hospital, Thom and his partner Kylie had already been there half an hour.

The worst part of the ordeal for Nancy was suddenly going into shock, something that happened just when she thought she was in the clear and had made a reassuring call to me. She found herself short of breath, covered with sweat, pale as a sheet, and shaking uncontrollably. Several staff in the emergency ward, immediately coming to her aid, found her blood pressure had plummeted. She was put in bed, covered with warm blankets, and given an IV. It took about half an hour for the trembling and sweating to stop.

About four hours after she had been admitted to the hospital, we returned to Alkmaar by taxi. Taking the train was not an option, as Nancy has difficulty taking even a single step, and will need help getting about for at least the next day or two. For the time being, she will be leading a downstairs life.

She is in good spirits, has talked to several people on the phone, taken a couple of naps, and is now reading a novel about life in twelfth-century England (The Pillars of the Earth).