No Super Hero

Alas, I have no magical powers. Nothing that helps me take flight or shoot lasers from my eyes. My cape – if I ever had one – is long gone. Turns out I’m a mere mortal.

Like so many, I have believed I could reason myself out of anything. Muscle through it. But sometimes that doesn’t work. And my ‘Just watch me. I’ll show you.’ attitude isn’t my friend.

Turns out my insistence on leaving the hospital was pure folly. My heart held me up long enough to get me to be fingerprinted at the police station in the freezing cold. Its been steadily downhill since then. And I practically gave Jeff a heart attack too, with all the worry I’ve caused him. Of everything thats what I’m most sad about.

The nurses at this hospital welcomed me back. Literally ‘Welcome Back.’ So they all know me. Hopefully my last stay wasn’t infamous. I should never have left. My stubbornness is not serving me well. Its time to surrender.

My inability to accept reality has done me real harm. So I’m going to stop doing that. I know folks worry when I don’t post but I’ll be on a break while I sit in this hospital and do whatever they tell me to do, without complaint.

Our plans for 2021 are just starting to cook. But as they say, an arrow must be pulled back before it can fly. Sometimes backwards is the best friend of forwards. In this context I’m the arrow. Time for me to no longer resist the bow.

I’ll be back. Who knows? Jeff might have something to say while I’m away. Just know that I am grateful for all the of you and wish you many blessings in 2021. We have some adventures to take together this year. Don’t lose faith. They’re right around the corner.

I´m Still Me

I had my immigration appointment and since Jeff had to pick up his new card he went with me to help me. We went at the appointed time, but right out of the gate they were backed up. I had to get into the line for those who needed to be fingerprinted. Jeff was in a different line for those picking cards. Our experience this time varied greatly from those in the past.

You need an appointment but you will not gather in front of the building. They make you stand far away. Its all very unorganizedly organized. It works, but since none of us go there, except every 2 years or so, we have no idea how.

My side was running a half hour behind but Jeff´s perked right along. I watched him go in after waiting his turn. Everyone came out. No Jeff. This seemed strange to me as he was just picking up the card. All the hard work had already been done. Applications, Approvals, photos and fingerprints. He´d already run the gauntlet when he’d gone last time and they didn´t want to give him the card he´d already been approved for by the Ministry of the Interior. A supervisor had to come over and intervene on his behalf.

Finally, he came out as I was still waiting to go inside on this bitterly cold day. I should have worn my Canada Goose coat, hat, gloves and warm boots. He said his card was on the top. The first one but they wouldn´t give it to him. It took three people to agree that he was entitled to receive the card. They kept telling him it wasn´t correct since his old card was ´Non-lucrativo´ and this one was for permission to work. He said there was a lot of typing going on for just checking his old card and handing him the new one. It would be foreshadowing for me.

I was finally waved in and handed over my documents. Luckily, I had brought along a spare padron, even though my lawyer hadn´t said I would need that, but in my experience I always need a fresh padron. As a reminder, in Spain or anywhere in Europe, you register with the town hall. They issue a document that says they claim you and that you´re legit. Even if it´s not required, a padron (empadronamiento) greases the skids. Go to the bank for anything important- bring a padron. Go to a government office and want something stamped? Bring your tasa (paid tax form) and a spare padron. And it better not be more than 3 months old. No. They only like fresh padrons. Jeff likes to get a fresh one every three months and he keeps it in his inbox, just in case. In Valencia it´s free, you can apply for it online and it takes about 12 hours for them to email it to you.

I handed over all the documents as she asked for them. I´d brought along extras just in case. You never know. I had everything she required. Then she told me I was too early to renew my visa. I frowned.

´No, this is a whole new visa attached to my husband´s visa. As his ´familiar´´ I cringed when I said it. It´s the official term for being his wife on his visa but I needed her to understand. Jeff has begun teasing me with this term, relentlessly. Well as my familiar. UGH!!

´No. Your card doesn´t expire until March. You will have to come back.´ and she tried to dismiss me. But I had learned from Jeff´s experience. You never leave. Come back?! There is no coming back. Getting an appointment is impossible. But I know my Spanish immigration facts and I flew through my mental Spanish legal rolodex.

`Actually, I can renew my card 60 days prior to expiry and up to 90 days afterwards. My card expires March 1st.´

Her eyes narrowed. ´Yes. And that is more than 60 days away.´

It´s not. ´Today is January 4th Actually, it´s 55 days.´ I wasn´t trying to be difficult but I´d had to stand in the cold after being so sick and I wasn´t having any ´coming back.’

She got out a calendar from her desk drawer and counted the days. Then she nodded.

´Ok.´ she told me. ´Pull your mask down.´ She studied my old passport and then my old NIE card. Multiple times. ´This doesn´t look like you?´ she said holding up my new photos.

It looks exactly like me. It looks so much like me it could almost have been taken this morning. Because it was.

´I don´t understand.´ I told her. ´The passport photo is from 2013. My NIE card is two years ago. This is a new photo.´

She seemed unconvinced

´Well, you don´t look the same as you did two years ago.´ She told me. I didn´t take it as a compliment.

Duh – I thought. ´Well, I guess that´s what having Covid will do to you. I just got out of the hospital.´ I watched her visibly blanche and move her chair back. I didn´t go into the fact that it was in the first wave. That I´m still battling the long aftermath – I did just get out of the hospital. But its the first time having Covid has cut me any slack, or bought me any peace. She told me she was going to use my old picture (didn´t know that was an option) and she immediately printed out the receipt I will need to bring back to pick up my card – they´ll hassle me that day, too, I´m very sure – and she told me to have a nice day.

When I came out Jeff was waiting. ´All set?´ he asked. I know he was worried when they wouldn´t let him go in with me and they made me stand in the cold without him in that long line.

´Yep. All set.´ And I put my receipt into my plastic immigration folder. Yes, I´ve been sick, but I can still stand up for myself. It probably seems an insignificant interaction to most, but to me, after everything it meant something. I´m still ME. Sure, I might not look exactly like I used to. You know it´s not good when the facial recognition technology on your devices doesn´t know you. All these meds have done a number on my body this year. No kidding, I barely look in the mirror anymore. But inside, where it counts, I’m there. Sometimes I´ve wondered. Today, it made me smile, because I can fix the outside, eventually. Even the lady at the policia showed some confidence in that. But the inside is where the good stuff is. And she´s in there. Still as sharp as ever. And she can take care of herself.

Mr. Fix-It

I´m home. I cajoled every medical professional I came into contact with in the hospital to let me go home. I even sent Jeff out to the nurses station multiple times with missives to commute my sentence. No such luck. He drew the line a couple of times. I think they got tired of me a bit.

´Necisita agua.´ I would ask when they came over the loud speaker after I pushed the red button on my bed. When they showed up to bring it to me I would hit them with ´Do you think I can go home today?´

It wasn´t a winning strategy. Apparently, these medical people in hospitals actually talk to each other and write stuff down. I´m sure mine had ´Problem Child´ stamped in big bold letters across the cover of my chart. And you have to be careful or you develop a reputation as a trouble maker, trying to constantly break out of medical prison. They had to change my IV a bunch of times because it would stop flowing so I observed the procedure for removing an IV. After a few days I was pretty sure I could perform the manoeuvre. Jeff made me promise I wouldn´t attempt it.

I just wanted to gooo hooome. And then, finally, the Dr. came in and told me since I was ´stable´ – I looked over at Jeff who seemed skeptical as to what the Dr might mean by that – I could go home and continue my recuperation there. I had worn them down. My unrelenting nefarious plan worked. I know I´m not a good patient, and the fact that US medical practices in hospitals are very different than Spanish practices didn´t help. It´s not better, it´s just different and both Jeff and I struggled with some of those differences this time around.

When I got here, Jeff was clearly preparing for my arrival at home. I now have bed wedges in multiple sizes and configurations. They´re not isosolese triangles. Nope. Jeff explained at length why this is important. I just needed something to elevate my legs . He got all my prescriptions and set the 7 different alarms on his phone for administering them in a little ceramic cup I got from the Fiesta de la Ceramica parade in Manises on a summer day a couple of years ago. The one where I´d had to battle old ladies and small children to snag flawed ceramics thrown from a truck into a crowd. It all seems so long ago. Those old ladies and children could beat me up and I´d barely fight back now. I´m too tired.

We can only sleep straight through from midnight to 6 am each morning, as a brief pill popping reprieve. Then we´re back on an every 2 hour schedule for meds until noon. Then, again, at 6 and 8pm and midnight. I´m like an infant Jeff must care for, thankfully, sans the diaper and Binky. I will admit to the crying and the blankie. We all need comfort.

He runs a tight ship with the station he´s got set up for me in the living room complete with aromatherapy humidifier. And then a dehumidifier in the kitchen to dry the laundry he´s doing.

´Yes, it´s a contradiction but I don´t care.´

And speaking of kitchen, it´s stocked with all my favourite healthy foods that he has begun cooking after three attempts to buy zucchini at the grocery store and coming home with cucumbers, twice.

´They all look the same to me.´ he told me, exasperated.

I sleep a lot so I hope I´m not too much trouble. And while he procured my favourite cookies from the local Navarro health food store, I barely eat. I think it´s the meds. But I needed to spring myself from medical prison because I have an immigration appointment Monday and immigration appointments are like diamonds in Spain these days since the system has collapsed – hard to come by. My lawyer finagled it for me. If the hospital didn´t let me out, I would have had to go to the Policia in my jammies connected to my IV. But I was willing to do it. Jeff knew the Dr shouldn´t test my resolve on this matter.

They say I will likely start feeling better in 7-10 days. I hope it´s sooner. In the meantime, I´ll see the cardiologist tomorrow before I go get finger printed by the Policia National, happily without an IV. I´m not sure how they would have reacted to that. Maybe said ´No visa for sick people!´ But today, Jeff says I sound better. My voice is more myself and I ´look better´ too. Less Tina Turner hair in the 80’s. So there is hope on the horizon. With Jeff as my nurse, wellness is just around the corner.

Mr. Conductor

Since Kelli has been up in Burjasott in IMED hospital, I have become a regular commuter on the train that leaves a couple of blocks from our house and drops me off a few blocks from the hospital.  Sure, I could drive but its .74€ to go one way and I don’t have to worry about parking. Its just easier.

When I commuted to work from Bellevue to downtown Seattle decades ago it was the last time I regularly took public transit on a daily basis. I got to know the drivers and other commuters. After awhile you get the timing down. And the drivers will wait for you if you’re running for the door because they see you every day and they know you.

Hopefully I won’t be commuting to the hospital for weeks because that will mean Kelli is still in the hospital. After the first two nights of me sleeping on the couch in her room we decided I would go home at night to sleep in a real bed. Kelli insisted that one of us should avoid being disturbed by all the nocturnal poking and prodding she has to endure every two hours.

Now twice a day I take the train out to see her and I’m starting to get the train thing down.

Holiday trains don’t run that often. If one comes you need to be at the station. Except after running for the train at Empalme (a station near the hospital) I learned that stop is where they clean and disinfect the compartment for the drivers on this line, every time. So if you’re walking to the station and you’re still three blocks away when you see the train coming you don’t have to run. It will sit in the station for 5 minutes. And not just to be cleaned. This is the office where drivers swap out for their breaks and to refill their coffee.

There are also massive security contingents out here now. The number 4 line is the same one we were on when we were surrounded by hooligans almost 2 years ago. Seems we weren’t the only people who might have had trouble past Burjasott. So now the Empalme station is lit up like a Christmas tree at noon. And full of security.

We hadn’t gone this way on the train in a very long time. So I forgot our train station near our house has two different trains. 4 or 6. When you’re tired, if you get on the #6 it will take you somewhere that is not Burjasott.

Going home its best to get off 3 stops before ours and walk because the train takes so much time going into a big long siding (yeah, I’m using Thomas the Tank Engine vernacular) it can take 10 minutes longer than if you just walk that bit.

It’s also inevitable that no matter when I leave our apartment I will miss the first train. I will be a half block from the station and the #4 train will go whizzing by. Its been cold here. Not optimal. You’re probably wondering why I don’t download the Metro Valencia app. Believe me, I have it. It doesn’t seem to matter though as the “real time map” isn’t exactly updated in real time. It seems to be about 3-4 minutes behind reality. Luckily, its just a short 10-15 minute wait until the next train.

Every day we think they might release Kelli, and then they don’t. A half hour ride each way isn’t a big deal. I get to bring her stuff that puts a smile on her face.  One of these days soon we will be in the car going home and my brief commuting revival will be over. That will be a good day.

Nothing to Complain About

Merry belated Christmas to you all. I’ve been back in the hospital since Christmas Eve. I won’t go into detail as to what’s going on because I’m bored with it all. I imagine you guys must be, too. But its given us even more up to date insight into the state of play in Spain as the EU rolls out the Covid vaccine starting today.

Jeff smuggled in a tree for me

First, the staff is tired, yet tireless. Perhaps a better word would be exhausted. They are keeping their chins up, but pulling 14-16 hour shifts. The imaging tech lost it when the CT machine decided to get finicky and stopped working on Christmas night.

‘Sorry.’ She told me with her head in her hands. ‘I’m so tired. This machine is too important, especially now.’

This latest wave has taken it’s own toll. Yes, on the population. But we can’t forget how these frontline workers have shouldered this burden. One of my nurses told me her father is a Dr in the ER.

‘We had our holiday lunch on Christmas Eve in the cafeteria here. So its ok.’

But its not ok. It’s horrible.

Jeff brought Jingle Bells Santas elf to me. He decided not to wear the full costume as he was afraid they wouldn’t let him in the lobby

This time Jeff is allowed to stay with me in my room on a hallway for those who have tested negative upon admitting. One guest to help, per patient. But he goes home to get cleaned up and to bring me things I need. He left today and while heading out he said the waiting area is packed in the ER, and there was a line to get in the doors snaking around the block. Even a few days ago this was not the case.

Its important to remember that there are also people suffering health conditions other than Covid related. They need care, too.

In the ER on Christmas Eve I was in the bull pen at first. Lots of patients just laying on beds in a big room. Never had this before in any hospital. Although this is considered a very nice private hospital they are clearly low on PPE. Cleaning and reusing what were meant to be disposable items pre-pandemic. I saw the same staff change in and out of full gear many, many times. The first hospital I was in so long ago had yellow gear. The last one I was in it was green. Here it is blue. I noticed it because those colors now mean something to me. Almost viscerally, like a bull fighter. Yellow for me means panic. But this blue color isn’t so bad. Maybe I’m adjusting. Or perhaps, like we all have over the past year, I’m learning to just breathe and get on with it. Just deal with today. Tomorrow is far away.

I will admit to being a bit frustrated at the pace things are going during my care. Tests are taking forever. And results even longer. The Drs are juggling a lot. They’ve said they can’t give me a day when I will get to go home.

‘Tranquila. We take it day by day.’

But after Jeff told me about the line in the ER, I think I should just feel grateful I’m in a private room and have people looking after me. Even if its taking time, this is more than others will get.

The balcony clapping and cheering is long gone for health workers. The population has pandemic fatigue. But, the people working here, from the surgeons to the cleaning crew who empty the trash and mop the floor of my room each day, are like Hercules times 10. If I was Jeff Bezos I’d pull an Oprah’s Favorite Things episode and surprise them all with cars, or luxury vacations, or fly distant family members into see them as a treat for a post-pandemic Christmas in 2021. But alas, all they will get is my thanks.

For me, I’m crossing fingers this is the last of all the leftover health stuff from 2020. That all these tests and procedures will tell a positive hopeful story with a known pill, or an easy treatment plan. And that Jeff and I will be at home to ring in the New Year. We can pray that this vaccine will be the start of a brighter future for us all. Seeing and hugging those we love is just over the visible horizon. And after this is all over, perhaps we can take a moment to thank a health worker in some meaningful way who went beyond what we should expect of anyone for months on end. At a time when the world needed it most of all.