The last time

I just finished my last tour of duty on the COVID-19 units – not because the pandemic is over (it’s not) but because I have 5 more weeks to work and will not have another rotation in that time. (Dog willing.) When I hang up my PAPR (Powered Air-Purifying Respirator) this week, I hope never to pick it up again.

We want this pandemic to be over, people are beginning to act like it’s over. We can pull the wool over our eyes or we can face the music. Numbers are down, but ask the dying what they care about numbers.

I started the week with someone who went to a family gathering for Easter. A guest invited by one of the family had driven halfway across the country to join them, picking up COVID-19 along the way. The whole family is now infected. I think they will all survive. Another patient went on palliative care that first day. While COVID-19 will not be the only cause of death, it will certainly be a contributing factor.

Another patient told me they felt “crappy” but could not explain further – not painful, not short of breath, not nauseated, just crappy; also disappointed in their lack of progress from the orthopedic injury in addition to COVID-19. I went in to work the next morning to find they died 16 hours later – 20 minutes before my arrival to work.

A fourth patient told me of a near-death experience. They had a heart arrhythmia and were about to undergo DC cardioversion (pretty much the same as defibrillation of a newly-dead person, or as Miracle Max might say, mostly dead). As doctors were preparing, my patient announced they were receiving a phone call from a (long-dead) parent. As they tell it, the doctor began the procedure instantly, not waiting for the anesthesia to take effect, later explaining to my patient that he thought their death was imminent. The patient says the doctor told them that, should they get calls from dead relatives, they should not answer.

The story was told, not to be entertaining, but in a tone of terror. This person was terrified of death and still fears their death is imminent. With COVID-19, I am in no position to doubt. I received my fourth vaccination at the end of my shift.

Saigon has fallen!

It was April 29, 1975. Bonnie Raitt was playing the Capitol Theatre. Between songs, someone came out on stage and whispered in her ear. She nodded and went on to play the song she was going to play anyway. After that song she announced to the crowd, “Saigon has fallen!” A cheer erupted and the concert kicked into another gear.

We all saw this image of people scrambling to board helicopters to escape Saigon.

The concert crowd spilled onto the street at the end for an impromptu party, which moved to a nearby street to go long into the night.

I’ve just read Bich Minh Nguyen’s memoir “Stealing Buddha’s Dinner”, the chronicle of a 1980s childhood spent trying to be a “Real American”. She ate the foods and adopted the fads that I had spent my youth rejecting. She embraced the myths that unfolded before her. It is only the privilege of belonging that affords us the luxury of rejection. What does it mean to “be an American”?

To those of us who had opposed that war, the fall of Saigon meant the hope that the Vietnamese could find a new life out from under the thumb of the US, and France before us. To some who had fought in that war, the aftermath was a time to help the country rebuild after a generation of occupation. To those like Ms Nguyen, it was a bewildering time, a childhood escape (with her father but not her mother) and an embrace of middle class US life in a town that was not ready to accept her.

But that night, it was first and foremost a celebration of spring. It was the cultural event of the season, an annual rite that we weren’t always aware of until looking back.

45 years after she first recorded this, she’s still got it.

Bonnie Raitt was schooled in the blues, playing with Muddy Waters (with whom I saw her in 1978), Junior Wells, Fred McDowell, and John Lee Hooker. She recorded the work of Sippie Wallace and appeared in concert with her. When commercial success eluded her, she also played with the likes of James Taylor, Sheryl Crow, Norah Jones, Delbert McClinton, and anyone else you might care to name. Her duets with John Prine on “Angel from Montgomery” are the stuff of legend.

She became an overnight success nearly 20 years in, with a single on the charts in John Hiatt’s “Thing Called Love”, a Grammy for a duet with John Lee Hooker (“I’m in the Mood”) and three other Grammys for that album and her title song “Nick of Time”. 2022 brought a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Grammys.

She’s not done yet, having just completed a sold out tour of the northeast (with NRBQ), with a run through the south in May and continuing east in June (with Lucinda Williams), followed by the rest of the country with Mavis Staples.

And now for something completely different

When the going gets tough

…the half-fast go for a beer. Today, the going got tough. Today was supposed to be babysitting and rain in the morning, a solo ride in the afternoon. Last night the babysitting was postponed, and at 9 AM the sun came out – just enough time to join today’s club ride.

My MO with this club is to start near the back, let the fast folks disappear, and join the moderately-paced group. When we get to the hills, those riders disappear behind me and I end up in no-man’s-land between the two groups, riding alone for the rest of the day.

Today was a relatively flat ride so I hoped I could avoid that fate. We started out as usual. One of the fast group drifted back to us, saying he’d rather be sociable than fast today. I had several miles to get to know this person and we had a nice chat. We rode along in a group of six. Three took a shortcut so three of us were left. When we hit the wind, the third rider kept drifting off the back and we kept waiting for him. We picked up a fourth and had two well-matched pairs. We couldn’t talk much while headed into the wind and the two pairs drifted further apart. The person I was with tweaked his knee and decided to take a shortcut home. So there I was, in a 20 mph headwind which was pushing rain in my face, with 30 miles to go and no one in sight. Oops, I did it again.

Eventually I decided on a shortcut. I saw a way to get to a bike path that would cross my route and be a straight shot back. Trouble was, it didn’t actually cross the road I was on, it passed under it. It took some doing to get to the path. Now I was on a straight shot home, but the wind had shifted from southerly to southwesterly, so it was back in my face again. The rain stopped and the sun appeared again.

I have mixed feelings about rails-to-trails conversions. They mean a dedicated off-road path, but they also mean that railroads will never come back. Other than the route, the infrastructure is gone. They are good for the slow and casual rider, families, people with strollers, and others who feel safer away from cars and moving slowly. They are not paved, and riding on dirt or gravel takes its toll over time. The town roads follow the contours of the land. I am riding in and of a place. The railroads cut through the land – flattening and straightening the world – but when the world grows back along the path, it can become a smaller disruption in the (adapted) natural world. Today’s path mostly ran through open land with no respite from the wind. In the last 10 miles I came into some woods for a bit of relief. When there is a bike (or multi-use) path, drivers think bicyclists no longer belong on the roads. Today the pros outweighed the cons.

Spring peepers (tiny frogs that make big sound)

The spring peepers are out in force and the magnolias are blooming.

(6)

Training

Four years ago I wrote about training to ride across the country, but how do you train to retire?

I firmly believe that retirement takes training. I have said many times that retirement, like voting, should be done early and often. I also think beliefs are like freckles. If you look closely, most of us have a few and having a bunch doesn’t make you better. (And are liver spots [or age spots] just big freckles?) Or maybe I believe that beliefs are like diapers and should be changed often. I definitely believe that beliefs are like selves and shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

I’ve been working (with a few breaks, or practice retirements) since 1965. On June 4, I will walk out of the hospital at around 1500 (that’s 3 pm to normal people) for the last time after 23 years. I won’t be going back to that job, or maybe any job.

How to train for what’s next? For 9 weeks, I will ride my bike 6 days a week. That oughta help me get used to not going to work. You train by doing what you plan to do. I don’t want to sit on my ass and watch TV while drinking beer, so that’s not what I’ll train.

Without a structure after that, I’ll have to create one. I want to ride at least 4 days a week year ’round so I will plan that. Exercise just happens now – it’s how I get to and from work. It won’t just happen after this trip.

Sunday morning was a hard freeze. We hit the road with the temperature near the freezing point and rode a leisurely 37 miles. By the time we got home it was a summery 45 degrees (7 C). If we didn’t have days like this, I couldn’t justify the tights, fleece jersey, and shoe covers I bought. The only thing green was the winter wheat.

I have tasks that have been on a to-do list for years (like replacing 106 year old putty that is falling out of windows, replacing sash cords – I was amazed that all sash cords were intact when we bought this house 26 years ago [that is no longer the case], and repairing/replacing the plaster wall that my daughter kicked a hole in years ago), and will need to make a schedule so I actually do some of those while I still can.

I bought a kayak in preparation for retirement. It needs to spend much more time in the water than it has. It needs to see water farther from home.

I bought an espresso machine because I figured that was cheaper, in the long run, than hanging out in coffee shops with the other retirees. It may not be cheaper than just brewing coffee at home, but it sure tastes better.

I bought a new lens for my camera, hoping to get out in the donzerly light when I don’t have to get to work. Maybe I can capture some of that early morning magic to have more than memories and mental images to share here. And I won’t be limited to the route from here to work.

I figured that whatever I thought I would need/want in retirement, I would buy while still working; so the training has been going on for a few years.

BK (Before Kids) I served on the boards of a few organizations and volunteered for others. Most of that was not part of any Grand Plan – it arose and I did it. Maybe I’ll do that again. [And it wasn’t all BK – I spent 8 years on the board of their daycare center.]

The university here allows old folks to audit courses without charge. It’s part of the Wisconsin Idea. (Also here.) Maybe I’ll go back to school when it is safe.

It’s a funny thing about work. Over time, you come to define yourself by what you do, not by who you are. I have the advantage of having done many things, so that definition has some flexibility. I am an Occupational Therapist, but I was a plumber before that and a co-op manager before that. Something has been constant through those career changes. Am I still in touch with what that is? Vamos a ver.

It is time to train to be a retiree. (7)