Of Needles, Sweat and Gardening

The night is lovely, dark and deep. It is spring and all the windows are open. The university is closed so The Hill rests quietly at two o’clock in the morning. Occasional traffic on one of the city’s main streets a block away.

I have to get up in the middle of the night to empty the catheter bag and currently I am not going back to sleep. The brain, thinking that five hours sleep is a good night, wants to wake up and call it a new day while the body says, “No, more sleep please.”

It is this middle of the night wakefulness that for years has plunged me into a waking nightmare of memories. After The Year of the Beast, I started massage—craniosacral, lymph or Swedish three times a week—and that reduced the nightmares to merely bad dreams.

Tonight, it is the memory of Crouse Hospital and the administration of oxycodone. I had been at the Iroquois Nursing Home for two weeks, everyday asking for pain medication but the doctor wouldn’t come. After I filed a complaint, he came—and sent me back to the hospital on a trumped up psychiatric charge. Then the Iroquois wouldn’t take me back.

My Health Care Proxy advised me to use the time back in the hospital to get established on a pain medication. The palliative care nurse practitioner proposed oxycodone and I accepted. Because of my hypersensitivity, we started with a dose of 2.5 mg., which was smaller than the smallest pill.

The nurse practitioner ordered it in liquid form, to be administered by a syringe that was actually a very thin eyedropper with a plunger handle. One nurse didn’t know what she was doing and administered the drug with a regular syringe—stuck a needle in my mouth. Try and tell a nurse that she’s doing it wrong; try and tell a nurse anything. This is the stuff of bad dreams a year later.

This morning I sweated! The temperature in my apartment was 74 degrees. I was doing the housecleaning dressed only in underwear, and rivulets of sweat were pouring down my face! The reason this is so awesome is that I haven’t perspired in about two decades. No matter the degree of heat or the amount of labor, I remained dry as a bone.

When I first stopped taking drugs, I was completely unable to adjust my body temperature. At night I would go to bed cold and under two blankets. An hour later, I’d wake up too hot and shed the blankets. Thereafter, I would wake every hour to put on or take off a single blanket.

My tolerable temperature range was only four degrees, from 70 to 74. By two years ago I had recovered to where I could tolerate temperatures from 68 to 78 degrees. Last year I spent the summer shuttling back and forth between nursing home and hospital, both places being guaranteed to have broken thermometers in every room, and controlling nurses who wouldn’t leave them alone once I got them fixed.

The return to the normality of sweating is courtesy of the recent homeopathic remedy. I imagine the homeopath will be tickled as anything that involves the body getting rid of something delights him.

The apartment building manager called for a gardening meeting and I was the only one who showed up. We knew of others who were interested but unavailable at the time, so I called them all up, we agreed on a time, and held our first meeting last week. Six people wanted to participate—four in wheelchairs, one with a walker and one fully ambulatory.

We agreed on many things—specifically designated gardening areas, and we would pay for our own gardening tools and flowers—and had a good time. The Evil Assembly, a core group of malcontents whose only activity is to gossip and complain about anybody who tries to do anything good—sat, watched, and mocked us.

Screw them.

After the meeting, we were all psyched and ready to go. Two women stayed outside on the quiet night and pulled all the weeds out of one little section of our very large yard. The building owners, to reduce expenses, have eliminated the landscape crew that previously did the mowing, weeding and planting. Now the superintendent and his two crew members have to do the lawns in addition to everything they’ve already been doing. What manner of idiocy is it that makes the owners think that people who have been working full-time for years can now accommodate another large task?

So our little Garden Club will try to make things nicer; management will not be planting any flowers this year. Various patches of the lawn are covered with tree seedlings that have rooted. We try to pull them up. Only the people who can get out of their wheelchairs are able for the task.

When I moved here five years ago, the manager designated me a three-by-six foot area for my garden. I got down on my knees and talked to the worms. Worm therapy is beyond excellent. My people have been farming in The Valley for about 350 years. The need runs deep to have a piece of land that one can call one’s own.

By two years ago, I no longer could garden but only sit in my wheelchair and direct my aide. She was a lovely and eager gardener and kept the garden properly, as time permitted. Last year I spent in hospitals and the nursing home. At the Iroquois, once or twice the activities lady pushed me outside in a manual wheelchair and let me dead-head some flowers. It was better than nothing.

And now it is the spring of 2014. With alternative therapies and homeopathic remedy, I feel ready to garden. I plan half-hour work sessions, but the reality is that after five minutes my leg muscles shake and my breathing gets short. So I modify the plan: every time I come back from somewhere, I will stop and work in the garden for as long as possible—five minutes, seven minutes, ten minutes.

The principle thing my garden will grow is the gardener.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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