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Tuesday, October 6, 2015


     It’s a sunny fall afternoon, skies blue and a sweet-tempered breeze ruffling the leaves on the oak trees in my yard. I scoop hulled sunflower seeds into a green plastic cup and pour them into the feeder that hangs from a chain outside my window. Chickadees in their black caps along with house finches and tufted titmice scatter as I approach but return before the back door closes behind me. They flit and hover around the perches designed to collapse when larger birds touch down. A chickadee clings to the chain, waits its turn as others sort out the pecking order, decide who eats first.
     A painted bunting, magnificent in its clear vivid hues of red, green, blue and yellow, the first I’ve seen this year, flies in to join the fray. I am transfixed. He restyles the image and it morphs to high definition, the other birds fading into a dull backdrop. He feeds, occasionally looking around, stays long enough for me to take a poor quality photo through the window. And he is gone.
     Out in the yard, at the feeder filled with whole sunflower seeds, cardinals and red-winged blackbirds, the occasional bossy jay, even a pair of red-bellied woodpeckers feast at their own table. The small birds feed there as well, given the opportunity. Six mourning doves inch their way across the ground below, salvaging seeds dropped by the others. A single brown thrasher creeps up on them and they scatter, some lifting their round bodies up into the branches of the ligustrum that lines the fence. The bully moves on. After all, he prefers insects to seeds.
     Glowing iridescent green and red in the sunshine, a single ruby-throated humming bird perches at the water station and drinks. He returns to hover at the cobalt blue feeder I have hung, a source of the nectar he needs for energy. He disappears, no doubt foraging for insects to gorge upon as he doubles his weight in order to survive the journey across the Gulf of Mexico.
     I sit and watch the dance being played out before me, surprised to know I am content, happy in this moment of my life. Contentment has eluded me for so long, I hardly recognize it. I embrace it, cherish the cascade of ease and comfort and belonging it pours over me.

Copyright 2015 cj Schlottman

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Cycles of Tides, Cycles of LIfe

For the past several days, I have been taking a short walk on the beach every afternoon. For the most part, the tourists are gone, and with children in school, well, it’s quiet and feels like home, like when my best friend, Mary Ellen and I were teenagers basking in the sun, baby oil and iodine slathered over every inch of exposed flesh to intensify our tans.

Yesterday afternoon at 4:00, the sun was shining on Meadows Drive, despite a weather forecast that predicted rain. So, I climbed into my Yukon and drove the beach, or almost to the beach. As I made the left turn onto the East Beach causeway, rain began to fall and big drops splattered my windshield. As I got closer to the Old Coast Guard Station, the rain intensified and I turned around and came back home, where no rain was falling and their was no evidence that any had fallen at all.

I’d been working on my memoir for most of the day, so I returned to making the necessary changes for me to alter its structure to include Parrish’s almost continuous difficulties along with the events and stress of the last few years of Clint’s life. It takes more work and a different focus to incorporate the two, but it’s necessary for the book to make sense, to tell the entire story. It’s the only way I can make the reader understand the tightrope I walked between the two most important people in my life. 

I’ve been mining old journals for content in order to make the chronology work. Reliving that time, reading and processing what I recorded in my notebook is exhausting and exhilarating at once. I made a timeline of the first five months of 2009, and began to see how it would work. After years of thinking my story would be told in two separate memoirs, I am finally convinced, along with some encouragement from Rosemary Daniell, my writing mentor, that both stories are so intertwined they cannot be separated.  

Having already begun the first three chapters, I am working to integrate Parrish’s many crises into the events I had already written down. It will work. I know it will work, and I am more excited than ever to be writing this book, and I just might be overcoming some of the fear I have experienced around the writing of it.

At 6:00, I drove back to the beach and parked at Massengale Park. There was sun and a cool breeze, so I kicked off my sandals and walked to the water’s edge and dug my toes into the wet sand and wiggled them around. Then I turned north for my short (with respect for my knee and back) trek from there to the Old Coast Guard Station and back. No shells to pick up, only light rafts of wrack washing ashore. 

Each time I go to the beach I am flooded with memories of Clint and Parrish and the rest of the family when life was uncomplicated and unsurprising. Long before we ever considered that Parrish might develop a severe mental disorder and Clint would have an operation from which he really never recovered, sunbathing and swimming and shelling and walking to Gould’s Inlet and back were standard weekend activities. Even when our lives in Macon were filled with work and other responsibilities, we drove to The Island as often as possible, just to be on that very beach. At summer’s end, we were all tan and healthy and happy.

There is something about the dependability of the tides. We have experienced spring tides for the last few days. That happens when the earth and moon are aligned and the waters of the oceans bulge in their direction, creating higher tides than usual. Our spring tides have been augmented by heavy rains and a northeast wind that pushes the waters farther in to shore than usual. So, the high tide water line is almost in the dunes. 

The steadfastness of the tides and their predictable cycles of lows and highs creates a sense of stability in me. Knowledge that they ebb and flow in a regular fashion combined with the sheer energy of the ocean grounds me in the fact that life is so much more than I. Perhaps the regularity and constancy of their cycles quenches my longing for a sense of permanence. The chaos of my life for the last ten years has been unpredictable and painful and at times so unbearable I contemplated suicide. In my muddled and disorderly and confused depression after Parrish’s sudden death, I lost sight of the fact that the ocean is practically at my doorstep and is always open for business. There is no limit to what depression and loss can cost. But, at last I can walk on the beach and breathe in the strength of the ocean, soak up some vitamin D and be infused the negative ions that are so soothing to the soul. I am content in the the very knowledge that it will be there tomorrow, waiting for me, be the tide high or low. 

Copyright 2015 cj Schlottman

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

What Would The Buddha Do?

On Saturday afternoon, I drove myself to The Village to sit on the pier and read for a while. It was my second foray out after my successful epidural last Wednesday, and I was looking forward to breathing in the fresh sea air of the high time breeze.
On my first pass down Mallory Street, a big black truck began to pull out of a parking space very near the pier, and I happily flipped on my blinker and waited for the driver to pull out. Imagine you are me, about to pull into a parking slot on my right. Standing behind the back of the car next to the truck—the one closest to me—was a man in a red shirt. He waved and I cheerfully waved back and began to thread my Yukon between the white lines. I’m always happy to take the place of big truck because I drive one myself and it’s nice to know I will fit.
As I pulled forward, The Man in the Red Shirt walked directly in front of me and planted himself in the very middle of the space. When I motioned him out of the way, he sallied forth and pressed his chest against the front of my truck. Stunned, I rolled down the window and asked him to move. 
“No! I’m saving this space.”
“Sorry, but you can’t do that.” 
“You can’t hit me with your truck either!”
What? Whaaa-ut?
I took the bait and climbed down onto the pavement to confront him, all five feet, three inches of me.
“I did not hit you! You positioned yourself right where you are, and you need to leave so I can park. There are plenty of available spaces, so go stand in one of those.”
“You can’t make me move!”
“Maybe not, but I’m pretty sure the police could make it happen,” I called over my shoulder, walking back to my truck. “And get yourself off the front my this vehicle!”
I looked around for Officer Lacey, who is frequently patrolling on foot near the pier, but I didn’t see anyone. I scanned the other side  of the street and realized his parol car wasn’t there. As I got back in my truck, a little white car pulled up behind me and stopped on my bumper. I was trapped between The Man in the Red Shirt and The Little White Car. I couldn’t go either way. There was room for traffic to pass on the left of us. I’d like to think if there weren’t, I would have had the good grace, not to mention the good sense, to give up right then.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, and you have a point. I could have motioned to the Man in the Red Shirt that I was pulling out, given The Little White Car the same signal, and the situation would have been diffused. No harm, not foul, just me wondering what in the name of all that is holy the world has come to. 
For a nanosecond, I asked myself, “What would The Buddha do?” It was only a fleeting thought and instead of honoring it, I found the number of the police dispatcher in my phone directory and touched “call.”
No, I didn’t call 911. I have the other number programmed into my phone because I once read on Facebook that I should have it there in case I needed the police but didn’t have a life-threatening problem. (My dear friends, especially you girls, please do that for yourselves. Put that number in your phone in case you come up on a Man in a Red Shirt standing in your way when you are attempting to, God forbid, park your car.)
The dispatcher came on the line. Since my truck is bluetooth enabled, the call was routed through the speakers, and since my window was still down, The Man in the Red Shirt could hear her voice asking me what I needed. He had moved back a few steps, but when he heard the call, he literally repositioned himself up against the front of the Yukon. 
I know, I know. “literally” is an unnecessary and overused and might even be called a cliché, but I can’t help myself. This story just needs it. Anyway, feeling very foolish all of a sudden, I relayed my situation to the dispatcher. I don’t know why she didn't laugh, I really don’t. The sound of my own voice embarrassed even me, but she proceeded in a professional tone.
“What is your location, Ma’am?”
“Down by the pier on Mallory Street.”
“And exactly what is it you want?”
“I want you to send someone down her to get this man out of this parking space so I can get in it. He and his buddy have me blocked in.”
“Are you in any danger?”
“No, I’m not. I just want this man to get out of my way.”
“You sure you’re not in any danger?”
I was beginning to feel as silly as I must have sounded.
“No, I’m not afraid.”
“I’ll send someone right away.”
The Man in the Red Shirt backed off a step or two, and a really nice woman who apparently has more sense than the rest of us combined presented herself at my window, and I buzzed it down. She was smiling and had sweet eyes and was very pretty with beautiful dark blonde hair.
“Hi.” I resisted the urge to tell her I wasn’t going anywhere.
“There are plenty of spaces on the other side. Maybe you could take one of those,” said said.
“I am aware of that,” I replied sweetly, “but I have his one. I’m just waiting for that man to step aside so I can pull in.”
“You really want to be right about this, don’t you?”
“Pretty much.”
“I understand, just wanted you to know about the other spaces.”
She walked around the front of my car and spoke to The Man as I looked around for the cops, feeling stupider and stupider. No police cruiser in sight. I began to silently pray they wouldn’t show up. What was I going to tell them? That I was somehow at a disadvantage sitting in my big truck while a man stood on the pavement directly in my path? And not a very big man at that? 
Luckily, The Lord looks after fools and old people, both of which I happen to be. The Peacemaker talked The Man down, and he backed off grudgingly. I felt no satisfaction when I eased into the space, but as I climbed down and started walking toward The pier, a couple walked up to me and did a little happy dance.
“I’m so glad you stood your ground!” said the man, as his wife made little silent clapping movements. There eyes gleamed with excitement. “I’ve never seen anything to beat that, never. I want you to know we’ve been here the whole time, and I wasn’t going to leave until things were settled. You never know about people these days.”
“It was a first for me,” I replied, enjoying the attention and validation of my nitwittery. After we exchanged a few more words, they got back on their motorcycle and left. I spent an hour reading and feeling foolish before I came home. I’m not sure salt air is any cure for needing to be right, but I’m glad I took the time.
The next day, I went to see my friend Jim, who recently had a heart attack. He’s a man with a real problem, facing a life-changing time. He’s doing very well, getting therapy and making good progress. I couldn't help telling him the story, though by that time I had embraced my shame and was dealing with the guilt. When I got to the “What would The Buddha think?” part, he said.
“Well, he might have thought that fellow needed to learn right from wrong.”
What do you think?  

Copyright 2015 cj Schlottman

Friday, September 4, 2015

In Praise of the Epidural

On Wednesday, my sweet friend Angie took me to town for my epidural injection of steroids. Two college graduates had a little trouble finding the location, but we arrived on time—or so I thought. I was an hour early. Great.
A little back story. After being “down in the back” in a spectacular way, I only had four pain pills, 5mg Lortab. My dentist gave them to me back in March when I had a dental problem. I doled them out to myself as though they were little pellets of solid gold, and when my back pain finally eased, the day before the epidural, I had only a small stash of the miracle workers. 
On Tuesday, a nurse from the anesthesiologist’s office called with instructions. It was simple enough: nothing to eat or drink after midnight except a sip of water if I needed a pain pill. When I quizzed her about what to expect, she said I should have immediate relief that would last about 24 hours. She then told me after that, I might have pain for several days even worse than I had been been experiencing before being comfortable again. It might happen, it might not.
“Is he going to send me out of there with a prescription for something for pain?”
“No. He doesn’t prescribe pain meds. You’ll have to get a prescription from your back doctor.”
A feeling a dread perfused my entire being. I endured ten days of back pain with lightening bolts shooting down my leg even with the help of Lortab, and the thought of anything worse was almost more than I could comprehend. Tears welled in my eyes. After I composed myself, I called my back doctor’s assistant to ask for a prescription. 
“Dr. XXXXX has a policy of not prescribing narcotics for his patients.”
The tears started up again.
“Are you telling me that a doctor who treats back problems doesn’t prescribe pain meds for them? I find that absurd. I’ve been warned that my pain may return for a few days and that it might be even worse than before. What does he expect me to do? I’m not at all sure I want to be associated with a doctor who won’t treat my pain when needed. I’ll have think about this. I may cancel the procedure and look for a reasonable doctor. I just don’t know. 
I was babbling. Weak and exhausted from the recent siege of pain, I couldn’t imagine things being worse, even for a couple of days. I knew my small stash would not be enough to keep me comfortable if the worst happened. I explained I had tried a milder medication but it made me itch to the point of not being able to sleep. She was unmoved.
“I want you to go ask him. Better yet, I want to talk to him.
“He won’t be back in the office until tomorrow.”
“My appointment is at ten. Will he be back by then?
“I think so.”
For a moment I was speechless, a rare occurrence for me. 
Then, “When he gets there in the morning, ask him to give me something for pain and call me. Remember my appointment is at ten.”
“Yes, Ma’am.” Finally a modicum of respect.
The next morning, as I was checking in for the epidural, my cell phone chimed, and it was the nurse at Dr. XXXXX’s office, telling me he had written me a prescription for FIVE pain pills, and that I could pick it up at the front desk. Five pills? Now isn’t that just a party in a bottle? 
I finished my paperwork and told the receptionist I was going to run out for a moment to pick up a prescription. I was, after all, an hour early. She looked as though I were pointing a gun at her and blurted, 
“But I can’t send your chart back unless you’re here!”
The poor thing had completely lost her automaton-like boredom-ridden cadence she used on every patient as though we were all so many cattle being moved through a chute. 
“I’m an hour early. I need to run this errand, and you can transfer my chart when I get back. This is not a problem.”
“Let me know the minute you get back!”
Like she wouldn’t see me coming through the door of the tiny and badly decorated reception area. I was frankly happy to escape the dull green walls adorned with nothing except xeroxed notices and reminders for patients to not eat or drink anything. Interestingly, there was a coffee urn for the fortunates who were only the chauffeurs. And there were the sad faces of the other patients, their pain reflected in their eyes. There was a stack of current copies of Golden Isles Home and Garden on a table littered with pamphlets about pain management, and I picked up two copies for Angie and me.
She drove me to the other office, and I waited while two patients were checked in. I identified myself and the reason for my visit. 
“Do you have your ID?”
“It’s in the car.”
“You’ll need it to get your prescription.”
All this for FIVE pain pills. What did these people think? That I was going to take them downtown and sell them on the street? I went back to the car and got my wallet. The receptionist requested my driver’s license and made a copy of it and the prescription on the same page and offered it to me for my signature. All for FIVE pills. I scribbled my signature and we were back at the other office in ten minutes. 
I waved at the receptionist, who looked inordinately relieved that I had returned. She had forgotten to give me a paper where I was to mark where my pain is/was on a drawing of the human body. 
Well, clutch the pearls! I had thrown a monkey wrench into her routine. I filled out the page, which she directed me to keep and take when I was called to the back. I was still 20 minutes to appointment time. I opened my copy of the magazine, which was interesting. An article about the warblers who will be passing through on their voyage south caught my attention, and I made a mental note to put up a suet cake for them. 
At 11:20, I closed the magazine and looked up. A man in a wheelchair and his wife were seated directly across from me. He turned his chair to face her and put his foot in her lap. She pulled the velcro straps on his shoe, loosened it and took it off. Fortunately I was called back as she was pulling off his sock to unleash whatever aroma it might produce.
The the nurses were efficient and kind. The doctor came by and introduced himself and explained the procedure. An IV access was established on the top of my right hand and I was quickly wheeled to the procedure room. It was over in a flash, and I was unaware of anything. One of the most impressive things about the whole adventure was that my IV site looks exactly as it did before the catheter was inserted—not a bruise, not even a hint that it was ever there. A nurse notices these things, and I want her next time. The doctor came back by and said I would need a series of injections and would be coming back in two weeks.
The outcome? Almost no pain in my back, not even enough to take an aspirin, but more lightening strikes. I’ll take it. I’ve slept like a baby for two nights and feel so much better it’s hard to imagine how awful the last few weeks were. The nurse just called and said the strikes should decrease over the next few days. And oh, I didn’t fill the prescription. I’m saving it for an emergency. 
Color me happy.

Copyright 2015 cj Schlottman

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Welcome to my Pity Party

So, here’s the thing. I am 67 years old and healthy. I have no heart disease or diabetes. My liver and kidneys work just fine, thank you. I’m not plagued with headaches like so many others. Organically, I’m in good shape, unless, of course, you count that I’m 20 pounds overweight.
The problem is that my infrastructure is crumbling. I have a “slipped disc” at the top of my lumbar spine. It has caused me to have something called spinal stenosis, which, according to Mayo Clinic’s web site is “a narrowing of the open spaces within your spine, which can put pressure on your spinal cord and the nerves that travel through the spine to your arms and legs.” 
I’ve been plagued with back spasms off and on since I was in my 30s. Every now and then, I get down in the back and have to take muscle relaxers and pain killers and prednisone to reduce swelling and pressure on the nerve that causes the spasms. About three days of treatment was all that was required to get over it. It used happen once a year or so, but in the last few years things have gotten out of hand, and I’ve had many more frequent episodes. 
About three weeks ago, I started feeling lightening bolts shooting down behind my right knee. Some of them even went as far as the bottom of my foot, and that were doubtless a consequence of my spinal stenosis. I let it go for a week, thinking it was something that could be resolved by taking it easy and treating my back with respect and doing the stretching exercises I have been doing for years. I positioned a warm bed buddy at my back and an ice bag on my knee and watched old episodes of West Wing when I wasn’t showing up to write. I already had the muscle relaxers on hand, so I started taking them. It didn’t get better, so I went to see my back doctor’s PA. 
Well, he prescribed a six day course of methylprednisolone, (medrol dose pack) a steroid that blocks the substances in or bodies that cause inflammation. I took the medicine, along with the muscle relaxer and a non-opioid pain killer. (Opiods make me fuzzy and I don’t like them.) He suggested that, if this conservative approach to my discomfort didn’t work, I might consider having an epidural injection of steroids. I’m still weighing that idea in my head. 
I lay around like a slug for a few days, running hot and cold, as it were. The dose pack served mostly to kick my cardiac rhythm out of whack, and the lightening bolts continued. My back never has stopped hurting except when I am stretched out on the red leather chaise, which perfectly contours my back as to take pressure off it. The PVCs stopped almost immediately after I finished the steroids.
But about that time my other (left) knee swelled up and became painful. I’m not making this up. I didn’t fall on it or wrench it or run into a piece of furniture with it. I simply can’t point to an event that could have caused it. I spent several days on the sofa with a heated bed buddy at my back and an ice pack on my knee. The lightening bolts went away. One problem solved.
Trouble is, when I get up and do anything at all, and I mean anything, it swells and becomes painful again. And my back hurts—all the time. So yesterday, I went to see my knee doctor’s PA. He ordered some x-rays that suggested a space in the joint that shouldn't be there, that maybe I have a tendon tear. Great. I had one in that knee about eight years ago, and it was successfully treated with an arthroscopic procedure to “trim it up and clean it out.”
Are you sick of this yet? Well, I don’t blame you but stand by because there’s more. The knee doctor’s PA scheduled an MRI for next week, put a brace on my knee and told me to continue with the muscle relaxers, and since I was getting no relief from the pain—in all its various places—he suggested I take two pan tablets rather than one. 
I did as I was instructed, and about an hour after I took the medicine, I started to itch, all over. No rash, just itching. My nose looks like Bill Clinton’s, I’ve rubbed it so much. I was like a worm in hot ashes, scratching all over and looking in the mirror every now and then for signs of a rash. 
And to add insult to injury, I couldn’t sleep. There I lay, warm bed buddy to my back, trying to go to sleep. When I had no success, I got up and watched some more West Wing, then went back to bed. Still sleep wouldn’t come. I dozed briefly, and when I woke and checked the clock, only a few minutes had passed. It was like that all night. And then there was the itching.
Finally at six o’clock this morning, I abandoned trying to sleep and decided to take a Benadryl for the itch. It worked. But my knee and back were still killing me. Exactly 12 hours after I took two pain pills, I took a single one. No itching but no pain relief either. What ever became of of Tylenol #3? It’s not too strong, and at least for me, doesn't cause itching.
So here I sit on my chaise, where I can write comfortably and birdwatch, heat to my back and ice to my knee, doing #continuouspractice to tell the tale. 
That’s the conclusion of my pity party. Thank you all for showing up and listening to my tale of woe. You see, I live alone and don’t have anyone except Honey to bother with this. And she’s pretty damned tired of my whining.