Showing posts from April, 2006

Birds and Beast and Butterflies

This was a glorious weekend. I'm writing a light-hearted entry. We can't be serious all the time. We took it easy on Saturday, and took a drive up to the Oakland Hills to enjoy the day, and also to check on a little letterboxing art project of mine. Sunday was equally lovely. We drove down to Ardenwood Historic Farm , and enjoyed a visit with some delightful critters. I love sheep. Those horizontal pupils. Those soulful faces. And maybe, when my mind is more at ease, I'll even start knitting again. Robb used the wheelchair again, to conserve his energy and give us more funtime. We got a lot of attitude from blue birds. The normally-regal peacock seemed critical of us. A feisty scrub jay was obliging in posing. If you look across the color-wheel, the complimentary color to blue birds is, of course, the California poppy. I can't seem to go out anywhere without hiding a little letterbox art. In this case, I wanted to make an object that related to the fact that A


Okay, so I imagine that having electrical needles stuck on his muscles was probably not the most fun way for Robb to spend his afternoon, and I thought he might break my fingers while he was holding my hand, but.... We learned that there are no dead nerves leading into Robb's legs. Many of the nerves are sending signals that are not being interpreted by the muscles, and in many cases the signals are weak. But we are cautiously optimistic. Inspirations As we were returning home today, we were being "paced" by a cyclist. It took Robb a second to realize that this man was a below-the-knee amputee. He was flying along in traffic, and kept pace with us almost all the way home. Robb is hoping to return to a more active life. We are hoping to get some insight into the fact that he fatigues so quickly. Right now, our "hikes" are very short events. (Which is not to say that we don't enjoy them...) People like this cyclist are great inspirations to both of us.

Wiffle Ball!!!

Since Robb's energy is so limited, we try to maximize his fun. Today, our scheduled activity was the Berkeley Repertory Theatre Indoor Wiffle Ball Tournament. Robb managed to last through five innings, before he pooped out. Clearly, Robb is not able to swing a bat, if he still needs a cane for balance, but he was part of the little cheering crowd. The Berkeley Rep scene shop has been working in a temporary shop this season, since our shop burned down this past summer. We've been working in a former pet food store, which may have a certain charm, but really isn't a wonderful workplace. The carpenters, however, have done an amazing job adapting the rules of wiffle ball for indoor play. Another adaptation -- in our lives -- is that beer drinking has become a spectator sport. Robb can't have any alcohol, because of all of his medications, and I'm always the designated driver. Luckily, we have a fine group of co-workers willing to pick up the slack for us.

Further Reading

To answer your questions, Robb has not in fact been laying on the couch and watching soap operas or Oprah all day long. Our wonderful friends have been keeping us amused with a variety of books. Since Robb still has such limited energy this has been a great thing. I scooped up what's on the bedside table, and this stack represents the kindness of Annalisa, James and Trena, Kara, and Greg and Nicole. Thank you so much, everyone! In no particular order, the books we've recently read: Join Me ("Stop raving about it and just let me read it for myself, Robb!") Lenin's Embalmers Cadillac Desert Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World Boonville Straight Man and I, who have considerably less time, have been enjoying Kingbird Highway and the National Geographic Reference Atlas to the Birds of North America Thanks to James, even though we're not wearing maribou slippers and watching the soaps, we are eating far too many bon bons.

What's on the Horizon?

Robb has an appointment on Friday for an electromyogram test. The description we've been given is that he will have needles inserted into his muscles to measure Robb's nerve conductivity. Sampling the nerve pathways at various spots, allows the doctors to pinpoint where the nervous signal is being interrupted. This will give us an accurate roadmap of Robb's current situation. Everyone tells us that this needles-in-the-muscles test will take two hours, and that it is not a whole lot of fun. Very informative, of course, but not fun. On a happier note Robb and his therapists have been checking out possible outpatient rehabilitation centers, which Robb will attend once he is approved to walk stairs, and leave the house, and use public transportation by himself. And on that subject, I was pretty thrilled to hear that on Monday, Robb's appointment with his physical therapist will be as follows. Robb will walk down the apartment stairs (all forty four of them!) leave our

A Night off For the Blog

I'm tired, and don't have anything particularly clever to say tonight. So, instead, I'll share the best bit of accidental composition I've ever been part of. I was stalking egrets around Lake Merritt last September, and Robb shot this photograph. It makes me laugh every time I see myself being carried away by the giant birdie. Like something out of Sinbad the Sailor...

Coyote Hills

The sun was shining, and we piled Robb's wheelchair into the car and drove out the the Coyote Hills Regional Park . We decided that using the chair would mean that Robb would expend less energy walking, and we could enjoy a longer day outside. I had gotten some advice about getting the chair in and out of the car from some of the ladies at the BORP trip, and I think I had a slightly easier time of it. I still don't understand how frail old ladies haul around their husbands' wheelchairs... (The goose in the background of this photo seems entirely uninterested in Robb or his chair.) Coyote Hills is huge and beautiful. There are paved bike trails through a variety of terrains. There are also boardwalks into the marshes. There are superlative views of the San Francisco Bay. And there is wildlife! Pictured above is a White-Tailed Kite , and below is a Common Moorhen . The Moorhen is a "first" for me and Robb. The Moorhen is a truly weird-looking bird. Look at how the

Happy Hour is Part of Recovery, Right?

I have not lived in the Bay Area long enough to be able to tell when one season ends, and another begins in any definitive way. But today I saw one of my Sure Signs of Spring. A squirrel was running along the street with an orange in his mouth. Maybe squirrels have to subsist on acorns in other parts of the country, but out here they pick fresh fruit off the trees. This sight never fails to delight me. Robb had an easy schedule today, so we met friends for drinks when I got off of work. Observant readers will notice Robb's cane, suspended from the vines on his left. Robb had a faux beer, and then Tyler gnawed on the bottle. He's teething. I've got embarassing pictures of our adult friends too, but politeness dictates that I not post them on the web. When we got home, I noticed I had missed a call from one of our letterboxing pals, Lea. She and her daughter were out looking for the letterbox we had hidden at the Wave Organ last weekend. One other very nice thing that h

Crabby Morning? Not At All!

... I re-arranged my work schedule today so that I could take Robb out on an outing with BORP . This followed a physical therapy session with Doreen, where, among other things they walked the entire Cleveland Cascade . This is a public park near the lake that has a huge staircase as its main feature. Robb did great. We arrived a little late at Crab Cove, but soon found our group, who were learning about the denizens of this particular shoreline from two naturalists. We fingered assorted seaweeds, hydroids, and bivalves. Then they brought out the more challenging specimens. There were live (and very lively) crabs, pelts (from both a leopard shark and harbor seal), a frozen body of a small leopard shark, and a harbor seal skull. I had never had the opportunity to touch shark skin before. It is a material that one sees occasionally in the decorative arts, by the name shagreen. It was popular in the Art Deco period, and also in traditional Japanese decorative arts. The skin was also us

What's a Wave Organ?

For those who might be wondering what one hears at the Wave Organ, our friend Greg has shared a field recording he made. Just click here . Thanks Greg!!!


Robb woke up this morning with the feeling that his balance was better. I don't understand this, and neither do Robb or his therapist, but his balance actually is better. I asked him, just now what he wanted to say on the subject of his balance therapy, and his reply was, "well, it is a good thing that we do it indoors, because it kind of looks like a sobriety checkpoint." Then he paused, and added, " and in my current state, it looks like a sobriety test that I am failing." Robb works on balance exercises next to piece of furniture, so that if he were to start to tip over, something would stop his fall. Today, he was doing squats next to the dining room table, and Linguine was on the table, rubbing her face against him every time he came within range. Robb's balance was vastly improved, and he only lost it the time that Linguine came at his face with her tongue hanging out. Got to watch out for that tongue! For the first time, Doreen allowed Robb to do

Neglected Duties

Not surprisingly, when one has to unexpectedly care for a loved one with a spinal cord injury, one makes all sorts of trade-offs to free up more time. Today, I started to try to untangle some of the messes that had piled up in our lives since Robb's accident. ...Like my ninety-five dollar library fines. I read those words and marvel. I'm not actually a huge Library Criminal, I thought that I could pay this bill the next time I went to the library, but this bill was turned over to a collection agency. Wow...Times have changed. ...Or finally getting around to calling the mobile phone company to find out why our bills were so gigantic over the last few months. It turns out that on the plan we had (note the past tense), only I had unlimited in-network calling. Robb only had unlimited calls to me. All the calls he made from the hospital, well... ...Or this: No certain what you're looking at? How about another view? Yeah. Potatoes. That's pretty bad. If it is any e

Answers to Questions

I thought I would take the opportunity to answer some questions that people have been asking. Do feel free to leave comments or questions on the blog. Just click on the word "comments" at the bottom of this entry. I'll try to clarify anything that may be unclear. (If the subject is too personal, I'll say so.) In no particular order: Robb is not in pain, but he does get tired and crampy at the end of the day. His back gets tired, and his feet and ankles swell up impressively. There is no stated time table for Robb's recovery. The doctors can't and won't make any predictions about how long the recovery may take, and how complete the recovery will be. We've heard that spinal cord injuries take as much as eighteen months to finish healing. Considering that right after the accident, Robb couldn't bear to move at all, the recovery he has made is nothing short of amazing Robb showers with his brace on. He is not allowed to sit up or stand without we

We keep moving along

Today Robb and his occupational therapist Marcella went out on a public transportation adventure. They walked down the lake, caught a bus, took the bus to the BART train, and then took a shuttle to the Alta Bates rehabilitation center. (We are beginning the process of shopping for an outpatient rehabilitation facility for when Robb is mobile enough to not need therapy that comes to him.) Challenges included: The BART turnstile that tried to eat Robb. It clamped down on his hips because he was so slow going through. Using escalators for the first time. We take them for granted, but these things move quickly, and require a good deal of coordination. The bus driver who seemed to be late for an appointment. The bus pulled up, overshot the stop, and the driver was very keen to get back on the road. Marcella was intentionally slow with everything she did to allow Robb time to get on the bus, use his new handicapped bus pass thingamajiggy, and get seated. Teenagers who hog up the handic


Robb and his physical therapist Doreen went down to the beach in Alameda and spent their therapy session walking on sand. (Isn't this delightfully Californian? You're not completely healed until you can walk on the beach again...) Robb worked without his ankle braces, and the uneven and shifting surface of the soft sand "recruited" the weakened muscles in his ankles. And, yes, Robb's cane often sank deeply into the sand as he walked. When he told me about this tonight, he seemed pretty delighted by the whole thing. He and Doreen had gone down to Lake Merritt previously, but the stretches of sand aren't terribly long. The funny thing is that Doreen lived near the lake as a child and so her memories are of a huge, sandy stretch of beach. She also remembers there being monkeys on the bird sanctuary islands , but I'm still not entirely able to accept this story. Other than one person who was strolling on an offshore sandbar, and looked apparently like

What it's Like to be Robb...(Revised)

You wake up in the morning. You can't feel much of anything from your lower back, down the backs of your legs to the soles of your feet. Little by little, however, sensation is coming back. You reach over the side of the bed and get your back brace. You carefully roll yourself into the back half (your shoulders and hips must stay aligned), put on the front, and fasten all the straps. You swing your legs over the side of the bed and grab the bookcase for support, and pivot your body up, sideways, to sitting. You slide into your shoes, and go make coffee. Lisa's already left for work. You're alone in the apartment, so you use your walker. You can walk to the kitchen, but it's flat-footed and very slow. Later, after breakfast and a shower, plus several breaks in between (you tire easily), you dress and put on your ankles braces. (Your ankles are too weak to support a lot of walking.) Figure that all of this, from the time you woke up, takes about two hours. By lat

At The Wave Organ

Robb and I took advantage of a break in the rain to go for a stroll at the Wave Organ . This is currently our favorite off-beat spot in San Francisco. (Actually, I feel pretty cool claiming to have any such thing. I still consider myself a Bay Area newcomer.) The Wave Organ is an odd art installation at the end of the San Francisco Yacht Harbor. Apparently, back in 1939, the city moved the occupants of the Laurel Hill Cemetery, and the architectural odds from the cemetery ends were used to create this jetty (I recall that Robb, Ellen and I puzzled over this as we sailed by on a whale watching tour.) In 1986, artists from the Exploratorium added the element of sound, in the form of "listening tubes," and if you visit the Wave Organ at high tide, you can hear all manner of sounds created by the water currents. Walking was a bit of a challenge. The path, while generally flat, was quite lumpy and there were plenty of mud puddles to negotiate. It was also quite windy. I

Happy Easter


A Visit with a Physiatrist

We’d been having some trouble finding a doctor* to be my primary physician and now after a few false starts and try-outs we’ve got him. Dr. Dana. (I think his name sounds like he should be doing health segments on the local news.) My appointment was about 20 miles away and on a day when Lisa was unavailable to take me. But the timing of Barb and Jenny’s visit was perfect. So off we went to Walnut Creek. The doctor was impressive: he asked questions and listened; he tested, hypothesized and explained. I thanked him at the end and told him this was the most time I’ve had with an M.D. since my operation, and that almost doesn’t count since I was unconscious. In the exam, he tested my reflexes, strength, mobility and sensation (pin-prick). At every point along the way, he stopped to explain which nerves seemed to be affected and at which level they exited the spinal cord. He was able to determine that some of the problems occur within the cord itself and some are at the poin

A Chocolate Box

Robb and I had a quiet morning at home, and then headed out to do some errands. Amidst the practical activities, we crammed in a little letterboxing . I had heard that one of my logbooks at the Oakland Rose Garden was soaked, so I scooped it up, and will bind another book to replace it. We also planted a letterbox at Berkeley's tastiest chocolate factory . On a more serious note, we're realizing that we have to be really honest with ourselves about how much this gigantic change in our lives is affecting us, emotionally. Both of us are struggling with how not to feel stalled or stuck or frustrated, and how not to mis-direct these feelings when we do have them.

...and her hair turned white, overnight

If you have read much trashy 19th Century literature, you will no doubt have run across an example of someone who suffers a terrible shock, and whose hair turns white overnight from the experience. Obviously, this is not possible since the hair on our heads is all dead, but the myth prevails. Annie Oakley is said to have gone white overnight. (Another version of this story has her hair turning white after too much time in a mineral bath at a European spa.) Likewise, Sir Thomas More and Marie Antoinette were reputed to have gone white the night before their executions. A few years back, I had parts of my head shaved for some minor surgery, so I know exactly the rate at which my hair grows. Literary conventions aside, I have an astonishing crop of white hairs that exactly coincide with the date of Robb's accident. Stress? You betcha!

Batman and Robb

This morning, just before my alarm went off, I was dreaming that I was somehow involved with Batman, who was recovering from a terribly serious injury. Hmmmm... Let's ponder the connections between the cimematic version of Batman and Robb. Custom-fitted body armor -- check Brooding, romantic super hero -- hmmmm.... The Mask -- we often joke that Mister Firdusi looks like a little kid in a Batman costume, whose mask has slipped Cape -- Robb hasn't been wearing a cape lately, but we've been watching the Lord of the Rings movies, and the hobbits do wear capes. Robb's feet are looking oddly hobbit-like these days. Utility Belt -- anyone who knows Robb well knows he fashions all sorts of custom made tools Lives in a Cave -- I'm not really keeping up with the housework, but it isn't that bad, either Butler, Mansion, Snazzy Vehicles -- alas, no Involved with a mentally unhinged woman with too many cats -- no comment I was pondering all of this, when Robb rolled ove

Oh, sure, NOW the sun comes out!

We had rain through most of Barbara and Jenny's visit. Now that they are gone, we suddenly have glorious weather. I had hoped to take Jenny letterboxing , which is an activity that Robb and I were very much involved in, prior to his accident. For those of you not familiar with letterboxing, it is an activity almost custom-made for me and Robb. It combines printmaking, book binding, and occasionally carpentry with hiking and puzzle-solving. I stumbled on letterboxing just over a year ago, while Robb was busy with a show . I spent all my free weekends last spring hunting down art hidden in the Bay Area. Sadly, letterboxing and sloppy weather do not go very well together. Instead of hunting out any local lettterboxes, I carved Jenny a personal stamp (the box turtle at the top of this posting), and advised Jenny and Barbara about where to hunt letterboxes back home.


The last time any of Robb's family visited, he was really only able to be up and out of bed for about twenty minutes at a time. During Barbara and Jenny's visit, he spent the bulk of the day, out and about, enjoying their company. This photo came after I was tired of taking "cute family" snapshot photos and demanded that Robb and Jenny "act normally." This is as normal as it gets around here. We choose not to take things terribly seriously all the time. There is so much in life to make you smile. For example, the huge eyes on these two loveable creatures. (And, no, we did not manipulate this photograph.) Life is good. We really loved having you two visit. We'll miss you, and hope that we'll be able to get together with you this summer.

Another Weekend

Robb's niece Jenny took this photo after Robb's doctor's visit yesterday. More on that in a later posting. For now, we'll say that Robb really likes this doctor, and that he feels he has a much better understanding of his condition. Also, he feels very hopeful. On Sunday, Barbara, Jenny, Robb and I went into San Francisco. We had considered a boat tour, but the weather was so uneven. Instead, we went to the Ferry Terminal for lunch. Following that, we went down to Pier 39 to visit the California sea lions . They were being obligingly amusing (both adorable and rowdy and despite the drizzle, we enjoyed gawking at them. When we lived in Baltimore, I always loved going down the the National Aquarium to watch the seals and sea lions swim around, but this is so much better, as they are not captive, but rather are going about their lives, seemingly oblivious to all the urban bustle around them. This was a good outing for Robb. Mostly flat terrain, plenty of places to