Happy Accident

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It was one of those accidents that is over in a flash. One moment everything is fine, and then – poof! – everything is not. You’re flat on your back, or you’re through the windshield, or you’re lying in a ditch. Cars crash, buildings collapse, ice gives way, horses buck. Accidents happen – very, very fast.

Three days ago, I had one of those accidents. I was riding – going hell-bent-for-leather down a forest path – when my horse broke into a fast gallop. He kind of bolted, actually. Bad horse. But I wasn’t scared or anything. I asked him to slow down – reined him firmly but gently, sat down in the saddle, said “ho”, all the quiet calming stuff you do to signal a horse to take it easy – and he said no. He said no by throwing his ass and back in the air and flicking me off like I was a fly.

One moment: everything was fine. Next moment: everything was not.

I’ve been told many times by many doctors that I should not be riding. I have been diagnosed with severe osteoporosis, and words like “fragile” and “brittle” have been applied regularly to me by various bone specialists, for the last decade or more. My current specialist tells me that I have “extreme risk of fracture” in my back, hips, and wrists. About five years ago, she took a back x-ray to establish a baseline, and discovered that I had three compression fractures in my spine. She freaked. “Were you in a car accident?” she said, before putting me on a ferociously aggressive bone-building parathyroid replacement, that I had to inject daily (and which cost about two grand a month). She also took a bone scan, to determine the age of the breaks (compression fractures can happen to anyone, and very often painlessly). The bone scan revealed that the fractures were very old. But that made no difference to her assessment. As far as my bones are concerned, I’m pretty much made of glass.

Of course I was supposed to give up riding. Riding is a risky sport. Horses are not machines, and even the gentlest and most well-trained creature will do crazy out-of-the-blue without-warning stuff. Even the stuff they do with warning can land you on your ass, your head, your neck, your back. Get a group of lifetime riders together, and they’ll talk about the pins in their hips, the breaks in their legs, the cracks in their ribs. They’ve been thrown, squashed, bitten, and kicked. Part of being crazy about horses is…well, being crazy.

I’m lucky. I haven’t – or, rather, hadn’t – had a real accident in decades. Actually, compared to this one, I’ve never had a serious accident at all. I fell off my last horse about seven or eight years ago when he shied from a dead standstill, having been suddenly terrified by something completely harmless and stationary (I think it was a fern). I landed uninjured. Before that, I guess it was the time I went over my horse’s head when we jumped a little cross-bar jump, and the time before that it was when my fat little Appy tripped and did a complete somersault (fortunately throwing me clear of her tumbling body). I fell off a lot when I was a teenager, too, and doing crazy-ass risky things. But in terms of horseback crack-ups, I’ve been lucky: very, very lucky. I’ve simply never had one: no pins, no breaks, no concussions. Lucky.

So maybe I had forgotten just how dangerous riding can be. I’d recently had to give up my beloved part-board horse of nearly ten years, when his owner moved, and had found a new place to ride. I’d only ridden there four times, on a good-tempered fellow who is part of a herd the barn’s owner rents out to part-boarders and day-riders. The trails are excellent – broad and sandy – and the horses seemed lovely. I thought I’d found a pretty good spot.

But last Thursday when I went up there to ride (with my friend Monika), we were both given horses we’d never ridden before. We also were told we had to ride in the group with the owner, ostensibly to be safe. The leader of the ride was a big strapping young man I’ll call Ahmed, who rides a gigantic Thoroughbred/warmblood cross named Commander. I’d been out with Ahmed once before, and had spent most of the ride at the canter, because Ahmed loves speed. I think he was a Bedouin in an earlier life – he and his horse are all go-go-go.

Now, to my embarrassment, I was actually happy when I saw that Ahmed was leading. Like a lot of riders, I love to canter. The horse I was riding – who was a stranger to me – had a lovely canter. Once we got started, I discovered he was responsive and responsible, and had a nice, easy-to-sit canter. I thought, what a nice animal. Whenever we slowed down to walk for a while, I told Monika how much I liked the horse: how obedient he was, how smooth his transitions were, and other horsie things. Then Ahmed would take off again and so would the rest of us, off through the forest at a good clip, like we were all invincible.

What was I thinking?

I can tell you that, easily. I was thinking how happy I was. I was thinking how wonderful it felt. I was thinking about how much I love to ride. I was thinking all these good things. And then, in an instant, I was on the ground, swearing and yelling and in pain, thinking this is really BAD.

It was bad, but it could have been so much worse. I didn’t know it yet, but I had a broken shoulder blade, as well as various crushed/bruised/torn rib-and-arm-and-shoulder tissues. Monika was beside me in seconds, and with her help I got to my feet. She made a sling out of my light jacket. She made sure I didn’t pass out when I stood up. And fortunately, I could walk. Other than the upper left quadrant of my body, everything worked. There were no cuts, and my helmet had protected my head. We walked a mile back to the barn, with Monika leading the horses, and the barn owner riding alongside giving me heck for my poor riding skills (my reins were too loose, she said), which had caused the accident. She also told me about how Ahmed had had a wreck the year before, when Commander had thrown him, and how he’d spent two weeks in the hospital and now was held together with pins. But I didn’t really care about her scolding or about Ahmed’s horse-accident story. Me and my blown-glass, low-density bones were (mostly) in one piece. I was alive. I wasn’t a quadriplegic. So yeah, I was grateful.

Grateful is what I’m still feeling, a few days post-accident. It’s Thanksgiving Sunday, and boy am I thankful. Since that horse gave me a lesson in humility (and safety), I’ve been astounded and humbled by the rising-up of helpers and friends and family. Starting with Monika, who walked me back to the barn, drove me to the hospital, carried my bags, pep-talked me when I was giving in to the pain, it’s been an ongoing shower of people and things to be grateful for. Then the nurse in triage, who was so understanding. My husband, who showed up and sat beside the stretcher while I lay there in a neck brace with my shoulder and arm and ribcage feeling worse by the second (shock wearing off, I guess). The doctors and nurses; the painkillers; the x-ray machine. The texts from my kids. All of that.

Then, when I got home, the level of help just plain-out exploded. My husband turned out to be a closet Florence Nightingale. My neighbours brought Thanksgiving dinner, dog-walks, soup, entertainment. One friend rode a bus for an hour to come walk my little dog. My sister-in-law showed up with flowers and to tell me that her mother thinks I’m crazy to be riding horses at my age (well, yeah, I am). A woman friend from childhood whom I see maybe once a year drove for miles to bring me a weird inflatable ice-water cooling jacket that fits over your shoulder (it also works on my boob, which feels half-ripped from my chest wall). Another friend from music circle brought a special cooling jacket that treats torn rotator cuffs. I’ve had phone calls, company, food, and advice; my little dog has been walked by multiple people he’s never met (all of whom he barks at ungraciously). I’ve had two full days of serious pain and limited mobility, but this morning – day three – I can say that yes, there’s a little improvement. It’s definitely not as bad as it was yesterday. I am going to get better. Hallelujah!

I’m missing Thanksgiving dinner at my in-laws, but that’s okay. I’m thankful enough. I am thankful to be alive. I am thankful that today, if I’m careful, I can use my left arm from the elbow down, and type. I am thankful to Joe, who just left with the dog for his walk. I am thankful to Monika, who took so much time on Thursday to make me safe and get me home. I am thankful to John, who is waiting on me hand and foot. I am thankful to Andrea and Roy for the contraptions. I am thankful to Terry for the company and the dog treats and dog walks; to Melanie for coming all that way on the TTC to take the dog to the lake and to bring soup and to sit with me and talk theatre. I am thankful to Jason and Alexis and their family for the dog walks, the company, and the shared roast beef dinner. I am thankful to Carmen and those flowers on the mantel. I’m thankful for my sons and sister and Mom. I am thankful for all the good wishes and all the offers of help. More than once I’ve felt myself choking up over all of the generosity of the people around me. Except I can’t actually cry because my ribs are too sore.

I’m even thankful that I was thrown from that horse, and not just because it was a reminder to be more careful. It has brought home to me that my life is full of wonders and joys and gifts that extend beyond a foolhardy gallop through the woods. And for that – and for all the gifts this Thanksgiving – I am very, very grateful.

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Paddling up denial…

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“Unusual weather we’re having,” the Cowardly Lion says to Dorothy, when snow falls on them on the way to Emerald City. I was thinking of that line in the old film today while swimming – yes, swimming – in our small lake in Highlands East, Ontario, Canada. Swimming in late September in this neck of the woods usually involves either a dare, alcohol, or a desperate need to rinse off after intense labour (often all three). It also helps if the weather has provided one of those lovely spells of autumn warmth known (apologies to the indigenous nations) as “Indian” Summer. Those three- or four-day periods occur after the season has clearly shifted from summer to fall, and Canadians have begun hauling out the autumn clothing and hooting about how amazing the colours are this year. But even then, they don’t usually swim.

Well, this summer – now this fall, the equinox having passed a few days ago – was definitely unusual. Actually, it was wretched. I have never known in my 58-almost-59 years on this planet such a disgusting summer, weather-wise. We Canadians don’t like our summers messed with. Depending which part of the country we live in, we can get anywhere from four weeks to four months of actual summer. The best we can hope for is something that starts in lateish May and extends to maybe – maybe – mid-September. We all expect – indeed, demand – a certain amount of heat, blue skies, green trees, and bitching about the humidity. We feel we are entitled to a clear and defined period of actual summer because, well, we’re Canadian. And Canadians have Canadian winters. Which – as pretty as they might be, and as good for skiiers and players of ice hockey – generally suck.

This past summer broke all the rules, at least in southern Ontario (an area, for global readers, about the size of England). It arrived late, carrying buckets of rain; it parked itself in a cloudy spot and stayed there. I’m fortunate enough to have a cottage – a cabin in the woods by the above-mentioned small lake – and normally the woodstove isn’t needed from maybe first week of June to shortly after Labour Day (first Monday in September). Not this year. At multiple times of all four precious months of our too-short summer, we had a fire burning, to keep warm and ward off the damp. Not once did we experience more than two days in the high 20’s Celsius, and the swimming season – which usually starts by first week of June, with a jump into still-chilly water – didn’t start in earnest until July. It was over (we thought) by late August. Little kids (who are known to be crazy) went in as usual, but we adults wrapped ourselves in multiple layers of towels and sat scowling on the dock, going in once in a while because dammit, it’s summer. We’d dive in, shriek, and get right back out again. Then we’d go sit by the fire.

We tuned anxiously into long-range forecasts, looking for the traditional heat waves which give us an opportunity to complain about how hot it is, instead of what we complain about for the rest of the year, which is how cold it is. Instead, the reports repeatedly offered only rain and more rain, and even lower temperatures. Knowing long-range forecasts were usually about as accurate as reading chicken entrails, we would head up north from the city anyway, tuning into the local station (Moose FM), hoping to hear something better. But it got so we could predict the predictions. “Mostly cloudy with sunny periods, high of 22, low overnight of 10, fifty-percent chance of rain,” was the usual prognostication. But often, it was “Rain all day, high of 18, chance of afternoon thunderstorms.” When one prediction was for a low that night of 4 degrees – close to freezing – we were astounded. This was in July!

The growing season was three weeks behind, and in many areas, the spring water levels never receded. For the first time ever, I saw lakeside cottages on other lakes that had been dammed off by the owners with a protective wall of sandbags. The local businesses – especially the ice-cream parlour – suffered, as people didn’t bother coming “up north” to their cottages, or going camping and hiking in Algonquin. The dirt roads turned to mush, and trees fell as their root balls were compromised by the damp. On Labour Day weekend, the traditional hoot-and-holler send-off-to-summer weekend, it pissed cold rain. No one said, “What a great summer – I can’t believe it’s over already!” Instead, we all muttered: summer? What summer?

So imagine our shock and delight when shortly after Labour Day, when all the kids had gone back to school, and everyone’s summer mindset (and vacations) had ended, that The Heat finally arrived. Most of us had already pulled in our swim rafts, since by late August swimming had become unpleasant (except for those crazy little kids, who emerged from the water blue-lipped and shivering, proclaiming I wanna go back in!) It was another surreal weather pattern that I had never seen in my life in Ontario. Everyone went from bedraggled, damp, and disappointed to celebrating this extraordinary meteorological gift. As I write this, I sit tanned and glowing, having had more than two solid weeks of increasingly hot temperatures. Two weeks ago, we hit the mid-20s and sunny; it increased steadily until yesterday, when it hit 30. Today it is supposed to go to 31, with blazing sunshine and low, pleasant, wind. And swimming? The lake has warmed up again. I spent yesterday evening floating around a glass-calm lake, basking in the warm water and the warmer air, as the sun’s bright fireball slid behind the wall of dense forest that rings the lake. And that was after spending a full day’s canoeing to a sandbar and beach on Grace Lake, where everybody and their sister had showed up with picnics, inflatable toys, and ecstatic children. And all anyone could say was, “Isn’t this incredible? Have you ever seen anything like it?”

Well, no, we haven’t. And we know this is coming to an abrupt end. The Moose advises that this is the last day of this surreal period of otherworldly warmth. Tomorrow, the daytime high is predicted to be 16, with a low at night of 5. By the weekend, it’s raining, 12, and close to freezing at night. Which is what one expects from the weather here, in southeastern Canada.

Yes, it’s been a joyous two weeks: a reprieve after all hope had been abandoned, and we were expecting to have to close up the cabin early this year. But it’s also been somewhat disturbing, this weather misbehaviour. We keep thinking: this is not normal. While we were sitting on white hot sand beside glittering water that rivals the Caribbean’s, the real Caribbean was being crushed by three unprecedentedly-huge hurricanes in a row. While folks in our village general store were buying two-scoop ice creams and marvelling at the unusual weather, the Atlantic hurricane season had wiped out Puerto Rico, Dominica, Barbuda, and many other island countries and territories. When we finally got an internet signal and looked at the news, it was horrifying. The leaders of these flattened countries are saying that rebuilding may well be impossible. They are saying they may have to abandon their countries.

For years we have been hearing about “climate refugees,” and how people will have to flee drowned-out and destroyed areas, in the way they flee wars. Meanwhile, the government of the United States pulls out of the Climate Accord and promises to invest in more coal (perhaps they will also put their money into the cotton gin and rotary-dial telephones). Canada’s record isn’t spotless, either: despite our self-image of being greenies, we have a poor international reputation on environmental protection (not to mention the international embarrassment of the oil sands).

We tell ourselves we know what to expect from the weather. We kid ourselves that everything is all right. Yes, there are terrible hurricanes; yes, it’s been a bad year for that. But here? We’re fine. It was a strange cold summer, yes, but look at this incredible gift: going-on three weeks of steaming hot weather. The trees have dumped their leaves without turning their usual magnificent colours; the ducks are hanging around in the bays instead of flocking together to migrate; the mosquitoes have had another hatching. But really, it’s nothing to worry about. This isn’t climate change – not here, not yet. Everything’s fine. It’s just a little…unusual.

 

A Different Kind of Travel Bug

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If there’s one thing that makes you wish for teleportation powers – the ability to tap your ruby shoes and just be home – it’s getting sick while on holiday. I don’t remember whether I worried about such things when I was young and travelling. Not that I travelled that much: mostly, my vacations were just a couple of weeks of remote, canoe-in camping in Algonquin Park. Even then, I remember my mother being alarmed about how far I’d be from medical care, “if something goes wrong.” Pfft, I’d say, I’ll be fine. Although there was that one time I got food poisoning while camping on a remote island, two days’ ride from civilization. I remember being rolled up in a ball on the pine needles, in the looming Canadian dark, too sick to stand up. All I could think was, how am I going to get home?

            Now that I’m une femme d’un certain age (that means “old lady”), getting sick or injured on holiday is no longer a remote or even unlikely possibility. Not that I’m in bad health: hell, no, I’m a lucky camper (so to speak) when it comes to my health. My septuagenarian Type-1 diabetic husband, on the other hand, is an ambulatory pharmacy – a bearer of vials, syringes, and an endless supply of pills – all to control and treat various conditions. He’s not an invalid – far from it – but if he were to get sick on holiday, it could be life-threatening. Understandably, he’s very careful.

So, because the travel gods enjoy a good joke, the person who consistently gets sick travelling is me. Five years ago, I went to Mozambique (without him, to go riding on their legendary beaches), and promptly wrenched my back galloping down said beach at a speed best described as suicidal (is “but everybody was doing it!” a good enough excuse, Mom?) Three years ago I had a throat infection on Isla Mujeres, in an area where there seemed to be neither pharmacy or ice. Two years ago in Holbox – a remote Mexican island (what is it with me and islands?) – I succumbed to a local, mosquito-borne fever that laid me flat for 36 hours, with no other symptoms than a bone-shaking fever. But my husband, the walking pharmacopeia? He might ask for a Tums after a spicy meal. I’m the one that catches all the bugs.

This year was the kicker. We regularly vacation in a Yucatan fishing village and beach area outside of Progreso, Mexico. There’s a large community of aging ex-pats here – Yanks and Canucks and the occasional Brit – but generally-speaking, it’s sort of a combination of Wasaga Beach in the 60’s and a Newfoundland outport, except it’s Mexican. It’s also a five-hour plane ride from home. And when I got sick this year, home was the only place I wanted to go.

The bug that took me down was a 24-hour stomach flu that had been bouncing around the ex-pat community during the weeks before my hubby and I arrived. It took a while for it to locate me, but when it did, it made up for lost time. I woke at 4 a.m. thinking that I’d had too much sun. My skin felt hot, and my joints were aching. Then I thought: I hope I’m not getting that bug.

I not only got that bug, but that bug got me, and with a vengeance. About an hour after I woke up feeling hot and achy, I was punched in the lower gut by the workings of the virus as it blew its way through my intestines. I made it to the can all right, but had to crawl back out, because my stomach itself was now joining the party, cramping so hard that I doubled over. About that time, the nausea hit. I lay down onto the cold tile floor, making a sound that might – in a stretch – have been recognizable as human.

“Get me a pot!” I gasped at my hubby, who realized that this wasn’t a run-of-the-mill case of Montezuma’s Revenge. He hurried to get a pot while I clambered onto a chair, and bent my torso over my thighs, arms wrapped around my treacherous belly. He put the pot on the floor in front of me. I don’t remember whether I said thanks, or anything much beyond that. Because, for only the second time in my life, I fainted.

I pitched forward when I passed out, right on my face, onto the hard tile floor. I was out for about a minute, and when I woke up, I realized I was not only on the floor, in my barf, and my blood (I’d cut my lip), and my poop (sorry, Dear Reader, but I was sick), but that I was not at home. I didn’t really even know where I was, or who was shaking my arm and saying, Di, Di! All I knew was that I was not home, and I wanted to be home. Now.

            Then I saw the blood, and of course thought I was dying. My husband, who is a retired lawyer and not trained to be Florence Nightingale, displayed formidable nursing cajones. “Shower,” I whimpered, and he helped me crawl there, where I sat weeping in the stall, warm water pouring over me, clutching the pot on my lap. The whole horrible wake-up-in-my-own-mess moment had been rendered even more dreadful by the fact that I was buck naked. And my poor, dignified, drama-avoiding husband had to deal with that.

            That was the crisis point. We called a friend to drive us to the local doctor, about three miles away, “in town.” My hubby and our buddy walked me into the clinic, two guys escorting this whimpering, weaving, large-size woman like two tugboats. The clinic was a one-room bungalow with a shell-dirt parking lot, and its waiting room was a collection of plastic lawn chairs on a shaded front porch. The clinic’s door opened straight into the doctor’s examining room and office, and his examination table was under a large, open, curtained window, overlooking the patio. When he examined me, he had to keep holding back the curtain as it blew inward in the breeze.

The doctor was very good. Through a combination of broken English, broken Spanish, and Google Translate, we got the symptomology across to him. He gave me a thorough check-up, and a stop-the-barfing needle. I was given an anti-diarrhea prescription, flora restorer, a bottle of Pedialyte, and instructions to go to bed at once. No problem with that: bed was all I wanted. I even thought I might be improving.

I wasn’t. By the time we got back to the hotel, the bug brought out the big guns. This bug didn’t just make you barf and poop. This bug hurt, and so did my head and mouth from the crack on the noggin. I lay in bed groaning and yelling at my poor husband for breathing too loudly. As for the anti-vomiting injection, I still produced one more spectacular gout of bizarrely-coloured bile. Then – unable to read or sleep – I passed the time posting shots of my facial contusions to Facebook. Eventually I fell asleep, and didn’t wake up until 4 a.m. the following morning.

At which point, twenty-four hours later, I was fine. You could have set a clock by that bug’s lifespan.

I took it easy for a couple more days, hanging around the hotel and its little beach. I couldn’t eat anything (truly a rare experience for me), but that was okay. And I no longer wanted to go home. I wanted to get on with my holiday – go swimming and fishing and the local 20-peso Zumba class at Le Triton.

But the experience did change one thing about my future travel plans. My husband and I retired so that we could – among other things – travel. We’ve thought about exotic destinations, and far-away ones. Every year, we think about an alternative to our familiar Mexican spot, and wonder about some eco-lodge in the south seas. We’ve considered the Galapagos and discussed Africa. And every year, for some reason or another, we’ve ended up back in our Mexican Wasaga Beach.

This illness, though, has dampened my urge to be wildly adventurous. Yes, the world is an amazing place, and there are things I still want to see. Venice, maybe, and New Zealand. But when I woke up on a tile floor in Mexico and thought I’d vomited blood, it meant a lot to be only a few miles from a doctor, and to have a friend nearby to help. What if I’d been at an eco-lodge in the Costa Rican jungle? What if I’d been on a cruise to the South Pole? I was sick, I was scared, and I was far from home. At least I was not alone.

Now I’m back in Canada, where of course there are lots of flu bugs capable of doing exactly what that Mexican bug did to me. Still, for the time being at least, I seem resolved to reduce my travel expectations. For the last couple of years, my husband and I have been muttering about doing something more bucket-list-like, and more adventurous. Now, we both feel that being that sick, that far away from home, was adventure enough.

Although I did dive off that two-storey diving platform into that cenote a few days later. Hmm. Maybe I’m not quite done with the adventure after all.20170228_062927

Shaming Melania

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After seeing for malania at the inauguration, I decided to reblog this.#leavehimmelania

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Who knows what makes Melania Trump tick? She’s hard to figure out, unless you want to make judgey, slut-shaming assessments, based on her appearance and her past life choices. I myself don’t know that much about her, but what I’ve seen doesn’t exactly impress me. I’ve seen a photograph of her with a gold-plated baby carriage in a gold-plated nursery. I’ve heard an interview with her and Donald Trump on Howard Stern, where she gleefully participates in one of the grossest “are you naked now?” shitshows that you might ever wish to unhear. I know that she doesn’t write her own speeches, and if she does, she plagiarizes like a C- student in her first year of community college. She wears way too much makeup for my taste, and seems to have married for money (because who would marry that man for anything but money? If he were an average…

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