Florence in Words
October 23, 2018
No, itís not for the Parkinsonís. And the blog is also an attempt at apology---for not writing more often, for not writing to good friends (Toni McNaron, for example), for not writing of the death of a beloved colleague and friend (Nancy Porter) who I should have celebrated for her ten years of slogging and imagination at work on The Feminist Pressís Womenís Studies Journal. Yes, it was the first, and it still lives on as a scholarly work at CUNY and published still by FP. And now I must apologize for these long, unwieldy, unpolished sentences.
Back to the surgery for a paragraph or two: itís on my right cheek, a blobby mass, missed by the first skin doctor I saw, who didnít send a deep enough piece of flesh off to be evaluated for cancer. So the first report was negative. But it kept growing and so I saw another doctor who sent off a larger piece of my cheek, this time reported clearly as cancerous and a rapid-growing sort. So, finally, Iím scheduled, tomorrow at noon, for surgery, with two pairs of hands: a male surgeon and a female plastic surgeon. Together, they expect to get it all (or perhaps check out where it is headed, if that is possible). And of course, minimize the scar.
Iím pretty calm, given that I need to arrive at NYUís Medical Center for the surgery in 24 hours, at noon tomorrow, the 24th of October. Yes, Iíve seen all my doctors, who, when you are close to 90, are suddenly a little group. All were reassuring, though of course none of them deals with cancer. And because my family history of horrors does not include cancer, I have assumed myself free of that worry. Lessons: no one is free and worry is probably useless.
I pause to look for an emery board and to wisk away at a piece of uneven nail on my cooperating fingers (yes, I can type today). Blessings on my hands. One of the instructions for surgery I immediately attended to was the removal of all nail polish, which left rough and crumbling edges to my shaking fingers, attesting daily to my Parkinsonian state.
Recently, my beloved former student, Ellen Bass, now a famous poet, organized a celebration of No More Masks at Poets House here in New York City. I was able to attend, to talk a bit and even to read a poem. Moreover, Robin Morgan was there, seemingly having conquered her own siege of Parkinsonís. We did not talk directly of illness, not even as seeming to be a possible source of creativity.
Yes, dear friends, I need more courage than I have demonstrated thus far. I need to write more, even about the formidable Parkinsonís. I complain that I cannot find good essays or books by and about people who have suffered the disease. But I have not stopped to write, or even to think about writing. I have one book my daughter-in-law, the indomitable AnnJ Gumbinner, found for me and perhaps I should begin by writing about it and what I found that was helpful in it.
Enough for now?
July 15, 2018
For whatever reason, my fingers are typing today as though there was no Parkinson in sight, and so Iím taking advantage of that to write a public blog instead of a private complaining journal. Yes, itís midsummer and too hot even for a brief walk (with walker, of course), but I can still dream of the years when a brief hot walk would take me to the beach and the ocean in Amagansett. And without bitterness, for those days made these possible. I chose a New York apartment instead of the beach house when it became clear that I couldnít afford both. And so I have, at least for today, some calm and only a faint feeling of regret for the loss of the little beach house and the ability to walk along the beach or dip into the ocean on its calm days.
What do I enjoy now? The comfort of my apartment, its bright views of the city, reading (often for Feminist Press still), visits and phone calls from friends, occasional taxi rides to eat out, and once the fall sets in, the opera series I still subscribe to, and the theatre tickets also on subscription. I am fortunate to have caring friends and especially a caring reconstructed family who call daily and visit as frequently as possible for them.
Yes, I know it makes for a bland blogóbut I need to own to the absence of depression today. For whatever reason, perhaps because my fingers are typing at their usual speed and correctness, I feel somewhat like my real self. Even if it is to be short-lived, I am grateful to know that somewhere I can still feel as I once did thoughtlessly, taking life for granted.
An important postscript. As I reread what I had written, I realized that I had focused only on my own two inches of being, though I spend many hours a day reading the daily-delivered New York Times or watching MSNBC on the television, or the Los Angeles Times on my phone. And yes, in another time, I would also be out there in political action. But today, I am not going to let that regret control my day.
July 6, 2018
And of course they stopped in to see me almost every one of the seven days they were in town. And they spent some time many days going through the apartment counting turtles I have on bookshelves and in cabinets. They were given booksóincluding four from Feminist Press. And each day they drew pictures and followed Taksi around, trying to walk quietly so he would not hide under the big bed. Yes, I enjoyed being finally taken for granted through all the partying in my apartment, and they enjoyed some of the visitors as well. My friends visited and cooked or we ordered in.
It has been very quiet here since they flew back to Kansas. And my daughter? Sheís recovering and getting to all she abandoned in order to give me and the two little girls a rare gift.
June 6, 2018
Note: First written in May, but posted in June
Yes, barely out of the first week of May, we have some decent spring weather and the green has burst into view all at once and all bright. Iím trying to move into a schedule. Iím trying to be at least a tiny more upbeat. And yes, Iíve made one breakthrough: I went to see my dear doctor Helen Hecht who convinced me to see my former neurologist, Jonathan Charney, which I did that very afternoon, since Dr. Hecht called him and he said heíd work me into the crowd of people in his waiting room.
It was good to see him again. He feels more like a friend than a doctor. He always remembers to compliment me on my memoir which he claims to have read. And so he assessed me and of course noted that I could not walk, was using a wheel chair, and was feeling desperately depressed. Heís scheduled me for a test Saturday morning, and heís starting me on another pill without changing the dopamine I have been given by the NYU neurologist I have been seeing, even as my ability to walk has worsened over these past weeks, even months.
So yes, I am going to begin to add to the dopamine the new drug, amantadine, that is supposed to help me walk. Yes, I feel skeptical, and I expect I sound skeptical. But you wonít blame me, will you? Dr. Charney says that when he sees me in two weeks, I will be walking, perhaps with my little walker, but certainly I will not be in a wheel chair. So I am trying to be hopeful, but not too hopeful.
Coincidentally, I find myself with two books about Parkinsonís, and so I have begun to do what I would normally do, but havenít, for whatever reasons. And I must add here that, while Iíve taken only one of those new pills, my typing is much better than when I was last trying to write I was cheered by the combination of Helen Hecht herself and her insistence that I see Dr. Charney (who is her friend, too).
If you are bored with what has become a description (and not very consistently) of my illness, then I am sorry and will try to do better. I know only of a few peopleóold friends, usually not living in New Yorkówho keep track of me mainly through checking the blog. Perhaps they will tell me to quit right now.
I want to add that I did more yesterday than I have for weeks and weeks. The brain test had me at Dr. Charneyís office by ten a.m. on Saturday morning. Helene met me there, since we had afternoon tickets to an Encores performance of ďMe and My Gal,Ē an old musical performed in a characteristically intense manner and with a talkback feature about the history of musical theatre I have come to enjoy.
At six we were in a taxi heading home, the longest day Iíve spent out of the house in many months. And with it all, I used my walker, no wheelchair.
February 20, 2018
Itís the Monday (Feb 19?) after a week of informal reunions with people I feel close to but donít see often, itself an understatement. I canít remember the last time, for example, I saw Nancy Hoffman, with whom I edited a volume of stories about Women Working for a huge Feminist Press project of the late 1970s and early 1980s. It was one of a dozen books funded by Ford, Rockefeller, Carnegie, and the NEH, and it is still in print and still used in schools as a text. Nancy has worked on high school education projects for many years, and for many of which she also served on the Feminist Press Board of Directors. She was at Brown University when that institution decided to buy my papers and the Feminist Press papers.
Deborah Rosenfelt, lately a retired professor at the University of Maryland in College Park, was my student at Goucher College, and later, a staff member and an author at the Feminist Press, and of course Debby and Nancy were friends. They have made some plans to work together again on the disposal of my papers at Brown, where Nancy was working as assistant to the universityís president when I agreed to sell my papers and the Pressís to Brown. As some of you know, there has been no work on my papers at Brown.
Both of these women know Ellen Bass, the poet and the Goucher student with whom I edited the first No More Masks! She was absent this week, but plans to be here in New York in April, and perhaps weíll have another reunion then.
Of course itís wonderful for me to enjoy such occasions.
This one began in part as a mutual interest in hearing Marilynne Robinson speak at the 92nd Street Y about the new volume of essays she was publishing. And we did that, after a festive dinner. Nancy, Debby, and I were joined by my daughter-in-law, AnnJ Gumbinner, and by Elyse Hilton, a student of Ellen Bassís. Elyse was the initial instigator who bought tickets to the lecture for me and for herself many months ago. Had I been my once normal self, we would have continued the festivities that evening after the lecture. But I was tired after the exertion of the dinner and the walk to the lecture hall as well as the lecture itself. Frankly, it was not really a ďlecture.Ē Robinson read from a few pages of printed text and then sat on stage with a man who asked several questions while ďYĒ staff collected other questions from audience members.
Frankly I cannot remember one question or one answer, but I was glad to be there and glad to have sight of Robinsonís voice and demeanor. And Elyse gave me a copy of the essays which I will write about when I can. Most of all, I am glad to report that I enjoyed the evening and suffered no ill effects afterwards. Maybe I am coming back to ďnormal.Ē
January 31, 2018
Iím early this year, or I will be if I manage to write this page. Up to Friday, the fifteenth of September, 2017, I was moving right along to decent health. But on that day, something changed, when a careless or perhaps irritated cab driver threw my folded walker into the back of the cab directly into my left side (instead of putting it in the trunk with the groceries). Since that day, I have been an invalid, more or less confined to my apartment. Three months of no plays, films, ballet, opera, even dinners or lunches out, no visits to friends.
Yes, there have been a few visits to doctors, an X-ray, an MRI, even a visit from a doctor. But I cancelled a dental cleaning as not important enough (and now Iím a bit worried about that). I have many people to thank, including the heroism of Don Thomas who got me to a sports medicine doctor on Yom Kippur where I had an x-ray and a diagnosis that remained in placeóan injury to the soft tissue around my left waistóuntil I had an MRI a couple of weeks ago. Then it was clear that I had also had an injury to a small spinal bone which was healing, and still a bit painful.
In addition to Don, Lucy Cajamarca, who has been my housekeeper for as long as Iíve been on West End Avenue, has kept me, my apartment, and the cat, Mr. Taksi, clean, sane, and even relatively cheerful. And then thereís Elyse Hilton, a writer and a friend, who has often anticipated my needs for company, reading, and literary conversation, as well as mundane help on the computer. And Paul Pombo, my accountant and good friend, who can unscramble even the worst of messes created by me and Microsoft 10. Always present is Helene Goldfarb, general guardian who goes to doctors with me and also cares for the Feminist Press, partly in my place.
Unfortunately for me, family members do not live in New York City, but in Washington D.C., Kansas, and Mississippi. Alice, like Ann J, is allergic to cats, and so their visits are somewhat curtailed. Most amazing was the visit at Thanksgiving from granddaughter and namesake Dr. Florence and husband Jason, who live in Los Angeles, so that I might meet their new baby, Paloma. And you know, if youíve been reading my blog, that I never sent this one out. But Iím doing it now, and Iím trying to find a way to continue the blog, move it away from my physical illness and back to writing about books and politics again, or friends, some of whom are writers. I need the blog, even if no one reads it. I need it because I need to move my fingers as well as my brain. I need it because I also enjoy people who write comments. I wish some of you would be harder on me, would scold me for collapsing into mush. So I have Parkinsonís. There are worse things. I need some of that old fearlessness I once had. So feel free to scold me. I need scolding. Badly.
(begun in December, 2017; finished January 28, 2018)
January 2, 2018
So here are the members of this young family, with part of their equipment in hand and their nonchalance about the red eye. Like many American families, their relatives are spread out across the country, and they mean to see all of them, even if not all together. At Christmas, they visited with Jason's family in Louisiana and New Orleans, and Florence's mother in Mississippi joined them for part of the time. They'd already visited with Florence's brother Jack's family in Kansas, which includes two more young daughters, who are my great grandchildren.
And to those of you who are wondering about my state of health, I promise to get back to bookish blogs very soon. Yes, I am up and around and walking and trying to rebuild my life. Old age, as the saying goes, is not for "sissies." And complaining is useless. So here I go again.
November 29, 2017
Whatís been wrong? Briefly, it all began with an accident on a day I felt great. I even felt as I began the day that I was going to be the person I used to be. My focus was on marketing, on my own, using my walker to get to the market, and then a shopping cart to collect my purchases. The cashier than called for an aide to help me find a cab and get my bags into the trunk along with my walker. I was seated on the right side of the taxiís back seat when the driver chose to open the taxiís left door and throw the walker in its folded state at my body. And there it hit my waistline on the left of my body. Yes, I felt a pain but could not imagine the problems that followed.
Within five minutes I was getting out of the cab, someone was stacking the grocery bags on a cart, and I was taking my shopping into my apartment. Yes, I continued to feel some pain, but I thought it would quickly disappear. I had to get some things into the fridge, and I had an appointment at the Rehab gym across the street.
By the time I got to the gym, the pain was intense. I was in tears as I showed the therapist where the pain was coming from. She suggested ice, which was comforting, and then she decided to walk me home, urging me to ice the area and to see a doctor if the pain did not diminish.
Within two days I could hardly walk at all without breath-taking pain. And even though it was then an important Jewish holiday, my dear friend, Don Thomas organized a driver with a car and a wheel chair to take me to a sports medicine building where I had x-rays and was diagnosed. I had a soft tissue injury, which would take considerable time to heal, given that I was 88, not 18 or even 48.
This was the beginning. Why did I cave in? Why did I not use my usual resources? Why did I seemingly disappear? Can I understand what happened? Can I ever recover?
August 30, 2017
I was aware of his interest in the sink, and hoped he wouldnít try to get into it, since I thought it would end with my having to get him to a doctor to reset a few bones. Itís not only high off the floor. It has nothing to rest on: itís a bowl with the thinnest of edges. And why, I thought to myself, would he want to get up there in the first place? I was, of course, not thinking with the mind of Mr. Taksi, who seems to walk around my sizable apartment, with his head angled upward, as though wondering what he might try next.
I know he can leap easily up onto the kitchen counter in a single, elegant movement. He can stand on his two legs at the sink and knock something out of my handsóthatís how tall he is stretched out. But why would he want to get up to this bathroom sink, when he doesnít want to be in water, and when he would then have the trouble of getting out of it again? Well, itís clear now that I donít have the mind of a cat, especially this one. So you can see it in photos. His contentment seems to be saying heís happy to have that problem solved. On to other things, though he does try that leap at least once a day, usually when I am using that bathroom.
As for my bathroom, nothing deters him there, since the sink is built into a cabinet and there are areas seemingly waiting for him. My electric toothbrush is merely music to his earsóheís not going to be sent off by such piffle, and he simply waits until Iím through to continue his investigations of everything on and around this room. His favorite space is the walk-in shower, and I imagine he thinks heís being helpful when he pulls off another loose tile from the shower floor, since he makes sure I see his prize, and of course I do thank him for his courtesy.
July 27, 2017
Iíll try some comfort. Two weeks ago, I passed the half-year point with Mr. Taksi, the cat who was to save me from depression. And yes, he still has the power to make me laugh even when I am supposedly teaching him something or even when I am severely cross with him for absconding with my favorite pen or pencil and hiding them so that he canít get to them either. Itís clear that they wonít turn up until I buy a new couch. And he continues to follow me from room to room, and sometimes itís because itís nearing the time for dinner, though other times, itís that Mr. Taksi wants to play.
Other symptoms: I donít even try to write poems. I write boring journals that say only that I am depressed, or that Iíve broken a dish.
My friends continue to ask me about going to the movies, and I continue to say no, Iím not interested. So what have I done for the past two weeks?
This is a bit laughable: Iíve been readingófor the second timeóThe Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende. About a host of characters the most interesting of whom live in an idyllic old age home. No, I donít believe it depressed me. I wonít blame the book, though it certainly has features that one might label ďdarkĒóthe treatment of Japanese during the Second World War, the sexual torture of one Eastern European young girl who is trying to leave that history behind her. And, of course, the inevitable death of the major character. So, yes, itís a novel chock full of life as well as death and I canít blame it for my depression.
And I will decorate with photos of Mr. TaksiÖperhaps they will make this worth reading. (written on July 14, 2017)