Sunday, July 19, 2015

My Brush With Death

I walk or run down Sandy Point Lane at least once a day every day while residing in our house in the woods. I know the route well--every speed bump, every curve, every slight change in elevation. There are fluorescent green moss banks on either side of the worn asphalt, and it’s lined with ferns and columbine, clover and mushrooms, birch, poplar, oak, balsam, white and red pines and too many shrubs to name. It’s one-quarter mile to the mailbox and one-quarter mile back.

Monday morning after Father’s Day was partly cloudy, a little cool. It was blustery, perhaps a little windier than usual, but it didn’t feel ominous.  My husband asked me to walk with him and our dog to the mailbox. I didn’t hesitate to say yes. It was a stroll like any other day.

At the first speed bump, I remember the wind came up and a long twig fell upon my arm. I thought that a storm might be brewing, but we kept pace down the lane chatting about nothing important. Then, just past the second speed bump, a violent gust of wind came from the east and caused a tree limb to crack. In a split second, without ever seeing anything come toward me, I experienced a thud and crumpled to the ground.

Mike said I didn’t make a sound.

I didn’t lose consciousness and immediately knew I’d been hit. My second thought, as I lay in a heap on the asphalt, was a realization that I couldn’t get up. And then I saw panic in Mike’s face. He punched 9-1-1 on his cell phone before I could stop him. “There’s blood, Michele,” he said. “I need to call an ambulance.” The last thing I wanted was an ambulance. “Honey,” he said as he rolled me over in order to help me to my feet, “trust me. You need an . . . ” I spied two large puddles of blood on the crackled asphalt as he said the word “ambulance” again.
I realized I was in trouble.

The branch that hit me
Mike helped me to a bench on one of our disc golf tee-pads while he ran to get a vehicle. But sitting there alone as the wind blew twigs and branches around me, I felt like a target. I didn’t want to be hit again. So I got up and walked down the lane toward our house. I didn’t think about anything other than getting to shelter. As the blue pickup roared toward me, I waved my arms to get Mike to slow down, and to show him I was okay.

But I wasn’t okay.

Once inside I sat on a firm chair while Mike and our girls tended to my head wound, which was bleeding profusely. I don’t remember feeling pain. I only remember the sensation of a mouth full of chipped tooth particles. “My teeth! My teeth!” I cried. I think I was channeling my mother, a woman who placed a very high value on all of our precious smiles. And over the years I’ve had nightmares involving crumbling teeth and this was a nightmarish reality.

The sheriff arrived in quick time and the ambulance crew shortly thereafter. We recognized two of the crew, a local restaurant owner, and a dining room server from Lake of the Torches. Once I was in their brand new ambulance, I learned my blood pressure was 173/93 and then 179/95, and ultimately 181/97 at the hospital. I was terrified that I was going to be the middle-aged woman who got hit by a tree and had a heart attack. But everyone assured me it was only due to shock and pain and that it would come down.
They were right about that.

In the hospital
I endured a series of CT scans to rule out skull fracture and/or brain injury and then passed out during my third set of neck x-rays, when they asked me to tilt my head back. They had to clear my neck before they could stitch my head. So, it was hours before my bleeding, “heavily vascular” wound received treatment.
I never really felt the head wound, even though in addition to the 1-1/2” gash, I had developed a hematoma the size of a grapefruit. (Not kidding—my palm wasn’t big enough to cover it). But it was my neck that caused the most pain.

Results of all tests in addition to the head wound were a small fracture in the jaw area, affecting my alignment, but not requiring surgery; A minor compression fracture in my T1 vertebrae, but not requiring surgery; Concussion/Post concussion syndrome; and eight chipped teeth. I received five internal stitches in my head and seven staples, along with some anti-nausea medication, muscle relaxers and pain pills.

Nine hours later, Mike made the $250 emergency room co-pay and they released me.

Civil War Patient with ice on my head
Two days passed and Mike removed the bandages encircling my head and face. By this time, an “I’d rather fight than switch” Tarrington cigarette ad black eye had developed on my right eye. I looked like a Civil War patient, or as my niece described, a half-unwound Egyptian mummy.

Many of us know that in times of tragedy, life goes marching on, indifferent to our sicknesses, injuries, grieving or other circumstances. In addition to dealing with a business in its high season, we were in the midst of selling our house in Tucson. Two days after the accident, we had to go to town to sign/notarized the closing papers.

I remember floating into the bank that day, sitting down and explaining to our banker that I’d had an unfortunate accident with a tree.  She immediately said, “Oh my gosh, you were in the news!” Thankfully, the story didn’t use my name (or my age) and simply identified me as a “Vilas County woman.”
Local television news report

Our daughter, Willow, who had planned to stay in her Madison apartment for the summer and complete her summer school classes, opted to complete her classes on line and stay at home. Willow’s and Camille’s help and caring were both loving and invaluable. I am so proud of my daughters for rising to the occasion and taking care of the business and me in my incapacitation. I love them so much and will never forget the looks on their cherubic faces from inside the ambulance as it hauled me away.

Right side bruising beginning to heal
Nearly four weeks later I am better. I had only one setback, a complication of the spinal injury that caused swelling, nerve pain and an inability to breathe. But after another trip to the emergency room, where the ER nurse asked me if I was “the woman in the news,” and a face-to-face meeting with the x-ray tech who (along with Mike) scraped me off the floor when I had fainted during the first visit, I find myself on the road to a full recovery of all injuries.

I have even gone for a short jog where I flipped OFF the log that hit me and cried two miles in because I felt so good . . . I am confident I will make a full recovery and continue to praise God and all the healing well wishes that came from loving friends and family who supported Mike and me during this freak, dramatic period of our lives.

Made it to the Dead Show
I just need to wait until August when my new Obamacare insurance kicks in (because of the move) to get my chipped teeth fixed. Our insurance on the Arizona exchange will ONLY pay for emergency room visits, but no follow-up care in Wisconsin. Thank goodness for affordable health INSURANCE; which is NOT the same as affordable health CARE, which will honor “pre-existing conditions.” I’ll be out-of-pocket a minimum of my $5000 deductible via the premium we were forced to take on as of January 1, 2015. And the first hospital bill (not including ambulance service) was $12,000.

But now we border on the political, which I vow not to express in anything I write, share or opine on social media.

So, bottom line? We had 30 dead trees taken out yesterday, all located on vulnerable areas of our 45-acre ranch. It cost us $6,000.

Finally, people keep telling me that I was lucky, that it could have been so much worse, and I understand this. I AM lucky and know that the knock on the head I received could have definitely killed me. It is, however, difficult to philosophize the fine points and question why I happened to be in the exact wrong spot and the exact wrong time, next to my husband and 3-1/2 pound dog (who weren’t touched).

But fuck it. I lived.

Praise. God.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Tailgate Time at Hermosa Montessori School

Each year in February Tucson residents are accustomed to seeing an influx of visitors from around the world move to town with their campers, trailers, popup tents and rolling suitcases for the world’s largest gem and mineral show. And each February, residents of the Ft. Lowell and Soldier Trail community on Tucson’s far northeast side also witness an influx of visitors from around the county infiltrate their neighborhood with campers, trailers and popup tents. Are they looking for gems? No. They are hoping for a chance to enroll their children in the Hermosa Montessori School.
Located at Ft. Lowell and Soldier Trail Rds.
Hermosa moved to the neighborhood in 1983, completing its first building in 1985. What started as a private preschool and kindergarten, blossomed into a tuition-free public charter school serving K-6 grades, and more recently it grew to include a middle school. Total enrollment is now 300. 
The school has mixed reviews, both published online and through word-of-mouth. It continues, however, to be highly desired by newcomers—as evidenced by the consistently growing number of campers parked in the neighborhood—my neighborhood—each February.

It’s usually a tolerable albeit annoying period lasting two or three days where parents with first-come, first-served numbers show up and hold their spot by camping on Ft. Lowell Rd. until, as I understand it, their numbers are called on late Friday afternoon.
"Just make sure the recycling truck can get to the barrel."
This year, however, the campers, rented vans and popup tents showed up far earlier in the week, and they have turned our peaceful neighborhood into a blocks-long tailgate party.
“Someone pulled the trigger last Sunday,” said one camping parent, who sat in a folding chair with a book while her toddlers played where the Ft. Lowell asphalt met the gravel road shoulder. “There are only 20 spots this year so we had to get here just as early.”
I asked her if she had the permission of the homeowner to setup camp on her property and she informed me that the property owner only asked that she not get in the way of the recycling truck that was due today.
The generator buzzed loudly as I ran by
Another young couple, with two little kids and a dog packed in a small sedan, however, was not as welcomed in their chosen spot, east of the school. I happened upon the property owner confronting them this morning when out for a run.
The couple blamed the school for the policy/procedure and said they’d move. The property owner, Zach, told me he had asked them and their next door neighbors in the big ass camper “six times” since the previous evening to turn off their generator and move. He didn’t mix words expressing his annoyance. He had already called the sheriff.

Our biggest complaint each year is that the line of cars parked to the east and west of our subdivision entrance blocks our view of Ft. Lowell traffic when trying to exit the neighborhood. Some of our neighbors don’t like the influx of people strolling through our small and familiar “Neighborhood-Watch” roads. I mean, one does have to wonder where they’re going to the bathroom?
Hermosa's parking lot has plenty of room for campers
But it had always been just for a couple days a year, and for the past 18 years we’ve been here, we always just get over it. Unfortunately, this year it’s out of control.

Hermosa Montessori School administrators used orange cones to block off all the area on its own property to prevent camping, and it has an enormous empty parking lot included with its 16 acres. I can’t help but wonder why don’t they allow these parents to park on their own property instead of imposing on their neighbors?
“They don’t want to appear to the State Board as though they’re giving preferential treatment to anyone,” said a camping parent.
Huh? Instead they make them impose on the neighbors/neighborhood and camp on the street?
It appears that school administrators perceived the wrath or consequences of their neighbors’ annoyance as the lesser of two evils. In other words, let’s piss off the neighbors because they don’t have a say where their tax dollars go, but the State Board sure does.
I don’t understand why they gave out the numbers so early in the week. Can’t they set a date/time on Thursday so parents only have to camp one night? Better yet, why can’t they just use an Internet lottery system?
Don’t they teach modern technology at the Montessori school?