Whaddyadoallday? Real Life on a Desert Island Rotating Header Image

Uncategorized

Alone Again

As of noon today, I will have personally been sheltering in place for four weeks. I trust you are all now doing the same so you know the drill.

Obviously, we are supremely fortunate in our version of quarantine. While we do not have the convenience of grocery delivery and Amazon, we do have too much house. Plenty of fresh air. Beautiful blue skies. A lovely sea view. Comfortable swimming pool. And the opportunity to go walking on a beach if our bad backs allow. This island has even managed, so far, to limit our cases of Covid-19 to 3– fingers crossed.

If not for the surrounding miasma (sorry I love that word) of stress, life here would be its usual nirvana. But there is stress, of course. And plenty of it. And for me, at least, the deja vu nature of this experience has turned out to be most profound. At first blush, any comparison to being decimated by Hurricane Irma might seem forced, but not in my mind. There are differences, to be sure. But there are far more similarities.

As far as I can tell, the biggest difference is just that this time it isn’t only us. After Irma, there was comfort (if also jealousy) in knowing that most of the rest of the world was going on just the same without us. Not so this time. And there is absolutely no comfort at all in knowing that the entire world is in this particular crisis together.

On the other hand, much is the same. In both circumstances there was the dreadful fear of the arrival of the enemy. For Irma that involved a few very high-intensity days of meteorological tracking. For Covid it was and actually continues to be an unsettled, uncertain, anticipation….like waiting for a Jack-in-the-Box to spring. This time the fear waxes and wanes but never really goes completely away. Some day I know I will meet Covid. I just don’t want it to be now.

In both cases, there was the panic of the sudden isolation. And I am not talking about the staying home part. That came later. I am talking about being cut off from the rest of the world. Acutely and traumatically by Irma vs. purposely as the ports were defensively closed against Covid. Nevertheless, the panic was in the not knowing what that would mean. Would food and supplies arrive? What if we got sick? Or “just” injured? And we couldn’t get away? In both cases, there was even a bit of the Miss Saigon last plane out situation as folks chartered planes after Irma and when the U.S. State Department arranged repatriation flights out after everything was closed here because of Covid. Should we stay or should we go? Always the question. Never a clear answer. But in both cases, we stayed.

After Irma, there was the shock and awe at the devastation and then the long slog through recovery and back to normal. In the midst of Covid, there is only the slog – endless hours filled with yard work and housework. Plenty of things that one could be doing but nothing that is particularly urgent. One day being just like another with no end in sight. There is only today. And tomorrow and the next day. No planning for anything else because how could we then? How can we now?

We were/are personally isolated. After Irma isolated from everyone outside of Anguilla. Oddly those people are now the easier ones to connect with….in the distanced ways that we always have (thanks to still having electricity in this tragedy). We can still call and email and now even Zoom. In those relationships, not much has changed…except maybe that we reach out more in this shared experience.

On the other hand, in this Covid reality, we are far more isolated from everyone else on this little 14 mile-long island. That is somehow even more unnerving. We have no near, let alone immediate, neighbors. Nobody. Nada. Nothing. We can’t even see any of our friends’ houses from the tippy top of our roof. We certainly aren’t close enough to throw a rock or a song or even a driveway cocktail party their way.

After Irma, the world was completely dark. I will always remember the one red beacon light shining on the top of St. Maarten to the south while everything else was black. Now, with Covid, a tree could fall in my virtual forest and nobody else would be anywhere near enough to hear it.

Yes, Irma and Covid are very, very similar in my mind.

Be safe. Be well. Until we meet again.

Peas Porridge, Where?

Next month we will make 18 years living here in Anguilla.

We learned our way around this tiny rock back when almost no streets had names and even the ones that did certainly didn’t have signs telling you what they were. The second time we drove to our property we remembered (miraculously) to turn left off of the road to Blowing Point Ferry at the mutli-colored garbage bin and right past the goat hill ( a pile of rocks under a now Irma-toppled Neem tree) to as far as a car could safely travel and then daringly further still on a path mostly walked by those same goats.

Over time we settled into a routine like most folks have in their lives. This is the way to the grocery store. This is the way to the beach. This is the way to our friends’ houses. No reason to venture off of those well-traveled routes. Come and go. Task-oriented and not at all adventurous.

Then five years ago I started practicing on island and caring for my patients took me to parts of the island that I had never had reason to visit before. Obviously I have become accustomed to receiving directions that start at some mutually recognized marker (a business, a friend’s house, a cell tower) and then proceed from there with turns at colored walls or beat up, abandoned vehicles or onto a surprisingly well-paved road in the middle of nowhere. But still the contacts and accounting programs on my computer are stubbornly resistant to allowing me to enter such nonsense into the address fields of their data files.

We are not without technological aids, however. You can enter the name of my house or my practice into Google Maps and it will show you where I am and give you directions – even if it just says turn left, turn right, unnamed road. At least it gets you there with an accurate line drawn from point A to point B.

But even so….after all this time…..I can still be thoroughly stumped. This morning, for instance, another technological marvel, Facebook, alerted me to the availability, for a limited time only, of healthy porridges for sale today. Here is a copy of the post…see if you could find the location

Let’s see what do we have to go on?

South Hill is not a street. It is a village of many streets. That narrows it down but not too much.

I assume TR. refers to a teacher. Who apparently lives across the street from another teacher. No help at all to the childless.I don’t know a Daphne. I do know a Winifred but not that Winifred. So, not hot, not cold, not nine days old, no porridge for me, today.

 

How Cold Was It?

After all of these years living in Anguilla ( as we say in the islands, “I make 17 next month”), I am completely incapable of conjuring up any sense of cold temperatures anymore…..not unless you count crawling out from under blankets in the morning to stare in awe at The fact that the thermometer reads 70 degrees. This deficiency is not a functional hardship at home, but it makes packing to leave island a real crapshoot. And sadly one at which I fail miserably time and time and time again.

I say this because as I write this I am huddled up in a ball wearing a Jean skirt, a long-sleeved shirt, a cardigan sweater and socks with my pashmina wrapped around my legs like a blanket FREEZING on an American Airlines flight out of San Juan. We are ultimately headed to Las Vegas and Denver; and now hours still away from Charlotte, I already know deep in my cold, old bones that I have not packed appropriately.

I can pull out the easy, go-to excuse for this: we just don’t have the right clothes anymore. And that would, in large part, be true. I have a couple dusty pairs of jeans. And a few lightweight sweaters. But even the cardigan I am wearing now is a fashionable, loosely-crocheted, airy number. These are all items I might wear on one of those rare, brisk, 70 degree nights in Anguilla. I honestly do not own a single thing made of wool! Certainly nothing downy or gortex-y. In fact, my only “coat” is a very weathered,(Sonya when did Michael buy that for me when you and Illinois were in SF during a road show of some sort?) short, leather jacket that wouldn’t keep a cow warm anymore.

What good are these things going to do me in Denver in winter? Because yes, my friends, apparently it is still WINTER. Damn you, four season climates! We completely forget. Even as our English friends delight in visiting us during this recent polar vortex cold snap that hit across the pond. Even as we see the reports of a snow storm in New England. We completely forget. We put it out of our minds. Not that winter exists but what exists during winter.

And that is because cold has become an abstract concept to us. How cold is 60 degrees? How cold is 40 degrees? You may as well ask how cold is -100? How far away is the moon? Or why, why, why did I not at least pack a pair of freakin’ tights instead of tossing in that cute, little, flirty, red dress I bought in Dinan, France?

So really the question should be, How dumb was she?

Relativity

First, I know. It has been ages since I have posted on this site. Life interfered. Irma destroyed the island. I could give you lots of excuses, but they would be just that: excuses not reasons. In reality, I just lost touch. But today brought it all back again.

Especially because this is winter. And we endeavor to try to remember that the world is not Anguilla. That we have friends up north who are out in the cold and dark scraping ice from their windshields and stomping snow and slush from their shoes watching their breath turn to mist in front of their sad, red, frozen faces.

Meanwhile, here in tropical paradise, Michael wanted to introduce me to his newest discovery – the best meat patties on island. We planned on going in to the Valley on errands early anyway. So we headed in for 8AM stopping first for sustenance. No sooner had we stepped foot out of the car but the woman at the little restaurant came out to meet us on the street.

“I suppose you are here for patties,” she said.

“Indeed, we are,” we replied.

“Sorry, but they aren’t ready yet. We got a late start this morning,” she announced.

Our disappointment must have shown because then she went on to offer an explanation.

“It was just sooooooo cold this morning. We couldn’t drag ourselves out of bed.”

Now, this might make sense if it weren’t for the fact that the low temperature last night in Anguilla was 73.1 degrees.

Ok, then, at least it was funny and good for a laugh.

In fact, I did laugh. And I tried to convince Michael to overcome his disappointment and frustration and to admit that he thought it was funny, too.

But, in his defense, he had a good point.

It would  be funny if this was a quaint and isolated incident on this charming, little island.

Unfortunately, our lives are chockablock full, every day, of similar little disappointments and frustrations.

And the laughing gets harder and harder.

And that is probably the real reason I haven’t written in a while.

Perhaps, I will see if I can rediscover the humor.

 

What are the odds?

First of all our thoughts go out to all of those individuals and families most impacted by the recent devastation caused by Hurricane Matthew. During hurricane season Michael always takes comfort in pointing out that Anguilla is a teeny, tiny island in a very big ocean so that the odds of a hurricane hitting us are very slim. Over the last few weeks, however, I have been struck time and time and time again how connected we really are to so many other places in the world.

First, my good friend, Dianne Norris, sold her home here after 30+ years and moved back to California. This got me thinking about the friends that I have made on this island – people that I would never, ever have met if I had stayed in my suburban life in northern California. In all fairness, some of that would have been my own fault. Back then when Michael and I weren’t working, we were hanging out together – just the two of us. We didn’t hang with our neighbors. We didn’t hang with our coworkers. We didn’t socialize much at all.

Here in Anguilla, however, pretty much the only leisure pastimes that exist are quiet walks on the beach or dinner parties (either at restaurants or at home). The former you can do alone. For the latter it rather helps to be friends with some other people. (When Michael and I eat hotdogs and French fries at home alone it doesn’t really count as a dinner party even if we do pop open a nice merlot.) So now we have a diverse group of friends not only from all over the United States but from all over the world. In addition to enjoying time with them here in the islands, we have visited them in far off places and they have encouraged us to visits still other exotic locations (with and without them).

Which brings me to the second reason I was thinking of how truly amazing my current circle of friends really is….especially in light of the fact that I met them all on a 35 square mile island. Here we are leaving on a one month vacation through Eastern Europe followed by a few nights in northern Norway to hopefully, successfully chase after the Northern Lights, and without any particular effort whatsoever , I have connected with friends who are right now in Austria, other friends from Germany giving more tips on Austria, a brother of a friend living in Prague, and a friend of a friend from little Tromso, Norway.

In fact, Michael was picking up our car at the garage the other day and got to talking to an Indian fellow from Kerala (we have been there) who lived for years in, of all places, Tromso, Norway. What are the odds of that? Well, apparently, mercifully, far greater than for being hit by a hurricane. (Knock wood)

Age Is Not a Disease

Granted, sometimes it feels that way. When my left thumb joint aches from holding pots and pans while my right hand scrubs them. When the first few steps out of bed in the morning are on shuffling, surprisingly stiff feet. When I can’t avoid a glimpse of my sadly lax skin. However cliché it is to say it, though, my age is just a number. It is certainly not a diagnosis.

Medically speaking, age is part of what we call the patient’s signalment. It is a descriptive term. In people that means the patient’s age, sex and race. In veterinary medicine: age, sex, breed and species. We start with the signalment because right away that begins to narrow our focus. For instance, once you know you are dealing with a female, prostate cancer is off the table. No reason to even entertain the possibility. A Doberman isn’t going to have Feline Leukemia but probably has some degree of heart muscle disease. A 12-year old dog with vomiting and a palpable mass in his abdomen is more likely to have cancer while a puppy with those same symptoms and findings is more likely to have eaten a rock.

To illustrate: I will always remember a case in my early years of practice. I was called up to the lobby to triage an emergency because all of the examination rooms were already occupied. The owner was frantically cradling a cat all wrapped up in a towel. What seems to be the problem? All of a sudden he can’t move his back legs. OK, I said. Trauma it is. Let me take him to the treatment area. He was probably hit by a car. The owner protested. Absolutely not, he is 14 years old and never goes outside. Ok, then. Heart disease and a blood clot to his legs. A quick 180 degree turn and I was off and running again. That is why medical professionals are encouraged to obtain the signalment and medical history BEFORE making their diagnosis. Not my finest professional moment, but I think you see my point.

And getting back to that point, age is a starting place. It should not be the final conclusion. Yet I find people using age that way here in the islands. From other medical professionals asking me, “Do you really want to put an old dog through that?” (whether ‘that’ is surgery or a simple blood test) To owners debating, “Is it really worth doing – fill in the blank – at her age?” To the casual conversation with someone on the street discussing their sick pet and concluding with “Well, my wife says he’s just old.” (And here pets can be considered old at the ripe age of 7.) I honestly don’t remember this being the case in my previous practice life in the States. Of course, in all fairness that was 15 years ago. I am older myself now so it might be that (1) I am more sensitive to the inherent gravity (pun intended) of aging and/or (b) I am losing my memory. Nevertheless it bears repeating.

Age is not a disease.

Furthermore, age is absolutely not a death sentence. Contrary to popular opinion, nobody ever actually dies of old age. Something else happens. At the very least, their heart stops beating. Even dying of natural causes is the manner of death (as in not a homicide, for instance), but there still has to be a cause. Aging simply shifts the diagnostic focus. Again, it makes certain diseases less likely and makes others more likely; and, as ridiculously frustrating as it may be, as we age there are more diagnoses that don’t have ‘cures’ but only the hope of management and mitigation.

Let’s face it, as the years go by most everything gets harder…. scrubbing my pots and simply living another day included. But age is not, in and of itself, reason not to look or to treat or to try. One might find plenty of other such reasons, but age is not one of them. And as I am lucky enough to get older and older and hopefully older, I personally take comfort in that. Consider that I have been with Michael through lots of doctors’ visits and even two weeks of serious illness in a hospital in New York. Doctors recommended myriad numbers of tests, a few surgeries and prescribed beaucoup different medications, and never once did I take one of those physicians aside and not-so-subtly suggest, “yeah, well, but he is pretty old……..” I’m just saying.Birthday cake

 

Summertime

OK. So it’s summer now. We just enjoyed the longest day of the year. It’s not that much of a variation over the shortest day of the year here near the equator, but one of my brothers lives near Chicago. His defeatist email response to that milestone was to note that he is now ‘on the long, inevitable slog to winter.’ I think he was being sarcastic. I mean, he must have been. After all, my northern friends always tell me that they simply LOVE living where they can enjoy all four seasons. (I could say the same thing too but I would be talking about the hospitality chain.)

Of course, everything is relative. (not just one’s relatives) And nothing is more so than one’s comfort level when it comes to temperature. If this were not true, there wouldn’t be a market for thermostat guards that urge you to: ‘protect your thermostat from undesirable environmental conditions and unauthorized personnel’. The Wall Street Journal even published an article earlier this month entitled “Let the Office Thermostat Wars Begin” (http://www.wsj.com/articles/let-the-office-thermostat-wars-begin-1465319614 ) claiming that “No workplace dispute is as divisive as where to set the office thermostat.’

Some people just run hot while other people run cold. Add in acclimation to your environment and you end up with my Chicago brother happily running around in shorts and shirt sleeves when the mercury crawls up to 50 degrees while I am searching for a sweater if the thermometer drops below 70. You would think, though, that here in the relatively unchanging environment of the tropics, there wouldn’t be much of an issue. After all, average monthly temperatures don’t vary that much here with highs and lows running between 80/70 degrees in the ‘winter’ time and 90/80 degrees in the ‘summer’. It never hits 60. It never hits 100. (Hello, Phoenix!)

Yet, just the other day I was talking to an Anguillian who commented that one of my friend’s dogs didn’t seem to be as stiff in his sad, little, cartilage-challenged, hind legs. I didn’t see the difference myself. But he was adamant. It’s the weather he said. The weather? Sure, the dog’s joints are less stiff because it’s summer time. In the winter when it is cold, he can tell that the dog is more painful and uncomfortable. And he knows this because his own joints bother him more in the winter. In the winter? Here? In Anguilla? (See average temperatures listed in the above paragraph…) Here? At 18 degrees north of the equator?

It makes me wonder if he has a space heater stashed away at home to get him through those cold, tropical, winter nights. If so, I am pretty sure his wife battles with him over where to set the thermostat!

Enjoy the season.

Reconstructive Surgery

My island physician is a trained plastic surgeon who won’t give me a face lift. Lord knows I have begged. He remains firm (pardon the pun). His sage advice includes a recommendation to gain 5 pounds to fill out my wrinkles – as if that is EVEN an option – and admonitions about how ‘once you’ve had a face lift you always look like you had a face lift’ – duh, isn’t that the point?! – and ‘you have to look older first’ – as if that makes any sense at all. If I didn’t mind looking older I wouldn’t be asking about a face lift in the first place. Apparently, his particular medical school education included an ethics course but not a logic one.

Over the last couple of weeks, however, I have become aware of another strong argument against reconstructive surgery. That being: where do you stop? Do your face and then your sagging neck looks not just worse but incongruous. Go ahead and do your neck too and then what about your arms? Your hands? Your stomach? Your knees? I fear that there is no way to create a smooth (again, with the puns, I crack me up) transition between the reworked areas and the ‘natural’ ones.

Sadly, I have not been blessed with this epiphany because I finally successfully cajoled myself an ill-advised brow lift. I realized this because Michael has started us down the apparently never-ending path of home improvement. It’s not that we ever fell into that trap of ‘deferred maintenance’. If you read anything that I write you know that we are constantly fixing things and we’ve done one small remodel (turning an indoor, open courtyard into an actual room). But we haven’t ever found ourselves sucked into this particular kind of vortex.

It all started innocently enough with the thought of putting up some pretty crown moulding around some rooms. This was not my idea, but I will resist the urge to point fingers (opps, too late. I see that I already ratted him out in the previous paragraph.) The problem is that our house has a very open floor plan. One story. Hexagonal rooms linked together in such a fashion that you can stand in one place and see into every single room except the guest bedroom, its en suite bath, and one other bath. And every room has its own vaulted ceiling that starts up from the recessed beam on the top of 10 foot walls.

floorplan

(FYI the skinny lines are not walls. They are just there to define the rooms. In those areas there are only columns on the corners holding up the roof.)

We made a decision to start with our master bedroom, the living room and the dining room. We bought the wood. We prepped the wood. And we set out to get a quote from a guy to hang the stuff. He gave us a quote. $3200U.S. Yes, $1000+ per room. I do not know if he misunderstood and thought we wanted him to hand carve the strips, but there was no way that was happening. So we did it ourselves. Michael already has an air compressor, a nail gun and a compound miter saw. We got ourselves a miter master builder’s protractor and set about learning how to use it. Thank god we did since, as might have been feared, no two walls are the same length. No two angles are the same angle. Nothing is completely smooth. Nothing is actually level. And the degree of variation in the ways that the wood ceiling beams meet the walls defies imagination. (Some beams sit completely above the shelf, some are plastered into the wall at the base, some wall corners are centered on the ceiling beams, other are to one side or another. It is complete and utter insanity. Picasso, himself, would have been impressed.)

However, our creaking, old bodies persevered climbing up and down ladders and scaffolding and in and out to the garage and now, after having done three rooms, we are getting ready to do a few more. I mean once you learn a skill, it’s so tempting to make good use of it. Seriously, here are before and after pics. Wouldn’t you want to do more?

crown before 2

Crown after 2

But deciding to do more crown moulding isn’t even what I was getting at. The plastic surgery addiction only begins with the crown moulding just like a little restylane and botox is just the hook that snares you in. Now that I have sparkling, white crown moulding, my older, white window and door frames look shabby. Clearly I have to slap a coat of fresh paint on those while I have the brush wet. If I am going to do that, though, I should first clean all the rust and corrosion off of the ‘corrosion resistant’ window mechanisms. And then I am going to need to touch up (read paint in their entirety) the walls. But I shouldn’t do that until I finally replace the curtains and the curtain rods because they have needed replacing for quite some time and I will have those holes to patch and to repaint. Not to mention those track lights aren’t low profile enough so we’ll need cool and trendy LED rope lighting instead. And now that we moved the guest room furniture around to get to the ceiling, why don’t we spruce things up by rearranging all of that. After all, we don’t have a television in there anymore so the set up is not dictated by the location of the cable outlet. That means the bed can go on the opposite wall with a better view of the ocean. And that couch is pretty old. And those pictures need moving around. And wouldn’t it be nice to introduce a pop of color here and there….turquoise? Orange? What do you think? Shall we throw that old rug away? Reframe that picture?

Sonofabitch!

Can’t a house simply age gracefully?

Somebody please tell me what the architectural equivalent of dark glasses, a well placed neck scarf, and some support hose is.

On the up side, all of this stress and hard work just might be the ticket to aging me enough to bring the plastic surgeon around to my side.

 

Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby

This will be a quick one. We have been crazy busy and I am exhausted between installing crown moulding in hexagonal rooms where no two walls or angles are the same and practicing medicine. We have been running, running, running.

However, as a follow up to the goat C-section blog (http://whaddyadoallday.com/?p=722) I wanted to show you mom and baby at 3 days in the owner’s yard:Goat 3 days

And then at 2 weeks, here they are out and about strolling the  neighborhood as I took the photo from my car (the baby is not quite as brave out in the real world):goat 2 weeks

Speaking of cars, our Subaru needed a wee bit of body work. Not because of a crash or anything. Just because of the corrosive nature of living on the sea. Michael took it to a guy who works out of his yard. The place is absolutely jam packed with cars. When we returned to pick it up, imagine our surprise when parked there next to our current car was our previous (first) island car. Remember this post (http://whaddyadoallday.com/?p=722) and the one it references? Our Suzuki was dear to our hearts; and just recently, we were commenting on the fact that we hadn’t seen it on the streets in very long. But there she was in her new, tricked-out, purple glory. (No, I do not know the pink car.)

good old carSome comfort, though, I guess that if the guy who did the body work for us has kept the Suzuki from completely dissolving into oblivion, then he probably did a good job on the little rust spots on the Subaru.

Meanwhile, good to see both the four-legged and the four-wheeled babies doing well.

Back to the Beginning – Whaddyadoallday? the Book

Yesterday, April 18th, was the 15th anniversary of the day we arrived in Anguilla to live permanently. We landed at the dock with three cats, carry-on bags and four checked bags weighing 70lbs a piece. (Do you remember when you could check that much? It pissed me off at first when the airlines limited me to 50lbs instead, but my aging muscles now thank the airlines for saving me from my own folly.) Everything else we owned was in a 40ft container enroute somewhere across America.

Amazing how times flies. It has been an interesting journey to be sure. Over the years I made attempts at writing the story in book form. Even submitted it to agents once but without success. It has been written and rewritten a billion times. Somehow ‘posting’ a book is so much scarier than posting a blog. Yesterday,  though, I finally pulled the trigger. Whaddyadoallday? Top Ten Questions People Ask When You Live on a Desert Island is now available as a kindle ebook on Amazon.

http://www.amazon.com/Whaddyadoallday-Questions-People-Desert-Island-ebook/dp/B01EGCW5DC/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1461077893&sr=8-1&keywords=whaddyadoallday