Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Fractured Tale

“…I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

– Blanche Dubois, A Streetcar Named Desire*

An early morning rain had filled potholes and gutters with puddles. I was crossing the street with Nigel’s leash in one hand and my walking stick in the other, when I noticed water was covering the end of the sidewalk — too wide for me to step across. Next to the obstacle was a sward beyond the curb and the puddle appeared to be neither wide nor deep. Nigel had already leapt across as I took a step that was not quite long enough; the toe of my shoe caught the curb and I fell turning a little so that my shoulder took the brunt of it.

At first there was no one in sight, but in a manner of seconds, a couple came out of a doorway across the street. “I need help over here,” I called out.
“What do you need?” the man called back.
“I need help getting up. I’ve fallen.”

They came straight away, but he wanted to call an ambulance. I had tested my ankles, knees, and right arm, and I assured them that I could walk despite my left shoulder being quite painful. They introduced themselves as Mr. and Mrs. D—. She took Nigel’s leash and he helped me to stand as I explained that I had a red button back at the rental house: if I push the button, the operator summons an ambulance. I also explained I had to make arrangements for my dog before I left for the hospital. I realized later that he was trying to follow the maxim cautioning bystanders not to move people who have fallen.

As it turned out, I could walk and my handsome escort, still in his Sunday best, said, “Are you an Episcopalian?”
“Yes, I am” I replied, wondering if I looked like one.
“I just came from church,” he said. He went on to tell me that they were from Monroe, CT, the community next to Newtown, where the Sandy Hook School shooting occurred.

When we reached my front door, he asked if they could come in. Once inside, he asked again if they could stay with me until the ambulance came and I gratefully said yes. On the walk back to the rental house, I had planned what to do about Nigel. I handed the phone book to Mr. D— and gave him the name of a casual friend I had made at the Tybee Island Dog Park. He found and dialed the number, and when Paul answered, he briefly explained what had happened and gave me the phone. I explained my concern about Nigel, and Paul said he would come at once. In less than five minutes, he arrived and gathered up dog food, travel crate, leash, and Nigel. In those few minutes I had pushed the red button and a voice responded, “Donna Jean, do you need help?” I explained that I needed an ambulance. Fully living up to their advertising, the Alert One operator stayed on the line while first a policewoman and then the ambulance arrived. She also made several calls for me using the numbers I had already listed in my account records.

Paul had helped me assemble some overnight necessities in a tote bag. As he left with the dog, he handed my bag to the driver and said, “Take her to Memorial Hospital.” The EMT strapped me on the gurney and wheeled me out of the house; Mrs. D— carefully locked the door and handed me the keys.

Off we went with no sirens as the EMT checked my vitals, asked a few questions, and then called the hospital. I listened as he requested a bay assignment and gave his report. “An extremely lucid female, age eighty, normal BP and heart rate, oxygen 95 percent, temperature 98.2, probable shoulder fracture, complains of foot pain.” He and I chatted a little and then I closed my eyes, focused on my breathing, and spent the ride meditating. Ryan and Chuck, the two EMTs, delivered me to the Emergency Room, filled out some paperwork, wished me well, and left.

An ER doctor greeted me, asked where and how much it hurt and if I had hit my head; a nurse took my history. Soon an attendant arrived to take me to X-ray, but on the way she was paged and parked me in the hallway explaining that two major traumas had just arrived and I had to wait.

When I eventually arrived at X-ray, the pain was severe as they removed my clothes. I suggested they put me in my own nightgown, which they did. The ER doctor, who had been eager and solicitous when I arrived, seemed less interested after he saw the X-rays. “This is the least bad fracture you could have in that shoulder,” he said, “however, you also have a fracture in the big toe of your right foot.” He went on to say they would make an appointment for me to see an orthopedist once the swelling went down.

At some point as I watched the ebb and flow of people from my perch in the ER corridor (I wasn’t “bad enough” to have a room), I wondered how I would get back to Tybee. I remembered that my friends, Joyce and Gil, had a close friend in Savannah by the name of Urban. I had met him once and been struck by what a warm, friendly, caring man he was. I called Robin on my cell phone and asked him to get Urban’s number from Joyce, and to call him to see if he could take me home. In no time at all, my cell phone rang and it was Urban saying he would be there in half an hour.

Before I went out for that fateful walk I had sent an e-mail to my Tybee neighbor across the street just to let her know I was back. Several years ago we had met casually, introduced ourselves, and discovered that we both had double first names; hers is Ritajane. We waved and chatted often after that, and I had learned she was a retired nurse.

She showed up at the house soon after Urban and I returned. Fortunately she was familiar with shoulder breaks and knew I had to sleep sitting up. She also examined and tended to the bruises and abrasions on my knees, my left hip, right foot, and all the fingers on my left hand where I was holding the walking stick. Ritajane and Urban created a bed from an easy chair, a luggage rack, and sofa pillows. They fixed me hot tea and soup, and got me on and off the toilet. She also showed me how to get up from various chairs and the makeshift bed with the use of only one arm, now that the left arm was confined to a sling. Then she left us. Urban stood in the doorway, staring at the floor, and suddenly said, “I can’t leave you alone. I’m spending the night. If I went home, I would never sleep.” I was relieved, and so was Robin when I called him with the update. Meanwhile my children had been on the phone, trying to come up with a plan to get someone to Tybee ASAP. My granddaughter Maya, who lives in Charlotte, NC, agreed to drive down the next day. Urban stayed until she arrived mid-morning with baby Karik. Paul brought Nigel home soon after.

Tired lady with arm in sling rests in her rented power recliner.
Now I am learning how many things require two hands as I try to function with my left arm immobilized. The orthopedist I saw two days after the accident gave me the sobering news that the sling will be in place for at least eight weeks. He ordered a boot for the foot with the broken toe, and explained that physical therapy won’t start until the fractures heal. In the meantime, I am to sleep in a recliner and cannot drive. Clearly taking Nigel for a walk on a leash by myself will also be impossible.

When Robin and Tammy arrived to take over the job of helping me manage during my recovery, they solved the sleeping issue when they located a power recliner in a Rent-A-Center store in Savannah. The chair is a fancy Super-Bowl model with lighted cup holders: just the thing for the TV remote, reading glasses, cell phone, and cough drops!

I have often wondered what I would do if I were to have an accident here at Tybee. Now I know that in this real-life moment I trusted and depended on the kindness of Mr. and Mrs. D—, Ryan, Chuck, Paul, Urban, and Ritajane; all of them treated me with tenderness and grace. I felt blessed and safe, and I appreciated that through my chance encounter with Mr. and Mrs. D— there was a tie that bound me to the people of Newtown, CT, who a month earlier turned out to help their neighbors in a tragic time.

*Williams, Tennessee. A Streetcar Named Desire. Dramatists Play Service, 1947.

Next Post: 02/05/2013

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

What's In A Name?

“Her name is Donna Jean,” my mother said to my first grade teacher. “That is what I would like you to call her.” I was just five-and-a-half, and this was my first day of school. My clear memory of that moment probably comes from the discomfort I felt. It was also confusing because at home everyone including Mother called me Nonny (my early effort to say my name). Recently I went through the box of letters and other papers from her attic that was marked “Nonny” in black crayon. There was a similar box for each of my siblings, Don, Dorothy, and David. In mine, I found a typed recounting of a conversation between my mother and me in 1938 when I was six.

“Will you still call me Nonny when I grow up?” I had asked, and she had replied that she probably would. “Well, I am going to marry Martin Evoy, so I will want you to call me Mrs. Evoy when there are other people around, but you can call me Nonny when we are alone.” My mother told me that she had planned to call me Phoebe after her beloved grandmother. However, shortly before I was born, my father told her that since the names of the other three children started with “D” the new baby might feel left out unless his or her name started with the same letter. As Mother told it, she was walking down a sidewalk where some children had written their names in chalk and suddenly she saw in her mind’s eye the name Donna Jean written beside the others, and in that moment she knew that was to be my name.

In no time at all after that first school day the other first graders were calling me Cookie because my last name was Cook. Although Mary Jane and JoAnn were common names at the time, I was the only child I ever knew in elementary school with a strange double name. I never liked it because it marked me as different. For twelve years, I was Cookie to my friends while the teachers, carefully coached each year by my mother, called me Donna Jean. My first year in college I quickly became DJ and, in my sophomore year, a few close friends elided the initials into Deege (which I didn’t especially like) but it stuck until I married Bill. In my engagement ring is engraved “Bill to Deege” but about a month before the wedding, he said, “You have a beautiful name and it goes well with Dreyer; I want you to start using it. I don’t want you to grow old being Deege.” It almost felt like a second Baptism. Because he found it beautiful and always called me Donna Jean, I not only got used it, I liked it.

From time to time a sales clerk or someone in a doctor’s office will call me Donna and I don’t always recognize that they are speaking to me. I let it go if I think I’ll never see them again. If it is an ongoing relationship I’ll echo my mother and say, “My name is Donna Jean.”

That is exactly what I said a few weeks ago when I was opening a new account in a credit union. In the wake of the banking failures and scandals, my extended family has been migrating to credit unions. I was a holdout because it seemed like quite a hassle to change all the automatic deposits and fund transfers. Then some changes in my bank’s policies and fees did not work in my favor. The time had come to make a change. It was late Friday afternoon and a young man at the credit union was hurrying through the paperwork to open my new account. He printed out a form, pushed it toward me, and showed me where to sign, but he didn’t suggest I check the form for accuracy and I neglected to do so. About a week later I received the new debit card and checks and the name on both was Donna Dreyer; immediately tears stung my eyes. That just isn’t me. I accused myself of being a fussy old lady and disliked the idea of wasting the paper. I also knew that I would always be sad when I used the card or checks. The feeling was something very deep, connected to Bill’s blessing of my name and my own sense of identity. I could not use them. So the next day I took them all back to the bank for shredding and had to sign a change-of-name form to get it fixed. The perky young teller who took care of me said, “Of course you don’t want to use them.” Best of all, when I went back the next week to get a lock box, she looked up, smiled, and said “Hi, Donna Jean.” Don’t we all wanna bank where everybody knows our name?

In my October 30 post “The Lady in the Dark,” I wrote, “Perhaps it is the work of aging to reconcile those different people we once were and come to abide in a peaceful state.” Although I have carried a number of names throughout my life, I’ve come back to Mother’s truth: I am Donna Jean.

Dear Readers: This is as far as I got on this week’s post before I tripped on a curb in Tybee Island and fractured part of my shoulder. I asked my savvy copyeditor Polly Lorien to do a little extra on it for me. I don’t know what I will be able to do until I meet with the orthopedist tomorrow. I have already discovered typing with one hand is tedious, and I can only use the shift key on half the keyboard. I’ll let you know as soon as I have a plan. Donna Jean