Saturday, May 14, 2011

What is a Friend? What is a Gift? (not trick questions)

Valerie says: Jean is away at her college reunion, so I'm bashing at the keyboard in solitary splendor. She took over a lot of the responsibility for the blog while I was one-armed, so now that "lots of tiny fingers snap to my command" [who remembers that song???] it's her turn to relax.

I've been back at work for almost exactly a month now, sez Valerie. Work actually seems to have played a part in my recovery. I've had some time to think about what it means to be an invalid, and now it's time that I thank a LOT of people for helping me through a difficult time. (Jean says: I'm back from my wild weekend of deja vu and will fill you all in on my 40th reunion at some later date. Today's posting is Valerie's baby. I do have to admit that I've had this lifelong "thing" about Barbie dolls, so Valerie's Barbie Mad Men scene threw me over the edge.)

First, I have to thank my invaluable deli men. I broke my wrist on January 15, in the midst of countless snowy, rainy, slippery, cold days. On days when I dared not go out, I could call the deli and they would send me a great toasted raisin bagel with cream cheese and a big fat sandwich, and fruit and soda if I asked for it. Once when I called they apologized and said they didn't have enough people available. 'Oh dear', I said. 'Valerie?', came the voice on the other end. 'Oh, I didn't realize it was you. Of course, we'll send someone right away.' It wasn't until then that I realized I was getting special treatment. I love these guys!

Next, of course, I have to thank Jean. Not only because she stayed with me for eight hours on a Saturday night entertaining me in the emergency room, but because she entertained me for the three months that followed. She sent me this card of a relaxing frog, mostly because if you look carefully you can see there are tiny pink mules (the shoes, not the animals) beside the chair. (Jean says: They're Barbie doll shoes, so how could I resist?)

Here's another card. I think this one was hand delivered, although hidden, for me to find later. Jean often gives me cards with two people on it. When we ask each other 'ok, which one is you?', we almost always choose the same person. Hmmmm. Interesting. (Jean says: click on the photo to enlarge, to read the wonderful Gilda Radner quote.)

Here's another one. They're SO from our period, and so hysterical. These did wonders to lift my spirits. (Jean says: I traveled to Georgia on business in January and found a great bookstore, with a little coffee shop and a wonderful selection of cards. I knew I'd found the good stuff when I laughed so hard, I snorted.)

I think this is the last one Jean brought over. Perhaps knowing how little food I ever have in my refrigerator, she put it in there, safe in the knowledge that I wouldn't see it till after she left, so I wouldn't have all my fun at one time. Of course, on the other hand, it could have been one of those senior moments when you put the card in the fridge and put the steak in the kitchen drawer...) I think we concluded the answer to the question on the card was 'buck', but only based on finding one instance of it a few weeks later. (Jean says: This was my favorite of the bunch. The inside of the card said something like: "I rely on you for things like this.")

Ann was another lifesaver. I mentioned to her once that navel oranges - among my favorite fruit - were a challenge to peel with the dominant arm in a cast. As luck would have it, Ann said she had received a duplicate shipment of navels to her home, and was giving some of them away. One day she brought over a huge sackful, all of which, god bless her, she had peeled for me. That sack must have lasted me a week (in the refrigerator), and would probably have lasted me longer had I not worried that they might be fragile without their skins. Ann said she would bring over another sackful. Wracked with guilt, I forbade her to peel them for me, until she explained that she actually wanted the skins. I can't remember if she was going to make orange zest or orange marmalade, but it was that explanation that convinced me it was okay to receive a gift of peeled oranges.

Ann also brought me a number of videos to watch, since, like so many of my friends, I have now seen every episode of Law & Order that was ever made. By now, I could also have seen every single episode of Two and a Half Men, The King of Queens, and Everybody Loves Raymond, among others, but even I have standards. I particularly loved seeing Little Britain (it took me forEVER to realize the title is wry commentary on the name Great Britain), and one night I stayed up till 4am compulsively watching all the episodes of Downton Abbey. Ann warned me that I would have to watch everything on my computer, and many days I was not able to do very much more than stick discs in my laptop, so I was VERY happy to have them.

I mentioned to Ann that I could not wear my brassieres because I could not hook them up or turn them around or lift the straps, so I was instead wearing a bustier, which I could put on like a waistcoat. The problem lay in the zipping up. Well, Ann is the daughter of an engineer, and now the wife of an engineer, so she designed this contrivance so I could zip up my bustier with my mouth. Yes, that's right, with my mouth. She dragged her husband Charles to a hardware store, and having previously purchased a PLASTIC BABY RATTLE, ingeniously put these few simple elements together. I wish I could tell you the name of the pincer gadget at the bottom, but you'll recognize it. Well, she put these together, with the baby rattle at the top, and then she had Charles test it by zipping up his own jacket with the baby rattle in his mouth IN THE MIDDLE OF THE HARDWARE STORE. Greater love hath no man than that he test his wife's baby rattle contrivance in front of unknown men in a macho hardware store. She assured me that it worked.

And I assure YOU that it works. It should be noted that Ann could easily have found a soft plastic rattle that did not feature a blue rabbit for me to bite the neck of in order to zip up my bustier, but Ann has a wicked sense of humor. I daresay she was in a bit of a rush, and didn't want to go to five stores in order to find, say, a soft plastic replica of a framed Kandinsky painting to suit my refined tastes. But I suspect that if she'd had both to choose from, she would have chosen the blue rabbit.

I don't at the moment have a picture of Ann, but here is a picture of Charles. It should be noted that Ann is highly allergic to cats, and came over to my apartment in spite of that to deliver the huge bag of delicious oranges. While she was suffering, Charles had a little tete-a-tete with my cat Clementine. Since Ann is allergic, Charles has to look forward to these few fleeting chance meetings with cats. Ann may have spent an hour at my place, and by the time she left she could already feel her allergies flaring up, so I felt - and feel - especially grateful for her kindness. And allergies notwithstanding, Ann nevertheless brought me a gajillion jars of baby food when I mentioned that Clementine was having trouble with her regular diet, but was handling baby food very well. The gajillion jars were a godsend, as baby food gets heavy quickly, so being one-handed I could only carry a few at a time, and sometimes my local stores didn't have the few kinds my very particular cat would eat.

My next door neighbor was also a doll. He left these magazines at my door to keep me occupied, along with the lovely note you see attached. It's my nature not to ask for help for as long as I can do things on my own, but it was SO reassuring to know that I could turn to Mac if necessary. Recently Mac had a fall of his own and sprained his ankle. It was a pleasure to be able to extend to him the same offer he extended to me.

One night Jean came over with a bowl of Hungarian goulash made by her friend George. George, who loves to cook, had heard I'd broken my wrist, and made the goulash for me. OMG! Just like mom's home cooking! It hit the spot! I very much admire Jean for her vegetarianism, and would love to follow in her footsteps. I do pretty well, but there are times when my cells cry out for animal protein. George's goulash would have been scrumptious any night, but that night it was sublime. I wish I'd taken a picture of it, but I think this photo I found on the internet makes a good substitute.

I sort of felt like Job when, two weeks after I had surgery, yet another light bulb went out in my house, this time in my bedroom. If one of three lights goes out, that leaves me with 66% of my usual light. Then, to add insult to injury, not two days later a second light bulb went out, so I had only 33% of my usual wattage. I had to photograph that. Who would believe it otherwise? Several of the men who work in my building scolded me for changing my own light bulb on the day I broke my wrist, and made me promise to call them the next time. So when both of these lights went out, I got one of the men to come and change all three for me. I didn't want someone to have to make a separate trip if the third light went out. These all got changed around February 20, and I'll be interested to see how long they all last. (Jean says: For those readers not of our generation, that's the Bibilical Job Valerie's talking about -- not that rich guy, Steve Jobs.)

For Valentine's Day, my friend Lynn, an art teacher in Texas, sent me a get well card disguised as a Valentine's Day card. These days, when the amount of personal mail we get has shrunk to probably one in fifty pieces at best, it's become a rare pleasure to receive something personal in the mail. It's like meeting someone with very old fashioned manners who treats you with the kind of courtesy you only thought existed in movies. I relish all my personal snail mail now!

I received this card from my friend Mizuka in Japan. Actually, it was a Christmas card, but somehow didn't arrive until after I'd broken my wrist. So the timing wasn't right for Christmas (even though it was postmarked November), but it was exactly right for someone feeling a bit downcast.

Shortly after that, I got an e mail from Mizuka, in which she sent a picture of her daughter, Aki. Aki had broken her arm on the playground. This in itself was not good news, but the fun lay in her arm covering. Mizuka bought a pair of leggings and cut one leg to fit on Aki's arm, just as I had done with my Marilyn Monroe leggings. So now I have started an international trend!

From Scotland, Helen sent me a card and, knowing my interest in fashion, a copy of the documentary McQueen and I. SO interesting! Great footage, and an in-depth look at the designer from several angles. I'll have to see it again. I'd be interested to see how much I was able to take in the first time. (Jean says: I'm dying to see "Alxander McQueen: Savage Beauty" at the Metropolitan Museum and Bergdorf's tribute windows. Both are the subject of Bill Cunningham's On the Street column in today's Times, and featured dead center at the top of the page is a picture of our pal Tim John, looking fab. Tim is on a roll -- he appeared in our vintage clothing show posting last week and in our blog about the Easter parade.

When I first started physical therapy, the pain just about drove me up the wall. At least once I had to take a nap afterwards. Often I had to ice my arm, and my preferred place for doing the home exercises was in a hot bath, which I took nearly every night. After several weeks of physical therapy, I knew I was making progress when the 'pronation' exercise didn't hurt anymore. (Pronation is - more or less - the ability to rotate your wrist so that your thumb points downward while your palm is turned up. The exercise involves using the uninjured hand to turn the injured hand past its comfort point.) Did I need to do a more advanced exercise, I asked Marianne, my therapist. Marianne gently took my hand and turned it herself, and I nearly saw stars. We agreed that I just didn't have enough strength in my left hand to twist my right hand past the crucial point. Marianne told me she would think about this, and during my next visit she designed this wonderful device for me by heating, cutting and shaping a sheet of plastic. She used a paper towel to make the pattern with, to custom fit it to me. She was not too happy with the plastic bag she attached to it, saying she envisioned something more polished, but it would do in a pinch. I haven't seen any reason to change it. (Maybe a black plastic bag??) As you can see, I put river stones in the bag to weigh it down, but I could have put a bar bell (if I'd had one), and before I put the stones in there, I actually had two cans of Coke, which worked just as well. Marianne's coworkers congratulated her on her invention, and rightly so.

(Jean says: Been there, done that. Before I met Valerie, I too did a stint in PT. Just before midnight on my birthday on Thanksgiving night about four years ago, I managed to fall and break not only my right hand right below the thumb but also my left wrist. Talk about the double whammy! By coincidence, I not only saw one of the same hand specialists as Valerie, but he and I share the same birthday. Needless to say, I spent many moons in physical therapy and developed a new appreciation for the little things in life, like being able to turn a door knob.)

Back to Valerie: Here I am, modeling Mary Ann's pronation device.

I would like to take a moment to not thank the two people who told me that the way I broke my wrist was "stupid". It turns out the distal radius is the most commonly broken bone in the body - it's the one that suffers the initial impact when we put our arms out to break a fall. In my travels with my cast or splint, I met a number of people who, on seeing me, told me stories of their own broken wrists, assuring me that everything would work out. I never once heard a story that I thought constituted a "smart" way to break a wrist. In fact, it turned out that one of the people who told me I was stupid had also suffered a broken wrist. When I heard the details of the story, I stayed silent, but I was thinking "And you called ME stupid???" Then I basked mutely in schadenfreude, a word one seldom has the occasion to use in a blog.

This is not by any means an exhaustive list of all the people who helped me. There were also people who gave me their seats on the subway. There were blog readers who sent in their best wishes, and many other instances of kindness. I can't list them all, and I don't know the names of everyone who helped me. This was not the happiest three months of my life, but it taught me some great things about the nature of friendship, and shed some light on what constitutes a really wonderful gift.

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The Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC featured an excellent expose on the nature of generic drugs. For example, some people who take prescription drugs do well on the brand name version, and badly on the generic version. This may have to do with allergies to the fillers. You may do well on one generic version, but you have no way of knowing if you will get that same generic version or a different one the next time you refill your prescription. Some generics are imported from foreign countries. The FDA has no control over the manufacture of foreign drugs, and doesn’t have the manpower to test all of them. Click on the link above if you’re interested in hearing more.

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Valerie says: And speaking of generic drugs, you can use generic aspirin to take antiperspirant stains out of clothes. It's true! I tried it this weekend on a black polyester Issey Miyake shirt and on the polyester/lycra bustier above. (I couldn't possibly have photographed it otherwise.) I found a number of suggestions on the internet, but somehow it was the recipe recommending gently rubbing two aspirin into an antiperspirant stain and letting it sit for two hours that rang true for me. I put the two tops in a light solution of Tide 2x Ultra, then dissolved two aspirin per arm pit, rubbed the chalky paste lightly all over the stains and let them soak. After I rinsed them and let them dry naturally, the stains were gone!!!! I admit with some embarrassment that the stains in the Miyake shirt were old. Nothing else had worked on them. I washed both of them by hand in my sink, so I don't know if this method will work in a washing machine, but I had to pass this tip along.

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