The Florence Journals: Florence in the Rain

017

There is something magical about Florence during a warm autumn shower. I open my windows wide to listen to the sounds of the rain dancing on the cobblestones below. My apartment is 30 steps up from the street, on the first floor, in the Costa San Giorgio. Narrow and steep, the street is home to connected 3, 4 and 6 story buildings which magnify sound. The click clack of tourists’ footsteps echo in the closeness. Voices come to me quiet and muffled. I hear the muted strains of violin music from an apartment nearby.

The streets call to me, at all times, but especially in the rain. I walk for hours, stopping to smell, to look, to touch, to taste, accompanied by the soft pitter patter of the rain on my umbrella. The warm, gentle breezes, far different from the harsh, driving winds of Kansas, ruffle my hair, my shawl, my rain jacket. In the rain, I am drawn to the River Arno, now a muddy brown, the richness of the riverbed disturbed by the wind and rain. I walk to the Ponte alle Grazie and look back toward the Ponte Vecchio which seems a brighter golden yellow in the subdued light.

022012 013

I walk the center, experiencing the colors on the Ponte Vecchio and the Via Tornabouni, where Monte Blanc pens, Tiffany jewelry, Gucci, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Roberto Cavalli clothing and accessories sport the season’s newest colors and styles. The brightly colored umbrellas of tourists a sharp contrast to the rich greys and browns of the streets. I walk into the Coin Department store where a young sales clerk invites me to a sink to try the newest shower gel and salt scrub. I visit the Swarovski crystal department and look at bracelets. I leave the store and head toward the carousel in the Piazza della Repubblica, still now, in the rain. I walk to the Red Bookstore where I decide to sit for a while to read.

029 033

090

After a brief stop, I’m reading the newest Bridget Jones book by Helen Fielding called Mad about the Boy and her writing makes me laugh out loud every few paragraphs, so I don’t feel I can stay in the bookshop long for fear of disturbing other readers, I again hit the streets.

I head toward Piazza Santa Croce, water running down the trough in the center of the rain soaked street. Bright, welcoming lights from shop windows beckon. I reach Santa Croce Piazza and stop at the Finisterrae Pasticceria to look at the lovely pastries. The last time I was in, I sampled a delicious, rich, dark, creamy sipping chocolate, offered by a barista whose eyes were the same chocolate color as the drink he handed me. I settle on a cappuccino and 4 bite-sized cream puffs, one chocolate, one hazelnut, one crème, and one pistachio. The same barista hands me a cappuccino with a lovely flower design and three sugars, in contrast to the usual one. He remembered how I drink my coffee. I like that. I sit at a table across from the pastry and gelato counters and page through an Italian newspaper. The pastry bites are light and flavorful. The cappuccino warm and bitter.

When I leave, it is dusk and the rain has stopped. Everything is wet, shining, and washed clean. The soles of my shoes squeak on the wet stone streets as I head to Caffé Giacosa for aperitivo. I may have a wine spritzer tonight, but my real draw is the luscious, buttery olives, the spicy corn nuts, the tapenades, and the carrot sticks. I have been away from my apartment for 5 hours. Time flies as I troll this city spontaneously deciding minute by minute where to wander next.

096 094

I walk home, up the steep street to my apartment. Tomorrow it’s supposed to rain again. Maybe I’ll walk to Piazza Michelangelo to get a panoramic view of the city and then to La Carraia on the Ultroarno side of the Arno River near the Ponte alla Carraia for the best gelato I’ve found yet. Who knows where my feet will take me.

Sidelined by Broken Wrists – Part 4 OR Why I <3 Dr. Jason Mettling, DPT

Some context: After the dancing accident, when it was clear I was hurt, my friends took me to an emergency room in Tacoma, Washington. When the x-rays came back, I learned that I had a triple fracture in my right wrist and a double fracture in my left. Miraculously, the fractures in both wrists were clean and there was no bone displacement. The physician in the ER put my arms, from elbow to finger tips, in cloth wrapped, plaster-based splints that went up the underside of each arm to the center of my palm. I curled my fingers forward over the lip of the plaster and once it hardened, the doctor wrapped gauze, then elastic wraps around my arms to my fingertips. He then put me in slings that crossed my arms over my chest, hands facing upward, and held them in place. The goal was to keep anything from moving until I could be assessed by an orthopedic surgeon. The ER doc said he hoped that nothing would move and that I would be able to avoid surgery and metal plates in my wrists.

When I got home to Wichita, my family physician took more x-rays thinking he’d just put me in casts. When he saw the extent of the damage and the fact that everything was still in place, he sent me to an orthopedic surgeon. My ortho doctor took more x-rays and as nothing had moved, decided to leave the splints on for several more weeks so that my wrists could start to heal. He said that if nothing moved in several weeks, we might move on to casting. If anything moved or was misaligned, he said, I would need surgery. After several more weeks, nothing had moved and my ortho doctor decided to keep me in splints a bit longer. He did think it was time to get my fingers moving again, so he cut the splints and the wraps to the base of my fingers so that I could move them. My fingers had been structurally paralyzed since my fall and it felt like there were fiery needles running through them when I tried to move them. The pain was excruciating.

That afternoon, I met my partner in healing, my physical therapist, Dr. Jason Mettling, DPT. To say that Jason played a pivotal role in my healing and recovery would be an understatement. He was critical to my mindset as I slowly regained capacity. He was kind, compassionate, always encouraging, always pushing (literally!!! and figuratively). He was funny; he was supportive. He was exactly the kind of engaging, involved partner I needed in physical therapy. Our personalities, our goals, my fears, my independence, my need for support, his firm direction, his clarity of purpose, his willingness to listen, to explain, and to explore, made us a perfect partnership for this stage of my healing adventure.

I was apprehensive about physical therapy. I was afraid of the pain and I was terrified that I would not be able to get full function back in my hands. Dr. Mettling built my trust from the beginning. I assumed that when the splints were cut I would be back to normal. I was wrong. I could barely move my fingers. I couldn’t touch my fingertips to my thumb. I couldn’t curl my fingers or make a fist. I had to learn to use my fingers, and later my hands, wrists, and arms all over again. This was going to be an uphill battle. When I first met Jason, he asked me if I trusted him. I replied, “I don’t know you.” He looked me straight in the eye and said “I can get you back where you were, but you have to trust me. It’s going to hurt, sometimes a lot, but there is a reason for everything we do.” His words helped counter my fear and gave me hope for a full recovery.

During our time working together, there were many ups and downs. My level of pain surprised both of us at some points. During one session I almost passed out due to the intensity of the pain. We strategized when I would take pain medication so that I would be able to work hard and endure during each session. As I reflect on Jason’s approach, I see him as a gentle torturer. He pushed me for the progress he wanted, both literally, as he applied pressure on my wrists to help increase my flexibility, and figuratively, encouraging me to do my homework.

During this process, I developed a serious dislike for wooden clothespins. Once I could get my fingertips near one another again, my next task was to regain finger flexibility and strength. My least favorite exercise involved holding a wooden clothespin between my thumb and a finger and opening and closing it. To begin with, I couldn’t open them at all. Later, I could open them a bit. Today, I can open and close a clothespin multiple times with each finger / thumb combination on both hands. I enjoyed playing in 3 pounds of raw rice more. This exercise had two main purposes. One was to get me used to resistance and to build flexibility. The second, in some ways more important purpose, was to reduce the hypersensitivity my hands and skin had developed after the accident. Any touch was painful. At first I had to put the rice in warm water and swish gently. As I overcame a bit of the sensitivity, I could play in the dry rice, moving my fingers through it, making fists around it, burying my hands in it.  I loved the tactile nature of this exercise and the progress I could see myself making.

One of the things Jason did especially well was see the advances I made and celebrate my progress. He was always encouraging. At times, this was what kept me going. I’ll never forget how hopeless I felt when I went to see my orthopedic surgeon (how telling is it that I can’t remember his name, but Jason’s comes easily to mind) and he wanted me to put my arms straight down in front of me, backs of my hands together, and then raise my arms along my body until my lower arms were parallel to the floor, all the while keeping the backs of my hands together. When he demonstrated it, I thought, “I don’t think anyone can do that! How did he DO that?” To do that, you need to bend at the wrists and elbows and keep your shoulders down. It is hard! Really! Try it! I couldn’t do it. I was only a little better at the next behavior he demonstrated. He wanted me to put my palms together in front of my face, fingertips up, and lower my arms along my body, again bending my wrists and elbows until my hands were in the Namaste position and my lower arms were parallel to the floor. While I could at least understand how this movement was possible, I couldn’t get anywhere near it. I can now do the latter one. I’m still not even close on the former. I challenge you to try both to see what I mean about how hard they are. I went home from that appointment depressed. I wasn’t making progress. I was FAR from making progress. I should be able to DO these things.

The next morning I had PT with Jason. I was still bummed when I arrived. “What did the doctor say”, he asked. I paused, “Basically, he wants me to be able to do things I’m nowhere near being able to do and I’m really frustrated”, I replied. “I thought I was doing so well.” Jason reminded me that I had been incapacitated through splints, casts, and was only now beginning to get out of my braces for short periods of time, that this would take time. He reassured me that I was doing great and that I would get there. The most important thing he told me was to remember that with the kind of injury I had, incapacitating me was the best option. We avoided surgery that way, which often leads to less satisfactory long-term outcomes. And while my short-term outcomes were more painful and more frustrating, in the long run, I would be better off. He said he understood my frustration, but that I needed to remember that my muscles had been unable to move through the splint and cast phases and that I was rebuilding my muscles and retraining my nerves. I just needed to be patient. Patience had never been one of my strong suits. I’m a “get ‘er done” kind of person. Breaking my wrists changed that, slowly, but surely.

Several times during my therapy, I hit a plateau. When this happened, it was frustrating and fear inducing. Was this the best I was going to be able to do? Had I reached my limit? During one particularly frustrating plateau, Jason came up with the idea of having me come in 15 minutes early for my appointments and put moist heat in the form of large pads around my wrists to help them loosen up and get ready for our work. That helped me get beyond that plateau.

When Jason told me we were coming to the end of my need for PT, I was scared. We had come so far, but I felt I had so far yet to go to get “back to normal”. I learned through this adventure that there are three stages in recovering from a temporary, incapacitating injury. The first and second stages overlap a bit. The first stage is simple healing. For me, this lasted 3 months as my wrists were first in slings, then in casts, then in braces. The second stage began when my orthopedic surgeon cut the tops off my slings so I could learn to move my fingers again. The pain of reactivating muscles and nerves, dormant for months, was almost worse than the pain of breaking my wrists in the first place. Then I got casts, which allowed me to do more finger work. After the casts finally came off, I went into braces which I could remove for physical therapy and to do my “homework” and which allowed me to learn to use and rebuild strength in my wrists and arms again.  I wasn’t prepared for the pain involved in this second stage or how slow the process of healing and regaining capacity would be.

When PT ended, I was ready for the third stage in recovery, refining skills and building strength over time. Slowly, I regained more and more capacity. I remember the first time I brushed my teeth. It felt amazing! I remember the first time I fed myself. My son took me out to a restaurant and I got a BLT which he cut into pieces so I could pick them up and feed myself. I remember the first time I put mascara on. I remember the first time I cut up vegetables to make a soup. Each first was hard. Many of them hurt. But, one by one, I learned to do things for myself again! The last three milestones were successfully brushing my long hair and pulling it back in a band, scrubbing my back in the shower, and hooking my bra. Life’s simple pleasures. I still might need help with a particularly difficult lid once in a while. Squishy water bottles are the worst. While I still fear hot yoga (particularly sun salutations – the downward dog to plank to chaturanga, back to downward dog part gives me heart palpitations), overall, today, little more than 2 years after I fell, I can do anything I desire. Maybe after my Florence adventures, I’ll head back to hot yoga. I thank Dr. Jason Mettling for being my inspiration, my cheerleader, my taskmaster through physical therapy. I thank him for being such an important partner in my healing adventure!

The Florence Journals: On Writing, Rhythm, & Street Art

So today, after an incredibly productive day of taking insightful workshops (about 5 hours worth), I decided to head out and “troll” the city. There was so much going through my head and I just wanted an energy shift, time to just “be” in this lovely city. I trolled the city for 3 hours. When I troll, I walk wherever my feet take me with no plan and see whatever presents itself to me.

It rained again today, so the stone streets were wet tonight. I walked, looking in shop windows, stopping to listen to street musicians, saying hello to friendly shopkeepers. I stopped to watch several hundred people run by me who were participating in the Florence Run (an 18K run – or about 11.25 miles). I trolled looking for sign art, a transient production by a group of artists who decorate street signs that are cleared off almost immediately.

084

083

080

081

076

075

092

These are such an amazing complement to the pastel street art that occurs every day (if it’s not raining).

841

860

861

And there is music everywhere. I trolled the carousel in the Piazza della Repubblica, one of my favorite spots. A young man handed me a tissue so I could wipe off a bench and sit for a while.

090

One of my hopes when I came here without knowing the language and without knowing anyone was that I would learn to slow down, to reflect more, to get better at just “being” and not “doing”, to harness my extroverted side, to give expression to my introverted side. In my “real” life, I move quickly and get a lot done. I seldom reflect on what I’ve done before careening into the next thing (or the next 10 things). I have come to realize that for me this is a learned pattern. I have always striven to be productive, to be the best I can be. Often in my life, this has translated into doing as much as I can as quickly as possible. I am also a perfectionist. Getting “it” done isn’t adequate. I have to do “it” as well as I possibly can, whatever “it” is. My drive is one of the reasons I’ve been so successful in my life.

I have found a different rhythm in this city than I have at home. I walk slower. I look around all the time. I soak in the city. I am delighted to have had the chance to share some of this beauty with you, dear reader. For myself, my photos and writings will fuel my memories and be reminders of this time when I am back home. I hope they will also be reminders to maintain the calmer, more relaxed pace I’ve found here. I’ve found, among other things, that when I slow down I am almost as productive as when I’m moving at the speed of light back home.

Is it any wonder that I am inspired to write by all the beauty, art, and wonder in this city?  I walked home tonight, more slowly than I would at home, up the steep, street to my apartment.

094

095

096

I am so blessed to have this time.

A presto (until next time)!

On the Importance of Support for Health Care Surrogates: The Middle of the End of SOB (Sweet Old Bill)

One day, each of us will die. I have come to believe that Dylan Thomas had it wrong when he argued that we should “Not go gentle into that good night”, that we should “Rage, rage against the dying of the light”. I now believe that going gentle into that good night is sometimes the definition of a good death. So many factors go into a good death, particularly in a culture as death averse as ours. I cannot say whether or not my uncle had a good death. I can say that he met death on his own terms. That, however, is a topic for another day. Today I want to talk about the people who made the role I played as his health care surrogate easier, because being a surrogate in the U.S. still often means dealing with a medical establishment bent on raging, on defeating death. As I helped my uncle navigate the end of his life, I was fortunate to have three strong advocates supporting me.

My maternal aunt (my uncle’s sister), a nurse, helped me stay clear when I doubted myself or my choices. She reinforced the importance of my role as my uncle’s health care surrogate, and commiserated with all the craziness I faced when dealing with insurance companies, medical providers, long-term care and rehabilitation facilities, our family, and my uncle’s friends. She let me rant. She let me cry. She listened and advised. To my aunt, I say “Thank you for your compassion, your calmness, your willingness to troubleshoot with me, your clarity, your unwavering confidence in me, and your kindness. Doing this without you would have been so much harder.”

My second support person was my friend Andrew who was there for me because he loved me. He asked the hard questions and supported me in making the tough decisions. He helped me stay clear, encouraging me to write things down, so that I would have my own words to help me sort through issues as they arose, so that when my decisions or motives were questioned, I would have clarity for myself. I wrote. Reading what I wrote at various points helped me to remain strong in supporting my uncle’s wishes. To Andrew I say, “Thank you for your insight, your  intelligence, your compassion. Thank you for holding me as I cried, for driving me to the airport, for picking my up from the airport, for bringing me flowers, for loving me through this difficult time. You are a treasure.”

My third support person was the case oversight doctor at the rehabilitation hospital. He became my lifeline. He reinforced my uncle’s right to decide, made me aware of what I would face as I advocated for my uncle in the rehabilitation hospital, and helped me negotiate the care decisions we faced. To this physician, I say, “Thank you  for helping me reach and maintain clarity, for helping me understand the mindset and motives of health care providers, for preparing me for all the challenges I would face, and for fortifying my commitment to “stay the course”, even when making a different choice would have been easier.”

As I’ve said, I’m a health communication scholar. My academic and personal work prepared me to serve as my uncle’s health care surrogate as he negotiated the end of his life. I had over two decades of my own research. I had my experiences with colleagues and friends from the Nevada Center for Ethics and Health Policy. I had tools others may not have as they take on this role. These resources didn’t change the fact that I continually and painfully second guessed myself throughout this process. They didn’t prepare me for who I was as a person, a niece, helping someone I loved in the process of dying. They didn’t prepare me to negotiate this process with health care providers, family, and friends. My second guessing came mostly from the reactions of my family, my uncle’s friends, and medical providers who disagreed with my uncle’s decisions or questioned my motives. I’m a conscientious person. If people question me or my motives, it kicks me into a process of self-reflection, looking for chinks in my commitment, in my motives. My support people made this process and all the decisions associated with it bearable.

I’m going to spend the rest of this entry talking about the case physician in the rehabilitation hospital. He and I never met in person. Through several phone calls, he understood that my uncle did not want to do anything to prolong his life: no medications, no surgeries, no hospitalizations, no invasive treatments. He also understood my uncle’s desire to be as healthy as he could for the time he had left. The doctor agreed that continuing to regain or at least maintain his strength and physical capacity through physical therapy and occupational therapy were appropriate. He also recommended speech therapy to assess whether there were any swallowing or food management issues that could be improved. He helped me stay logical and pragmatic in the face of significant resistance from health care providers.

I remember at the end of one conversation he told me that this was not going to be easy. He told me I would have to stay strong in the face of well-meaning health care providers who thought my uncle’s decisions were wrong. He told me that well-meaning health care providers would try to “gaslight” me. I asked what he meant. He said, “They will identify crises that will require more extensive medical procedures and hospitalizations. They will want to call ambulances and administer emergency treatments to save or prolong your uncle’s life. They will call you at all hours of the day and night with emergencies you need to make decisions about right then. They will not want you to take time to think”. He concluded, “No matter how they gaslight you and how urgent the emergency they present you with, you need to go down your decision tree. Given his decision and your commitment to advocating for it, except for keeping your uncle comfortable and pain free, you aren’t going to do anything else. Right?”. “No”, I answered, “Good”, he said. “You’re clear. Stay that way. Call me any time you if you need me. I’ll call you when I need you”.

He was right. Nurses called me at all hours of the day and night. The preferred time seemed to be 3 a.m. and each emergency required my approval of immediate hospitalization. Sometimes they called 911 in direct contradiction to the “no 911” directive. Twice they called to inform me that ambulances were on the way. In both cases, I refused them. The first time the nurse said, “That’s what your uncle said. We hoped you’d have more sense.” His advance directive paperwork was misplaced multiple times. The post-it notes the case physican left to reinforce the directives in his chart were either removed from the chart or the workstation, or accidentally covered up, leading to the ordering of multiple tests and procedures I had to then refuse. Late one night they called to tell me my uncle was having mini-seizures. They wanted to hospitalize him for tests. On another occasion, they thought he was throwing blood clots and that the circulation in his right leg had been cut off. On both occasions, I was lucky that the case physician was available to talk me through the crisis. He asked if I would allow surgery. He asked if I would allow any treatment beyond pain medication. My answer was “No”. The physician concluded, that it didn’t matter then if my uncle had had a stroke. Observation would confirm that diagnosis or not. It didn’t matter if he was throwing blood clots or if the circulation in his leg had been compromised. Again, observation would eventually confirm whether or not this was the case. Since we weren’t going to accept any kind of treatment, the diagnosis didn’t matter. Helping me work through the decision path, it became clear that to support my uncle’s wishes, all treatments had to be refused. He helped me understand that the health care providers in the rehabilitation hospital were only doing what they believed best, trying to prolong my uncle’s life.

These situations led me to repeatedly question my uncle’s desire to “let nature take its course” and my desire to support him in that decision. Was this the time? Could he still live a high quality life – if only we did this or that intervention? My experience as a health communication scholar and the support of my advocates allowed me to stay the course in each case, as did my uncle’s unwavering commitment to the path he’d chosen. As loved ones of those who are dying, our hope often leads us to accept medical intervention that will not prolong a quality of life and often only minimally lengthen the duration of life. Being a health care surrogate at end of life is not easy. It is, however, critically important in a culture that is death averse and within the context of a medical establishment that views death as a failure. Sometimes it is appropriate to rage against the dying of the light. At other times, it is a gift to allow a loved one to go gentle into that good night.

Reflections on Death & Dying – The Beginning of the End of SOB (Sweet Old Bill) – Part 2

In July and August 2013, I supported my uncle, William Leo Pence, as he died. It was my chance to be there for a family member I loved. It was also an opportunity to put into practice my beliefs about human dignity, choice, and the power to make our own decisions and have them respected at the end of life.  It was one of the most grueling things I’ve ever done.

Born November 19, 1928, my uncle was a veteran of the Korean War. He stood 6’6” tall and his personality matched his height. Eight years before his death, he’d had a kidney transplant, but aside from that, and low level medications for slightly elevated cholesterol and blood pressure, he was very healthy. He was bright, independent and active. And, as Frank Sinatra would say, he liked to do things his way.

Once he took himself off all his medications, including the anti-rejection drugs for his kidney, he thought he would die quickly and peacefully. He put his affairs in order and went home to wait. (If you are reading this blog for the first time, the introductory post to this story can be found here: https://dballardreisch.wordpress.com/2014/10/14/the-florence-journals-reflections-on-death-and-dying-the-beginning-of-the-end-sobs-story-sweet-old-bill/) Unfortunately, will is not always the same as outcome, and what my uncle thought would take days, took more than a month. During that time, he gave me his durable power of attorney and I became his health care surrogate. Technically, he shouldn’t have needed a health care surrogate. He had spelled everything out very clearly. His advanced directives were in order: No invasive measures. No lifesaving interventions or life extending treatments. He wanted to live as fully as possible for as long as he had. He just didn’t want anything to make that longer than it needed to be. He did want to continue speech, physical, and occupational therapy so that he could be independent as long as possible. He wanted to live the highest quality of life he could.

During this process, my uncle made a mistake that almost took choice out of his hands. It had been a long, trying day. He was tired. He was uncomfortable. He was bored. He was fed up. Taking himself off medications had not led to the quick, painless decline he had anticipated. He wanted to talk with someone he thought would understand what he was feeling, but who wasn’t personally invested in his situation. He called 911. He wanted to tell someone that would understand that he was ready to die.

My uncle lived in Florida and his admission to a health care professional that he was ready to die led to his emergency admission into the hospital under the Florida Mental Health Act of 1971, the Baker Act. The ambulance came to my uncle’s house, took him to the hospital, and kept him for the full 72 hours allowed by law. He was furious! Unbeknownst to him, in Florida, it is considered against the interests of the state for an individual to be ready to die. The powers that be see it as a small step from being “ready” to die to committing suicide. The Baker Act required that he be assessed by a psychiatrist to determine if he was potentially dangerous to himself, someone else, or whether he had a mental illness. The key question was whether he was a suicide risk. Had they seen him as suicidal, the doctors told me that would have overridden his advanced directives even if he had been considered sane when he made them.

At the hospital, he rallied and convinced the psychiatric staff that he was not suicidal. However, without consulting us, they put him on medications to stabilize his mood and treat what they saw as depression. Now that they were convinced that he was stable emotionally, the question became what to do with him. After the 72 hours, they had to commit him or release him. He could no longer walk unaided and had very little strength. His insurance didn’t cover 24 hour nursing care. His friends, who were in their 80s, couldn’t care for him now that he was largely immobile. I lived 1300 miles away. He couldn’t go home. The doctors told us that they could not send him to a rehabilitation hospital unless he showed them that he wanted to get better. Because his test results were still so good, they didn’t think his decline was steep enough to warrant hospice care. The idea that he wanted to be as healthy and capable as he could as long as he lived, yet refused to take medication was confusing for medical staff. After much discussion, his doctors decided to give him a physical therapy consultation which would determine whether or not he could be placed in a rehabilitation hospital. My uncle used every bit of strength he had and cooperated fully with the PT assessment. They found him compliant, cooperative, and committed to building his strength. They decided to send him to a rehabilitation facility. Now if was my job to find one.

The Florence Journals: Random Musings on My Birth Story, Grandparents, Literature & Identity

I was born two months premature in the front bedroom of my grandparent’s house on Lafayette Ave in Urbana, Ohio.

Urbana house

The house where I was born

My mother, who had turned 19 years old two weeks before, was alone during her labor and my delivery;  her parents were “out west” on vacation. When she realized what was happening she called a friend, who called a doctor, who came to the house. After my birth, I was rushed to the hospital where I stayed for the first month of my life. Weighing 3 pounds at birth, I had to reach the 5 pounds that would allow me to go home. From what I am told, I was lively, feisty, and alert from the first. I charmed everyone.

As a child, I was well loved, especially by my maternal grandparents, particularly my Poppa. He was the “unconditional love” person in my life. Poppa and I had the kind of connection I share with my son, effortless. We simply understood one another. Poppa died in 1974 when I was 16. He and my grandmother had started wintering in Florida several years before. Grandma had severe arthritis and the damp, winter cold of Ohio was too hard on her. We didn’t know that Poppa was ill before they left, but there was something between us as we said our goodbyes and hugged for the last time. I think both Poppa and I knew we wouldn’t see each other again. As my mother and her brothers made plans to bring him home, I knew that he would not make it. I sat down and poured out my heart and my love in a 14 page letter. Only after his death did I realize he hadn’t received my letter. The hospital returned it to my grandmother and she gave it back to me, unopened. I burned it as a goodbye to my Poppa, again precious words lost to the ashes. I wish I knew what I’d written, but that letter was a gift to my Poppa, not to me.

For months, I would laugh at a story or see something interesting and think “I have to tell Poppa”, only to realize that he was gone and that we wouldn’t get the chance to laugh together over whatever silly thing had happened or interesting fact I’d learned. As I understand it, my first words were “bite butter” and my Poppa gave me a bite of butter, the first of many. Poppa stayed with my sisters, my brother and me during the summer months while my mother worked. He sat for hours, day after day on the deck at Meadow Lake in Ohio watching my siblings and me swim and hang out with friends. I have trouble understanding that kind of commitment, that kind of comfort in just being someplace.

As a child, I loved bedtime stories, particularly those my Mother and my Poppa told me. Once they told me a story, I remembered it word for word and if they changed it even slightly the next time I asked for that story, I corrected them. As a mother who told my own children stories (and was corrected by them if I changed plot lines or wording, I know how difficult it is to tell the same story the same way each time, especially if you are making it up on the spot). I must have been quite a handful. I wonder if this is why they started reading me books. For me, books were magical. From those letters on the page pictures and movies emerged. I could see what they read. I could not wait to read. I wanted to be able to make those pictures and movies happen too.

I got my love of reading from my Grandma, as well as my love of culture and history. My Grandma told me I could read by the time I was 3. She helped me learn by teaching me to pick words out of newspaper articles. She gave me a red pencil and I would circle the ones I knew. I could pour over a newspaper for hours at the table in her dining room. Then, when I was ready, she would point to each word, ask me to read it, ask me what it meant, and ask me how to spell it. She also taught me to try to understand the meaning of other words through the context of what I could read. Later, she gave me abridged versions of classic novels. They came in a series and I loved getting the next one. Through this series, I read the books that would have the greatest impact on my early years, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Little Women, Great Expectations, The Count of Monte Cristo. I loved entering the world of a book. I still do. These books also taught me an appreciation of the complexities of the world, from unrequited love and oppression, to unfairness and hypocrisy. They taught me to treasure fairness, justice, love, compassion, a strong work ethic, and care for others.

When I was 14 years old, my grandmother took me to see the movie Nicholas and Alexandra about the last Czar and Empress of Russia. I have no idea why she picked this movie, but when it was over she said, “I have never been able to travel outside the America. You will. Someday you will go to Russia.” I think my love of travel was born in that moment. Later, I would live in Russia for a year, on a Fulbright Fellowship teaching at Kazan State University in Kazan, Tatarstan, Russia.

From my Grandmother, I also learned that I have an almost photographic memory. This skill runs in my family. Once I learned a word, I never forgot it. When I would try to remember things I’d read my grandmother would say, “Picture the page in your head. Can you see it? Ok, read it”, and I would. I had no idea this was unique. I thought that if I could do it, everyone could. This later made memorizing speeches during forensics in high school and college very easy. To this day, I can picture pages in my mind and read them to myself. I’m lazier with it now. This is one gift I haven’t refined. Perhaps because I read so much I don’t want to picture or remember everything.  I just want to know where I can find it again later if need be.

When I was little, after my bedtime story, and before I went to sleep, I loved to have my back rubbed, and my Poppa or my Mom would rub my back as I fell asleep. This is likely why I love massages so much today.  This is likely the foundation of my tendency to show physical affection easily and liberally. I’m a hugger, a toucher. I know how important touch is to health.

Because of my birth story, because of the gifts I received from my grandparents, because of many other factors that had formed my life trajectory, I have believed and still believe that my life is a gift and that much is expected of me. I believe I was born to make a difference in the world. This is not conceit. I don’t believe I am destined to change the world in any history making way. I don’t believe I am destined to have a big, splashy impact. I simply believe that those whose lives I touch should benefit, their lives be enriched, from our interaction, as my life was enriched through contact with my grandparents, as it is now enriched by those I know and meet. This is why I became a teacher. This contributes to my multi-tasking tendencies. This is why I’m not always good at just ”being”. At times, I do not know who I am unless I am doing something and what I am doing defines me. I’m working to both understand and moderate these tendencies. (Yes, I see the irony in my wording here. 🙂 )

On why I LOVE Daylight Saving Time!

Ok, so while I’m in Italy this year on a writing retreat and not teaching, “Fall Back Day” will not impact me as it usually does. However, I’m still happy that the European Union, like the U.S., and a total of 70 countries worldwide, practice Daylight Saving Time! Like many of you, I often feel like there are simply not enough hours in the day to do everything I need to do. So often I wish for just one… more… hour… Once a year, I get that hour and I “feel” as if I have more TIME. I wake up earlier. I am productive longer. I feel like there is TIME to get things done. I even feel as if there is TIME left over at the end of the day to relax! That is why “Fall Back Day”, the glow of it which carries me for about 7-10 days beyond the actual day, is my favorite day of the year.

So, why Daylight Saving Time?

Did you know that Benjamin Franklin, the U.S. inventor and politician, first proposed Daylight Saving Time in 1784 and that Germany was the first country to implement it in 1916? It took a while to catch on. Also, Daylight Saving Time hasn’t always been an hour. Sometimes it’s been ½ hour or 2 hours http://www.timeanddate.com/time/dst/.

The original idea was to maximize the daylight hours and, among other things, reduce energy expenditures. Conserving energy in times of war has been the most common reason for the implementation of DST over the years. The general consensus in study findings seems to be that even though we get up in the dark in the fall, the extra energy used then is more than offset by the energy saved by having an extra hour of daylight in the evening. I can only speak to having more energy myself for 7-10 days and getting more done.

History of DST

On April 30, 1916, Germany and Austria became the first counties to use Daylight Saving Time to conserve fuel needed for electricity production. They advanced the clock one hour until the following October. Other countries including Belgium, Denmark, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Turkey, and Tasmania adopted the same policy. Great Britain, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia  followed later in 1916. In 1917, Australia and Newfoundland began saving daylight. The U.S. didn’t hop on the bandwagon until March 19, 1918 when “An Act to Preserve Daylight and Provide Standard Time for the United States” was enacted. http://www.webexhibits.org/daylightsaving/index.html.

That first pass at DST lasted 7 months until Congress overroad President Woodrow Wilson’s veto to end it. During WWII, Daylight Saving Time reappeared, again as an energy conservation measure and it lasted in the U.S. from February 9, 1942 until September 30, 1945. From 1945-1966, U.S. states got to decide if they wanted to observe DST or not. On April 12, 1966, President Lyndon Johnson supported, and Congress approved, the “Uniform Time Act”. The only way around Daylight Saving Time then was for a state legislature to determine that an entire state would stay on Standard Time. In 1972, Congress allowed states with more than one time zone to decide independently for each time zone whether or not to follow DST or stay on Standard Time.

On January 4, 1974, during the Vietnam War, President Richard Nixon signed into law the “Emergency Daylight Saving Time Energy Conservation Act of 1973”. Congress amended the Act, and Standard Time returned on October 27, 1974. Daylight Saving Time resumed on February 23, 1975 and ended on October 26, 1975. In 1986, Congress decided that DST would begin at 2:00 a.m. on the first Sunday of April and end at 2:00 a.m. on the last Sunday of October.

Some areas in the U.S. don’t observe DST, specifically, Arizona, Hawaii, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.

The “Energy Policy Act of 2005” extended Daylight Saving Time in the U.S. beginning in 2007. Since 2007, DST begins at 2:00 a.m. on the second Sunday of March and ends at 2:00 a.m. on the first Sunday of November.

In conclusion:

In the EU, DST begins at 1:00 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time on the last Sunday of March and ends at 1:00 a.m. GMT on the last Sunday of October. That means that in Italy, I get my extra hour a week before you get yours in the U.S. I’m not totally clear on the implications of tha, but I’m hoping to figure out a way to get both “fall back” hours.

Anyway, that’s the scoop on Daylight Saving Time. The rumor that a bunch of Congressmen getting drunk in a bar decided to dupe the American public has no merit. Check back with me next spring. I’m likely to be a bit less exuberant then, when I have to give my hour back, than I am now when I get one for free. Ciao and enjoy that extra hour of sleep!