Uh, I haven’t driven it much

So, this is probably a contender for the ultimate White People Problem, but my car wouldn’t start, so I had to call for help. I am the first to admit I’m not mechanically-minded, so in times of crises, like warning lights turning on or off on the dash, or cars not starting, I find a professional.

My car is a 2017 Ford Fusion that we got specifically so I would have something to drive to the office, and then (as you may recall) my office got eliminated. So, it hasn’t gotten nearly the usage we expected. In fact, the insurance company kept calling me to tell me their tracking device (that gave me a policy discount) obviously needed replacement because it wasn’t sending any data.

So, the Fusion has been resting quietly in the driveway. For some time.

It rested so long, that when I finally needed it, I couldn’t get into the car.

What I mean is that the automated key clicker-thingie wouldn’t open the door, so I couldn’t get into it the easy way, and at that point, I didn’t know that there’s a secret old-school key hidden in the automated key clicker-thingie, so I was stuck.

Eventually, I found the secret manual key documented on YouTube, but I was afraid I was pushing too hard on the secret manual key (to pry off the secret manual cover), so I gave up.

That was a couple of weeks ago. We’ve been to Ohio and back. Actually, we’ve been a lot of places, but since Virginia is usually with me, we just take her car (which used to be my car.)

So, I’m not really sure when I drove it last, but it’s been a while. I could estimate it, but my attorney has advised against it.

Hey, I lost my job, I’ve been looking for a new one, I was accepted as a SCORE volunteer mentor, we’ve been on a couple of trips, the Spousal Unit had surgery. I’ve been busy.

Let’s just say it’s been a while.

So, I assumed the battery was dead. When the automated key clicker-thingie didn’t work, that confirmed my assumption to me. That is the extent of my automotive debugging skills. It was time to consult a professional.

It occurs to me that if we had driven it to Ohio, my son (who is not a mechanic, but is amazing with tools) probably could have fixed it, but if we could have driven it to Ohio, there wouldn’t have been anything to fix.

So, I called AAA. Well, I filled in the online form. Then, I remembered the last time I had a dead battery, the mechanic sold me a new one, so I canceled the call. Then, I called Ford Roadside Assistance, since their new battery would be under my warranty. I hoped.

I’m not really sure why I have AAA when Roadside Assistance comes with our cars, but so it goes. Call both, have them race to the house. I’m pretty sure some mechanics work for both, anyway.

Ford Roadside Assistance is great. The 800-number texts you for the address, so you don’t have to read the address to a voice-recognition system. The operator can figure out much of your life from the last eight digits of the VIN. They text you a URL where you can track the tow truck from when it is dispatched until your injured car arrives at the dealer.

They dispatched someone to tow my car in, which seemed like overkill, but having just been to the ER and then admitted overnight for a vertigo attack, I’m used to overkill.

When the mechanic called to verify the address, he said he’d just jump it first, since it sounded like a dead battery. (Dead battery, you say? Maybe I should be a mechanic!)

So, this should be simple.

However, it’s my life. Simple, it is not.

The mechanic was a lovely gentleman who managed to get the secret key to remove the secret cover, and got the driver’s door open. When I told him I was afraid it would break, he laughed in that not-at-all-condescending mechanic laugh, and told me I couldn’t break it.

Sir, may I remind you that you are standing in front of a broken car to which I have done nothing?

(I didn’t say that, because I still needed him on my side.)

With the door open at last, we could try to start the car, which didn’t work, as expected. I was afraid he was going to show me a secret way to use the secret key when the push button didn’t work, but either there isn’t one, or he spared me.

So, once in the car, we popped the hood.

Hmm.

He said, “This car has not run in a long time.”

So, I admitted it may have been a short while since last usage.

He said, “You know how I can tell? Look at those nuts in here.”

It really helps if you’re familiar with the Southern/Texan African-American accent, because the soft lilt of horror is what makes this conversation the fun ordeal it was.

I looked where he was pointing. These were not “nuts and bolts” nuts. These were pecans.

“They’ve been chewing on some of these wires. Something was livin‘ in here.”

Pause.

“I don’t know if this will jump. I can’t tell if any of these wires have been chewed through.”

Pause.

“See where these are chewed?”

Pause.

“If this jumps at all, you’re very lucky.”

Pause.

“This is a new car.”

So, now I’m ashamed, and I started quietly removing the half-chewed pecans and empty shells from the platform in front of the battery. I’m beginning to understand why there didn’t seem to be as many squirrels in the yard this winter.

He attached the jumper cables, and the car started right up.

“You got very lucky.”

I nodded.

Very lucky.”

Pause.

“This is a new car.”

More shame duly noted.

So, he ran it until there was enough of a charge for the “Check Engine” light to come on, and then he decided towing it would be the best course of action.

I think he really just wanted to give the car some quality time away from me.

It’s at the dealer now. If he’s a character witness, I may never see the Fusion again.

On the other hand, I drove it from the driveway to the front of the house, so he could drive it onto the flatbed. (In his not-at-all-condescending voice, he said, “I’ll take it from here” as I pulled up next to the flatbed.) So, when the dealer asks the last time I drove it, I can just say, “Today.”

On the Walk of Shame back from the car, my flip-flop strap broke. Yes, I blew out my flip-flop, without even stepping on a pop-top. Broken Flip-Flop

So, now I can’t walk or drive.

At least, there’s Uber.

*** Update ***

The “rodent” chewed through the windshield washer fluid reservoir. It is called a “reservoir” because you can’t, in good faith, charge $337 for a plastic jug. Rodent damage is not covered by the warranty.

Worse news? Apparently, the squirrel in question needs braces.

The investigation continues. For $74. So, if they’re charging, you know they’ll be finding. More updates as available.

*** Update #2 ***

He chewed through the coolant reservoir, as well. So, we’re past $700 now, but at least if I see a stoned squirrel, I will have the suspect.

Uno, Dos, Tres, Catorce

So, I spent the night in the hospital last night, just so I could be reminded than Bono doesn’t know how to count to four in Spanish.

I’m in a place called Vertigo.

In the beginning, on Tuesday evening, we went to see Noel Gallagher (I’m pretty sure Noel couldn’t count in Spanish unless he learned the expletives first) down at the Majestic. Pretty good show, but as we were driving home, I felt a little dizzy. As I was driving, I decided mentioning this would not be a good idea.

Had this been a concert in my college days, I would have suspected various fumes in the concert hall, but you can’t smoke anymore and I didn’t have my usual drink, so that wasn’t it.

Had dinner, felt a bit better, made it home, everything seemed to have passed.

Murphy woke me up just before six to visit the yard, and I couldn’t walk straight. I was staggering around the bedroom, and I needed to find something to hold onto just to walk a straight line.

Here’s the definition of being old: my first thought was not, “I’m walking like a drunk.” My thought was, “This is like being on a cruise ship in rough seas.”

On the bright side, we learned on a ship in rough seas, the rule is, “One hand for you, one hand for the ship.” That helped getting around – even if we don’t have handrails all over the house. (Note to self: Handrails around the house.)

An hour later, Murphy woke me up again, and I was staggering again. Perhaps worse.

At this point, I was a bit freaked out. I didn’t have chest pains, so it probably wasn’t a heart attack. I could yell at Murphy without slurring my speech, so it probably wasn’t a stroke, unless yelling at the dogs is a learned reflex. What else is there?

After I woke up and explained to Virginia what was going on, she diagnosed the flu. This is because I religiously refuse to get a flu shot, so she is desperately hoping I will learn my lesson. Not by dying from flu (probably), but suffering a bit. OK, a lot. So, I could break a leg during flu season, and she would look at the protruding bone, and say, “See? Flu.”

Off to our family doctor. Of course, my doctor was out of town this week, so off to his Nurse Practitioner. We sat in the waiting room for a bit, while Virginia did my annual paperwork, which is six pages of crap without a “no changes” option. Rachael Ray was on the TV, making some eggplant dish, and it sounded like a compound butter or something. I was having trouble concentrating, actually. It’s just the third time she said “eggplant” in two minutes, I felt a twinge in the belly. I like eggplant, but the word has always disturbed me.

So, after another “eggplant”, she had a byproduct from the recipe you could “slather on toast.”

Slather.

That’s the evacuation word!

So, I puked into a handy trash can. Of course, I hadn’t eaten anything since the night before, so it wasn’t very productive, but apparently, some of my beer belly is actually phlegm.

Note for the future: if the service at the doctor’s office seems particularly slow, puke into a trash can. I was taken into an exam room almost immediately.

I like the Nurse Practitioner. She did a lot of checks in a very short time, was one of the first people to admit she couldn’t get test results as quickly as she would like, but she wanted tests to prove her non-diagnosis was correct.

She wanted tests, but knew she couldn’t get results as quickly as … the Emergency Room.

That’s where I had thought about going in the first place, so next time, I’ll eliminate the middle man.

I actually thought the Nurse Practitioner did a fab job, I just don’t like “probably nothing”, “just in case” and “life and death” in the same paragraph.

She wanted the tests to prove I wasn’t having the stroke she was pretty sure I wasn’t having.

Just working out the logic in that sentence will make some people start staggering.

Virginia asked if it could be the flu, with just a bit too much relish in her voice, and was told there was no possible way it was the flu. Ha!

Off to the ER. Luckily, it’s only one building over from my doctor’s office – but still the longest wheel-chair ride I’ve been pushed on.

I’m pretty sure I heard whimpering from behind me on the uphill parts of the ride.

The ER did some early checks just to make me think everything was progressing because this was an emergency, and then they sent me to the waiting room to remind me I’m not really that important. Or dying (hopefully.)

After the mandatory wait period (and a nap in the waiting room), I was taken back to a room. We had to wait for Virginia to come back from the vending machines before we went back. I wonder if she had gone for snacks earlier, the wait would have been shorter.

First, the mandatory question list, many of which were in the doctor’s list and the ER check-in list.

Then, an EKG – just like the one I’d had in the doctor’s office two hours before. Next, we wait for results.

At this point, I needed a potty break, so one of the nurses helped me stagger down the hall and back.

Then, off for a CAT scan. I would have mentioned I had three dog scans before I left the house, but I was too tired.

I always wonder about tests where the administrators all have to leave the room, and they’re pointing something at your head, or rolling your head in a tube.

Still, CAT scans are very pleasant compared to an MRI. Well, except for the contrast dye they put through an IV, so you feel like you wet your pants.

So, you wait for the CAT scan to get scheduled, then wait to get it done, and then you wait for the results.

After the results came back negative for a stroke, I figured I was ready to go home. The last time I was dizzy with a good CAT scan, I was freed.

Unfortunately, I needed another potty break. This time, the nurse just pointed me down the hall, but I knew where it was, so that was fine. Hands on the wall all the way down.

However, while staggering back to my room, I passed the nurses’ station where the doctor was talking to someone. She saw my graceful ballet steps, and decided she really wanted an MRI, after all.

Ugh.

So, time to sit and wait for scheduling again.

In the meantime, I learned an interesting side effect if I sat up too quickly.

I puked again.

This time, there were puke bags available, so I didn’t need to use the trash can. However, the official hospital puke bags have measurements on the side, so while you’re puking, the patient in you is thinking, “Please stop! This is gross!” and the competitor in you is thinking, “Come on! You can do 500ml easy!”

After that incident, I was given anti-nausea drugs. Afterwards? Really?

Off to the MRI, my least-favorite test of all, and that includes my eighth-grade Spanish final.

For those who have never had the pleasure, an MRI is a large tube that you are slid into so they can take photos or sound images or police sketches – I’m not really sure what comes out, except it always takes a half-hour and you’re strapped down, you can’t move and you have a panic button. Any time you’re given a panic button, it means it is so bad, somebody needed one, and it wasn’t installed yet. I assume that person died of fright. Lovely.

The MRI guys all have the same soothing speech: “This is the panic button. Press it, and I’ll get you right out. Even if you’re just a couple of minutes from the end. Of course, if you come out early … we have to start from the beginning.” So, basically, your one way out is a really bad option. Fun.

They have headphones with music to drown out the noise of the machine. The headphones are the equivalent of your wife whispering to you as the Blue Angels fly over your head. Three feet over your head. And your wife is in the next county.

The good thing about the music is you spend so much time trying to figure out what bloody song is playing, that the time does pass rather quickly.

I assume they don’t turn the music up since loud noises can hurt your ears. Wait.

This was my third MRI. My first was on my knee, and I didn’t understand my wife’s fear and hatred of them – but then I realized I had gone in feet first. My second was the last time I was having dizzy spells, and that was quite different, as in worse, but is was an OpenMRI (code for “chubby or claustrophobic patients”), and it was delayed a while because the patient before me was having panic attacks. Maybe they didn’t explain about the panic button.

This was an old-school MRI – and when I was wheeled into the room, I noticed a couple of braces in the machine. Hmm.

Virginia had asked if they had an OpenMRI, and was told “No”, but was assured I would fit. She was talking about the claustrophobic group – the chubby group is just a bonus.

So, I lay back on the platform, and was asked if I wanted to listen to music. Sure. On go the headphones.

Warm blanket? Yes, please.

Pillow under my knees? Yes, please.

I have learned that if someone in a hospital offers you something, just accept it. There’s a reason it’s an option.

Why is he being so nice?

Ah, the braces.

So, the operator started putting the head cage in place. “Clarice?”

So, let me get this straight. You’re putting me in a tube for a half-hour where I can’t move, you’ve wrapped in a blanket like an Irish burrito and now you’re going to lock my head down. Where is this panic button of which you spoke?

Placing the cage was one thing. Screwing it down was just excessive. The OpenMRI people just took my word when I said I wouldn’t run. They didn’t screw my head down.

I survived by trying to calculate how far (and fast) Virginia would have run when she saw the cage coming down.

The music starts. “Bohemian Rhapsody”. Really? The first line is:

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?

Interesting way to start a half-hour sliding around in a loud tube.

Plus, in the middle of it, I had contrast dye pushed down my IV. Lovely. At least it was just a warm sensation, not like the CAT scan “wet your pants” dye.

I had asked for Classic Rock. This was a bad choice. Last time, I asked for Adele, not because I particularly love Adele, but because she has a lot of five minute songs, so it was easy to predict how far along I was.

Eventually, the rack slid me out. I didn’t believe it at first, since there were other times where it would back out slightly and then plunge me further into the tube. I could see out the other end (as promised), once I learned to squint around the cage.

Mainly, I kept my eyes shut. A non-metallic rosary would have been appreciated.

Still, I slid out, my head was freed, and I was told they had “gotten a lot of good pictures.” Well, that’s good, especially if that means I don’t have to start over.

Back to my room, where I realized I had forgotten my glasses and seasick patch. They took the patch off, since it has aluminum in it, and it could “heat up” in an MRI.

When they mentioned the tiny circular patch could “heat up”, I understood why they had asked if I had a penile implant. Ouch.

After the missing items were recovered, Virginia said I was being admitted.

So, family doctor to ER to hospital. A medical double-play.

Now, I’m waiting for results and a new room assignment.

The MRI results? No stroke.

In the hospital room, I had yet another questionnaire to complete. So, this time, when asked if I had any chronic pain, I just pointed at Virginia and asked, “Besides her?” The nurse laughed so hard, I got a three-minute break. (I can’t believe I’m the first husband to say that. It’s such a great setup line.)

It was a nice room, but I now had a PulseOx monitor on one hand, and an IV in the other arm. So, potty breaks require assistance just to unplug everything.

The nursing staff was great. They got my nighttime drugs, got me ice chips, got me pretty much anything I needed. It may have helped that I was in a staging room and at that point, I was the only patient in the area.

I even got a CPAP so Virginia didn’t have to retrieve one from home. A CPAP is great, not only because it keeps me alive, but because it is an obvious signal (the mask) that you’re trying to sleep. It doesn’t matter, because you’re going to get poked when you get poked, but still.

At this point, Virginia went home to tend to the dogs and get some sleep.

(Of course, when she stayed in the hospital overnight after her shoulder surgery, I went to walk the dogs, and went back to stay with her. She just stayed home. I’m a giver. It’s what I do.)

I woke up at one point, rolled over, and ten minutes later, alarms went off. Loud alarms. Why is it illegal to sleep on my left side? Apparently, I had slept on my IV and cut off the flow. Oops. Right side sleeping only.

I slept well, considering, until someone came in to draw blood.

Back to sleep, until someone else needed more blood.

Don’t they have blood in a hospital? Why do they need so much of mine?

I finally gave up on sleep about 7am, which was good, since the day nurse came in to check on me and introduce herself.

She showed me the menu for breakfast. The diabetic menu. I didn’t know I was diabetic, but I was starving. The omelet was very good. The sausage sucked. The toast was one whole slice, because, diabetes. The apple slices had more carbs than anything, because, tasty. The iced tea was in the same size cup my dentist uses when he asks me to rinse.

Still, very tasty, given it was my first food in 30-something hours.

Virginia arrived in time for physical therapy.

I changed clothes. This was the longest either of us had been in a hospital without wearing a gown.

I guess “Well, he’s just here for tests”, followed by “Well, he’s just being observed” means no gown required. Maybe they were selling all my blood to buy more gowns, and the new supplies hadn’t arrived yet. Maybe I have cooties, but it wasn’t on my chart.

With the physical therapist, I got to answer more questions and I got to walk with a belt around me, held by the therapist. Not awkward at all. She said I wasn’t as bad as I thought I was.

With the occupational therapist, I got to hang my head over the side of the bed so she could move my head around and see if she could determine where the issue was. (I think she was secretly disappointed I didn’t puke, since she had warned about it.)

The fun part of the occupational therapy session was the explanation of the condition I might have – BPPV (Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo.)

Here’s the short version, and this is from memory, but I’m not making this up: there are three concentric circles in the inner ear which have hairs in them (probably cilia, but who’s counting?) On the hairs are crystals. The hairs move as you do, and the crystals help keep you in balance. I was thinking “cheap gyroscope.”

To hear someone with a beautiful Southern lilt say, “If the crystals fall off the hairs, due to injury or accident, you will have balance issues, and that’s vertigo.”

Crystals falling off hairs?

Is this like having your chakras out of alignment?

Is this just bullshit because I can’t handle the truth?

Existential thought, which meant I missed some of her lecture:

How drunk was our Creator?

“Let’s see. We could just have a small bone balancing on another one, or We could have a bunch of hairs in a circle of goo with crystals balancing on them in both ears, so you have to check two places.”

“Oh, and if one of the crystals falls, you can turn the patient’s head from side to side and see if his eyes start beading.”

Even Virginia could see my eyes whipping around.

After she left, we had lunch. The person on the phone has hearing problems because my turkey was tuna salad. She probably has bad crystals or something.

So, I’m in a place called Vertigo.

I’m home now. I never wore a gown. I’m learning to stop standing up quickly.

I’m trying to rebalance my crystals.

Next week, I see my doctor, and remind him the interesting stuff always happens when he’s out of town. Then, I will ask him for a crystal referral.