#Tales from The Retirement Home

ENTRY Five – The Ennui…

While I’m officially retired already, the summer break over the last five years has been not all that dissimilar to what I’ve had scheduled this summer.

Only instead of spending the first six weeks teaching summer school (from an increasingly sedentary position each year, as I have been over the last six years), I was moving from two houses (I spent more of my energy moving the half-mile from my own place to here, although over the last week or so once I’d finished, I was full-time cleaning out the last remnants of my bride’s old house) into this one. Ended about the same time – Independence Day week.

Then, just like the last several post-band-director summers, I had no drill to write or show to prep, and I led a rather quiet few weeks – just like I did here. The major difference was the location, the unfamiliarity of the surroundings of this retirement home, and actually, the occasional step-daughter prancing through the house, trying not to live here but use it instead as a home base to work from. They are proto-typical teenaged girls. (My seventeen-year-old son asked me once this summer if he was the odd one or if it was them. I assured him it was him, and I was happy about his being odd.)

But now, it’s registration week. Fair week. The world – my old world – is cranking back up. There are people at each school I used to work at – high school, middle school, alternative school – and I’m not only not a part of it, I’ve officially given back the implements of being a part of it.

Keys, for example. My key ring is so light. I’ve never had zero school keys on my key ring for more than a couple of months at most, when I was transitioning between jobs. But now, I have no duties requiring keys.

Just the ones on my computer keyboard, I suppose.

And as the children head off to school in a couple of weeks, it’s going to be even harder, I suspect. For 34 years, I had a classroom (or two) to prepare, a show to create, several bands to set up curriculum for. Before that, I was on the receiving end of all that preparation – buying the notebooks and equipment I’d need, getting my schedule set up, revving up for the school year to come. Even pre-kindergarten, my parents would be the ones preparing for their teaching years in August.

My life has revolved around the school year for literally my whole life.

And now – it doesn’t.

September will be no different than July was.

Or November or March or May.

Monday and Friday are going to be identical.

Why should it still be “hump” day when there’s no contrast to make a slope from?

And I’m starting to realize how hard this is going to be to adjust to.


 

 

#Tales from The Retirement Home

ENTRY Four – Hello? Is Anybody Home?

It’s 2:45 in the afternoon, and I haven’t left my cocoon this entire day. Oh, except for once, when I had to go pee around four-thirty in the morning.

[NOTE to READER: If there are parts of this tale that seem odd to you, like you’re missing something you really should know to understand what I’m telling you – try reading ENTRY ONE, which fills in my background as it pertains to what you’re reading in reasonable detail. I really don’t feel up to regurgitating any of it again. Thanks.]

The population of my retirement home today, unless something mysterious has happened overnight – or this morning – or early this afternoon – is precisely one. And that one, as you no doubt figured out unless you tweet in all caps, is me.

Have no fear; I haven’t slept like a teenager or Rip Van Winkle. I’ve been awake since seven or so. I took my morning double-handful of pain meds when I returned from my morning ablation, went back to sleep once the pain diminished enough, and got another couple of hours of sleep.

Then, I prayed. I take Second Thess five-seventeen seriously – “Pray without ceasing” – and have a fairly constant mental conversation going with God, but I try to have a more formal time of prayer in the morning as “first thing” as I can. It’s pretty easy to do when there’s no one to rouse you first thing, and nobody whose itinerary you choose to follow rather than your own.

I listened to and read the Book of Revelations. (Light reading, I know. But I’d just finished it during my yearly “Bible-in-a-year” morning reading, having spent a couple weeks reading it bit by bit, and I wanted to take it in as a unit.)

Then, I fiddled with my phone while I listened to several of my favorite radio pastors – Richard Ellis, Greg Laurie, David Platt, Jon Courson.  A luxury I never – well, rarely – got to partake in when I worked for a living.

Amidst and between all of this, I put together two pieces: an article for the Australian sports magazine I write most regularly for, The Roar (an article only math geeks will love – I’ll post it on the “Following Football” page for later), and another, smaller one for a religion site I like. They took a while, and before I realized it, it was now, which is about 2:45 p.m. or so.

That’s the advantage of the retirement home (hashtag…). There’s no other obligations to interrupt me, and nothing else that would sap my very marginal strength. I had a couple of pre-examined pieces that I was able to insert into the second article that allowed me to have personal feedback without the “personal” part of it, and my editors at The Roar will take care of the feedback when the sun comes up around there… which, come to think of it, it already has, “tomorrow”, down under. Weird.

When I was working, teaching full time, there was an energy drain that may sound trivial to the reader, but to me, fighting a myopathy that sucks every moment of free energy from my body, was more draining than running to school sans car. Getting dressed. Eating breakfast. Preparing a lunch. Brushing teeth. Basic grooming habits. (Showers are few and far between – the pain of the water hitting my skin is usually unbearable when I get up in the morning. I’ll sneak one in during the afternoons if I can.) Driving the short distance to my alternative school, currently located inside our district office building. Elevating to the second floor. Walking from the elevator to my desk and sitting down.

Doesn’t sound that bad? I needed recovery time by the end just to do that much. Let me compare it with my current physical drains during the similar time span today:

 

(computer keys clicking)

 

That’s about it.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Especially when I have a debilitating condition that makes expending energy prohibitive.

Except…

Except I’ve never lived like this before. I spent thirty years with an eighty-hour a week career (that I loved), building and teaching a band program for high school and middle school. That meant constant work teaching, lesson planning, composing, logistics, concert or show prep, and so forth. It was a life, not a 9-to-5. Add on a marriage and children and I didn’t allow myself much down time. And my life before that wasn’t that different – Caltech was constant, and I did quite a lot of extra-curricular in high school, and so forth… Basically, I was wired to be going, going, going all the time. It was an effort for me to “take it easy” – my idea of relaxing, too often, was to undertake a different kind of project for a change (that’s how I got started writing novels and short stories).

The very notion of not keeping busy is anathema to me. And now – that’s exactly what I’m doing.

Nothing.

So far, I’m cheating a lot. Obviously, I write (much more than just this column). I track several of my favorite sports. There are a few things to do around the #HOME that I can putter with.

But that’s trivium. Barely enough to keep me awake.

Or maybe that’s a sign I’m wearing out? Hmmm….

Maybe I do need to take a nap.


 

#Tales from The Retirement Home

ENTRY Three – “This Town Is Like A Prison!” (Not for Me, Mind You…)

[If you’re not old enough or of that particular musical taste to recognize a J.Geils band lyric in the title, you’re completely forgiven.]

There’s an old joke about how what used to be punishment when we were younger is now a reward once we’re older… Being grounded from going out? An introvert’s dream! Going to bed early? Oooh, oooh, can I? Go to your room! Oh, thank you!!!

            Enter my two eighteen-year-old stepdaughters, stage left.

They were both in the same car accident the other night – neither was driving, nobody was drinking; in fact, very little fault to be found. The driver had his seat belt on and neither of my girls did, so when the car slid off a gravel road into a ditch, the driver was held safely in place while my stepdaughters both suffered minor concussions (plus a few other niggles).

Moral of the story, everyone – wear your seat belts EVERY trip, even if it’s “just a short one” like they were on that night. (I’m having a hard time throwing this stone – I’m guilty of that “short trip” exclusion myself on occasion, so I’m trying to learn vicariously from their misfortune and bad judgment.)

Anyway, back on point.

After a couple of doctors’ visits each yesterday, their mom and I placed them under “house arrest” for a few days. Not as punishment – they can go wherever they want if their mother or I am driving. But they’re under doctor’s orders to rest their noggins for the rest of a week – call it five more days, anyway.

You’d think we sentenced them to Alcatraz.

Fortunately, there are carrots and sticks to be used, and they really are good kids at heart and understand we have their interest at heart. For one, they really aren’t in trouble for anything regarding the accident. It was one of those combination of several little factors – the driver is a young man we know well; boyfriend of one of the girls. Perhaps he was going one or two hairs too fast; the gravel road is a different beast from pavement, and he wasn’t used to it; it was dusk, which makes sightlines tougher; there was dust in the air because they were following an ATV to wherever the whatever they were headed… all sorts of details that the devil is in. They were also out in the Nevada wilderness at the time, outside of cell range, so our collection of teenagers had their first can’t-call-parents crisis to deal with themselves, and they did alright. (And they DID call home once they reached an ER in Elko.)

But that was then, and this is now.

And now, they’ve been left with step-dad as prison guard, as mom still has a steady job to call her own. So, do they test my fortitude? Sneak out around my back? Blatantly disregard my authority?

Sorry, no. This isn’t a rom-com or a slasher flick set-up.

They were perfectly fine. They had movies to watch (Moana was first in the DVD player), and we’d picked up some yarn and new crochet hooks to pass the time. Oh, and just because they couldn’t drive away from the house doesn’t mean their boyfriends couldn’t drive TO the house. Not quite “Netflix and Chill”, but they were fine.

And step-dad got to spend most of the time back in his cocoon, one ear open for questions and one on monitoring duty.

Thirty-five years of teaching comes in handy at a time like this. How do you think we got the reputation for having “eyes in the back of our head”?

The next day isn’t too bad, either, because after lunch I’ve promised them that I’d drive them down to the big city to handle some important details with them – college arrangements at the local JC, quick stop at the bank, a couple of business refund-type deals, and then dinner with mom after her work and a possible movie showing.

Except that…

…while we were progressing down the road from stop number two to number three, a phone call comes in.

Big brother’s wife has just gone into labor in Boise. Cancel all other plans – mom and the girls are heading out of town to go take care of family and coo over a new baby!

And papa bear will be left behind, because that’s too long a trip for me to take any more without severe pain. So when the next installment of #Tales From The Home comes around…

…it will be a very quiet home.


 

#Tales from The Retirement Home

ENTRY TWO – WHAT Am I DOING Here?

It’s now 11 a.m., and I’m in what feels to me like a rather sterile bedroom. Oh, sure, there are paintings of flowers on the wall, including one staring directly at me when I’m lying in my “cocoon”. But none of it’s mine, and none of it feels like home to me at the moment.

[NOTE to READER: If there are parts of this tale that seem odd to you, like you’re missing something you really should know to understand what I’m telling you – try reading ENTRY ONE, which fills in my background as it pertains to what you’re reading in reasonable detail. I really don’t feel up to regurgitating any of it again. Thanks.]

Once my bride and I settled into this facility, it seems more like a “facility” than a home sometimes. Like this morning, for example. Here, let me try to explain what it feels like today:

 

            I asked the live-in caregiver to leave the door open when she went off-duty for the next ten hours or so. The nice thing about this retirement home is they’ve allowed us the ability to get up and use the dining facilities at our leisure. My room has a walk-in closet, a fine view, and a very nice restroom facility – bath, shower, toilet, lovely two-sink countertop. The live-in caregiver does a remarkable job with the whole suite, although out of habit I do try to do some of the cleaning and such myself when I can. (Between you and me, I’ve got to tell you: the caregiver is really hot.)

            Just outside of my room, there’s a nice dining facility – chairs and table, full kitchen, the works. Top of the line, frankly. Adjoining that is a commons area with a television, a piano, a computer (although I generally use my own laptop and smartphone instead), and a lovely supply of books and movies to entertain the residents with.

            Here’s the best part of this facility, too – when any of my children or stepchildren want to come visit, there are guest rooms upstairs where they can stay for the duration of their visit! I hardly ever go up to see what those guest rooms are like (in my condition, the stairs are rather challenging), but they seem sufficient, even nice. None of the children have complained about their rooms, although they were rather warm at night until the managers adjusted the thermostat to accommodate them.

            But it’s been a strange transition for me, moving out of my own small home where I’d been for the last 20 months or so of my teaching career as my health deteriorated and I could no longer take care of the larger home I’d had for the first decade living in Jerome. The week after my retirement, I came from that house to this… well, “retirement home” is what I suppose it must be, since I retired, and it’s now my home. It took the entire month of June and then some to finish the transition from there to here, but even though things have stabilized somewhat, there’s still a significant unfamiliarity about this place.

            You see, I sacrificed most of my furnishings and personal belongings when I downsized into the small home I was most recently in – what I didn’t give away, I threw away. God pressed me to sacrifice my “packrat” tendencies and eliminate my desires for “things”. Hence, I wasn’t about to “yard sale” any of it – the whole point was to eliminate any attachment to the monetary culture of the devil’s world. I’ve come to learn the truth of Christ’s declaration that “You cannot serve God and Mammon” – that is, either you are enamored of the things of this world, or your priorities are for the spiritual treasures we are called upon to bank in Heaven. “The love of money is the root of all evil.” Mind you, I never had a particular love for money (or else I wouldn’t have chosen public school teacher for a career when I had far more lucrative options available), but I did too often appreciate collecting things, things that in truth I didn’t particularly need. That, as much as anything, was the reason God pressed me into my first move, and specifically into as small a place as possible and still have my children around.

[And when we moved here (stepping out of “character” for a second), my new bride and I had duplicates of durned near everything, of course (with both of us in our fifties, we’d each been running our own households for years). When we acquired our newlywed home, much of what I possessed was discarded for its doppelganger from her home – either because she’d more recently purchased her version, or mine had cat hair all over it (which my allergy-sensitive wife understandably preferred not to have to “fumigate” to survive in her own home), or perhaps I was less attached to my version than she might have been to hers, or sometimes just by the figurative flip of a coin. The net result of those two moves together is that while my children hung on to much of what they’d owned two years before, probably 75% or more of my personal possessions are no longer with me; discard clothing and Bible books, and that percentage goes much higher. ]

Most of what “stuff” exists around me is unfamiliar at best.

            So, as I step out of my room this morning into the facilities dining and common rooms, I have the sense of being a permanent guest, perhaps a “resident” in this retirement home of mine. It feels homey, but not particularly like my home, if that distinction is clear enough to the reader. It is becoming a very pleasant place to reside, and I particularly enjoy the times when the live-in caregiver is here, spending her free time with me. I do enjoy her company very much.

            But it has lent a distinctive tinge to my retirement. Rather than any feel of continuity, I really have the sense that I’ve started a whole new life, with a completely different mode of living. With my frailty now front and center in my life – I no longer go to work, while the person I share a life with not only does, but then comes home and cares for me far more than I do for her – I really do feel like a ward of the facility now, no longer in charge of my own life to some extent.

            Alas, that’s generally the difficulty with living in a retirement home, isn’t it?

-g

 

(PS – Disclaimer alert! My wife would vehemently disagree with much of this assessment, by the way, and of course in all the meaningful ways and most of the trivial ones, we are equal partners – certainly as much so as any married couple should be. I’m certainly no “kept husband” – I’m merely discussing my own perceptions here, and even those are meant somewhat glibly.)


 

#Tales from The Retirement Home

Entry One – Background Information You’ll Need To Know

            It’s 10 a.m.

            I’m still sitting in the same recliner I sleep in – my “cocoon”, I call it, after I doctor it with five pillows to encircle my body, angling me into a semi-fetal position that reduces the pain and allows to sleep most productively.

            I am about seven weeks into my health-induced retirement from teaching, five years plus seven weeks past my health-induced retirement from my chosen profession: director of bands in the public-school system, most recently here in Jerome, Idaho.

            All other things being equal, I should still have six more years until retirement – my “rule of 90” date (under Idaho public service regs) allowing for full retirement coincided with the high school graduation date of my twin daughters, my youngest children, in 2024. When I remarried in 2010, after a whirlwind reuniting with my high school sweetheart, I thought that the timing was going to be perfect – get the children through school and (at least) into college, then relax with my wife and maybe even move into a motor home to follow the kids as they followed their dreams.

            But about that time, I started developing a disease called Tubular Aggregate Myopathy, or TAM for short; it’s a malfunction of the STIM-1 gene that causes an overproduction of these sixty-nanometer wide tubules of (mostly) proteins throughout and perpendicular to all of my skeletal muscles.

            “That doesn’t sound so bad. How harmful could those little collections be?”

            Well, they serve to restrict those muscles in such a way that they cause the user – that’s me, in this case – great pain and severe fatigue. There are some other symptoms, but those are the two biggies.

            It wasn’t so bad at first.

            I noticed first that I didn’t recover from marching band season as easily one year as I usually did. Then I started getting tired faster, and by 2012, it was severe enough that I started going to the doctor’s office, to start what would eventually turn out to be a year-long search for the cause of my affliction.

            Mind you, I didn’t expect it to take a year. At the time, my sweetheart wife was herself suffering dearly from fibromyalgia, among many other difficulties, and I went to her physician with the thought that perhaps I might have the same condition.

            No dice. But he did become my point man in the Saint Luke’s medical system (the most extensive in Idaho) as we looked into every possible cause they could think of. I visited physical therapists, cardiologists, neurologists, rheumatologists… My rheumatologist was a gentleman raised in India, who eventually got so frustrated when all the “normal” possibilities turned up empty that (I say this mostly in jest) he dusted off his Big And Ancient Book of Old Indian Blood Tests, which made several phlebotomists cry trying to figure out how to run the tests for him!

            Our breakthrough came that winter when, of all people, the man who was the advising physician for my oldest son’s Gifted/Talented program’s health clinic did a quick surgery on me one morning. He extracted a chunk of muscle tissue from my thigh, flash froze it, and sent it by helicopter to the University of Utah, where by chance a certain dye test prompted someone there (whom I would kiss on the lips if I ever found out their identity!) to take a closer look at under the university’s electron microscope.

            And there were the telltale tubules.

            A quick biographical check told them that I was neither a severe alcoholic (not a chance – I don’t drink) nor pregnant (even less likely!), and then my rheumatologist called me at school with the news.

            “Hello?” That distinctive Indian lilt in the voice was unmistakable.

            “We’ve found out what you have. Write this down: Tubular Aggregate Myopathy . Okay? All right, now you know as much as we do. Good luck.” <Click.>

            Well, not quite.

            But it turns out that TAM is so rare that nobody in the St. Luke’s system had ever even heard of it. Only about 50-75 people have this condition, generally men for some reason, generally in our forties, fifties, or sixties. In my reading about other people’s histories, and in talking with the one other person I can find on line with the disease (in Ontario, Canada), it seems that to have discovered my TAM diagnosis within only a year of searching is something like a record. Certainly, it was a shorter search than any of the people I’ve learned about.

            And that turns out to be critically important, because of how TAM works. The tubules never go away – they just keep accumulating, and they continue to increase in their strength. In fact, the more one uses one’s muscles (and everyone does every day, of course), the more tubules are produced. So if it takes, for sake of argument, three years to discover that you’re not supposed to still be exercising to stay in shape to “ward off this fatigue”, as every reasonable doctor would generally recommend to every reasonable patient, you’ve spent two more years than I did accelerating the progress of your disease, probably into wheelchair proportions.

            As for me? I learned about my TAM quickly enough that while I’ve used a wheelchair on many occasions when necessary, for the most part I’m still walking, driving, and doing everything I used to do.

            Just…. Just not for very long any more, that’s all.

            I’ve slowly deteriorated since 2010, then, having given up the delusion that I could keep up with the 80-hour weeks of a band director by retiring from it in 2013, and accepting the school district’s gracious offer to head their one-room alternative high school instead – a much more sedentary job.

            At first, it felt like a vacation – I even bought some Hawaiian shirts to wear there as a personal inside joke to that effect. But as I continued to get weaker, and as my fuel tank grew smaller, it stopped being such a sinecure. Two years in, I again thought I’d have to give up the profession because of TAM. But to my surprise, my superintendent found an amazing assistant for me within his own church – a fellow Christian, an amazing woman who had already retired from an HR career and whose primary duty, she told me, was to take on as many of the physical duties of the job as possible, and thus extend my teaching career for as long as possible.

            Have I mentioned how much I love my school district? Can I mention it again?

            But finally this spring, the spring of 2018, it becme too much. Even given the least taxing position imaginable in any school district, I’m still unable to stay alert for the seven consecutive hours of a typical school day. All I really had to do, thanks to my paraprofessional aide, was sit at my desk, doing little to nothing of physical impact, help with questions occasionally when a student brought it to my desk, and be the Gandolf of the bridge when trouble arose. And yet – and yetI couldn’t make it through the day any more, triggering my necessary decision to retire.

            Which brings us back to today.

           

            This is my third marriage, through no intent of mine except to start them. Wife number one, the mother of all six of my children, lives across town from me and is (of course) who I share custody with. (A long set of stories go with our marriage and her decision to leave us, which I’ll undoubtedly share someday when she gives me reason to do so through her current choices. Wife number two, my aforementioned high school sweetheart, eventually passed away from those multiple diseases, just before Christmas 2014. But four years of marriage to her was better than none, although her death is still my biggest test for Romans 8:28 at the moment.

            My new bride and I got engaged last Christmas (2017), and we intended to have a wedding in June this year (2018). Then we started working on how the insurance and other legalities would have to change with the marriage, and where we could find a house available within this school district to house all of our kids, and my introversion started increasing as I thought about the potential for large numbers at the wedding… so we eloped during spring break in March. (That is to say, we called our pastor, asked him to meet us at the church on Friday afternoon, had a couple of family members there, and get married. Seven minutes. Twenty people total in the wedding “party”, audience and pastor included. Perfect.)

            God, however, as He has done so many times in our lives, had His own timetable He was working on, and it still said June. So while we lived in separate houses for April and May as a married couple, it never really felt much different yet than dating. Then, on June first, the perfect house in the right neighborhood showed up. We contacted the realtor the next morning (a Saturday), he showed us the house Monday morning, and by the evening we had the keys in our hands. By the time we were ready to physically move in, we’d reached the two-week vacation people that I get with my children’s mother every summer (the rest of the year, we alternate a week at a time), so my kids got two full weeks to move their stuff into the new house and prep it the way they wanted it, and so forth. (Just as He had planned, I’m sure.)

            My new bride is the perfect partner for the current, sedentary version of me. We met two years ago online and fell in love very quickly. Whenever I get depressed about my inability to be or do what I could once be or do, she’ll remind me that she never even knew that version of me: she’s only been in love with this version of me. It’s even possible that we wouldn’t have even been compatible twelve years ago (not that either of us were single at that time, anyway!). But we certainly are in 2018, and that’s the only thing that matters.

            She’s still gainfully employed, however, despite being within a year of my age (or, as most people our age still are, depending on your POV), and she’s reached an enviable position in her field of choice. So, as with most weekday mornings, she’s left by now to go work in the slightly larger city of Twin Falls, which lies on the other side of the same Snake River Canyon that Evel Knievel attempted to sky-cycle over in 1974, and which Eddie Braun successfully flew over last summer.

            Which leaves me alone in this still unfamiliar house.

 

            It’s now 11 a.m., and it’s time that I finally venture out of my cocoon for the first time today. (Almost true – I did go to the toilet at about five this morning; while alert-ish, I took the waking opportunity to gulp down about half of the forty-plus pills I consume daily in order to keep my pain, spasms, introversive traits, and other conditions under control. (The exact number of pills I take varies daily, depending on how bad the pain gets. And the earlier I can sneak that first dose in, the better the chances of keeping the pain under control in the morning when I do wake up for good. The morning is usually the most productive part of the day for me – scheduling plans past mid-afternoon is usually unconstructive at best.)

            Today, I seem to be the only one in the house that my new bride and I just started renting together last month. My four youngest children still reside with me half the time – joint custody – while my bride’s youngest girls live here full time in theory, although being age 18 and having both boyfriends and jobs means that we now joke that they live here even less that my kids do.

            Since I’m becoming more and more introverted and sedentary, being alone isn’t that big of a deal. But…well, in my next entry, I’ll relate to you what it actually feels like to me here.

            (And don’t panic – most of my entries will be FAR shorter than this one.)

-g