Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Home At Last

Posts have been erratic here for the past month, largely because I've been on the road more often than not, with only two roughly one-week periods between July 25th and September 15th when I was at home in Kent. The first trip (7/25 thr 7/30), to be guest of honor at MERPcon in Spokane, followed by a visit to the Mount Adams area (the High House at Trout Lake) by way of Kenniwick, Maryhill, and Fake Stonehenge, was planned. So too the next trip (8/7 thr 8/15), a long-awaited return visit to the DC area (our first since 96/97), where we met up with some Tolkien friends, had much good conversation that, as always, filled me with ideas and inspiration, met some elderly cousins (the son and daughter-in-law of my mother's uncle, who was a missionary in the Belgian Congo) I'd had some correspondence with but not been able to meet with before, and saw some of the sights (including Mount Vernon, the Great Falls of the Potomac, the Museum of the American Indian, Arlington House, the FDR memorial, a creepy boy scouts statue, and much else). After that, it was time to get back to work and stay at home for a bit, spending some quality time with the cats and enjoying just being in a familiar place.

That's when we got the phone call (Sat.8/23-08) that my father-in-law had been airlifted out of Yellowstone* to Billings, Montana, where he was to undergo open-heart surgery. It took us a day or two to make plans and get things ready for the trip, then we were off (T.8/26) on the 800-mile drive to Billings. We got there two days later (Th.8/28), in time to be there for his triple bypass (Fr.8/29). Things went v. well, but it was clear it'd be a while before he could travel. Luckily, the Coulter Family is amazing in a crisis: one of his sons and a grandson had driven out from Illinois and collected all his things from the dormitory at Yellowstone; his eldest daughter had also come out, and gotten his car from Yellowstone to Billings; a niece who happened to be vacationing in the area dropped her plans in order to stay and visit with him until he was out of danger. After everyone else had to head home, the original plan was for the daughter to drive him back home in easy stages once he was well enough; Janice and I would stay as long as we could and, if it looked like it would help, I'd join Mr. Coulter and my sister-in-law for the long drive back to the Midwest.

A good plan, perhaps, but we never got to put it into effect, because my sister-in-law had to head back to Chicago (Sat.8/30) long before her father was released from the cardiac unit. So we went with the back-up plan: Janice returned to Kent (Sat.9/6), driving our car back over the mountains (so we didn't have to deal with two cars), and took care of some business back home (since we hadn't planned to be away for so long), while I stayed in Billings (so he wouldn't be alone in an unfamiliar city, without any visitors).

I shd say that if you're going to be stuck in Montana for two-plus weeks, Billings is a nice place to do it in. There are amenities (Borders Books, a nice used bookstore, a tea shop with a v. vocal parrot, a pleasant downtown, some interesting restaurants), interesting local sites (the Rimrock, Pictograph Cave, the Moss Mansion), and in general a nice feel to the place --larger than Kent (more like Kent+Tukwila), smaller than Shreveport or Little Rock.

After a few days, Janice flew back to Billings, and the next day (W.9/10) Mr. Coulter, who was raring to be out of the hospital and back home again, was released. We took it relatively easy on the 1200-mile drive to Illinois, stopping frequently for breaks and keeping the time in the car down to about six to eight hours a day. Things were complicated by his having to ride in the back (word to the wise: an airbag can do terrible things to you if you've just had major chest surgery) and by his diabetes having been aggravated by all this upset so that he has (temporarily, we hope) become insulin-dependent. So, I became responsible for giving him his triple-daily insulin shots. Never having given a person a shot before, I took solace in the fact that I had now, at long last, become 'the kind of doctor who helps people'**

Not to spin the story out too much longer, we got Mr. Coulter safely to the home of his eldest son (a physical therapist) and daughter-in-law (a trained nurse), who will take very good care of him during his convalescence (Sat.9/13), and the next day flew back home (Sun.9/14). Since when I've been all over cats (they missed us terribly while we were away), not to mention cat-sitting for a friend, while catching up on work. I'd proud of the fact that I finished up two projects while away, and made a good start on a third one, but there's only so much I can do when away from my library and all the reference material I've built up slowly over the years.

And my father-in-law? He's planning on celebrating his 80th birthday at Yellowstone next year, and I wdn't be at all surprised; he's one of the bravest and most resilient people I've ever known.

So, how did you spend your summer vacation?



*[Again!--he works there each summer, and had been airlifted out for a different medical emergency last year. I was starting to imagine the conversations he might have had with the flight-for-life folks --'you know, we airlifted a guy out of Yellowstone last year' 'yeah, that was me'-- and wondering if emergency helicopters give frequent flier miles for return customers, but turns out it was a different group this year. Still, it's a tribute to my father-in-law's toughness that he's survived two such trips in consecutive years and is planning to go back to Yellowstone again next summer.]

**[Years ago, when my niece Kristy, then about two, learned that I was going off to graduate school to earn my Ph.D., she said 'Uncle John is going to become a doctor and help people'. When it was explained to her that I was going to become a different kind of doctor, she summed it up sadly that I was 'the kind of doctor that didn't help people']

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