One of my favorite comedians, Josh Gondelman, begins a story in his most recent special thusly: “my dad had a health scare, and when I say it like that, you should know he’s ok now. That’s what a scare is … no one says “scare” if it immediately gets worse. ‘My dad had a health scare.’ ‘Oh no, how is he?’ ‘Well now he’s dead.’ That’s just not how it works.” Having now established the rules: my mom has had a health scare. And if that’s not a grabber to click “read more” then I’ve truly learned nothing about the blogging biz in the past year.
It was an “I got a phone call at 4 AM” caliber scare, and as I have said to people about this, my sister knows how to do math; she knew exactly what time it was when she called me from back in the States. You also know how serious it was from how quickly I committed to going to South Carolina. If you’ve had a chance to get to know us Ramblers (a thing I’ve never called us before and, having now “heard” it, will never do again) you know that we talk. A lot. Lisa’s father (hi, Terry!) once remarked on how much we communicate, with an undertone of “I’m proud of what good communicators you are”. Lisa and I laughed in unison and explained that in fact we are terrible at communicating with one another but have learned to compensate for this by going over things. A lot. In detail. We’re so used to it that we forget that other people don’t necessarily do it that way. ANYWAY (holy shit, you talk a lot, John? Shocking…), I did not discuss it with my now kind-of awake bride before saying “yeah, ok, I’m coming as soon as I can.” And she, when she heard the details, completely agreed.
To keep this from being an episode of “Marcus Welby, MD” (kids, ask your grandparents) let me just get you the diagnosis up front. She has congestive heart failure, which is not a sudden thing but it apparently tipped over into the red that week or so. She had actually gone into the hospital once, stayed for a few days, and then was released with what was, in hindsight at least, unseemly haste. She went home with oxygen tanks, a machine for refilling said tanks, and oh yes a similarly aged husband who was likely to trip over all of these new tubes and cables on his way to the bathroom, unplugging some or all of it. It took about three days for her to be back in bad shape, and so into the Intensive Care Unit she went. That’s when I got the call. It was a bit of a blur after that, but I’m pretty sure there was pneumonia in there at some point. At the worst of it, she was getting oxygen “from the wall”, which is to say the industrial feed rather than just one of those canisters you see people with, and it was on full blow.
Also not trying to write a mystery/suspense novel so here’s how the story ends; no need for you to have any anxiety waiting to hear how it turns out. Mom is apparently on the extreme end of the “positive outcomes” side of the results bell curve. She is basically… well, fine. I mean, she’ll probably be on oxygen for the rest of her life, but now it’s just a steady trickle out of one of those canisters that you roll around with. No, you’d rather not need that sort of thing, but given the other options we’ll take it. She walks, she talks, she’s just as coherent as ever (and she’s always been a pretty sharp cookie), she beats me at cribbage. Dangit. So, no, this is not a story that ends in drama.
One new thing that happened on this trip is that I bought a one-way ticket to South Carolina. I’ve never gone on a trip and not known when I was coming home, but the simple truth is there was no fixed agenda for the coming days. Total travel time was about 20 hours, and then my brother and his girlfriend(? do we have girlfriends when we’re almost 60?) picked me up at CAE aka, Columbia International Airport. In the end, I was in South Carolina for around 4 weeks; plus or minus. Also of note, this is the longest stretch of time that Lisa and I have been apart from one another since we first hitched our horses back in 2003-ish. We’ve both had therapy and we’re pretty sure we aren’t “actually” codependent, but we sure do like spending time together.
So why didn’t Lisa come? Funny story! We committed ourselves awhile back to house sitting for friends of ours while they were out of the country. They have a lovely home in Arcozelo Villa Verde (usually just referred to as Villa Verde although there’s a teeny distinction involved), a nice piece of property with a little grass, trees, the whole shebang. They’ve also got a dog and a cat, which is the reason they wanted housesitters rather than just someone to look in on the place. Lisa and I have designs on doing a lot of these kinds of gigs in the future (more on that another time) so we were happy to start off with something close to home. The pets were a lot of fun; Jack is a black dog with some white markings, maybe 10-15 pounds lighter than Sasha was but the same general size and shape, so it was easy to fit him into life. Kitty is a sweet indoor-outdoor cat who has no use for boys as far as we could tell; that was Lisa’s cat, full stop! We were scheduled to be there for almost three weeks; I got the call about four days into our stay. The people we were ‘sitting for weren’t even on the same continent at the time, and in case they had made significant commitments based on us having their home covered; one of us, at least, had to stay. Lisa, who let’s remind everyone is one of life’s great people and my dearest love, never once made a noise about how very different the house stay would be without me there, but it was. First of all, we still don’t have a car, and being out by yourself in the countryside, no matter how peaceful and crime-free the country is, can still be nervous-making if you aren’t used to it. Jack was a huge comfort there. Also, while this isn’t a hard and fast rule, the usual split of responsibilities for something like this would have me in charge of making sure that Jack got plenty of exercise; now she had to handle that as well. She took all of this in stride, but it did mean that she wasn’t coming with me. By the time our obligations were fulfilled with the housesitting gig my mom was clearly on the mend and it didn’t really make sense to expend the resources to get her out to the States as well; especially since, in just a few months, we’ll be coming back for a planned trip.
So, this isn’t meant to be a complete blow-by-blow. My mom is basically fine, Lisa ended up handling the housesit quite well without me, and before too long I was able to come back home.
I figure what’s worth talking about from a Rambly perspective is what the US looks like when you haven’t been there for awhile. Short version: reeeeeaaaally big. I kind of forgot how (almost) every home and business in America accounts for parking sufficient cars. There’s parking for cars everywhere! Where I live now, yes there are a few shopping centers with big parking areas, but it’s just not anywhere near the same thing. Put it this way, if I’m driving in many parts of Portugal and I miss my turn, the idea of “turning around in the next parking lot” is a fool’s errand. You hear a lot about how cheap wine is in Portugal. That means I had the opposite reaction when I was rolling through a grocery store, not even looking for wine, but went past that section and was shocked at the prices of the bottles. Yes, there are a couple of cheap bottle here and there, but more than half of the selection was $10+. I’d say the average bottle at the store here is… 4 euros? Plus or minus? Things are expensive in ways that I didn’t remember at all. On my first full night there, after visiting mom at the hospital I just wanted a little comfort food… or stress eating, call it what you will. Anyway, I order a small pepperoni pizza from Domino’s, adding in some kind of small bread nibble-y things ’cause… comfort food, right? Shut up. Anyway those two items, plus a delivery charge, and then a tip to the driver (because I presume a shit wage and no healthcare, perhaps unfairly but probably not), it came to 41 USD. Readers in America are looking at that right now and thinking “er, yeah? Sounds like they were having a special.” I promise you, readers in Portugal are doing cartoon a-OO-ga eyes right now.
Long story short (shut up), while I certainly didn’t feel like a total stranger or anything so severe, the visit really stressed just how much I have acclimated to life in Portugal. It all came together when I realized that I was referring to South Carolina as the place where my mom and dad live, rather than “home”. And when I finally made it back to my bride and my apartment, I absolutely felt like I had come home.