One day the vet said Lilac had cancer, the next day Lilac was dead! That's how I discovered, in 1992, that dogs all over the Milwaukee area were dying of cancer, apparently triggered by pesticides. So it follows that pesticides also affect humans. Whenever I see a warning sign, I avoid the lawn it's on. A week ago I felt I had to do something about all those little white signs. I sent a poem about Lilac's death to everyone on my Email list. Here's an excerpt:
Lilac was a lively, loving, shaggy mutt
Who died with almost no warning.
She'd slowed up quite a bit
Had lost her usual dash.
Then one day she could barely breathe,
Her muscles became flaccid,
She was a limp, cuddly dog doll,
Wanting a few last pats of affection.
And now I watch the early-morning dog walkers,
Who aren't thinking
That their dogs will one day disappear
As Lilac did,
Aren't contemplating the fact
That they're walking future ghosts.
And I, myself a future ghost,
Watch the flap of ears, the tailwag,
The mussed up fur, the whiskers,
Trying to catch a glimpse of the past
To preserve her image in the present.
Dogs, I think I know the answer
To why you all have cancer.
Beware of sniffing grasses,
It's safer sniffing asses.
You're peeing down the wrong weeds,
You're watering the wrong seeds,
Do it in the living room,
Or on the kitchen floor,
Do it on the NEW YORK TIMES,
But don't go out the door.
Never go outside
And inhale the pesticide,
I know it too well
For our dog
The Jensens lost Ginger,
Wendy lost Star,
Dogs, you're not safe
Wherever you are.
There's nothing to tell you,
No warning signs,
To keep away from
Those lethal dandelions.
Last Saturday I was headed for a rummage sale to buy clothes for my grandchildren. As I pedaled on the cement pathway that leads from street to sidewalk, my rear wheel stopped dead. I pedaled harder, hoping forward impetus would keep me upright. But my wheel wouldn't move. My right foot twisted inward and the bike slammed down right on top of it.
I got up and inspected the path, "It looks perfectly smooth," I said to a woman who'd run over to help me. "I wonder why I went over."
She pointed to a pesticide sign lying under my rear wheel, "It must have gotten tangled in your spokes."
Damn, I never even saw it.
"Are you all right?" asked the woman.
"I don't know." I suspected I wasn't. I couldn't put weight on my right foot; in fact I felt like crying. I hobbled to a chair and sat for a while, tempted to call Adolph. Eventually I tried to walk, found I could put weight on the heel, got on my bike, and started for home. I hate to admit it: I stopped at a rummage sale on the way.
When I got home, I said to Adolph, "My bike fell over on my foot, and I want you to take me to the emergency room."
I must have seemed perfectly calm, for he replied, "When do you want to go?"
I told the doctor on duty I thought I'd broken something. I was right. The X-rays showed fractures on the three middle metatarsals. An attendant wrapped my foot in an ace bandage, used Velcro straps to attach a foam-soled sandal over that, told me to see an orthopedist, that I might need a cast for the next three to six weeks, and gave me a brief crutch lesson. "You never want them to press into your armpits or you can cause permanent nerve damage," he told me as he shortened them so far from my armpits I had to bend over to use them, which seemed better than permanent nerve damage. Since I could put weight on my heel, using crutches was easier for me than for someone who has to hop on one foot. Still, I feared forward impetus in this case could easily propel me right onto my rear end.
We went from the emergency room to the East Side organic market, my first venture into the outside world with crutches. I had to explain my accident over and over. "I broke my foot last winter, and my body hasn't been the same since," said Barbara A. "It throws everything off." This is fair warning, I thought. I can't let it happen to me.
Back home, one glance at our staircase told me my life would be lived on the first floor for a while. And I quickly discovered that I couldn't carry anything when both arms were manipulating crutches. I prepared my food, but Adolph had to carry it into the living room for me. I imagined he'd be waiting on me for the next six weeks.
Saturday and Sunday I wasn't in too much pain, and I thought maybe the diagnosis was wrong. I decided to go ahead with a performance planned for Friday night, so on Monday morning I sent this message to my Email list:
Subject: Even their signs are dangerous.
I have to admit that as a lover of irony, I laugh whenever somebody asks me what happened. On Saturday a pesticide sign, "pesticide application, please keep off the grass," tangled with my rear spokes, knocked my bike over, and caused three fractured metatarsals in my right foot. So I'm on crutches for 3 to 6 weeks. Marie and I will still perform on Friday the 17th. Since we'll be "Two Ladies in Their 80's," I'll borrow a walker to stay in character....
I figured that if I sent this, I wouldn't have to keep explaining what happened. I also suspected that by the time most people read it, I'd know it wasn't as serious as we'd thought.
Date: Mon, 13 Aug 2001
Ouch! Sorry about the foot. Could do with far fewer pesticide applications myself.
If you are in need of a walker, let me know. I have one riding around in the back of my car. Leslie
Dr. B, our orthopedist, squeezed me into his Monday schedule. His assistant, Tere, looked at the X-rays I'd brought along and said, "Oooh, I don't like the looks of those!"
"Why not?" I asked, sure I'd misunderstood. By then I was using only one crutch, and felt I was on my way to independence.
She answered with a question, "What did they give you to put on the foot?" I lifted my leg with the Velcro sandal.
A technician took a new X-ray. The break is more, not less, serious than the emergency room doctor indicated. Tere brought me a large black medical boot.
"Do I have to wear THAT?"
"Yes. And if it doesn't work, you'll need a cast."
Ace bandage back on, "Not too tight, not too tight," I kept saying. "I can't stand anything that binds."
"Swelling is bad," replied Tere. Then came the med boot, held firmly in place by five Velcro straps. "You don't want it to flop around," said Tere. "If you flex your foot with weight on it, the way we do with every step we take, you could rebreak it." The boot functions like a cast. For the next six to eight weeks I can remove it only to take a shower. And I'm back to two crutches.
"What insurance do you have?" a nurse asked.
"Good, you're covered for a physical therapist."
She brought me a wheelchair and wheeled me to an adjoining office. The therapist held onto a belt she'd hooked around my waist, adjusted the crutches, which were way too low, and taught me how to use them, on a flat surface, then on stairs, good foot first going up, bad foot first going down.
We went right from the doctor to the shoemaker to get an extra inch of sole added to my left shoe to compensate for the thickness of the boot's sole.
When I got home from the orthopedist, this Email was waiting for me:
Dear Suzanne Rosenblatt,
My friend and colleague at the Journal Sentinel, Crocker Stephenson, showed your e-mail of Monday to me and suggested that your ironic accident might make an interesting column. Since I happen to write a column for the newspaper, I'm interested in speaking to you about this. It would give you a chance to put in a plug for poison-free lawns and a cleaner environment....
If you love irony enough to share this story with the whole town, get back to me...
Regards, Jim Stingl
Adolph became my nurse and chauffeur: Dr. B and the shoemaker on Monday, allergy shot on Tuesday, then Red Rock Cafe for lunch with our children and grandchildren. As I left the restaurant, I turned my right leg ever so slightly, and my foot didn't move. I felt a twinge reminiscent of Saturday's break. Uh oh. When my ankle is immobilized and I turn my knee, what gives? Did I crack a bone? The pain in the middle of my leg kept me up most of Tuesday night, which was a shame because Jim Stingl interviewed me for three hours Wednesday morning.
Date: Mon, 13 Aug 2001
Subject: Even their signs are dangerous
So sorry to hear about your metatarsal mishap. How true, the irony of a danger sign...injuring you. Love to all. Natt
This morning both leg and foot felt better. Maybe I was okay. At noon I went into the kitchen to make lunch, opened the refrigerator, and ouch! In my normal shoes, the door just clears my foot. With the thick sole of my med boot, the door hits my foot exactly where I broke it.
Date: Mon, 13 Aug 2001
Subject: Re: Even their signs are dangerous
I was on crutches last year for a few weeks and it was not exactly fun...
be real careful going down steps!!!!
the first day on crutches I went down the steps even faster than when I walked normally
Last night was shower and shampoo night. I had to remove the boot and bandage for the first time and afterwards put them back the way they were, not too tight yet sufficiently supportive and immobilizing. I hadn't considered how complex it might be to get into the tub using only one leg. We put a plastic stool under the shower, and, using Adolph as a crutch, I somehow managed to get over the side and onto the stool without putting weight on my broken foot. When I was ready to get out, I discovered exactly how hard that was. The stool was too unstable to give me leverage, and the sides of the tub too slippery. I grasped an aging faucet, put my good foot over the edge, clutched my husband, and slid my rear onto the toilet that adjoins the tub. I felt a little click in my broken foot. What now?
Then I had to put the paraphernalia back on. I went to bed wondering whether my discomfort was caused by the refrigerator door, the click as I climbed out of the tub, the increased swelling I have every evening, or the way I bound the foot.
Date: Mon, 13 Aug 2001 19:00:20 EDT
Subject: Re: Even their signs are dangerous
Suzanne e-posted, epistled, epistiled, pissy poesy to me: don't let your pet pee between the poison rosies! Then bespoked her own toesies on a benign sign. Not on guard in the avant garden Sue rode on, wrote on her dog gone, a caveat not to rot but to rotenone, prose composed then composted. A poison sign posted on pro-pest-control lawn choked her spokes.
You should have walked on the wild sidewalk side and racked your bike rather than petal on like Lilac who piddled on where Diazinon was puddled on daisies and wound up in the Roundup wrecking your Iambic foot! At last, a plaster cast where they gassed the grass, alas to heel wounds wound round the wheel and toxin skinned shins.
Keith R. Knox August 2001
I first glimpsed the woman renting the house to the north of us last June. She had a pesticide sign in her hand. That's a double lot, the largest lawn in the neighborhood. And now, after thirty-two years of a healthy lawn without pesticides, there it was, poison next door, blowing right into our living room, kitchen, and bedroom windows. Normally I would have welcomed her, but there was no way to introduce myself without showing displeasure. Soon after, another pesticide sign appeared in the middle of that dull green expanse. If people want carpets in front of their houses, they should put down real carpets. Then they could have green all year round. I sent an Email to the owner of the house, who is in France for a few years. She replied that she shared my concerns about pesticides.
Not too much later a lawn care company appeared, two women carrying large containers and spraying a non-water substance along the yard's perimeter, four feet from the window of my kitchen where I was making lunch, and two feet from where my grandchildren had been playing a day earlier. I ran to the back door.
"Is that a pesticide?" I asked.
"Oh no! We don't spray pesticides. It's just to nourish the plants."
"But it's a chemical, isn't it?"
"Yes, it kills the weeks."
"Then it's an herbicide, and I don't want it sprayed near my house."
Of course it was already too late.
That made three toxic doses in all blowing through our windows, most of which are on the north side of the house.
Subject: Re: Even their signs are dangerous
Date: Sat, 18 Aug 2001
These treacherous and aggressive symbols jumping off the turf to attack the enemy! Dorothy
12:55 AM, and I'm lying awake for an hour, my right ankle burning. My foot's caught in a trap, a movable trap.
When my foot bothers me, I don't know if the bandage is too tight, the boot is too tight, or I've reinjured myself. I do know that if this boot doesn't work, I'll have to have a cast.
The boot is heavy. Half my foot is enclosed in steel with a steel brace going up the sides almost to my knee. When I asked if it's better for me to walk or to rest, Tere said, "Whatever feels comfortable." In need of exercise, I exercycled at the fitness center for a half hour, resistance set at the minimum, speed about five miles per hour. After a few minutes, my bad foot slipped off the pedal and clanked to the floor. My foot still felt comfortable, so I continued biking. Now, an hour later, lying on my back, foot in air, it doesn't feel comfortable at all.
Every day I find a new method to potentially rebreak my foot.
Later. My foot recovered from the exercycling. But I just put the bad foot instead of the good foot first going up the steps, flexing my immobilized ankle, and now I'm in pain again.
Date: Tue, 21 Aug 2001
From: email@example.com (Adolph/Suzanne Rosenblatt)
Subject: The Journal made me a spokes woman
For those of you who received my original Email, Even Their Signs Are Dangerous, I thought you might get a kick out of this column by Jim Stingl....
Enemy trips up green crusader
To understand the exquisite irony of Suzanne Rosenblatt's mishap, it helps to hear a little of her poetry first.
If I designed a carpet to cover our living-room floor, I'd interweave sweet William, black-eyed Susan, scarlet flax, and wild rose with cosmos, butterflies, squirrels, earwigs, crows. I'd model it after our front lawn. Most people, I'll admit, do the opposite. They turn their lawn into a carpet, weed-free, bee-free, bird-free, turd-free, no irregularity. Simply, basically, solid green. Do I offend thee, neighbors, with my dandelions and clover, exposing every yard to noxious seeds, or is it thee offending me, spewing toxic herbicides into air and water supplies to rid those rugs of weeds?
Suzanne takes a firm stanza against the poisons sprinkled on our lawns to achieve what we have come to define as perfection. She scolds her neighbors and friends about it. She can put her nose to the wind and sniff its lethal bouquet.
But she has to laugh when she tells what happened to her the other day.
It was a sunny morning. Suzanne, who is 64 years old, was riding her one-speed bike that she uses for short trips to spare the air any more automobile fumes. Her long hair - blond, chemical-free and now turning the color of autumn - was tucked in her bike helmet.
Pedaling along Wildwood Ave. in Shorewood, she spotted a rummage sale and, being the recycling fan that she is, steered her two-wheeler onto the sidewalk. Suddenly, something jammed in the spokes of the rear wheel, causing the bike to halt abruptly.
"There was no way to stop the bike from going over. My foot twisted around, and the bike landed on it on the cement. I realized I couldn't walk," she said.
And there it was. Lying under the wheel. The offending foreign intruder that caused the accident.
It was one of those signs on a wire that people stick into their lawns. "Pesticide application - please keep off the grass," it said. Curses. Foiled by the object of her contempt. It was like a vegetarian being devoured by a cow.
In yet another way, Suzanne Rosenblatt had become a "spokes" woman for the environment.
Lucky for Suzanne she didn't fall on the grass, but her encounter with the pavement broke three bones in her right foot. She's wearing a medical boot that goes up almost to her knee, and she's walking on crutches.
"My husband said to me later, 'Are you sure you weren't kicking that sign?' " Suzanne told me as we sat on chairs in a clearing of her front yard. Her injured foot rested on a table between us. She's one of those rare people who can sit in the shadow cast by her front lawn, a waist-high forest of wildflowers that some neighbors no doubt would call weeds.
The inside of her house on Maryland Ave. in Shorewood has the same untamed style as the yard. It's cluttered but with all the right stuff - art, books, toys for the grandchildren. Did I mention she has a solar-powered water heater?
Her husband, Adolph, is a sculptor and retired professor of art. Her three grown children are artists. And Suzanne is a visual artist who added poetry to her repertoire when she was about 40. Often she combines her sketches and words in a single creation.
The lines I quoted above are from a poem she wrote in honor of her dog, Lilac, who died 10 years ago. That's significant for this story because Lilac used to run alongside Suzanne when she rode her bike, his nose skimming across everyone's lawn.
She believes the chemicals on the grass killed her dog prematurely. She suspects pesticides could have something to do with the increase of breast cancer, especially in women from more affluent neighborhoods. She won't eat strawberries, spinach, peppers, cucumbers or peaches unless they're grown organically.
One of her fellow earth poets, Louisa Loveridge-Gallas, said she always thinks of Suzanne when she remembers something she heard a Native American man say. He was talking about the line often drawn between humans and the rest of the natural world.
"Who is the wildlife anyway?" he said, given the way that humans behave.
In fairness to the pesticide industry, I should tell you what I learned from Jeffery Foran, a toxicologist and president of Citizens for a Better Environment in Milwaukee. He said pesticides in common use today have not been found to cause cancer. But research has shown that the cumulative effect of so many of these substances in our lives - on our lawns, in our homes fighting pests or applied on furniture or carpeting to resist spills, on our pets to get rid of fleas, in school classrooms, on our food - can affect our immune and nervous systems and growth and development, especially in children.
For the record, you won't see the ChemLawn truck pulling up to Foran's house.
Suzanne would be proud of me if she visited my house. By competitive suburban standards I try to ignore, my unpoisoned lawn looks worse every year. It may not be '"barefoot grass" like you see in the magazines, but at least it's not attacking people riding past on their bicycles.
Appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Aug. 19, 2001.
Date: Wed, 22 Aug 2001
Saw the article and had a good laugh. Sorry you had to break the ankle, but could you try other ways to get your point across? Take your calcium!!! Kate
Uri, a cousin of Adolph's from Israel, has been staying with us. He borrowed Eli's old bike, the derailleur fell off, Uri landed on cement, and Adolph had to take him to the emergency room yesterday.
This morning I caught myself walking without a crutch, and my foot didn't hurt. So I stopped using crutches. That made it easier to pick string beans in the garden. I spent a half hour looking for my scrabble dictionary, played scrabble with Ethel, and cooked dinner for six of us. By then my foot needed elevation, and all the couches were occupied. At 11 PM I went upstairs carefully, determined not to reinjure. However each step has a ledge, and I knocked the toe of my bad foot on one of them.
How much can I screw up
Let me count the ways
Either I'm a klutz
Or in an ibuprofen daze.
Perhaps it's just the weight
Of this unwieldy boot
That leaves me ignorant
Of how to use my foot.
I made it to bed without further incident and set the alarm for 4:15 AM so Adolph could drive Uri to the airport at 4:30. When I got up to use the bathroom in the middle of the night, I couldn't put weight on the foot. It was burning, the possible crack in my leg ached, and my ankle was sore. I was still awake when the alarm went off. After Adolph and Uri left, I conked out only to be startled into reality by thunder. There's an ancient weeping willow with a seven-foot trunk about three feet from the head of our bed, separated from us by a wall that seems flimsy when compared to the massive willow. Two weeks ago, several hours after a storm, we heard a crack, then a crash. It was a tree-sized branch of the willow landing on a trellis. A much larger branch is suspended over our heads, and whenever there's a storm, I run to a room on the other side of the house. That's what I did at dawn today.
Dennis, our neighbor to the south, spoke with our new neighbors to the north. He said they're both artists and the man had had open heart surgery just before they moved in. I decided to introduce myself, despite the fact that they've poisoned the air I breath. Since I broke my foot, I've spent time on my back with my foot in the air, looking out the living room window. One day I noticed the man next door sitting on the porch with his feet up on a chair. Here we each were, feet up, his wife taking care of him, Adolph taking care of me.
I also saw a doctor visiting first thing every morning. I sent an Email to the real estate agent who rented them the house:
I've noticed the doctors coming in and out next door, and I was wondering if you could give me the people's phone number so I could call and see if there's any way we can help. When someone's in a crisis like that, I think it's good to know the neighbors, but I didn't want to ring the door bell at an inopportune time.
Eventually the agent sent me the phone number. Yesterday I left a message, and the woman, Janice, called back. "How did you get my number? It's unlisted," she snapped.
After I told her she said, "What do you want?"
"I saw the doctors coming to your house and I thought you should know our phone number in case you need something."
"You should have figured that out two months ago."
I told her I normally would have introduced myself immediately, but I was too upset about the pesticides.
"You didn't have any trouble yelling at the lawn service about the pesticides....Anyway, I have your number if I need it," she said, and hung up.
2 AM, and I can't get comfortable, in part because I had to cut out the ibuprofen for two days since it makes my stomach queasy. Then I can lower my dosage, from six a day to three. In the meantime, discomfort rules the roost.
I saw Dr. B yesterday. The X-rays showed nothing has moved. I have five to seven more weeks in my boot. Then I don't simply throw it away. It will be a long time before I have a foot I like. At least this accident gave me a unique opportunity to get my message out, thanks to Jim Stingl. I've received a slew of Emails and phone calls. And wherever I go, people stop me and tell me about their pesticide concerns.
I Emailed Marilyn at CBE, Citizens for a Better Environment, to see if she thought the article helped despite the fact that Jim had to be fair to the chemical companies. She wrote back:
I think the public, for the most part, understands that exposure to pesticides is "bad." Anytime the issue gets raised, it reinforces that message.
Later. I saw Marilyn this morning. She said usually when an article appears, CBE doesn't get much response, but this was a human interest story, and that made the difference. They've gotten lots of calls.
One reason my foot's sore at the moment, beyond the break and the ibuprofen hiatus, is that I exercycled for 35 minutes today. Dr. B gave the okay. It felt fine while doing it, it doesn't feel fine now.
After I exercycled, I decided to take a shower at the Fitness Center. No matter what, it would be safer than getting into our bathtub. I grabbed a couple of towels and some shampoo and went in. There was a stool, that was a good sign. But when I tried to figure out the logistics, everything was treacherous. There was only one stool. If I put it in the shower and undressed there, there were no hooks nearby for my clothes. If I placed the stool near the hooks to undress, I couldn't get myself and the stool safely into the shower, for there were no bars to grab hold of, and the crutch was very unstable on the slippery floor. I sat on the stool and undressed in the stall, balanced my clothes on top of the empty boot, hung my towel on the one flimsy hook near the stall, not even big enough for my second towel, and hoped everything would stay dry.
Afterwards I dried myself seated on the wet stool.
On my way out, I described the problems with the shower to the director. He said it passed inspection. And waited for me to go away.
23 Aug 2001
...We're having our block party this weekend and it's on a little side street that runs along the side of my yard. So all my neighbors get a nice close-up view of how crappy my lawn looks. Thanks for making that OK.
I took an ibuprofen last night, and it certainly helped. Then one for breakfast. I imagine that's what enabled me to walk a block to a rummage sale without a crutch.
When I first broke my foot, I felt as if there was someone important in my life I hadn't told, then realized it was my mother. She's no longer here to worry over me. And when I'm sleepless at these odd hours, I think of my sleep therapist, McCabe, who died last month at age 48. I really miss them. As I age, my support system gets depleted.
[read an account of Rose entering a nursing home in Suzanne's Mexico Journals]
And right now I'm minus that other support, my right foot. In order for it to heal, it has to stagnate. A doctor friend said to me, "Immobilize, immobilize, immobilize." But then I lose my mobility!
I walked about a mile today, picked vegetables in the garden, made dinner, and my foot felt fine. At about six, that changed. Injuries tend to hurt late in the day.
I started my day on the exercycle at the Fitness Center. As I left, the woman at the desk said, "Oh, by the way, Dwayne put an order in to install bars on the shower."
Twenty minutes on the exercycle, a mile walk, by the time I got home, I felt as if someone had stepped on those broken metatarsals. I'm not too good at gauging my capacity. Perhaps no matter what I do, I'll have post exercise pain. It would feel even worse to lie around all day. Unfortunately I've continued my record: every day I find a new way to potentially rebreak. On Saturday I lifted three-year-old Cal into the crib, an extra 35 pounds momentarily on my foot. My foot didn't like it.
City Market is a third of a mile from our house, a nice little walk before breakfast. So here I am at City Market. The walk was easy; sitting comfortably in a med boot for any period of time is hard. And a bad foot fleshes out the body's other weak spots. Today it's my arthritic hip, so I popped an extra ibuprofen.
The worst part is going to bed at night. I'm wiped out, I hit the mattress, then I'm wide awake, wondering how high to elevate the foot, fighting the urge not to sleep on my back, and, since my radio has a timer, deciding how long I should listen to BBC. I want the radio to put me to sleep, but not go on so long it wakes me up again.
Someone just came to my table, "I must be the millionth person who told you this..." Well, not the millionth, but certainly lots of people upset about pesticides have introduced themselves to me. Those who use pesticides don't stop to tell me how wonderful it is to have a neat lawn, even if it poisons our children, our pets, ourselves. Before my accident, I asked a friend, father of two, why, knowing all the damage they can cause, he uses pesticides. He said he tried not using them a couple of times and he couldn't stand the way his lawn looked.
I'm having a city-wide dialogue on the issue, have tapped into a welter of concerns. Today it was Cecilia. She knows which lawns are poisoned, and walks her dog back and forth across the street to avoid them.
The more I'm outside walking around, the more I realize how many people read Jim Stingl. "Great article, how's your foot doing?" said a passing stranger as I walked to City Market just now. I wish someone would come up to me and say, "Great article. I never thought about the dangers of pesticides before. I'm going to stop using them."
Biking definitely is perilous. When I got home just now from French Table, Adolph told me that Thidapha, who baby-sits for our grandchildren, broke her arm in a bicycle accident today. That means we're baby-sitting tomorrow for three-year-old Isaiah.
Yesterday we had three-year-old Cal and seven-month-old Jake for a couple of hours. If baby-sitting with a broken arm is as difficult as baby-sitting with a broken foot, it'll be a long time before Thidapha babysits again.
The sky intense pink, the temperature perfect for my damp skin, I walked around the block just before dark to enjoy this end-of-summer day and to exercise a bit more. As I neared home, I heard animal shrieks, maybe raccoons playing in the weeping willow. I did not want to come face to face with one, though my steel boot does have self-defense potential. Then I realized the sound was coming from the house of our friendly new neighbors. They must have a parrot. I hope they keep it away from their lawn.
My pesticides dialogue continues. I've learned that the most toxic part of most homes is the carpets, thanks to the pesticides tracked in. "Have you ever watched the lawn care people spray?" Sandy H asked. "They don't even turn it off when they go over to the parkway. They just spray the sidewalk... Oprah's list for a healthy lifestyle includes taking off your shoes before entering the house." It never occurred to me that sidewalks might be as toxic as lawns.
Then again it was the non-toxic sign that tripped me up. My chiropractor said she's stumbled on the signs several times as they lean over sidewalks.
I asked her if exercising my toes could harm my foot. She replied no, but it might hurt. So today I took off the boot, moved my ankle a bit, wiggled my toes, and now I'm paying the price, right across the ball and the arch.
"No biking for you," a stranger called out as she pedaled past. It's not as annoying as I'd expect. I had planned to spend August biking along the bike path and drawing along the lake. I wanted to take advantage of every beautiful day. But I've biked a lot in my time, done thousands of drawings, now's my time to walk. Edie B asked how come I'm so good-natured about this. One, it was my fault. I shouldn't have been wearing sandals. Two, Jim Stingl. What a difference his article has made! Three, being angry won't help. If I can't do one thing, I do something else. Four, it's a learning experience, about people, pesticides, and handicaps.
The other day I used the handicapped shower at the Shorewood Pool. It has a built-in bench, bars, and a private stall with room to hang clothes. I now know that the bench slopes and is slippery when soapy. The stall has only one double hook, so once again I had to pile clothing on my boot. The water bounces onto my shoe and boot if I don't redirect the shower towards the rear wall ahead of time. And again I have to dry and dress myself sitting on a wet bench.
I volunteered our house for a family dinner tonight, about a dozen of us. Craig said they'd buy food, bring it over, and do the cooking. I said to bring it over already cooked, and I'd make salmon. It didn't work that way. Our kitchen brimmed with cooks and kids and by the time we were ready to eat, my foot was ready to sleep.
My stomach can't take the ibuprofen, my foot needs it, for the break, the toes, the ankle, the arch. I get tired more easily, dragging a boot that weighs, I'd guess, at least three pounds. That doesn't sound heavy, but I wear it twenty-four hours a day, even in bed. At first I put a pillow case over the boot so it wouldn't contaminate the sheets. Afraid of tripping on it, I had to remove it if I got up at night. Now I simply clean off the boot bottom with alcohol.
Yesterday afternoon I cajoled Adolph into walking to the lake with me, a mile and a half round trip. I didn't want to try it alone. On the way home, we dropped in on a friend who just had a hip replacement replacement replacement. He has to keep his hips above his knees for three months, which makes my broken foot seem minor. Since I made it home without much pain, I took the same walk today. By myself. No stops.
Dr. B had said to keep my stride smooth, and that's hard to do. With the right ankle immobilized, I can comfortably put my left foot only a few inches ahead of the right. So I took long steps with my right leg to compensate for the short steps with my left.
Everything requires thought and experimentation. I can't tell what I can or can't do until I try it. At a picnic on Monday we sat on the ground. When it was time to go, I got into a crawl position and, amazing myself, I got right up.
For the first few days, I went up and down our steps on my butt. I suspected I'd be bumping up and down for six to eight weeks. I didn't know I'd suddenly find myself walking with only one crutch, and then I easily navigated the stairs. Once I didn't need crutches at all, the steps were easier still.
Last night I kept taking off the boot, redoing the ace bandage, rearranging the pillows, turning on the radio. Eli and Pauline had had a Labor Day barbecue, and on the way back, I asked Adolph to let me out about a mile and a half from home. Then I walked back as quickly as I could comfortably walk, taking long steps with both legs. I made it in 35 minutes, pretty good for one broken foot. Once I got home, the comfort ended, and by the middle of the night I'd decided I had been coming down too hard on my right heel. I was sure Dr. B would put my foot in a cast. This morning it feels better, though the spot in my leg I thought I cracked three weeks ago is bothering me.
At the barbecue yesterday, Adolph suggested I buy Luc's three-wheeler from Genevieve. My kids said I shouldn't bike anymore unless I use the three-wheeler. I said Adolph should use it, no way I would. It's slow, and it has hand brakes. I'm a coaster-braker. Anyway, everyone has accidents on bikes; it's part of riding. My balance is fine, that's not why I fell. Biking is how I get around. Even if I die on my bike, this is the lifestyle I want. I had an accident eight years ago when I borrowed Sarah's bike, which had no chain guard, and my pants got caught in the chain. My helmet saved me. I hit black ice two in February of 1999 and ended up with a new front tooth and six stitches. So I stopped biking on icy days. And now the pesticide sign. Not bad for someone who bikes over two thousand miles a year. So I was angry. It's far more dangerous for me to be a passenger in the car when Adolph is driving. Actually my children never wore helmets, so I'm thankful they don't bike anymore.
On Sunday I heard squeals and laughing and thought our children had stopped by. Then I glanced out the kitchen window and saw a group of people, old and young, even a woman carrying a baby, moving through our northern neighbors' yard. It brought home how empty that big house is, and I was glad to see signs of life there. Adolph ran in and said, "Hey, our neighbors have friends!" I looked out the window again. Everyone was walking towards the street. And then they were gone!
When someone is unexpectedly nasty, he takes on a new aura. Before I called, they were just those pesticide people. Now I'm curious. Why was she so unpleasant when I reached out to help? Probably she was upset about her husband. Since our run-in, I glance over more often, looking for action. And for a moment on Sunday, I saw some.
Today I walked a mile and a half. My footsteps were more or less of equal length, which probably means that I didn't bind my leg tightly enough.
Thanks to Jim Stingl, no one says, "What's wrong with your foot?" Instead I get comments like, "There's that famous foot," "We all know what happened to you," "Are you still on the injured list?", "I read all about you." When Pat, the checker, saw me putting my groceries on the counter at Sendik's today, she chanted, "I saw you in the paper, I saw you in the paper." She said her cat loves grass, but she's afraid to give her a handful because she never knows what's in it. "You see, I know about those things," she added. The bagger said, "My turtle died from pesticides."
Later on, I took a walk. I looked to my right, about to cross Lake Bluff, and saw a car way down the block backing up in my direction. I waited, just in case it got all the way to me. It did. In fact it stopped, and the driver rolled down her window, "Are you the gal Jim Stingl wrote about?"
Her cat mysteriously died the summer her neighbor used pesticides.
"The ibuprofen still upsets my stomach," I said to Dr. B.
"Then forget the ibuprofen. You don't want two problems instead of one."
"Do I have to keep the top of the boot snug?"
"Yes, your foot and leg have to move as a unit. This is basically a cast. The difference is you can take it off to shower."
Suzanne---we are also pesticide/chemical free. I too believe we lost a dog (cancer first in paw) to chemicals! Good for you & get well.
Dr. B brought in my latest x-ray and showed it to Tony, the personal trainer, pointing out that only the three middle metatarsals were broken. If one of the outer bones had broken, it would be a much more difficult project.
"How's the healing?" I asked.
"We don't look for healing now. We just make sure nothing has moved. And nothing has moved." Dr. B pressed on my foot. "You see, you're still sensitive. If it's sufficiently healed in three weeks you can take the boot off inside and start walking in special shoes, but wear the boot to walk outside."
After that Tony started me on rehab, circles for the ankles, writing the alphabet with the big toe, and stretches on the floor for my back. I tried everything before bed last night, and my foot felt much better.
As I walked with Isaiah yesterday, a friendly dog sniffed him. I warned the owner that the next lawn had pesticides, and I crossed the street so as not to expose my grandson. She kept on walking her dog, pesticides on either side, though she'd just told me she thought pesticides were responsible for her breast cancer. I mentally went down the list of my friends on the East Side who have had breast cancer: the two Ruths who died of it, then those who are alive, Edie, Genevieve, Jo, Mildred, Marilyn, Doris, Helen B, Betty...
Four weeks today, at least two to go before I can walk in the house without the boot. If I hadn't broken my foot, we'd be going to Taiwan with Eli and family October 9. And we'd be in New York visiting our son Joshua right now.
My foot seems minor after all that's happened over the past two days. When I first heard on NPR that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center, I pictured a small plane that had somehow veered off course. Eli called at that moment to tell us, then called back a few minutes later to tell us about the second plane. The rest of the day I spent in shock, and chaos. Sarah came over with Cal and Jake, still later Eli came with Isaiah. I assumed Joshua was at work uptown, nowhere near the Trade Center. Still, you never know. There was no way to reach him; all circuits were busy. Later in the morning, he got through to us.
Now the air is filled with tragedy. And I'm afraid Bush is ready to multiply it, to kill more innocent people, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, drop a bomb on all those Afghani women already terrorized by the Taliban.
Today I decided to shower at home. Adolph said to wait till he had time to help, but I did it anyway. I put the stool into the tub, got in with my booted leg hanging over the side, then removed the boot. Afterwards I dried that leg, put on the boot, then got out. I used to eavesdrop on three ladies in their eighties in the Oakland Cafe. Once one of them said, "I never get into the tub unless I'm sure I can get out." That's taken on a new meaning for me now.
My goal is two and a half to three miles a day. I knew when I got to Atwater Bluff that if I just walk here and back, I'd walk only a mile and a half, so I walked down the path to the beach. That's where I am now, at the bottom of the bluff. The wildflowers and wildlife, the hummingbird checking out the purple thistle, the tiny orange butterfly, black border, perched on the New England asters, the goldenrod, the prairie grasses, the brown skeletons of summer growth fading into fall were worth a throbbing foot. I stopped to draw a father and child on the beach.
Someone had written in the sand: God bless the USA. Now someone is almost finished adding: And all life on earth.
With the disasters of the past 6 days, it's hard to write a journal about a broken foot, my minuscule event in relation to the macro-horror. Of course the minutiae of life go on.
"Poets and Musicians for Peace," and I'm one of those poets, afraid of Pandora's box. So I had one week to squeeze my feelings into a five-minute poem to perform tonight. In the meantime I realize I've ignored my foot. I walk my three miles and do my physical therapy. But I notice the foot has felt fine for at least a week. So why is it still immobilized? I woke up and thought, what am I doing in this snare? I took the boot off and got back under the covers to listen to all the depressing news on NPR. When I finally got up, I didn't put the boot on. But maybe it isn't safe. It would be ridiculous to injure the muscles once the bones are healed.
Exactly six weeks in the boot, I really wanted it gone. Later I decided that in the house it's probably all right to walk a little without it if I wear my tennis shoes. I took off the boot. My foot felt very vulnerable. I could put my weight on it, but it needed support. I put my old orthotic insert into my tennis shoe; my foot was too swollen to fit in. So I walked a little without shoe or boot. I was getting twinges. I decided it wasn't worth it. Back to the boot.
Still, I couldn't see any reason to sleep with it.
Last Saturday a woman saw me walking with the boot and said, "I just got out of one of those."
I replied, "They aren't fun."
"Yes," she said, "They throw you completely off balance.
Afterwards I wondered about that. The boot doesn't throw me off balance. Maybe her doctor didn't tell her to put an additional sole on her shoe.
A few days ago I saw our neighbors to the north alight from someone else's car. He almost never leaves the house. He was wearing a med boot just like mine. What are the odds of that happening, that neighbors would end up in simultaneous med boots? If the wife hadn't been so nasty, I'd go over and talk to him. I imagine I could be helpful. When I walked past the other day, she was mowing the lawn. I would have said hello, but she made sure she didn't look in my direction.
Since I broke my foot, I'm more intensely aware than ever of the dangers of pesticides. Last week State Senator Darling hosted a meeting with four speakers, two doctors from the Medical College of Wisconsin, an environmentalist, and the Chief of Pesticide Enforcement for the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture. About fifty people came, mainly parents worried about the long-term effects on their children. I'm sure they were more worried after listening to the panel of experts. I hadn't made the connection before, but it's a good one: pesticides are this century's cigarettes. It took a half century to convince people smoking was dangerous. They were waiting for absolute proof. And now it's the pesticide companies who claim their product is perfectly safe.
When I first saw Dr. B today, he said, "Been tooling around the house without the boot?"
"A little," I replied, "But then I was afraid to do it without support."
He made it clear I shouldn't do it again.
He checked my X-rays, and I said, "It's healed."
He replied, "It's not. The bones may heal quickly, but when you break bones, you also injure all the surrounding muscles and soft tissue."
My other advances, like going from two crutches to one, going from one crutch to none, using the exercycle, I did without permission. I assumed, since it felt relatively okay, that walking just a little without the boot was safe. I probably didn't reinjure, since afterwards I walked three miles, boot on. And here I am again today on Atwater Bluff.
Dr. B kept telling me how bad a bad foot is: you can't do about 95% of the things you want to do. We're not on a timetable. I have to give it time. It takes at least six months. No barefoot walking, even in the house. I don't have to sleep in the boot, but if I get up during the night, I have to use crutches.
Tomorrow I get fitted for an orthotic insert and an orthopedic shoe, which should be ready in a week.
It bothers me to have a neighbor with whom I'm not on speaking terms. So I decided that if I ever see the husband without his wife, I'll go out of my way to talk to him. Last week I noticed a green car in their driveway several times. Their guest was an older woman, perhaps his mother, staying there because he's been so sick.
On Friday he got out of the green car by himself just as I was walking by, and I asked him what the chances are of neighbors ending up in med boots at the same time. He said he's been wearing one for four months, first on the left foot, then on the other. In fact it has been one hell of a summer. He had quadruple by-pass surgery and he had a toe amputated. He's had diabetes for thirty years. And now his wife's in the hospital for surgery; she has a bowel obstruction. That's her mother in the green car. I told him if he needs anything to give me a ring.
I don't understand. He has so many problems, and then they use pesticides, which could cause many more. These are toxic chemicals. People have to put up warning signs. Why do they imagine they're safe? Especially in the amounts used, sprayed with hoses over lawn and sidewalk. With all the walking I'm doing, I pass yard after yard of perfect poison grass.
Roseann stopped me to say she's the only one on her block who doesn't use pesticides. She's sure the disappearance of song birds is due to all these toxins.
Later. From my seat in City Market I saw a heavy-set black woman on crutches cross Capitol Drive to the bus stop. She wore a medical boot on her right foot, and on her left she wore a flat shoe. I gathered my possessions, ran out, crossed the street, and said hello. She looked puzzled. I said, "I see you're wearing the same thing I am," and stuck my foot out. Then I asked her if the doctor told her to get a sole on her other shoe so she wouldn't be off-balance. He hadn't. She and her mother wanted to know where I had mine done.
"At a shoemaker."
"And how much did he charge?'
"Thirty-five dollars, but I think he overcharged. I'll bet you could get it for less. Or maybe you already have a shoe with a thick sole. There's almost an inch difference."
The mother said, "I had a hip replacement and had to go around on crutches a few months. I wish someone had told me."
"I think most doctors don't. They forget we have two feet."
It's almost two years since Adolph's cousin Misha died. At his funeral in New York we got to know Roz and Joe and have kept in touch with them by Email. Their daughter, Clarin, gave our names to her friend Betsy, who recently moved to Milwaukee. And it's Betsy who called to tell me that Clarin was missing in the World Trade Center bombing.
Betsy also Emailed me a column about Clarin that appeared in the New York Times. I was telling Sarah about the column last night, that it appeared in the Science Section and was written by someone in her building who used to talk to her in the elevator. Sarah exclaimed, "Oh, I read that, this chic woman who did all sorts of things for other people. She sounded wonderful! I didn't know that was your friend's daughter."
When I read the column, I cried because I felt so badly for Roz and Joe, and also because Clarin sounded like a lovely woman. Sarah reading and remembering it personalized it for me in a different way and it's hard to get it out of my mind. Of course for me the bombing was never something that happened somewhere else. Joshua and his family, much of my family and Adolph's family, and many of our friends live there. Joshua said last week that the 7:45 train he takes to work ends up at the World Trade Center. He sees the same faces every morning, and now he keeps trying to figure out which ones are missing.
Adolph's cousin Lynn lost four close friends; his cousin Sheila is the principal of a school in which several children lost their parents. It's strange how we spend billions on the military; then a small group of terrorists can attack this country, spending mere thousands, undermine our sense of well-being, and put a whole country in tears.
And now we're about to bomb Afghanistan, and spread the misery to those who are already miserable. That puts my foot into perspective, though I'm still swearing at being caught in a boot for seven and a half weeks. It also puts my pesticide battle in perspective. We may not need the terrorists to finish us off. We're carpet-bombing our children as we leave a layer of poison for them to walk though and crawl through and lick off their hands. Those warnings on cigarette packages represent millions of deaths over the years. We have no idea how many the pesticide signs represent.
The terrorists had plans to target New York bridges. Joshua lives near the Triborough; the train he takes to work crosses the Queensborough Bridge. I wish he'd move out of New York. Maybe we all have to move, off the earth. Still, this is not a simple good and evil battle. We've done our part in creating a world ripe for terrorism. If there was a more equal distribution of earth's resources, the ground would be much less fertile for crazies to take root.
In the meantime, I'm dealing with my foot. Last week I left my imprint at the Pedorthic Clinic, and yesterday I returned to get the orthopedic insert and the shoes I'd picked out. When I first tried on the shoes, without the insert, they felt great. With the insert, the right shoe was unwearable.
Bernie, the specialist, kept shaving down the insert, which was made from a cast of my foot. It didn't feel comfortable, and I was afraid that if he shaved it too much, it wouldn't supply enough support He said it takes getting used to; I have to break it in gradually. So I said I'd try it for a while.
I'm at the City Market counter, drinking coffee and glancing over the New York Times, "Yes, Aidan, Daddy is Dead," "A City of Exiles Dreams of Power Regained," "Networks Agree... to Edit... bin Ladin Tapes," nothing in the paper to lift my mood. Then whack! What hit the plate glass right in front of me? Did someone throw something? Did a wad of muck fall off the roof?
A crow swoops down. Of course. It could only have been a bird, and its mate is now hanging around, broken-hearted I presume, like Aidan. The window isn't low enough for me to see the dead, or injured, bird, just its hovering mate, who watches from atop a light pole, swoops back down and starts to walk across the street till a school bus forces it to fly again.
The crow doesn't return. Passersby don't stare down at the body. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe there's no dead bird. Maybe it flew away. Then a woman stops in her tracks, only for a moment, and continues on her way. A man stops and with his foot shoves the dead crow, which I haven't yet seen and hope not to, out of the path of passing feet. Now five or six crows check out their own ground zero, then settle on top of St. Robert's across the street. Now seven stand vigil at roof point, about a hundred feet away, while humans pass, untouched by the sadness right at their feet.
Two crows swoop. Now one is back atop the light pole, cawing with his whole body, clearly in distress. Another has stationed himself on St. Robert's cross. Beforehand we can only guess at the consequences of our actions. We don't make windows to kill birds. No one puts out pesticide signs to trip up bikes. Bush isn't bombing Afghanistan to create a whole new generation of terrorists.
It's over two hours, and the crows are still mourning. So am I.
An old woman stopped, looked down intensely, then walked quickly away.
Later. When I left City Market, I glanced towards the dead crow, but a clunky flowerpot blocked my view. I could only see the head and wasn't sure it was a crow at all. Wouldn't it be strange if it wasn't, if all those crows were mourning a dead sparrow.
That thought didn't last long. I remembered that crows eat carrion. They probably weren't hanging around mourning. They were hanging around waiting for lunch.
When I tried to wear my new shoes with the new insert for the right foot, both feet hurt. Even the old insert in the left shoe didn't feel right. Now why would that be? I checked the shoe. It had built-in support.
I called Bernie at the Pedorthic Clinic. He told me I was wrong, that we removed the insole, and the support was in the insole. He said to see David, the technician who originally fitted me. The earliest appointment was in two weeks.
I should have begun to wean my foot out of the boot two weeks ago, and now I have two more weeks to go, four extra weeks of boot!
I checked the insole. It was flat; the support was in the shoe itself. I decided to return the shoes, get shoes elsewhere, and in the meantime wear a pair of old shoes with the insert. I tried on my largest shoes. My foot was still too swollen to fit in.
Since I have to get the swelling down, I've begun to bind my foot more tightly with the ace bandage. I can tolerate it for a few hours.
My foot is now less swollen, so I wore a pair of old shoes with my old inserts for awhile today. Inside only.
About three years ago my mother acted in a movie. Xav Leplae would pick her up at the Protestant Home and bring her to wherever they were filming. She loved the whole experience. And last night, which was by coincidence Mother's 89th birthday, I finally saw the film.
I'm writing this here at City Market, and I happened to look up just as the black woman on crutches was crossing the street in her med boot, and just as her bus pulled up and blocked my view. I did see her, for less than a second, and I'm sure she had added that extra sole to her shoe! I'm moved that I managed to help her.
I'm also moved, and shaken, at having seen my mother last night. Only three years ago she was aware enough not only to act in a film, but to do a terrific job. And her ad libs were funny.
Afterwards Adolph kept saying, "Get your sister to tell your mother." I was shocked. Finally I said, "Adolph! You know there's no way. My mother is dead. Her heart is still beating but otherwise she's dead. Telling her would be like telling your mother." His mother was buried six years ago.
Each morning I read the New York Times profiles of the people killed in the World Trade Center; and it seems too much to bear. Then comes the deaths of innocent civilians in Afghanistan. Collateral damage is also terrorism, and each bomb creates more people consumed with hatred for us. I don't know what the solution is. I wonder how much food we could buy for the price of one bomb.
We feed them
Before we bomb them
One last meal
To calm them
And to show them that we care
Then we send them
To the stone age
Oh? They're already there?
I returned the shoes to the Pedorthic Clinic and got a pair at Stan's Bootery. Same problem, arch too high. I still can't wear my inserts.
Over ten weeks since I broke my foot, and I'm stuck in my boot. I tried Warehouse Shoes on Friday. The men's size that was wide enough was too long. The one that was short enough was too narrow.
One side effect of breaking my foot: I've lost three pounds. Walking is better exercise than biking. When people comment that I must miss biking, I reply that if I can't do one thing, I do something else.
My time at the Pedorthic Clinic finally arrived. David shaved down the insert so I could wear it comfortably in the shoes from Stan's Bootery. Over ten weeks in a boot, and maybe I'm out. I walked a mile and a half in shoes, and my foot hurt afterwards. I wore the boot for the rest of the day.
I decided to wear the boot for extra protection in the dark when I walked to French Table last night. As I neared Schwartz Bookshop, my left foot hit a spot that was only half sidewalk, the other half a drop into a driveway. My ankle twisted and I went down to my knees, breaking my fall with my right thumb. I ended up with my right thumb sore, left ankle swollen, and right foot bruised. Since the sole of the boot is rolling instead of flat, I think the boot was responsible. In a flat sole I could have recovered my balance.
Adolph had a hernia operation yesterday. It's my turn to nurse him, and instead we both need nursing.
After twisting my left ankle and reinjuring my other foot, I dreamt there was a deep hole in my right foot, nice and smooth, the type of hole a dowel fits into. I awoke and removed the ace bandage. My dreams have been more benign since then. I begin each night with both feet bandaged, wake up in pain, and unbind my feet. I hobble when I first get out of bed, but walk normally within minutes. I called Dr. B the day after I twisted my ankle and learned he's out of the office until December. I spent three days with both feet in the air, ibuprofen, ice packs, and ace bandages. The fourth day was trick or treat Sunday, and I walked two and a half miles. I paid for it at night.
It's almost three months since I've been on my bike. I can ride it now, but I'm ambivalent. No, I'm afraid. Yesterday I walked almost two miles, pedaled a half hour on the exercycle, did tai chi for the first time, and paid for it the rest of the day. I don't know whether I should or shouldn't be doing all that. If Dr. B wasn't about to have surgery, I definitely would have seen him.
Walking has become a habit. It's better than biking for bones, for losing weight, even for its aerobic benefits, so I'm loathe to break it. And I'm still afraid of falling. When I walk, I notice broken branches lying in the street, every bit as dangerous for spokes as a pesticide sign. And the ground is covered with autumn leaves, slippery when wet, skiddy when dry.
On Wednesday I fast-walked over a mile. Too fast. I felt I'd permanently injured both feet. At night I vacillated, go to French Table or go to bed. I opted for French Table, and the walk revived my feet. A long hot bath filled with pieces of fresh ginger helped so much that I saved the chunks for another ginger bath last night. Yesterday on a long bike ride, I viewed every protruding stick as a pesticide sign equivalent, ready to poke a spoke and fell me.
I'm at the six-month mark. Dr. B was right. It takes a long time to get back to the foot I once liked. At least I'm on my way. I guess I always am, and I never know to what.