The best-laid plans of women, writers, and lawyers often go awry.
~ Robert Burns
Okay, that’s not exactly what he said, but you get the idea.
This week, I had the opportunity to see this delightful principle in action.
Last Sunday, I had a few plans. One originated Saturday night, when I took out my violin for the first time in ages. To my complete lack of surprise, it turned out that technique deteriorates wildly with nonuse. I decided then and there that I would devote half an hour a day to practicing the violin, thereby regaining the minimal level of ability I’d once had.
Another was to continue striving toward my goal of writing for an hour every day for the month of January. This I credit to Ann Patchett in her essay, “The Getaway Car.” If you haven’t read it and you even think you might someday want to write something, the next thing you read after this post should be Ann Patchett’s essay. (Finish this post first, though. Please.)
My other plan on Sunday was to finish drafting a petition for certification to the Connecticut Supreme Court, asking them to review a case that the Appellate Court—well, let’s just say, the case wasn’t decided as correctly as it could have been. I was hired to write the petition to persuade the Supremes that they should agree to review (and ultimately fix) this decision. A lawyer friend who’s retired agreed to review the petition before we file it. I planned to send her the petition that night so that she’d have time to look it over and provide comments before going away for a few days, as retired people are wont to do.
Everything was clicking right along when my mother called around six o’clock. I was writing while eating Popchips and sipping chardonnay. (Don’t judge. You’ve probably combined much weirder things.) Mom and I chatted for a while about various inconsequential things, and all seemed fine.
As best I can recall, things fell apart somewhere around eight o’clock. I can safely say that I’ve never gotten that sick that much in my life. Around ten o’clock, I called my friend to tell her she wouldn’t be getting the draft petition that night. I had her on speaker, and that may be why I couldn’t understand half of what she said. I remember her asking if it was a new bottle of wine (it was), if my lips were tingling (they were), and if I had any Benadryl (I didn’t). She said I should call 911, which I said I didn’t need. Since she lives on the other coast, she asked if anybody nearby could help. I gave her the names of a couple of my neighbors. Not long after that, I heard banging on my front door. I stumbled to the front hall and opened the door to a cluster of paramedics (called by one of said neighbors) who came in, asked some questions, took my blood pressure (which was scary-high), and retrieved clothes from my laundry basket so I wouldn’t have to go to the emergency room in my bathrobe. (Note: this is a very strong argument in favor of not putting the folded clothes away, since it seems unlikely they’d have gone through my dresser drawers for appropriate hospital-going garb. As you’ll see shortly, I was underdressed anyway, but at least I had essentials like underwear, shirt, and pants.)
The ambulance ride was uneventful. I remember noticing how odd it is to ride in a vehicle with no windows, no way to gauge place or progress. When we arrived at the hospital, we found the emergency room blessedly quiet, with only seven other patients. Since I’ve been there with my parents plenty of times and seen it so crowded that stretchers are lined up in the hallways, I knew to be grateful. They ran intravenous lines of nausea medication and fluids since, as it turned out, I was extremely dehydrated from being sick. Once we were all comfortable that I wasn’t having a heart attack, it was just a matter of hanging around with the meds and fluids until I wasn’t nauseated and could stand up without risk of falling over.
At one point the doctor asked me how I was going to get home. I responded with characteristic eloquence: “Hell if I know.” In the end, around 4:00 a.m., the hospital called a cab for me. Since it was a frigid January night and I hadn’t grabbed a jacket on the way out of the house, the nurse told me to take a blanket, which I wrapped around my shoulders like a thin, slightly stained shawl for the trip home. (At this moment, I was doubly grateful for the nice paramedic who spared me the indignity of traveling home in a cab while wearing nothing except a bathrobe.) The hospital kindly put the cab on their account, which was a good thing since I hadn’t thought to ask the ambulance to stop at the ATM on the way in.
My neighbors had fed the cats, which was good. The hall where I’d been sick was still as it had been, though. Because strange notions sometimes take root in the mind, I got down on my hands and knees at 4:30 a.m. to clean up vomit from the hardwood floor so it wouldn’t mar the finish. Then, I changed the message on my voicemail to say the office would be closed on Monday, cancelled my chiropractor appointment, and fell into bed, waking briefly when my neighbor came in to feed the cats their breakfast because he didn’t know I was home.
Okay, fine. So, one bizarre night and a day to recover. Then, back on schedule, working and writing. No problem, right?
Because somehow in the midst of all this, I developed what I thought was a cold. I was exhausted on Monday, but that was to be expected after a night of so little sleep. But on Tuesday, I spent my waking hours sneezing my brains out (yes, it’s a metaphor, but there were times the sneezing was so harsh that I thought I might really lose a couple of gray cells). Wednesday, I ended up closing the office again when I realized around ten o’clock that I could barely stand up, and I slept nearly all day. When I was awake, there was no way I had the energy or focus to read or write, so I binge-watched reruns of Mom, which is enjoyable, but requires no particular intellectual engagement. (No offense.)
At this point, you’re probably thinking, “Hey, dimwit, did you think maybe you should go to the doctor?”
Well, you’re about to feel really bad, because yes, I did. As luck or grace would have it, I already had a regular follow-up appointment scheduled for Thursday with my pulmonologist’s office. Being the kind, considerate person I am, I even called them to tell them I was sick because I knew a sick appointment would take longer than a follow-up. The physician assistant who evaluated me opined that I’d contracted a virus at some point before going to the hospital; I’d have thought that working at home and being largely antisocial would have protected me from exposure to such things, but apparently not. Turns out that she had precisely the same thing the week before, and half her office has also been felled by it. (In an abundance of caution, she did a flu swab which, as it turns out, is Not Delightful: it’s rather like having someone shove a skewer up your nose and stab you in the brain even though technically you can’t access the brain that way–at least, not without a whole lot more force. Mystery writers, take note.)
From the doctor’s office, I went forth to do errands, wearing a surgical mask to avoid contaminating and being further contaminated. People didn’t stare openly, but I did get a number of very quick sidewise glances. The only person to engage in conversation about the mask was the woman serving my slice of pizza; she told me she’d been sick with something similar for nearly three weeks. I couldn’t help noticing that she wore gloves, but no mask. (I ate the pizza anyway. Live dangerously, that’s my motto.)
One of my purchases was new cough medicine which claimed to be non-drowsy. It turned out that the “non” was a slight exaggeration: I took it when I tried to get up at 8 a.m. Friday, and I slept until 1:30 p.m. After that, it was just another day of exhaustion and coughing, much like today. I know I’m improving because last night, I had enough mental focus to write a short story for my online class, but activities that require strenuous effort—like standing for more than ten minutes at a time—are still beyond me, which means I was not able to participate in this year’s Women’s March.
Women’s March 2017
Fortunately, one of my lovely neighbors is already on board to clear my driveway after Winter Storm Yoshi finishes depositing whatever snow and ice it brings tonight, because without his help, I might be stuck inside until April. (In case you haven’t noticed by now, I have amazing neighbors.) I texted him about it yesterday, because I like to plan.
Planning is great. I’m a big fan of plans. Plans make me feel organized and happy, as if the mountain of tasks is manageable. (Yes, I know: how naïve.) But more often than not, plans go awry. Rescheduling is necessary. Precious moments are missed. Favors need to be called in. Vulnerabilities are exposed. Adjustments have to be made. Expenses are incurred. The road feels like a mass of bumps and ruts, and all we want to do is pull over and take a nap.
Yet somehow, we muddle through. One foot in front of the other, even if they’re baby steps so infinitesimal that it doesn’t look as though there’s any progress at all. We do what we can and rest when we must. We exchange mindless perseverance for common sense. We treat ourselves and each other gently even as we try to get our lovely plans back on track. Kind folks provide care, food, loans, whatever to help us through difficult circumstances. Through inconvenience and aggravation, lost luggage and missed occasions, furloughed jobs, sickness and grief and tragedy, whatever comes. We move forward, because in the end, that’s the best we can do.
Tonight, it appears that I’m one of the fortunate ones, because my life is slowly returning to normal. If all goes well, I hope to work on both my novel-in-progress and the petition tomorrow. I’m not planning on it, though. After the last week, I don’t quite dare, because I don’t know what’s coming: this virus may regroup and launch a new attack, or Yoshi may take down power lines, or some entirely unforeseen event may cannonball into the pool. So, no plan as such. Just saying “maybe.” Because tonight, that’s the best I can do.
And if I can manage a few minutes of violin practice, so much the better.