Friday, March 25, 2011


My husband spent most of last week in a $1,700-a-day room with a nice view, being waited on hand and foot, ordering from room service and getting daily foot massages.

Unfortunately, the room was located in a hospital.

It actually all began quite innocently. He happened to mention to me, as he was getting ready for bed last Wednesday night, that his foot looked bruised. He didn’t, however, remember injuring it in any way.

A few days later, the foot resembled a red and purple watermelon. And if anyone (especially a certain wife who wanted to touch it) even so much as looked at it, he cried out in pain. That did it. I dragged him, kicking and screaming, to the emergency room. It was after midnight on Sunday night when we arrived.

The expression on the emergency room doctor’s face when he looked at the foot just about told us he wasn’t going to give my husband a bottle of feel-good pills and send him home. Before we knew it, my husband was hooked up to a bunch of wires in a bed upstairs, and was being pumped full of IV antibiotics.

Even though he was in a spacious private room with a recliner, a floor-to-ceiling window complete with a built-in window seat, a flat-screen color TV and a private bath, my husband had a “sentenced to serve time in San Quentin” look on his face.

“Don’t leave me,” he begged, as I prepared to head home. It was 8 a.m. by then and I was beginning to feel like an extra from the movie, “Night of the Living Dead.” Plus that, I’d left two dogs back home that probably were in the midst of their final encore of the “gotta go” dance.

“I’ll be back as soon as I’ve had a little sleep,” I promised him. “And I’ll bring you some toiletries and underwear and stuff.”

A look of panic crossed his face. “How long do you think I’m going to be here anyway? A month?”

“Well, it’s better to have too much clean underwear than not enough!” I said, backing toward the doorway. “Try to relax and get some sleep now.”

Just as I was leaving, a menu was delivered to the room. When I saw the words, “heart healthy,” “low sodium” and “low carbohydrate” on the top, I knew my husband, who held the world’s record for consuming the largest number of greasy cheeseburgers in a human lifetime and had eaten his way through an entire potato field and a salt mine or two, probably was going to be just a little disappointed with his meals.

Sure enough, when I returned early that afternoon, he was giving the evil eye to his lunch, which had just been delivered. It was a plain burger about the thickness of a playing card on a whole-wheat bun, complete with a packet of low-sodium ketchup and very small bag of unsalted baked potato chips. For dessert, sugar-free orange gelatin.

“I asked for two burgers, or at least a double burger, and they said I couldn’t have two!” he huffed. “I’m going to starve to death here! They gave me one slice of French toast for breakfast, with a tablespoon of sugar-free syrup! One slice! Can you believe that? That didn’t even fill the cavity in my back tooth!”

I had to laugh. His serving of French toast at home usually involved half a loaf of bread and enough maple syrup to raise the Titanic. He definitely was going to have a lot of trouble learning how to eat like a “normal” person.

The single slice of pot roast and dainty dollop of mashed potatoes he received for dinner didn’t help matters any.

He polished off his meal in two bites. “I’m starving!” he said.

“Well, eat your sugar-free strawberry Jell-O and you’ll be nice and full,” I teased.

If looks could kill, I’d have been downstairs with a tag on my toe in the hospital morgue.

“Smuggle some food in here for me,” he said. “There’s a McDonald’s not far from here. Get me a couple double quarter-pounder burgers.”

“Eat your Jell-O,” I repeated.

I then added, hoping to change the subject, “So, what are they saying about your foot?”

“I don’t know. My growling stomach drowned out whatever the doctor was saying.”

As it turned out, his foot became somewhat of a tourist attraction. Three different doctors came to stare at it and say, “Hmmmm.” And all three diagnosed it as something different.

“Cellulitis,” said one. “A bad infection,” said another.

Then there was the one that sounded like “shark-o.” I asked the doctor to repeat it twice. It still sounded like “shark-o,” which was a new one to me. I had visions of ocean barnacles and plankton clinging to my husband’s foot.

I later learned it was spelled, “charcot,” and is a pretty serious foot condition that frequently plagues diabetics.

Still, the only thing that concerned my husband was the food rationing. The doctors could have told him his foot was going to sprout tentacles at any minute, and all he cared about was how many pancakes he could have for breakfast.

He was delighted the next morning when he asked for French toast plus an English muffin and they said OK. In fact, he was so excited, you’d think he’d just won the lottery.

I had to bite my lip to keep from laughing when they delivered half a slice of French toast and half an English muffin – complete with “butter-flavored spread.” The expression on my husband’s face when he saw his plate just about wilted the sprig of decorative parsley on it.

The good news is he survived the week without dying of starvation, even though to listen to him, you’d think he was withering away to skeletal proportions.

The bad news is the foot still looks bad, won’t fit into a shoe, and the doctors haven’t yet decided what’s wrong with it, whether it’s shark-o, whale-o or some rare foot-eating disease. We have a list of appointments with specialists lined up over the next two weeks.

My husband insists he’ll see only the doctors whose buildings contain fully stocked vending machines.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Valentine’s Day hadn’t even grown cold when the heart-shaped boxes of chocolates in the supermarkets were replaced with chocolate Easter eggs, jelly beans, marshmallow chicks and baskets…an early reminder that Easter was just around the corner.

Unfortunately, the chocolate Easter eggs also served as a painful reminder of what my husband still considers to be one of his biggest failures in life.

You see, I’m Russian Orthodox and he is Irish Protestant, so our cultures vastly differ. The very first Easter my husband spent with my relatives, he learned just how vastly.

The moment we entered my grandmother’s house, where all of my aunts, uncles and cousins had gathered, we were greeted with the traditional Russian Easter greeting, “Hristos voskres!” (Christ is risen!), to which I replied with the also traditional, “Voistinu voskres!” (Indeed he is risen!).

While my husband stood there looking totally confused, one of my uncles, holding a plate of hard-boiled eggs that had been blessed by the priest, approached and shoved a big piece of egg into my husband’s mouth (another tradition).

All I can say is the look on my husband’s face was one I’ll never forget. His eyes were wide and filled with panic, his lips were clamped shut, and the lump of egg, which he didn’t chew, bulged in his cheek. Unbeknownst to my relatives, my husband hated – no, make that loathed – hard-boiled eggs.

I could read the poor guy’s mind. He was wondering if he might be stricken straight to Hades if dared to spit out an egg that had been blessed by a priest. But even worse, he probably was thinking if he swallowed it, he might end up vomiting on one of my relatives. Finally, and with an obvious struggle, he swallowed the piece of egg whole.

To this day, I’m still grateful no one needed to perform the Heimlich on him.

Shortly after we entered my grandmother’s house on that first Easter, my cousin and her new husband also entered. When they were greeted with the traditional Easter greeting, my cousin’s husband, Jack, responded flawlessly with, “Voistinu voskres!” to which he received a round of appreciative cheers from my relatives

For some reason, this bothered my husband. “Is he Russian?” he whispered to me.

“No, I guess my cousin must have tutored him beforehand.”

“Well, I want to learn how to say it, too,” he said.

“Fine – I’ll teach you.”

Never in the history of foreign languages has one little sentence caused so much difficulty. In the weeks and months that followed, I must have repeated, “Voistinu voskres!” to my husband 9,000 times, and each time, he found some new, creative way to mispronounce it.

Most of the time, it came out sounding like, “Vice Tina watercress!”

When he was in the bathroom, I could hear him rehearsing the sentence in various ways, with various accents, over and over again. Not one was right. Then he’d come bursting out of the bathroom and shout excitedly, “I think I have it!” and revert right back to his “Vice Tina watercress!”

He reminded me of my friend Janet, with whom I studied Spanish in high school, who had a similar problem. She never could remember how to say pen and pencil in Spanish.

Our Spanish teacher had taught us to say “lapiz” for pencil and “estilografica” (rather than the shorter and easier “pluma”) for pen. For some reason, Janet never could remember them. So I grilled her over and over again until she finally seemed to have “lapiz” and “estilografica” imbedded in her brain for our upcoming Spanish test.

As it turned out, she ended up writing “estilografica” and “estilo-pencila” on the test. We laughed about it for years.

Anyway, by our second Easter together, my husband was pretty sure he could nail the “Voistinu voskres” Easter greeting at my family gathering. As we headed toward my grandmother’s house, he repeated the words over and over again. I didn’t want to burst his bubble, but the more he said it, the worse it sounded.

Finally, as we were about to enter the house, my husband took a deep breath, exhaled and said, “I’m ready!”

We entered to cheerful shouts of, “Hristos voskres!”

To which my husband responded with…“Happy Easter!”

Now, nearly 40 years later, he has given up entirely on even attempting to say anything in any language other than English. Coincidentally, over the years he also seemed to have a lot of ailments that mysteriously cropped up right on Easter Sunday, so he had to stay home in bed.

Maybe this year will be different. Maybe I’ll tape the greeting and play it over and over again while he’s asleep, so he’ll wake up saying it perfectly and then have the confidence to face and impress my relatives on Easter Sunday.

On second thought, it might be easier to just let him and “Vice Tina Watercress” stay home in bed.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


A couple weeks ago I noticed that the flooring in the living room was getting gaps in it in a straight line right down the middle. Then the sink cabinet in the laundry room started to pull away from the wall, and the dryer began to take strolls whenever I used it.

I finally got nervous when the dogs were playing with their ball in the living room and it kept rolling toward them even when they weren’t touching it.

“I think the house is sinking,” I said to my husband, just after the bathroom door closed by itself and whacked me on the backside as I was looking in the mirror.

“Nah, it’s just the house settling,” he said. “It’s to be expected with a newly built place.”

I wasn’t convinced. So just to be safe, I looked through the phone book for a structural engineer and found one who offered free inspections. I figured I had nothing to lose and reached for the phone.

Jack, the structural guru, arrived two days later. He walked through the front door, took one look at the living room floor and said, “You’re sloping to the right.”

He then asked to see the basement. I led him downstairs and he immediately was drawn to the far wall. He stood there with his hands on his hips and said, “Hmmmm.”

His expression looked similar to that of someone who’d just been told he was overdue for a colonoscopy.

He walked over to the wall and ran his hands over two big cracks in the wall. Each crack started at the top center of the wall and then fanned out diagonally in opposite directions, all the way down to the floor. They were wider at the top than at the bottom.

“Do you know what this means?” he asked me.

“The house is doing some normal settling?” I answered hopefully.

He shook his head. “It means the two outer corners are sagging and pulling the house apart in two different directions.”

Visions of the house ripping down the middle and collapsing into two halves like a giant open-face sandwich immediately sprang to mind.

He then checked out the bulkhead. His expression displayed even more pain than the previous colonoscopy one. “Your bulkhead isn’t even attached to the house any more. There’s a big crack all the way around it and the bulkhead’s leaning forward, away from the foundation.”

“That might explain why there’s always a pond under there,” I said, mustering a weak smile.

I was beginning to get the feeling the prognosis wasn’t going to be good – that my trusty roll of duct tape wasn’t going to fix the problem this time. “So why is this happening?” I dared to ask. “The house isn’t even a year-and-a-half old yet.”

“It’s because whoever dug the foundation went beyond virgin soil. You have to put footings on virgin soil.”

I had no clue what he was talking about. Obviously my blank expression told him I didn’t. After all, the only definition of “virgin” I knew had absolutely nothing to do with soil.

“Virgin soil means when you dig the foundation, you dig only to the exact depth you want the foundation to be. You don’t go beyond that depth, you leave the soil completely undisturbed and untouched so the footings will have nice solid ground to set on. Did you happen see them dig your foundation here?”

I nodded. “But I couldn’t really see if the soil was virginal or not through all of the water. My dogs used to go swimming in the foundation hole.”

He groaned and shook his head. “After you hit water, it takes ages to get the ground ready for the footings. It’s a very time-consuming project. But a lot of contractors are in too much of a big rush to bother. Your foundation isn’t settling, it’s sinking. Pretty soon the sheetrock on your walls upstairs will separate. Your ceilings will start cracking. I strongly recommend helical piers to fix the problem.”

Again, I had no clue what the man was talking about. My brain was still picturing my ceilings crashing in on my head and the walls flattening the dogs.

“Helical piers are like giant steel corkscrews or augers,” Jack said. “We dig down underneath the foundation and put them under it, then raise or lower them to the appropriate levels. It’s like having a house on stilts.”

“Can’t we just squirt some sealer into the cracks?” I asked.

Jack chuckled. “Only after the foundation is stabilized.”

He then began to measure the walls and scribble notes on a pad. I knew the inevitable was coming…the information that would cause my heart, as I knew it, to cease beating. He was going to give me an estimate for the work I’d need.
If it was more than $87.33, I was in big trouble.

“A rough estimate for the job will be about $18,000 to $20,000,” he said. “I’ll e-mail you a detailed proposal, if you’d like. And I’ll also put in writing that the cause of the problem was your contractor’s lack of proper preparation.”

He wasn’t telling me anything new. Every problem we’ve had with our house has been due to our contractor’s lack of something (I’m tempted to say, “like a brain,” but I’ll be polite).

So now I’m sitting here hoping that winter will last until June or July. That’s because once the spring thaw comes and the ground starts to get soggy again, we just might have to turn into “mole people” to find the front door.