Sunday, June 28, 2020

San José de Gracia

San José de Gracia, Las Trampas, NM

For two weeks I’ve done nothing but whine about my broken hip. But now something different.  Photographs. A week ago Saturday Peggy drug my aching butt to Santa Fe to trade a couple of paintings and to pick up BBQ from our beloved Whole Hog on Guadalupe Street. We ordered ahead and picked up $56 of smoky goodness which we figured was just enough for two hungry elders. It was our first take-out meal in three months if you don’t count a couple of supermarket chickens and a loaf of bread from Flour in Durango.

Mailboxes on SR 113A in Nambé, NM
We had already planned to return to Taos on the High Road through Chimayo, Truchas and Peñasco. It was my first outing since my infernal crash. We intended to photograph along the way. We took a side road in Nambé, one we’d never tried. We discovered a remarkably upscale neighborhood replete with ranchos on wooded acreage. A total surprise to both of us. There was a cluster of mailboxes and a stately church, Sagrado Corazon, at the top of the hill. All new to our eyes and all reaffirming that you need to take the random path to who knows where whenever you have the chance.

San José de Gracia

Detail of San José de Gracia with white cross against the diagonal shadow bottom center
The real jewel of our meander however and to some extent our goal was San José de Gracia, the Catholic mission church built in the village of Las Trampas (the traps) between 1761 and 1776. When Las Trampas was established by 12 Spanish families in 1751 northern New Mexico was not settled. Juan de Arguello who was 74 at the time led the founding families from Santa Fe to build a community in this unlikely location in the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo mountains for reasons that are lost in history. Remote villages like Trampas struggled with arid conditions, savage winters and the threat of raids by the Apache, Ute and Comanche. Yet by 1776 when San José was consecrated the community had grown to 63 families and a population of 279.

I have often proclaimed San José as a better example of Spanish Mission design and construction than the better-known San Francisco de Asis in Ranchos de Taos which was built between 1772 and 1816. And, for what it's worth, I find it more imposing and fortress like. In research for my July-August article in Shadow and Light Magazine I learned that the church is thought to be the most original and best-preserved example of Spanish Colonial church architecture in New Mexico. The operating theory is that it has stayed “original” because of its remote location at 8,000 feet on the High Road to Taos and because its traditional Hispano community has been little influenced by the outside world. Certainly, the sleepy village of Las Trampas feels like you’ve taken a time machine back to the mid-1800s. May it remain so.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Urgent Caring

Yesterday at the kitchen sink. Excuse the face in shadow.

It has been eleven days since the accident when I fell of my bicycle and broke my hip. I would not choose to suffer the injury but the support I have received has been extraordinary. It reminds me that most people are genuinely caring and want to help. That realization started in the Emergency Room of Holy Cross Hospital on Wednesday and Thursday, June 10 and 11.  And it was reinforced on Sunday, June 14 when I went to ER with a swollen lower leg and foot. Every doctor, nurse and technician I met at Holy Cross was empathetic and committed to diagnosing my condition and prescribing the best procedures for my recovery. I remember most every one of them by name, know a little about them and recall parts of our conversations. Everybody has a story and each one is worth telling.

Friday post X-ray in court appointed bloomers. 

Let me write that down. So, you said I have to use that stupid walker for 12 weeks.

At 3:00PM Wednesday I was greeted by Camille, a nurse from Virginia near Washington, D.C. Camille and her husband had been in Taos for only two months. I asked how she learned about the town and she told me she had done a three-month assignment here last year. In Latin it is called locum tenens. She liked it so much that she and her husband decided to move here. And since he is in financial industry he can work from home. She was glad to be here. I told her I was very glad she had chosen Taos.

X-rays were taken and came back negative for fractures in the hip, pelvis, femur, knee and elbow. I harbored hope that nothing was broken. Then Dr. Peter Neff, the orthopedist on call came by. He was young, hirsute and buff. His easy manner inspired confidence. He said that the while the X-rays didn’t show any fractures I was in such discomfort that they’d have to do a CT scan to be sure. Like the X-rays the scan was done right there in the room and it showed a fracture near the top of the femur called the greater trochanter. He described the break as unusual as if that would be a surprise. I wouldn't have an injury that wasn’t special. Because the fracture was not completely through the femur, that it was diffuse, it could be dealt with by six weeks without downward pressure on my right leg, in short a walker, and with physical therapy which should begin as soon as possible. I was disheartened by the six weeks but glad I didn’t need surgery. The efficacy of this non-intrusive course of action was to be confirmed by an X-ray and a follow-up appointment on Friday, June 19. I whined about my stupid decision to ride with osteoporosis after foregoing it for five years. What was I thinking? I described how the accident happened when my foot came out of my pedal and declared that was my last bike ride. Ever. Neff, an avid cyclist, told me “Don’t jump to conclusions so soon. Get platform pedals that don’t have a locking mechanism. They won’t be quite as fast but you won’t have your feet stuck on the pedals.”

I allowed that was probably valid but. “I can’t imagine any circumstance that would move me to ride again.” And I still can’t.

The night nurse, Falko, was from Germany. I asked what part and he told me he was from the East, 100 miles south of Berlin. He was extremely fit. I told him he looked like an athlete and asked what sports he participated in. He told me he had been a swimmer. He said he was also a martial artist. Behind a face mask judging his age was difficult. I found myself wondering if he was old enough to have been part if the East German sports machine, the drug fueled state system of winning at all costs. I’d like to know more about him.

“Do you always work the night shift?”  He answered, “Always. I prefer it.” Falko was sincerely concerned about my well-being and I was moved by his attention and kindness. I felt like I’d met a kindred spirit.

As dawn broke and I hadn’t slept, Cipry Jaramillo the hospitalist in on duty, visited my space. When I asked what the next steps would be and made it apparent that I counting on going home Dr. Jaramillo of Belen, NM cautioned that, “You shouldn’t count on getting out today. In fact, you’ll probably be staying another night and maybe have to go into a rehab facility.”

I was apoplectic. There was no way I was staying another night. There was zero chance of rehab stint at the Taos Living Center. That’s where people go to die as far as I’m concerned. I was rehearsing my refusal speech when Jaramillo told me, “It’s all up to physical therapy’s recommendation. They’re going to set you up with a walker and we’ll see how it goes. Personally, I think you should stay at least one more night.”

“When will I see a therapist?”

“By 9:30 I’d guess.

A few minutes later the therapist Spencer Bushnell appeared with a DRIVE walker, “the only one you may use” he stressed. He had me get off the bed, no mean task in my condition, and walk out to the hallway using the walker. I scuffed along in my johnny for maybe 30 feet passing Dr. Neff is the process. When I got back to my cell Spencer told me, “You’re good to go.” Lord, I was giddy. 

The next day when I scheduled my first PT I asked for Spencer or for Katherine Kulp who’d led me through the rotator cuff minefield in January and February. I told the scheduler that I’d like Spencer, Katherine or someone who was a hip specialist. Since Spencer was away the following week, I had my first PT session with Katherine on Wednesday. The first visit was largely diagnostic though she manipulated my right leg and gave me three exercises for my right quadricep, knee and ankle. Being a compliant patient, I have done them faithfully ever since. I am scheduled for two visits this week and hope that she’ll assign cardio and strengthening exercises soon. I’m anxious to maintain as much fitness as possible.

On Friday Dr. Marvel, real name, reviewed the new pics and proclaimed that everything looked good. I could continue with the therapy. The decision to mend without surgery was the right call. I finally bought in.

Then he dropped the bomb. I’d be using a walker for 12 weeks not six as I wanted to believe. 12 weeks wasn’t part of any conversation. I thought six weeks was the gold standard for good as new. Uh, no.

I’m will be batshit crazy by September.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Don't cry for me, Argentina

The man I used to be. National Triathlon Championships, Hilton Head, South Carolina, 1987.

Once in a while something happens that forces you to reassess your priorities, to analyze the things that make you tick and that really matter. That happened to me last Wednesday when I crashed my Trek Madone racing bike on West Rim Road near the Rio Grande Gorge.  I broke my hip. That’s significant enough but is made more so since my osteoporosis doctor warned me not to fall when he diagnosed the condition five years ago. I gave up skiing and bicycling the moment I got the news back in 2015. I reckoned that If you ski you will absolutely fall. And if you ride enough you will probably take tumble. But two weeks ago, the urge to mount my carbon fiber steed and ride fast through the high desert west of Taos was too great to ignore. My calculus was that I had crashed only twice in 35 years and many thousands of miles of riding. At that delusional moment, the risk seemed slight. After all crash one was caused by a broken front wheel during a triathlon in Lewiston, Maine. That was a fluke. And the other occurred when I had to lay my bike on the pavement when a driver cut me off. Neither resulted in an injury though I had to drop out of the race in Maine. Two weeks ago, I rode two times, the first was 20 miles on my favorite out and back route. The second was 24 miles on the same route toward Carson, a speck in the road with a post office and little else. God, I loved it. I was completely pumped. It was so much more rewarding than riding a stationary trainer or even running outdoors. Riding made me feel like the athlete I was 30 years ago.
Then disaster struck. My left foot came out of my Speedplay pedal. That’s never happened before. The pressure of my right foot on my right pedal sent me flying onto my right side and sliding across on the gravel littered asphalt. I found myself sprawled on the tarmac, in tremendous pain and unsure if I could get up at all. After a couple of minutes, I was able to get on my hands and knees and stand up. As I was standing up a car passing in the opposite direction made a U-turn and pulled in behind me. The couple in the vehicle approached me and asked if they could take me and bike somewhere. “Do you have somebody you can call?” the gray-haired gentleman asked. I said.” I can call my wife.”

“Where can we take you? We can take you into town.”

I said I was parked at the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge Visitors center a couple of miles away. “That’s I where always park to ride to Carson or Tres Piedras.”

Though it was almost impossible to walk I declined the couple’s offer to drive me home or to the hospital. I hoped I could move my right leg enough to accelerate and brake. When we got to the parking lot, I called Peggy and she said she’d come to get me immediately. I said I really wanted to drive home so I could shower before going to the emergency room. I hadn’t bathed before my ride thinking that I’d clean up after. And now I was bleeding like a stuck pig from my right elbow and knee. I was picking gravel out of the road rash on my right knee until Friday.

I was in the hospital for 24 hours. I'd never been in one overnight. We checked in at 2PM Wednesday. I was assigned a ER room around 3. Then at midnight I was moved to a hospital bay next to a guy recovering from shoulder surgery. He snored continuously and ta buzzer went off every seven seconds throughout the night. I yelled or cleared my throat every time the snoring became unbearable. I did not sleep.

The point of all of this is that I’ve spent 44 years with fitness as my number one commitment in life after family and career. It’s how I identify myself. The broken hip calls that commitment, some would say obsession, into question. Almost certainly I will never ride a bike again. Dr. Neff, the orthopedist and an avid cyclist who diagnosed my fracture, told me not to jump that conclusion yet and went so far as to recommend a platform pedal that would prevent me from being locked into my pedals. I’m am unconvinced. Now I’m too afraid to ride.

As to running Dr. Neff says he thinks I will be able to run once the fracture heals in six weeks or so. That’s important to me but not as much as I would have thought. The injury has made me review my priorities and to wonder how important exercising ten hours a week should be to someone staring at 79. I realize that part of this introspection is girding myself for the likelihood that my physical fitness life cannot be what it was. I’m preparing to be old. Somehow, I thought I’d be spared that indignity.

The last four days on my back, taking an array of pain pills and managing a walker have been the longest four days of my life. I tell myself that I’ll have all this time to write the great American novel. But I couldn’t care less. I have 41 days left in my sentence. How long is that? 10.25 times longer than the interminable last four days.

Yesterday Peggy noticed that my right foot and lower leg were swollen. She gave both extremities the feather tickle test and the sense of touch on my right foot and leg was 75% of my good leg. Our first thought was blood clot. It’s one of the things you look at when you’ve had a fracture. This was 10:00AM on a Sunday. I called Taos Orthopaedic as instructed if I had any problems. The answering service told me that the doctor on call was Dr. Franklin, but he was in surgery. She told me she would have Franklin call when he got out of surgery at around noon. At 1:00PM he called. I explained my symptoms. When he asked if I had a tingling sensation in my right leg I answered. “Yes. That’s how I’d describe it.” His tone changed. He said, “I don’t ordinarily advise this, but you should get an ultrasound. The only place in Taos where you can get one on a Sunday is Holy Cross Hospital. I’ll call ahead to request the procedure.”

By 2:00:PM we were at ER for the ultrasound only to learn they don’t do them on weekends. I argued that Dr. Franklin said they would. The registration human was unmoved but signed me in so I could to let me fight the ultrasound battle with the doctors and nurses. Nurse Camille took my vitals. I recognized her immediately. She was my nurse when I checked into ER Wednesday. I explained my symptoms to her and told her that if I couldn’t get the ultrasound right then Peggy would insist on driving me to Albuquerque or Denver if that is what it took to find out if I have blood clot.

Soon the hospitalist, Dr. Bouvier, came to the examination room. I retold my symptoms and made my pitch for the ultrasound here and now. She explained that the hospital doesn’t do them on weekends. Instead they administer a battery of blood pressure tests on both arms and ankles and to do a D-Dimer blood test that shows if there are elevated levels of fibrin degradation that would indicate the possibility of a blood clot. My BP numbers were all fine. But I had elevated fibrin degradation. I went from bliss to worry though Dr. Bouvier had cautioned me that elevated numbers don’t necessarily mean you have a blood clot. I’d need an ultrasound to know for sure. Uh yeah, I know that. When she came into the room, she said that she had been able to reach an ultrasound technician who was willing to come in on a Sunday to administer the procedure. I have no doubt that Dr. Bouvier went the extra step and made that happen. Knowing whether I had a blood or didn't would be a relief. Knowing matters and next steps can be taken in real time.

The ultrasound came back negative. No clots.

Wednesday I start physical therapy. What a guy can do when he can’t use one of his legs is a mystery to me. Some upper body work while sitting I’m sure. Maybe a recumbent style bike with enough cushioning to protect my aching ass. To quote the immortal James Hindman, “More will be revealed.”

Sunday, June 07, 2020

Is that a camera in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?

Today’s post is of photographs made over the last couple of weeks. I could have followed-up on last week’s dark prognostication of massive restaurant closings. I'm being inundated with obituaries of storied eating and drinking establishments that have closed for good thanks to COVID-19. One opened in 1945. The owners have used up their cash reserves and a half assed (50% of capacity is half isn't it?) opening as mandated would plunge them deeper into the tank. “No thanks.” They’re saying. “I’m not taking a second mortgage on my house to sustain the agony.” It’s not that a tempered reopening is wrong. It’s the right thing to do but isn't fiscally responsible for many operators. Still hope springs eternal and I'm guessing more than 75% of these optimists will roll the dice. Man, I hope it works.

I’ve been a casual photographer at best over the last three months. The unifying theme of work has been the sky or more specifically the clouds in the sky, something we have aplenty in the arid 7,000-foot desert of northern New Mexico. New Mexico skies could keep a guy engaged for another 78 years. Our epic skies and a little foreground interest are all I’ve got to show for my social isolation.

All of these, by the way, were shot with the iphone in my front pocket and processed with Snapseed. Don't judge me for being expedient. Or is it lazy?