OUR TWO-WEEK TEMPEST
Suddenly Rob and I weren’t in Kansas anymore. We were caught up in a tornado, only partly of our own making, and as innocently as it all began, we were spinning out of control and never quite sure where we’d land.
It all began with a back porch flood.
Well, no, it all began with a river trip, planned at least nine months earlier—Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, with the two of us and various family members departing California on different days in October to join Tauck Tours in Basel.
Some things I knew in advance: I’d have to add extra make-up classes to my normal teaching schedule; one week before departure I’d have to spend two full days at a writer’s conference; I’d have to finish my part in a breast-care book with Dr. John West; I’d have to go on eating and sleeping.
What neither of us factored in were kidney stones, surgery, visits to Kirk, a suddenly-departed front tooth and a flood.
Rob’s unexpected flare-up with kidney stones in early August caught us by surprise. His urologist put him “under” and tried lithotrypsy but got nowhere; he couldn’t even locate the stones. Instead, the doctor inserted a ureter stent, and from then on, Rob bled gratuitously (but safely, the doctor assured us) . . . though the stent kept poking him, which I knew because for months Rob groaned every time he moved.
In late September, though water was in short supply everywhere else, in our house it poured. “The service porch potty seems sluggish,” Rob announced one day. “But I think I’ve cleared it. You should try the washing machine, Babe, and see if it drains.” He should have ordered a rowboat.
I turned on the washer and left the room. Twelve minutes later, I noticed water creeping around the corner into the kitchen. “Rob!” I shrieked. “Come quick! We’ve got a flood!”
In seconds Rob was there. By then the water in our bathroom was two inches deep. “Mops!” he shouted, “Buckets!” as the two of us stared at the potty, still disgorging sudsy washing-machine water. “Turn off the damn machine!”
We came up with different solutions. Whatever Rob intended, I simply grabbed a bucket and mop, and began sponging up and squeezing out water. Rob gave up on his own plan and ran my full buckets outside. Eventually, our back porch wading pool was more or less emptied—though clearly, we no longer had a useful washing machine or a usable toilet.
The two of us figured we’d had a twenty-minute problem.
It turned out that plumbers, restoration folks, contractors, and our insurance company thought otherwise. After a flood, twenty minutes is a joke. Instead we’d embarked on a two-month Mold-Prevention Plan—meaning tear-outs of wet walls and floors and appliances and water heaters, not to mention re-flooring the kitchen and digging through old linoleum for lead and/or asbestos . . . plus two costly rotorings of drain pipes under the house. (One plumber said with a long face, “If you don’t use our special diamond-bore equipment, you’ll have to tear out all the drains under the sub floors. We’ll only charge three thousand dollars—a lot cheaper than new pipes.”)
Our own plumber did the job for six hundred.
Rob and I were no longer thinking about our trip, two weeks away. Instead Rob—between stent stabbings--started a file on all the services we now needed to restore the house. Luckily, we found a spare afternoon to go choose new flooring, figuring we’d start the job after we returned.
Suddenly a new idea struck us. Why not do all the tear-outs while we’re gone? Who needs several weeks at home with no usable kitchen?
Meanwhile, the writing issues never stopped. With extra classes, I pedaled six hours on my stationery bike reading student manuscripts. I carved out untold hours at the computer, trying to finish the breast care book. I managed to squeeze in a Saturday and Sunday for the writer’s conference. And I do mean squeeze.
At Saturday night’s conference banquet, after a day of teaching assignments, I sat down beside two unknown women—both agents, I soon learned. We’d just begun eating when I suddenly bit down on a rock. Shocked, I pulled it out of my mouth. The thing wasn’t a rock. It was my front tooth.
Abruptly my appetite vanished. How would I give two speeches, starting Sunday morning at nine . . . when I now appeared homeless? Covering my face, I jumped from the table, found a conference director, and said, “Look what just happened. No tooth. I can’t show up tomorrow morning looking like a witch,” and he gave me his cell number. “Well, keep me posted.”
Dinnerless and back home, I found Rob had called our dentist. Finally, at ten that night, we reached him. He agreed to meet me in his Santa Ana office Sunday morning at 7:30. It was a miracle that this marvelous man had my front tooth re-glued by eight a.m., leaving me just enough time to drive ten miles and appear for my two, hour-and-a-half speeches. After I shared my tooth story with the audience, they practically gave me a standing ovation. One lady said to me and everyone else, “You just gave us the best talk of the conference.” Which beat the hell out of how the world looked to me the night before.
As I did writer stuff, Rob carved out time for other dentist appointments, for himself and Kirk. Besides the fact that we suddenly had to re-order mis-issued Britrail passes (with scant days to spare), neither of us gave our Europe trip more than passing thought.
Meanwhile, Rob’s stents were still stabbing—and we no longer had a week left for safe urological surgery. Still, the doctor decided to try. On the Thursday before our Monday departure, Dr. Norouzi, looking absolutely determined, said, “I’ll laser that stone out of your kidney. This time I’ll get it.” His lips and chin had the steely, hard-set look of a man about to use dynamite.
Early Thursday afternoon, the doctor caught me in the surgical waiting room. He was smiling. “I blasted that big stone into pieces,” he said. “I had to keep going back up the ureter to get the fragments. So I put a tube inside to save abrasion against the walls.”
“Like an artificial tunnel,” I said.
“Exactly.” He nodded. “I also put in a brand new stent. He’s ready to go home.”
As it turned out, Rob was not ready. He was awake, but drunk. Anesthesia drunk-- slurring his words as he flirted with all the nurses. They seemed to think he was cute.
I thought he was a bit much—less cute, and more of a limp lump—impossible for one female to get into the house. Now a huge problem loomed: four contractors due at our house in half an hour. Suddenly in a bind, I left Rob to sober up and rushed home. All our relatives but Dane had already left for Basel. Maybe the contractors could muscle Rob into the house. Knowing this wasn’t part of their job description, I used my cell to call Dane, just coming home from Las Vegas.
“I can pick up Grandpa Rob,” Dane said.
And thus we conquered another obstacle. I felt like we were beating down the enemy battalions, one by one. Our whirling tornado was actually slowing down.
Finally sobered up, Rob was well enough on Friday to help me clear every surface in four rooms. I couldn’t believe we did it. But in two days, we had the business half of our house emptied out like nobody lived there. We even left ourselves one day to pack.
The tornado had finally set us down again. Gently. With one book finished, the writing classes handled, two speeches delivered with a toothy smile, one kidney stone mostly gone, Rob with a stent that didn’t hurt, and one front tooth restored.
Above all, our house was now ready for new floors. Happiness floated through the rooms as we packed. Surely the trip would now be terrific. Practically a gift.
Well it was—nearly. Never mind that my front tooth fell out again as the plane reached London . . . (thank God for Swiss dentists), or that two weeks later, on the way home from LAX, Rob lost a big gold crown to a chunk of licorice, kindly sent by Tracy.
To look at us now, you’d think we were nicely restored, as good as before. And restored beyond what we’d hoped, like photos out of “House Beautiful,” are all our new tile and Hickory wood floors.