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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Monday, December 27, 2004

Day 3 "So What Does That Mean?"

Continued from post below:
Tuesday, December 14, 2004: “So What Does That Mean?”

The next morning the girls woke early, eager to make the day pass quickly. I was going to the hospital; they were going to classes, and by afternoon, mom would probably be home. We made sure the house was picked up as we left. I stopped by the office to tie up some loose ends, and an hour later, I was wondering the halls of the unfamiliar hospital like a lost lab rat. With the help of some smarter rats, I finally found the right hall and room.

Julie was feeling fine considering she had hardly slept. Every hour had been punctuated with some scheduled interruption or other. And at 1:00AM, a new patient was brought to “bed one” behind the drawn curtain. (Clinically speaking, she was a morbidly obese “possible stroke” patient [though they’d pretty much ruled it out by morning—the stroke not the obesity.] For breakfast, Julie got a bowl of oatmeal and a bran muffin, which was fine, but the ailing lady on the other side of the curtain called the kitchen and ordered bacon, sausage, eggs, hash browns—the full “farmers breakfast”—and she got it!.

“So What does that mean?” Julie mouthed.
“That’s a good sign,” I whispered, “It probably means they have high hopes for you and that they attribute your fine figure to eating light breakfasts.” Oh, that such kind truths always fell trippingly off my tongue.

Just then a nurse came in, wrote some new numbers on a small chalk board on the wall, then left. Blood pressure was still good. Troponin was now point two one (.21). The other letters and numbers were meaningless to us.
“So what does all that mean?” Julie asked.
“Well, the one that starts with “t” is up slightly, but only slightly,” I said.
“Isn’t that the one they want to go down?” she asked.
“I think so, but we need some sort of range to know what it means.”

In stepped a polite Middle Eastern man with a kind accent. I knew before he spoke that this had to be Dr. Abuman. I’d heard through the grapevine (a medical grapevine that until the night before I didn’t know existed) that he would be Julie’s doctor, but I had forgotten how to say his name. He asked Julie to tell him about her Monday “episodes” as he called them, and she ended her story with two questions that were very important to her: Did she have a heart attack? And if so, was it brought on by something she did? She was pleased with both answers:

“First of all. No. This was not a heart attack. It’s semantics I know, but I would simply call this an episode. Something got your attention and you got our attention and now together we want to learn what it is. But if a heart attack is… let’s say a hundred points; what you have experienced is about a half of one point. I understand why you ask, and I tell you have my permission to not call this a heart attack—there is no damage to your heart for instance, but the last two EKGs show something that the first two did not. As to your other question…. You are what? A teacher? Very active. You work hard and go go go… This did not cause your episode.
“I didn’t think so. I do try to get a lot done in a day,” she explained, “but it’s not at all stressful for me.”
“When we say “stress on a heart” we do not mean stress as in “hectic day stress” we mean not enough oxygenated blood is getting to heart muscle (that’s what triggers the troponin level). In your case we suspect the front left muscle which is most important was involved. But that is an urban legend about stress, I say. With someone your age and healthy like you, doing your job and being busy has nothing to do with this episode. When we fix what is wrong, you’ll still work hard just like you did before. You did nothing to cause this. It is most likely heredity.”
“You say ‘when we fix this.’ What does that mean? Am I not going home today?” Julie asked.
“We’ll see. I don’t think we’re going to put you on a treadmill. I’m waiting on a call from one of my partners, Dr. Ryder.”
I tossed in a thought I’d been holding, “I noticed that the trobonin level is up a little,” (still not sure how to say the word) “but what does that mean? Can you give us a range or something to compare it to?”

“That is a good question? That is why we are both optimistic and… uh…watchful.” He wrote a new slightly higher number by the word “trop” on the chalkboard. “This went up slightly in the 5:00 sample, but the count is still very low, but troponin is very specific enzyme to heart muscle. That’s why even when it’s very low we pay attention. I’m going to go call to Dr. Ryder discuss your last EKG, see a few others, and then I come back.”

His words were sensible and somewhat reassuring—especially when a nurse came in a little later and wrote the most recent troponin number on the board. It was lower than the one Dr. Abuman had written.
“That’s good, right? Are you sure that’s the most recent test?” we asked.
“Yes, it just came back,” she said.
“So what does that mean?” Julie asked, “Can I go home today?”
“I really can’t say. It depends…but you’re right that the count has peaked and that’s good. The doctor will be able to answer your other questions.”
Dr. Abuman came in as the nurse stepped out.
“I just talked with my partner, and we are not going to put you on the treadmill, because that tells us very little in your case. We know from the EKG that there was an irregularity. Little? Yes. But you’re young and should not have to wonder ’about this. We also don’t like to wonder, so we are going to send you to Mercy for a “heart cath.” Do you know what this is?”

“We do, but that one count went down. That’s good. Last night’s doctor said I could do the treadmill if that went down,” she said hoping to change his mind.

“Yes, that’s true, and that means we caught something before it happened, but we now know more than we knew last night and the heart cath may show us what we caught. It will give us a true picture.”

“Is something wrong,” Julie asked.

“We won’t know without a cath, but I think there is something. I could be wrong. I’m not 100% sure, but about 95% sure that they will find a blockage in the left-coronary artery, and in your case, I think they’ll find just one. This would be corrected simply with angioplasty and a stint all at the same time. It is very common procedure. This is not surgery it’s just a procedure.”

“Can we go ahead and do this today?” Julie asked, still eager to go home.
“I don’t think so, but I will check. Maybe.” He smiled at her spirit.
“Will you do the procedure?” He had earned her trust.
“I can’t because I’m the attending physician here all week, but my partner, Dr. Ryder wants to do this for you and will work you in as soon as possible. He is very good. I think this will be tomorrow morning. They will take you to Mercy by ambulance, but don’t be frightened. It’s just policy.” He stepped toward the door and turned, “It’s good that you came. Don’t worry. We’ll take care of you.”

Her smile turned to a sigh as he left, “Another night. Will you stay with me?” I assured her that I would.

In thirty short minutes, we had gone from a postponed walk on a treadmill to a scheduled ride in an ambulance. In spite of Dr. Abuman's reassuring explanation—just and episode, just a procedure, just a policy —we felt like this had escalated to a new level. Until then, we had assumed that Julie would be back home, back to work, etc. saying “Guess where I spent the night?” They’d laugh and things would go on as usual. We had told only a few people where we were because there was just nothing to say. Though there was still no alarm, a three-day disappearance is harder to explain, so we called our family and some co-workers to assure them all was well.

Just before lunch, Julie’s sister Melanie called back to tell us she and their mother, Donna, had gotten tickets to fly in from Kansas City that same day. Julie tried to talk them out of it, but Mel reasoned that Julie would go if this were one of our daughters, and Mom was coming—simple as that; and since Mom was coming, she was joining her—simple as that. Julie smiled as she told me and pretended to “wish they wouldn’t do that,” but from then on she felt much better about the whole thing—still wanted me to spend the night—but was less anxious about the girls being home alone. The arrival of Grandma and Aunt Melanie was a bright spot of the evening.

To some, I suppose, it may seem a little unnecessary that I spent the night at the hospital, but of the nearly 9,000 nights since our first together, we have probably been apart less than twenty-five. (Most of those were my trip to Israel in 1997.) I don’t know many couples who can say that (or who would even want it to be so) but for us, it’s normal… and just one of the benefits of having worked at the same school with the same schedules, conventions, Senior Trips, etc. for twenty-five years.

Day Two: On the Safe Side

Continued from the post below:
Monday, December 13, 2004: “On the Safe Side”
The next morning I got up around 5:00 to check the snow. By 6:15, no other area districts had closed, but I decided to be on the safe side and post a two-hour delay for school. Julie started the staff phone chain and then called each of our 23 preschool parents herself just to be on the safe side (in case they forgot that preschool is cancelled on such mornings). She finished by 7:00.

About an hour later, I saw her sitting up straight in the chair beside the piano with troubling look in her eyes. It reminded me of the “focus” she used during birth contractions (but without the pain and Lamaze breathing). She told me she was a little light-headed but it was getting better.

“There. It’s gone,” she stated with a matter-of-fact smile and went upstairs.
About 9:30, Ann, Clair, and I were ready to go to school. (Julie wanted us to all drive together…just to be on the safe side.) She called me into the living room where she was sitting alone in front of the Christmas tree with that same quiet look on her face.

"I'm still feeling a little woozy--not sick just weak. I don't think I'll go into school now, maybe after lunch."
“That’s fine. Just stay home and rest, but let’s give Dr. Watson a call just to be on the safe side. At least call one of your nurse friends and see what they say.” I suggested.
“No, I know what they’ll say, and I don’t want to spend the day getting poked for blood. This is probably just that cinnamon tea I’ve been drinking.”
“Honey, I doubt it’s the cinnamon tea.” I said with a fading smile. “You know what this reminds me of? The day you and I were trying to talk Dad into calling a doctor. Why don’t I just stay home with you?”
“No. No. This isn’t anything like that. It’s just sort of a vague wave of blah—it will go away. I don’t want Ann driving in the snow, so you need to go. There. It’s gone,” she said as convincingly as the first time.
She stood and walked me to the door. I gave her a kiss and encouraged her to stay home and just touch base with school every hour or so.

As the morning passed, Julie found some school work she could do by phone with the office. No mention of anything to the secretaries. I called her at noon. Everything was still fine. A couple hours later, I was on the phone with a parent when Dianne, our receptionist, stepped into my office with a note that read: “Judy Hanks on line one. Please take immediately.” Judy is on staff but was calling as one of our “nurse friends.” She had just gotten off the phone with Julie who had called her about the weird symptoms of that morning. They had come again but felt a little more like a contraction and Judy convinced her to go to the ER just to be on the safe side. I grabbed my coat, and headed home to get her.

Julie was feeling fine when we arrived at General, so I dropped her off at the ER entrance, parked the car, and hurried in to join her. By the time I sat down beside her, a receptionist was standing over her, completing a questionnaire on a clipboard. I thought it was odd that most of the items pertained to me as the insurance holder, but Julie knew the answers so I just sat there trying to gather my thoughts. After the last question, the lady turned to me and asked, “Would you like a wheel chair?”

“Oh, I don’t think so,” I replied, “but you can ask her.”
She leaned toward Julie and whispered, “Do you want him in a wheel chair?”
Julie laughed, “Him? He’s not the patient—I am. That’s why I was answering the questions.”
“Oh, I just thought he was being difficult. Men can be like that sometimes.” She ripped the sheet from the clipboard, “Now we gotta do this all over again.”
I just sat there, trying to look “undifficult” and secretly determined to lose 25 pounds June.
Things were off to a great start.

Looking back on it, I’m thankful that there was no sense of “emergency” in the hours that followed. Judy had joined us to interpret medical jargon as a string of ER staff filed in to ask the same battery of questions: Blood pressure? Good. Weight? Good; Exercise? Yes; Cholesterol? Low; Sleep? Eight hours. Smoke? No; Drink? No; Chew? No; Run with them that do? No. etc. It was really quite affirming, but it did remind me of Mark Twain’s bit about his smoking cigars in order to have something to "quit." He often yarned of the time he advised a very proper lady who'd come down with lumbago: “I ran through a list of bad things hoping to find one or two she could quit in order to be cured. But she proudly announced that she could not quit doing those things, because she had never done them… So there it was….She’d neglected her habits…why even one or two little bad habits could’ve saved her… but she was a sinking vessel with no freight to throw overboard.”

That seemed to be Julie’s plight. Each of the questioners looked baffled by this fit-45-year-young specimen perched on a paper-covered table in their world. Last in the line up was the head ER doctor who brushed back the curtain and stepped into the room with a reassuring smile.

“Hello, Julie, I’m Dr. Bower,” she said. “The EKG came back negative and preliminary tests look good. I’m not 100% certain, but at this time, I’d say this is not your heart. That’s good, but we’d still like to help you know what’s going on. I’m still waiting on one result from your blood work. Once I see that that’s okay, I’m going to have you step on the treadmill for a stress test. If that checks out, we’ll send you home and keep in touch. Meanwhile, try to think about anything different you might have eaten or anything that may have pulled a muscle.”
She stepped out of our niche and pulled the curtain shut. As an at-home RN, Judy was thinking, “I must have lost my touch; I talked my friend into coming here for nothing,” but we just sat in silence watching Julie think.

“I’ll bet it was the salsa!” she confessed, “I ate two big plates of chips and salsa after we got back from the peer last night.” She went on and on about how good it was, sounding very much like the lady who first offered us the sample Sam’s Club. I added that some of the pastors and I had experienced an “after burn” from that salsa the week before. (It’s a bit heavy on the onions.)

“Let’s hope that’s what it is,” Judy agreed, “but don’t be sorry you came in to check it out. Female heart symptoms aren’t as classic as they are with men, and women tend to ignore irregularities when they’re body’s trying to tell them something’s not quite right. You did the right thing by coming in.”

Just then an orderly rolled a wheelchair into the room and asked Julie to put her tennis shoes on for the treadmill.
“Did the doctor see the last blood test?” Judy asked politely.
“I don’t know. They just told me to come and get her for a stress test.”
Julie wiggled her tied tennies and announced, “I’m ready to run.”
“But you weren’t supposed to do the treadmill until the doctor knows one more result from the blood tests,” Judy reminded.
The orderly wasn’t sure, so he left the wheelchair and went to double-check his paperwork. A moment later, he returned.
“You can take off your shoes,” he said, “The doctor coming to explain.”
He left with the wheelchair and Julie’s smile, but her puzzled eyes remained hopeful.

The doctor came in and calmly explained that Julie’s “troponin level” (a term we had never heard but would come to know) was slightly elevated to zero point one seven (0.17). “That is just slightly above normal, but it may indicate some sort of cardiac irregularity came and went before we did the EKG—not a heart attack, per se—but we never do the treadmill with a trop-count over 0.05.” She held her clip board against her chest and looked into Julie’s eyes with compassion and competence. “We’re going to keep you overnight— just to be on the safe side. If the count goes down, we’ll do the stress test in the morning. A nurse will be here in a bit to take you to your room.”

Julie frowned playfully, “I really hoped it was the salsa.”
“Do you need me to bring anything from home?” Judy asked.
“No. I packed a bag for overnight just to be on the safe side.”

In her usual style she took in a deep breath and looked at me to begin thinking out loud. We decided not to tell the Ann and Clair until after that night’s volleyball game. We did this not because of the news itself but so the rest of their afternoon and evening could play out as planned. And it did. After the game, the three girls and I went to Hackley where Julie and I assured them that they were trying to figure out what was causing the symptoms. They had to do one more test in the morning so the doctor wanted to keep her overnight.

The news weighed differently on our daughters of twenty, seventeen, and nine, but each did surprisingly well as we said our “good nights” and promised to be together tomorrow. Julie and I were proud of them as they stepped into the hall to wait for me. The walk to the car and drive home was quiet until Ann finally spoke.

“You would tell us, wouldn’t you, if something was really wrong with Mom?”
I assured them all that we would and explained again why we had chosen not to tell them until that night. (I would do the same again.) Each of the girls just stared blankly out their windows. My mind, too, was sorting thoughts, then almost to my surprise, I was pulling up our driveway as if the car knew the way home by itself.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Day One: Between the Stillness and the Storm

The following post is from the night before Julie went into the hospital. The 8-day journal is for family and friends and will continue in posts above. (Names have been changed.)

Sunday, December 12, 2004: Prologue “The Winter Storm”

We’d gone together to the shore to see the breakers crash against the peer. Since our first winter here, we’d seen pictures of the red lighthouse coated in a shroud of ice, and we’d heard the sad stories of this peer during high-sea storms, but we’d never seen one for ourselves.

In the far-reaching headlights of cars parked behind us, shadowy swells rose and rolled across the concrete break wall. And there at the far end, the red lighthouse was awash in arching plumes of foam. A cold mist from the spewing surf and howling wind squinted our eyes as we leaned into the gale to hold our ground.

Julie gestured back toward the car, and we turned and let a strong gust push us toward the calm and common sense of shelter. The doors slammed tight behind us, and we just sat there, in awe of the contrast between the stillness and the storm. I rubbed my gloved hands together and started the car.

“Well, we can scratch that off of our list of ‘things worth doing once.’” I joked.
“You can go back out if you want,” she replied with a quick tilt of her head. The tilt meant: she was staying put, but if I wasn’t, she would be happy to watch me blow around from the car.
“No. I’m with you,” I said. Besides… I heard Bing in the background and turned up the radio to hear “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.” It seemed a pleasant omen to stay warm, so I crooned the male part as best I could, and turned the car toward home. Julie smiled but didn’t sing.

As we crossed the Grand Haven Bridge, the heavy snow began.

Thirty months later, I read this post and tested the prose in quatrameter/enjambment :

We’d gone together to the shore
to see the breakers crash against the peer.
In postcards since our first year here,
we’d seen the storied red lighthouse
coated in a shroud of hoary ice;
we’d heard the stories of this site--
souls washed away in high-sea storms,
but never had we'd seen it for
ourselves 'til then, in the headlights
of the dozen cars behind us
as shadowy swells rose and rolled
across the craggy, concrete wall.
Half-hidden by the falling snow
at the far end was the lighthouse
awash in arching plumes of foam.
A cold mist from the spewing surf
stung our cheeks and squinted our eyes.
We leaned against each gust and gale
to hold our ground then turned back t'ward
the car, letting the wind drive us
to the common sense of shelter
and the assurance of slammed doors
indifferent as the frosty glass
between the stillness and the storm.
I rubbed my gloved hands together
and fumbled with the ring of keys.
“Well, we can scratch that off the list
of ‘things worth doing once.’” I joked.
“You can go back out if you want,”
she said with a tilt of her head.
The tilt meant: she was staying put,
but she would be happy to watch
me blow around some more from there.
“No thanks. I’m gladly here with you,”
I said above the radio
In time to hear my favorite line,
crooned, “but Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”
The song was a pleasant omen.
I sang along as best I could,
'til the rhythm of the wipers
caught my eyes and ears at the bridge
and the heaviest snow began.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Let There Be Lights!

(Reposted for 2005 by popular demand)
Prologue: [prologue is Latin for “what you say before you speak”]
Tradition tells us that in the early 16th Century, Martin Luther fixed small candles to his Tannenbaum to represent stars on a holy night (and to foster the faith required to place open flames near combustible greenery). This time-honored custom was practiced by many homes (and former homes) for centuries. By the late 1800’s, dangerous tree candles were replaced by equally dangerous electric lights. These little thumb-scorchers were still in use when I was a kid; they were about the size of night-light bulbs, but they burned so hot they could dry-roast a balsam fir in twenty-four hours. (Scotch pines took longer.) Every year we heard stories about some family that left their tree lit while they weren’t home, and —poof!— there went Christmas up in smoke.

The late 20th Century produced one of the un-sung advancements of the technological revolution: cool-burning miniature Christmas tree lights. Recent studies have shown that these ubiquitous lights are now more likely to cause a nervous breakdown than a fire. In fact, Christmas Light String Manufacturers and Suppliers (CLauSMAS) recently reported that since 2001 more homes have burned to the ground during the holidays due to deep-fat turkey fryers than imported Christmas tree lights. Now that’s progress!

The safety of low cost miniature lights has redefined the law of “supply-and-demand.” The more Christmas lights China exports to America, the more things we find to attach them to. Some legislators warn that if a reasonable non-proliferation agreement isn’t soon struck, stringed lights may take over our neighborhoods like kudzu vines, which in turn could jeopardize China’s “favored nation” status. Meanwhile, the compulsion to “deck” (as the carol suggests) continues to reach far beyond “the halls.”

As a stop-gap measure, some religious leaders have revived Luther’s implied “Tannebaum Doctrine,” as they call it, which suggests that the use of Christmas lights be limited to evergreen things (including wreaths, garland, shrubs, etc.) Liberal theologians either disclaim the doctrine or argue that Luther intended it to include all things combustible not just green (thus allowing parishioners to trim their houses, etc.). I have no quarrel with those who hold the broader view as long as they are willing to defer to the “weaker brother” when appropriate (I Cor.8:9). Speaking of brothers…it may be helpful to read the following story before choosing sides in this seasonal debate.

Friday, December 17, 2004

A Chilling Yuletide Tail

My oldest brother Paul is the Clark Griswold of his block. He does not use hollow reindeer on his roof or any other kitschy yard props from Frankenmuth, but he has definitely added an “s” to Genesis 1:3. “Let there be lights.” He used to trim every architectural detail with perfect lines of white lights. It was pretty, but it looked like a giant connect-the-dot picture; now he trims the entire house with over 20,000 icicle lights, and it looks like a Thomas Kinkaid cottage…on steroids. Actually, the effect is quite breathtaking. Total strangers have mailed him thank-you notes for his contribution to the holidays.

When Paul wired this house, he put outlets in the soffits just for Christmas lights. They’re controlled by a timer in the garage. Edison would be proud. The actual hanging of lights takes an entire Saturday, but year after year, Paul finds solace in this ritual and joy in watching the house light up on cue each night.

One particular evening, after a heavy snowfall, Paul arrived home from work a little late, and the lights were already aglow as he pulled into the drive. He sat there in his car listening to the radio. It was the piano theme that Schroeder plays from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” (This song always makes Paul shrug his shoulders and bob his head like that one unnamed character dancing with the Peanuts gang on the stage.) He stepped out of car still dancing then quickly stopped in his tracks. There on the roof was an ugly unglaring flaw: the icicle lights along the large dormer of Katelyn’s room—were out!

Now, if you’re like me, you might be thinking: “Big deal; one string of lights; let it go till next year. Who’s gunna notice?” It’s sort of like the Venus De Milo
with her arms broken off—after a while, she looks fine? But to a luminary like Paul, it was as if he were standing on Ellis Island and Lady Liberty’s torch had gone out, which meant that the huddled masses yearning to breathe free would be left tempest tossed on their teeming shores. Paul shook his head. “Not on my watch, they won’t,” he sighed, and his breath rose like Marlboro smoke in the frosty air.

From inside the garage, he grabbed his aluminum ladder and a back-up set of lights. The ladder clanked against the roof as he scaled up to the snow-covered slope and then up and over to the dormer. He crawled to the front and plopped down as if riding a huge doghouse. Leaning slightly forward, he gently tugged the dead lights from the clips, and let the them drop fifteen feet below in a silent puff of white.

He took off his gloves and pulled the new bundle of lights from his jacket. (No matter how carefully miniature lights are put away, untangling them is like trying to shake a wadded string puppet from a Slinky.) Eventually, the long strand dangled down in front of him, and he pulled half of it up and over his shoulder like a scarf to keep it out of his way.

The outlet was way down to his left, barely within reach, and stretching down to it required extending his right leg as a counterbalance. He rehearsed the move once in his mind, took a deep breath, and reached as far down as he could to his left. “Can’t… reach…plug, Robin,” he said in an Adam West “Batman” voice. [Note of explanation: When it comes to heights, there are basically three kinds of people: those who avoid any height above a step stool; those who actually enjoy heights like iron workers and tree toppers; and those who are willing to work at heights but talk to themselves out loud whenever they do. Like many boys of the 60’s, my brothers and I tend to be in this third group. Adam West’s version of the Caped Crusader was a profound erudite to the ever-astonished Boy Wonder, but whenever the two of them were in distress, West’s lines came out in breathy spurts as if he were passing a kidney stone.] “Must…light…torch…Robin….Almost…there!” Finally, the plug went into the socket, and the lights lit up. “Yes!” His outstretched right leg began to shake with fatigue as his numb fingers slid the wire into the first and second clips. “Huddled masses…yearning…to breath…free, Robin.”

The upper clips could be easily reached and, therefore, prompted no Batman lines. Before moving down to his right, he just rested for a moment and warmed his bare hands up under the waistband of his jacket. Hunched over as he was high in the cold night air, he suddenly felt like Quasimodo on a gargoyle amid the spires of Notre Dame—in a U of M jacket! The irony of this image made him shiver, but his hands were warm enough to continue, so he stretched down toward the remaining clips. “Must…finish… job…Robin." His trembling hand pressed the wire into the last clip, and he pulled his body up with a sigh. His seat was numb, and his eyes watered in the cold as he looked at his watch. Twenty-five minutes had passed since he pulled into the driveway. “Not bad,” he thought to himself in a normal voice.

Wafting up through the pores of the house was the delicious aroma of his wife’s cooking. It then dawned on him that no one inside even knew he was home. “Time for supper,” he thought as he put on his gloves and tried to scoot backward, but for some reason, he didn’t seem to move. Maybe he was just too numb to feel it. He looked down and pushed back again but didn’t budge. “What in the world…?” he thought as he pulled the inseam of his leg back and saw that the snow he sat in had melted and his seat was frozen fast to the roof like the proverbial tongue on a flagpole.

He tried using the roof ridge as a pummel horse, but the length of his arms barely raised him. He tried wriggling himself up to stand, but his legs had no strength in this position. He tried rocking forward but could only go so far, so he leaned back to see if that would peel—Whoa!—he misjudged his center of gravity and dropped flat on his back, limbs flailing and body tottering until he pressed his arms down like outriggers.

His legs were now dangling uselessly over the end of the roof and his tired stomach muscles could barely hold them up. He tried breeching his back to raise his seat—that didn’t work—so he began thrusting his hips up at various angles until he just twitched there like an exhausted break dancer who’d run out of moves.

The problem, he now understood, was that the relaxed-fit of his jeans allowed him to move while the frozen fabric held firm. In fact, he was balancing, in part, by the seat of his pants, and he realized that one of two outcomes seemed inevitable: If they did break free, he could see himself sliding in slow motion off the side of the dormer and over the edge of the roof. On the other hand, if his pants stayed stuck, he might end up in tomorrow’s news: “Oakland Man Freezes Butt to Roof. Film at eleven.” It was that thought that kept him from calling for help, but just then he heard the faint sound of little girls laughing in the bedroom below. He began pounding on the roof to get their attention, and a moment later, the two of them were on the porch walk shouting up at their daddy.
“Hi, Daddy, when did you get home?” Lauren shouted.
“A little while ago. Can you go get Mommy?”
“We thought Santa came early. Whutcha doing up there?” asked Katelyn.
“I’m fixing the lights. Go get Mom, please.”
“She’s making supper,” Katelyn announced, “and we set the table.”
“I even made name cards,” Lauren added proudly.
“That’s nice, Sweetie, but my rear-end’s frozen to the roof, and if you don’t get Mommy, you’ll have to bring Daddy’s dinner up here.” Paul’s tone prompted no more questions. The girls ran inside, leaving the front door open. He could hear them shouting in the kitchen. “Mommy, Mommy! Daddy’s frozen to the roof. We thought it might be Santa, but it was only Daddy, and he can’t get down.” Dee turned off the oven and followed the girls to the front yard.
When she saw her husband up on the roof in a strange state of rest, she covered her mouth in shock (and to hide a bit of a smile).
“Hi, Honey. The girls thought Santa came early.” She said, testing his mood.
“Ho Ho Ho” he moaned without moving, too tired to sound angry.
“Are you really frozen to the roof?” she asked holding back a laugh.
“No, I thought I’d just come home after work and take a nap up here!” He tried to sound angry, but Dee could tell he was approaching that fine line men cross when they’re almost ready to admit that their current predicament will someday strike them as funny. Recognizing “funny someday” moments while they’re fresh is the secret to marital bliss.

“Well, can you take off your pants?” Dee suggested without really thinking.
“Yea, right, Honey. First of all, I can’t even reach my shoes, so my pants would be stuck at my ankles right about the time our neighbors come by walking their dog—besides… I’m so numb I can’t tell if my underwear isn’t frozen to the jeans.”
“Oh...well, that pretty much rules out that idea.” She paused then added, “I’ve heard of freezing your buns off,” she quipped, “but I never heard of freezin’ ‘em on.”
She laughed. Then Paul laughed. Then the girls felt free to join in.
“Now if we could stop laughing for a minute, I have an idea I think will work.” Dee tried to listen without smiling. “Just bring the ladder over to this side of the dormer and climb up high enough to see what I’m doing. Katelyn, you stand on the bottom rung, and Lauren, you hold the ladder with all your might. Okay?”
The girls did as he asked, and he continued his instructions. “I’m going to roll real hard to this side of the dormer. That should peel me free; then I’ll just grab the roof, but I need you there just in case….”
“Okay, and I’m here to stop you…just in case.” Dee promised bravely.

Paul rehearsed the move in his head, and then gave his right leg a hard roundhouse kick, twisting his body to his left at the same time--a brief ripping tug jerked his seat then released, and he rolled to his stomach and pulled himself up to the peak in a cloud of stirred-up snow.
“Are you all right?” Dee asked, smiling through the rungs of the ladder.
“Yea, fine.” He tried to look nonchalant, but was clearly relieved.
“Looks like you ripped your back pocket,” she said.
“Better my pants than the shingles. Just let me just catch my breath a minute before I come down.”

When Paul’s feet felt solid earth he turned, leaned against the ladder, let out a long hard breath, and smiled. The little girls tugged their dad toward the porch where they all stomped the snow from their shoes and slippers.
“Leave the ladder there for now. Let’s eat,” said Dee.
“Sounds good. Smells even better! What’s for supper anyway?” he asked.
She giggled as they stepped into the house and closed the door.
“Are you sure you want to know?” she teased.
Before he could answer, she gave him his “welcome home” kiss.
“What?” he asked between kisses. “What’s so funny about supper?”
She patted his cold seat with both hands and laughed.
“It’s your favorite— Rump roast.” She said, eyes wide.
Paul just smiled. Somewhere deep in the recesses of his mind, Schroeder began playing his familiar theme, and all was well with the world.

Copyright: December 2004 TRK

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