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“Benigno!” Cancer-Free

SOLCA street

The enormous high-ceiling waiting room, the size of a small city bus terminal, echoed with low-pitch conversation carried on by patients and family. Daylight shone through a vast skylight. At 1:00 pm, only half the seats were filled. Fine art and plants decorated the room. Occasionally, one of several hall nurses called out a patient’s name.

My wife, Belinda, and I positioned ourselves at the surgery area in the rear to listen for my name. “When can I see the doctor, please? I scheduled surgery for a lesion on my left knee,” I told the volunteer in order to keep abreast of appointments. Her job was to usher patients called to their respective consulting and surgery rooms.

The nicely outfitted middle-aged woman studied my appointment receipt and replied, “Your turn is number eight; soon, I am sure.”

SOLCA, Cuenca, Ecuador’s cancer center, required that I have someone to accompany me for biopsy surgery. When we had arrived, we happily learned that the initial charge was only $30. We would pay when leaving.

Belinda speaks Spanish well and comprehends it better than me. Her presence would also ensure the safety of my personal property, another item on the handout with instructions for surgery day.

Ten minutes into our wait, a surgical nurse emerged from the hallway and called out my name. “You will be next,” she said after looking at my appointment receipt.

“Thank you,” I replied. I sat with Belinda and told her how much I appreciated her support. My previous visit two weeks before had presented communication challenges. Anxiety created by missed information and instructions to set up surgery would surely be compounded today.

Once called by the nurse, I entered a green-painted surgery room. Belinda stood outside in the dark hallway with patients waiting their turns. My surgical nurse, the fast talker from my initial consultation, handed over a blue back-tied gown, paper booties and cap. She indicated a curtained alcove to changed into these items. “You may give your valuables to your wife,” she emphasized.

“Muchas gracias, senora,” I said. A quick check revealed only my leather belt. I passed it through the door to Belinda.

The young surgeon and I greeted one another while I sat on the surgery table. “This isn’t the same surgeon I met on my first visit,” I thought.

“Doctor, por favor, am I dressed properly? Or do I take off my pants.”

He smiled at my confusion. “Yes, please do. And, then, lay down with your head in this direction,” he indicated with youthful zeal. He and the nurse engaged in friendly banter while getting ready.

At the table, the nurse asked while tugging at a cord around your neck, “What is this?”

I forgot! It was my traveller’s wallet which contained cash, bus pass and a copy of my “cedula,” the national ID, things I should have given Belinda. I shuffled over in my booties to the alcove to store them in my pants.

This completes the first 500 words. Click the link to read more.

Note pad biopsy

 

 

 

 

 

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A Visit to SOLCA-Cuenca’s Cancer Center

SOLCA

7:35 am. I leave my apartment to walk to the hospital in solidarity with my fellow patients, many of whom are indigenous and make sacrifices to come from distant towns.  It does the soul good to take time to contemplate how well off I am, itchy skin and all.

Car, truck and bus traffic moves faster than I’m accustomed to, being a late riser. Morning rush hour overwhelms pedestrians and students. Cars rule in Latin America. “Come on, dammit! Give me a break!” I want to shout, ignored at marked crosswalks. In “redondels,” traffic circles, vehicles come from all directions. With no traffic signals to observe, weaving motorcyclists are the worst.

On the other hand, the soothing effect of moisture in air evaporated by sunshine stimulates the senses. It’s the reward for getting up early. Crossing town on foot with vistas of Ecuador’s Andean mountains promotes good health.

8:00 am. I arrive to have the lesion on my left knee examined. SOLCA, an association of related medical professions, is a couple of blocks south of Hospital Vicente Corral Moscoso, a public medical facility.

Steady taxi traffic drops passengers at the entrance to start the day. An indigenous woman does a brisk business selling snacks to get through the long wait ahead.

The cancer institute occupies a generic-looking four-story building with white and tan stucco walls. A gray-stone design fills the wall along Avenida Diez de Agosto, depicting Saint George astride his steed, slaying the dragon with his sword, the dragon representing the devil or evil.

I approach window #1 to pick up my appointment receipt. I glance back to a line of eight people. “My God! I just jumped the line,” I think. “Oh well, this guy next to me did the same. The woman clerk yesterday told me to be here at 8:00 am, and, so, here I am!”

I present the laminated copy of my “cedula,” the national ID to the clerk. “I came yesterday afternoon and the woman who helped me told me to report this morning,” I explain. He doesn’t comment on my line-jumping for which I am grateful. With minimal Spanish, I’d have a hard time justifying it.

“Un momentito, senor. Let me find your file,” he tells me. The young man dresses nicely with gray slacks, complimented by a long-sleeve dress shirt in a lighter shade of blue-gray. He wears a telephone headset and professionally assists poor and sick patients. Particularly sad are sick children, some of whom wear caps to hide baldness, reminding me how my younger sister Mary and our family had to confront the ravages of childhood leukemia for over two years before her death at age 12. “May you rest in peace, Mary,” I pray.

The clerk searches among several cardboard files on the floor. Then, he reaches into a drawer under the counter. “Aqui!” he says triumphantly. My file fills the metal drawer, isolated from yesterday’s filings.

 

This completes the first 500 words of the story. Click the link to continue reading.

A Visit to SOLCA

 

 

Lovin’ Linda: Summer of ’69

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My sweetie Linda and I attended a rock concert in Tempe at Arizona State University. It was the summer of ’69. “What great bands playing tonight, Linda!” I exclaimed, while drumming excitedly on the cracked vinyl dashboard. Linda eagerly propelled her desert-faded green four-door car, twisting her long brown hair with the slender fingers of her free hand. I passed her soda, while we munched on hastily assembled sandwiches and tortilla chips.

Enchanting Linda, full of surprises which had me under her spell, drove us across the Sonoran Desert on I-10, over a hundred miles north from the magical city of Tucson. We by-passed orchards with endless rows of pecan trees, the occasional service area outside a low-profiled town, and several mountain ranges appearing like ghost ships upon becalmed ocean waves. Golden sunlight angling east from the setting sun burnished shrub-covered hills bathed in shades of brown, green and red. Miles later, when the sky slowly dwindled into dusk, bursts of crimson, lavender and scarlet shimmered upon cotton-candy clouds.

“So, this is how love feels!” I thought, riding along with the woman of my dreams. I admired how well she handled the car, while we joined in with rock songs played on the radio. Two hours into our trip, we exited the interstate to the east. We easily located the campus, impressive under fluorescent street lights.

How proud I felt to escort Linda into the concert arena! We joined excited fans of the headliner Blood, Sweat and Tears from Canada. The evening’s lineup also featured Steve Young and his band from Texas, along with Long Island’s Blue Oyster Cult. “Oh, Jerry! I am so happy to be here with you!” Linda confided as we took our seats in a sea of tie-dye colors worn by Phoenix’s long-haired hippies.

Detroit’s Rare Earth closed out the entertainment with its signature “Get Ready.” We danced in the aisle to the driving-extended version, and boggied out of the arena with Motown tunes ringing in our heads. The drive home slipped by pleasantly, aided by cool desert air. Celestial formations shone brightly, and guided us southward along the moonlit valley. Shooting stars entertained us, young lovers on the road.

In the annals of American history, the summer of 1969 characterizes youthful experimentation with alternative lifestyles. “Peace, man!” greeted friends and strangers alike, accompanied by the extension of the first two fingers representing the letter “V.” Marijuana joints appeared at gatherings out of sight of “The Man.” That evening’s love-in  heightened what we felt towards kindred spirits of the state capital.

Eager newcomers to Tucson’s happening scene, for a couple of those cherished months Linda and I were in love. Camaraderie, friendship and sharing among youthful seekers of community had drawn us together, creating a bond which spanned the rest of our lives.

Linda had moved back home after freshman year at Antioch College in Ohio. Dr. Herbert and Sofia Abrams had relocated the family from Chicago in 1968. He had assumed the newly-created post of Professor of Family and Community Medicine.

In honor of Linda

Linda and Amy

This completes the first 500 words of the story. Please click the link to continue reading.

MEMORIES OF MY DEAR FRIEND LINDA ABRAMS.docx.6

Andean Winter

“Frio!”

Whenever you were out on Cuenca streets in June 2015, everywhere you heard, “Frio!” From the “tienda” clerk as she made change. When our neighbor-cabinetmaker greeted my wife and myself in front of his shop. In the taxi from the bundled-up driver, “Frio!”

I enjoyed being outdoors. Having worked year-round in Philadelphia on construction sites, Cuenca felt balmy, not cold. Sure, wearing an extra shirt or sweater helped.

Bright sunshine would warm us up in Ecuador’s third largest city. When cloud formations dominated the Southern Hemisphere sky, it would feel colder.

Ecuadorian homes are built without central heating. We would warm up our bedroom for an hour or two with a small oil-filled electric heater. Our laundry terrace provided respite when the sun filled the concrete and brick space with warmth.

My wife, Belinda, and I took along a backpack and went shopping during this Andean winter. It included rain gear on account of afternoon showers. For the first time in two years here I had to use my jacket pockets to keep my hands warm on the way to Supermaxi, about a mile away.

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Our acupuncturist friend Judy greeted us in the produce section. We chatted next to attractively displayed fruit and vegetables in the high-end market. “Hi, Belinda and Jeremiah! Nice to see you. Maybe you’ll be interested in a concert tonight at Museo Remigio Crespo. A classical guitarist and others will play,” she said.

“It sounds like fun, Judy. Thank you for letting us know,” I said.

That evening we took a yellow cab into El Centro. Seeking moments to practice her Spanish, Belinda greeted the driver, “Good evening, senor. How are you?”

“Well, thank you. Working!” he laughed softly. “Do you like Cuenca?” he asked.

“Oh, yes, very much,” Belinda said. “Cuenca has many cultural events for us to attend. Tonight we’re going to a free classical guitar performance at the Museo.”

“How nice! It sounds like a good time,” said the young man.

“Please stop at the next corner. Thank you! It was nice to speak with you,” Belinda said as he dropped us off on Calle Larga. Across from the Museo people sat on a cafe patio with propane heaters in service.

The audience of an equal number of expats and Cuencanos sat on chairs arranged against walls on wood-plank flooring in the main living room of the former residence. Belinda and I had the pleasure of attending a piano recital several months before in the 19th century brick structure.

The owner of an art gallery and frame shop, Jon Conkey from New Mexico, took his place on a plush cushioned chair in the center of the high-ceiling room. He placed his music on a wrought-iron stand. Jon wore a red scarf over his beige-colored jacket.

A circular arrangement of gold French provincial chairs and sofas fitted with green satin cushions framed him on the Oriental carpet.

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This completes the first 500 words of the story. Please click link to read more.

FROM WHERE I SIT

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wake Up! Mother’s Day!

This morning I awoke to a tremor in our fifth floor apartment. I experienced a 5.1 earthquake a couple of hundred miles to the north. It interrupted my dream which I can’t recall. My wife, Belinda, slept through the shaking of our bed. It subsided after about forty seconds. Ecuador does that to you, what with being in the Andean mountain range, and on the “Ring of Fire,” horseshoe-shaped fault lines that circle the Pacific basin.

Unlike the tremor, inconsiderate neighbors disturbing my sleep makes my blood boil. “Marie! Marie!,” came in loud and clear the same time as this tremor. Car speakers blasted below our building. Neighbors’ exuberant children in a house across the street started Mother’s Day 2014 at that ridiculously early hour in Ecuadorian excess.

Belinda had gone to a spiritual retreat in Forsyth, Georgia. She and a couple hundred other devotees participated in her spiritual mother’s ten-day Hindu prayer festival. Alone in bed, that uncivil spectacle also merged with my dream. I felt disoriented as to the source of “Marie! Marie!” blaring into my room. I thought an extra-loud clock radio had awakened me. But we don’t have one!

A year later the same thing happened! Rudely awakened, Belinda leaped up and exclaimed, “What the hell are they doing? It sounds like it’s coming from an apartment below us.”

“It’s the people across the street, Honey. They did it last year, too, when you were in Georgia,” I calmly explained. Next, I retreated to our guest room across the hall and closed the door to wait out the music. Thank God, it didn’t go on as long as the year before. After a few more songs, it ended.

After sunrise, Belinda got up to pack. We looked forward to a week’s vacation at our friend’s beachfront rental in San Jose.We had to travel over six hours to the ocean by taxi, van and bus. Over a holiday weekend with many family gatherings, bus connections are best made early in three-hour distant Guayaquil.

We grabbed a taxi and loaded our carry-on sized bags into the trunk for the fifteen minute ride to a van service for a 9:00 am departure. Already filled that van had taken off. We had a half hour wait. “We’ll be sure to get the next one, Belinda,” I assured my wife. “We should make it to Guayaquil by 12:30. Plenty of time to get the bus.”

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We sat at the office while young men from the agency beckoned autos and taxis for potential customers. “Guayaquil!” they implored to likely occupants. I looked up at the mountains in Parque Nacional Cajas. Clouds filled the blue sky, and morning sun rays brightened the towering peaks.

Soon, we squeezed into the front seat with the young driver. The van took off with eight passengers and luggage for the mountains. Swiftly with minimal traffic we crested the summit once past Tres Cruces, named for three unfortunate young Cuencanos who died in a cave from the cold.

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This completes the first 500 words of the story. Please click the link to read more.

Mother’s Day may 26, 2015

 

 

 

Highways and Byways of Troubles

Bluestack Mountains

I hiked the wintry byways of the Blue Stack Mountains in search of McGeehan and Cannon cousins. My mother, Genevieve McGeehan Reardon, had told me back in Philadelphia to look up her grandparents’ relatives in two County Donegal towns, Glenties and Lettermacaward.

John McGeehan and Mary Cannon, had set out for Eastern Pennsylvania’s coal mines about 1860. My father, John Reardon, had died in 1971 and we Reardons do not know the County Cork town where his grandfather, Denis Reardon, lived before leaving for Pennsylvania in the mid 19th Century.

Around noon in January 1990, Letterbarrow came into view. I stepped into the sunny shop of Grocer and Publican Joseph O’Neill. The middle-aged man wore a white apron over his jacket and stood behind the meat counter. “Can you please tell me the best way to Glenties?” I asked while paying for snacks.

“Let me write it out for you,” he offered. “Follow until you come to a house Known as Manus Burke/ ASK Hannah Burke or her daughter/Or son which is the quickest/Way to TANGAVEANE near Glenties.”

Maybe Grocer McNeill had alerted him, because several miles along up pulls Jimmy Burke in his pickup truck. “Would you like a lift?” he asked through the window.

“Sure! Thank you for stopping,” I said.

In the midst of the Blue Stacks, layers of white and gray clouds changed shape above the valley. We exchanged pleasantries as the afternoon sun occasionally broke through to shine upon farms and mountain sides. “I’m headed for Glenties to look up McGeehans and Cannons. I have a tent and sleeping bag to camp somewhere,” I said.

“It won’t be taking you long to find your family. You will have luck for sure,” he replied while petting his black and white dog. Jimmy dressed in dark casual clothes set off by his tweed cap. The warmth of the radiator prompted me to shed my coat. “Why don’t you make camp at my farm. And, in the morning I’ll run you into town. I have messages to take care of.

“Thank you, Jimmy. I’ll do that,” I said. Several more miles along we turned off the road into a long climb up to the farm below a mountain ridge. An old thatched-roof cottage came into view among rocky fields with shrub-sized trees.

In the dimly-lit whitewashed sitting room, Jimmy proudly showed me his signed copy of Rachel Giese’s 1987 book, The Donegal Pictures, her collection of black and white photographs. She snapped his farm with the caption, “Bachelor’s Cottage in the Blue Stacks,” along with two portraits of my host. In one photo, seated with his dog upon his lap, the caption reads, ” Sheep Farmer in the Blue Stacks.” The other pose, “The Storyteller,” shows him smoking a pipe while gesturing with an outstretched arm.

In early light on a cold misty day, Jimmy found me packing my backpack. “Come on in and we’ll have breakfast,” he greeted me.

Rachel Griese

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I Awake in Ireland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carnaval in Cuenca, March 2015

We four Gringo-retirees exited Cafe Don Pedro, owned by Roger, native of Massachusetts, and sprinted across grand Avenida Solano to the opposite corner. It is graced by the high-walled public school, Colegio de la Salle. Along the sidewalk, we competed with excited children for transportation to our destination, El Centro’s Hostal Macondo, named for the imaginary town in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ novel, 100 Years of Solitude. “Escritores of Cuenca,”an expats writer group meets there weekly. We will join several of our friends to share readings and make comments.

“Blam! Blam!” came the sound of water balloons tossed from windows of engine exhaust-stained blue city buses, crowded with exuberant riders departing from the “parada,” bus stop. At the teeming school entrance, foam string from aerosol spray cans decorated victims of attacking rascals, mostly upon head and shoulders.

“Must be Carnaval,” quipped our slim white-haired friend, Suzanne, also from Massachusetts. We all uttered an assent as a yellow taxi pulled over to help us get away.

Usually associated with church liturgy, Carnaval season is the beginning of the fertility festival in Ecuador. From scheduled city tourist events to spontaneous neighborhood celebrations, expats are drawn into the flavor, sights and sounds of Carnaval in Cuenca. School children enjoy a two week vacation, enabling families to travel to favorite spots.

Early in the morning of an otherwise ordinary day during Carnaval, I awoke at daybreak to the sound of popcorn popping outside our building. “Pop! Pop! Pop!” resonated in the bedroom from a distance of perhaps two blocks. “Belinda, our neighbors are firing off firecrackers, it sounds like,” I mumbled to my startled dear wife.

“God knows the reason. I guess it’s just them having fun,” she replied.

On my afternoon stroll along Rio Yanuncay to a wood workshop, another sign of Carnaval appeared. I saw bathers frolicking with delight. I have seen indigenous families wash clothes along its banks with clothing laid out on the grass in the sun. “This is something new,” I think, “and it sure looks like they’re having fun!” A half dozen boys and girls cavorted in the water, splashing and shouting excitably. Due to lack of recent rainfall, the river ran safely around large boulders and dried tree branches.

Headed home one afternoon past a neighborhood convenience “tienda,” I watched in amazement as our attentive teenaged-clerk screamed from behind a screened-in counter and grabbed a bucket of water. She had spotted her “amiga” and targeted her. Gleefully, she poured water over the head of her victim who shrieked back!

Mercado Nueve de Octubre occupies a two block-long plaza in El Centro. As I waited for Belinda by the three-story mercado’s glass doorway, I followed the antics of several youths who sprayed with foam and tossed water to douse unsuspecting shoppers. Everyone broke into laughter while the victims covered up.

Alongside the building walls during Carnaval, vendors specialize in the sale of foam string in aerosol spray cans, and large plastic water spray guns. Admittedly, expats are usually excluded from the barrage, and police warn the attackers to let us pass.

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This is the first 500 words of the story. Please click link to continue reading.

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