Saturday, December 03, 2005

Switching into low gear

Published December 2005

Driving up the Bass Lake grade every day, I see trucks and trailers veering into the right lane and shifting down to make it up the hill. Admittedly, impatient as I am at times, I pass and get to where I need to be to make my exit. “Must be a bummer”, I mutter to myself, “to switch to low gear just to make it to the top of the hill…must make for a long haul and a boring ride”.

Such is Life, like the Bass Lake grade at rush hour. Some days you are safely in the fast lane, passing the cars on the side of the road who are disabled, shifting gears to make it up the hill, or simply taking it easy. Nothing gets in your way, and the cruising speed is comfortable. The fast lane will get you to your next appointment quicker, home in time for dinner without a care in the world. It’s especially great when my car has all the kids and I get the ‘carpool lane’. There is something victorious about the carpool lane. I try to make sure I have an extra passenger in the car every time just for the thrill of it.

Carpool lane days are carefree and busy. My life was swimming along in the carpool lane before November 3. As many of you know, my dad had surgery that day. I’ve been writing about how complicated it was, and the aftermath all month long in this newspaper. A physician took me aside a couple days ago and explained how Dad’s poor outcome fell into the less than 1% range of terrible outcomes for the kind of surgery he had. “It’s such a shame”, he said. Yeah. It sure is.

We had high expectations for Thanksgiving but seemingly, life dealt us a series of flat tires and disappointments as my Dad had one setback after another in the hospital. My sisters sent their husbands and children to their in-laws for Thanksgiving because we didn’t want the children to suffer the angst of what we were dealing with every day.

After spending the last month at the hospital, most of it in ICU with Daddy, I made reservations for my mom, sisters and I to go out to dinner for Thanksgiving at a fancy expensive restaurant. We had spent the last month in the hospital cafeteria where we knew the menu before it was posted. Mystery meat, soup surprise, and cottage cheese only go so far. The cafeteria people knew us by our first names and already had my chicken salad on rye with dill pickles made for me before I showed up at the counter. We were on a first name basis with the lift team – the only thing we couldn’t do was move in ourselves, although there were days when we could have used some medical attention.

The four of us sat down to a really lovely dinner after what has seemed like endless hours and days pacing hospital floors. “This is really nice” complimented my mother. We ordered our drinks and looked at each other. “I’d like to propose a toast”, I choked up immediately. “Here’s to Dad, and his recovery. But most of all here’s to you. I never knew what it meant to be a family, or how much I really loved you guys…but we are going to make it and Dad’s going to make it, one way or another because we all love each other”. We all started shedding tears. Then we had the most fantastic meal, along with perfect wine pairings…when I returned that night to the hospital, I spent the night with my Dad. He stayed up most of the night. He ate his dinner at 3:30 AM. I asked him if he was thankful on Thanksgiving. “Yes. I am happy to be alive”. Relieved to hear him talking through his ‘cloudiness’, I said, “I’m happy about that too, Daddy. It’s going to a long haul…but we’re shifting into low gear. OK?”

The fast lane takes you away from your relationships with your family because of the demands of every day life. When the days come, when tragedy strikes, illness hits unexpectedly and disappointments abound, sometimes you need to switch into low gear for the long haul up the hill. I’m not sure where this road I’m on is going to lead or how long it will take to get there. I pray we get to the top in the next few months, that there are few flat tires along the way, and that Faith will sustain us along the way.

Tammy Maher is a resident of El Dorado Hills and bi-weekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her at

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