Thursday, January 22, 2009

Trach couture

Marilyn, the home health aide from Kaiser who paid a call on me on Sunday afternoon, suggested that I wear a scarf to conceal my trach tube when I go out.

I didn't take offense.

I know what kind of a town this is. L.A. is a place where one entire section of the home town newspaper is dedicated to "Image." Angelenos spend untold hours in gyms and salons and before mirrors honing their look, and the last time I flipped through GQ and Men's Fitness, a plastic tube in the middle of one's throat was not considered to be an object of male beauty.

I'm not ashamed of my trach –rhymes with "brake," by the way– but I also don't want to creep people out, either. And once you venture beyond the gate in the parking lot at Leisure Village, spotting a naked trach in public is still uncommon.

My challenge is that I have never been a scarf kinda guy.

Since Sunday I've been struggling with exactly what kind of scarf I could wear well without drawing more attention to myself than I would by exposing the trach.

Forty-three years ago, Beatles scarves were popular. But how would that kind of scarf go over while stretching out on chaise lounge during a Palm Springs getaway?

Charles Nelson Reilly always managed to flaunt his neckwear with élan, and so did
Thurston Howell III, as played by Jim Backus. But I'd feel compelled to develop a funny accent to complement that kind of scarf, and I'm not capable of talking at all.

And there's something to be said for the simplicity of Speedy Gonzales' approach. But at a stage in my life when I'm struggling with life-and-death challenges, do I really want to start adapting lifestyle tips from animated rodents?

I don't have to decide on my own unique look right this minute, although Marilyn is paying another call this afternoon and she might query me on my progress with the scarf question.

This morning, I had a chance to experiment with some neck gear.

I needed to visit the Bureau of Parking Violations in Van Nuys to get a residential parking permit. Since I came home from the hospital on Saturday, friends have called to say they want to see me and sign my Foley catheter, and I want to be sure that when they do, they have a place to park.

Today's weather is reasonably wintry, so before leaving the apartment, I wrapped a scarf that my sister-in-law and brother sent me at Christmas around my neck.

Not only did the scarf hide the trach completely, it went well with my pajama bottoms. It even gave me a certain Marlo Thomas-"That Girl" feeling when I strutted down Van Nuys Boulevard.

As I sat in the Bureau of Parking Violations and waited for my number to be called, I eavesdropped on the people stepping up to the counter. Most of them were there to resolve parking infractions, and begged for mercy from the bureaucrat on the other side of the glass.

When my turn arrived, I slipped a note through the window telling the woman I can't talk and that I wanted a parking permit. I threw in a chirpy "Good morning!" and came very close to writing "Nice blouse! What do you think of my scarf?"

The woman carefully read my note and then picked up a pen to reply. "Is this your first time here?" she wrote.

Below her question, I wrote "No, and I can hear fine, thank you."

She chose to continue the conversation by writing, rather slowly, "Do you want one permit or two?"

I was tempted to repeat "I CAN HEAR FINE" and underscore it, but I realized that kind of attitude was the reason the City of Los Angeles pays a fulltime salary to a security guard of the Parking Violations Bureau, even though I imagine that outbreaks of violence there are rare.

I paid $22.50 for the permit and headed home. I'm now waiting for my home health nurse Marilyn to arrive.

I'll let Marilyn use my parking permit while she is here.

And if she doesn't mention my damn scarf, I swear that steam will puff out of my trach.


Marilyn didn't come to my apartment today for my Kaiser home health visit. Liza did.

Do all Kaiser home health nurses share names with gay icons? Can I expect to have visits with Marlene, Bette D., Judy, Bette M., Madonna, Christina and Britney?

I may never know. Kaiser home health has closed my case, gently, pending a decision on when I will return to work. Meanwhile, paperwork for APLA's home health program is headed my way.

To the best of my knowledge, the APLA Home Health nurses do not have the same names as gay icons.

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