The voice of a nuthatch sounded through the kitchen. Glenn looked up from the Washington Post and said, “11:00.” A birder by avocation, his home is filled with carvings, paintings and other representations of winged creatures. And that extends to the kitchen clock, which features the call of a different bird every hour. “You ready for a walk?”
My endurance had noticeably increased from the early days out of the hospital back in Cleveland, where I would barely make it up and down the street with my brother Frank. In recent days, Glenn and I had been circumnavigating several blocks around his home in Mt. Rainier, Maryland.
We headed out the front door and saw a sign of the approaching fall season - the remnants of some seed pods from an area chestnut tree were scattered across the steps. Glenn noted that, normally, these little balls encased with a protective coat of needles were impenetrable. But, with the arrival of autumn, the pods open enough for local squirrels to break them open and chow down on the contents.
That’s one of many nature lessons Glenn has taught me on our daily walks through the neighborhood. Prior to this, a broken seed pod would have been an unremarkable piece of natural litter to me. And I couldn’t tell a nuthatch from a cardinal. Well, I’m still no expert on bird calls, but at least I have a better sense of the complexity of nature. Like how, sometimes, nature turns against itself.
For instance, one day we went on a more ambitious hike through the nearby National Arboretum and paused by a scrawny tree with dead limbs. A tag dangling from a broken branch indicated that it was an example of the American chestnut that had been practically wiped out by a devastating blight that decimated trees across the country. Pointing to a chunk of fungal growth, Glenn noted that the disease invades the branches and chokes off the supply of nutrients that would replenish the tree. We stared at the poor thing, and I was reminded of the cancerous growths that had recently been removed from my body. I started feeling tired and we headed back to the car.
We try to get in a nighttime walk each day, as well. You have to watch your footing, because Mt. Rainier’s streets are thick with old trees whose roots have undermined a number of sidewalks. Although the housing stock dates back to the turn of the 20th century, the city has been designated an historic district largely because of its collection of Sears Modern Homes, circa 1908-1940. It was probably the ultimate example of mail-order. The prospective homeowner would peruse the Sears catalog, pick out a style, and then plunk down a couple thousand dollars for the kit, which would be shipped via boxcar and truck.
Today in Mt. Rainier, many of these inexpensive homes are occupied by artists, who were attracted to the community’s low cost of living. Some of the porches we pass are festooned with Christmas lights, or peace flags, or anti-war signs. One rugged individualist even sports a Kucinich sign in the front yard. We pause at a small children’s playground, illuminated by the full moon. “This place has an interesting history,” says Glenn. “For years people have pointed to it as the site for the original home that was the inspiration for the book, The Exorcist”. We silently, observe the site for a few seconds. “It’s probably just an urban legend,” he decides as we continue our trek home. I’m feeling a chill up my spine, and a warm feeling down below.
Back in my room, I slip out of my pants and check for... leakage. Ugh, I don’t like the word, but I don’t know what else to call it. The very term is snicker-inducing, much like “shrinkage”, a description coined by the character of George Costanza in a memorable Seinfeld episode. Someone peeing in their pants is funny - unless it happens to you. But, I wouldn’t go that far. Let’s just say I spurted a bit. It’s something that has been happening every once in awhile, since my operations, but I’m able to contain it with a “man’s protective undergarment,” as the product is euphemistically called by the manufacturer. It’s not exactly a diaper, but rather an absorbent shield that adheres to the crotch of your underpants. You women know exactly what I’m talking about.
Of course, I had been fearing the concept of a diaper ever since I first read about the after-effects of a prostate operation. But, thanks to some of the pioneering work in “nerve-sparing surgery” done by Akron native, Dr. Patrick Walsh, post-operative incontinency and impotence have been dramatically reduced. Both of those things happen to various degrees, depending on your age and the stage at which the cancer was caught, but these days your odds of getting back up to speed - so to speak - are pretty good. Again, I’m no doctor, and it’s best to consult with a urologist to get the inside scoop. We’ve also listed some informative reading material here on the website, if you’d like to do more research.
So, for the time being, as I go through the recovery process, I have an evening ritual of applying a “protective undergarment” to my briefs for the next day. It really takes care of my occasional spurts and isn’t bulky at all. As I lay in bed that night, I thought about our walk around town. Exorcist house. I wonder if - back during less medically enlightened days - they used to call in an exorcist if a kid (or his father) wet the bed? Ah well, I’ll try to get that image out of my head and get ready for tomorrow. A family friend who lives near Washington is coming to visit to give me a reiki session. It’s a form of alternative therapy that is getting more attention from the traditional medical community, these days. As I drift off to sleep, I can hear the sound of a mockingbird in the distance. It must be 2:00 a.m.