Anchor(age)s Away!

Oops, we did it again.

Off to Anchorage for another sinus surgery. Last time we were caught off guard and saddled with hotel bills and food costs we weren’t prepared for. But this time? This time we knew the drill:

Prep the House to Leave for five days (see last week’s post about the serious Spring Cleaning effort that has only just begun). Clean, prep firewood, unplug everything from the battery stash except the fridge (we got a mini fridge!), turn off the propane, water the plants…in general, shut her down.

Secure Places for the Dogs to Stay (we were pup-sitting our nephew dog still). Bring over their beds and foods and bowls (these dogs know the drill better than us. Before we had even hinted to Lou that we were taking her to the neighbors’ house she was already over there the morning we were leaving, getting used to her new digs). Thankfully, in a town full of dog lovers, pup places aren’t too hard to find, especially when they are such good watchdogs.

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All four corners covered.

Head into town the day before the pre-op appointment and settle into our hotel.

Pre-Op Appointment day followed by errands.

Operation Day: Head into surgery with The Chief until they roll him off. Pick up medications and any last-minute comforts during The Chief’s surgery. Take him back to the hotel to rest and recover and then head out for more errands like laundry and Costco, etc.

Required Recovery Day. The hospital asked that we stay in town as long as possible in order to tell if any complications were going to arise. The most they could buckle The Chief down for was one day. More errands.

Last but not Least (Most Important, in Fact): Leave: spend the day driving home, doing last-minute grocery shopping and pick-ups for friends and then home to the pups and the cabin.

Easy-peasy!

Right?

I say this every time but still I am like Dory from “Finding Nemo”- I forget constantly that planning in Alaska is like swimming upriver with a weighted vest. It’s doable but not that enjoyable and in the end it makes more sense to ride the tide.

But I didn’t. We knew the drill but this is how the drill actually played out:

To start:

Alaska has some pretty amazing health coverage, especially when you happen to fall into the Denali Care bracket. Since many people in the state (like us) live in The Bush, getting into town for a surgery or doctor’s appointment can be a real financial hardship. The last town trip for us was a seriously unexpected depletion of funds. It was like our pockets and pocketbooks developed holes in them.

So this time, since we knew we were heading in, we were able to get coverage from Denali Care. They would take care of the hotel (something that could have been covered last time had we known we would have to stay) as long as it was Medicaid approved and they would provide a meal stipend.

This was some seriously good news. So, we set about finding a hotel. Easy, right?

Geez.

Wrong again.

We didn’t realize that the Native Youth Olympics were taking place and everywhere we called was booked. Finally we found a hotel that said they took Medicaid. We checked and re-checked with them. Are you sure? It would be a real bummer to drive 8 hours and be turned away. They agreed. It would.

It was.

After traveling the 60 mile dirt road (which takes hours to complete and is riddled with signs suggesting you don’t travel it and if you do to pack survival gear and let people know you are leaving. A little ominous, eh?) in a huge truck which seemed to hit even more bumps that were even on the road, pothole after pothole after pothole followed by more potholes, we were happy to hit the pavement for the next 6 hours. We showed up around 7:30pm, tired from the trip and both starting to feel a cold coming on but excited by the nice hotel (pools, dogs allowed! Next stay they were coming with) and great location, only to be told that they in fact did not take Medicaid and that someone (someone who had checked and doubled checked) had been wrong.

O.K.

They were able to send us to a sister hotel which I ended up being even more pleased about because it was right next to Natural Pantry (think Whole Foods) and the movie theater. I squealed with delight! Score! Now we can eat healthy food and get supplements to stave off this cold.

Wait.

They only had room for us for one night. And, they didn’t have food for us. We would have to go across town to see if we could be served and by now it was already 9pm. Tired and hungry we decided to forgo finding food and ordered in while we spent the whole night calling other hotels, hoping for something to be available which took Medicaid. The next day was the Pre-op appointment and the following day was surgery. I wanted The Chief to be settled and cozy before going under again, not up in the air and stressed.

Finally we found a local Medicaid help center that gave us a list of hotels to call. They suggested one that people “really like” which turned out to have space. Alrighty, things are starting to get better.

Right?

The next day (starting to feel even more sick than the day before) before the Pre-op we went to check out of the second hotel only to find that they needed to keep our Medicaid original voucher for their paperwork.

We needed the original voucher for our next hotel.

Luckily, at the Pre-op appointment they were able to create a new “original” for us. Alright, back on track. We went to the doctor, talked to the surgeon and the nurses and got our heads in the game for surgery. The surgeon told us that we would need to come back for screenings 2-3 times per year but that if we suddenly were dropped from Medicaid or weren’t able to pay that he would make sure we were still seen. Things were looking up.

We arrived at our third hotel in two days (both coughing and sneezing and incessantly blowing our noses) only to be greeted by a seedy scene. Seedy bars? Yes, please. I love dive bars. Seedy places to sleep? Not my favorite. Seedy places to recover from surgery? Not my first choice for my love. Things were looking down again.

We checked in with a front desk agent who was simultaneously talking on two phones, training an employee and checking us in while checking another guest out. Hectic doesn’t quite meet the feeling head on. We carried our luggage up the concrete stairs (a bit of a danger for a groggy post-op Chief tomorrow, I thought) since there was no elevator and keyed into our room.

You know when you enter a room and immediately get a bad feeling? Yup. Me too.

It was dingy and dark and right against 5th avenue. Big hauling trucks flew by. It was loud to say the least. The bed was stiff and scratchy and I immediately felt my skin start to crawl. I’ve stayed in seedy motels by myself on long road trips just to save money but I had been prepared for it (see: brought a blanket and pillow from home). We had walked straight into this one. It had been recommended. I wouldn’t have recommended it if I was paid to do so.

The Chief is a trooper and settled in to just deal with it. I, on the other hand, was not having it. This was not a place to relax and heal. This was a place to throw down one’s bags and leave for all other time but for sleep. I swear, I’m not a prissypants. This place just had bad ju-ju and dirty feelings all around it. I started making calls. We didn’t know if the day had already been recorded with Medicaid in which case we would have to spend money for a new hotel (and also go back again to the doctor’s office and ask for yet another voucher) but at that point I didn’t care. This was not the place we were staying.

Finally, we found a place. The place we had stayed last time. The place we probably should have just called all along.

We checked out of the Seedy McSeedface (name inspired by Boaty McBoatface) motel (Medicaid thankfully hadn’t gone through yet) and repacked the truck for the sixth time and headed over to the new hotel. They had a restaurant on site so we could finally use some of our meal vouchers (all of the others were off site so I would have to drive to them for breakfast and lunch and after days of errands, feeling awful and caring for a sick post-surgery partner, convenience was key) and I knew the area well after spending an unexpected week in the area last month.

Ahhhhh, a sigh of relief. We still needed to book a hotel for the Post-op appointment a week later so we booked ourselves a room there. No more risks. No more trials. Finally, we were settled.

It was already late in the day, around 5pm at this point. We had done some errands earlier in the day but after waking up über early the last few days and losing sleep and stamina from all of the jostling about and sneaking in sicknesses neither of us were feeling well enough for much more than a movie. We settled in for the night and got ready for surgery the next day.

We awoke at 6am to get to the surgery center before 7:30. Surgery was scheduled to start at 9am. Finally by 10am, after waiting for 2.5  hours in his gown, The Chief was rolled into surgery. I went off to start getting any last odds and ends he might need. Tissues and distilled water for sinus flushes, yogurt and of course, medications. But, surprise! The nurses assured me that they could make that easier. They would have the prescriptions brought over to surgery. Amazing! Too good to be true?

Yup.

They faxed over the prescriptions the doctor had given me.

One was misspelled and had to be re-sent.

They came and gathered the originals and got new ones.

Then they faxed those and returned the scripts to me for safekeeping.

I left.

They called.

The fax didn’t go through.

I drove back.

Parked the huge truck yet again. Ran back to the building again. They faxed them again. I left. Again.

No sooner had I driven all the way back to the hotel and made about ten trips from the parking lot to the room to take all of the contents out of the truck (think 30 lbs. of laundry and bags of ammo and other heavy errand items) in order to make plenty of room for a groggy Chief to puddle into when I got a call from the surgery center. The meds were there but they needed the original prescriptions to be shown in order to collect them. Could I pop in (why hadn’t they just kept them there?)? The Chief was still in surgery but they needed me to come by now. I had more errands to run before getting him but they said I needed to be there so I left.

I told them I was on my way, maybe 15 minutes out. About 5 minutes before I arrived they called to say that instead I needed to just go to the pharmacy because they had left with the meds instead of waiting.

I get it. They are busy. But I could have just picked these up at Walgreens anytime.

This was supposed to be the easier route. I should have known. Planning. Dory brain.

O.k. so now I need to park at the pharmacy. The local University is having a game or a show or a something that is borrowing all of the parking at the pharmacy except for one lot. Cars are circling like vultures around a carcass. There’s no humanity here. I circle and circle and circle. Like a doodler on the phone. 30 minutes later and just as I am about to say “screw it” and park illegally (because the surgery department has called 10 minutes prior and said that The Chief is out of surgery and asking for you) and a spot opens up. I hurriedly run inside and collect the prescriptions (I’ve already paid the $1.oo co-pay over the phone. $1.00!). I run back outside only to see a lot full of open parking spaces.

What in the…?

It doesn’t matter, it’s time to speed off back to the surgery center and pick up my love. The surgeon comes by, happy with his work and with The Chief’s progress. All of the nurses comment on how tough he is and that he hasn’t agreed to or asked for any pain meds yet (but giving me the look like “you need to convince him to take some or he’s going to be in a world of pain in a few minutes, thank you”. I mean, he did just have his face drilled into, again). About thirty minutes later (twenty more than I was supposed to park in the Surgery Pick-Up lane, whoops!) The Chief climbs into the truck and off we go.

Recovery time.

For both of us.

My cold has turned into a full-blown yuck-fest and both The Chief and I are down for the count. I am able to take care of him but not like I would like to. We both rest in bed as yet another day of errands goes to waste.

The next day The Chief is up and at ’em (as much as one can be and probably more than one should be post-surgery) and I am down and out, feverish and exhausted. The minimum amount of errands that must be done before we leave the next day are laundry and washing the truck. The truck is going in for service and clothes, well, it’s good to have clean ones to wear. Finally, I work up the energy and (after almost leaving without half of the laundry due to having Foggy Cold Head Syndrome) head to the laundromat nearby that I’ve found online.

I arrive to a vacant lot.

Oh. Apparently it no longer exists.

I find a self car wash (since the truck likely won’t fit through an automated one and I don’t want to be the one to test it out. Plus, after hauling garbage for last week’s clean-up, it needs some TLC, or at least some hands-on soap).

I promptly spray myself in the face with the soap hose. Off to a good start.

People start lining up behind me and then just as quickly, as if I have a sign that says “Seriously, I am moving at turtle pace today. Please, please, pick another lane.” they move to another stall to wait. In between blowing my nose and sneezing triplets the truck is finally clean enough and off I go to find a laundromat.

Laundromat found.

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My co-pilot mountain of washables almost took over the entire cab

Washers-a-plenty and…not enough quarters and no cash.

Ugh.

I put in as many loads as I can and stumble out into the city to find cash-back somewhere. I look a mess. Watering eyes and a red puffy snotty nose. A vision of sickness in motion, if you will.

Finally, I’m stocked up on quarters like a slot winner in Vegas and a few hours and seventy tissues later, the laundry is done. Thankfully, I got in there before the crowd hit. Who knew that laundry was a popular Friday night activity?

“Not I”, said the fly.

Beyond ready to get back to the hotel and into bed I remember a birthday present that I have yet to get The Chief. It took me three phone calls and some fancy footwork to track down. I am not missing this opportunity. I park at the hotel and walk (see:hobble) to the nearby store that has just what I am looking for. 30 minutes later and I’m back at the hotel ordering dinner that I will later walk (see: crawl) down from our room and pick-up. Almost done for the day.

A few minutes later, an angel of a friend comes by offering to let us borrow his car so we can drop the truck off the next day instead of next week when we come in for the Post-op appointment. This means we can spend one extra day at home with the dogs (and one extra day that we don’t have to find them puppy-sitters) before turning around again for the appointment. And, it means a much smoother ride over the pothole laden 60 miles of dirt and rock which, for someone just out of surgery, is a big deal. We are so grateful.

I realize that we will need a permit for the car so I call the front desk and let them know we have another car to add to the permitted cars with us.

You need to come down.

I almost cry.

I am so tired. My face feels like it’s in a vice. I am sweating and shivering all at once.

O.k. I’m coming right now.

Great, I’ll have the paperwork all ready for you.

I make my way down.

No one.

Not a soul is around. My fever is up again and simply standing upright is a chore I’m not sure I can check off the list for much longer. I head outside to sit and wait.

Finally, someone arrives. I explain again what’s happening and finally get the new permits, head to the parking lot and place the permits in both cars, keycard back into the building and finally, finally get into bed. It’s 10pm and I am pooped.

The next day is departure day. The Chief, not having felt much pain the last two days is suddenly in pain (probably because although he isn’t supposed to lift anything he is helping me to load the car and move over laundry etc. from the truck to the borrowed car). He is a trooper. We head to drop off the truck at the mechanic’s and find that despite it being a Saturday, he is in. He lived in our town back when it was even more like The Wild West and has stories for days. We both are starving and tired already with grocery shopping and an 8 hour drive ahead of us but hearing someone with such nostalgia for the place we love keeps us for an hour before we have to excuse ourselves lest it be nightfall before we leave town.

Finally, we leave. I shop on our way out, a few groceries and odds and ends that end up taking an hour to complete, get gas and we are off.

The signs of home start to come. The mountains. The rivers. The lakes. Your favorite turn-outs or vistas. The glaciers. The gas station with the familiar faces welcoming us back from the big city. The 60 mile road. Our turn-off and finally, our puppies. We stop at the neighbors’ house to collect them and despite being exhausted and sick, it is so good to catch up with the ones we love, both furry and human.

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It must be rainy season. Miss Lou’s coat, looking like a porcupine.

A little while later and we are finally home to a cold but cozy cabin. The Chief builds a fire as I bring in our haul from town, load after load, wading though the muddy muck outside that weeks ago was feet of snow. Spring is here and so is the rain and with it the muddy season. But, thanks to being in town, we now both have rain coats to shoulder the season.

Unpacking finished and groceries settled away and it is finally time to rest in our own house, in our own bed, under our own sheets with two furry family members downstairs to greet us in the morning.

The next town trip looms in the future but for now, we are tucked into the woods, warmed by a fireplace, surrounded by mountains, blanketed by rivers and rocked to sleep by raindrops.

Oh home, how I have missed you.

8 comments

  1. You are a true trooper!! I sooo related to the ‘bad hotel room juju’…only happened once in my life while on exchange as a college student in France, a girlfriend and I had the brilliant idea (ya know, those brilliant impulsive early 20’s-something ideas that seem so GOOD in the moment) to visit Cannes during the Film Festival…needless to say, not only was ANY decent room reserved years in advance, but the room we walked into above a dinghy bar felt like…someone had been murdered there! We BOTH felt it, the hair on the back of my neck stood up, left and slept that night on the beach!
    Glad the Chief made it through this surgery, crazy rigamarole(s) aside, and that you both are feeling better very soon.

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  2. For a long time I thought anchorage was 15 hours from Long Lake. Trips with my son always included a “few” stops for supplies. Your story sounded familiar. 😉

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    1. Ha! I thought it was at least that long at first too! The Chief reminded me the other day as I planned to make the journey alone that it probably would be even faster than 8 hours. But hey, the fun is in the stops!

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  3. I love reading about your life in Alaska. Thank you for sharing your experiences with the rest of us. These tales are so enjoyable… I’m in my 70s and lived in a greenhouse for seven years with my husband and two of our children… that was back when I was a 50 something “whippersnapper”… your stories bring back a lot of pleasant memories.

    Liked by 1 person

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