Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Cambria caring and chicken feed

This column appeared first on June 27, 2002, in The Cambrian

There’s something about the phrase “knee-replacement surgery” that makes people flinch a lot, turn a little green around the gills and rapidly change the subject. It’s even worse than saying “root canal” or “IRS audit.”

I don’t blame them, especially since husband Richard had that operation. We’ve both been flinching ever since.

However, the experience has retaught us what a wide spectrum of friends we have here in Cambria — and what a diverse, loving, quirky, supportive, wonderful bunch they are.

In our little corner of the world, any tragedy, illness or major disruption to your lifestyle brings people out of the woodwork, and they all chip in to try to make things better for the afflicted, the bereaved, the displaced. Each in their own way, of course.

We’re eternally grateful for the love and caring that has surrounded us though many years like a fluffy down comforter.

After the knee surgery, Richard progressed through his pain-killer haze to take those first awful steps to hobbling along as he leaned on his walker. He got better every day, in baby steps, so to speak.

But something else struck us as we thought back on the thoughtfulness of our friends and associates.

It was the variety of their responses, so typically Cambrian, where the only thing that this bunch of individualists shares is nobody is like anybody else. Everybody is a one-of-a-kind.

Even in the get-well cards, there was a huge range of types. Some were gently flowery, others raucous or loopy or very funny, still others prayerful. Some were hand painted or custom printed, others slick pieces of art, some hand lettered, still others e-mailed.

One even offered to find Dick some “mud-wrestling wenches” to take his mind off the pain.

All, of course, were deeply appreciated (except maybe that last one).

Each card was extremely individualistic, to the point where some wouldn’t even have had to be signed. We’d have known instantly who sent them.

Other friends offered advice or suggestions for things to help the swelling go away or the pain diminish. Some suggestions worked, some didn't. But all sounded like good ideas and were welcomed in the same spirit in which they were offered.

Some folks brought candy or goodies. Others brought flowers or fuzzy stuffed animals.

And then there was Richard’s surgical mentor Shirley Bianchi, who had the same surgery a couple of months earlier. For weeks, she covered the gamut of friendship with frequent counseling and commiseration, plus a pre-surgical CD to help Richard relax, a portable commode to help him rise to the occasion (so to speak), a pair of crutches and five bags of chicken feed.

Yup. Chicken feed.

Seems her wonderful rancher husband Bill Bianchi had discovered that a Ziploc bag filled with frozen chicken feed, put into a pillowcase, makes a wonderful icepack.

It’s not too cold, it forms well to the area that hurts and holds the cold for quite a while. The chicken feed doesn’t drip when it warms up, won’t freeze into bricks the way gel packs often do, and, best of all, it’s cheap, cheap, cheap to replace. (We did, however, put the feed into two Ziploc bags as insurance against a really nasty mess.)

So, the next time somebody talks to you about something that really makes you flinch, maybe you should offer ‘em some chicken feed.

Unless it’s the IRS auditor. He’d never understand.

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