Confessions of a Florentine Pet Sitter

Jeepster Fog, Chemo Brain or Worse…

My new Jeep might be hindering my driving memory, my understanding the rules of the road. Twice now I have pulled up to the light at 35th street while driving south on 101 and was unsure about what to do. The first time all the lights glowed red, all cars stopped. I was in the left turn lane. I looked for a flashing yellow light that would tell me it was okay to turn left. It was gone. What happened to it? Didn’t there used to be one at this intersection? Why are all the cars stopped? I couldn’t figure out what to do? Regardless of these uncertainties, I began the left turn—on a red light. Oops! To my good fortune, the on-coming drivers were more alert than I and they stopped before hitting my car, and there was no patrol car lurking nearby to see my egregious behavior. I couldn’t go back; I could only raise my arms in frustration as if to ask what did I just do? I completed the turn, mouthing I’m sorry to the other drivers.

My mind had a brain fart. The stop light seemed different. I couldn’t remember how and when to navigate the left turn.

Then it happened again. All four sides and lanes of the stop light were not moving forward or across. I sat there wondering: Why isn’t anything moving? I decided that it would be okay to go through the intersection. Maybe the lights were malfunctioning. Maybe it wasn’t my brain. As suddenly as I entered the center of the intersection, I woke up. I knew I had gone through a red light. I stopped. Again, I raised my arms in frustration at what I just did. Everyone waiting in their cars looked at me oddly, with concern and anger. The idiot, I could imagine them saying.

I thought of my mother when she left her cousin’s house in Los Gatos. We stood and watched as Mom gunned her camper truck and sped recklessly across three lanes and turned left in front of on-coming traffic, cutting across the lanes without stopping. I suspected my mother was suffering from mental illness or dementia, but at that time we had no definitive diagnosis. Surely I am following in her footsteps. For me to have done some very stupid, reckless things at an intersection, it must have been dementia knocking on my noggin. Hello! I’m here. Let me in!

The lapse of brain function twice at this very same intersection since I’ve owned the Jeep Liberty is cause for concern. I’ve been driving the Jeep for only 2 months. Never did I do that kind of senseless thing while driving my Honda; in 28 years, never once.  I never came so close to causing a serious accident before; never came so close to having my car totaled; never had my brain phase out in such an egregious way while driving.

It‘s as if the Jeep is obstructing the eye/brain connection. Perhaps I’m not seeing well even though I am sitting higher in the Jeep. Seeing is not just looking, it is understanding. Red lights at that intersection were not registering on my brain the action of STOP.

The Jeep doors and windows had support bars in odd places that blocked my view. Places that were normally clear of obstruction in my Honda are not clear in the Jeep. Sitting higher, the world looked different with this new perspective. It’s scary. For years everything about driving the Honda was so habitual and so easy, even the manual shifting of gears. I didn’t have to think about what or why I was doing what I was doing. Driving was automatic. My body movements, my brain function, my understanding was always there.

Chemo Brain: Seven months ago I underwent breast surgery, a mastectomy. Following that, I had three months of Chemotherapy. One of the many side-effects of  Chemotherapy is Chemo Brain. It is creates brain fog. The world becomes fuzzy, you become forgetful, easily confused, you can’t do math in your head anymore, or remember names or faces, and when you are speaking, the words you want to say aren’t there, just not home, plus when they do get spoken, they come out like you have felt-covered marbles in your mouth and felt for a brain.

Chemo brain is a result of Chemo drugs, but this loss of brain function can happen because of surgery, too.  It’s due to all the drugs, toxic drugs, they give you in surgery to cause you to not remember anything; and due to all the toxic drugs in Chemo that kill all the good things in your body as well as the cancer cells. Eventually, they told me, I’d get over most of it. But on the other hand, I was also told by some doctors that some of the mental functions never come back. I’m not sure who to believe. I’m not sure mine will. I’m not sure. It seems like a step closer to dementia than I wanted to be and sooner than I wanted to get there.

Hi Mom! Hi Venee!

At the same time I was dealing with breast cancer and feeling the extreme fatigue due to Chemotherapy my car came down with a terminal case of extreme fatigue of its own kind—something was draining the two batteries I had purchased during last year. They continually lost their juice and I could not start my car. I never knew when or where this was going to happen. In addition, too many other car related things had been falling apart over the last decade, but having the car die and lose its energy while I was so exhausted both physically and mentally, well I don’t know, another case of my body and my car intersecting on their two roads thru this world, or a strange kind of symbiosis that I wrote about in my blog piece, “Auto Body Connection.” Maybe the car got sick and my body followed. In any case we’ve both been dealing with ailments for a long time. No local auto-mechanic seemed to be able or willing to locate and fix this drained energy problem. It was their final decision and prognosis that no engine mastectomy or reconstruction was going to make it work again. It wasn’t worth it. Like me during Chemo, the car did not have enough juice to get going.

I thought my Honda would last a while longer, but I know now I am out-living the old thing. Unlike with old sick cars, there are ways to treat breast cancer and I am a survivor because of those methods.

I was hoping my old Honda would drive me through another ten years at least. That we would grow even older together and I’d never have to get another car. We were together for 28 years, longer than my marriage! But when the mechanics declared my old car dead, and all of them refused to work on it, I knew I was looking at having to walk to the store, post office, coffee shop. I was going to have to ride the bus to doctor’s offices, to Fred Meyer’s and Bi-mart to get my medicine. Riding the bus in Florence is doable. It is good we have a bus service in this small town. And it’s good the bus stops on my corner, but to ride the bus takes 70 minutes for the whole ride, or about 25 to 40 minutes depending on where you are going and where you catch the bus. Riding the bus requires planning and scheduling time for the length of the ride when and where. Preparing to be without a car, I convinced myself I could do it.

Due to extreme fatigue brought on by Chemo, I did not have enough energy to walk across my living room, and at times, not even enough to chew my food. My muscles died on me. A lifetime of moving my body from one place to another, many years of dancing and walking and riding a bike, and I couldn’t do much more than a slow shuffle across the floor—smalls steps, no strides, no fast walking, and like our local bus, there was no getting anywhere quickly. Stalled by my exhaustion, how was I going to walk to the grocery store when I could barely walk to my kitchen? Whether I walked or rode the bus, I needed my energy back. Even finding a new working car required energy. Opting for quality of life rather than the certainty of zapping and killing all the cancer cells in my body with toxic drugs, I chose to stop the Chemo treatments before the final fourth infusion. I needed to give my person-batteries a chance to recharge.

My friend and cat client for the last three years came to my rescue with the gift of a working car: an incredibly generous gift from Karen, owner of Blondie the Bengal, who recently moved to the Los Angeles area. I am the most expensive cat sitter she has ever hired! We looked at Craig’s list, but the only inexpensive cars were American made or a few salvaged foreign cars. I’ve heard about so many scams related to purchases from people listing items on Craig’s list that I didn’t know who to trust. I also didn’t know how I could get to see or test drive or have a mechanic look at the cars since most listings were outside of our Florence area.

My lack of trust kicked in and I gave up. I rejected all of those listings. How could I be so picky and so difficult and ungrateful about it when the car was a gift? I’ve always owned and driven small foreign-made cars, from Volvo to VW Bug and Van, to Subaru, to a cute sporty Fiat Coup, to my last, my blue Honda Accord. That’s what I had my mind and heart set on finding, another small car. I could see myself walking and hitch-hiking and riding the bus over driving an old Buick or other big American car. Small American cars, yes, but not big ones. It was a matter of my self-image. Yes, vanity had set in along with old habits.

No luck with Craig’s list due to my inherent inability to trust and my desire not to own a large American car. So Karen and I agreed that sending out an email ad for “WANTED: CLEAN USED CAR – $3000 (FLORENCE) to my friends and clients might get some results here in Florence. I received 5 offers. The first email response came from Pamela, a local artist, who said she was thinking about selling her 2002 Jeep Liberty.

Buying an American-made car was not my first choice, but when I saw the Jeep Liberty, I fell in love. It tugged at my heart strings. It’s a smallish SUV with plenty of room, back seat and rear hauling space. It is beg enough to carry all my paintings, or all my cat-sitting paraphernalia. Since it’s a 2002, it’s not gussied up with automatic windows or security. It is plain and simple, but cute! It has the all-important key fob. My first key fob–I can lock all doors at the same time with one push of a button and the car honks at me. Now I am the one who annoys other people with a loud honk upon a click of the key fob! Its radio and CD player work great. I haven’t had a radio/cassette/CD player in my Honda since 1988 or 1989 when I punched in a Bulgarian music cassette on my way home from a dance camp and could never get it out. Stuck. It is such a joy to be able to listen to music while driving. I can tootle down the road blasting my Bulgarian Dance music with the Jeep’s sonorous boom-box. So there! all of you young people booming past my apartment with your boom-boxes, take this!

The Jeep is a tank compared to my Honda. A gas guzzling tank. It needed new front tires and since it is a 4-wheel drive, this meant buying 4 new tires. I was willing to fork out the bucks for tires, the additional gasoline needs and other repairs. It drives with more power. It uses an automatic transmission, entirely new for me, a stick-shift girl, and it drives itself, albeit slowly and all I have to do is manipulate the steering wheel. I am happy with it. It’s provides a different image, yes, probably an odd image seeing an older woman wearing a floppy hat covering her bald head moseying through the neighborhood in a youngish Jeep Liberty Sport with 4-wheel drive that she will NEVER use! Head bouncing to blaringly loud Bulgarian dance music.

It has to mean there is something wrong with my brain. Considering my low-income status, will I have enough money for gas to make a long trip to visit family, or go touring around the country when I feel like it now that I have a good car? Not likely. I’ve done a lot of stupid things, a lot of bad things, but buying a gas guzzler Jeep might be the stupidest thing I’ve done in a long while. Eventually, if the Jeep lasts and if I last, in 5 or 10 years I might be physically unable to climb into the driver’s seat, even with a small stepping stool. However, I fell in love with this Jeep and no amount of practicalities would stop me from choosing it. I wanted it. In the long run, since it is much younger auto than my Honda and since Jeeps are in more demand, it will carry a higher trade-in value if I need to get something smaller, lower, more gas efficient, and more fitting for an older woman. That’s a good thing!

My Jeep’s front-end looks like the face of a large growling white tiger. A white tiger is good luck. Not one of my cars over the years has been white. Its whiteness appeals to me now, so much so that I am suddenly noticing other white cars and trucks on the road, so many on the road, especially the many different types of SUVs or vans and trucks. This morning, the parking lot at Mon Ami’s coffee shop at the Antique Row looked like Doctor’s Row. About six or seven autos wearing their pristine white coats, neatly angle-parked one after the other, so clean and medicinal looking. I laughed out loud and joined the row. Just what I needed—a doctor’s row and a cool iced tea or cappuccino with a lemon scone. No matter the brain power I have left, it’s an affirming feeling to be a part of an odd and wonderful something—a healing Jeep gift.

Thank you Karen!


© 2014 Susan Canavarro. All Rights Reserved.

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