Sciatica and Charlie Brown

J.Hooligan and me reading one of the original Peanuts strips at the Greenacres Arts Center. (J. isn’t being affectionate; he was leaning down on me so I could hold his lazy butt up.)

Everything was fine when I left the house around 8:50 this morning. I was on my way to take a stress test at Bethesda North, and Mom had just finished cleaning up in the kitchen and was going to sit down and rest a bit. Later, we were to join Diamondqueen and the Hooligans for lunch and a visit to “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown” at the Greenacres Arts Center.

When I sat down with the registrar at the hospital, she informed me that she could find nothing scheduled for me today. “But I know she said December first,” I almost whined. The nice woman pressed on and discovered my appointment for a stress test—at 9:30 a.m. on December 4. I swear I thought I repeated the date to the medical assistant who phoned me with the appointment information. I guess I thought she said “first” when she really said “fourth,” and she thought I said “fourth” when I actually said “first.” The registrar gave me a card with a phone number I could call to pre-register for Tuesday, and I headed back to the parking lot feeling very disgruntled.

I walked in the house ready to gripe about the mix-up to Mom. I expected her to be in the computer room; instead, she was lying on her bed. At first I thought she’d tried to take a nap, then I realized she was clutching her head and writhing in pain.

“That hip!” she moaned. “It flared up just a few minutes ago. This pain is worst than that time last spring.” It seems like classic sciatica, which Mom had investigated twenty years ago. Since they couldn’t do much for her then, she’s refused to get it checked out again now. That may change this week, though, because she’s had all-day misery, even with Percoset and ibuprofen.

I did what little I could (virtually nothing) to help Mom get comfortable. She insisted I should go ahead with Diamondqueen and Co., although I wasn’t sure about leaving her home alone when she could hardly get out of bed. I called Diamondqueen with the sorry update and told her I’d be up there in about 90 minutes. I desperately needed to catch a few winks since I hadn’t been able to get to sleep when I tried to get to bed “early” at 2:30 a.m.

By the time I was ready to leave, Mom wasn’t improved at all. She said to go on to lunch, and then we could stop by the house and see how she was doing. I set up her cell phone next to her bed with Diamondqueen’s number pulled up and drove to the Hooligan household.

We decided to eat at our favorite local Mexican restaurant, just a few minutes away, then swung back up to Mom’s. No improvement at all. We checked into dosages with some Internet research and a call to a pharmacist. Mom wanted us to go on, so I got her a bowl of cheese crackers and her ginger ale and set out two Percosets she could take in another 40 minutes.

We’d never been to the Greenacres Arts Center before, although the Hooligans had been to parts of the farm for various school-related visits. We were astonished when we drove through the front gates and up a long driveway to a castle-like mansion. We learned the house once belonged to Julius Fleischmann (of Fleischmann Margarine) as part of his 1,600-acre estate, Winding Hills Farm. In 1949, Cincinnati philanthropists Louis and Louise Nippert made the estate their home and later transformed the mansion into an arts center for their nonprofit Greenacres Foundation.

The “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!” event is great fun for kids. There are original drawings of the Peanuts strip by Charles Schulz; a screening room for “A Charlie Brown Christmas” (next to a hall with a private indoor pool; this was a luxury J. coveted); a treat room where kids can decorate cookies, make chocolate-dipped pretzels, and create their own Charlie Brown tree from a live fir clipping and a small red ornament. On the second floor is a story room, a train display, and a winter crafts room where the Hooligans were able to make their own snow globes and snowflake ornaments.

The kids enjoyed themselves, and I enjoyed seeing the public areas of that wonderful mansion, not to mention little features such as a black iron silhouette of a child riding a stick horse on the window of the nursery, a craggy-looking slate roof, and small designs impressed in the gutters. The down side was worrying about Mom and feeling bad she hadn’t been able to go out with us. J.Hooligan made his Charlie Brown tree for me to take to Mom.

When I got home, I was sorry to see Mom was still in serious pain. I called her medical office’s on-call doctor and got her personal physician, who recommended adding ibuprofen to the Percoset. He confirmed that there probably wasn’t much more they could do for her in an emergency room except give her a shot of painkiller, and Mom was adamant she didn’t want to go through the ambulance/emergency room ordeal.

Last I checked, the pain had relented a bit. I hope it lets up entirely so we both can get a good night’s sleep. I certainly can’t relax when I know she’s suffering.

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