Nothing To Do In Iowa

Summer here is on its last leg, and autumn is knocking on our doors. Yet we are still trying to squeeze out the fun of what’s left of this summer.

Like the summers before, we again had a few friends and relatives from out-of-state who visited and stayed with us here in Iowa. They came from New York, from Florida, and even from out of the country like Taiwan and the Philippines.

One friend who came from Florida, was told by her office mates when they learned that she was flying to Iowa, that there’s nothing to see and do in Iowa. Except if you’re a Presidential candidate and you’re campaigning.

True, Iowa is not a tourist destination, like California or Florida. There may not be much to see here. But for our friends, seeing us, maybe is reason enough for them to visit Iowa.

Yet we tried our best to show our visitors what is here to see. We toured them around the city of Des Moines, the covered bridges of Madison County, and the farm fields of Iowa. Some of them even had the chance to go to the annual Iowa State Fair.

They said that our state fair is truly part of Americana. For where else can you go around the fair grounds while chomping on a whole turkey leg or a pork chop on a stick? Or munch deep-fried Oreos or deep-fried Sneakers? Or see the biggest cow, or the biggest pumpkin? Or see the famed butter cow sculpture?

This summer, we also had the chance to visit other states, like Montana and California. We have a few relatives in California, including my mother-in-law, who sadly to say, got awfully sick and eventually passed away during our visit there. Thus our vacation had a sudden turn of sad events.

She was hospitalized in a small hospital in Hollywood. In fact, the hospital was a couple of blocks from Sunset Boulevard and all the touristy spots in Hollywood. But driving back and forth to the hospital and where we’re staying was not a pleasant trip, as we were most of the time stuck in terrible traffic in the Los Angeles area.

photo taken after we visited my mother-in-law at the hospital

My mother-in-law stayed in the ICU for a few days, and I had the chance to talk to her physician. I introduced myself as an ICU doctor as well, so we can have a direct talk about the nitty-gritty details involved, as well as management, and of course prognosis.

The ICU physician was nice to me. Though he was in a bit of disbelief that I am practicing in Iowa. Perhaps he, like many others, have the impression that there’s nothing but corn and cows in Iowa.

He even asked my kids what do they do for “fun” in Iowa. My kids just politely said “a lot” without giving much details. I’m sure the good doctor was expecting answers like going to Disney, or visiting a theme park (which we also have though not as famous), or going to the beach.

My kids could have answered, how about catching fireflies. Or riding ATV in the cornfields with our friends. Or riding bike in dirt trails. Or perhaps just watching the sunset, or counting the stars.

As he was leaving, my mother-in-law’s doctor told me that he felt “sorry” that I live in Iowa. I just smiled and did not answer. It was past eight in the evening, and I knew he was not even on-call that night for he told me so, and yet he was still making rounds and seeing patients.

Me in Iowa? If I’m not on-call, I’m done with work by five in the afternoon, and I’m doing something “fun” by that time. Or maybe I’m just home spending time with my family.

In reality, it was me, who felt sorry for him.

For somebody who have lived in Manila, New Jersey, New York City, California, and Florida, I know what I’m talking about. And that’s why I chose to live where I’m living now.

Yes, there’s nothing to do in Iowa.

me and the bike trail in the middle of cornfiels


 

Invictus

You are a formidable foe. That we will admit. For five years we bask in the glory that we have defeated you. That we have eradicated you!

Or so we thought.

But you came back. Even with a vengeance. Now your are in a stance to take what was denied of you for the past five years. You are so ready to take your kill. You are again victorious.

But you are wrong!

You did not defeat us. We did not cower in your presence. We have fought a good fight. We looked at you in the eye and in spite of you always lurking in the shadows, we lived our lives to the fullest.

Our faith grew deeper. Our hope soared higher. Our ties grew stronger. We laughed. We loved. We lived!

And that you cannot take away from us.

So tell your friend, Death, that we are not afraid of him too. “O death where is thy sting, o grave, where is thy victory?”

The body may be broken, but not our spirits. As for you, Cancer, you never conquered us! slide.001 * Invictus is Latin for unconquered. It is also a poem by 19th century English poet William Ernest Henley. He wrote the poem while he laid in a hospital bed battling a life-threatening illness.

** Dedicated to my mother, on her last dance.

Handiwork of Love

Do you like crochet? (Pronounced crow-shay.) No, it’s not a country in Southeastern Europe, that is Croatia. And no, it’s not something that you eat, that’s croissant. Crochet is a handicraft in which yarn is weaved into a patterned fabric using a hooked needle.

Now we’re clear.

Years ago when we were still in Florida, I received a dainty crochet blanket as a gift. It was made by one of my patients. She learned that my wife and I were expecting a baby boy, and thus she lovingly made a baby blanket for us.

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my son’s crochet blanket

Crocheting and knitting are endeavors that need basic skills, some appropriated time, and a great deal of patience. It also takes vision on how the finished piece would look like while you’re still working on it. Sometimes it is hard to foresee the beautiful final art when what you only have is a small knitted mess, an entangled needle, and lots of balls of yarn.

When my patient gave the baby blanket to us, she told me that it took her a longer time to finish it as she was not as fast as she used to. You may be amazed if I tell you that my patient was ninety-one years old at that time! And frail too. With her advanced age, failing eyesight and with her arthritic hands, it was really a labor of love.

The more amazing part was, according to the patient’s daughter, halfway through the project, she made an error on the pattern but realized it much later. So she uncrocheted (is that a word?) or undo the piece up to the area of the mistake, and weaved it back over again.

What have I done to deserve this gift? I am not sure.

My son is now eleven years old. The crochet blanket sits in our closet. But I cannot give it away, as I know how painstakingly it was created. It is like an heirloom now. Maybe someday my son will use it for his own baby.

More recently, I received another knitted piece. It was a lovely table cover. It was done by a lady that was recovering from cancer. I know that she just finished chemotherapy then, as her hair have not grown back fully, when she gave the gift to me.

However, the lady was not my patient. Her husband is. I diagnosed him with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) – a deadly debilitating lung disease that has no known treatment at this age of modern medicine. Oxygen and comfort measures are the only things we can offer. Most patients die within 3-5 years after the diagnosis. And the sad part is as the lungs progressively fail, they suffocate to death.

Needless to say, my patient, like all other IPF patients, died within a couple of years. Yet his wife, who herself was sick, gave me this beautiful knitted item, which is definitely a handiwork of love. It now sits atop one of our coffee table.

Again, what have I done to deserve this? It should be me offering inspiration and comfort to them. Instead it was I who was inspired by them.

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my knitted table cover gift

Life can be difficult and downright harsh at times. Yet this knitted creations are testaments of human love. They are constant reminder to me, that people, no matter what the circumstances they are in, can be thankful and giving. And this makes this world wonderful, despite of all the ills we find in it.

We may not all learn how to knit or crochet. But maybe we can all learn to live kindly with one another and inspire one another in a loving knit of humanity. What a beautiful handiwork that would be.