Kite Day

Because September 22nd was a beautifully windy Sunday, my husband and I, and my dear, visiting brother, Jerry, went to exercise Herman’s big, wonderful rip-stop nylon two-handed kite, sort of a rainbow-colored flying wing, at Gas Works Park.

He was doing so nicely with it that he offered me the reins. I took the left hand wrist-strap reins, took the right ones. . . and a good gust took me — until in disgust at how useless I was as a kite steward, it slammed me to the grass.  (I was only dragged, my feet never left the ground.) Cracked my pelvis in a couple of places, and my shoulder in a whole lot more, at the point where ball and socket meet.  As bad luck would have it, both on the same side. And I am right-handed.

hhwithkite2From then until today, as Herman and I start the sixth week of rehab here at home,  I have …umm  fallen in among the most extraordinary, gifted, generous, scrupulously careful, funny and caring gang of professionals, from rescue teams to healing ones, working in one city, and in one hospital,  Seattle’s UW Orthopedics.

Part of the trick of getting me to the UW was protecting that shoulder, while we all hoped it might still just be out of its socket. The odd, ungainly inflatable cushion that one of the five Fire Dept. rescue crew came up with looked like a pteradactyl that had settled in for a bite of my shoulder, but it protected perfectly.  It was at that point that movies began to float in and out of the next 5 days.

Somehow, I learned that my ambulance attendant’s wife’s name was Brie.

“Oh my.  THAT’S a great movie name,” I said.  “Bree Daniels.”

“Jane Fonda,” he said,.  We both took a minute of reverie.

“And that dress that unzipped all down her back.”

“Umm hmm.”

Then we both tried to remember the name of the movie with Bree Daniels.  The driver couldn’t help, she was roughly Jane Fonda’s age when she made the picture.  We two memory-wrapped fans were useless.

We arrived at the hospital, I got straight into the doing-something-about-this-situation-fast  room, the ambulance crew waved and left. . . when, as they had almost pulled away,  my attendant friend reappeared in the doorway, shouting:


“Klute! Of course! Thank you!”  And I finally relaxed.

The luck which has surrounded me and my whole family, lifelong, hadn’t left.  Scanning my dozens of x-rays was the best possible “provider” for me:  a smart,  bemused orthopedic surgeon who read my background history, and decided that at 82, it made a lot more sense to let the bones heal on their own, rather than opt for a surgery involving pins, nails , and who knows what-all.  He delivered this opinion, omitting nothing:  it was very possible that I’d get a range of shoulder motion back, but all would not be as before.  I probably will not be able to raise that arm above my shoulder.

 “So, from here on, it’s the John McCain wave?”  I asked.

I saw his mouth curve nicely.  “Afraid so.”

“Could be a lot worse,” I said.

Then, in one all-seeing measure of alertness and goodness, this young god at the top of my UW pyramid, listened when I said that, as a demi-claustrophobe, if they planned to save me from blood clots with knee-to-ankle plastic pneumatic stockings which squeezed and released, rhythmically, all night long and most of the day, I would take manicure scissors to them.  He wrote me a pass, good for the whole five nights I was there, that excused me from them.

So, with Herman “sleeping” nights in a corner of my room, we both embarked on an intensive five days of learning: how to get from bed to portable biffy; how to begin to get a tiny bit of strength back; how fortunate I was that the right (bad) leg is still, somehow (OUCH!) weight-bearing, plus all the skills I’d need if — as we were determined to do — I came home, instead of being sent to a rehab facility.  So we began a campaign with any staff who would listen.  They were plentiful.

My teachers came to the UW from all over the world: Franklin, well over 6’1″, from Nigeria, who was security and gentleness itself at 2 ayem, as he helped me navigate to the biffy by my hospital web belt . (If I’ve lost SO many names and remembered his, it’s because Franklin is a name that threads through my family. Well, that and his pure sweetness and strength, there in the dark.)

There was the nighttime RN, who somehow always seemed to get the joke, no matter how arcane; the magically gentle pre-dawn phlebotomist, also from Nigeria, whose headwrap was secure and spectacular, all at once.  The crowd grew to include an fourth-generation Japanese-Chinese RN and a matinee-idol handsome Persian.

Then there were my spark plugs, the Occupational Therapists, who taught me the daily nuts and bolt of the new normal, and the Physical Therapists, who covered all the rest.  And it became clear that, in order to be allowed to go home, we had to persuade both  of them that Herman and I could manage.  (We had, after all, managed after my 2 major/3 minor eye surgeries, and then back surgery.)  Herman, they had no doubt about; with me, the learning curve was a bit more steep.

As for that strain of the movies: day before they finally said I could leave, the OT announced that I could have a shower.  ????   Who knew that the inside of my very own bathroom had two lovely, wooden pull-down seats and a long, lovely shower head.

Or that J. , a fresh-faced 27-year old son of the Bronx, would be my shower buddy?  I tried to spare him.

“This is nothing for your eyes, believe me.”

“I’m a Health Care Professional,” he said, with a grin.  We’d had other, long conversations before this. Somehow, I learned about his passion for really old movies.  Black and white, he said.  The 40’s.

All went perfectly, except that I needed a shower cap.  J. decided to improvise with a white towel, which he tried to put on my forehead and knot at the back.  Wouldn’t hold.

“J., J!”  I said, “Lana Turners turban in The Postman Always Rings Twice.”

The movies never let you down.

They let us go home. We’re safely settled.  After their initial shock at The Bruise pictures (home day #2) all three daughters came to believe that all will be well .   (Caitlin, most recent in the rotation of daughters, just left after 4 days here, having flown from her current FS posting in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.)

caitlin Medicare now gives me an OT and a PT, sometime two a day.  And a gentle woman who tosses me into the shower.  My only complaint is exhaustion.  Since I cut out the hard drug, three nights ago, I can now read AND comprehend, and even try a bit of email. Mostly, we are healing hermits.

That luck I mentioned has also given me my friend Janaki, who has made it her business to see both of us through this.  She’s my trainer, sink hair-washer, she’s even made us multiple dinners with our borrowed crock pot (thank you, Elaine!)  She has put up with my inclination toward melodrama, and seen that there are snacks on my tray. . .er Command Module, that trails me everywhere. And crucially, she is a fresh and avid fan for my sacredly saved 13-episodes of Rubicon, which somehow she missed, all those years ago.

The rock-solid hero of the day is, of course, this person.

hhoncouch When we had our 31st anniversary just last month, I somehow believed I knew a lot about my husband, but I don’t think either one of us knew the depths he was capable of, until he went into action and stayed there, every single blessed day since the 22nd of September.

Somehow, the droll edge to his wit has never disappeared, certainly his tenderness hasn’t. He has managed resilience and a measured, honest look at what each day has brought us — and he makes it all seem like progress.

What neither one of us could have dreamed was how much his deep political savvy could lighten the day, as we watched the wanton savagery and limitless malice of those Tea Party fools, who cannot accept two elections and a Supreme Court decision.  If you like great ad hoc political commentary, you don’t get better than HH, in full voiced outrage..

As he copes with shopping, cooking, the dishes, the laundry, a few details of recovery have been cruel and unusual — waking up with me the necessary three times each night left him as sleep-deprived as any new father. . . and he is at the same time, working downstairs in his office every day as Pace and Hong Auctions rises and expands.  (Prolonged cheers!) Now — ahem — I am up and down again, without waking him. At this point, I call anything progress.

So, that’s us, these days.  However, lest you think that this unusual event has left either one of us with  anything against kites, take a look at this for the sheer beauty of their airy lives.  (If you feel the need to skip, do NOT miss the ending.)

10 thoughts on “Kite Day

  1. Dearest Friend, WHAT an awful, terrible thing to have happened to you. I am SO sorry. I hope and pray you are on your way to a decent kind of normal. Long ago knew that Herman was a champ of a special kind and he does not waver from that. What, or not, are you able to do? Your “report” of the happenings was a delight to read, wrong circumstances of course, but your wonderful way of telling tales with warmth and humor has not been lost.

    Gary and I recently returned from a six week long “jaunt” thru parts of France and Italy. It was wonderful ! We drove across and down and around from Paris. It is the countryside of these countries that I love the most. We stayed weeks at some places and a few days at others . Chanti is truly spectacular country, and food, wine and people but I also loved Provence (we’d been before) and it seemed brand new. In Tuscany we befriended a truly fun/lovely couple from London. He has an artist’s rep firm…..which up until a few days ago included Lou Reed. I feel very grateful for all of that.

    Otherwise all goes well here. A new cell phone that has me and Ellie (our 92 yr. old friend, who got a new one too) going nuts trying to figure the damn thing out. I am NOT a techie of any sort. Gary and I spend time together every month. I usually go to Carmel….his home is lovely and comfortable and soooo quiet. Still adore SF.

    I have read some of Tabbies in Tow…….a writer like her mother….. and choosing an amazing career. My family are all well and either in school or at jobs. My 23 yr old grandaughter Sonia, finished college in Hospitality and is now the dining room manager at the Sonoma Mission Inn. Grandson Christopher 16, is well on his way to a life in the theatre (say prayer). Megan, Geoff’s girl 14 is in Jr. Hi and Mick, Erin’s 21 year old son in Sonoma State….I have no cule as to his studies.

    So, my love, for now I offer my apologizes for being such a lazy responder.

    I send much love and healing thoughts. A delicious and lovely Thanksgiving to you and Herman et les girls et famillies. Mollie

  2. Dearest Sheila,

    I’ve just read about your losing battle with the kite and its aftermath, having come home from an England trip with my fella Don late Thursday evening. What a misery, and what a wonderful account of it you wrote. That’s the Sheila I’ve known and admired all these decades, the one for whom anything is raw material for wise, funny, tender writing. I wish that you wouldn’t set about finding subject matter so vigorously, though.

    I’m still cross-eyed with jet lag and a fierce wind has this houseboat rocking a tad too much for comfort, so I won’t write at length, but I do wish you rapid healing and send you and your heroic husband all love. Unrelated footnote: I was mad about Rubicon and deeply envy your stash of episodes. Should have known you’d be the friend who’d have glommed onto and saved the whole series.

    Much love, and please no kites for a while, beautiful as Herman’s kite is. Cyra xoxox

    Sent from my iPad


  3. So sorry for your accident. Bless Herman and the others looking after you. Movies will help you get through it all, along with your imbedded literally sense of humor. Love, Jorie and Gordon

  4. Sheila, glad to hear you (& Herman) have survived. I have an appreciation for hospital stays and I know what you and Herman went through is not fun. I am glad you were able to keep your sense of humor about it. I’m off to see a movie called Muscle Shoals on Thursday. It is about the famous recording studios there. I will think of you two movie buffs. Hope you get better and I think somebody deserves a pie. Be well. Mark

  5. Dear Sheila,
    Thank you so much for writing this. I am so pleased to see that your inspiring strength, humor and passion for movies has carried you through the difficulties and pain of your broken bones. I was very moved by your generous expression gratitude to those who have supported you through this ordeal. Of course your wonderful family and friends will always do anything for you because you are so loved and treasured. Surely those health care workers feel that they have chosen the right career path after getting to know you by working with you. We all know that Herman is a prince, a mensch and a modest superstar.

    Kites are magical and I am relieved to see that you still adore them. Thanks for posting the gorgeous video.
    Love you so much,

  6. Sheila, I just sent the note to you at If that is not the right address – is there supposed to be an ‘n’ missing or did I just have it wrong? – at least you will get it this way… at the end of a long queue of responses to your story:

    Dear Sheila,

    I’ve just read through your latest Critic Quality Feed posting – on this your first month’s anniversary of (ouch) such a painful intrusion on your well-being and day-to-day enjoyment of your life…

    And my hat’s off to you and whatever else should come off in awed recognition of your strength and good humor and ability to write the story of the consequences of kite-flying so quickly afterwards.

    I’m happy to hear that you’re at home and taking things day by day and apparently still enjoying the process and I hope the discomfort does not get overwhelmingly bothersome and disturb your zest for living for any real stretch of time.

    I suspect that your CQF posting is the first major broadcasting of the situation (it’s the first I’ve heard of it), so you are probably now getting waves of e-mails from all of us who care deeply about you.

    I’d been meaning to give Herman a call for the last couple of weeks and I will do that very thing as soon as I hit the send button on this note…

    With all my best and warmest wishes,


  7. Really, Ms Benson, just because you broke your right shoulder gives you no excuse for such a long absence of blog entries! What were you thinking, neglecting your readers like this?

    Glad to see you are back, and writing again. Thanks for the amusing, and reassuring, report. And hugs and cheers for HH. We know he is the hero and matinee idol in your movie.

    Cheers to you both.

  8. It is always so lovely to read your posts! I shall be baking later this week so watch out!

  9. well, you haven’t lost your writing chops! thank you for your kind words. my brain got away from me and i neglected to thank you for that wonderful dinner. am sitting in chrissan and ricky’s new york living room. outside the sun shines and the temperature is balmy; life is good today.

    how are you feeling? i’ll phone you tomorrow after the doctor.


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