In a Heartbeat

Keeping dry when you have to

LORIā€ˆOSIECKI ILLUSTRATION

The phone rings. My mother-in-law is calling. I answer it anyway.

She says she just wants me to know that God had struck her blind.
She turned on “Real Housewives,” and she can’t hardly see the screen. She guesses God is punishing her for watching trashy TV. She can’t even find her rosary to pray for a cure, because everything is almost black.
I think for a minute. Then I say, “Feel your face.”
She says, “Ohhh.”    
She has her sunglasses on.
And just like that, she’s cured. Call me St. Jude.

I can’t take too much credit. This is the third time she’s done that since she got her cataracts removed and has to wear sunglasses outside.

Usually, Ms. Larda is about as frail as a Mack Truck. But – except when “Real Housewives” is on – she’s been working double-time. This is because the trash authorities in Jefferson Parish gave everybody giant trash bins, and ordered them to use these bins instead of plain bags. They did the same thing in New Orleans a couple years back. It turns neighbor against neighbor. Some people don’t want to bother dragging them out to the curb on trash days and then drag them back to the alley, so they just leave them at the curb all the time. This drives their neatnik neighbors nuts and they tape notes on the bins saying they’re an eyesore, and the bin owners leave answering notes telling the neatniks to mind their own (bad word) business.

Ms. Larda has been helping keep the peace by turning them trash bins into things of beauty. She creates gorgeous decorative muumuus to put on them. She even offers seasonal themes and coordinating door wreaths.

But add on Jefferson Parish and it’s too much of a good thing. She has been sewing all day and half the night. She falls asleep and wakes up with her heart pounding. Then she starts worrying about that, so her heart pounds faster and she calls me up and says if she dies I should take care of her Chihuahua, Chopsley.

I think it would be better if Chopsley goes first, so I take her to the doctor. He orders her to wear a heart monitor for 30 days.
His nurse shows us how it works. It has got two electrodes on sticky patches that you put on your chest: one on the upper right side and one on the lower left. They are attached to long plastic-covered wires. The other end of the wires plugs into a heartbeat recorder, a little box you can stick in your cleavage if you got one and in your pocket if you don’t. She got more cleavage than pockets, so she chooses cleavage.
Then the nurse says you got to unstick the electrodes and take off the recorder when you bathe or go swimming, because any water will kill it and that would cost Ms. Larda $2,500. Well. Ms. Larda almost had a heart attack right on the spot. Twenty-five hundred dollars is a lot of muumuus

After we leave, she thinks of something worse. “What if it electrifies me when it gets wet?” Ms. Larda says. “I’ll be dead, and I’ll be out $2,500. I won’t be able to afford a decent funeral.”
I know her heart is galloping a mile a minute underneath all that cleavage.

Well, it so happens all the Gunches are heading for Aunt Chlorine’s condo at Orange Beach for one last fling before schools starts. I think it’s just what Ms. Larda needs to relax.

I tell her she can protect the recorder with a Ziploc bag, but she says that if I had any cleavage, which I don’t, I would never stick a Ziploc bag in there. “You sweat and it sticks to you and crinkles when you move and is just miserable,” she says to me.
At Aunt Chlorine’s, whenever anything resembling water appears, like a grandkid with a cup of milk or a son-in-law with a beer, she assumes the teapot position: right arm up and crooked at the elbow so her hand covers her right electrode and cleavage, and the other hand on her lower left chest to cover that electrode.

She ties a lobster bib around her neck for every meal. She puts on a raincoat to bathe the grandkids. And when she cooks, she wears this waterproof apron I got at half-price from a T-shirt shop in the French Quarter. It got a nasty saying on it but we put duct tape over that.
At the end of the trip, her monitor is still dry. “If you can get through that, you can get through anything,” I tell her. Nuh-uh, she says. “Never count your eggs before the chickens. I still got two days.”

Next day she calls to say she was right. On her last day with this monitor, she’s walking across the parking lot at Lakeside shopping center when one of them pop-up showers lets loose – and in seconds the rain is whooshing down in buckets. She knows her cleavage ain’t no match for that. So she grabs the monitor and sticks it in her left armpit. Then she assumes the teapot position with her right elbow up, covering that electrode, but she got to keep her left arm clamped down. So she tears across the parking lot like a Sherman tank going sideways. She is parked at the edge of the lot, so it’s a long way, but that monitor stays dry and it records whatever her heart was doing when the rest of her was running.

The next day, the doctor looks at the reading and asks what on earth happened that afternoon. She explains and he says, well, if hotfooting it across Lakeside parking lot in August didn’t drop her in her tracks, she’s probably all right.
I am very relieved and I’m sure Chopsley the Chihuahua is, too.

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