Thursday, June 23, 2011

Our Excellent Adventure in Chi-Town, With Random Field Notes

Those of you who have been following our struggle to have Fellow Traveler's RA-related jaw pain relieved will be as pleased to hear this news as I am to share it: The VA located an oral surgeon for us who has facility in arthroscopic surgery -- not all that common in that particular field -- who says he can do an arthroscopic procedure that's much less invasive and risky than the condylectomy we'd been envisioning; it's an outpatient procedure done under general anesthesia in about an hour or less, and avoids jaw wiring.

It so happens that this surgeon is located in Chicago, which meant an unexpected road trip for us earlier this week. And at first we were pretty angry about it, because Fellow Traveler had worked hard to arrange for out-of-system surgery in our area, with a well-regarded oral surgeon who has a good track record for condylectomies. At the last minute the VA backed away from that plan and insisted that the surgery be performed in-system, throwing a monkey wrench into our scenario of a 30-minute drive to our regional hospital.

Our response? "As long as we have to drive 5 frigging hours across two states for a frigging consult in frigging Chicago, we're going to milk this for all the entertainment value it's worth." So we took our sweet time driving through Michigan, staying off the freeway for much of the journey and stopping to antique in Saugatuck, and then lodged overnight in Porter, Indiana, in Dunes country, at a really swell little hotel called the Spring House Inn. (More about that later.)

Here are some of my very random observations along the way:

Weirdest Michigan Bible Belt sign:  "New Testament Taxidermy." What does that even mean?

GPS: We loves us our GPS, even though Priscilla (that is her name) occasionally falls asleep at the wheel, so to speak, making us miss exits or sending us down the wrong two-lane road. Because I am not the big-city driver in the family, I am designated navigator, keeping FT informed of upcoming turns and such before Priscilla weighs in.

On being a non-confident/incompetent driver on long trips: I don't do big-city driving; straight up. It's not just out of being unaccustomed to multilane expressways with tiny entrance and exit ramps: I think that I have some sort of neural processing deficit (and I'm not being funny here) that prevents me from organizing in a meaningful way the sensory information bombarding me in city driving  -- what other people seem to be able to sort out in a kind of logical, linear fashion on the road just hits me all at once in a terrifying manner; a random merge is like a head-exploding nightmare to me. Which means that I probably should not be driving a large metal missile going at 70 miles per hour in the midst of a lot of other missiles with human beings in them.

I've given up the idea that I can somehow overcome this problem, as have my loved ones. But I still feel like an epic failure as a competent adult. I try to compensate by driving the non-city, blue-highways portions of our trips while FT naps, so I can feel like I'm contributing. The GPS is really helpful here, by the way, because it has a handy "avoid freeways" option. On this trip, we had a really pleasant meander through much of western Michigan, and we really didn't notice much of a difference in time.

Porter, Indiana: In researching our trip online we found a hotel, the Spring House Inn in Porter, an hour outside Chicago, that looked like a good, inexpensive place to spend the night. Because it's near the Indiana Dunes, I guess I was expecting the town to be like the picturesque duneside towns of northern Michigan. So coming off the freeway exit and finding ourselves in a messy, down-at-the-heels tangle of fireworks factories and truck stops and train tracks was something of a was the almost nonexistent promotion of the nearby Indiana Dunes. (Not to offend any readers from Indiana, but -- what is up with that?) And when we came upon our sight-unseen-booked hotel and saw weed-infested parking lots and an empty auxiliary banquet hall with a FOR SALE sign at the roadside, my heart sank.

The good news is that the Spring House Inn is a little gem that just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. It's tucked into the edge of a verdant woodland that brings to mind Hoosier author/conservationist Gene Stratton Porter's A Girl of the Limberlost.  The interior is clean and cozy and hints at former glory as a popular local honeymoon destination. Our handicap-accessible first-floor room was spacious, with a huge bathroom. The staff is friendly and helpful. And the rates are amazingly reasonable. If you like rooting for the underdog, and have an affinity for Fawlty-Towers-style boutique lodging, then this is a great place to stay, especially if you want/need access to Chicago but prefer to make hotel arrangements outside the city. We've already booked a room there for the operation-week trip.

Interestingly, we never did find the Dunes. (Again -- what is up with that? Maybe you need to hire the "Pure Michigan" ad campaign people or something.) Nor did we ever find a real downtown Porter. But we did find a great barbecue joint, Wagner's, around the block.

The Jesse Brown VAMC: I'm not sure what we were expecting when we arrived, but we were happily surprised at the courtesy and service we received here -- especially when the staff found out we'd traveled all the way from mid-Michigan. We also love FT's young doctor, who's done dozens of the surgeries that he is recommending for FT -- even though I'm sure I have shoes older than he is. We were able to get not only our consult but all our pre-op labwork and X-rays done, with time left over to enjoy real Chicago hot dogs and a boat ride at Navy Pier. By about 4 pm, though, we'd had enough of Chi-town for one day and were glad to beat the evening rush hour out of the city back to Porter.

Chicago: If we hadn't have been so roadweary and preoccupied with medical matters we might have spent more time investigating downtown. And the area surrounding the VA was definitely not a place for disoriented Prius-driving out-of-towners, GPS or no. We liked Navy Pier, though.

Southern Michigan wine: Just to show my Hoosier readers that I'm an equal-opportunity kvetch -- we were decidedly unimpressed with the (admittedly small) sampling of southern Michigan wines we tasted en route. The vineyards are very pretty and tourist-savvy to be sure, but the products, especially the red wines, are just not in the same league as northwest Michigan's wines. We wound up buying a bottle of white demi-sec from one place, but more out of mercy than excitement.

Well...that's what we've been doing on our summer vacation, so far.

1 comment:

Processing Counselor said...

I loved this post, the pictures, the descriptions of the hotel and the doc. Why haven't you started writing for a newspaper yet?
I have a box of shoes marked "for when I get old." in storage,btw. Comfortable, yet really ugly.
Did you visit Terri?