Archive for February, 2021

IT DOESN’T HAVE TEETH; IT’S A GRINDER

February 22, 2021

The North Fork Trail parallels the river of the same name (well, the North Fork of the Middle Fork of the Willamette River), an Oregon Wild and Scenic River, for about 11 miles upstream from Westfir/Oakridge and Highway 58. The river itself flows from Waldo Lake to the Middle Fork of the Willamette near Oakridge. The Aufderheide, Highway 19, one of the original 50 of national scenic byways, is across the river on the east side and connects in 60 miles to Highway 126 heading to Santiam and McKenzie Pass. The trail is for hiking and mountain biking at low elevation but hadn’t been fully assessed or addressed after the Snowmageddon event three years ago, and it looked it.  The Crew had hiked in the first time from FS Road 1919 at the north end with power brushers to clear encroaching plants and Pulaskis for the root wads—made by falling trees whose roots pulled out of the trail, but soon realized what we needed to do was log the whole thing out–over 400 trees in 5 miles needed removal– in addition to taking apart three failed bridges, or maybe four, I can’t remember. There were other bridges considered passable, but many might not choose to cross them.  I can understand their concerns. 

Map of upper Willamette River. Lookout Point, Fall Creek and Hills Creek are actually reservoirs.
Four wheel drive doesn’t do well here without some help.

Anyway, after the logging was completed, a brief phrase describing 175 man hours, long days driving in on roads that we sometimes had to log out to drive on, hiking to the trail, then cutting out and moving the rounds (cut logs), we tackled the spectacularly failed bridge north of FS 1912. 

Not usable.

Getting there was interesting.  We could hike in a mile from lower elevation, climbing a little then descending to a creek where the bridge was.  But since 1912 paralleled the trail, above it, we drove in about 3/4 of a mile, parked, where it was about 200 yards to the trail, 60 of those yards vertically down, on somewhat muddy ground, over a few logs, to reach the trail.  Once there, we crossed a serviceable bridge— “passable” although I wouldn’t lead a hike with the Club over—that canted about 5 degrees to the downstream side and was slick on even a dry day.  Then it was a quarter mile downhill to the worksite. Downhill sounds nice, but downhill on mud is dicey.

We first had to cut down bridge parts that were hanging in the breeze, then pry up the thick planks that were once tread from the large logs in which they were all pounded into with long spikes. I’m sure there is better terminology, but one gets the gist.  We wanted to save the planks for reuse, piling them nearby, but we first needed to get the spikes out.  They were about 8-10 inches long, and pounding them out, using the claws on the hammer or chisels was a difficult undertaking, because the claws weren’t deep enough to grab the spikes.  It would take us 10-15 minutes to remove a plank and then someone would spend 30 minutes or more on some of the spikes. We then used cawsalls, battery powered metal cutting saws. They would cut, and I learned once the nail started to smoke, and then smelled like boiled metal, although boiled metal isn’t in our smell repertoire, one could then stop and break the nail off. The cawsalls chewed up batteries like a dog a toy.

The stream was pretty, about 50-100 feet vertical above the river, but of course the nearby rocks were mossy and slippery, the far side muddy and steep, making any river crossing an undertaking in itself. The first day, we managed to cut out about two-thirds of the planks and stack them, each of the thirty to forty weighing well over 100 pounds, requiring two or more people to move on terrain that was, shall we say, friction impaired. We finally quit, stashing the pry rod, hammers, spikes removed, and a few other tools in a bucket on the other side of the creek.  We hiked out, across the 5 degree canted bridge, back up the awful hill to the cars, each puff of breath telling ourselves it was better than hiking a mile back to the bottom of the 1912 road.  

We planned one more day on the bridge the following week, this time bringing in more Lithium 18V batteries and a grinder, which I had never seen before. Most of the Crew have their own Home Office for hardware at home.  I have a hammer and at least now a voltmeter to check the car battery, not much else.  We split up in two groups, one on each side of the creek to remove the remaining planks, cut out some of the logs underneath, continuing to stack everything salvageable on the near side, and leave the cut big stuff by the creek. I watched one of the guys use the grinder to cut a spike out, and then he handed me the grinder. It seemed easy to use, the disk whirred around fast, and I cut the next spike with the usual smoke-stink-bend and break, before the battery died.  OK.  I picked up another battery, sure didn’t want to have to ask how to put it in, but fortunately figured out how.  I pushed the start button, things started to rotate, and went through the smoke-stink-break off spike process again.  With the machine stopped, I looked at the disk, which resembles a CD, and while cutting through metal, plays 100+ db screechy music that isn’t much different from some of the stuff my OK Boomer ears listen to today.  Heavy metal, indeed.

No teeth.  Uh oh, I thought, I ground those things right off.  Damn.

“Hey,” I called. “The teeth are gone.”  

The crew leader came over. “It doesn’t have teeth.  It’s a grinder.”

Oh. I could have sworn I saw teeth when I started.  Nope. I guess I have OK Boomer eyes, too.

We got the fifty odd heavy planks out and stacked, spikes removed or pounded into the center of the plank, finished cleaning up what we could and the leader called the job complete.  Wow, lot of big logs on both sides, many cut ones down in between, and this is done. Well, I don’t want to move those.  Better to walk out of there, back uphill where each week the steps were becoming progressively more muddy.

This week, it’s another mile to the next bridge. The planks hang down vertically and it is even more slippery.  If it is too wet, we will deal with root wads.  That’s safer, but one spends the day walking on boots that have 3 inches of mud caked on them.

The North Fork below.

Next up.

BROTHER, DOCTOR, COUNSELOR, SLEUTH

February 15, 2021

Recently, my brother died in the Philippines after suffering a large stroke with complications.

I received the information on Messenger by luck, because normally I look at it perhaps weekly.  The message was concise:  “Please answer. Your brother is in the hospital.”  To underscore the urgency, two videos showed indeed my brother, using a rebreather mask, lying on a gurney, two in PPE attending him. I hadn’t seen him since an afternoon in Oakridge, Oregon, nearly 5 years ago.

For decades, he had gone to the Philippines for half the year, spending the other half in Oakland. He remained there during the pandemic and had been there 15 months. He was found on the floor in his apartment when his girl friend, Lisa, went to see him. She noted the fruit she had hung on his door 3 days earlier was still there, worried, and got a key.  As I later put things together, my brother had a stroke, ending up supine on the floor long enough to get a decubitus ulcer, a bed sore, on his buttocks, and to aspirate, causing pneumonia.  Covid testing was negative. 

He obviously needed to be admitted. The EKG and Chest X-Ray were sent to me using Viber and Telegram. In addition to pneumonia, he had atrial fibrillation with a heart rate of 190 and a left hemiplegia. Such didn’t surprise me given he had a small stroke a few years earlier, a long history of intermittent—and now apparently chronic—atrial fibrillation, heart failure, and taking anticoagulants sporadically, all of which were significant risk factors. He didn’t take his brother’s—my— advice when he was conscious; now he didn’t have a choice, but it was too late.

I learned I needed a 50,000 peso deposit, about $1100, for his hospitalization. Lisa found his wallet and a credit card, so I told her to use it. I knew nothing about his assets, US address, social security number, telephone or passport number, immigration status, end of life wishes, a trust, will, nothing. That was the way my brother liked it. I knew that I couldn’t change his mind: I never had. My father came closest, but he never fully succeeded, either. 

If you don’t have a will or advance directives, read on and note the consequences to those left behind without one to guide decisions.

After admission, Lisa periodically left to buy medications for his treatment at local pharmacies. That was how it is done there.  The CT scan showed a large right hemispheric infarct with swelling, a bad sign.  The next day, I spoke to the neurologist doctor to doctor, impressed by the detail and clarity with which the he presented information.  He wanted my brother to be put on a ventilator to support his lungs, suggesting a 3-day trial, which I thought reasonable.  At that point, we were both concerned of my brother’s ending up in a vegetative state: no comprehension, but appearing awake.

Meanwhile, I tried to sort out costs, deal with the 16 hour time difference, and help Lisa understand the seriousness of my brother’s condition.  Concurrently, I realized I would neither see nor talk to him ever again. Lisa got his computer and her daughter opened it, so we were able to find a few contacts, a bank, an investment account, a retirement account, and a smattering of passwords. I called his investment broker, and when I heard myself say, “My brother is seriously ill in the Philippines, and we need his money for the hospitalization,” I felt like a scammer. I knew nobody could do anything; I just didn’t need their saying “Wait until he wakes up,”when I already had told them he wouldn’t.

That weekend, I used his passwords to log in to a pension fund and his bank account, not that I could do anything with either.  He had 3 phone numbers to try, one with a 63 number that he used in the Philippines. I found his address in Oakland and learned from the pension fund he had no will.  I discovered his credit card was good for $2000, which was useful but already almost maxed out; his savings account had $200. 

I called my lawyer, who told me she found one name on a Listserv in the Bay Area, so I called and left both a voice mail and a summary on the Web site.  That night, I heard from the neurologist, who said the scan looked like more brain emboli had occurred along with incipient gangrene of the left leg. He was dying, so we made him DNR-do not resuscitate—although Lisa wasn’t quite ready to sign it. I had no problems with that.

That Tuesday, my brother rapidly deteriorated and died mid-morning there, early evening Monday here.  While Lisa was grieving and blaming herself, I told her my brother had been more ill than she knew, and she had done everything possible. I was all too familiar with my brother’s approach to life, but she wasn’t,  Still, she obtained his death certificate, somewhat surprising, because I thought the hospital would hold the body until they got paid.  She then sent me a video of the truck’s carrying my brother’s body to the crematorium.  I then called the US Embassy in Manila to see what they would need after he died. It was a strange call, for when they offered condolences, I was now more doctor-sleuth-executor, counseling Lisa at times, and compartmentalizing my brother into the “past” box.  I would be and am now the last surviving member of my birth family.

Once I had the death certificate, his passport copy, my passport copy, his immigration papers, Form 2060, and a copy of his Medicare card for good measure, I sent them to the Embassy, not knowing if it would be sufficient, but if it were, the 4-6 week waiting period for a Consular Report of Death, which I could use to access my brother’s accounts, would start. I would have to notify those contacts I knew, from Facebook and his phone (both very limited), a cousin, and my sister-in-law.

I was fortunate, when I dragged myself away from the ugly reality, that I didn’t have to repatriate his body and decide where to bury it; I didn’t have to deal with his personal effects, either, other than keys and ID.  In the Philippines, he had been loved. He had credit cards with enough money available that Lisa could buy his medicines and have his body cremated. She took enough grief from past girl friends he had and others who thought she had hurt him that I finally had to break social media silence when she asked me to reply to a Facebook post saying, “God only knows what happened.” I wrote, “I don’t claim to speak for God, but I can speak to what happened to him,” writing a concise hard hitting paragraph. The embassy had told me I needed to send a notarized permission letter for Lisa to use.  She operated fine with an un-notarized one.

As sole survivor, I felt strangely unmoored.  For the first time in years, I wanted to talk to my parents, for they would have understood my difficulties with my brother-their son-better than anybody else. I voiced those conversations aloud when I walked.

I asked my bank to help me with the wire transfer to pay the hospital, because it would involve nearly $12,000.  Even as next-of-kin, I had no legal obligation to act.  I was not executor, and I didn’t yet have a lawyer.  But my brother had received good care, was treated well, and I had a moral obligation to pay for it.

That was the first out of pocket money I had spent.  It was fair and just, if expensive. After wiring it, I felt an immense relief that a chapter was closed. My brother would ride off on his bicycle into the great beyond, again leaving behind unfinished business.  Lisa and her daughter would hold constant vigil over his ashes in a small shrine with two candles, a picture of him, for nine days, praying for his soul, a Filipino custom. When I heard that, I chuckled to myself, “Is 9 days long enough?” My parents would have laughed. 

Peace, bro. You were loved but man, you made things more difficult at the end than they had to be, and you still ended up with a shrine.  What a world. Don’t worry about your stuff; little brother can deal with it. 

Author, left, with brother, Oakridge, Oregon, June 2015.