Miss Edna’s Feast

Every six months, my mother and I make a pilgrimage to Costco in the northeastern suburbs of Saint Paul.  For my family of three, Costco seems a crazy enterprise.  We simply do not need a gallon of pickles.  Target and I maintain a longstanding intimate relationship with conjugal visits at least weekly.  The credit card hacking fiasco put a damper on our intimacy for about as long as it took Capital One to issue me a new account number.  Why do I cheat on Target with an entity as vast and impersonal as Costco?

I certainly enjoy the mother/daughter shopping experience.  We see many multi-generational combinations on our forays.  And I’m sure that I, the granddaughter of a divorced single mother born during the Great Depression, am comforted on an inexplicable cellular level by the sheer excess of Costco.  The bottom line, though, as anyone with kids can attest, is you can never have too many moist flushable wipes.  It’s a hand towel!  It’s a Kleenex!  It’s a dustcloth!

After loading my eighteen-wheeler shopping cart with wipes, Mom and I make our way to the produce section.  I park her outside the frigid-as-a-morgue veggie cooler and ask what she wants.  (You can take the girl out of Fresno but you can’t make her thermoregulate.)  Asparagus.  I zip up my down-comforter-with-sleeves, yank my hat over my forehead, and plunge into the cooler.  My own asparagus patch has yet to yield an edible crop.  I pick up a bag from Baja Sun to assess the product.  Gorgeous, straight stems of serene green.  Tips with lovely symmetry and not even a hint of bolting.  Thank you Mexico.  To heck with the locavore movement!  Woman cannot live on fermented kale alone!

I once had a patient, or should I say she once had me.*  I probably inherited Miss Edna Lemke from a recently retired colleague.  Miss Edna is, of course, not her real name.  I enjoy having a medical license unbesmirched by HIPAA violations.  She was a perfect patient; she scheduled appointments when I requested, engaged in frank pragmatic discussion about her health issues, and exuded an unflappable grace.  I always admired Miss Edna’s hair, which rose in a well-ordered bouffant from the soft skin of her forehead.  Her heart was not well-ordered, existing in a perpetual state of atrial fibrillation.  She took warfarin, a blood thinner, to prevent her occasionally stagnant blood from clotting and causing a stroke.

On a lovely spring day, Miss Edna saw me for a routine visit.  We checked her INR to make sure her blood was appropriately thin.  Too thin, and her risk of pesky things like cerebral hemorrhage would rise.  Miss Edna’s INR registered in the normal range, as in drug-free human-taking-no-warfarin range.

Imagine our surprise.  Miss Edna was probably one of a handful of patients who took their medications exactly as prescribed.  I explored possible explanations through careful conversation.  Have you missed any doses?  Did your prescription expire?  What color are the pills?  How about any recent changes in your eating habits?

Asparagus.  Miss Edna told me with a slightly embarrassed smile that Cub Foods had a sale on asparagus and she had positively gorged on the delightful spring vegetable, as in five pounds of the stuff.  Asparagus contains high levels of vitamin K, a natural antidote to warfarin.  We shared a hearty laugh, secure in the knowledge that she hadn’t suffered a stroke, and adjusted her medication accordingly.  Miss Edna vowed to warn me about future asparagus binges.

When I left that clinic, I continued to correspond with several of my favorite patients.  Now you know a dirty little doctor secret: We do have favorites.  I sent holiday cards to Miss Edna, often with tales of my growing son.  I don’t remember the exact year, but I had the card in hand, ready to write, when I sensed a change.

I call my old clinic, talk to my friend Deb in the front office.  I’m getting ready to send a card to Edna Lemke and thought I should check in.  Deb hesitates, shocked, and tells me Miss Edna passed away the day before.  Is Pippy taken care of, I ask.  Yes, Pippy (the ill-tempered yet adored geriatric cat who bit Miss Edna regularly) will go to a loving home.

I send a sympathy card to Miss Edna’s niece, a nurse I work with at the hospital.  Your aunt was a lovely woman.  I think of her every time I see asparagus.  I tell the story.

I tell my mother the same story as I hand her the bag.

Costco.  Where asparagus is always in season.  And the green stems of memory lurk in the fertile soil of my brain.


Musical Moment


* Too similar to not attribute to Lennon and McCartney’s “Norwegian Wood”.



This entry was posted in Blog and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *