Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Al, Isabelle and Amy

     Early Monday afternoon, as I was stuffing the evening's menus into the folders, Sherrie, one of the nurses' assistants, came by and said the EMTs were upstairs with Al. His heart was racing, she said, 122 beats a minute.  Al had asked her to let me know he was going to the hospital. Hoping to see him before he left, I headed to the B building, but I got to the door just as the ambulance left.
     "He was cussing out everyone," Sherrie said. Others who had seen Al earlier that morning said he seemed fine and wasn't cussing out anyone, at least not to an unusual degree.
      Penelope saw Al this morning (Tuesday). He was still in the emergency room. The doctors want him to remain in the hospital and were waiting for an available room. Al is less than delighted with the situation; he wants to come home.
     Penelope said she had spoken to the doctors about prescribing something to help Al deal with his anxiety. I have known Al for almost three years, and several times a week every week during that time Al has said he was ready to die. On three or four occasions during the last month, Al seemed convinced his end was near, and it scared him to death. Anything the doctors can do to help Al deal with his fears would be a good thing.
     One of the things that has been upsetting Al is the prospect of going on hospice. One of his doctors told him he should. By happy coincidence, Daniel recently landed a job with a local hospice group. Al has been a friend of Daniel's family since before Daniel was born, and Daniel comes by to see Al once a week or so. Penelope said Al agreed  today to go on hospice with Daniel's group. Perhaps, if Al trusts these people, he'll be more relaxed and less eager to self-medicate. He has spent a fortune on laxatives, enemas and assorted other stuff for his bowels in the last month.
     Isabelle is in hospice again. She has been weak and tiring easily. From what I hear, they're hoping the hospice stay will help Isabelle regain her strength. I hope that's all it is.
     Isabelle, Al and I have been eating dinner together for over two years. Ralph, Isabelle's husband, who was the fourth person at the table, died in November 2013. Since then, she has told several people how much having dinner with Al and me every night helped her through that difficult time.
     Until a week or two ago, I didn't understand how those Covenant Woods' dinners with Al and me could be so important to Isabelle. Now I know why. For three or for days before he went to the hospital this time, Al, concerned about his alternate bouts of diarrhea and constipation, had opted to eat in his room. Isabelle, because she was so tired and weak, ate in the Personal Care dining room several times in the two weeks before her most recent trip to hospice.
     Then there is Amy. Until a month ago, she had been the regular server in the A section of the dining room, where Isabelle, Al and I sit. Amy has one of those personalities that fills a room. When she is there, you know she is there. And when she isn't there, you know she isn't there, you feel like something is missing. When Amy comes toward you with a big grin on her face, you know she is up to something. These days, Amy spends most of her time in the D section, and if all goes well for her, she will soon be working somewhere other than Covenant Woods - somewhere where she will earn more, work more hours and get a few benefits.
     I am amazed how quickly the trio of Al, Isabelle and Amy became such a large part of my life. It is frightening when I think of them not being at dinner every night and how empty things will seem if they are not there. They are good people, they are valued friends, and they brighten my days at Covenant Woods.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Notes from the Home - December 28, 2014

     Christmas 2014 was delightful. Karen's mom, Penny, and step-dad, Mitch, were down from Indiana, and her sister, Colleen, was up from Florida. Tuesday afternoon, Russ fetched his old man and hurried him to their place for a taco dinner. There are many, many very nice, very interesting people at Covenant Woods. Talk to any of them long enough, however, and the subject of the conversation will turn to the state of their health, or to the state of world, both of which, they will tell you, are going to hell in a hand basket. It was nice to just talk about stuff, and hear a few embarrassing tales of Karen's youth. Mitch is a rabbi, and Tuesday was the last day of Hanukkah. After dinner Penny lit the eight candles of the menorah.
     Wednesday, Christmas Eve, we exchanged gifts. But before we did, we enjoyed a dinner of brisket, Swiss chard, asparagus, and cauliflower. I went home with a new seat pad and arm rest for my wheelchair, along with four books:Allegheny City: A History of Pittsburgh's North Side; Their Life's Work: The Brotherhood of the 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers; 399 Games, Puzzles & Trivia Challenges Specially Designed to Keep Your Brain Young and Will's Best: Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of The New York Times Puzzlemaster.  
     There were also four books under the tree for Russ. They were all on the same subject: baking. Russ didn't bake anything for the Christmas Eve dinner, but he did make the custard we had for dessert. With hundreds of recipes now at his disposal, I see no reason why I shouldn't expect something from the oven every time Russ comes over. He did put his skills to work on Christmas morning, making a pancake breakfast for us all.
     Saturday, we had visitors from Birmingham: Jim and Susan. We sat around my apartment for a while, then moved to Russ and Karen's. While there, I realized how antiquated my flip phone is. Jim and Russ got their phones to do things by talking to them. When the discussion turned to lunch, we decided O'Charley's was the place to send Russ to pick up our order. To expedite the ordering process, Karen accessed O'Charley's menu on her phone, and we each perused it. My phone told me later that it felt so inadequate. Even so, spending several hours with Jim, Susan, Karen and Russ was a wonderful way to end the week's holiday festivities. Before everyone went their separate ways, we vowed to do it again in a few months when the Pratts of Orofino come to Columbus. "Is that baby still coming in April?" Susan asked.

     After Russ brought me back to Covenant Woods Saturday, I took my shoes off and was about to stretch out on the bed when Al called. "Tom, I need to go to the hospital." He didn't, however, want to call 911. Earlier in the week he had given his car to a friend from Savannah. "I tried to call Penelope, but I couldn't get her," Al said.
     "Well, call 911," I said.
     "But I don't want to make a big fuss."
     "Call 911."
     "I guess I'm going to have to. OK, I will."
     Al is a man of his word. But I was skeptical enough to put my shoes back on and head to his apartment. I knocked once, pushed the door open and saw Al in his chair with the telephone held firmly against his ear. "Here, you talk to them," he said, handing me the receiver. "I can't hear a god damned thing they're saying." All I could hear when I took the phone was a dial tone. I called 911 and asked if they were sending an ambulance for Al. "We have already dispatched someone. They are on the way."
      Al did not receive the news of the EMTs impending arrival calmly. In the manner of the nervous, obsessive-compulsive housewife characters on old situation comedies who ran madly about cleaning the house and putting everything in order before the cleaning lady arrived, Al ran about madly trying to get everything in order before the EMTs got there. "Sit down and relax, Al." "I've got to get this done." Then he'd stumble, catch himself and say, "See that? I'm in a hell of a shape." Fortunately, the ambulance arrived before Al could work himself into a heart attack. "Here's my key. You hold on to it in case I don't make back. You know where everything is." No I don't, but I took the key as Al got on to the gurney.
     At three minutes to six Sunday morning, my phone rang. "Tom, Al here. I got back about five this morning. Twelve hours in the damned emergency room. All they did was keep moving me back. They told me to see Stein this week. Those doctors don't know shit. Stein won't do anything. I need to lay down and get some sleep. Why don't you come up for a while?"
     "You need some sleep. I'll come up later."
    We bickered over his getting some sleep, and eventually Al relented and said he was going to bed. Three hours later, I went to check on him and return his key.
     "If I needed to piss I had to press a button, and they would bring me a plastic bottle," Al told me, restarting the narrative of his emergency room experience. "I had to turn on my side so I could piss into the damn thing. How the hell are you supposed to turn over when they put all those fucking tubes and wires in your arms? They even put some god-damned thing in my finger. Bunch of damn idiots. Those doctors don't know shit."
     The doctors might not know shit, but Al left them plenty to study. "They gave me an enema. Shot the stuff right up my ass. Then I filled that pot with the runniest, blackest shit I ever saw."
      Al finally got himself into a reasonably good mood by cursing the medical profession. And he did say he enjoyed talking to the women who tended to him through the night. And they enjoyed him, too. "One of them came over and told me, they had never seen anyone like me. And the EMTs that brought me back this morning were both women. God damn, they were strong. They didn't have any trouble at all moving me around."
     Al's plans for the day? "I'm going to stay here and read the paper. I've got plenty to eat, drink and smoke."
     Sunday afternoon, Al was pushing the walker he occasionally uses toward the activity room. He looked good and was in a pleasant mood. Then he ran his hands over his stomach and down toward his groin. "It doesn't feel bad," he said. "There isn't a lot of pressure. But I don't know, I haven't had a movement today."
     Apparently, filling the pot at the hospital doesn't count.
      One afternoon a week or so ago, I was on my way to give Al some information he'd asked me to get off the Internet. In the hall by the laundry room, Herb was looking through the magazines in a small basket on an end table put there for the convenience those doing their wash. A short, stocky man, Herb is bald save for the fringe of white hair that starts about an inch above his ears. He is alert, moves about quickly and has that everyman look of the guy who played whats-his-name's neighbor on oh, what was the name of that show? You know the one I mean; the one about some guy, his wife and their kids. Everybody watched it.
     Or maybe Herb was a feisty union steward in a steel mill. Clad in blue jeans and a T-shirt, he looked the part.
     "Do you know where I am?" he asked as I came by.
     "By the laundry room."
     "How do I get to my apartment?"
     "What apartment are you in."
     "I don't know," he said just before the light came on. Herb pulled a key chain from his pants pocket and showed me the plastic disc with his room number on it.
     "That's in the C building," I said.
     "Where's that?"
     "If you can wait a few minutes, I'll take you there."
     When I returned from giving Al information he'd asked for, Herb was still going through the magazines.
     "Ready?" I asked.
     "Just a minute," he said, grabbing four or five old issues of Reader's Digest to take with him.
      We took the elevator down to the first floor and started up the long hallway to the lobby. "Doesn't that chair of your go any faster?" he asked. There were a lot of people in the public areas that afternoon, and eventually he couldn't go any faster than I was going. But halfway down the hall to the C building, Herb realized where he was, darted around me and blurted out a quick thanks. I followed at a respectful distance, just to make sure he went to the right room. He did.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Someone is Watching

     In this wired world some computer somewhere is aware of what I do even as I do it. I know this, but there are times when it is more obvious than others. Last week was one of those times. It started Wednesday, when I called Express Scripts, my pharmacy benefits manager, as it likes to bill itself.
     OK, I guess it started a month ago when Express Scripts sent a letter telling me that Dr. Miller had not responded to their request to send them a new prescription for my blood pressure pills. I called the Columbus Clinic, but after spending what seemed an eternity listening to Columbus Clinic commercials interspersed with assurances that my call was important to the Columbus Clinic and an operator would be with me just as soon as one became available, or once hell froze over, which ever came last, I hung up. I tried again the next day and got the same result.
     A quick check of my pill supply, however, indicated that I was not in imminent danger of running out of Atenolol, the medication in question. "Hey, no big deal," I told myself, "I can call whenever." With that comforting thought in mind, I promptly forgot the whole thing for two weeks. I didn't remember on my own, of course. The Express Scripts' computer called one evening to say, "We have received a new order for you. It is scheduled to be shipped in one week." Focusing on the word "new," I concluded the new order was for Atenolol; my prescription for Bupropion has two refills to go and is therefore not new.
     My intention is not argue semantics with Express Scripts, but don't you think refilling a prescription would be properly referred to as an "existing order?" Apparently those in the pharmacy biz don't think so. The expected package from Express Scripts contained the unexpected Bupropion, not the anticipated Atenolol.
     Monday, I called the Columbus Clinic. Either I was more patient this time or the operator was less dilatory in answering my call, and I requested that Dr. Miller send out a new prescription. Twenty minutes later, a woman from the Columbus Clinic called to tell me, "your prescription has been sent to Express Scripts." I thanked the woman and spent Tuesday and Wednesday waiting for the Express Scripts' computer to call and assure me "we have received a new order for you. . ."
     The call never came, and Wednesday evening I girded my loins and prepared to tussle with the computer at Express Scripts. "Say 'request a refill' or 'check the status of an order,'" the computer said, when I called. "Request a refill," said I. "Wrong answer," the computer said, in so many words, after I gave it the prescription number for the expired prescription. Disheartened but not defeated, I called back and told the computer to "check the status of an order." "Say the date of birth of the person the order is for," it told me. After I complied, the computer said, "We have one order for you. It is scheduled to be shipped in two days."
     The computer never asked for my name, my plan's ID number, or my Express Scripts' ID number. I suppose it got all the information it needed when my telephone number registered in its innards. It is a comforting thought that the pills are on the way. But it is also a little disconcerting to realize so much information can be gleaned from my phone number.
     It must have been the emotional trauma of dealing with my pharmacy benefits manager's computer - it certainly couldn't have been klutziness, clumsiness, or carelessness - that caused me to spill a glass of water on my computer ten minutes after talking to it. Despite my valiant effort, the keyboard drowned. Friday morning, Russ took me to buy a replacement. On the way to Staples, I pulled out the credit card when Russ stopped for gas, when I got some bananas and orange juice at Publix, and when I got a few Christmassy things at Target.
      It was hardly a spending spree, maybe sixty bucks altogether. But I don't use the credit card much, and almost never use it at more than one establishment on a given day. Still, my profligacy Friday morning was enough to get the attention of the computers at the credit card issuer. At Staples, I picked out computer and handed the credit card to Russ - the units where you swipe the card are never at a good angle for me. He ran the card down the channel, and the machine wouldn't accept it. A message to call the credit card company appeared on the cashier's screen.
     The cashier assured us that this happens all the time during the holiday shopping season and then called the credit card company. She talked to them for a few minutes and handed me the phone. The credit card lady asked me my name. I told her. She asked for my user name on the credit card website. I told her. She asked one of my personal questions. I must have answered it correctly, because, however hesitantly, she approved the purchase.
     It was reassuring to know the credit card people and their computers where on the job. But a little embarrassing to be hanging out at the check-out counter trying to get the purchase approved.
     Then it was back to Covenant Woods, where Russ was kind enough to get my new computer up and running. The first order of business was to check my bank account to make sure the Social Security Administration had deposited the monthly pittance into my account. When I typed in my user name, however, the bank's computer shot back, "You scoundrel! You're not accessing us from Mr. Harris' computer. Think you're pretty smart, don't you? See these three personal questions, answer them, you crumb bum." I did, the bank computer apologized and asked me to give a my new computer a name. Once I christened the computer, I was allowed to view my bank accounts.
     As the curtain came down on another week, I felt more secure knowing I wasn't the only one keeping an eye on my credit card and bank account. Then again, I also felt like I'd been walking around in the pages of 1984, and Big Brother had been watching me very, very closely. 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Notes from the Home - December 20, 2014

     Last week, Isabelle moved from her two-bedroom apartment in the B building to a room in Personal Care (nee Assisted Living). She had not been looking forward to the move, but now that it is done, she seems to have relaxed.
     A month ago, when she returned from her second week-long stay in hospice, Isabelle was told she should move to Personal Care. Arranging the move would take time, and she would need a caregiver with her twenty-four hours a day until she moved. From three thousand miles away, her daughter and son-in-law, who live in Oregon, worked out most of the details of the move.
     The caregiver helped Isabelle with showering and other necessary chores, for which Isabelle is extremely grateful. Mostly, however, Isabelle spends her days on the recliner watching television, and the caregiver spent her days on the loveseat watching Isabelle watch television. Living with a person to whom she was not married or otherwise related to took a toll on Isabelle's nerves. Having her relatives on the other side of the country handling her move was frustrating and at times left her feeling useless, a pawn in her own life.
     On a more positive note, Steve, her son-in-law, flew down from Oregon to supervise the move and do the heavy lifting and the not-so-heavy lifting. Between her age - Isabelle is eighty-eight - and her infirmities, Isabelle couldn't do much more than tell Steve what was to go with her, and what was to go wherever.
     Friday morning, I made my way over to Personal Care to see Isabelle in her new home. She was in her recliner, watching TV and smiling. She wasn't ecstatic about the move. The staff gets her up at seven and makes sure that she eats breakfast. Isabelle doesn't mind the breakfast, but she'd like to have it a little later. Then again, except for those times when she needs the staff's assistance, she has the room to herself.
     On the end table there was a picture of a blushing bride. At least I think she was blushing. The picture, taken in 1947, was in black-and-white.
     "I can honestly say Ralph and I never had a serious argument in all the sixty-six years we were married," Isabelle said. "Ralph proposed to me before he went overseas during World War II. I told him, 'no.' I didn't want to be tied to a ring, and I wasn't. While he was overseas, Ralph wrote every day. I wrote him about once a week. When he got back, he proposed again, and this time I accepted.
     "When his active obligation ended, Ralph went into the active reserve. A year or two later, he was called up and ended up making the Army his career. When he was called up, we wondered if going into the active reserve had been such a smart thing to do. But back then, the ninety bucks a month he got for being in the reserves helped a lot. And everything worked out well for us in the long run."

     Sunday morning was weird. I woke up around two-fifteen and spent the next forty-five minutes trying, without success, to go back to sleep. So I got up, got dressed and set about the task of solving Merl Reagle's Sunday crossword puzzle. Twenty minutes later, barely able to keep my eyes open, I bid Merl a fond adieu, crawled back into bed and immediately fell asleep. Shortly after six, my bladder roused me. I took care of business, got back into bed and slept until eight-thirty. Eight-thirty is two-and-a-half or three hours later than I usually get up. I went to bed at nine o'clock Saturday night, for Pete's sake, and I didn't feel sick or anything. Tis a mystery.
     Later, when Mickey's big hand was on the nine and his little hand was nudging the eleven, I had just gotten out of the shower and was standing naked between the wheelchair, the sink and the toilet, on the theory that if I fell I would fall against something, as opposed to falling onto the floor. As I toweled myself off, there came a knocking at my door. "Not a good time," I yelled. Another knock. "Who's there?" "The police." Now it was my turn to be silent. "Did you call the police?" "No, sir."
 "OK, thank you."
     Why the police were in the building remains a mystery. I was up front later in the day and asked Aliesha, who was working the desk. She said William had reported their presence, but she had no idea what they were doing here.
     Tee, a now former housekeeper at Covenant Woods, was fired last week. I found out one morning as I was cruising around the parking lot and Tee was heading home after dropping off Luke, her significant other, who works in the kitchen. She stopped, told me she'd been fired, but didn't say why. I said, I hoped she and Luke had a Merry Christmas despite the circumstances. In return, she offered an out-of-the-ordinary holiday wish. "You have a merry Christmas, too," she said. "And I hope you find yourself a woman. Someone to sit on your lap."

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Notes from the Home - November 30, 2014

     The autumnal equinox was two months ago, but only this week, the week of Thanksgiving, has fall, or more precisely, something a person who has spent most of his falls in western Pennsylvania and northeast Ohio would recognize as fall, come to west Georgia. How is a Yankee transplant supposed to feel fall in the air when on the day before Halloween the landscaping people filled Covenant Woods' flower beds with pansies in bloom? To the veteran gardener that may be the normal, the proper, the seasonal thing to do. To the horticulturally challenged, however, the pansies look like a variety of petunia and give rise to questions such as, do the kids have Little League tonight?
     The trees have been shedding their leaves ever so slowly for several weeks. While most trees still have nearly all their leaves, there are enough naked ones now to give a fallish cast to things. And most of the remaining leaves are turning. The fall colors are nothing to write home about, but they are sorta colorful and give rise to thoughts of apple cider.
     On Sunday, the last day of November, clad in a short-sleeve shirt, I took an afternoon spin around Covenant Woods. The sun was shining, and the thermometer was flirting with seventy. Down in the duplexes, Millie was sitting on the bench on her front porch.
     "I'm tired." she said.
     "How come?"
     "I just got back home. I went up to Bowling Green, Kentucky, for Thanksgiving. I have two grandsons who live there. That is where they went to college. They fell in love with the area, and they both stayed there."
     "There must have been some great-grandchildren around, too."
     "Of course. I had four children, and they had eight children. I've lost count of how many kids they've had. My one grandson has a little girl who is a year old. I told him, maybe it's time to stop. I hope they don't. All the kids keep me young."

     I spent Thanksgiving with Karen and Russ. They split the cooking duties, with Karen concentrating on the pork loin, and Russ baking the mince pie for dessert. It was all very good, and I enjoyed spending the afternoon at their place. I've also enjoyed the leftovers they sent home with me.
     On the Thursday before Thanksgiving, a group of us from Covenant Woods went to the Columbus Museum's Third Thursday program. I had a hard time sitting through it. The program, which was folk dance music from the 17th and 18th centuries, wasn't what I expected. A pianist, flutist and violinist provided wonderful music. There just wasn't enough of it. Besides the musicians there was also a dance instructor, who walked interested audience members through the dances that went with the music. For each dance, those of us who didn't dance had to sit through ten minutes of instruction in order to hear two minutes of music.
     But that wasn't the problem. Nor was the food. As it does every month, the museum set out a buffet of wonderfully delicious finger foods. No, the problem was my legs. They are always stiff, but Thursday they were cramping up, aching and making me uncomfortable. To ease the discomfort, I went to the upper level, where I could use the railing to pull myself up and lean against as I watched the program.
     The aches and stiffness were back Saturday afternoon, and with them, memories of Thursday's discomfort filled my otherwise empty mind. And I was tired. Thinking it might help, I made a cup of coffee. It might have helped if I hadn't spilled most of it all over me. I had to make a decision: should I go to the Springer Opera House to see Della's Diner for which I'd spent twenty dollars for a ticket, or should I stay home and rest. As with all decisions, I put off making it as long as I could.
     Finally at dinner, as I watched the theater-goers gather in the lobby, I concluded that staying at home was the wiser choice and went to tell Penelope I wouldn't be going. She asked why. I told her. Then she said Elsie and James needed a ticket, would I give them mine. Happy to have the opportunity to be a good-deed doer, I said yes.
      It seemed strange that Elsie and James had purchased only one ticket, but I didn't ask why. Monday I saw Elsie in the dining room, and she told me why. She and James thought the bus was to leave for the Springer at five, and they were in the lobby waiting at quarter of five. A half hour later they asked Sarah, who was working the desk, if they'd missed the bus. "No," Sarah said. "It's supposed to leave at six-thirty."
     James, who has a variety of ailments, was upset. He said he wasn't going to go to the show and went back to their apartment. A few minutes later, Betty wandered into the lobby and said how disappointed she was that she didn't signup for the trip to the Springer. "Here," Elsie said. "I have an extra ticket you can use." Then, as if on cue, James strode into the lobby and told Elsie he'd changed his mind; he was going to the show. At this point the script called for several minutes of hand wringing and the endless mumbling of "Whatever shall we do?" Eventually, with the strains of the Mighty Mouse theme - "Here he comes to save the day..." - echoing in the background, I arrived to save the day.

      A deer with the temerity to wonder around near the Pratt residence met its fate at the end of Beth's rifle. I don't know about such things, but Beth said that westerners would say she got a five-point buck. Hunters in the East, however, would call it a ten-point buck. In any event, she threw down the gauntlet. "Let's see you beat that," she told Ken, or words to that effect.
     They spent a recent weekend butchering the beast. Using every useable part of the buck, they filled their freezer. Their cache includes several gallons of dog food for their canine friends.
     I told Randy about Beth and the buck. "I used to hunt," he said. "Anymore, I just take my pistols - I've got a .40 and a .45 - and go find a tree stand. A few years ago, me and my then wife lived on twenty acres over in Alabama, and I had a tree stand there. I went out one night and drank a bunch of beer. In the morning, four or five squirrels were trying to get up the tree. I got the pistols and started firing away - bam, bam,bam. When I got home, my wife said she'd heard me shooting and asked if I got anything. 'No,' I told her, ' but those damn squirrels won't bother me again.'"

     A woman walking through the dining room to pick up her mother's dinner, sparked the following conversation today:
     Ron: "Was that a man or a woman?"
     Burt: "With those boobs, it better be a woman."
     Ron: "Well, then she's the ugliest god damned woman I've ever seen."

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Notes from the Home - November 16, 2014

     Monday, after a week-long stay at Columbus Hospice, Isabelle returned to Covenant Woods. She has congenital heart problems along with some respiratory issues. She also has brittle bones, which I didn't know until the other day.
     "They're afraid I might fall," she said when I called her. "When Ralph and I were moving in, I fell and broke my wrist and hit my head. They took X-rays or did a scan or something of my head to see if I hurt anything. That's when they found out I have an aneurysm in my brain. About two weeks after I got the cast off my wrist, I fell and broke my other wrist."
     For the time being, Isabelle is back in the two-bedroom apartment she and Ralph, who died last November, moved into a few months before I got here. She is on the waiting list for a room in Personal Care, the area formerly known as Assisted Living. Until a room becomes available, Isabelle will have a caregiver with her twenty-four hours a day.
     Friday morning, I went to see her. As I walked in, she held her hands high above her head and said, "See!" I responded with a quizzical look "See!" she said. "I see you are beautiful," I said. "No. Look, I have my clothes on." Once I got done laughing, Isabelle told me she had spent the week in nightgowns and her robe. Friday was the first day she was dressed to go out, although she wasn't planning to go anywhere. Isabelle did come down to dinner later. For the first time in two weeks, Al, Ron, Isabelle and I were in our places for dinner, and things seemed to be back to normal,

     Wednesday, as I was Skyping with our little writers' group back in Kingsville, Nona, who is half of the Covenant Woods' marketing force, came knocking at my door."The property inspection people will be here Friday," she said. "They come once a year. They're going to look at two apartments in each building. Do you mind if we show them yours?"
      While not appalled, I was shocked. Two weeks ago when I went off on William in the dining room, Nona, unbeknowst to me, was having lunch with two perspective residents. It seemed to impress Candice, one of the servers, who said, "Tom, I didn't know you had it you." But I couldn't imagine that my little outburst, justified though it was, scored any points with Nona. Weirder yet, she handed me a note that said in part, "This is a routine event but we would like to show your beautiful apartment on that day."
     My apartment, beautiful? I think not. Spartan, perhaps, Spartan dishabille, might the home decorator's term.To make matters worse, Nona was seeing the apartment at its very best. Tee, one of the housekeepers, had been in a half hour earlier to give the place its weekly cleaning. Nona went on to say she likes studio apartments because they are so open. I didn't have the nerve to tell her that mine wasn't so open looking before Tee got rid of the clutter. "And I love the view on this side of the building," Nona said. The view is of the parking lot, for Pete's sake. There are plenty of trees around the parking lot, but mostly the view is of the parking lot.
     As I mumbled to Nona, "I guess it would be OK," the onus of having to keep the apartment in its just-cleaned condition for two whole days settled uncomfortably on my shoulders. Friday morning, I washed the dishes, hid the clutter as best I could, properly disposed of my accumulated garbage, and went about my business. At noon, that business took me to the dining room to work on the menus. An hour-and-a-half later I returned to the room. On my way to dinner, Johnny, the maintenance supervisor, stopped to tell me the inspectors had inspected my apartment while I was out. There was nothing in his demeanor to indicate that Covenant Woods was, or that I should be. embarrassed by the state of my humble abode. Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief that was.
     The scuttlebutt is, Covenant Woods has revised its employees' handbook and the strictures against employees becoming too familiar with the residents are stronger than ever. The powers that be have their reasons, and some of them might even be valid. It is probably a good thing, however, the same standards do not apply to the residents.
     Dinner is at noon on Sundays. Neither Isabelle or Al came down, so Burt joined me today. A few minutes later, our server, Amy, came along to greet us and take our orders:
     "Mr. Young, how'ya doing?"
     "Everybody I can," Burt said. "Has anyone done you lately?"
     When our dinners arrived, Burt spent several minutes looking at the carrots on his plate. They were the type you see in plastic bags in the produce department. The ones that look like they have been machined into one-inch cylinders. Burt smiled and asked Amy to come over.
     "You know what that looks like?" he asked, pointing at one of the carrots.
     "I don't know. It looks like a carrot."
     "No," Burt said. "It's a small man's erection."


Sunday, November 9, 2014

Notes from the Home - November 9, 2014

   For two weeks, maybe longer, the weather in Columbus has been nearly perfect: plentiful sunshine, low humidity, cool mornings, pleasantly warm afternoons and cool evenings. I wouldn't mind 365 days a year like these. Well, maybe 350 days. Two weeks of less than ideal weather each year should be enough to keep me from getting bored with meteorological perfection.
    Every morning, weather permitting, I make three laps around the Covenant Woods' grounds - just a shade under two miles according to the wheelchair's odometer. On most of those mornings, James is busy tossing the accumulated garbage from C Building into the dumpster. He gives me the morning sports report: all the news that is news about Georgia, Auburn and Alabama. James knows I am a Steelers fan, and last Monday he gave me a detailed summary of Big Ben's performance against the Ravens. I'm not looking forward to tomorrow's report on the Black and Gold's showing in New York today.
   Randy, also a member of the maintenance crew, is often out and about in the morning. Randy is a whiner. But his whines are fine whines: spirited denunciations sparkling with colorful language. He complains about the people who run Covenant Woods - "the dumb sons of bitches" - but he never complains about them the same way twice. He can spend a week whining about his boss, the stupid bastard, who bought some cheap-assed item in order to save a buck or two. "You get what you  pay for," Randy tells me, "and I've been trying to fix the god damned thing for three days." But each day's whine is unique. It never gets boring.
   Randy recently hit a crater on the bumpy road of love. "Me and Linda broke up," he told me the other day. "She said the only thing I think about is sex. I told her that wasn't true. I also think about food and beer. I guess she doesn't feel that makes me a well-rounded person."
   When the need arises, Randy also does a shift or two as the night security man. When he does, gossip often ensues. For instance, one night a neighbor complained about the noise coming from Charlie's apartment. Randy went to see what was going on and got an eyeful. Charlie was watching porn on his computer. He had his earphones on, but they weren't plugged into the computer. The neighbors were hearing every, "Oh, baby, that feels so good. Don't stop."

   As I headed up the hall to check my mail, Saturday, Annie was coming the other way. A moment later, along came Annie's daughter Chelsea carrying her daughter Christie, who is a couple months younger than MaKenna. I didn't ask, but Chelsea must have seen something in my eyes that looked like "please, please, please let me hold Christie."
   For the next ten minutes, Christie sat on my lap. She never even whimpered. But she kept her eye on Chelsea and seldom looked at the strange guy with gray hair on whose lap she was sitting. She did pay attention, however, when I showed her how to make the wheelchair move by pushing the joy stick.
   Then, all too quickly, Chelsea, who had given Annie a ride to work, had to get back home. I thanked her for letting me hold Christie and asked that she bring her back often. Hayden and MaKenna will be visiting in April and I need to hone my grandpa skills.

   At four o'clock Tuesday morning, I awakened to the sound of Richie and William having a discussion next door. They are both hard of hearing, and both speak loud enough that the other can hear him, and so can the guy in apartment next door. When they converse, they sound like two guys who have spent the day sucking on beer cans, which in fact, is how they spend their days.         
   Tuesday's conversation went on and on. I crawled out of bed at quarter of five. That is not particularly early for me, but there was no peaceful silence to enjoy that morning. William and Richie yakked with gusto until nearly seven o'clock.
   At lunchtime, as William walked through the dining room, he yelled, "Hey, Tom!" from across the not-so-crowded room.
   "Hey, William! If you and Richie are going to spend the night together, do you think you could keep it down a little?"
   "It's OK," William said. "It's OK."
   "No, it isn't. I had to put up with you guys spouting nonsense for three hours."
   "I'll take care of it," William said.
   Taking care of it apparently entailed talking to Richie, who crossed my path an hour or two later. "I wasn't even here last night. I didn't get home until almost noon today. William must have been talking on the phone." I told Richie I didn't believe him and went on my way.
   Thursday, as I was doing the menus after lunch, William pulled up a chair. "You get over your little snit yet?" he asked. No, I hadn't. I told him it was extremely inconsiderate to carry on loud conversations in the middle of the night.
   "We live in tight quarters here," William said. "We have to learn to put up with each other."
   "That's true. From eight in the morning until nine, maybe ten, at night, I put up with two obnoxious drunks. At night, you put up with my wanting to sleep. Why don't you have Richie up to your room once in a while?"
   "He called me that night and asked me to come down. We talked about aircraft carriers."
   I told William I'd had enough and didn't want to talk about it any more. I didn't bother to tell him that, according to Richie, Richie wasn't home that night.
   While Richie has been making quite a show of not talking to me, I saw another side of William yesterday. He pulled up a chair while I was doing the menus after lunch, and I thought, "Here we go again."
   "Do you remember the time you fell and I had to pick you up?" he asked.
    One Sunday morning about a year ago, I lost my balance and fell in my apartment. I called the desk, and a few minutes later Sherrie, a nurse's assistant, was at my door. A small, thin woman, Sherrie found William along the way and brought him along for muscle. I was lying next to the stove, and as William picked me up he noticed that one of the burners was on. Since then, he has periodically told me that I shouldn't cook, that I shouldn't even get close to the stove. I quickly tired of his concern, but this time he added a few details.
   "I've seen what those burners can do to your hands," he said. "It happened to my sister. My mother held her hands on the burner. She went to jail for it, but my sister has had to live with it ever since." Then, with a tear in his eye, he said, "Be careful," and left.


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Thoughts on "When I Walk"

   One morning a couple of weeks ago, I crawled out of bed at two o'clock..The reason had to do with Sandy, who was a colleague of mine at Ash/Craft, and Mary, a bicycling friend of Nancy's and the person who got me involved in Suzanne's writing class. They they live within twenty miles of each other, but they were three thousand miles from home when they met while on a tour of the West Coast. Among other things they talked about Multiple Sclerosis. Mary's son has MS, and Sandy is friends with a woman and her brother, who both have MS.
   In a Facebook message, Sandy told me about Ampyra, a drug that seems to be helping both the woman, who has the relapsing-remitting form of MS, and her brother, who has primary-progressive MS. And she asked if I was familiar with "When I Walk,"which is Jason DaSilva's account of his experience with MS. Mr. DaSilva is a filmmaker, and "When I Walk" was shown on the PBS series POV.
    The film, which I was able to stream online, left me a welter of emotions. Mr. DaSilva was twenty-five when he was diagnosed with primary-progressive MS. I was my mid-forties when I started getting occasional strange sensation in my left leg. I was fifty-five when I started thinking they might be more than signs of advancing age and a lack of exercise. I was fifty-seven when I finally asked the doctor about them, and fifty-eight when the doctor said, "You have primary-progressive MS.".
   I didn't plan for MS. But if I had, that is how I would have planned it. When Russ was a strapping  lad of four or five, he often asked me to take him to the Squire Shop, a bakery where he could enjoy a powdered donut. He always promised to walk the whole way, both ways. Russ never had a problem getting there. Once he'd eaten his donut, however, Russ would tell me he was too tired to walk back home. "But you promised," I'd say. "But I'm tired," he'd say. I'd smile, pick him up and carry him home. Unforgettable moments I would not have experienced had MS struck me at twenty-five.
   Somewhere around here there are pictures of Beth buried in a pile of leaves. I remember that fall afternoon. Beth waiting not so patiently for me to rake the leaves into a heap large enough for her to jump into. Raking I would not have been able to do had I had MS at twenty-five.
   There were a million other moments at home -- playing ball with kids, painting the house, shoveling snow, taking the kids to the lake to swim on summer afternoons, mowing the lawn -- that wouldn't have happened if I'd had MS in my twenties. I worked at Ash/Craft with developmentally disabled adults for over twenty years and was on my feet most of the time. During my time as an intrepid sports reporter for the Star Beacon, I would not have been able to chase down coaches and athletes for post-game interviews if I had had MS in my twenties.
   In the spring of 2005, I visited Mom and Dad in San Antonio. Dad loved to walk and he loved donuts. The bakery was a mile or so from their apartment, but when Dad asked if I wanted to walk with him, I did. It was a struggle for me. And I'm sure if there hadn't been so much on his mind, Dad would have noticed that after the first quarter mile I was walking a little funny. He didn't. Or he was too polite to mention it, if he did. A year later, I was not able to walk that distance.
   The time is never right for any disease. But if MS had to come into my life, it came in at the best possible time, and for that I am grateful beyond words.
   Though still a young man, Mr. DaSilva's physical limitations are greater than mine. He needs help getting into bed from his wheelchair; he needs help getting dressed; and he needs help bathing. I am still able to do those things independently. Day by day, however, they become more difficult. The film reminded me that the day is not far off when I too will need assistance for the simplest things. The thought scares me.
   His physical limitations notwithstanding, Mr. DaSilva appears to be living a full and productive life. I am not. The thought angers me.
   After I watched "When I Walk" and thought I should write about it, it was my intention to include the link for the film, which was available for streaming through October 23. I didn't meet the deadline.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Notes from the Home - October 3, 2014

   The role reversals continue apace for Russ and me. When Russ was a young’un, and I was approaching middle age, I would take him to the Harbor Library. He was a regular at Story Time, and we often made our way over to the corner of Walnut Boulevard and Lake Avenue just to wander through the stacks. 
A few weeks ago, Russ asked me if I’d like go to the library with him the following Sunday. I said I would, and we did. Russ and Karen don’t have children, but Russ has a father who needs considerable assistance when he goes anywhere. Russ provided that help, much more help than he needed to get to the library in his preschool days.
   We were supposed to go back to the library last Sunday, but the weather forecast interfered. The one-hundred percent chance of precipitation kept us from venturing out. It also turned out to be one-hundred percent wrong. Russ did come over, however, to make sure the old man understood the intricate procedure for renewing books on-line. I’d taken care of the renewing Saturday, but not before coming within two tries of being locked out forever.
   Russ’ fascination with libraries has served him well. On a warm, sunny day in August 1996, I drove Russ and his wherewithal to Kent, where he was about to begin his collegiate experience. A few hours later we stood in the parking lot, shook hands and said good-bye. “What are you going to do?” I asked him. “Go down to the library.” I got in the car, and Russ started down the hill. He looked so small, the campus looked so big. I felt like Professor Marvel in The Wizard of Oz, “Poor little kid. I hope he makes it.”
   The real good-byes came a few days later when Debbie, Beth and I went to a cookout Kent put on for the incoming freshmen and their parents. In the course of conversation, I asked Russ if he’d checked out the library. He had and while there applied for a job, which he got and kept throughout his years as a Golden Flash.
   Earlier last week, Russ stopped in to give me copies of his cartoons that appeared recently in Barron’s. He also mentioned that he and Karen think the apartment across the way from them is a corporate apartment. They are going to check into it. Karen’s mom will be visiting at Christmas time. And Bethany, Hayden and MaKenna are planning to make the long trip from Orofino to Columbus in April. I’m too old to look forward to my birthday, but I’m like a kid when the promised present is a chance to spend a few days with the grandkids.

   After two straight nearly sleepless nights, I fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow round about 8:30 Monday night. At 11:15 I was roused by the phone. It was Al. He had coughed up some blood. I suggested he call the desk and have them call 911. “I don’t want to go to the hospital. They don’t know shit.” At first, he wanted me to come up. Then, “Oh hell, I can’t ask you to come up. It’s late, you’re tired, and if you come up, I won’t let you in.” End of conversation.
   I put the phone down and immediately fell asleep. Fifteen minutes later I woke up. Not sure whether or not the call from Al had been a dream, I checked the phone. Yes, I had received a call from Al at 11:15. I got dressed and called Al.
   “I’m coming up.”
   “No you’re not. You need your sleep.”
   “I’m coming up.”
   “I don’t want you to come up.”
   This conversation went on until I finally conceded that Al is more the more stubborn I. Al relented at 8:30 Tuesday morning and ordered me to report to his apartment. He was in his underwear when I arrived. Eight or ten neatly folded paper towels on the kitchen counter bore the evidence of coughed-up blood.
   “You’ve got to get to the hospital.”
   “I don’t want to go to the hospital.”
   I was the more stubborn one this time, and Al said he’d call his friend Ken, the man who bought Al’s house when he moved to Covenant Woods eleven years ago. He picked up the phone, punched in the number and told Ken he wasn’t feeling well and he wouldn’t be meeting him for lunch. Not a word about needing to get to the hospital.
   “You better call Penelope. If you don’t, I will, and she’ll make sure you get your ass to the hospital.”
With a noticeable lack of enthusiasm, Al called the desk and asked for Penelope. Shirley said Penelope wasn’t in, she was driving the bus. I have Penelope’s cell number on my phone. I found it, pushed “send,” and handed the phone to Al. Penelope, it turned out, wasn’t driving the bus, but she had taken a resident to the doctor and would be back in a half hour.
   Faced with the task of getting dressed for a visit with the doctor, Al put aside all other concerns. “Damn it. I don’t know why I’m putting on so much weight. Look at this, I can’t even get my belt buckled.” But buckle it, he did. Despite his protestations, it’s hard to believe his girth has increased much over the years. Then he put on his shirt, a pull over with three buttons at the neck. Al buttoned the lower two buttons and looked in the mirror. “God damn it! Why didn’t I get a T-shirt with a V-neck. Shit. I hate it when you can see a little bit of your T-shirt at the neck. God damn it.” He buttoned the top button and stood there in his creased, navy blue trousers and light blue shirt. It didn’t require much imagination to picture him fifty years ago, in his khaki uniform with the oak leaves on the collar.
   The paper Al brought back from the doctor gives the diagnosis as hemoptysis. I did a cursory Internet search and found there are a variety of causes for hemoptysis, some pretty serious. Al will be going back for X-rays in a day or two.
   Isabelle has been in hospice for several days. She had been having difficulty breathing last week. She is eighty-eight. Al is ninety. Eating dinner with them is the highlight of my day.

   While making my evening tour of the grounds, I noticed two women standing next to a car. I gave them a quick glance to see if I knew them. “Don’t look at me!” one of them yelled. The other woman said something to her, which prompted a harsh reply: “I don’t care. He’s got no business staring at me like that.”
   I went on my way, going around front and entering through the main door. On the way to my apartment I noticed a woman approaching the B Building door. Gentleman that I am, I went and pressed the button to unlock the door, so she wouldn’t have to fumble with her keys. Only then did I realize she was the woman who had yelled at me. Shaking and having difficulty getting her words out, she apologized and went to her apartment.
   After the woman shut her door, Leila, who was coming down the hall, said, “That lady was getting beat up by some woman. I think it was her daughter.” I went back up front to tell Aleisha there might be trouble afoot. On my way back, I saw Leila looking out the door. She said the woman had gone back outside. We stood by the door discussing the event, and moments later the woman came back in, still shaking and having difficulty talking. We walked with her to her apartment and helped her find the key for her door.
“Are you new here?” Leila asked.
“Yes, but I’m leaving as soon as I can find another place.”
“Who was beating you out there?”
“My sister. She’s cheating me. She cheated me out of $25,000,” the woman said as she went into the apartment and slammed the door shut behind her.
   I haven’t seen her since.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Notes from the Home - September 28, 2014

   As I was unlocking my door Monday afternoon, Cherie, a nurse’s aide, came down the hall.
   “Are you bored?” she asked.
   “I’m always bored, but more bored than usual today.”
   “Probably the weather,” she said.
   “Probably is.”
   “When I get home tonight,” Cherie said as she started back down the hall, “I’m going to have a glass of wine and think about you.”
   “Me or your husband?”
   “Well, him, too.”
   With that, the door to Richie’s apartment opened, and William, the loudest, most obnoxious lout at Covenant Woods, yelled, “Hey, we’re trying to watch TV in here. Keep it down,” and slammed the door shut. I gave him the finger. William didn’t see it, of course, but on this nothing day there was something immensely satisfying in the adolescent act of shooting him the bird. An half-hour later, the sun came out. Coincidence? I don’t think so.

   Other than Monday’s boredom-inducing conditions, the weather has been bordering on lovely for nearly a week. The morning temperatures have been in the sixties, down from the mid- to high-seventies of the last five months. By mid-afternoon it is uncomfortably hot, but the air cools when the shadows begin to lengthen.
   Meandering through the Covenant Woods’ parking lots after dinner Friday, the sunshine, cool air and pleasant breeze took me back to Ashtabula, to Cederquist Park, watching Russ and Beth playing Little League ball. Alas, my reverie was disturbed by the realization that in six weeks the clocks go back to standard time, and my early evening wanderings will go on hiatus for a few months. “Straighten up, Thomas. Don’t fret about what will be. Enjoy the moment” I told myself. Too bad I seldom listen to myself.
   This morning I found out that life on this side of Mr. Mason’s and Mr. Dixon’s line has taken its toll on me. I am now a weather wimp. At ten-of-eight, attired as usual in shorts and a T-shirt, I went outside to enjoy the abundant sunshine. Sunshine or not, the brisk morning air was too much and I headed for the main entrance. Annie, who was in the lobby, gave me a funny look.
   “Too cold,” I said.
   “Too cold?” Annie said. “Mr. Ohio Man thinks it’s too cold?”
   “Yes,” I said softly as I headed back to the apartment to put on long pants and a jacket.

   My life is now a chapter in a book. Penelope, the activities director, and her friend Beverly wrote short biographical pieces about fourteen Covenant Woods’ residents. I am the baby boomer in the midst of greatest generation folks. Fortunately, my story, appropriately titled “Tom-Foolery,” is the final chapter in Black & White Tales in Graying Times. That fortuitous placement gives the reader something boring to fall asleep to after the excitement of the previous chapters.
   There was a book signing Sunday in the dining room; a very pleasant affair with lots of cookies and pastries. Those of us featured in the book were scattered around the room – Al and I shared a table – and folks came by with books and asked us to sign our respective chapters.
   That system worked well for me. I don’t have much trouble getting around the dining room at meal times. Everyone is busy eating. Dances and other events in the dining room, however, scare me. People sit down, stand up, walk about helter-skelter and inevitably get to where I’m trying to get seconds before I get there. All the people at Covenant Woods whom I’ve come close to running into with the wheelchair were in the dining room when I almost hit them. It was a wonderful feeling to sit in the middle of the room and have people circulate around me. Much better than being a forgotten man in the corner. I used to think I was the only wheelchair-bound resident who felt this way, but others have told me they too feel isolated and trapped at the dances.

   Mae joined Al and me for dinner Wednesday. Al talked about the junk mail he has been receiving. He is a very generous man, and all the charities he has given to over the years regularly send him reminders of his previous generosity and of their on-going need for donations. Then he turned his attention to telephone solicitors. When he was through, Mae took up the subject.
   “Some guy called me last night,” she said. “He was trying to raise money for some organization; I forget what. Anyway, I told him I didn’t have any extra money. He said, the amount didn’t matter, even a small donation helps. So I told him, ‘I’m going to a séance tonight. I’m hoping to reach my aunt. They say before she died she hid thousands and thousands of dollars. If I get to talk to her and if she’ll tell me where the money is, I’ll be able to make a huge donation. Is there a number where I can reach you in case I’m suddenly rich?’ He hung up. He never said a word, not even ‘good-bye.’ He just hung up.”

   Wednesday afternoon was different. I was sitting at the computer squandering another hour when Tee, one of the housekeepers, came to give the apartment its weekly once over. She was in a chatty mood – among other things, she asked why I didn’t go online and find a woman. As we were talking, someone came a-knocking. It was Stacie, a server in the dining room, who was going to the rooms of some of the people featured in the book and reading their stories. Before Stacie started reading my story, however, she and Tee swapped gossip. While their tongues were wagging, there was another knock on the door. I yelled, “Come in,” and in came Laura.
   Laura is a retired teacher who comes to Covenant Woods every few weeks with a craft project for interested residents. Not being a crafty guy, I hadn’t met Laura until Sunday at the book signing, where she talked to Al and me for fifteen or twenty minutes. For reasons known only to him, Al told her the tote tied on the back of my wheelchair needed something to firm up the bottom. Could she make something to fit in it? She said she could.
   I promptly forgot about it and assumed Laura had too. She hadn’t and had come to measure the tote. Three women in the apartment; this had never happened before. Laura talked knowledgably and at length about knitting and crocheting. It all sailed over my head.
   Stacie finished reading the story about me and headed to Al’s room to read his story. Tee finished cleaning my apartment and went to another, one probably inhabited by someone less slovenly than I. As Laura was getting ready to go, she said she’d read somewhere recently that eating three radishes a day can help you lose weight.
   A refreshingly out of the ordinary afternoon at Covenant Woods.

   On theatlantic.com I came across an essay titled “Why I Hope to Die at 75,” written by Ezekiel Emanuel, a healthy fifty-seven-year-old, who serves as a director of Clinical Bioethics at the National Institute of Health and who is head of the Department of Medical Ethics at the University of Pennsylvania.
   “But here is a simple truth that many of us seem to resist: living too long is also a loss,” he writes. “It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.”
   Covenant Woods is full of exceptions to Mr. Emanuel’s rule. But barring a miraculous medical breakthrough, I won’t be one of those exceptions. I’m in no hurry to make my final exit. I am, however, disabled, faltering and on my way to becoming feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic. I would like very much to go before I get there.

To Bed, Perchance to Sleep

According to an article on the National Multiple Sclerosis Society's website, a person with MS is up to three times more likely to exper...