Thursday, January 30, 2014

Culture Shock

   Winter came to Columbus Tuesday afternoon. Culture shock had set in nearly twenty-four hours earlier. Monday evening, as Alex read the answers and the Jeopardy contestants asked the questions, a long list of school closings crept across the bottom of the television screen. Besides being closed Tuesday, many of the schools – nay, most of them – announced that they would also be closed on Wednesday, and a few were even pushing back their start times on Thursday. Outside, according to the Weather Channel, it was fifty-one degrees in Columbus.
   Back in Ashtabula, back in the last century, Beth and Russ would look out the window when they awoke on a January morn and quite often see a scene from a snow globe: the ground covered with three or four inches of new-fallen snow and the air filled with swirling white flakes. The not-so-eager students would fly to the radio and listen for the announcer to say, “The Ashtabula Area City Schools will be closed today.” Sometimes that is what he said, but just as often he would say, “We have no reports of school closings today.”
   Soon after Jeopardy ended, the telephone rang. It was the woman from the doctor’s office. She called to tell me my appointment at 9:45 Tuesday morning had been cancelled.  Once the weather had settled down and they were able to get back in office, she would call and reschedule it. It was still fifty degrees outside; it wasn’t raining; the fearful weather – a wintry mix of precipitation, turning to snow with a possible accumulation of one inch – was to begin Tuesday afternoon.
   Tuesday dawned as predicted: overcast. I saw Al when I went to get my mail. He was just getting back from Publix. The place was a mad house, he said, everyone getting ready for the big storm. At two o’clock, it was announced that, in order to allow the kitchen and wait staffs to go home early, dinner at Covenant Woods would be served at four o’clock instead of five. To further expedite things, the residents would eat off paper plates and use plastic flatware.
   The feared weather began at three-thirty that afternoon. First there was rain, then there was sleet, and by five o’clock there was snow. The snow continued into the evening and stopped after an inch or two had accumulated. The low Wednesday morning was near nineteen, and the streets of Columbus were dangerously icy. To someone who had arisen and looked out windows in either Bethel Park or Ashtabula almost every day of his life, the view from my porch door was of a typical January morning. The cars in the parking lot were covered with a thin layer of snow; the snow on the driveways was crisscrossed with tire tracks.
   It was the kind of day that in Ashtabula brought forth a loud “Isn’t winter ever going to end,” liberally salted with profane phrases and other inappropriate language. But once you went out into it, it was a day like any other, albeit cold and miserable. In west Georgia that was not the case. It was like the great blizzard of ’78 without all the snow. Here in the home, dinner was a box lunch. Most of the staff had been given the day off.
   On the TV, hyperventilating reporters and hyperactive meteorologist who seemingly have never experienced actual weather; outside my window, an inch of snow.
   Culture shock.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Notes from the Home - January 28, 2014

   At dinner on Christmas Eve, Miss Eddie stopped by the table to talk to Isabelle, who had an infected toe. Eddie, being Eddie, was full of advice on how to care for the toe, what to tell the doctor, and how to handle the medical insurance. Eddie, as always, delivered the advice in the tone of an exasperated parent who doesn’t believe the child is capable of dealing with the situation. But she could also be very personable, and she was always looking for something to do and for an opportunity to help. Sometime Christmas day Eddie died of an apparent heart attack. Overweight and in a wheelchair, she had health problems, but she looked to be her normal, ornery self the night before. Her death was a shock. She was sixty-eight.
   Three days later, Margie died. Many people here called her Granny, because, with her wrinkled face and wire-framed eyeglasses, she looked like Granny from the Beverly Hillbillies. Others called her the Preacher Woman. Where that came from is a mystery to me. There was no mention of preaching or church work in her obituary. Margie was eighty-two. She looked fifteen or twenty years older, at least. A couple of us were talking about Margie when Erris, who will turn 103 next month, went by with a spring in her step as she pushed her walker. If Margie and Erris were standing side-by-side, and you were told one was 102 and the other eighty-two, you would have assumed Erris was the younger one and said she looked darn good for eighty-two.
   Johnny, the maintenance supervisor, was at home watching the NFL playoffs when he had a mild heart attack. James, one of Johnny’s supervisees, went to visit him in the hospital and reported that if orneriness is a sign of improving health, Johnny is well on his way to a full recovery.
   “We were in his room talking, and all of a sudden, Johnny gets up. ‘What are you doing?’ I asked.
   “ ‘Going to the bathroom.’
    “ ‘Aren’t you supposed to use that plastic bottle?’
   “ ‘Yeah, they don’t want me getting up.’
   “ ‘What if they find out you’re getting up?’
   “ ‘I won’t say anything if you don’t’ ”
   Johnny is paying no more attention to the doctor’s medical advice than I paid to the advice he gave me the week before. Twice during that spate of cold weather, Johnny came by as I was wending my way through the parking lots and warned me about the cold. “We don’t want you to get frost bite,” he told me one afternoon. The wind was going right through me that day, and I was going to cut my jaunt short anyway, but it was sunny and in the low thirties. “Frost bite?” I thought. “Puh-leeze.” I made another lap around the building just to make a point.
   Two days later, the thermometer was in the same place, but the wind had died down and the sun was glorious. On a surprisingly pleasant January day like this back in the 1950s, a lad would have walked out of Bethel Memorial School, felt the warmth of the sun, ripped off his jacket and run home, where his mother would have told him, “You’re going to catch your death of cold.” In the early weeks of 2014, on just such a day, that now somewhat older lad was wearing all the January accoutrements – winter jacket, cap, and gloves. “Don’t stay out here too long,” Johnny said when he spotted him. “You don’t want to catch a cold.”
   Speaking of Bethel Memorial School: brother Jim and sister-in-law Susan made the trek from Birmingham Saturday, bringing with them a copy of Images of America: Bethel Park. On page 74 there is a picture of Memorial School. Just a portion of the Gardners’ house, the first house up from the school on South Park Road, is visible in the picture. Unfortunately, because of the angle, you can’t see the basement window through which brother Ed went on sister Barbara’s new sled a few decades ago.
   Russ and Karen came over too, and we all went to Chef Lee’s for lunch. It was the best Saturday I’ve had in a long, long time. Although, I was all wet when we left the restaurant. The place was crowded, and as we were eating, a boy of five or six went running by and knocked my glass of water on to me.
   Until six weeks ago, Ron’s nightly dinner consisted of a hamburger or a chicken sandwich, a glass of lemonade, a cup of coffee and a bowl of chocolate ice cream for dessert. On a good night he would eat three-fourths of the sandwich, take a sip or two of lemonade, drink most of the coffee and eat all the ice cream. On a bad night, he’d take two or three bites of his sandwich, hide the rest under his napkin and say to the server, “How ’bout some chocolate ice cream.”
   One night he ordered an entrĂ©e and the three sides, cleaned his plate, and had a bowl of ice cream. He hasn’t ordered a hamburger or chicken sandwich since. He’s also started talking more and joking around, especially with Stacie, one of servers. One evening, Ron and Stacie were bantering when Lucy, the food service boss, came by.
   “Miss Lucy,” Stacie said, “Ron gives me a terrible time every night.”
   “I know,” Lucy said. “I pay him to.”
   Ron glowed. I’ve never seen a bigger smile on his face. It was just a delightful moment. There was a dance here last week, and Ron danced with Stacie, Mae and several others. He’s now looking forward to the February dance.
   “Seven ladies have already made me promise to dance with them,” he said.
   I had suspected but did not know until last night that Ron, who is sixty-four, did not take regular high school classes. He was in special education, going to class in the mornings and working at Goodwill in the afternoons.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Notes from the Home - January 10, 2014

   On the final morning of 2013, Randy was emptying one of the conveniently located metal baskets into which dog-owning residents drop their pets’ droppings.
   “A crappy way to end the year, isn’t it?” I asked.
   “It is. But hey, want to know what I saw yesterday? Your neighbor, Richie, was out here with his dog. It was taking a shit. And you know what happened when he was done? Richie reached in his pocket, pulled out a piece of tissue paper, and – get this – he wiped the dog’s ass. Gawd! I wish I got service like that.
   “You know why I’m doing this, don’t you?” he asked, pointing to all the feces-filled plastic bags. “When Terry quit Johnny said, ‘We’re going to need one of you guys to blow the leaves off the drive and pick up litter every morning.’ I said I’d do it. What the hell. I’d have to come in a little earlier, but I’d get to leave a little earlier, too. About a month later, they put up these damn things and added poop patrol to the job description.”
   Then he asked if I had seen her yet. She is a relative of one of the residents. She, according to Randy, is a shapely blond with ample breasts and a proclivity for skin-tight sweaters. He first noticed her a month ago and has been talking about her ever since.
   “On a cold morning like this, I bet those babies are really, really perky,” he said.
   Alas, I’ve never seen the fair maiden and am beginning to think she might be a figment of Randy’s imagination. But, if nothing else, the thought that she might be real gives me another reason to get up and get out in the morning – always a good thing.
   By dinnertime that evening, Al claimed to be more than ready for New Year’s Eve.
   “This afternoon, I’ve had a beer or two, some bourbon, a glass of wine and a little brandy,” he told us.
   “And some marijuana and a Marinol?” Isabelle asked.
   “No, but I did have a hydrocodone.”
   Yesterday, Al, Irene, Malinda and I were sitting around a table in the activities room. We had the room to ourselves; an Elvis impersonator was in the dining room providing distraction for the easily distracted.
   “Al, how come you’re shoes don’t match?” Irene asked.
   “See how swollen this is?” Al said as he held up his left leg. “It’s so big I couldn’t even get my shoe on. That’s why I’m wearing this slipper.”
   “You better see a doctor,” Irene said.
   “I called my doctor this morning. He asked if I was taking a water pill. I told him, ‘No. I’m drinking whiskey.’”
   I had urinary problems this week. At seven-thirty Tuesday morning, Russ and I went out into the cold. At thirteen degrees, it was easily the coldest day since I arrived here nearly two years ago. Russ said he and Karen had been discussing the matter before he left and couldn’t remember a colder day in their time in Columbus. And they came down in aught-one.
   Russ’ task – and it turned out to be an onerous one – was to take me to the Columbus Clinic for a physical. My legs, stiff and uncooperative in warm, pleasant weather, were beyond incorrigible in the arctic cold, and Russ had to do most of the work getting them in and out of the car.
   Even then his work wasn’t done. We were led back to an examining room, where the nurse took my vital signs and said the doctor would be with me in a moment. Several moments later the doctor showed up, looked at the vital signs recorded by the nurse, asked a few perfunctory questions, and said, “Take off everything but your shorts and get on the table. I don’t think you’ll have any trouble getting up here. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” Other doctors have given me those instructions. Those doctors, however, had examining tables they could lower, and I could sit down on and swing my legs up. This doctor’s table lacked that capability, and it took a stellar effort from Russ to get me on it.
   The doctor returned and began the examination. About half way through he asked if I was sexually active. I told him no. He said there were things for that, and I had visions of trying to get comfortable in the wheelchair while experiencing an erection lasting more than four hours. I told him, while I’m not the man I once was, the lack of activity has a lot to do with the lack of a partner.
   He said, “Oh,” had me to turn over on my side, and stuck his finger up my butt. He said my prostrate felt good and my stools were hard. I was glad to hear the former; I could have told him the latter. He put a solution of some sort on the glove he’d used and said there was no sign of blood on it – a very good sign, he said.
   “You can get dressed now. Someone will be with you in a minute,” he said.
   With Russ’ help, I dismounted from the table, put my clothes on, and wondered why I had been told to fast. In a minute, or maybe several, as the doctor had promised, someone was with us. She handed me several forms and a cup.
   “Why the cup?”
   “A urine sample.”
   “Do you have a catheter I could use?”
   And with that, I had a problem, several of them, actually. The first: I have a very difficult time peeing on command. It’s the whole nerve thing with MS. The second: when peeing in a manly fashion, I need both hands available to brace myself against the wall, the toilet, or whatever is available to brace myself against. If I used one hand to hold the cup, the cup and I would likely end up in the commode. The third: it is difficult for me to spread my legs and almost impossible to spread them while sitting on the toilet. If I were to sit and pee without a little rubber hose to carry it to the proper place, very little would get in the cup and a great deal would get on my legs. The forth: because of the above difficulties, I always use a catheter before leaving home so as to avoid them if possible. That morning was no exception. The fifth: because I had drained my bladder that morning, and because I had had nothing to eat or drink since going to bed nearly twelve hours earlier, there wasn’t much there. Getting things started when I really have to go is sometimes a lengthy process, and at that moment, I really didn’t have to go.
   “Do you want to try?” she asked.
   “OK,” she said without enthusiasm, “follow me.”
   And I followed her. Well, Russ pushed me as we followed her to the phlebotomist, who did her job as painlessly as anyone who has ever stuck a needle in my arm. And with that out of the way, Russ and I went to IHOP.

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...