Friday, February 21, 2014

Notes from the Home - February 21, 2114

   Al celebrated – celebrated might not be the right word – let’s say, Al noted his ninetieth birthday last week. Besides lots of good wishes, he was given chocolates of various kinds by various people. Extolling the benefits of chocolate and warning of the dangers of sugar, he distributed the bounty among his friends. He gave Isabelle the Whitman Sampler he’d received, Ron got some tarted-up  Oreos, I got a bag of Ghirardelli Valentine’s Caramel Chocolate Trio and he re-gifted some other chocolate treats to a couple of women who live near him on the second floor.
   I was beginning to wonder if Al was ready to turn ninety. As we were leaving the dining room Thursday, Alisha met us coming the other way. She is an attractive twenty-something who handles the evening shift at the front desk. She was wearing a black top with “Guess” spelled out across her chest in glittery silver stuff.
   “What’s that say?” Al asked.
   “ ‘Guess.’ I got it when I was in Las Vegas.”
   “It’s not spelled right, is it?”
   “Yes it is.”
   With that, Al, normally quite the chivalrous fellow, went into dirty-old-man mode. He got a little closer to Alisha and looked down at the letters. “G,” he said, and poked the G. “U,” he said, and poked the U. “E,” he said, but before he could poke the E, Alisha said, “I better get back to the desk.”
   “He wasn’t fooling anyone,” she told me later.
   Friday, whether it was the Yuengling, the Lake Country Red, the hydrocodone, the marinol or a combination of some or all of them, Al less steady on his feet and more at sea in conversation than anyone could remember him being before. But over the weekend he got back to just being Al, and last night he was positively jovial. We were in the dining room, working on the menus.
   “I wonder if anybody knows any good jokes,” he said.
   “I do,” Annie said, as she blew by on her way to the kitchen to get something to eat before she went to call bingo.
   When she came back through, I asked her to share the jokes with us.
   “There’s no sense in me telling them,” said Annie, who has strong lungs and proceeded to use them. “If I do that, Al will look at me funny, then he’ll turn to you and say, ‘Tom, what did she say? I can’t hear a word she’s saying.’”
   “Help me out, Tom,” Al said. “What did she say?”
   What a difference nine hundred miles makes. Yesterday, before the sun was up, an e-mail from Nancy appeared in my inbox. “Snow day!” she announced giddily. Ash/Craft and Happy Hearts would be closed for the day, and she was going to work on her quilt and then go cross country skiing down at Cederquist Park.
   Here in west Georgia it was spring. Frogs, toads and some of their amphibian friends provided the background noise with their croaking. In the morning, shortly before eight, I went out, wearing a light jacket. 
   These days, all my Saturdays start the same way. After getting dressed and attending to the matters that must be attended to in the bathroom, I turn on the coffeemaker, pour a glass of orange juice, gather the bottles with the child-proof caps that my prescriptions come in, and go to the table. There, I pick up the little plastic daily-pill-organizer thingy, take out Saturday’s ration and wash it down with a slug of OJ.
   Saturday is the last day of the pill organizer’s week, and I set about restocking it. I pick up a bottle with my right hand, open it, tap it against the open palm of my left hand, hoping seven pills roll out on to my palm before one or more roll out on to the floor, put one pill in each of the organizer’s little compartments and repeat the process with the next bottle.
   While doing this mindless task, I am amazed at how fast Saturday got here. Long periods of time – weeks, months, years – seem to speed by. In six weeks I will have been in Covenant Woods for two years. But it feels like just a few months ago that Russ and I pulled out of Ashtabula, U Haul in tow, on a rainy Saturday morning.
   The days though go on forever. The afternoons are often month-long affairs. And they’re creeping by even more slowly in the early months of 2014. The dreary days – overcast, raining, more overcast, drizzle, more overcast, thundershower, a moment of sunshine, overcast, ad nauseum – are partly responsible. But the truth is an old-folks home probably isn’t the best place for a person young enough to be the offspring of many of the other residents. Richie and William, who are both younger than I, drink their way through each day.
   One morning earlier in the week, I made my way around the parking lots and stopped to talk to James, who was tossing the accumulated garbage into the dumpster. As we discussed the Olympics, William came up the path from the shopping plaza next door.
   “Why the cane?” James asked when he saw William.
   “I’m having balance issues,” William told him.
   James and I managed to stifle our laughter until William was out of earshot. Then we wondered aloud about the twenty-four pack of Coors in the Piggly-Wiggly bag William was lugging, and how it might affect his balance at eight-fifteen in the morning.
   My balance being what it is, I better find other ways to pass the time.
   I woke up a few minutes before midnight last night. At precisely the witching hour, an alarm went off next door in Leila’s apartment. The beep, beep, beep, beep of what was likely a clock radio went on and on. At ten-after, I called the office. The woman who answered the phone transferred me to security, and I told man about the alarm. He asked me what room I was in. I told him, and he said, “Thanks, 
darlin.’ ”
   I’ve been called “ma’am” by strangers on the phone – male and female – a thousand times in the last six years. But it is the first time in all my nearly sixty-six years that a man has called me “darlin.” It is nothing to worry about, I tell myself, just another example of MS and the telephone playing tricks on the people I talk to. Then I think, Deliverance was set in Georgia, wasn’t it?

Saturday, February 8, 2014

The Week That Was

   February got off to a sputtering start here at Covenant Woods. Saturday, the first day of the month, dawned cloudy, cool, and damp. It was a morning when a wise person has another cup of coffee and keeps busy inside. Not being a wise person, though occasionally called a wise guy, I opted to saddle up the wheelchair and head to Piggly-Wiggly.
   To get to The Pig, I go down the asphalt path that links a Covenant Woods’ parking lot to the service road next to the store formerly known as K-Mart but now called “Building for Rent.”  At each end of the path, asphalt has been packed in to create a short, steep ramp, to allow wheelchairs to get up onto the path and down from it. The ramps extend just a foot or so from the berm and are too steep to drive straight up – the wheelchair’s footplate gets in the way. They have to be approached at an angle.
   On the morning in question, I made it down the path and did my shopping without incident. The problem arose when I attempted – and “attempted” is the operative word – to get back on the path. I approached the ramp as I always do and started up the incline when the wheelchair, of its own accord, circled sharply to the right. In a trice, the chair was straddling the berm, and neither of the drive wheels was making contact with the ground. I was stuck. But the cell phone – don’t leave home without it – was in my pocket, and I called Covenant Woods and explained the problem.
   Moments later, Cepeda and Cliff, who are both on the kitchen staff, were headed down the path. Cepeda’s brother’s name is Orlando; their father was a big fan of the former major leaguer. Cliff has the height of a basketball center and the build of a defensive tackle. I was in good hands. Cliff got behind the chair, gave it one good tug, and it was on solid ground once again. I did my best to disguise my embarrassment.
   Weatherwise, Tuesday was just as unpleasant as Saturday, but the prospect of going to the Columbus Clinic for a colonoscopy consult made it at least slightly more unpleasant overall. To be fair, much of the unpleasantness was borne by Russ. It was another cold, damp morning, and his old man’s legs were about as stiff as they could be. Russ expended a great deal of energy helping me get in and out of the car.
   Once at the clinic, a nurse led us back to a room where she took my vital signs. My blood pressure was a stellar one-twenty-something over seventy-something; a real surprise given how I was dreading the whole colonoscopy thing. That was followed by a video which explained the procedure. The video included a clip of the probe making its way through somebody’s large intestine. It looked like a coal mine.
   From there, we were taken to the office of a nurse practitioner, who asked bunches of questions about my bowel habits and explained the procedure in more detail. She said they would e-mail – or however they do it these days – three prescriptions to the Publix pharmacy across the street from Covenant Woods. The prescriptions, she said, were for stuff to clean out my system. Then she asked how much trouble I have getting on and off the toilet. I told her I’m stiff and slow in the best of circumstances, and if my brain were to receive messages from my nether regions that a world-class bowel movement was imminent, I would likely end up on the floor buried in it.
   She looked at me with eyes that said, “That’s what I thought.” And she said, “Maybe we ought to call this off.” I was agreeable. She told me to pay close attention to my bowel movements, and if there were any change, or if I noticed blood in them, to let the doctors know; they could put me in the hospital for a night so there would be trained professionals to help me on and off the throne.
   Wednesday morning, the phone rang, and I listened to the recorded message from the Publix pharmacy. They had three prescriptions for me ready to be picked up. When the recording ended, I called the pharmacy and told a real person that I wouldn’t need the prescribed items. He tried his best to be understanding. But it was only a few weeks ago that I had to call and tell them the prescription for blood pressure medication that was ready for pickup should have been sent to my pharmacy benefits manager.
   Thursday was the kind of day I used to hope for back in Ashtabula when the Star Beacon sent me to cover a high school baseball or softball game in early April: cloudless sky, plenty of sunshine, just a hint of a breeze, temperature in the fifties. It was a day for getting outside and touring the Covenant Woods’ parking lots. In my travels, I began to wonder if I was at fault for what had occurred Saturday, or did the wheelchair misbehave.
   On Saturday, I didn’t have any trouble getting on the path at the Covenant Woods’ end. And I didn’t have any difficulty when I tried on Thursday. Then I turned around and went back to the parking lot. The only difference between getting on the path from the parking lot and getting on it from the service road is my approach. In the parking lot, the left front wheel hits the ramp first; on the service road, the right front wheel is the first to make contact with the ramp. Simple enough, I thought, all I have to do is head for the ramp from the other side and see what happens. I did, and what happened is just what happened Saturday. As I sat cursing my fate, a fellow, on his way to visit his grandmother, came by and asked if I needed a hand. I released the wheels, and he pulled the chair and me back far enough to get the drive wheels on the ground again. The rest was easy. I don’t know how he felt, but I thought he timed his visit perfectly.
   Friday, I got an e-mail from Life in Spite of MS, a website. I came across the site several months ago. Life in Spite of MS was looking for poems about MS by people with MS, and I sent them one I had written a few years ago. Friday’s e-mail was to let me know all the poems they received had been collected and published as two e-books – When Life Gives You Challenges, Write a Poem: Book 1 and When Life Gives You Challenges, Write a Poem: Book 2. My poem, “A Short Walk”, is in Book 2. The books are $1.99 each and available through Amazon. There are several days when the books can be had for free. And the Kindle app I needed to download them was also free.
   And that was the week that was.


Alisha, the activities director, asked me to play Reader's Digest editor and condense an article on spring health tips she'd found ...