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."

The Resident Journal

This is the current issue of The Resident Journal, minus the pictures. Chuck Baston, a Covenant Woods' resident, came up with the idea...