Thursday, March 19, 2015

Notes from the Home - March 19, 2015

     Al has looked healthier this week than he has in a month. Whether he is or not is hard to say, but he has the aura of a livelier, more alert man. He has been coughing up blood once in a while but has pooh-poohed the idea of seeing a doctor or going to the hospital. He says he's "ready to get out of here." Then again, he's been saying that ever since I met him, nearly three years ago.
    The last six months have been tough on him. When people ask Al about his life, he invariably tells them, "I was a nomad. I've been all over the world. It's been a great life." Last night after dinner, we were talking to Amy and Myka, two of the servers, and Al was complaining about America's sexual mores. "We have all these hang-ups. They don't have them in other countries. I've been around the world three times, and I tried it all. Now look at me, I haven't had an erection in twenty-five years."
     While Al often complains about his loss of sexual prowess, these days it is his dwindling freedom that bothers him most. He gave his car away several months ago. Life without a car has been hard on him. If he wants to go to the store, he has to find someone to take him. This is rough on him, and rougher on the person who takes him. Despite his oft expressed fear that he would kill himself or somebody else if he kept driving, Al has yet to find anyone who drives as well as he does. And he tells his drivers that while they're taking him to where he wants to go. And he frequently shares stories of his chauffeurs' ineptitude at dinner.
     When Al was still driving, he and Ken went to lunch almost every day. Now they go once, maybe twice a week, and even that stresses Al because Ken's doing the driving. "He's got dementia - bad. He doesn't know what's going on, he doesn't watch what other people are doing. He's going to kill us both."
     Hospice is also a thorn in his side. With hospice involved, Al no longer has to go to the drug store to get his medications. Hospice does it for him. He's still getting the hydrocodone and marinol, along with the other stuff. But someone else is going to the drug store for him. Al was a frequent visitor to the local CVS and had gotten to know the pharmacists. He enjoyed going and talking to them; his trips there were as much social as medical.
     At dinner last night, Al said no one from hospice had been up to see him in a couple days. "God damn hospice. They're supposed to check up on me. What the hell are they doing?" A few nights earlier, Al told us, "Some lady from hospice came to see me this morning. She didn't know what the hell she was talking about. I told her to get the hell out of my apartment and to stay the hell away."
     Two weeks ago, as the weather started to warm up, Al turned on his air conditioner. Nothing happened. He decided the thermostat was the problem and put it a work order. James went to take care of the problem and discovered a bad breaker was the culprit. "God damn it, James, it's the thermostat. You've got to put in a new thermostat." It was an argument James knew he was bound to lose, and he put in a new thermostat along with a new breaker. At dinner that night, Al spent fifteen minutes telling us how stupid James is.

     "I love coffee, I love tea, I love java, and it loves me." I just wished it had loved me more. There is an article on the Multiple Sclerosis News Today website, titled "Caffeine in Coffee Found to Reduce Multiple Sclerosis Risk." Now I've consumed more than my fair share of coffee over the years, and I've never asked for decaf in my life. Mom would roll over in her grave if I did.
     One of the researchers did say they need to study the effect of caffeine on relapses and long-term disability with MS. In the interest of science, I will continue my love affair with java. Although, while I enjoy coffee as much as I ever did, I don't drink nearly as much. My Mr. Coffee makes four five-ounce cups, or twenty ounces, which is two and a half cups for those using a measuring cup, or about one and a half cups of my coffee mug. I make two pots of coffee a day, one in the morning and another in the afternoon. Two or three mornings a week, I have one cup, and the rest sits on the burner until it is no longer potable.
     In the afternoon, I like to make a pot of coffee and drink it as I sit reading with my feet up. That is my intent. What usually happens: I make a pot of coffee, pour a cup of coffee, put my feet up on the hassock, open the book, read a few paragraphs, take a sip or two of the coffee, fall asleep and wake up just in time to get ready for dinner. An after-dinner cup of coffee is out of the question. Whether because of changes in my system, or just because I don't get much in the way of physical activity, coffee after five in the afternoon is apt to keep me up until five in the morning, Nonetheless, the cup that helps me wake up in the morning, and the cup that may or may not put me to sleep in the afternoon, are always among the highlights of my day.

     It is Thursday morning and, as promised, the guy from Convalescent Care rode off in my wheelchair. He is going to replace the tires on the drive wheels. When Convalescent Care called yesterday to arrange the the pickup, she said it would take an hour or two. As the fellow left in the chair, he said, "Be back shortly." I feel like a kid on Christmas morning. I haven't been able to get out and ride around for nearly a month. It rained most of the night, and it still looks like rain, but I'm hoping when the guy gets back, the weather will permit at least a short ride around the grounds.

     One of my poems appears on the Life In Spite of MS website.


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Notes from the Home - March 10, 2015

     On the last Friday of February, Russ picked up his old man and carted me off to see Dr. Verson, the neurologist. "How's the Lexapro [the antidepressant he'd prescribed] working?" the doc asked. "The cure was worse than the disease. I took the stuff for three days and quit. It made my legs and feet stiffer and less cooperative than they already are."
     "Why don't we try Adderall?"
     "There are a few other things we could try, but Adderall is less expensive. Insurance companies sometimes make a fuss about the other ones."
     "OK, I'll try Adderall."
     "Two things: take it first thing in the morning, it sometimes causes sleep problems; and watch your blood pressure."
     From there, Russ and I went to the checkout desk and on to the drug store. I started popping the pills Saturday and took one each morning.The effect was immediate. It didn't lift my spirits so much as it made my mind easier to work with. I was able to concentrate. I read stuff - really read stuff instead scanning a few paragraphs, saying, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, blah, blah, blah," and going on to something else. I finally had a modicum of success with the mindfulness exercises I've been trying to do for the last two or three months. I still couldn't focus on my breathing for long, but I could stay focused longer than the microsecond or two I had managed before.
      I thought about getting my blood pressure checked a couple times. But I felt good, and in the grand Harris tradition, at least the Thomas Jr. tradition, I said, "Tomorrow. I'll do that tomorrow." Thursday was as good a tomorrow as any, and I went to see Pat, one of the nurses' assistants.
     "A little high today, Tom," she said. "162 over 93."
     A little high, indeed. Certainly higher than the 120-something-over-70-something it had been at Dr. Verson's office and at just about every other doctor's office I've visited in the three years I've been down here. The next morning, Friday, I passed on the Adderall and was no worse for the wear. Saturday morning, however, my mind was back in its unmanageable state. Since then I have stayed on an every-other-day schedule. Have I had my blood pressure checked? Well, no. I'm going to do that tomorrow.

     William came by Monday morning. I think he was looking for an apology, or at least some indication that I wasn't upset with him and Richie, my next door neighbor. Nothing of that sort was forthcoming.
     Sunday night, I went to bed around ten. Richie had his TV on. I could hear it, but it wasn't loud; most nights I would have hardly noticed it and quickly fallen asleep. But Sunday sleep wasn't coming easily. When Richie turned the TV off around quarter of eleven, I wallowed in the silence, and by eleven o'clock I was about to tumble into dreamland. "Hey!" William shouted as he came down the hall just then and let himself in Richie's room.
     Richie and William are both loud and so insistent on being heard they seldom stop to listen to each other, or to anyone else, for that matter. In all their conversations, there are periods of yelling. They come like waves, as Richie and William compete to see who can use the F-word the most times in a minute. They sound like a couple of sixth -graders who just learned the word and can't say it enough.
      After forty-five minutes of trying to ignore them, I called the desk. The guy working security Sunday has been here about two months. I don't know his name, but he seemed delighted at the prospect of coming down and dealing with the situation. William was gone when the security fellow got there. I heard Richie tell the security guy he had told William to leave.
     Monday morning, after spending a few minutes in Richie's room, William came to see me. He wanted to know what was wrong. I told him. He said he and Richie had talked for just a few minutes. I told him it was more like forty-five minutes and got the cell phone out to show him the time of my call to the desk. "Oh," he said. "But my neighbors upstairs don't get upset with what I do." Unlike most of the residents, I told him, I'm not hard of hearing. "Yeah, you've got a point there." For good measure, I pointed out that he comes to see Richie all the time, but Richie seldom goes to see him. "That's true. I just wanted to be sure you aren't upset," William said and left.

     My sanity, like the spider in what's-his-name's sermon about sinners in the hands of angry God, is hanging by the slenderest of threads. Three weeks ago, the tread on my wheelchair's drive wheels split. To keep the chair operational until it can be repaired or retired and replaced by a new one, I have stayed indoors. The carpet has to be easier on the tires than asphalt.
     I didn't realize how much I enjoyed my little jaunts around the parking lots until now. Going out for a spin every morning was a much bigger part of my life than I ever imagined. On weekday mornings, James is out tossing garbage into the dumpster behind C building. And each morning, he'd bring me up to date with the sports world, giving me a synopsis of that day's SportsCenter. Randy's morning duty is to get the leaves off the driveways and pick up any scattered trash. Randy is a fount of complaints, but he is one of the world's most crude and colorful complainers. Whether he was jawing about his job or whining about his women, Randy's complaining always got me laughing.
     Down by the duplexes, Fran would be out with dog, Sassy, and we'd talk for a moment. Sometimes Millie or Janet would be out, and a hi-how-are-you-have-a-good-day conversation would ensue. And staff on their way to work would sometimes stop and talk for a minute. It was my social time and I miss it - really miss it.
     Two weeks ago, a guy from Convalescent Care, which does sales and service on wheelchairs, came out and took a picture of the bad tires and got the wheelchair's serial number. Last week, Nick, who is one of managers at Convalescent Care, was in the building, and I asked him about my chair. He said the fellow who was out here had given him the stuff, which he would take a look at and get back to me early this week. It's Tuesday and I haven't heard from Nick. But Annie, who is often the go-between for Nick and the residents, said this morning that Nick was here yesterday and told her they will be getting to me soon. I hope so.

     Yesterday afternoon, Russ took me grocery shopping and then over to their place so I could share a pizza with Karen and him. When Russ pushed me in the door, Molly, their dachshund - either miniature or toy, I'm not sure which - went into paroxysms of glee. She insisted on being put on my lap, and once there she showered me with sloppy dog kisses for fifteen minutes. I hope when Hayden and MaKenna arrive here next month they will find their grandpa just as lovable. When I mentioned that to Russ, he said, "But Dad, you bribe Molly with food." Well, let me just say this, I'm willing to bribe Hayden and MaKenna with whatever it takes to have my face covered in kisses.



Sunday, March 8, 2015

A Visit from Spring

     This afternoon, the world outside my sliding glass door is bathed in sunshine. Two children, a boy and a girl, grade-school age, run down the sidewalk, on their way to visit their great-grandparents, probably. From behind them, a voice rings out, "You kids slow down. Watch where you're going." The kids stop, look back and take off again. A couple, the kids' parents, walk by, the mother yells, the kids keep running. Mom and Dad smile.
     A wood bee hovers blimp-like just outside the window. It starts this way, then that way before buzzing over to the wooden railing along the porch. As if he has been here before, he lands on the railing and walks in the small hole his ancestors bored in it, and the bees have been using as long as I've lived here.
     A small lizard skitters on to the porch and stops. He basks in the sunlight for a minute or two and skitters on.
     This morning, the windshields were shrouded in frost. This afternoon it is spring.     

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Notes from the Home - March 1, 2015

     Crankiness was rampant at Covenant Woods last week. Tuesday, when I rolled up to the table in the dining room, Jim and Al had already ordered. After Cici, our server, took my order, she turned and made her way across the room. As she did, Jim put his hand up and said, "What about my coffee?" Cici couldn't see the hand, she was walking away from us, and probably couldn't hear him. It's doubtful the folks at the next table heard him, and Cici was halfway across the room.
     A few minutes later, Jim watched Cici put a glass of water in front of me and didn't say a word about his coffee until she was well on her way to another table. And when he did speak, only Al and I heard him. Correction: I was the only one who heard him; Al isn't hearing much of anything these days. When Cici came back with the soup, she asked each of us if we wanted some before setting a bowl at each place. Again, Jim never asked about his coffee until Cici was on her way to another table.
     "Where do they get these people?" Jim said. "That girl is terrible. I've asked for coffee four times, and I still haven't got it."
     Cici soon returned with our salads. This time Jim asked about the coffee while Cici was standing by our table, prefacing his request with a few words about Cici's incompetence. She apologized for not hearing him ask for the coffee and went off to get his cup of joe.
     When it came time for dessert, Jim asked Cici about the sugar-free dessert. She told him there was sugar-free ice cream but no sugar-free pie or cake to go with it. "Well, just give me some sugar-free chocolate ice cream," he said. Whether in an attempt to make up for not getting the coffee sooner, or in an attempt to replace the sugar-free pastry that wasn't there, Cici brought Jim two cups of chocolate ice cream. When she was safely out of earshot, Jim said, "Well, she redeemed herself."
     Myka had coffee trouble with Coach, Thursday evening. As soon as he sat down, Coach asked for a cup of coffee, and Myka promptly got him one. When Coach emptied the cup, he wanted it refilled immediately. That was just about the time all the dinners came up, and Myka was busy delivering meals to the twenty-five or so residents in her section. Coach did not appreciate having to wait and told Myka as much when she got his coffee. "You're a sorry excuse for a server," he told her. Before he went back to his apartment, Coach told Orwin, who supervises the dining room staff, that Myka was the worst server in the place. "We were shorthanded tonight, and Myka did a very good job," Orwin told him. Coach turned and left.
     Friday afternoon, Al called and asked me to come to his room. The man was upset. Al wanted to talk to Donelle, the Covenant Woods' fiscal person. She had been helping him with a packet he needs to get together and send to some people in Savannah. Earlier in the day, Al had called the desk a few times and asked to speak to Donelle. Each time, the woman told him Donelle wasn't available. Normally, the person on the desk during the week is Shirley, but she was off Friday. The woman who replaced her, according to Al, "is the dumbest thing on this earth." His verbal assault went on for ten minutes before I was able to convince him that maybe the woman wasn't dumb; maybe Donelle really wasn't available.

     Fortune smiled on me Saturday evening when I took a much needed trip to the laundry room. When I got there, two of the four washers were in use, as was one of the three dryers. Once I put my laundry in the two available washers and heard the water rushing into them, I took a closer look at the dryer situation. It wasn't good.
     The available dryer was No. 2. The last time I used No. 2, my clothes would have dried faster if I'd hung them on a line outside. No. 3's cord and plug were draped over the the control panel like a beaten fighter hanging on the ropes. I was going to be the odd man out with the dryers, I was sure of it. Women are strange creatures in the laundry room. They heed the washing instructions on the little tag inside of every piece of clothing. This has to be in the dryer for fifteen minutes on high, this seven minutes on medium, and this twenty minutes on low. I was going to spend the evening in the laundry room waiting for a dryer to become available. I'd be there until dawn.
     As my clothes were going through the wash cycle, the two washers with some other person's clothes completed their spin cycles and fell silent. The mystery launderer would walk in momentarily, and my long night would begin. It wasn't until my two washers started the spin cycle that someone came in. I was reading and unaware of the intrusion until she said, "Hey, Tom." Being more than a little spastic, I nearly jumped out of the wheelchair.
     I don't know the woman's name and could say nothing more than, "Hi, how are you?" She took the clothes out of No. 1 dryer - the good dryer - and left. Moments later, my washers stopped. There was still no sign of the person whose clothes were in the other two washers. I had to work quickly and get my clothes in dryer No. 1 before the other person showed up.
    The faster I try to move, the more clumsy and uncoordinated I become. It must have taken ten minutes for me to get the clothes out of the washers and into my basket, and another three or four to get them over to the dryer. Just as I dropped the first item into the dryer, Mary walked in. "I fell asleep," she said, as she took her clothes out of the washers and put them into dryer No. 2.
     An hour later, I took my clothes out of the dryer, carted them to my apartment, dumped them on the bed, folded them, put them away and crawled into bed after the three of the more productive hours I've had in a month.
     In talking to some people Sunday afternoon, I found out dryer No. 2 has been repaired and is now the best dryer in the place. No wonder Mary didn't look disappointed when she had to use it.

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...