Monday, September 28, 2015

Notes from the Home - September 28, 2015

     Hayden will be five on Wednesday. The one-pound-eleven-ounce bundle of joy is now in preschool. What a guy.
     From two thousand miles away, Hayden and MaKenna bring so much happiness to my life. Beth calls, tells me what the grandkids have been up to and puts them on the phone.  When they say, "I love you, Grandpa," my heart melts.
      From this distance, Beth and Ken seem to be wonderful parents. They are allowing Hayden to explore and go where his intelligence and curiosity lead him. Who knows what the young fellow will discover along the way. I have a feeling it will be a lot.

     Al had a difficult weekend. He wasn't feeling well Saturday and didn't come down to dinner. The people in the kitchen take good care of him, though. When I went to see him after dinner, he was working on the dinner that they sent up to him. He said it was good, especially the chocolate cake for dessert. Al was delighted that I brought along another piece of cake for him.
     Sunday morning, the phone rang. "Tom, I need you to come up here. I had a hell of a night." Al is an early riser, but when I got to his room, about ten-thirty, he was still in bed. That worried me until he pushed the blankets aside and I saw that he was dressed. At least he had been up for a while earlier.
     "Tom, I don't know what to do. Maybe I should go to the hospital. I don't want to go to St. Francis, though."
     I asked if he wanted me to call 911. "Well, maybe you should. No, I don't want to go to the fucking hospital. I don't know what the hell to do."
     He pondered the situation for a minute and decided I should call hospice, which I did. Ronnie, one of the hospice nurses, asked what the problem was. I told him, Al said he couldn't remember a "goddamned thing," and his side "hurt like hell." Then Ronnie asked if Al had an oxygen tank. Al does, but he wasn't using it. "Well, see if you can get him to use it." It took a few minutes to untangle the tube so it would reach the bed and several more minutes before Al got everything securely in place.
     Ronnie said he had to pull Al's records and would call back once he'd taken a look at them. Fifteen minutes went by, and Ronnie hadn't called back. "Goddamn it! I'm going to call Daniel." Daniel, whom Al has known for twenty years or more, works for hospice in some capacity. More administrative than medical, I believe. Daniel asked if I would give Al a dose of the morphine that is kept in a lock box in Al's closet. He explained the procedure, and I told him I wasn't comfortable with idea. It sounded like a job for a professional, not a guy who often finds it difficult to pour himself a cup of coffee.
     Al said he was feeling a little better. Daniel said he'd talk to Ronnie, and he told Al to call if the pain got worse. Al and I talked for a few minutes and then he said, "Tom, why don't you get the hell out of here?"
     I left, and my Sunday went on uneventfully until eight-thirty, when the phone rang. "Tom, I don't know what the hell I'm doing. Penelope called a few minutes ago, and I don't know what she said or what the hell I told her. She said she'd call me back in fifteen minutes. Get your ass up here so you can talk to her when she calls. I'll leave the door open for you."
     When my ass arrived, Al was hurling imprecations at the thermostat."It's cold in here. Do you think it's cold in here. This goddamn thing [the thermostat] isn't worth a shit. The big number is seventy-two, the little number is sixty-eighty. Goddamn it, I don't know what the hell I'm doing." Then he set about pressing every button and pushing every switch on the thermostat. "Now look at it. The little number is seventy-seven. What the hell is going on? I should just tear the fucking thing off the goddamn wall.
     "Last night, it was so goddamned cold in here, I got up and tried to reset this goddamn piece of shit. I lost my balance and fell against this chair. If it hadn't been there, I'd have fallen on my goddamn ass. Where'd they get this piece of shit? Goddamn it."
       The thermostat in Al's apartment is not the same as the one in mine. And it is a little higher on the wall, which makes it extremely difficult for me to see what's what with it from the wheelchair. Peering hard at the contraption and occasionally getting Al to answer my questions, I realized the "small number," located in the upper right corner of the thermostat, is the setting. The big number, which is in the center of the thermostat and easily read, even by me, is the room temperature.
     Al turned his attention to the small switch below the screen with the big and small numbers. "It's on cool. Now it's on heat. If it's here, the small number is seventy-two. If it's over here, the small number is seventy-eight. Seventy-eight; seventy-two; seventy-eight; seventy-two. Look, if I put it here, the goddamn little number disappears."
     "Leave it there," I said.
     It took ten minutes to convince Al that if the small number disappeared, both the heat and air conditioning were off. The room would probably get warmer overnight, but he said the AC was blowing on him all night long Saturday. Leaving it off would solve that problem.
     "If you say so. But I don't trust the goddamned thing."
     Ignoring another burst of questions, I picked up the tube from the oxygen tank and suggested he put it on. Al sat down and fiddled with the tubing until he got properly placed. Despite his protestations, the oxygen seems to help. It doesn't make him feel like a million bucks, but it does get him feeling better than a buck-ninety-eight. Speaking from the depths of medical ignorance, I think the oxygen makes breathing easier, less of a struggle, and Al is more relaxed when he uses the oxygen.
     We talked for a few minutes. Al came to the conclusion that maybe Penelope hadn't said she'd call back. He asked what I had done all day. I assured him it wasn't much.
     "Thursday is the first, isn't it? That's pay day. I'll have to call the bank and see how much I've got in there."
     Then he said, "You look tired, Tom. Why don't you get out of here? Thanks for coming up."
     "If you need anything, give me a call."
     "Oh, I will, you old rascal." 
     I called Al this morning (Monday). He answered with an upbeat "Hello." He said it did get warm in his apartment, but he'd opened the porch door, and he was more comfortable now. It is cloudy this morning. The weather people think the clouds will hang around all day and they say it won't be terribly hot. A day or two of being able to remain comfortable without fussing with the goddamn thermostat would be a blessing for Al.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Notes from the Home - September 22, 2015

     Fall came to Columbus and its environs a few days early. Although, I would not have recognized it as fall before moving here in 2012. In Ashtabula, bright sunshine, gentle breeze, low humidity, high of 85 and low of 67 is a pleasant summer day. It would be a pleasant summer day in Columbus, too, if such a day were to occur between May and earlySeptember. It seldom does. There have been maybe a half dozen such days in the four summers I've been here. And not a one this year.
     Now, when I slide the porch door open at five in the morning, cool air comes in, and it's exhilarating. This morning, I left the porch door open and the air conditioner off until nearly noon. At eight-thirty each morning, when I go out and circle the building, it is comfortably cool in the shade and comfortably warm in the sunlight.
     Tuesday morning, Janet, an English woman who came to America last fall, was sitting in her carport smoking a cigarette when I came along. Our conversation quickly turned to the weather and how nice it has been. Which led me to talk about the Orofino branch of the family.
     "My daughter says they've had lows out there in the thirties," I said.
     "Thirties?" she asked with a what-the-hell-is-wrong-with-this-guy look on her face. Then came the "Oh" and a smile when she realized I was speaking in Fahrenheit, not Celsius.

     Al's nephew Harry is spending a few days with his uncle. Yesterday, they told stories about Al's brother, who must have been a brilliant man. He was an Air Force pilot who was never stationed overseas, because he was always going to school. He finished all the work for his Ph.D except the dissertation. After the Air Force, he taught at NYU, CW Post and two or three other colleges in the New York area.
     The company does Al good. He is always trying to understand what is happening with his body, and having someone there listen to his to his analysis helps. On and on and on he'll go about his bowels, his breathing, his dizziness, his weak legs, his whatever, until he looks at me straight in the face and says, "Tom, why don't you tell me to shut the hell up." When he is by himself, I don't think Al tells himself to tell himself to shut up, and the more he talks to himself about his problems, the more he worries and works himself up.
     The subject of Al moving to the Personal Care (formerly Assisted Living) wing is being discussed. Having people there to monitor his medications would be a good thing. Al's memory being what it is, chances are he is forgetting to take his meds on some days, and on other days forgetting he took them and taking a second or even third dose.
     Al is also experiencing balance issues. He did fall once trying to get in the shower, but that was over a year ago. Still, he is becoming more and more unsteady and frequently complains about weakness in his legs. In PC the staff will help him with showering and other tasks of daily living.
     On the other hand, Al doesn't respond well to others helping him or telling him when it's time to do this or that. Someone from hospice used to come to give Al his meds. After a few days, Al began greeting the hospice worker with a gruff "Get the hell out and stay the hell away from me." Hospice honored his wishes and stopped trying to manage his drugs.
     Al spends much of his time on his porch, feeding the birds, smoking cigars, drinking Yuengling or red wine and either smoking marijuana in his pipe or eating his Alice B. Toklas cookies. The rooms in PC do not have porches. And there is the question of how sympathetic the PC staff will be to Al's choice of relaxation activities.
     He would certainly benefit from the additional help he would receive in PC. Yet, Al is a man who never married, never settled down. "I was a nomad," he tells people. "I've been all over the world, and I've tried it all." How he would respond to being corralled in PC remains to be seen.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Notes from the Home - September 19, 2015

     Wednesday at dinner, Al said he was having difficulty figuring out a few of his bills. Would I come by sometime and give him a hand? Of course.
    He was one ragged-looking ninety-one year old man when I showed up Thursday morning. Al said he got up about six,  laid back a while later and had crawled out of bed just a few minutes before I got there.
     "When I got up just now, I didn't know where the hell I was. That's happening a lot. I don't know what I'm doing." Over the next half hour, he told me five or six times that he had planned to go to Publix on the Covenant Woods' bus, but he slept late. "Now, I don't know why the hell I wanted to go in the first place."
     The bills were easy to deal with; there weren't any. He picked up an envelope, took out its contents. "What the hell is this shit?" he asked as he handed me a bank statement. "I know what these are" Those were his cancelled checks. That the paper he handed me might be his bank statement never occurred to him.
     "What the hell is this?" he asked, handing me a bill from USAA. "They're a bunch of goddamned crooks. Every time I turn around, they want seventy-eight fucking dollars from me. I ought to call them and tell whole damn bunch of them to go to hell."
     The seventy-eight dollars is the annual premium for Al's renters insurance. Al sent USAA a check for that amount in July, when the premium was due. He sent them another check in August. The seventy-eight dollars on the most recent invoice from USAA is a credit balance.
     Sadly, Al is having more and more difficulty physically and mentally. He is still frequently coughing up blood, and he complains of being tired and weak.
     Nonetheless, he continues being Al. Friday afternoon, the folks from hospice disassembled and removed his queen-size bed and replaced it with a hospital bed. While that was going on, he called. "There are six damn people in here taking my bed apart. Get your ass up here." I politely demurred. Six people taking apart one bed and putting together another in Al's studio apartment wouldn't leave much room for a guy in a wheelchair. He reluctantly agreed and said he'd see me at dinner.
     Al always gets to the dining room before I do, but he wasn't there when I rolled in Friday. My call to his room went unanswered, and I went to see if something was wrong. I found Al in his room arguing with Annie. She'd gone to the store to get sheets and pillowcases for the new bed and was now making it up for him. Every few minutes Al would start to get up and say, "Here, let me help you." And Annie would tell him to sit down, she had it under control. "Goddamn it, she won't let me do anything."
     Saturday morning, Al complained at great length about the bed. That is a good sign, a very good sign.

     For the last month, I've been wondering if the plug on an electrical gizmo is not fully inserted into the socket, does the gizmo draw electricity at a lower rate? The gizmo in question is a medic-alert doodad with a button to hang around my neck. If I fall and can't get to the phone or to the pull cord in the apartment, I can press the button and tell ADT I've fallen and can't get up.
     At dinner one evening a few weeks ago, my phone rang. Seeing it was an 800 number, I opened and shut my flip phone to cut them off. The phone rang again while I was watching Jeopardy. It was from the same number. I didn't answer the phone, but neither did I cut off the call. The caller left a voice mail, which I listened to during the next commercial.
     The call was from ADT. There was a problem with the battery in the base unit in my apartment. Would I please call them immediately. I would have, except Russ called me at that moment. ADT had called him to ask if he knew where I might be and if I was all right. I assured him I was fine and about to give ADT a call.
     When I called, the woman at ADT said their monitors indicated that the battery in my base unit was dangerously low. "Is it plugged in?" she asked. I could see that it was but went over to take a closer look. It was plugged in, although not quite all the way. A quarter-inch, maybe less, of the prongs were visible. I got the plug to snuggle up with the surge protector and told the woman what I'd done. She told me to press the button on the pendant. I did, and she said everything looked good.
     All this seemed strange to me. When the power has gone out, the unit says, "No power detected . . . No power detected . . . No power detected . . . " Which seems like it's expending a great deal of power to tell me there is no power. And when the power comes back on, it says, "Power restored."
     But it didn't say either that day. Which has left me wondering if it was drawing some power, enough to keep it from telling me there wasn't any power. And just enough power that when I pushed the plug in as far as it would go, the machine saw no reason to tell me "Power restored."
     The mysteries of Wi-Fi also had me scratching my head. When the computer started having difficulties, I disconnected the Wi-Fi modem in my room, in order to keep any other bad stuff away from it. Then Russ took the computer to Staples, and a week later he brought it back.
     Alas, when I reconnected the Wi-Fi, the computer was sluggish in the extreme and not very dependable. Russ did some research and discovered that there had been some problems with Firefox. A few days later, he came to take me over to their apartment so I could have dinner with Karen and him. Before we left, though, he set about loading Google Chrome into my computer. It was a slow go, and he decided to take my computer with us and do what needed done while we were there. Back at Covenant Woods, the computer worked with less alacrity than I have when trying to walk.
     "Dad, I think the problem is your internet connection," he said. "When I tried to install Google Chrome here, it said it would take fifty-two minutes for it to download. At our apartment it hardly took any time at all. Call Mediacom and see what they say."
     That was on a Sunday. Early the next morning, I looked at the Wi-Fi thingy, pushed a button or two, played with the wires and went back to see what was happening when I got on the Internet before I called Mediacom. Miracle of miracles; whatever I did solved the problem. Of course, I caused the problem in the first place. But we don't have mention that part.
     Mildred, who lives across the hall, was walking Cully, when I was out circling the building and enjoying the evening air. I had always thought her dog's name was Curly. It seemed appropriate - he has an abundance of poodle-like curly hair. Several weeks ago, however, she corrected me when I asked, "How's Curly?"
     Cully, who is very protective, was the first topic we discussed. Earlier in the day, Mildred had Cully on a leash and was coming out into the hall. As they did, Cully started barking. A small dog, that belongs to a woman down the hall, was running in the hall.
     "I thought Cully was going to pull my arm off," Mildred said. "The woman who owns the other dog was out there, but she didn't have it on a leash. I told her, if Cully had gotten away from me, no telling what might have happened."
     Then the conversation turned to William and Richie and the beer they consume.
    "Someone told me William said the doctor told him if he didn't stop the beer was going to kill him," Mildred said. "Those two drink all day long, don't they. My first husband was like that. He was a nice guy, but he spent all our money on beer. We didn't have anything in the house, because he was always drinking beer. He'd go to a bar and buy everyone it a drink.
     "We were married from '47 to '52. I told him he had to stop drinking. He said he would, but he needed my help. The plan was I'd meet him when he got off work and we'd go home together.
     "Duane [their son] was about twenty-months old, and I put him in the stroller and we walked down to meet my husband. We were waiting outside and a car went by. My husband was in it with a friend of his. He didn't even wave as they passed.
     "Duane and I went back home. I got our stuff together. We lived in Augusta then, and we got on a bus that night and went to Auburn to stay with my parents.
     "I used to worry that Duane would have a drinking problem. But as far as I know he's never even tasted it. One time, he had a real bad cough. We got some peppermint candy and dissolved it in a little whiskey. It's supposed to help your cough. But Duane said if he had to drink it, he'd rather keep coughing."




Friday, September 11, 2015

Notes from the Home - September 11, 2015

          I awoke full of resolve this morning. This would be the day I resumed writing on a regular, daily basis. OK, on any basis at all. I hopped out of bed into the wheelchair and, within seconds, knocked over the paper shredder. Whether or not promptly cleaning up the resulting mess is a sign of my new resolve remains to be seen.
     (The above was written two days ago, and I haven't done squat since. The items that follow are old news. But, since I've been idle for six weeks or more, you wouldn't know that. Kicks in the ass will be greatly appreciated.)

A ferocious alligator, which appeared after a recent storm, yawns as it relaxes behind the C Building.

     Al has had more than his share of difficulty lately. Mostly, he is having respiratory problems. Six weeks ago, the doctor ran some tests on his lungs and discovered cancer in the left one. That is what is causing him to cough up blood.
     He was back in the hospital for two days during the first week of August. That Tuesday at dinner, Al recited the litany of his ailments five or six times. And with each repetition he seemed to get worse. If one more person would have asked Al how he was doing, he probably would have stroked out before he finished the saga. He asked me to follow him to his room, in case something should happen, which he never done before.
     Al seemed a little better when we talked that Wednesday morning. On my way to dinner that afternoon, Helen, Al's next door neighbor, told me they had taken him to the hospital a few minutes earlier. Penelope, who spent several hours in the hospital with Al, called around eight. The big concern, she said, was Al's racing heart. If the doctors could get his heart rate down, they would send him home.
     Al called the next morning, said his heart was beating at an acceptable rate, and he would be on his way to Covenant Woods as soon as the damn doctor showed up and did whatever the hell he had to do to get him the hell out of the goddamned hospital. Unfortunately, by the time the doctor came by to see Al, the ticker was ticking much too rapidly.
     Friday afternoon, with the help of hospice, Al signed himself out of the hospital. Whether or not he was ready to come home was the topic of lively debate for several days. Even Al wasn't all that sure he made the right decision, but he was absolutely certain he wasn't going back to that goddamned hospital.
     The years and ailments are catching up with Al. Every thing is more difficult for him now, and he says more often than ever before that he'd like to go to bed and never get up. But Al is still Al. He knocked on my door one day last week.
     "Antoinette took me to Publix this morning, and I bought seventy-five dollars worth of shit. You've got take some of this stuff. If you don't, I'll end up throwing it away," he said as he handed me some strawberries, blueberries, pepperoni, kielbasa and a few other things. "I had a hell of a movement earlier. I was sitting in my chair reading the paper, and it happened. I went into the bathroom and dropped my pants. I could see it coming out of the diapers. I said, 'Holy shit!' Then I spent forty-five minutes cleaning my ass."

     A woman, whose name, unfortunately, I don't know, maintains an impressively brisk pace on her evening walks. We're seldom out at the same time, but we were one recent evening and talked for a few minutes. 
     "How many laps do you do?" I asked.
     "This time of year, usually three. Once in a while four, if it isn't too hot, but always at least three."
     "That's about a mile-and-a-half, isn't it?"
     "Something like that. I used to walk five miles every day, but when I turned ninety, I decided I didn't have to go that far."

     Janet was smoking a cigarette when I was out Tuesday morning. We talked about the weather, and she told me about her back problems, while keeping an eye on the goings on up the street.
     "I'm being nosy. Jane got a new dog, a little terrier of some sort. Dorthy said it's really cute, and I'm trying to get a look at it. Wait a minute - I'm not nosy, I'm curious. My kids think I'm nosy. When I ask a question, they always say, 'Mum, you're being nosy again.' But I tell them, I'm just curious."



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...