Monday, February 29, 2016

Notes from the Home - February 29, 2016

The always curious Randy had a question Saturday: “Why is it the C-side garbage is always full of shit, and the B-side’s isn’t?” By shit, Randy meant shit, feces, excrement, crap, poop, doo-doo and the like. Randy is one of the maintenance men.
During the week, James gets the large cart that sits beneath the garbage chute in the C-building, pushes it outside and throws its contents into the dumpster. John, the third maintenance man, does the same thing with the B-building garbage. While James and John are dealing with the garbage, Randy circles Covenant Woods in a golf cart, picking up scraps of paper and whatever other trash is spoiling the beauty of the place, firing up the leaf blower when necessary and tending to the doggy-doo collection cans.
The the three maintenance take turns coming in on Saturdays, when only one of them works. That man starts the morning by doing all the garbage chores. Thus, every third Saturday, Randy carefully observes how B-building garbage and C-building garbage differ. “The C-side is always full of shit. They don’t even bag it. They just throw the dirty diapers down the chute. What’s going on?”
I entered a plea of ignorance. Al used to discuss his bowel movements in graphic detail, but he did his business on the toilet. He did wear a diaper, but that was more for Number 1 than Number 2. When he did “shit in the goddamn diaper,” he would tell us how long he had spent cleaning himself up. I think he always disposed of the diaper properly. I am sure he did. I mean, he did live in the B-building.
*     *     *
Russ had to pick his old man up off the floor Sunday morning. He called at quarter till nine to ask if I needed to get groceries. I did, and he said he’d be over in an hour to take me to Publix.
As the appointed time neared, I made myself presentable, got my wallet and transferred from the motorized wheelchair to the manual chair. Well, not quite. 
The problem is, the manual chair needs a brake job. The chair, which I got late in 2007, carted me – with Nancy pushing most of the time – around Paris, Lucerne, Florence, Rome, Venice, Munich, Amsterdam, and several intermediate points before it was a month old. By the time it made the trip down here to Columbus in March, 2012, it had also been to London, San Antonio, the Grand Canyon, Montreal, San Diego, Boston, and here, there and everywhere in the greater Ashtabula area and Northeast Ohio.
The old chair just ain’t what she used to be. Sitting in the motorized chair, I leaned forward, took a firm hold of arms of the manual chair, counted to five, said, “OK legs, let’s go,” slowly raised my posterior off the seat of the motorized chair, braced myself on the arms of the manual chair, which started moving backwards, and I went ker-plop. A few minutes later Russ arrived and gave me a lift.
That’s my story, and I am sticking to it. I will not mention my balance, which has gone from iffy, to questionable, to doubtful, to if there is nothing solid to hold on to I am likely going to fall on my face. And I refuse to discuss how weak my legs are these days. Nor will I acknowledge that my right leg, which functioned normally until a year or so ago, is now as ornery and uncooperative as its partner on the left.
But, I suppose I ought to mention those things when I visit Dr. Miller, the primary care guy, this week, and Dr. Verson, the neurologist, next week.
*     *     *
 Alas, the legs aren't the only problem.  When I saw Dr. Verson in December, I told him I was ready for a new wheelchair. A few days later, the phone rang. The phone was in my pants pocket. It is so easy to slide the phone into the pants pocket, and, all too often, it is impossible to get the stupid thing out of the pocket before the caller is directed to voicemail. 
When I finally got the phone out of the pocket it told me I had one missed call. A moment later, it told me I had a voicemail message. The message was from Columbus Home Medical Equipment; a gentleman said that they had received an order for a scooter from Dr. Verson, but unfortunately, they are not in network with my Humana insurance. "I have notified Dr. Verson's office, and they should be contacting you," he said. 
Several days went by without a call from the doctor's office, and then a few more. I started to call them one day, then I closed the phone and put it in my pants pocket. "Look," I said to myself, "you're going to have different insurance in January. (I always talk to myself in the second person.) Why don't you wait until after the holidays? By then you'll have all the information, all the numbers they'll need." Sounded good to me.
I called the Columbus Clinic in January, and asked to speak to someone in Dr. Verson's office. The call was transferred to someone who listened as I told her about the call from Columbus Home Medical. My biggest concern wasn't the insurance, my biggest concern was that Dr. Verson's order was for a scooter. "I need a wheelchair, a motorized wheelchair. There's no way I'll be able get on a scooter without falling." I told her. "I will pass this along, and someone will be getting back with you," she said.
No one got back to me. A week later, I called them and went through the same routine and was told that someone would get back to me. Another week or two went by without a call from the doctor's office, so I called again. It was a replay of the other two calls. A few days later, I did get a call from the Columbus Clinic. The information I had given them had been passed along, the caller told me, and someone would contact me soon. Ha!
By this time, giving the subject of a new wheelchair a break seemed to be the wiser course. The wheelchair was working fine. And I am scheduled to see Dr. Verson on March 11th. Better to talk to him face-to-face than try to reach him through a maze of telephone answering people.
What do they say about the best laid plans of mice and men? On the evening of February 11th, after enjoying a meal in the Covenant Wood's dining room, I flipped the wheelchair's on switch, gently pushed the joy stick, and nothing happened. Well, nothing good happened. A message on the control unit said the second motor was disconnected, and when the chair moved, it moved slowly, always circling to the right. Lucas was kind enough to push me and the chair back to the apartment.
The next morning, Russ came to take me shopping. Before we left I had him push me to Al's apartment. Isabelle, who died almost two years ago, told Al she wanted him to have her wheelchair in case he ever needed it. After Isabelle passed, the wheelchair sat in Al's apartment collecting newspapers, magazines and junk mail. "Why don't you use the wheelchair?" people asked Al when he started having trouble walking. "I can't drive that goddamn thing. I'd probably kill someone." And once or twice a week, Al told me I needed to take Isabelle's wheelchair. "I don't need it," I'd tell him. "I already have a wheelchair. Give it to someone who really needs it."
But that morning, I was the one who really needed it. Al was unaware of this last gift to me, but with the blessing of his nephew Harry, I rode away in Isabelle's wheelchair. If all goes well, it will get me where I need to go until I can get a new one.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

You Out There, Al?

     Al has been gone a week, and to my great regret, I never taped him fulminating about whatever or whomever upset him at that moment. Al had a gentle, understanding side, of course, but it was his ability to combine anger, disgust, common sense, humor and an endless supply of expletives into marvelously pithy, off-color diatribes that made him such an unforgettable character. 
     Covenant Woods is filled with whiners and complainers whose bellyaching is beyond boring. Al, however, did his griping with brio, elan, dash, and spirit. He was never boring. But in those moments when I am bored, I would love to be able to press a button and listen to Al lambasting the fools du jour.  
     Al also had a very analytical mind. He was always searching for meaning in life. "What are we here for? What are we supposed to be doing?" he would ask. As a teenager, Al read Marcus Aurelius' Meditations, and he told me I should, too. I never did. 
     On a more concrete level, Al analyzed even the simplest but frustrating tasks. One evening a couple weeks ago, I visited Al. We talked for a bit, then Al said he was going to bed. In the process, he managed to get his oxygen tube entangled with the wire to the controls for the hospital bed hospice had provided him with. When he saw that they weren't going to separate easily, Al sat up, put the mess on the floor, took a good look at it, and set about the task at hand. It was a slow, frustrating task, which Al accompanied with some color commentary: "Son of a bitch. You bastard. Come on, Al, don't be a shit ass." 
     The whole time, though, he was focused on the problem, trying to figure out what he needed to do to untangle the mess. He never resorted to my preferred method: wildly pulling and tugging on the wires until they separated or, more likely, became detached from their respective machines, thereby creating a bigger problem. It remains to be seen if I learned anything from his example. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Good-bye, Al

Al turned ninety-two on Friday. Early Sunday morning, he died.

He had had a difficult week. Except to use the toilet, Al  stayed in bed nearly twenty-four hours a day. From time to time he would mumble, "Goddamn, I hurt. Why do I have to put up with this shit?" One morning Donna and Amanda, both hospice nurses, were there. Donna was getting Al's vitals, while Amanda clipped his nails. A year ago, Al would have been either telling the nurses to "get the hell out of here," or suggesting they get in the bed and roll around with him. That day, however, all he said was, "They're cleaning me up."

Saturday morning, Penelope, Al's nephew Harry, who came down from New York, and I spoke with the nurse from Columbus Hospice in order to get Al on to their rolls and off Hospice Advantage's. The problem with Hospice Advantage had nothing to do with the nurses and others from there who visited Covenant Woods to tend to Al's needs. But the facilities and care Al received at River Towne, where Hospice Advantage had sent him for a few days to get him hydrated, get his meds regulated and check for a possible urinary tract infection, concerned all those who visited Al while he was there.

The Columbus Hospice nurse got Al's vitals, asked for our observations of Al's condition, and got Harry's signature on the various forms. When all that was done, she said she would review the information with the doctor. She felt that Al was in the final stages. If the doctor agreed, they would have Al transported to their place on Macon Road. At two o'clock Saturday afternoon, the EMTs transported Al to Columbus Hospice. In the wee hours of Sunday morning, Harry got the call that his uncle had passed.

I miss him.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Notes from the Home - February 7, 2016

Al has been sleeping almost constantly for the last two weeks. Most of the time he looks nearly dead, lying on his back, his mouth open, his face blank. Saturday, though, he was on his side and had the look of a crusty old man thinking about all the people who had pissed him off lately. That's the Al I know, and that's the Al I want to remember. And should he recover and find out I took this picture, I'll be one of the people who pisses off the crusty old man. "God damn it, Tom. Why the hell did you take this fucking picture. I look like shit," he'll say. 

     Al is slowly fading away. His ninety-second birthday is a few days away, and he has no desire to be around for it. "I'm almost ninety-two," he says. "Why do I have to put up with this shit?"
     One morning a little over a week ago, I found Al on the floor when I brought him his morning muffins and coffee. He mumbled something about not knowing how he got there and not knowing how "the hell" he was going to get up. "I'm so goddamn cold," he said. That explained why he had a jacket covering his head.
     James, Lucas and Juan answered the call for help and got Al off the floor and into bed. A short while later, a hospice nurse arrived to take Al's vitals, which were normal, and to look at his left shoulder and hip, which he said "hurt like hell." The nurse didn't find any marks, though.
     The next morning, hospice had Al transported to River Towne, a nursing home. Al spent five days there. The hope was the nursing home folks would get him hydrated and find out if he had a urinary tract infection. Whether they did either is anyone's guess. Penelope, Annie, and Chelsea visited Al during his stay, and not one of them had single good word to say about the facility. Neither did Donna, the hospice nurse who came to see Al when he returned to Covenant Woods, nor did Daniel who has known Al for twenty years and who now works for hospice in an administrative capacity.
     Since his return, Al has slept and slept and slept. And when he's awake, Al has been disoriented most of the time. He has had his moments, though.
     A couple months ago, Al was having trouble remembering Chelsea's name. "Oh come on," Chelsea said, "You know my name. I'm Chelsea. I'm the sweetest one." Several of us, including Chelsea, were visiting Al Monday evening. When Chelsea said her good-byes, Al looked at her with his I-didn't-hear-a-goddamn-word-you-said look.
     "I said, I have to go," Chelsea said. "I'll come by tomorrow to see you."
     "Oh, please do. You're the sweetest one."
     "Mr. Park, that's so sweet. Thank you."
     "Well, you told me to say that," Al said.
     Donna, the hospice nurse, was checking Al's vitals one morning when I delivered his muffins and coffee. Al took a bite out of a muffin and then stared at it for a moment. "What's in these?" he asked Donna. She said they looked like raisins or maybe blueberries. Al took another close look and said, "I think it's rabbit shit."
     There were nuts in the next morning's batch. As Al was chewing on a bite of one - chewing is hard work for Al, who hasn't worn his dentures in several months - he picked up the wastebasket and spit into it. The pinging noise that followed led me to believe it was one of the nuts. Al confirmed my suspicion when he said, "Goddamn nuts. I think they're bigger than mine."
     Friday, Amanda, another hospice nurse, was taking Al's vitals and asking him how he felt, did have any pain, etc, etc. Al, who was in bed at the time, announced, "I'm going to have a movement."
     "Do you mean you have to go number-two?"
     "I'm having a movement right now."
     "How can I help? Do you want me to help you get into the bathroom? Is that potty seat still in your closet? You tell me, what we have to do." Amanda said.
     "What should I do when I go number-two?" Al replied.
     Amanda found the potty seat in the closet and put by the side of the bed. Al pushed the covers to one side, revealing the entirety of his body, save the part covered by his T-shirt. With Amanda's help he transferred to the potty seat and did his business in less than five minutes. Oh, that my 1948 model bowels were as expeditious as his 1924 model.
     Once Amanda had helped Al clean his butt and get back into bed, she got on her knees to ask Al a few questions. Now, Amanda is an attractive woman, probably in her late twenties or early thirties, and she seems very competent. She also seems to prefer stretch pants, very tight stretch pants, so tight and form fitting that when she knelt down by the bed, her pants had nowhere to go but down. I tried to pay attention to her questions and Al's answers, but I kept getting distracted by eight inches of trouser cleavage.
     I haven't talked to Al much today or yesterday. He was awake this afternoon, although almost completely oblivious to the four gentleman who were in the room when I got there. Ken, an old friend of Al's and the man who purchased his house when Al moved to Covenant Woods twelve years ago, was there, along with three of Al's friends from Savannah.
     After Ken introduced me to the Savannah contingent, I went over to the bed, where Al was eating some soup. He looked up and said, "Oh, hi, Tom." "At least he recognizes you," the four visitors said almost in unison.
     When Al finished the soup, he laid down, pulled a sheet up to his chin and went back to sleep. When I went to see how he was doing a few hours later, he was still sleeping. I'm certain he hopes he won't wake up.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Had My Fill of Phil

Yes, old Phil in Punxsutawney
            Will rise early on Groundhog Day,
            Though why we care is beyond me.
            Yes, old Phil in Punxsutawney
            Thinks he’s smart, but he’s just scrawny,
            And ain’t no weatherman, anyway.
            Yes, old Phil in Punxsutawney
            Will rise early on Groundhog Day.

            I mean, Phil is just a rodent
            Without predictive ability.
            A silly guess, it’s not cogent.
            I mean, Phil is just a rodent,
            Only his smell is really potent,
            He has no creditability.
            I mean, Phil is just a rodent
            Without predictive ability.

            Tom Harris

                February 1, 2016

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...