Friday, December 23, 2016

December 23

Christmas preparations have been going on here at a snail's pace which is unfortunate since Christmas is two days away. But then, what else is new; call it a character defect or just plain procrastination, but I've never really been entirely ready for much of anything in my life.  Apparently I don't know how to function without a mini-crisis.  

 Look it's an undecorated Christmas tree!  In the dining room!

We had a tree from the septic tank renovations at least, a large Black Hills spruce had to be cut down to make room for the mound in November.  Carl plopped the tree in the Quarry to keep it watered until last week when I fished it out before the pond froze solid.  We finally moved it into the customary place by the upstairs staircase and it's three-quarters decorated.  Good enough.  It will do. 

Every year I vow this will be the Christmas I'm going to change my slacking ways but then something always seems to come up.  My hat is off to the Organized People of the world.   

This holiday season I have a legitimate excuse(s) of sorts; I've been wrangling with my health issues and the elders in my care.

I had to take Mom in for a doctor appointment last week; she says she feels fine, but her weight continues to go down.  She's at 94 pounds now.  I told her she can gladly have as much of my weight as she wants, but sadly it doesn't work that way.  Luckily, a friend of ours dropped off an array of garden statuary for Mom to paint.  She's been working on the projects for a few weeks now and almost has the first batch done.

 Mom is still as camera-shy at 96 as ever.  She doesn't realize my cellphone also takes pictures so I sneak photos during my daily visits with her.

 She doesn't want me to cook for her, but I've been bringing Christmas cookies and random assorted meals for her to eat.  She told the doctor she's not hungry but she assures us all she'll keep on eating to make us happy.

The picture below is her painting station setup in her kitchen.  She sits by the east kitchen window for light and has her TV and remote right by her side so she can watch her shows.
A few weeks ago she was painting a park bench for our garden.  For some reason, she decided to add glitter to the design which makes for a shiny park bench and I'm sure some shiny visitors next summer until the glitter wears off. 

 (Joel, our family glitter-phobe, will not be sitting on that park bench any time soon.  David is not fond of glitter either and has often jokingly referred to it as 'the  herpes of the art world.') 

 The glitter is a new interest and all my fault; a few months ago I found her cutting up various shiny candy toffee wrappers with a scissors in an attempt to make her own glitter.  She was having a difficult time making the pieces tiny enough to her liking.  When we took her to Wal-Mart a few months ago, we had her pick out new paint colors and silver and gold glitter, too.  Now that Mom has an abundant supply of glitter at her disposal, everything is sparkly and beautiful.  That's fine, she's having a ball.

On the other hand, Carl's mom is still struggling. 

I took the picture above of my MIL when we were at the hospital waiting for her last wound care appointment for her leg.  She's resigned herself to using a wheelchair because her legs hurt so much.  She has an appointment next Wednesday to see another surgeon.  Her dementia is advancing and we're not sure what the outcome will be yet.  I don't know how we will handle her care; I guess time will tell.

I've been feeling a little better as the days go by; I'd say about forty percent so far.  I still don't know what brought on the bleeding and the extreme low back and pelvic pain, but whatever is, I hope the saying 'this too shall pass' applies.  There were a few days I wore both a back and abdominal brace at the same time.  Ah, the joys of industrial strength elastic and velcro.

I'd made an appointment for this past Tuesday with a surgeon for a consult on a possible hernia but ended up cancelling because the pain migrated away from the site I wanted him to check.  Sad to say, we can't afford to go to the doctor if the pain isn't where it had been.  I have a follow-up appointment in late January with the gynecologist; maybe things will be better by then.  If not, well, our $10K deductible resets January 1.  We'll get a jumpstart on 2017 bills.  

I bought a book 'Heal Pelvic Pain' which contains exercises which seem to be helping quite a bit if I can force myself to do them.  The stretches are quite intense and I'm also quite inflexible, so I find almost all of them to be painful. I think I somehow shrunk my hamstrings, too.  Nothing wants to bend the way its supposed to.  Marble statues are likely more limber than I am, especially since this last bout of mystery pain.  

The book lists eleven different stretches, and each one is meant to be done three times for 30-60 seconds at a time.  In other words, a stretching session takes well over a half hour.  And the instructions also state to do them 2-4 times a day, along with at least a half hour of cardiovascular exercise.  I don't have a job and I'm finding it hard to fit this commitment into my schedule, but I'm doing my best.  I'll do anything to put this pain behind me.

 Carl and I went shopping tonight for some last minute gifts; apparently we're not the only ones who are unprepared, several of the clerks we spoke with were also running around trying to tie up last minute details of their own, too.  See, I'm not the only one.

I had to buy a new ergonomic keyboard for my computer as I've worn out the backspace key on my old one.  (Apparently I make far too many typing mistakes?)  

Anyway, while standing in line at a very crowded Best Buy waiting for Carl to be checked out, I spotted the Perfect Christmas Gift for Joel:   

 I sent Joel the picture and a text:  'Merry Christmas, Joel!  Love, Mom'

A few hours later, his response:

"I hope you got a gift receipt for that phone case."

Aww, phooey.  Maybe David will like it.



Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Rock, Really?

I'm sitting here tonight writing and alternately watching a Guns 'n Roses concert from 1992.  Axl Rose was all of 29 or 30 then.   (In other words oh-so-young.)    I often wonder how he could belt out tune after tune in concert and still have any kind of voice left by the end of the night.   

And to think he's doing it all over again now at age 54 with back-to-back concerts with GNR and fronting for AC/DC as lead vocalist is truly amazing.  Most of the rock legends have lost their edge after thirty years, but apparently Axl gets better with age.  He's four years younger than me; that fact alone is stunning.  I can't imagine how tired he must be afterward.

I don't really know how I ended up being a heavy metal fan.  Growing up with older parents; Mom was 38 and Dad 45 when I came along, let's just say their music was definitely not rock and roll.  They listened to a lot of talk radio and polkas, with a bit of Eddy Arnold, Dean Martin, and Tennessee Ernie Ford, especially hymns.  

My parents couldn't stand Elvis 'the pelvis' as my father derisively called him, and absolutely detested The Beatles, too.  Truth be told, Elvis was a little old for my taste in the '60's and '70's and since my parents didn't like the Fab Four, I went along with their sentiments.  

"Look at those stupid idiots screaming," my dad commented one night when Ed Sullivan had the Beatles on his show.  "What the hell's wrong with them?  Look at their haircuts!  I've never seen anything so damn dumb."  (Yes, my father was a harsh music critic.)  The Rolling Stones were another Non-Dad Approved Band.

 Being a shy kid enduring a lonely, semi-abused childhood, I spent a lot of time with a tiny AM transistor radio my mother gave me for my thirteenth birthday.  I still have it, even the box it came in; bright pink with one 9 volt battery required.  I would hold the radio while riding my bicycle no-handed up and down the road at night after chores.  I still remember the day I broke the antenna by accident when pushing it back down.  Even though I could still get a signal, I was devastated, I loved that radio; it was my lifeline.  I used to feel so bereft when the stations would sign off at night.  

Does anyone remember the sign off?  

"WXYZ Channel 6 now concludes it's broadcast day. With 50,000 watts of power, WXYZ is owned and operated by........" and then nothing but dead air.  

Doesn't it seem like a lifetime ago?  I guess it was.

I have always loved the night.  In the cover of darkness I could do whatever I wanted and there would be no one to criticize or poke fun of me.  If Dad was home I spent a lot of time outside as I disliked the tension in the house.  I've never feared the darkness, it always felt like an old friend, a cloak for my misery and true self.  I suppose that's why I never shook the nightowl habit even though it's not great for my health.  

But back to rock and roll, the sheer audacity of the music and the anger and misery in the lyrics spoke to me.  I didn't exactly want to  rebel but I was too afraid to let my alter-ego show;  too invested in trying to get good grades and please everyone.  Everyone but me.

But let the chores be done and the sun sink out of sight and I was gone.  Gone on my bike with The Eagles, Bread, Kansas, Van Halen, Aerosmith, AC/DC, KISS, Foreigner, Kansas, Styx, Whitesnake, and Motley Crue singing songs of disobedience and all about life in the fast lane.  As the years rolled by, angry rock stars howled out the rage I dared not express.

I lost touch with music of all kinds when I was raising our sons for about a decade, from 1986 to 1996.   We'd had a very nice stereo system but the woofers (the bass) went out on our JBL speakers.  (Apparently I'd been a bit too zealous with the volume in my earlier years. ) With the advent of raising infants, heavy metal didn't mesh with bedtime, I couldn't hear a baby wail over Steve Perry and Journey or Bon Jovi.  So the stereo was silenced.  

I remember the first time I heard of the band Guns 'n Roses.   Joel was just over a year old and strapped in his car seat in the back.  We were driving home from Christmas shopping and had the radio tuned into a 'cutting edge rock station' at the time.  At the ripe old age of 29, I thought the new rock and roll was 'for the kids'.  I was too old for such nonsense.

 But then the opening guitar strains of 'Sweet Child o' Mine' started up on the car stereo.  And I was hooked.  To this day I listen to GNR every chance I get.   Sometimes I hate when a song replays in my mind, over and over, but I often fall asleep with 'Welcome to the Jungle' or 'Sweet Child' playing in my head.  

My sons introduced me to Metallica, Alice in Chains, Drowning Pool, Marilyn Manson, Disturbed, System of a Down, and Slipknot, among many others, oh, and Rammstein.  I don't speak German, but the music speaks to me.

A few years ago, Joel took me to my first live concert.   My second all-time favorite band, Van Halen, was playing in a hayfield.  It was surreal.  I cannot tell you how much I enjoyed that night.  Eddie Van Halen plays the guitar like none other.  I'll never forget hearing 'Eruption' played by the master of all guitarists in person.

 I do listen to other artists, too;  but I've never cultivated a taste for country at all.  I know, how un-American.  

'Sweet Child 'o Mine' never fails to bring me comfort.

"She's got a smile it seems to me
Reminds me of childhood memories
Where everything
Was as fresh as the bright blue sky
Now and then when I see her face
It takes me away to that special place
And if I'd stare too long
I'd probably break down and cry."

I'm older now, so much older, but heavy metal is still my music of choice.  Gray-haired grannies aren't supposed to like to head bang, but this one does.

I just wait until the sun goes down, no one is the wiser.  

The darkness is still my friend.


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

What's Next? Part Three

One thing I wish I could change is the tendency to have my weird health issues appear on holidays and weekends.  Of course, my main wish would be to quit having weird health issues altogether, but if that's impossible to grant, could whoever is in charge please schedule them around doctor's office hours?  The past weekend of waiting to hear results was a long one.

At last I have some positive news; late Monday my new gynecologist's office called to tell me the results of the biopsy were benign.  The ultrasound results were not back yet.  I now have an appointment in six weeks to see the doctor for a follow-up though I can call sooner if need be.  What a relief it was to hear the results were normal, at least for now.  We still have no answers for why this happened in the first place, though the pieces of the puzzle may come together yet at some point down the road.  We'll see what January brings.

Carl's mom is still holding her own.  My father-in-law insisted he could change the bandage on her leg wound after we did it together the first time, and I reluctantly stood down.  I do not want to become the Dictator Daughter-in-law.  This is all new territory and when the roles change, it's very hard.  

You'd think since I've been through this with my mother I'd have better insight into the best way to broach difficult topics, wouldn't you?  But the truth is, I don't.  Every situation is different and with the onset of dementia, the situation can change every minute.  No one ever said this was going to be easy.

But along with my good news yesterday, I received a call from my mother-in-law shortly afterward; her new doctor's office called and asked them to come in for an appointment yesterday afternoon.  According to my MIL, her blood pressure was much better and her leg is healing well.  Thank God for that; I was really worried about her blood pressure and whether or not the wound care was being done on a daily basis.  I was very glad the office called them to make an appointment and another big plus is the new doctor's office is in our little hometown.

My MIL was scheduled to have some circulatory testing done this coming Thursday, and I asked about the appointment.  

"No, I don't have to go back in for anything.  I'm getting better," MIL said.  "My blood pressure was very good, I don't need to see the doctor anymore."

"That's good," I said, but I thought differently, and asked her if I might speak to my FIL.

After talking to him, I found out the circulatory testing is still going to be done and that she will have to go once a week for wound care to the hospital, which was the original plan.   My FIL understands what's going on, which is a blessing.

Dealing with dementia is very difficult.  At times the fog lifts and they can remember everything with stunning clarity, but at other times, events are muddled and confusion abounds on the part of both caregiver and care receiver.   In the midst of all the upset and role-changing, there needs to be respect.  After all, my in-laws have lived eighty-six years of their lives without me telling them what to do.  So who am I to waltz in and turn their world upside down?  No one wants to lose the ability to make their own decisions.  I know I won't either when my time comes.

 As a caregiver, you have to develop a thick skin because at times (ok, most of the time) you're seen as the Bad Guy.  Having a good support system in place is a necessity for your own mental health.  And a sense of humor and irony is also a must.

Sadly, if we live long enough, we will all need help of some kind.    My late uncle always joked, "Treat your kids well because they'll end up picking out your nursing home." 

 My mother had a very hard time adjusting to my taking her car keys when she turned 93.  And she still protests turning over her laundry and other chores, but I think she's come to grudgingly accept it now. At one point we were all helpless infants and our parents cared for us.  Now we have the duty and the honor to repay the favor, though the time may come when I will also have to hand over the reins to someone more qualified.  Until then, we keep on keeping on, one day at a time.  

I want to send a sincere thank you to all of my dear friends, near and far, who have and continue to support me as I stumble around in these uncharted territories.  

Without all of you, I would be lost.

Thank You! 




Monday, December 5, 2016

The Telephone of the Wind

 The Tardig is our silly, irreverent rendition of Dr. Who's TARDIS  (Time and Relative Dimension in Space) phone booth which is a time machine for travel.  When Carl had finished welding the railings together, the similarity to Dr. Who's time machine struck me and off we went for cans of blue paint.   

I'm not a Dr. Who fan, but the idea of a structure which could transport me to another place captivated me. The Tardig is our 'Time and Relative Dimension in Gardening' space.  I often find myself lingering inside the filigreed oak leaf structure, sometimes in tears, sometimes in anger, always in prayer and eventually in peace. With all the worry swirling around me this season, I spent some time there today.

I did not know there was a similar place in another garden far away until this past September when I heard about The Phone of the WindI was washing clothes with my Maytag wringer washer and happened to have tuned into 'This American Life' on my cellphone,  old technology merged with the new.  The podcast was entitled 'One Last Thing Before I Go'  .  

This is an incredibly touching story about a gardener in Japan who has an abandoned phone booth in his garden complete with a telephone which is not connected to anything.  He refers to the structure in Japanese by a lovely name which translates as the 'Phone of the Wind'. 
People come from all over the country to use the Telephone of the Wind.  The audio is heart-breaking.   Even though I do not speak Japanese, the sound of grief, longing and anguish is universal and needs no translation.  

  "Hello?  Mom?  Where are you?  It's so cold, but you're not getting cold, are you?  Come back soon, everyone is waiting for you, OK?  Eat something, anything, just be alive, somewhere, anywhere.  I'll build a house for us.  I'm so lonely."

As I hauled my laundry out of the basement and hung it on the line to dry in the sun, I was wiping away my tears with the back of my hand.  Eventually I had to sit down and sob.  I could picture each and every one of the mourners reaching out for one last word with those they loved and tragically lost in the tsunami over five years ago.  
"Sometimes I don't know what I'm living for.....without all of you, it is meaningless.  I want to hear your reply, but I can't hear anything.  I'm sorry, I'm so sorry I couldn't save you."

The  holidays come and go and the group gathered around the table ebbs and flows as our loved ones leave us and new ones join the family. 

How often I take for granted the time I have left with loved ones.   Carl has a voicemail on his phone from his late brother, Larry.  He cannot bring himself to erase it.   My mother is a little more confused as each day dawns, but I can still reach her, touch her, kiss her, embrace her.  Someday soon we will part.

 May I cherish each day.



Sunday, December 4, 2016

What's Next? Part Two............

Didn't I preface Part One with the command to never ask the question, 'What's Next?'  Let me check on that......yep, I sure did.  So then why didn't I heed my own warning?  Here I go again, airing more of the linens which should never see the light of day in polite company.

First, a little background on the week just past:  After working in the garden here on Tuesday, I paid an impromptu visit to Carl's folks.  They only live a country block away, approximately a mile,  and we are separated by a large woods and several private property lines.  My eighty-seven year old mother-in-law (MIL) has been having some health issues for years, primarily with painful feet.  She'd finally consented to using a walker in the last six months which should have been a clue to how bad she's feeling. 

The family  found out on Thanksgiving Day that my FIL had taken her to the emergency room the night before with swelling in her legs which she said was cellulitis. We were all alarmed but she assured everyone the swelling was only temporary and the prescribed antibiotics would fix everything.  I was a bit skeptical, though.  The swelling did not look good, but then, swelling rarely does.  

When I went to see my in-laws on Tuesday, it was clear she wasn't getting any better.  The antibiotics weren't going to be a fix after all.  With many phone calls, a new doctor and plan for treatment was lined up for Thursday which, coincidentally, was the same day (one hour apart) as my gynecological appointment.  Great.  The timing was awful, but what can you do?  I didn't want to cancel my procedures, I can't live in this Worry Limbo Land of mine forever, either.  

 Carl's sister wasn't able to go with her parents to their appointment due to an appointment of her own, so my BIL drove them in.  My FIL does still drive and insists he could do it; truth be told, we're all anxious.  Maybe he could, but I'm thirty years younger and I am not crazy about the heavy traffic.  He's 86 and has a very sick wife; let us young whippersnappers do the driving.  

Back to my situation; Carl drove me to my Ob/Gyn appointment and it went as well as can be expected.  After a bit of a chat, the doctor bid me drop my lower quadrant garments and don my sheet and she'd be right with me. At least the exam and endometrial biopsy was quick; lying on my back I searched for a spot on the ceiling to stare at so I could practice my Lamaze breathing.

"Hey!  You're tough!" the doctor said.   Those Lamaze classes were worth the money after all.  I actually managed not to flinch and slam my knees back together.  That's an accomplishment, right?  Ok, it's not something you can brag about in mixed company, but still.  It's something.

"Ok, I've got the samples I need and I'll be sending these in for screening.  Are you busy today?  Would you be able to come back in for an ultrasound in about an hour?" the doctor asked.

We agreed and wandered across the street from the gynecologist's office to the hospitals.   First we decided to check and see where my MIL's wound care appointment was going to be. The two hospitals are attached but not affiliated. They share common walls but not driveways; this was where I'd made my mistake back in February when I took Mom in to the ER, I saw an 'Emergency' sign and didn't realize I was at the wrong hospital until she was admitted.  I was stressed out and just wanted to get her help.  

Navigating in the hospital(s) is just as confusing for me, even Carl was turned around a few times, but we finally figured out where we needed to go for his mother.  We still had an hour and a half before my ultrasound, so we checked out the cafeteria in the first hospital for lunch.  Carl and I are very shy about new restaurants and the big lunchroom was intimidating.  We were almost lured in, but changed our minds at the last second because the food didn't smell very appetizing.  We decided to try the other hospital next door.  After a maze of hallways and elevators and a lot of walking, we took the plunge and ordered some food.  (I know, we're really pitiful, aren't we?)  

We took a seat by the window and looked down at the street below while we ate.  Carl was busy watching a crane installing some AC/heating equipment next door.  I wasn't feeling great but not any worse for wear which was good.  (I'd read some hum-dinger hair-raising stories on websites about endometrial biopsies; again, careful when Googling things, your results may vary.)  

We sat and chatted awhile and watched to see where we were supposed to place our trays and dirty dishes when we were done.  Observational skills are important, look and learn.  Aha, that's where they go, dishes done, off we went back down the elevators, through the halls across the street to the gynecologist's office. 

After a very short wait, the ultrasound technician summoned me and I was off to yet another procedure which is best left to the imagination.  At least it wasn't painful, just awkward.  The tech didn't say anything as she scrolled around on the computer screen, clicking on images and taking measurements.  I didn't say much either, I mean, she had me in a compromising position, but I did ask her how many older women she sees on a daily basis.  

"A lot," she said.

"Do the issues ever end with us women?" I asked.

"No, I don't think so.  Sometimes it really does seem like we got the short end of the deal, doesn't it?" 

"Yes, no shortage of worries, that's for sure," I said.

Shortly afterward it was over.  After I dressed again, the tech took Carl and I through the maze of hallways and showed us the door. Just as we were leaving, the technician said, "Doctor will be calling you in a few days with the results.  Don't worry too much," and she smiled reassuringly.   (I'll take that as a sign she didn't see anything too far out of the ordinary.  Hey, a girl can hope, can't she?)

We decided to leave our car parked in the doctor's office lot and walked back across the street to the hospitals again.  We arrived just in time to find Carl's folks heading into her appointment with the nurse.

The nurse was a bit overwhelmed by the amount of people she had to deal with when we got to the exam room.  Carl opted to stand and my FIL and I were seated.  When my MIL's legs were exposed, Carl and I were both shocked.  This was definitely more than a case of sore feet.  Her legs were terribly swollen and dark red with an open wound on her left calf muscle.  

Sitting in the exam room viewing the extent of what she's been suffering, it was hard to believe she could have gone this long without saying something.   But unfortunately, she has always had a strong tendency to deny things she doesn't want to face.  We have never had a close relationship, but my heart hurt seeing her condition.   

When the doctor came in, the verdict eventually turned out to be a lack of circulation to the lower extremities.  There was no diagnosis given yet, but MIL has been set up with an appointment to test for circulation and heart issues this coming Thursday.  Her blood pressure is sky-high and she is at risk of a stroke, but they want the infection cleared up first if they can.

The doctor also said, "It is time for her to move to assisted living."  Neither of my in-laws seemed to grasp the seriousness of the situation or what the doctor was proposing.  My FIL is still working as an ornamental iron craftsman and even yet, still taking on jobs for people.  He doesn't hear very well, so I don't know if he heard what the doctor said or not.  I didn't say a word, but Carl's eyes met mine across the exam room.  Now what? 

The first matter to tend to is the open wound.  The doctor asked who would be in charge of overseeing the wound care since the bandages need to be changed every twenty-four hours, and then looked directly at me.  

I admit I wasn't ready for this; I take care of my own ninety-six year old mother every day, which also includes her finances, shopping, laundry, and house maintenance, though she does still handle her own hygiene for the most part and cooking.   Can I take on another one?  Or two??

Then I panicked and thought who knows what's going on with my own health since an hour before I'd just crawled off the exam table myself, but.....what do you say?   

My FIL said he could handle it, but he's eighty-six years old.  I said we'd figure out something and paid extra-close attention when they showed us how.  My MIL's leg is causing her a great deal of pain; again, I was shocked she was able to endure it as long as she did. She was sent home with a huge bag of wound supplies, gauze and special bandages and back home she went.

We walked hand in hand out of the hospital, ugh, what a day.  One thing I realized I've done wrong in my life is not appreciating every day.  As we drove home in the gathering darkness, I saw a young girl walking down a sidewalk, looking bored.  I thought back to how many times I've taken boring days for granted not realizing how lucky I was not to be sick or worried (or worried sick.)

I don't know how this is all going to turn out.  To say I'm overwhelmed is an understatement, everything is up in the air at this point.  How do you make sure your elderly loved ones are adequately taken care of and make the right choices for them and yourself?  

After all in February 2016,  I was told to put my own mother in a home, too, but in the end, even with all the paperwork in hand and with my toe in the admissions office of the nursing home, I backed out and took my mother back to her own house.  Of course, that was no easy decision either, but installing the cameras in Mom's house did give me more peace of mind.  There are no guarantees we did the 'right thing', who even knows what the right thing is?  Every situation is different and can change at any time. 

When it comes to my mother, I'm her only surviving child, so the responsibility and decisions are solely mine.  Mom isn't dealing with open wounds, thank goodness, but her short-term memory is worsening.  I really don't have anything concrete in place when the next emergency comes along, but I do have some contact numbers for her and people I can call.  Sort of.  Ok, I admit it, I'm not totally prepared for every possible crisis.  Is anyone?

At least with Carl's parents there are still two children to share the burden, though we are the ones who live a mere mile away.  Carl's sister and brother-in-law met us at Carl's folk's house on Friday because I wanted them to see how bad MIL's leg is.  With my FIL at my side, we managed to change the dressing, but I know it was painful for her.  My FIL told me he knows he can handle the next changes by himself. Oh, the guilt. 

Their family is reeling from the sudden loss of Carl's brother, Larry, only a little over a month ago and now this.....there's apparently no shortage of misery to go around.  

All we can do is take it one day at a time.  My Al-Anon training prepared me to break it down to one minute at a time if necessary.  

You can do almost anything for one minute, right?   That is, as long as you remember to keep breathing.  

  (I think I should sign up for a Lamaze refresher course.)