Friday, January 28, 2005

You Are My Sunshine

Things change so fast.

When last I blogged, I was coming to terms with my grandfather's entry into the surreal life in the acute care ward. Apparently his care wasn't acute enough.

When you have a really old fella with cardiovascular problems, you sometimes run into a catch-22. For example, the old guy needs blood thinners, but he's getting feeble. Take him off the blood thinners, he may have a stroke. Leave him on and he may fall and bleed to death internally.

Papa fell. He got a cut on his forehead. His neurological checkup after the fall was clear (though it didn't include a scan.) A day and a half later he'd slipped into a coma, as he'd continued bleeding inside and he'd bled into his brain cavity, eventually causing major brain damage. That was Wednesday morning.

My mother and I met with the doctor, who had taken the scan data and consulted with a brain specialist. There was nothing but to make him comfortable and wait for the end. In his condition he shouldn't last out the night.

These people don't know Papa. Oh, he's no Great American Hero, but after a long stint in WWII (including the Battle of the Bulge) 65 years of marriage, and two quadruple bypasses, one might get the idea that he's a tough old bull.

So it's Friday, nearly evening. I'm at the foot of his bed back at the nursing home where they're just trying to keep him comfortable. He didn't want to be kept alive if this happened to him, but it's difficult to watch as we fulfill his wishes.

Sometimes he goes so still, it's like he's slipped away. Then he drags some oxygen through a thick stream of the fluid that is gradually building in his lungs and keeps on breathing. It's hard to see Papa like this. I hope my family has the strength to let me go, even when it's not pretty. I know we're doing what he asked, but man, it hurts to watch his body fight so hard for what his spirit doesn't want.

We've gone onto shifts now to make sure one of us will be here when he finally departs. Generally you don't want to die, but knowing you will, I think you especially don't want to die alone.

We talk to him and it's very hard not to wish he'd prattle back some nonsense from whatever unreality he'd been living in for the past year or so. I can imagine him slowly waking up, looking around to who's still here, and looking for the TV guide, now weeks out of date, to see what might be on TV.

I had really imagined that the conversations and visits I previously bloggerized would just go on for months and even a few years. I thought he'd drift all the way into his unreality then drift off some night when none of us expected it.

In some ways, when this is finally over, it will be better. Better than waiting until his mind was forever gone, his memory unrecoverable, and his eyes blank like a chalkboard on the day before school begins. His last look at me was one of quiet recognition, a little disoriented, but happy to have some loving company.

I'm going to miss him terribly. But that would be easier to deal with than sitting here and watching him slowly die.

But sometimes that's just what you have to do for the ones that you love.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

It's Not Love on My Part, but It's Love Somewhere Else

Well, my grandfather's in a home, the "Old Folks Home." We knew it was coming. He's in the early stages of Alzheimer's. He can't take Arocet because it makes him lose weight. He has none to spare.

For the most part he still remembers everyone, though sometimes you have to remind him who you are. He has hallucinations, common at this stage. He's slow to answer your questions, but you can still carry on a conversation with him. That won't last all that long, so we're trying to have as many conversations as we can.

He actually went into the home just before Christmas. He had been diagnosed and was deteriorating slowly, but still fairly functional. My mother, the older of their two children, and the closest geographically, managed to get power of attorney and has been paying their bills, buying their groceries, and keeping money in their pockets. That was a problem, because Papa kept sending money to the scammers who had him for an easy mark. They would get him for anything from $40 to $250 and sometimes more. He was reluctant to turn over the purse strings and accused mom of cheating him out of all of those thousands of dollars the sweepstakes scammers were promising him.

Then he started getting lost. He'd drive up to the grocery store they've shopped at for the last 20 years, only 3/4 of a mile from their house, and he'd get lost for an hour or more, sometimes never finding the store and not bringing home anything for dinner. That's when mom started buying the groceries and stocking the kitchen.

I should say that Nina (a variation on Nana coined by my daughter) can't care for herself. She has chronic stomach problems, can barely walk, and has depended on Papa for years to look after her. Actually, she's a drunk. All day long. 12-pack a day of beer. No liquor, just beer. For years she's suffered from an anxiety disorder, and no matter what medicine they gave her, it never really worked. We've tried for decades to encourage her to go into recovery, we've medically detoxed her twice, we've stayed up at nights while she fought off DT's and other withdrawal symptoms, only to have her go back to it. Now that she's 84, it seems that beer is the only thing that relaxes her. If she's happy with that, well, then what do you do?

So, here's Papa, taking care of her, while quickly becoming unable to take care of himself. My brother and I were pressing mom to figure out how to get him out of the car for good, but it's just not easy. His driver's license came up for renewal. He had to supply some sort of medical info due to his age, and his license was permanently revoked. All good, right? Except that he didn't really understand it and kept driving.

At this point it sounds like the story is headed for disaster. It is, in a way, but not how you'd think.

Well, one evening he went out to the store. Hour after hour ticked by, and Nina waited up.

All night.

He cruises back into the driveway at around 9 am the next morning. Nina calls my mom and asks her to come over. Nina tells her what happened. Mom asks Papa, "Where were you?"

"Daly City." (About 90 miles away.)

"Daly City? What the hell were you doing there in the middle of the night?"

"I wanted to see my old house." He and Nina grew up there.

Needless to say, Mom and my brother came over later in the day and took the car. Nina fought it, but Papa told her, "I guess it just has to be this way now."

(Nina is still fighting it, poor dear. I can't imagine how hard it is for them to lose their independence this way.)

Later that day he wanted to go to the store again. Keep in mind that most of these trips to the store are to replenish Nina's beer supply, though I don't think that's the case this time. On his way to the store, he tripped and went down like a pile of old bricks. Too slow to break his fall with his hands, he broke it with his face. His nose was broken, both eyes were blackened, he had a concussion, and he needed stitches in three places. He was a mess. Between the shock and the painkillers, he didn't wake up fully until his second day in hospital.

Social Services came over to help Mom. Long and short, he needed full time care. They placed him in a temporary phsycial therapy facility, then into the home once he could get around a little bit.

I went for my first visit on Christmas day, with my brother. On the drive there he chastised me for avoiding the situation because it made me uncomfortable (which I freely admit I did for the first couple weeks.) He said, "Man, they're going down. Their time is running out. If you want to hold on to all that was good in their lives, you need to engage with them, relate to them. You'll regret it forever if you don't."

He's right, of course.

So we got there on Christmas Day. Jason had a tub of popcorn, a bag of cookies, and a Hot Wheels car for him. He also brought over Papa's electric razor, as the straight razor they were using on him was driving him nuts. We talked for awhile about whatever we could think of. After an hour or a little over we left. We were reluctant to leave but relieved as well.

It is not a comfortable place. The home is a montage of mortality and human frailty. For many of us, it is the future. In a way the residents are frightening in their deterioration. But they are also beautiful and compelling, like children for whom the signposts of life will be not growth, but whithering.

Papa has never gotten completely oriented to where he is. He's actually been in good spirits, considering. He likes to hear about everyone, though he can't always put a face with the name. He just likes the company.

He's amazed at how old everyone there is. He can usually remember that he's 86, but he says everyone else is in their 100's. Good enough for me. He's still thinking young. It's his own little world now. We just want to make it as comfortable and caring a place as possible until he crosses over.

I know the title of this entry is odd. It comes from that first visit on Christmas Day. While we were visiting with Papa in his room, a lady resident wandered in. Her name is Berta. She's in the secure section with Papa because she tries to leave several times every hour.

She went to Papa's closet and started shuffling clothes around, looking for something. Apparently she didn't find it, because she left. Ten minutes later she returned, holding a pink coat in her hand. She reached into Papa's closet, took out a hanger, placed the coat upon it, hung it from a nearby shelf over the TV alcove, then left again. Fifteen minutes later she was back. She took the coat off the hanger, left the hanger dangling from the shelf, and turned to leave. At the last moment she turned to me, pointed to her coat, and said, "It's not love on my part, but it's love somewhere else."

I certainly don't know what she meant, but on Christmas Day it was quite beautiful.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Too Thowzend Phor

1. What did you do in 2004 that you'd never done before?
Spent a weekend horseback riding up in the mountains.

2. Did you keep your new year's resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
Nope and maybe

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
My bookkeeper had a grandchild :-)

4. Did anyone close to you die?
My boss, Mickey. I still miss him terribly.

5. What countries did you visit?
I was lucky to get out of the house, let alone the country.

6. What would you like to have in 2005 that you lacked in 2004?
More time to work in my studio.

7. What dates from 2004 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
April 25, the day Mickey died.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Actually recording my first songs.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Songs rejected by a publisher.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
Just minor illnesses.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
New uilleann bagpipes!

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
Oh, my kids aren't perfect, but they are wonderful.

13. Whose behavior made you appalled and depressed?
Hmmmm, I can't answer now, maybe in a year or two. Email me and I'll tell you.

14. Where did most of your money go?
Into my wife's new horse account.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Taking my daughter to see Good Charlotte.

16. What song will always remind you of 2004?

17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) happier or sadder? Sadder
b) thinner or fatter? Thinner
c) richer or poorer? Richer

18. What do you wish you'd done more of?

19. What do you wish you'd done less of?

20. How did you spend Christmas?
Spent Christmas Eve with my wife's birth mother's family, Christmas AM with my wife's family, and Christmas dinner with my family.

21. Did you fall in love in 2004?
I fell further in love :-)

22. How many one-night stands?

23. What was your favorite TV program?
World Poker Tour

24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?

25. What was the best book you read?
Antiquity by Norman Cantor

26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Loreena McKennitt

27. What did you want and get?
Bagpipes! (See #11)

28. What did you want and not get?
A Gibson Les Paul Class 5 Figured Transparent White Flame Top.

29. What was your favorite film of this year?
The Passion of the Christ.

30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
Celebrated my kids' birthdays. (Mine's June 14, my daughter's the 12th, and my older son's the 15th.)

31.What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
If some of my songs had been recorded.

32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2004?
Smart Casual.

33. What kept you sane?
My family and my boss, Peggy.

34. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
Shana Hiatt

35. What political issue stirred you the most?
Iraq/Presidential Election

36. Who did you miss?

37. Who was the best new person you met?
Steve Hatch

38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2004.
Life is going to suck from time to time. How you respond to life is the litmus test of your quality.

39. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
Sad I bid on craggy coll, and fain would be sailing out with thee.

40. How do you feel about ending a meme at 39?
Despondent and inconsolable.


It's about me, dummy!!!


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