Monthly Archives: September 2017

Breathing Room

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Breathing Room

I watched his breathing. At times it was barely perceptible other times it was labored, loud and had some shakiness to it. I hoped and prayed that he wouldn’t die during the three hours while I sat with him. It was my first time visiting, it got scheduled the way they usually do.

Initially the hospice coordinator sends out an email to see if any of the volunteers are available for a given case. She provides basic information; the day/time preferred, the town and a general synopsis of the situation. She’ll tell us if anyone else will be in the home or if there are pets and give an brief sentence about the condition of the patient. It’s almost always some form of cancer, the second runner up is COPD.

Usually the caregiver just needs to get out a few hours for work, doctor appointments or some other urgent matter. There have been several occasions where I relieved the caregiver so they could make funeral arrangements. That is such a sad and necessary outing. Once at a support meeting for hospice volunteers, a peer complained that the caregiver she relieved went out to play poker with friends. I don’t judge what the caregiver does with their time away. Providing care to someone who is terminally ill is difficult, if you want to take time off to play poker or have a beer, I am totally cool with that.

After the first email goes out, volunteers will alert the coordinator if they can take on the case. Once that is done a secure, private message is sent to the volunteer best suited for the task. This confidential message provides more in-depth information about the patient including the name and number of the main contact. Then the volunteer calls that person to schedule the visit.

My initial call for today’s visit happened two days ago. The wife needed about 3 hours to run some errands and I told her my available hours. Ginny sounded tense on the phone, I could hear the strain in her voice. You might think that’s the norm but oddly enough, it isn’t. Most of the families I have dealt with have a poise and calm that I can only attribute to denial, exhaustion or some zen like state that I have not yet obtained. Ginny was how I think I would sound if our roles were reversed. We agreed to the schedule and I told her that I would confirm the morning of my visit just to make sure we were still on. This is a sad and necessary precaution as you do not want to ring someone’s doorbell and find out that their beloved passed away the day before. It happens.

I called again this morning to make sure we were still on. Ginny sounded the same as the first call and I gently repeated the agreed upon times. When I got to the house, I greeted their neighbor in the driveway. She informed me that she would relieve me if Ginny ran late. Then I let myself in through the back kitchen door. I announced my arrival and Ginny welcomed me from a distant room. This is not uncommon as the tasks of terminal care can make it hard to leave the bedside. I made my way to the correct room and introduced myself.

The next 20 minutes was a series of harried movements and Ginny’s out loud mental check lists and a final dose of pain medication before she could leave. In these moments I witnessed a love that was so sweet it broke my heart. Ginny crawled into bed with Bill and explained where she was going, who I was, and that she would be back soon. It pained her to leave his side though I could tell she needed to leave for her own sake. Just a couple of hours to not be surrounded by the inevitable death of a man she has given the past 47 years to, the love of her life.

In a private moment in the kitchen, Ginny told me that she didn’t understand why he was holding on. I asked if he was waiting for a visitor to say good bye, a final conversation? She said she asked him but he didn’t confide in any such need. Sometimes the body lasts longer than you can possibly imagine, other times it expires in such a rapid decline even the most experienced hospice nurse doesn’t see it coming. Death is fickle and unpredictable even to the stewards who’ve witnessed it hundreds of times.

Ginny was finally able to pry herself away and I sat in the room with her love. Saying silent prayers, reading a book and keeping one eye on my bedridden friend. He was quiet until he needed to go to the bathroom. This was indicated with hand gestures and a reach for the portable urinal. A bit of panic always goes through me in these instances. My first concern is safety followed closely by privacy.

I’m not a nurse, nor do I play one on TV. I’ve been in the trenches and I can handle a mess. What I don’t want to do is accidentally cause someone with brittle bones to get a fracture by moving them the wrong way.  My Aunt had bone cancer and she broke both her legs trying to bathe herself, it was horrible. I think of her when I’m in these situations so I air on the cautious side.

We got through it without breaking anything and he fell back into a restless sleep. His agitation level at times made me wonder if he had just hours or days left. In the nearly 10 years I have been doing this I’ve seen many patients get into a state of agitation; flailing limbs, mumbling and a burst of energy followed by calm. This has happened in the last few days of life for many of the people I have visited as a hospice volunteer.

I’m not sure if Ginny will call me again to sit with her husband. If she does, I will make room for her and Bill. I will take the experience with me and think of them when I drive by their house. It’s something I do often when I drive past the houses where I have visited my hospice friends. Sometimes it’s a single encounter, other times I spend months visiting on a set schedule. Every experience is sacred and is something that becomes a part of me. The sad truth is, we are all going to die. The hospice patient just has a little advance notice.

 

 

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That’s my business…

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That’s my business…

Today I met a client who used the word “fuck” as a noun, a verb and an adjective. She switched tenses with the finesse of a linguistic ninja, it was spectacular. The fact that this person is an ordained minister is the icing on the cake. I love my job.

I started a small business in 2014. I basically fill in the gaps for people when life gets complicated. My usual clients are elderly and they need a little TLC. I check in on them while their adult children work – share a meal, do some light housekeeping and socialize. I am the eyes and ears for loved ones when they can’t be there.

I’ve visited clients in their own home and I’ve been the jail break conspirator for nursing home residents. I used to visit a 97 year old man who was in a nursing home. Twice a week I would take him out for lunch at Chick-fil-A and each time he acted like it was the best meal of his life. It’s incredibly rewarding to be the best part of someone’s day….even if they don’t always remember the details. My lunch date never could get my name straight but he always leapt out of the day room chair when he saw me. He walked across the room with a happy purpose in his stride and a wide smile planted on his face. One time around the holidays, I told my nonagenarian (great Scrabble word) friend that he looked “festive”. He replied – “Did you say I look sexy?” to which I said “I sure did, John” with a wink. These are golden moments.

It isn’t always so fun and carefree. There are always medical concerns lurking in the background, potential embarrassing moments and the sad realization that this friendship likely won’t last that long. I used to visit Eleanore, she was 88 and had severe dementia. One day I came in for my usual lunch visit and she wasn’t wearing pants….how do you handle that you ask? I said “Eleanore, you didn’t tell me it was no pants Monday” and I promptly got her dressed. I always look for ways to add humor and preserve a person’s dignity. If someone doesn’t want to be checked on I’ll tell them I’m there to walk the dog or do laundry, we a find a way to make it work.

The saddest situation I have encountered was Ted, a man in his mid fifties with Early-onset Alzheimer’s. His wife worked full time and needed someone to check on him during the day, feed him lunch and tidy up. This man used to be an Engineer. He was well educated, had a brilliant career and then it all came crashing down way too soon. They had one kid in high school and another in college. His wife amazed me. She also had a puppy because you need that chaos as a distraction from the hard stuff. On the good days, I took Ted and the dog for a walk around the neighborhood. We had to be careful of Ted wandering out of the house when no one was there. I suggested cameras and safety locks but he still managed to escape a few times. Eventually it was no longer safe for Ted to be home and he had to go into a memory care center. That one still haunts me.

One of my earliest and favorite clients recently passed away. Pam reached out to me because she was recovering from an injury and needed some help. She was young somewhere around 60 and had a little dog that needed to be walked twice a day along with other odds and ends like shopping, opening jars, rides to the doctor and anything else she needed. We became friends and the lines for work and friendship blurred. Trips to the doctor turned into social outings of movies, lunch and Marshall’s. We remained friends after my services were no longer needed and I was heartbroken when she died suddenly last June.

I meet most of my clients through a friend or family member. My business is based exclusively on referrals as I do not do any advertising. I tend to have one or two clients at a time because I can serve them better that way. The family dynamics vary with each client but they all love their family member and are so grateful to find reliable help. They each hold a special place in my heart and I am honored to be entrusted with their care.

 

 

 

The Pedophile Next-door

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The Pedophile Next-door

When I was in my late 20’s I lived in an apartment across the street from the Atlantic Ocean in Central, New Jersey. It was an amazing time. I was newly single, young, ambitious and full of energy. I worked hard. I had a full time job, a part time job and college courses. I was disciplined and stayed focused on my goals. I recognized that I had the time and energy in this phase of life and that things would likely change at some point, so I persevered.

Somehow, I managed to find time for a social life and I made some close friends. Many of which I’m still in contact with today, some 20 years later. We would celebrate birthdays together, take turns hosting parties, we went dancing in clubs and roller bladed together on Friday nights. It was a time I look back at with fondness. It’s a mid/late twenties I would want for my kids a dozen years from now. Those memories got somewhat tainted this weekend.

I got a Facebook message from one of my close friends from that time period. She informed me that she had some gossip that I would be interested in. I didn’t see the message for a few hours and when I did two people entered my mind….one was an ex-boyfriend who I found out did time in federal prison for embezzlement…the other was my old neighbor, Paul. I’ll save the ex for another post.

Paul lived in the apartment above mine and he was a bit of an odd duck. He would never confirm his age but we had him pegged at least ten years older than the rest of us. He worked for the government as an Engineer and was also going to grad school. He was from Ireland and had lived in the United States for a large chunk of his life. He had a sister that was married with a couple of kids and a mom that drifted between Ireland and the US. While we were neighbors, he introduced me to a couple of his girlfriends. None of those relationships lasted very long, a few months at most.

He threw off a creepy vibe which was hard to pinpoint. Several of us thought he was possibly gay and not ready to come out. However, he would also leer at me and other females sometimes which was awkward and puzzling. He made suggestive comments at times that I just brushed off. It wasn’t ever going to happen. There were also plenty of times when we had interesting conversations. He was an intelligent, creative person with varied interests and lots of friends. He wasn’t all bad.

After hearing from our mutual friend, I googled his name and read a link to a newspaper article. Paul was arrested last month for viewing and sharing pornographic images of children. I don’t know if he has ever touched a child in an inappropriate way, I don’t have any further information. It’s just sickening and disheartening for those children and their families. This is a crime and an impulse that I just can not wrap my brain around. It is so destructive and vile.

As much as I hate the crime, I took a moment to think of the criminal. This person was kind to me on many occasions. I considered him a friend all those years ago. And while I knew there was something off, I chalked it off as not urgent. Was he acting out then? Did he harm his nieces? Was he abused as a child? Questions that will likely never get answered.

 

Making the Bed…..

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Making the Bed…..

As a midlifer, I have finally decided to start making the bed on a consistent,  nearly daily basis. Now I have shirked this responsibility for decades minus the rare occasion when guests were stopping by and even then, I was a keep visitors to the first floor kind of gal.

I’ve had some decent reasons for not making the bed mind you. One being, I’m not the last one in bed in the morning. The hubs sleeps later than me 99.9% of the time. I have a rule that states the person to stay in bed the longest has to make it. So I guess he hasn’t been making the bed for the past 20 years, tsk tsk. I should note that I haven’t clearly explained this rule more than 3 times so it may have slipped his mind.

The real reason for not making the bed, it’s simply not a priority. I don’t care if it’s unmade most of the time so why bother. I realize I may have wounded a few people with that last bit so let’s pause here for a deep breathe. OK, we all have different priorities so let’s just move along. So why on earth have I decided to make the bed now?

My husband commented about beds being made a few times this year. Honestly he’s probably mentioned it consistently over the past 20 years and I just slid it to the back burner of my brain. I mean, if he felt that strongly about it, nothing was stopping him from making it, right? So why now?

Why indeed? Well I guess after a couple of decades together you still need to find ways to surprise your partner. Trust me it gets tricky to keep things fresh. We still enjoy each other’s company (wink) so that isn’t the issue – I just wanted to find other ways to show him I still care. Making the bed is different for us, it takes just a sliver of effort and is something tangible.

So my new routine started about a month ago….it coincided with the purchase of some pillows and a new comforter. Perhaps the guilt of indulging on those items also propelled me. My good deed did not go unnoticed. After about 2 weeks my husband commented. He acknowledged that the bed was being made and that he liked it. Then he said I should vacuum more. This my friends, is why half of marriages end in divorce.

 

*Not our actual bed in the photo. Plucked from the web and to date, unable to identify the photographer for proper credit.

 

 

 

Alternate Universe

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Alternate Universe

I’ve managed to create this nice little alternate universe for myself via my blog. I have a handful of in the flesh friends that know about it, but not many. My blog followers, select few that you are, have come here like a gift from the blogosphere (that’s a legit word). I get a slight tingle when I see a new country highlighted in the WordPress stats. Today someone from Japan read one of my posts. No idea how or why they got here but isn’t that cool? I’m in Pennsylvania, typing away and someone in Japan just wandered in. It’s fascinating to me probably because at my age, I can still remember when none of this was possible.

For those of us over 30 (OK well over if you’re going to get particular about it) doesn’t it blow your mind how much technology has changed in the past 20 years. How much more will change in the next 20 years? I suspect we will have autonomous flying cars, artificial intelligence that can learn beyond human capability and a staggering unemployment issue and oh yes, Mars isn’t off the table – thanks Elon Musk.

What are we losing with all of this technological advancement? Do we have to lose something, is that required? I don’t know but I have observed a some things that concern me – instant gratification, loss of privacy and a lack of creativity and freedom.

I have two kids a tween and a teen. They have reasonable restrictions on device time. There are no devices allowed in their bedroom at night. For one kid it wouldn’t even be an issue as he doesn’t care at all. My daughter, on the other hand,would be up all night on Instagram, chatting with friends, making bad musically videos and would be busy not sleeping.

The ability to text, tweet, post and communicate instantaneously has helped to create a generation that expects instant gratification. Midlifers, remember when we would call our best friend in 5th grade on the corded phone on a table or attached to the wall? The phone was always located in some public space in your house and you had to push down on buttons or worse, stick your finger in the circle of the corresponding numbers to spin the phone wheel and call? And, gasp, sometimes no one answered or the phone was busy so you had to try to call them again later and move on with your 10 year old life. Kids don’t do that today. They rarely have to wait more than a few minutes to hear back from a friend and if they don’t hear back immediately, a bit of panic sets in. It’s kind of crazy.

I remember being bored plenty as a kid and I would go outside or write in a journal. We had to make up our own games to pass the time and if we were lucky we got some local kids to join in. We played spontaneously and we figured stuff out. You didn’t like everyone and everyone didn’t like you but you could usually make it work long enough for some variation of tag or cops and robbers. I don’t see that much where we live, sure it happens but it’s special when it does because it isn’t the norm. The usual here is organized activities and sports.

Kids aren’t off the leash much either these days. We need to know where they are all the time because there are bad people out there (and no sh*t, there really are bad people out there). Hell there are sneakers with tracking devices in them now….it’s kind of like Little Johnny is on house arrest or maybe block arrest. Their expectations for privacy are at the bare minimum. They don’t want you to walk in on them while they’re getting changed but most anticipate some level of monitoring of their electronic activities. Late 70’s and early 80’s kids wouldn’t stand for that. We kept our stuff private and if someone read our journal there was hell to pay. Our parents didn’t know where we were half the time and we couldn’t be tracked with a Find My Phone app. If they asked where we were we would either tell them or make up something that sounded reasonable. It was kind of awesome.

Here’s a little something to make you laugh, courtesy of YouTube