Category Archives: caregivers

No Net

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No Net

I haven’t wanted to write for months. I’m having a difficult time coming to terms with the enormity of this situation. I force myself to do the self care things that have helped  me to remain sober for more than 36 years…I eat well, exercise, start my day with gratitude, pray…yet, I find myself fighting that gravitational pull. That invisible, powerful force that wants to take me down. I don’t want to die, I just don’t want to do anything.

Early on I acknowledged to myself that I wasn’t going to Marie Kondo my way through this mess. I may get around to tidying up my desk of shame in the kitchen if the urge hits. I will not be learning a new language, sewing masks (they would suck), or (sigh) writing the great American novel (or the mediocre pandemic novel).

I’m shadowboxing depression and my usual moves are tired, weak.

I go through the motions anyway, a weird automatic setting that kicks in like a worn out, haggard looking Stepford Wife. I feed my family (a seemingly endless loop of meals), I do the laundry, I get my ass outside to walk, I check in on my elderly clients and my mom, try to find the humor…I’m struggling, I mean, aren’t we all?

Mind you, I have no reason to complain. I live in a spacious house with people that are not abusive or threatening. Sure we get on each other’s nerves but I’m not in danger here. My awareness that other people do not have a safe space haunts me. Women are getting beaten by abusive partners, children live in fear of their parents, many people are hungry, cold and without adequate shelter and I feel powerless.

I worry about marginalized people, the ones that were barely making it before the virus. Minorities afraid to wear masks in public because that may be more dangerous then not wearing one…people living on the street, those scraping by paycheck to paycheck, the uninsured, the ones with no safety net whatsoever…I used to be a member of that club.

It sounds great to call grocery store workers heroes. The truth is most of them work to survive, they don’t want to stock shelves, run the register or listen to you bitch about a lack of mangoes, they don’t have a viable alternative. They prefer to live indoors with electricity and running water.

Prior to this sh*t storm it was not unusual for me to be at several grocery/specialty stores in a week, sometimes several in a day. I would take my elderly clients out food shopping, to the butcher, etc, then I would go shopping for my family. If someone wanted the Brooklyn Bread, I would drive 15 minutes to that store….croissants, no problem, 12 minutes in the opposite direction. Need Italian cookies (the real ones with an almond base and pignoli nuts), I know a place (stated in a NY accent with exaggerated hand gestures). Back in the carefree days of early March, I was the step & fetch it gal for my family for each whim and craving. That horse has left the barn and in the immortal words of Ke$ha, I ain’t coming back.

Tik Tok Bitches

By the second week of March I realized that exposing myself to multiple stores in different geographic areas was high risk. So I hunkered down to one local store, once a week (or less) and made due with what I could get. I also shop for my mother and my elderly clients, I look like a hoarder whenever I go. I tried the online shopping with dismal results so this is my new normal.

I happen to know one of the workers at my store. Lindsay (not her real name) is a friend of a friend. Sadly our mutual friend passed away a few years ago and I was the one that broke the news to her. We have bonded over our grief and are on friendly terms. I always look for her when I shop, let’s face it, that’s pretty much the only real life social interaction I get outside of my home.

I was shopping two Fridays before Easter, April 3rd. My intention was to get enough for three households to make it past Easter. It was a monster order. My large cart was overflowing and I required two carts to get everything to my car. Lindsay bagged my groceries and helped me take groceries to my car that day. I was careful, I had a mask on even though it wasn’t required yet. I have a habit of bringing hand sanitizer in my pocket when I go into the store so I can put it on before I touch my door handles. I took those precautions.

As we were loading my car, Lindsay talked about wanting a mask. I happened to have an extra one in my car. Nothing exotic, just a basic dust mask. A different friend of a friend gifted me with a 4 pack of them about a month ago. I offered one to Lindsay and she accepted with gratitude. That was the last time I saw Lindsay face to face.

On April 15th I got a Facebook message from Lindsay. I commented that I missed her in the store when I went on April 14th. Turns out Lindsay and her partner both tested positive for COVID 19, they were 8 days into isolation. She didn’t go into too many details just that it was awful and scary. I offered to shop for them, cook, anything…she declined said they were covered for now.

I haven’t heard from her in a week.

 

 

If you have the means and feel inclined, I urge you to donate to the charity of your choice during this time. Here are links to two charities that are dear to me –

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Smile & Wave…

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Smile & Wave…

When things get bad I either retreat inward like a turtle hiding in their own shell or bleed all over the floor, on a stage with spotlights and a large audience. It seems I’m not great at middle ground. I use to compare parenting to jumping off a cliff with no knowledge of what you’ll be landing on – could be a pillows, could be razor blades, no one knows. Right now I feel like I am threading a needle in the dark with shaky hands, it’s not a great place to be in.

Most of the monsters I am fighting are not my own. This adds to the frustration and the fear, the unknown is a formidable beast. Throw in vastly different opinions regarding medicine & parenting and you have yourself an unsavory cocktail of emotions and no real path for progress. I’m in a bit of limbo right now, a shitty version of purgatory, not sure which direction we’ll be going in next.

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Anyhow, moving on….I haven’t posted in a while so here’s an update for the curious –

Two weeks ago I got cleared off restrictions from my ACDF surgery. That means I can go back to the gym (YAY!!!!). This made me obscenely happy. Exercise is my primary means of maintaining mental health. Not exercising to the level that I am accustomed was tough during my recovery. I understood the need, I just missed the endorphins and the familiar faces at the gym.

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Speaking of familiar faces…I saw one lady at the grocery store last week and she asked where I’d been. I gave her an update and we chatted pleasantly, told her I’d see her back at the gym. Fast forward to Saturday and the gym parking lot was a hot mess. I had to wait for an open spot because the lot was completely full. I had my blinker on waiting for a car to vacate….then a women rolls up next to me and starts screaming.

Her face was distorted with rage, she was using hand gestures and possibly frothing at the mouth. I responded with a few friendly shrugs, pointing to the spot I was waiting for and a what-can-you-do look on my face. Who was this angry woman….the same lady I chatted with at the grocery store. A few days later I was in the gym parking lot again and she walked past my car – we made eye contact, I smiled and waved enthusiastically, she looked down at the ground and walked to her car. Namaste parking lot lady.

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I went back to work with Rob and Laura after the holidays. For the first couple of weeks I just went out on solo missions to do their shopping. I would also cook them meals and run errands as needed. One day Laura forgot I wasn’t cleared to drive them yet. When I arrived in the morning she had her coat on, ready to go. When I reminded her of the temporary grounding, I got some side eye and a huffy “Fiddlesticks!”

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Fortunately I can drive my friends again.

Fed Up!

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Fed Up!

Everyone is in full on crazy mode right now. Hanukkah and Christmas are just around the corner, weather has been a complete mess for a large swath of the population and I still need to figure what to get my Brother In-law.  Since my surgery last month I have become pretty good at saying – “nope, not doing it” and Christmas is no exception.

I have gotten gifts for my kids, the hubs and my nieces and nephew…I’m just not stretching much beyond that this year. I may attempt to make biscotti, maybe not. I tried to bake something last week and it made me awful to be around. I go into a weird rage when I attempt to bake, it isn’t pretty.

Clearly I’m not the only one feeling the pressure, a local mom posted this picture in a Facebook Group –

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Sure, it’s all fun and games until little Timmy goes to school and starts discussing how Snowball landed on his dinner plate and it takes a few beats for his first grade teacher to realize that mom has probably been hitting the eggnog a little too hard this year. Or perhaps the offspring of this stressed out parent is observant and wonders why Snowball’s right leg is longer than his left (inquisitive little monster). Then dad has to come up with some convincing backstory on the fly about a sledding accident in 2004. I tend not to lie simply because it’s too exhausting.

It’s not just the holidays making me nuts, it’s the recovery from my ACDF. The other night I went to a women’s networking holiday party. It was great to get out and feel human again. Bonus I ate a meal that I didn’t shop for, cook, serve or clean up – that is always a plus. I got a bit panicked when it was time to leave because a snow squall had come through and I was afraid of slipping on ice and snow. My friend graciously walked me to my car as I held on to her arm (just in case). Then I had a white-knuckle ride home on black ice. I am usually excellent about driving in the snow – since the surgery I’m afraid of getting into a fender bender or skidding off the road. I’m sure this will calm down as I get further into recovery but right now I’m feeling fragile and it effects me in ways that never have before. I don’t like this new version of chicken-shit me, not one bit.

I went back to a modified work schedule a couple of weeks ago. The modifications mean I do not drive Rob and Laura around anymore, not for the foreseeable future. Instead I visit them at home, run solo errands and do some cooking for them. This has been working out except one day last week when Laura forgot I wasn’t driving them anymore. You haven’t lived until a 93 year old woman is pissed off because you won’t take her to the laundromat. Luckily a driver was coming the next day to tackle that task.

One of the new chores is to assist Rob with the spraying of the fruitcakes. I didn’t know this was a thing until about a month ago. Rob made 22 fruitcake loaves and one wreath back in November. Since then, he sprays the bounty every Wednesday. The loaves each get 5 sprays of brandy and then they are sealed in a Ziploc bag and placed in an airtight container. The wreath gets about a dozen sprays. I’m fairly certain the wreath is an alcoholic, it’s a broken mess. I didn’t get the specifics but I did see the results and I explained what a smash cake is to my friends. We have deemed the boozy treat a smash wreath and that should totally be a thing.

This week was special because it was time to remove the cheesecloth. Pieces of liquored up fruit were falling off like a drunken avalanche. Rob (a non-drinker) was scooping up the bits like a kid who just busted up a Pinata. I’ve never seen a 95 year old move with such cat like reflexes. After a few fistfuls his aim was off on the spraying and the right side of my body smelled like a bar at 11:59pm on New Year’s Eve. Luckily I made it home without getting pulled over. I may need to change my sobriety date.

On the plus side, I still have my sense of humor and luckily I’m not the only one….this gem popped up on Facebook the other day. I like this an unreasonable amount. Happy-whatever-you-celebrate! 80406706_1768755406589367_978716565929197568_n.jpg

 

Ethel, Not the Prairie Dog

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Ethel, Not the Prairie Dog

If you are a regular reader of the blog (all six of you), you may recall that I named my inner critic Ethel. I’m pretty sure we all have an inner critic, that asshole in your head that makes you second guess your life choices. Sure sometimes they make a valid point, for instance, meth is always a bad idea. Other times it’s less obvious like beating yourself up over that new bold haircut (psst…they rarely go well) or that second slice of chocolate cake.

I visualize my inner critic as an elderly prairie dog named Ethel. Ethel has bifocal glasses that lean so far down her snout they are in danger of falling off her face. She wears hand crocheted sweater vests in terrible color combinations like orange and fuchsia with a splash of brown. Her right hand is on her right hip in that universal condescending stance. Her nose is scrunched in judgement and as a means to keep those glasses from sliding off her sour face. Oh and she’s fat but we don’t discuss that because fat shaming is wrong. She wears sensible brown shoes (to match the vest) and she has a broken pen behind her left ear. That pen hasn’t worked since 1992. Anyway, this post is about a different Ethel, but wasn’t that a fun distraction.

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A nude shot of Ethel. You have to imagine the ugly sweater vest, bifocals, brown orthopedic shoes and broken pen.

Last night I stayed with an almost 92 year old lady named Ethel who prefers to be called Jane (keep UP). Her son in-law recently passed away and the family was at his wake. Ethel, I mean Jane, is one of those fun feisty nonagenarians. I didn’t have to do much except bring her food and follow her cues as to how social she wanted to be.

She’s fiercely independent and very lucid with the occasional lapse of judgement. At one point she wanted to ask her daughter about how the Thanksgiving turkey was cooked…not a great idea to call during a wake. I tried to distract her but her will won out and then she felt bad. I assured her it was fine, that the phone was likely on silent and I got the answer via text. In case you’re wondering, the bird was cooked for 14 hours at 200 degrees Fahrenheit, it felt wrong to ask for more details than that.

Jane gets a glass of wine promptly at 7pm, Chianti if you’re curious. After the vino my new friend started spilling family secrets. It’s amazing how much one glass of Chianti can yield, perhaps governments need to change their tactics when dealing with hostile prisoners. We’d probably get further along than we do with water boarding…but that’s an entirely different kind of post.

I will keep the family secrets in the vault but I can share one amusing tale. Jane was in Ireland on vacation with her daughter in-law (Debbie) and a friend (Ann). They were on their way to Trinity College in Dublin to see The Book of Kells exhibition.

For those that don’t know (including myself until 5 minutes ago) The Book of Kells was created around the year 800 and contains the four gospels. The emphasis of the book is on the 340 folios made from calfskin vellum. The book is primarily visual as much of the text is either truncated or erroneously repetitive. So it’s basically a fancy biblical picture book y’all! Here’s a link in case you find yourself in Dublin – The Book of Kells

On this particular trip, Jane discovered a deep dark secret about her friend Ann. Ann was (in the CIA – that’s Catholic Irish American, not the other CIA) a closet smoker. Jane caught her smoking a few times and pretended not to notice (much like I pretend not to see people I know at the grocery store).

Years earlier her other travel companion, Debbie, lost an arm to cancer. She had a prosthetic arm but it was too heavy so she usually went without it. The three of them were walking in a spread out single file line on their way to the exhibition. Debbie, the youngest, was far ahead. My new friend Jane was in the middle and Ann, the closet smoker with undiagnosed emphysema, was the caboose.

Jane: Ann if you don’t slow down….so help me God I will rip off your good arm and beat you over the head with it! Miss smokes-a-lot can’t keep up!!!

True story.

 

 

Blue Bird

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Blue Bird

I think I have a team of angels around me. Many are the clients I have met since starting my business a handful of years ago. The business is set up as a concierge, more times than not, I work with elderly clients. I’m usually brought in by the adult children who worry about their parents safety or want to improve their quality of life. I never know what I’m walking into until the situation reveals itself. Before I can blink I’m attached to my new friends.

Many of my clients are sick and/or elderly and we typically part ways when they die or move to a nursing home. That’s the hard part. I saw a blue bird this morning and was reminded of a dear client.

Clara, she comes as a blue bird per my request. I didn’t want a cardinal because well, that’s been overplayed. Clara was the mother of an acquaintance of mine. The business was fairly new when she reached out several years ago and asked me to meet her parents. We have since become close friends.

I felt an instant pull toward Clara and honestly I would have visited her for free. If she turned down my services, I would have wept. She had a soul that pulsated love and good energy. I’ve only met a few people like her in my life and I was desperate to be around her. She and her husband lived on a small farm and she was pretty sick when I started. Within a week I suggested that she transition to hospice to be as comfortable as possible.

It was an interesting work environment. I did a lot of laundry and light house keeping which is typical. I also washed outdoor furniture and helped prep for meals and social events. I made my first quiche ever for Clara because she was hosting a breakfast. I’ve since made many and they are super easy and quite impressive. Clara had a way of getting you to do things slightly outside of your comfort zone and then you felt a little bit of pride for the successful stretch.

One of the most memorable days was helping Clara shower before she transitioned to Hospice and got a Home Health Aide. It’s not something I typically do but she was uncomfortable and I would have done just about anything for her. She lost what was left of her hair in that shower. It upset her husband, she was relieved.

Clara moved to America from China as a teenager. From what I can remember she taught herself English over a single summer. She and her husband met at a private prestigious high school. She went on to become a nurse and eventually worked at that school. She was intelligent, kind and just being in her presence made you a better person. She had a life rich with experiences, family, profound friendships, service, world travel and she hosted many delicious meals. Thank you blue bird for the visit this morning.

Fixed It

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Fixed It

Well hello my blogging friends. I am happy to report that I got through my ACDF with all parts in tact and a few extra…two discs replaced using a combo of my bone and donor bone and a nifty titanium plate with 6 or 8 screws. I feel frickan’ fantastic and I’m not high right now. Got out of surgery a little over 24 hours ago and I am amazed at how good I feel. I suspect there will be some pitfalls along the way but wow what a difference. My right arm is my arm again, not some alien appendage that causes me pain 24/7. I forgot how good it feels to not feel bad all the time. It’s like a rebirth. Anyway, that stuff is nice but boring so let’s get on to the funny stuff before I go night-night.

The hubs and I got caught in traffic on the way to the surgery check in. The traffic was so bad I grabbed my backpack and walked the remaining 4 blocks. I did that to get there on time only to encounter an empty desk upon arrival. That was unsettling but I had faith in the surgeon so I didn’t walk out the door. The vacancy lasted long enough for me to call a general service number to confirm the room number, yup I was at the right place. So much for my efforts for being on time. I just got seated in registration when the hubs came through the door.

After about half an hour I was sent to hospital purgatory. It’s a holding pen before you get to the specialized OR area. This was a fun place. It was set up like an ER with curtains for privacy between beds. The first lady took basic information when she asked me my weight I told the hubs to cover his ears. She said I could whisper it to her, so I did. He said she’s probably lying and sonofabee I was but only by like 2 or 3 pounds and I rounded down so shoot me.

Anyway, I happened to get my period that morning because WTF not. I am 51 years old folks this should be in the rear view mirror and yet here we are…I mention this to another nurse who had the task of rubbing me down with antiseptic cloths (this would be the worst porn scene ever). Anyway I mentioned the menses to my new friend and she gave me mesh underwear and a sanitary pad that could double as a mattress. It was YUGE. I kind of felt bad for the pad, there was no way it was going to live up to it’s potential. I’m at the trickle stage this pad was worthy of postpartum tide. Oh and on one trip to the bathroom part of my gown went into the bowl so I had to explain that mess and get a new gown, at least I entertained the staff.

It was clear that I had at least an hour to go or so in purgatory so I encouraged the hubs to go get something to eat. He was already on Yelp looking for options, he didn’t fight me when I made the suggestion. Mind you it was noon and I didn’t  have anything to eat or drink since Midnight. I would have given my still tingling zombie arm for a coffee at that point. Half an hour after the hubs leaves…

Me: If you send me food pics I will cut you.

Hubs: I literally had my finger on the send button,

Me: Get yo fine azz back here…it’s moving day.

Half an hour later I was sent to OR prep and he was sent somewhere else, a waiting room.

Hubs: I miss u

Hubs: OK, just remembered u don’t have ur phone, so I’m talking to myself.

Once I got settled into my room I sent him home to be with our kids. My friend Kristy dropped by to bring them dinner – a chicken parm sub and a Brooklyn Pizza from our favorite local place.  I also got soup from Lisa, my Rocky Horror partner. And Amy just went full on ridiculous she made soup, cookies, orzo salad and salmon….oh and my friend Iris made me a spectacular chicken soup with matzo balls and magic. I am blessed beyond measure friends. I hope you all have people like this in your life.

Anyway back to the hospital stay. People joke all the time that hospitals are no place to rest and damn that is so true. I had a roommate Joan, 83 years old. She was in so much pain they had to take her for an MRI to see what was going on. Her surgery was way more complicated than mine and I felt guilty for feeling so good. We chatted a good chunk of the night because neither one of us could sleep, too much beeping, plugs coming undone, the compression sock alarm that nearly gave me a heart attack. Every time I needed to pee I had to be untethered by a nurse, it was an ordeal.

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Rare pic of me wasted.

The lab lady came in at 4am to take blood as if that’s a normal thing…we can’t wait until 8am for this? My surgeon came by for a visit at 5:57am, he must sleep 4 hours a night, max. I was glad to see him though he said the surgery went “perfect” and I believed him because my arm was feeling awesome. I got to shake his hand and thank him and ask weird questions about bone grafts. I won’t bore you with those details let’s just say I have some cadaver parts and I’m totally cool with that. I plan to donate my body to science when I die so perhaps I will be able to return the favor.

So in-between the chats with Joan, vitals being checked, alarms going off and the 4am Vampire – the man across the hall from my room threw several tantrums throughout the night. I heard him being abusive to staff, screaming without regard for any of the other patients and just all out acting like an enraged toddler, it was ridiculous. He was at least 20 years younger than Joan who was in extreme pain and was pleasant with everyone she came in contact with – this guy was the opposite. Needless to say I didn’t sleep much.

I got discharged at 11am and I walked out the door, no wheelchair. First stop was a Starbucks to supplement the tepid weak coffee I got with breakfast. There was a lot of food for breakfast, I only ate the grits (Paul I’m sure you would make better grits). Got a Chai and walked the three blocks to the car, it felt good to be outside. Things were going pretty good, until they weren’t.

About 20 minutes into a 45 minute drive I had to vomit. Told the hubs to pull over, he didn’t. Instead he handed me a Mutt Mit (dog poop bag) and I used that, tied the bag to avoid spills and repeated the process two more times. The fact that he had the foresight to think of this raised his stock considerably. We handled that like champs all the while doing 60MPH headed home like we practiced it. Now I’m waiting for my neck to be sore from that mess so tomorrow may be a rough day.

Anyway, it’s been smooth sailing since then. Fingers crossed we stay the course.

 

 

Pain in the Neck…

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Pain in the Neck…

What’s new my friends, lots happening here. I’ll give it to you in bite size pieces, it’s a lot to chew on.

Rob & Laura Update

My nonagenarian friends are still on this side of the dirt which is a good thing. Dear Rob has had two TIAs (min-strokes) in the past 7 weeks and he is starting to slip cognitively. Laura lost her hearing aid which caused her great frustration until she finally relented and posted bail to get a new one (just under a thousand dollars and that was with the discount, YIKES). There was a lot of shoulder shrugging, exasperated sighs and general annoyance until that got resolved.

Rob’s family is originally from Virginia, last week he told me that when his grandfather was about 8 years old his family had a special guest over for tea, Robert E Lee (yes that one). Then we had an interesting discussion about the confederate flag, Civil War statues and reparations. Oddly enough that afternoon he got a call from a member of his Quaker Community that was eager to change the name of one of their member organizations currently known as the “Overseers”. Rob was hesitant to change the name and he referred to himself as a curmudgeon which is not how I see him at all. He was brought up in a different era, in a geographic area which has a complicated history. A lot of things have changed in his 95 years on the planet and it is refreshing to see someone remain adaptable this late in life.

Caring for them when I’m in physical pain myself is getting exhausting. I know that if I saw one of them about to fall, I would hurl my body in their direction to mitigate the damage likely to my own demise. It would be a visceral reaction and I doubt I could control it. So I have to find them some additional help while I recover, it’s hard to find another me.

Medical Update

I saw a surgeon this past Monday to review my MRI and discuss the options. My options are do nothing and put myself at risk of falling off a metaphorical cliff at some point…potentially losing balance and control of (coughs) bowels and micturition (new Scrabble word). My issue is progressive and will not improve with physical therapy, vitamins, a Chiropractor, voodoo, acupuncture, lavender oil, your cousin Stephanie’s smoothie blend or CBD oil. So surgery it is folks, Anterior Cervical Discectomy and Fusion in case you’re bored and want to Google that mess.  I “get her done” in early November.

I texted my twin brother to discuss it –

Me: Guess who has two thumbs and a new neck in her future – THIS gal.

Him: New neck???

Him: Get a giraffe one and freak people out

And this is one of a thousand reasons that I adore my brother. Then he immediately offered to drive twelve hours and care for me post op. Heart of gold that one.

Marital Bliss

The other night my husband hydroplaned on the way home from Newark, New Jersey Airport. He called me from a sketchy neighborhood to report the news. Bear in mind his car is a Tesla Model S with a Pennsylvania plate, he did not blend in. I told him I would get him so he could take all of his personal effects out of the car and wait to get it towed. It was an hour and a half for me to get there in windy conditions which caused me to have a death grip on the steering wheel for about 3 hours in the middle of the night.

Physically my husband was fine and I am incredibly grateful for that. That said, I’m going to blame his brazen stupidity on the way home on the the two 360’s he did on Route 78 which landed him facing the wrong way on a typically busy highway. He bitched about my driving on the way home at least three times. I was so pissed and in so much physical pain at the time all I could do was grunt, like a bull. Yes, I was in the left lane traveling at a safe speed. It was 1am with little traffic and a wind ban on the turnpike at the time.

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The next day I bitched to my brother about the situation, via text.

Me: Something off about fetching your man from a sketch neighborhood in the middle of the night because he had a car accident AND then listening to him bitch about your driving all the way home while you are in INTENSE pain.

Him: Yikes. How many cars has he messed up and how many have you?

Me: 3 him, me 0

Him: That’s a pretty solid data set to support your argument.

Did I mention that I adore my brother?

 

Kids

Told the kids about my surgery and downplayed it as to not panic them. One kid asks how I am the other takes a different approach…

Kid 2: UGH, my foot fell asleep! (hobbles into kitchen)

Me: Bummer, that’s how my arm feels all the time now.

Kid 2: We get it mom, your arm hurts.

Me: Went to bed so I wouldn’t do anything rash it was 8pm.

For some reason that little exchange reminded me of Erma Bombeck’s tombstone which has “I Told You I Was Sick” on it.

 

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Not sure whose tombstone this is but you get the point.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Venus on the Half Shell

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Venus on the Half Shell

I had a wonderful outing with Rob and Laura today. When I arrived Rob presented me with some spoon bread that he made special just for me. When a 95 year old man puts himself through the effort to cook for you, it’s very humbling. Honestly anytime anyone cooks for me I’m thrilled, this was just extra sweet. Spoon bread tastes like cornbread and I marvel at how someone who eats this stuff on the regular hasn’t succumbed to heart disease. It’s filled with the artery clogging goodness of butter, milk with more butter for good measure, eggs and cornmeal. It’s tasty and lethal to mere mortals like myself. I took a few bites, proclaimed it delicious and took it home to savor later. Seriously this dish should come with a defibrillator.

As we were driving to the grocery store we had our usual carefree chatter. I was discussing travel because I’m leaving for a cruise this weekend. We got on the topic of paintings and I mentioned my all time favorite was Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli. Rob mentioned that his mother used to refer to that painting as Venus on the Half Shell and in that moment I felt such regret for having never met the woman. Now whenever the question of which person, living or deceased, would you like most to converse with, my answer will be Rob’s mother. Raise your hand if you agree….that’s a lot of hands in my imagination.

When we got to the grocery store, Laura asked Rob if he wanted his walker. He hesitated a moment and then agreed. I got the shopping cart and gave it to Laura as Rob went on his merry way. Here’s the interesting bit…Rob agreed to that for Laura’s sake. Laura has been struggling more with mobility and refuses to upgrade to a walker from her cane. The grocery cart is basically a socially acceptable walker in Laura’s mind. Rob figured this out in seconds and I pretended not to notice.

As I was getting them tucked back into their home after our outing, Rob took a moment to look me in the eye and tell me how much he appreciates me and that I am like a third daughter to him. I assured him the affection was mutual. Then two minutes later I threatened to brawl with Laura if she didn’t surrender the grocery bag that was half her body weight. She gave me a steely gaze as I took the bag from her.

Me: Let me get that Laura, it’s really heavy.

Laura: Grabs bag with determined look.

Me: Seriously, I will fight you on this.

Laura: Steely gaze.

Me: (Struggles to take bag, maintains eye contact and smile the entire time) Thank you.

 

Oh Fiddle!

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Oh Fiddle!

It’s been a while since I posted about Rob & Laura, they’re doing fine. They’ve had lots of visits with their children. One daughter asked me to check on a cut that Rob mysteriously acquired last week. She really wants Rob to put a bandage on it. When I mentioned this to Rob he informed me that it had a bandage on it already, it’s called a scab. Alright then.

Last week Laura was a bit miffed about the laundromat. She muttered about getting there late and how bad it is if you don’t get there early. I took the bait and showed up 20 minutes earlier today to see if that would alleviate the problem. She was pleased that I was early then in her exuberance she forgot to bring the laundry detergent. That set us back a bit and I got concerned when I heard her say “oh fiddle” from the back seat. “Oh fiddle” is the 92 year old version of Code Red, I acted with extreme caution. If I heard “Fudge!” I would have considered turning around and calling it a day.

While Laura was doing laundry, Rob and I went to the grocery store. We only needed two things and I asked Rob if he wanted to use a cart or his cane, he went with the cane. As we were crossing the parking lot I stated “And they’re off!” in my most announcer like voice. Rob didn’t miss a beat and added “Like a herd of turtles!”

Upon entering the store we heard, “cleanup in produce”. We both chuckled at that because it happens 100% of the time and we go twice a week. Then we looked for Marty, the useless grocery store robot. As we were making our way toward the check out, Marty approached, it got a little weird. At one point Marty got stuck between an older man in a wheel chair and me. George was on my right, Marty on my left and the wheelchair guy was left of Marty.

I could tell Marty was confused as he went back and forth in incremental choppy movements because he didn’t have a clear path out. I was hoping the circumstances would cause Marty extreme frustration resulting in fried wires, a mechanical meltdown of some sort.  For a moment I imagined the encounter would render him incapable of fulfilling his duties (which seem to be limited to aggravating customers with a precision focus on geriatric clients), no such luck.

On the way out Rob commented that the cart with four wheels was easier to navigate than his cane. I remarked that he has a walker which also has 4 wheels and that got me some side eye. I replied with “oh fiddle”.

Because I Can

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Because I Can

I am quietly sitting in the main level bedroom of a nicely appointed house that dates back to the 1890’s. It’s insulated well enough that air conditioning isn’t required despite the high summer temperatures outside. The windows are open and I can hear the chatter of cows from the farm that borders the back yard. I can hear those same cows from my own home which is within walking distance. Here though, I get to eavesdrop on the more nuanced conversations, beyond the distressed mooing that occasionally travels to my patio. The cows are conversing in more hushed tones.

Each room in this house has been lovingly filled with precious items.  Long ago gifts, remembrances and highly sought after antique flea market finds that probably took months, perhaps years, to procure. The individual pieces are meaningful, eclectic and likely filled with sentimental value. A lot of love went into decorating this home and perhaps a twinge of obsession, the result is a timeless casual elegance.

The items themselves are a bit worn around the edges. Faded like the lingering scent of fabulous meal after the dinner dishes have been cleared. It seems more poignant with some of the newness ebbed away by time, longevity has it’s own allure which, something shiny and new can’t quite grasp.

After several minutes Thelma, jumps down from the bed and visits me at my corner chair. A petite orange tabby, she sniffs my feet for a few minutes. I attempt to pet her which yields a do not touch look so I stop myself and decide to ignore her. After a few minutes she bites my knee because that’s what cats do. My involuntary jolt sent her scampering away for the remainder of my visit. Her sister, Louise, is out in the yard somewhere planning her next kill or rolling in the grass, sunny side up. I won’t hear from her unless she wants to come in which, she will announce by jumping 4 feet up, onto the screened porch door. Thelma & Louise keep things interesting around here.

During the olfactory interrogation, I can hear the Serena Williams match on the TV in the kitchen. A man’s voice is giving an unofficial commentary of the match…”Oh no, Geezus!” and “Come on Serena!” are on a repetitive loop. I’m happy that he has a distraction even if the end result isn’t what he wanted. He is passionate about something separate from the care-giving which likely consumes him. In this small way he is reclaiming something important for himself and I wish more caregivers would do that.

Before he leaves for the gym he stops by the bedroom. He tells me that they just got back from vacationing at the beach where they got married decades ago. I wonder if his wife has any recollection of that now as she lay snoring, midday, in the bed they still share. He gives her a long, gentle, emotional hug as he prepares to leave and I try to become invisible in that moment.

I see the hospital bed close by and I wonder which one of the two beds she will pass in. Probably the hospital bed, it will likely happen before the unofficial end of summer. I push against the inclination to imagine a similar scenario in my own life as I silently ask God for another 20 (pretty please make that 30) years of health and happiness with my husband. I am momentarily engulfed in the absolute knowledge that this is all temporary. I’ve seen this situation play out about 100 different ways in the ten plus years that I have been a hospice volunteer. It’s usually some diabolical form of cancer with the wife caring for the husband or the daughter caring for a parent. It always leaves a print of sadness on my soul which gets absorbed and gently tucked away.

When I prepare to leave, I notice the fireplace in the bedroom has writing on the header. “Fairy Tales Really Do Come True…” is painted in pretty cursive. A swirl of emotions courses through me. I don’t believe in fairy tales, I had to rescue myself and yet, my life is blessed beyond anything I could have imagined as a child. For the thousandth time I question why I do this…why do I place myself in the center of someone else’s heartbreak. The answer is always the same, because I can and those that can, should.