Sunday, January 30, 2011

All those years ago...

My high school class is gearing up for its 30th reunion. First, let me say that hardly seems possible, as I refuse to admit I am the matronly lady my age implies. But the advent of this reunion day sort of cements that the number on my driver's license is, in fact, accurate.

Second, though, it's also made me realize something else: I should have gotten to know these people better 30 years ago.

High school was a funny time for me, and I'm finding out I wasn't alone in not having any idea which "group" I belonged to. At the time, I was beginning to realize that perhaps I could end up forging a career as a writer, so I hung around a lot of teachers who helped mold my work. I was newspaper editor and started the school's first creative-writing book, and I spent a lot of time writing and editing, alone, in the school's j-lab.

I had a couple of steady boyfriends and a handful of close friends, and I knew a lot of people, but not well enough to hang out with them. In reality, I wasn't great at letting people in, so looking back, I missed out on a lot.

But now, thanks to Facebook, I'm realizing what an amazing group of people came out of Dowling High School's Class of '81 -- and I'm not basing that on the illustrious careers some of them have aspired to and achieved. I'm talking about the committed social workers and teachers, the health-care professionals and stay-at-home moms. I'm talking about people raising children with special needs, surviving cancer, and dealing with the devastating illnesses of parents and siblings ... the people who manage to get out of bed every morning knowing that the world may very well be preparing to throw them yet another pile of something they never asked for.

And here's something funny: It's not just the beautiful girls who are beautiful now. Age truly is the great equalizer, and in our case, it's equalized everyone positively. What a great-looking group of people we have turned out to be -- and shame on us back then for perhaps not appreciating Cathy's and Steve's beautiful eyes or Tom's and Johnne's sweet smiles.

The best thing about preparing for this reunion, then, is the knowledge that even though we're not getting any younger, it's not too late to pick up where we left off -- or never started at all. And best of all, something tells me we're not going to have to worry one bit about being judged according to whether our blouses match our knee socks.

Friday, January 28, 2011

In a perfect world...

In a perfect world, all families would care for their elderly members at home until the end.  They'd place a hospital bed in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the family room, and even if the elderly person couldn't participate in the activity or even the conversation, at least he or she wouldn't be lonely.

But here's the reality.  Sometimes the elderly person:

  • Needs 24-hour care
  • Can't handle commotion
  • Becomes disoriented and agitated
  • Loses control of his or her bodily functions
  • Pleads to be left alone
  • Yells and cries

Still, though ... families in olden times didn't have nursing homes and skilled-care facilities and palliative care.  How did they cope?  They just did. Of course, most of them were homesteaders and ranchers and farmers, and they all worked at home, so they could provide the care the elderly person needed. 

Our society isn't set up that way; also, people live far longer than they used to.  So times change and "solutions" change, and there's a genuine need for clean, safe, pleasant, rehabilitative senior communities that provide families with the help they need.  Luckily, my sister found one of those places -- a good, four-star, good-smelling, pretty, welcoming place -- and our dad is sleeping there tonight.

However you slice it, though, every day, old people are left alone in strange rooms, away from their homes and families and dogs and possessions and familiar sights and smells and textures.  And more than anything, they just want to go home.  I don't care whose old person it happens to be -- yours, mine, no one's.  It just seems wrong, and I wish I could get past that point, but I can't.  

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Peace and comfort

Tomorrow, we're moving Dad to skilled care at Edgewater, a retirement community west of Jordan Creek in West Des Moines. He's not ill enough to stay in the hospital and is too frail to go home, so the premise is that during his stay at Edgewater, he'll receive physical-therapy services and other attention he'll need to regain his strength. If he grows strong enough to go home, hallelujah. If not, we'll have a decision to make after 120 days.

The goal for most of us, I think, is to keep our parents in their homes as long as we can. Thanks largely to my sister, who showered Dad daily and managed his medications, we were able to keep him home until the day he turned 91 and a half. The cold, hard fact is that there's no way he can return home now ... he is too frail to walk, and his wife, at almost 80, can't be expected to transport him to and from his bed, the bathroom, etc.

He's had two other stays in skilled care, once at Iowa Lutheran and once at Arbor Springs. Both times, he was able to regain his strength and return home. This time, he's lost a significant amount of ground, so who knows. My prayer for him -- and for all of us -- tonight is that tomorrow will go smoothly, and that he'll understand that we are not, as he said tonight, "putting me away somewhere."

I'm sad, and I'm tired, and I realize this is not about me. So I'll close by asking anyone reading this, if you're inclined to pray, to say an extra one tonight for my dad's peace and comfort.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

This one is going to tick off my nurse friends. Sorry.

To my nurse friends, right off the bat, I apologize. And I know that a couple of days ago, my blog post was all about how wonderful nurses are. Most of them still are. Just not the one who is taking care of Dad tonight.

Seriously, why would someone for whom compassion is not a strong suit decide to become a nurse? And why is it -- Tric, I know you will answer this one -- that things that seem so simple to me as a lay person are things that absolutely cannot happen in the hospital because they violate some sort of procedure?

Case in point:

My dad -- who, mind you, is 91 and frail -- is in a lot of pain because of a pressure sore on his lower back. I call the nurse and ask her if anyone has looked at his back today. She responds, "Hmmm. I don't know." And then she shrugs. OK, don't you have a chart? And doesn't the chart note potential problems, things that need to be watched, etc.?

So I ask her to look at his back. She rolls him over, looks, and says, "Looks like yeast." And she proceeds to roll him back over and walk away. I say, in my nicest only-slightly-dripping-with-sarcasm voice, "Can you please put some Nystatin on it, and maybe cover it up so the friction doesn't bother him when he moves in bed?" She says, "We don't cover those, and we don't have Nystatin up here, and I don't want to have to call the doctor this late."

What?? Last time I looked, my dad and his insurance were helping to pay the doctor and the hospital. So I say, "Tell you what. I'll call the doctor's office, see who's on call, and ask that person to authorize some Nystatin." She glares at me -- GLARES -- and says, "All right, I'll call."

Mind you, this whole time, my dad is sitting in bed, saying over and over, "Oh, my God. It hurts. Oh, my God. It hurts." And so I turn into Shirley MacLaine in "Terms of Endearment" and say to the nurse, "THANK YOU. CAN YOU CALL HIM NOW? BECAUSE IT SEEMS TO ME THAT THE WAY TO HANDLE THIS WOULD BE TO CALL FOR SOME NYSTATIN, THEN COME BACK IN HERE WITH A PAIN PILL BECAUSE, YOU SEE, MY DAD IS IN PAIN. HOW ABOUT IF WE DO THAT?"

And she turns on the heel of her little pink Crock and walks out and picks up her phone, probably to call the doctor and complain about this psycho-b*tch of a daughter she's having to deal with.

But, no, I'm not done.

She comes back 15 minutes later with two Oxycodone. I ask, "Can he please have his Ativan, too, as it's close to bedtime and he's been afraid to go to sleep?" And she actually challenges me. "What do you mean?" she asks with what I swear is some sort of haughty little snort. "Why is he afraid to sleep?"

Now, again, I am not a medical professional, but even I can reason that a sick 91-year-old man probably is afraid to sleep because he's afraid he won't wake up. I suppress the urge to ask where she earned her degree in compassion and say, "I know you're very busy. You have other patients. You need to get to them. So can you please look on my dad's chart, see that Ativan can be given every six hours, and" -- I said this next part through clenched teeth -- "Give. Him. His. Pill?"

To make a long story not quite as insufferably long, he did get the Ativan, and he drifted off into a nice, presumably pain-free sleep. But there's still steam coming out of my ears.

Let me put it this way: If you are a nice medical professional, I am your best friend. No one respects more than I do the fact that nurses, doctors, techs and aides work very, very hard. If you're nice to me or my loved one, I will be courteous to you and thank you and bring you baked goods and write nice letters to your bosses. I'll tell others, near and far, how wonderful you are because, by God, we need to be damned grateful to people who keep us comfortable and make us well and even save our lives.

But if you're a mean medical professional, I'll write blog posts about you. I'll also be tempted to use your name, but I won't. Know why? Because the compassionate part of me is telling myself, "Maybe there was a reason for her behavior. Maybe someone hurt her feelings. Maybe she's not feeling well. Maybe she, too, has a sick family member."

I'm sorry, though -- you're taking care of a lot of old people tonight. And there's enough inherent indignity in being old that you really shouldn't make it more difficult. You may not think so now, but you won't be 24 and healthy forever.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"I wanted to be here for you"

I found it: one good thing about yesterday.

My son, Scott, is 22 and a senior at Iowa State. He gets out of class early on Mondays, so he decided to drive down and see his grandfather, my dad, who's been hospitalized for a few days.

Scott arrived, and Papa was a little out of it -- glad to see his grandson, but also medicated and just not having a good day. Later, over dinner, I apologized to Scott for the fact that his visit with Papa probably wasn't what he wanted to be. And he said, "It's OK, Mom -- I wanted to see Papa, but I really came down for you."

My daughter, who is 19 and lives on campus at Drake, had said something similar when she had visited Sunday. And I thought about their comments, and about the comment a friend left a few days ago on Facebook: My kids are seeing me help care for my father. They realize that caregiving is hard work, and that a little support can be a welcome thing. And most importantly, they're seeing that this is what you do when someone in your family is ill. You put other things in your life aside, and you care for that person as best you can.

My kids are caring people, and they may have come up with that plan on their own. But it's not a bad thing for them to see me live the lessons I'm trying to teach them. That's always my goal, but it doesn't always happen. Cases in point: "Get more sleep." "Don't take on too much." "Count to '10' before you send that angry e-mail."

And I think my father, even as fragile as he is, may derive some satisfaction from the fact that his children and grandchildren rally 'round when something goes wrong, and that the support isn't just for the person who happens to be ill.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Really, Monday?

Here's why today really didn't need to have happened:

1. Dad's not doing great in the hospital. He was very nervous and sad, and I could do nothing to help. Not sure what the plan is from here.
2. The company that moved our offices at work broke two of my favorite picture frames, "favorite" meaning "special because I received them from my kids years ago, and I have no idea how to replace them."
3. My brand-new Droid is messed up -- all if a sudden, I can hear nothing unless I put the sound on speaker. Need to replace it. Hate standing in line at Sprint.
4. I covered a meeting, and the wireless Internet was not working at the venue. Had to fly to Barnes & Noble with 15 minutes to spare until the story needed to be filed. And the story wasn't great because I was in too big a hurry.
5. Headache. Big, snarling headache.
6. Tomorrow really doesn't look much better; and Tuesdays at work have a tendency to be horrible anyway. No idea why.

On the bright side, the kids and Kevin and I are healthy and safe with a roof over our heads and plenty to eat. Life is good, and I'm grateful for it. But I really, really could have done without today.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Yay, Nurses

To put it mildly, nurses amaze me. There never seem to be enough of them to go around, and almost without exception, they still manage to be upbeat, patient and compassionate. Nothing at all against physicians, but they're not the ones who have to change the catheter or the soiled bed, or deal with frustrated patients losing their tempers because they're not getting enough attention, or getting it quickly enough.

A nurse with a big, booming voice and a wonderful Bosnian accent just had Dad laughing -- no mean feat, given the fact that he really can't hear. When Dad was hospitalized downtown last year, a wonderful nurse named Tricia traveled to West Des Moines on her own time to bring us the walker we had forgotten. Another named Marina, who has taken care of Dad many times over the past two years, brought us Russian recipes and helped keep our spirits up. And those are just three of many.

My sister is a nurse, and for her, it's not just been a vocation, but a lifetime passion that has carried over into her care of our father. My profession is inherently so self-focused that it humbles me to be in the presence of people who spend their days not thinking a whole lot, if at all, about themselves.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Dexterous toes

Before I received the call this morning that Dad was on the way to the hospital, Kevin (my husband, for those of you who don't know him) and I were embroiled in a serious conversation -- one about dexterous toes.

Dexterous toes are toes that do things. (Think of the paws of raccoons or lemurs -- they grasp and hang on.) I happen to have extremely dexterous toes. I can, for example, grasp tiny things that fall onto the floor, such as safety pins and pennies, and retrieve them using only my toes. I can manipulate buttons on the TV with my toes. The list goes on.

Do most people have dexterous toes? I don't know, but my husband sure doesn't. And he made a not-very-funny comment about his being further along the evolutionary chain than I am. His jealousy is soooo unflattering ...

And speaking of people who have dexterous toes, something tells me Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders does. And speaking of the Pretenders, I really enjoyed singing along at the top of my lungs to "Brass in Pocket" as I drove home from the hospital. Gonna use my hands, gonna use my legs ... gonna use my dexterous toes.

"I want to see the superintendent"

My dad is 91 years old. He was well on his way to 50 when I was born, and it should not come as a surprise to me that he's not going to live forever. Each time his chronic illnesses get the better of him and he ends up in the hospital, though, I'm startled to realize that this may be the time he may not get better.

His congestive heart failure and a urinary-tract infection have left him swollen and disoriented. As of 11 p.m., though, things were looking up. His breathing had eased and his fluid output was much improved over earlier in the day. (And by the end of the night, he was tired of waiting for the nurse to bring his bedtime medication and said he wanted to see the "superintendent" -- when he's cranky, that's usually a good thing.) We'll see what tomorrow brings.

I'll post a photo of him when he's on the road to recovery and looking and feeling a bit less vulnerable. For now, though, I'll treat you to a tour of Methodist West Hospital in West Des Moines. As my brother-in-law said today, the place looks like a ski chalet. There's marble everywhere, and every square inch of wood is polished to a high gloss. The cafeteria, though, could use some improvement.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Weather drama

I don't like sunny days, so any day that contains weather drama makes me happy. I don't mean the kind of weather drama that hurts or kills people, certainly; I'm referring more to blustery days, especially snowy ones.

Now, my dislike of sunny days is not related to any dislike of happiness, contrary to what some might think -- honestly, it's more a function of my overly sensitive eyes. Bright lights hurt them; I've actually been known to occasionally wear sunglasses in the office.

So today is snowy, and I'm happy. Hope everyone is enjoying the weather drama from a warm, cozy perch indoors.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

On the edge of ... about 30 years past 17

No, I'm not related to Mark Zuckerberg. Or even Justin Timberlake. But I love Facebook, and here's one of the reasons.

I received a message last week from the sister of a person who had been a good friend of mine in high school. It seems this person had been made aware of some of my articles in our local newspaper, and his sister had written to say he had mentioned me.

I instantly flashed back to 1981; the Stevie Nicks album "Bella Donna" had just come out, and this person had given it to me. I ended up wearing out the grooves, literally, and having to buy another copy of the album after I started college.

When you're my age -- and I am now closer to 50 than 40 -- some centers of your brain become more hypersensitive than others, I firmly believe. And the music center has to be one of those:

I hear "So Happy Together" and flash back to dancing my first baby, who is now 22, around the living room. "Unforgettable" was playing in the hospital hallway when I was laboring with my second child, so Natalie Cole makes makes me think of meeting my daughter. I associate other songs with my husband, my friend Jane, my dad's illness ... the list is endless.

So when I heard from my friend's sister on Facebook, I found my Bella Donna album -- now a CD download from iTunes -- and I spent a while in 1981, remembering a young boy who had known me well enough to purchase what would end up being the soundtrack to my next few years. If not for Facebook, I don't know how his sister would have found me, and I wouldn't have been given a mini-vacation back in time.

The last time I checked, TV sure doesn't bring you "Edge of Seventeen" when you're on the edge of 30 years past that and in need of a warm memory. I'll keep the Facebook habit.

Thinking positively about everything, even hot flashes

Wise words from assorted friends in the last week or so have made me realize a couple of truths. And those are:
  • For the most part, everyone does the best he or she can.
  • Ninety-nine percent of all comments you feel are directed at you are not, and should not be taken personally.
A couple others:
  • Even though you may think you can get by on the amount of sleep you got by on when you were 20, you can't. Go to bed.
  • When it's 7 degrees below zero, hot flashes are not a bad thing.

Goodbye, Cube

So we're changing offices at work, and in the process of packing, I found the following items:

  • Two "High School Musical" folders
  • One 2006 calendar with two October 11ths
  • A paperclip holder from my ex-husband's company
  • A rubber calculator
  • A homemade Halloween CD from the individual who was my boss three bosses ago
  • Now & Laters (yum, but hell on fillings)
  • A wooden hanger
  • A baseball glove
I've "lived" in this cube for more than five years. When I started here, I had two high-schoolers, was a single mom, and had blonde hair. My, how quickly things can change. I'll miss my familiar little haven in this wild and crazy world we used to call LHS Marketing Communications.

Of course, I'm vowing that my new office -- roughly eight feet from my current one -- will remain pristine. Stop laughing, Jen and Amanda.

Here's what the current cube looks like. I'll post a picture of the pristine one next week.

Lisa Lisa AND Cult Jam

I came of age in the late '70s and early '80s -- yep, I am THAT old -- and as I was getting set to graduate from college, Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam appeared on our MTV screens. (MTV still played music back then; all the time, in fact.) The group's song "Head to Toe" was popular, and virtually every time I would meet someone new and tell that person my name, he or she would respond, "Hi, Lisa. Where's your cult jam?" Lame, but true.

So here we are 26 years later and I'm trying to name a blog -- no easy feat, as roughly every fifth person is named Lisa. I take you back to my roots, then, and ask you to excuse the cumbersome moniker ... and read my blog anyway. I think you'll like it ... from head to toe. :)