Sunday, November 15, 2020

Not Giving Up

     These are strange times. I often wonder, would any of this be any easier if it was NOT happening in 2020? I doubt it. There is just not a way for situations like this to be easy. As my grandma often said-growing old isn't for babies. It is hard work and heart break, just like most transitions, I suppose.

    One of the most helpful things we have done in this journey with my dad and his health issues and surgeries this year has been to call in Hospice. They really do help make the burdens easier to bear. None of this is to say that I am giving up on him, on my dad, on a potential for miracles happening. I hope no one misunderstands this.

    I stood by him in May of 2019 when he didn't want his foot amputated, even when it meant that I, Terri of the Squeamish Stomach, would have to learn how to dress and clean the gaping open wound that was still healing when he came to stay with us in the end of July of last year. I would do just about anything for him. I really would. I don't close the door on any possibilities, on God blessing him with another miracle, but the reality is that time is running out for that. Sometimes the answers we get are not the answers we want, and we need to face those too.

    So now, I need to do other things for him, such as working with the manager of a local funeral home that is helping me to get my dad's military discharge papers. One of his benefits he is entitled to is a burial plot for himself and my mother. I need to be doing these things for him as well, since he can't do them for himself any more. That doesn't mean I am giving up on him, it just means I am caring for him through all the possibilities and outcomes.

    As I move forward in multiple directions while still trying to love my fabulous father in the best ways I know how and in ways I am being guided through with professional help from doctors, nurses, and social workers, I hope that some how, some way my dad knows I am still doing my best for him.  I hope everyone else knows and understands that too.

    At first, I was tormented by the things left behind, the fresh groceries that rotted that week, the week that was just a blur. I had gone grocery shopping after work, we had settled in for our shows and supper, and then we never made it to bed that Friday night as we had to call for an ambulance, and he never made it back home, ever again.

    Then I was tormented by the canned goods and snacks I had bought for his lunches, the sausages, the cookies, and snack cakes, and even the ice creams I had stored in the freezer. I don't like cherry anything, and there was a half gallon of cherry fudge untouched in the freezer waiting for him. It broke my heart every time I saw these things.

    Happily, my brother took the canned sausages. He and my dad used to eat that same type of sausages  out of the can as a snack when my brother was a toddler. They would eat tins of sardines together too. No accounting for tastes, what likes and dislikes you will inherit from your parents.

    And, we did get to celebrate another birthday of my dad's, even with all the chaos of Covid-19 going on, and I had his favorite cherry fudge ice cream I could bring him.

Monday, September 7, 2020

One More Story

     I'm not a classic hoarder. I don't care for the clutter of physical things. I tend to take after my mother's mother. I will throw things out, even if I think there is a possibility I will need them later. When we bought our house, I avoided getting much in the way of furniture for as long as possible. I adored all the empty space. But when it comes to stories, thoughts, emotions, memories-I hold onto every single one, even ones that might seem pointless.

    Why do I do this? I suppose it is some attempt to try to sift through information and make things make sense, to try to understand the why and how of everyday life. We have had a bit of a traumatic summer, even more so than the usual difficulties brought on by a world wide pandemic.

    As my dad said, shortly before he had to have spinal surgery to remove a mass from his spinal cord and get his spine rebuilt, he was just eating his cheeseburger, minding his own business, watching one of his shows on History channel, until suddenly, he wasn't.

    Suddenly we were calling an ambulance, rushing from one hospital to the next, he was undergoing hours and hours of testing, and we were receiving potentially grim information. Massive amounts of medication became necessary to combat pain and the muscle spasms of an unruly nervous system that was overtaking his body. Soon, he was in surgery for 6 hours one day, then 9 hours the next.

    During the days of pretesting and surgeries, he slipped further and further away. The medications caused a deep fog to settle over him. Most of his thoughts and conversations turned either inward or were with people that I could not see. Anytime he touched down in our shared reality, I would cling to any words he said, storing them away in my heart and mind, my precious hoarded treasures. 

    The few minutes before the sedation process began before his big surgery, is when he said, "It's been a good run. Look after your mother." These words left me cringing, wishing he would not say that, as it is no easy task to honor, for a variety of reasons.

    And then he emerged, almost 12 hours later, and was so upset, due to being in even more pain, Pain we thought would be gone, that the surgery would fix. And that was the last coherent moment before he slipped away completely. And his words were full of pain, hurt, and anger over his predicament. Words I wanted to forget, but also held close, replaying whenever they crept to the front of my mind.

    And then, just nothing. Nonsense. Ramblings. Incoherence. Kind words from care givers that mean well, he doesn't mean what he says. Sometimes they never come back, sometimes the delirium is permanent, you just never know.

    Separation due to quarantines and rules about interactions with those in care facilities, loss of time, and for him, further loss of self. 

    Another hospitalization, but at least I can see him. He still knows I am his daughter, but for how long? The next day, the same results, fog, sleep, and fading thoughts.

    And then, oh glorious day, I walk in his room and he is sitting up in his bed. His doctor notices right away the change of mood when dad sees me. He notices dad is instantly grounded in the moment in a way he has not been in over a month.

    Dad starts talking about his woes which leads him to the lyrics of Old Man River from showboat, so he sings me a verse or two. This leads him to telling me about the time he went with his parents and older brother to Chicago to see the show. He says they rode the train his grandpa Kelly was the conductor on. I know this is true, he has told me this story before. I know it is a real memory, a real piece of him that has come to the surface.

    My heart soars as it is filled with hope. I know this doesn't mean he is cured, that everything is fixed, but it is a hopeful moment, words to cling to and treasure. I am so grateful to hear my dad tell me one more story.


Saturday, July 11, 2020

The Mystery of the Missing Mandarin Oranges

     When I was a kid I started reading mysteries. Some of my favorites were Trixie Belden, Nancy Drew, and Alfred Hitchcock's The Three Investigators. These books brought me hours of joy and helped me re-frame my every day problems in catchy little thought bubbles for my own personal entertainment.
     This is still something I do to this day when confronted with a problem. It helps me calm down and step back from whatever is causing me anxiety. I create these mini stories to help deal with whatever is frustrating me. Sometimes it helps me find a practical solution, sometimes it gives me just enough space so I can laugh about whatever has happened.
     Last week we decided to have a little indoor picnic, just me, my husband, my brothers, and our parents. We know each household has been vigilant in self care during this time of the pandemic and felt it was possible to do this safely. I planned to do simple foods such as hamburgers, hot dogs, and salads. My mother made a special request for a fruit salad that my dad used to make. I asked him if he remembered the recipe. He did not. He knew the main ingredients but had zero ideas on how much. I knew they got it from their best friend, so I messaged her right away. She was able to send me her list of the ingredients and proportions. I updated my weekly grocery list.
     I try to go shopping once a week for each household I shop for and I go straight from work so I can just keep on the same mask I have wore all day. One day I go shopping for my mother and youngest brother's household, the next day for me, my husband, and my dad.
     It is still a bit of trick getting each thing I needed, but at least I am mostly used to this now. I felt triumphant as I unloaded and put away our groceries. I put all my dad's ready to make foods on the storage table where we keep them so he can get them when we are at work, making his own meals or snacks. I put all the foods for the picnic on a separate area of one of the kitchen counters, tucked behind where I store the canned cat food, I figured that was the best place to store the canned mandarin oranges, marshmallows, and canned pineapple tidbits. Making the fruit salad was at the top of my to do list for the next day, and that was a good thing.
     I was up by 6 A.M. and was surprised to see my dad in his chair already. I decided to get to work on food prep because the salads need plenty of time to chill. I sailed into the kitchen and grabbed my cans of fruit, marshmallows, and the sour cream from the fridge. And then I counted the cans. Something was off. Then I realized the mandarin oranges were missing. I searched the counter. I searched the pantry cupboards. I searched the table with my dad's snacks. Nothing. The case of the missing mandarin oranges had me flummoxed. I knew I bought them. I even double checked the receipt as that was still on the counter. Yep, paid for them. Where could they be?
     I got dad his morning pills. As I was placing his pills on his tray table, along with a drink, I saw the glint of a can in the garbage can by his chair. I reached down and turned the can over. Mystery solved. Apparently my dad had a craving for mandarin oranges in the wee hours of the morning.
     Happily, I had plenty of time to run to the store to get more, some for the salad, and some for my dad.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Still Telling Dad Jokes

     We had to get some blood work done today. My dad needs a CT scan with a contrast dye IV and the doctor needs to be sure dad's kidneys function good enough to handle the dye. It is already complicated getting him there due to his mobility issues. Now there are the additional details of making sure we have masks and hand sanitizer with us.
     Today we had to deal with the weather as well, but even the heat and humidity didn't dampen my dad's sense of humor. I handed him his mask before I backed out of the driveway, telling him he could wait to put it on until we got to the hospital lab. He slipped it on a few minutes later and then said. "Who was that masked man?"
     Once we got called back to have his blood drawn, the phlebotomist asked what arm my dad preferred for the draw. He said, "Is it okay if I say someone else's?" She chuckled and told him that was the perfect answer.
     Reminds of the time when I was seven and I wrote a note on the dry erase board by our phone. "My dad thinks he's funny." My parents thought that was so funny that their little kid was such a critic.  
     Forty plus years later, I am so grateful he is still telling dad jokes.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Unexpected Gifts Galore

     One of the things I had to learn this past year is how to ask for help and how to accept help. This whole pull yourself up by your boot straps and work hard to make something of yourself society we live in can be a great motivating force if all is well and you can adhere to those rules, but the minute even one thing goes wrong, you can end up with a cascading crisis of failures.
     One aspect I had to work to change in myself was to NOT see needing help as personal failure or as me not trying my best, putting forth my best efforts. It also helped when I re-framed the help I was receiving or needing to see it as a gift that was being freely given. This helped calm my stressed out emotions and allowed me to embrace the many gifts being showered on me and my family.
     It reminds me of a happy memory from my childhood, when I used to long for gifts, not just at Christmas and my birthday but on other days too. My mother kept a stash of Little Golden Books wrapped in pastel tissue papers in the cupboard. When I would express my need, that I sure wished someone would give me a gift, she would grab a book from the cupboard, and there was hours of happiness. Well, except the one time when I said, "I sure wish somebody would give me a gift, but not a book."
     So, among the many losses for us this year was the closing of the libraries early in the shelter in place. How would we get our cozy mystery reading fix? Well, my sister the librarian to the rescue. She guided me through the process of downloading and setting up HOOPLA and now I can easily access books from our library, as many as fifteen a month.
     So many things became complicated from the start of quarantine. Simple grocery store trips became shopping excursions, to be planned and executed like a complicated searches for archaeological artifacts. It often took half dozen trips to stores to even find half the items on the various household lists for the families I was shopping for. And then when supplies started being more plentiful, the impact of the closures and new production rules, and absent employees due to outbreaks started to show up in rising product costs. 
     The most disappointing one for me is the generic three pound tube of ground hamburger I used to get at stores pre-pandemic-for anywhere from $7.99-$10.99 depending which store I went to, now at the least expensive of our local groceries stores cost $19.99 for the last three pound tube I bought. We had to get a little creative and make choices to make dishes with more beans and less meat.
     But then we got the most unexpected gift from a friend of mine. Her family bought a whole pig. One week she gave us a huge package of apple wood smoked bacon. We got 6 meals so far for our household out of that package. Then she gave us 3 pounds of different types of ground sausage. I made the most fabulous tacos from some of that last night.
     This same friend and her family came to the rescue when we had to do something about our maple tree that died and needed removal. She and her family came over one night after work and in less than 45 minutes we had two trees cut down, loaded in  their trailer, and all the debris cleaned up. It helps that she has two strong. healthy teenagers, and that her husband is so skilled, quick, and efficient with a chainsaw.
     Then there was the day my brother let me know that he ended up buying a huge quantity of flour online, and did we want some? Yes! I was able to make dozens of cookies that I could gift to friends and family; a set of birthday cookies, graduation cookies, and Memorial day cookies.
     Then there was the sweet note from a friend of mine from high school. She had been out at a store and saw a small bottle of hand sanitizer that was called Green Goo and so she bought me some. It reminded her of me since my first picture book that is now in print is called Green Goo. It is an entirely different type of green goo, but this hand sanitizer is a wonderful and appropriate gift right now. My friend bought me a bottle and left it in a bag on our garage door. I now carry it every where with me, stashed in my purse.
     Some days you get stuck in a rut thinking about all the losses, all that is missing, or being weary from worry about needing help, and then other days you realize how many unexpected gifts you receive, that you have gifts galore.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Will It Ever Get Easier?

     It has been almost a year since our lives were upended yet again. I sort of thought that by now I would be used to the different ways we have to function, the changes in priority, the altered focuses of time and attention.
     I have always been a bit squeamish. I shy away from graphic horror stories and prefer not to watch gory films. I never had a desire to work in the medical field, because I just don't have the stomach for it. I also don't think I have the heart for it either. By that I mean that I would spend my whole time weeping for people instead of being of practical use for them. 
     People used to say to me, "You should consider being a nurse or a doctor or something. You have so much experience dealing with illnesses." This was a reference to the fact that my mother has been chronically ill since I was a small child. While those issues helped grow my heart with compassion for others, it never caused me to have a desire to pursue anything in the medical field. Ever. Just no.
     And then my 79 year old father ended up falling down last year on Mother's Day. I was the one to find him on the floor, not able to help him get back up. This necessitated a ride to the hospital via ambulance. There it was discovered that what might have caused the fall was a preexisting severe injury to his right foot. He had an open wound that was deep and had become infected, all the way into the bones. Since he has peripheral artery disease this exacerbated that injury. One mercy of his having PAD was that he could NOT feel the pain in his foot due to nerve damage, but this was probably why his foot got as bad as it did.
     They wanted to amputate his foot or at the very least his toe and a chunk of bone. He was strictly against that idea. I wish I was more of a graphic description type person so you can understand my horror as I stood and sat at the foot of my father's hospital bed for the long hours during that first day. An infection that deep and that bad has its own intense look and odor. I hope to never witness anything like that EVER again.
     It took months of 24 hour a day IV antibiotics, physical therapy, and medical care all while in nursing home care to save his foot. And then it came time for him to be released. It was clear that he could not go back to be at home with my mother, where he had to care for her, since he could no longer safely care for himself. It was also clear that I would need to be able to do wound care, because at the time of his release on July 31, 2019-his foot still had a gaping open would that had to be cleaned, packed, and bandaged every day. 
     I can still feel the horror it brought me and the fear that I would hurt him as I had to prod the wound, scrape it clean, wash it, re-pack it, and carefully bandage it. It sort of got easier as a matter of practice to go through the steps. And it sort of got better as he actually was able to grow new skin and the wound slowly shrank over months and months of care.
     It is now at the point where the skin is whole. There are calluses that constantly try to grow along the old wound areas that I have been instructed to gently file down. There is the constant battle when I don't notice that he has twisted his sock and worn it that way all day while I am at work or walked funny with his slipper and he ends up with a small blister. And then I am crushed by fear, will we have another issue like last year?
     And then there was the day where he was taking a nap. He was SOUND asleep. I figured I had time to take a shower. I was in need of some hot water therapy. By the time I got out, I discovered he woke up, didn't bother knocking on the bathroom door. He tried and sort of succeeded in going to our half bathroom, but that meant he had to go down 3 steps and he had NOT put on his slippers. And then there was the fact that the toilet in there is much lower to the floor. He was stuck. It took me several minutes to help him figure out how to position his legs and to get his walker sort of in there to help him get back up.
     AND then he said the words I fear the most. His foot hurt. We got him to his chair and with shaking hands I took off his sock. And it was okay. There was no broken skin. He probably just hurt because he usually walks around the house with his slippers with the medical inserts in them. This was just a side effect of having no shoes or slippers on. 
     Most days, once I get done working all day, then get home and tend to my dad's feet and legs, and get all our supper, I am just done. I have nothing left. I have such anxiety building up until I get seated with our medical kit and slowly pull off his slipper and then his sock to do his check. Then the relief that usually washes over me, once I again see how his foot is, wipes me out.
     Only once so far has the anxiety given way to crushing fear. A few months ago when I pulled off his sock I saw the blood blister that nearly caused me to vomit on the spot. The guilt and anxiety were overwhelming. We got him in the very next day to his foot doctor and the foot doctor said we did a great job staying on top of the situation, but still it wore me down.
     And now there are so many tumultuous things happening in our country right now. Things I care about very much. If it had been a few years ago, I would be right out there marching in the protests for so many of these concerns. It was only a few years ago when I participated in a peaceful demonstration about the mistreatment of immigrants/migrants and their children. My heart supports so many different causes, but my mind and body just don't have the wherewithal to physically get out there and participate. It really takes all my energy to help my own household mostly successfully navigate getting through each day. 
     I had hoped that by now it would seem more second nature to me, that I wouldn't struggle with fear and anxiety in regards to helping my dad with some of his health issues. I had hoped it would get easier. I suppose in some small ways it has, but there is still much room for improvement for all of us. 

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Afraid of Being Typhoid Terri

     You might think I would be used to this, that sensation of minding your own business, floating through your daily life just intent on surviving, and then life throws dozens of curve balls at you at once. But, nope, you never really get used to that. Some of those past curve balls have somewhat prepared me for this time of shelter in place and quarantine, though.
     For quite a few years I helped take care of my grandma, after my grandpa died. She was really quite healthy and independent and could do most things for herself as long as it didn't require being able to see. She had macular degeneration. I used to drive her to the grocery store, take her to church, and help with some of the chores around her house.
     After a few years, she needed a little more assistance, so I moved in with her. She was a great roommate. I have lots of rather comical stories about our time together, before it became clear she needed more care and had to eventually move to an assisted living facility. Sometime I will share some of those humorous tales with you.
     One of my constant fears back when I was helping her was that I might bring some horrible flu home to her or some other illness. I was always afraid of becoming Typhoid Terri, the girl that killed grandma. That was when I started getting flu shots and taking vitamins, doing the little things I might have scoffed at if it was just a matter of self care. When it came to looking out for the best interests of someone I loved and someone that might be more vulnerable than me, it was an easy choice to do little things like stay up to date on my immunizations and buy the vegetables and things with better nutritional value, not just the corn chips or potato chips I might prefer.
     Now, as a society, we are living with even greater uncertainty with this virus that can be so easily spread. What is the best way to react to it? What precautions should people take? How much is too much? How much is too little?
     This time around, it is not grandma that I am looking out for, this time it is my own father. He was very ill last year because an injury to his foot ended up massively infected. It was a long, arduous process to help him re-gain his health. The doctor initially wanted to amputate a portion of my father's foot. Understandably, my father was very much against that. He is so much better today than he was last year just about this time. BUT-he is still more vulnerable than other people. He is over 80 years old, he has high blood pressure, and we will always have to take great care of his feet and legs due to peripheral artery disease and his illness last year.
     Then there is my mother. She has had a myriad of illnesses since I was a very young child. She now finds herself in the difficult spot of maybe having a bone marrow or blood disease. It has been hard to diagnose. She was hospitalized twice so far this year, needing fluids and blood transfusions both times. The second time she was in the hospital was in March, when things were beginning to be locked down. She has had to miss her regular doctor appointments and her bone biopsy was put on hold due to the fact that she is considered immuno-compromised.
     I work in an essential industry so I am able to go to work still. I also am the volunteer tribute for my household and my mother's in regards to going out to do grocery shopping, get prescriptions, and mail out the bills that still come in even when the whole world seems to be on a lock-down. I wash my hands as if I have OCD. I keep hand sanitizer and general sanitizer at my desk at work, in my car, and in most rooms at our house. 
     And yet, there is still that creeping fear that I will end up being Typhoid Terri, the one who killed her parents. So, that is why I wear the mask, even before it was required. I already learned long ago that sometimes you do things that you might not think you need to do, so that you can protect those that need a little more extra care than you think you need. Do I feel silly wearing a mask? Sometimes. Do I feel restricted by the shelter in place? Sometimes. Could I live with myself if I didn't think I was taking every precaution I can possibly take to protect some of the most valuable and vulnerable people in my life? No, never. This is why I wear the mask.

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