Why I loved Louie So Much

I know. Long time no post. I haven’t felt inspired, but I owe this to Louie.

Louie and I were two of a kind. Both loners, we’d just as soon bite you as look at you. It’s true. People knew that about Louie — or if they didn’t, they soon learned it. He had few friends because he bit most who tried to make up to him. Most people don’t know that about me. Like Louie, I prefer being alone, people wear me out. I have a few — just a handful of people to whom I can give my greatest complement, “Being with you is as good as being alone.” If you are one of those people, you probably know it. I knew I was Louie’s person. We understood each other. That’s why I didn’t call anyone when I let him go yesterday. As his person,  it was my responsibility and he wouldn’t want anyone else there. Maybe I also didn’t want anyone else there. They were to be our last moments together. He was mine and I was his.

Dennis’ ties with Louie were severed many years ago, when Dennis, thrashing about in a nightmare, scared Louie, who was sleeping on my shoulder. Louie thought Dennis was attacking me and let into him, sinking his teeth about an inch deep into Dennis’ upper arm. Dennis threw him across the room, but Louie was coming back — until Dennis got the light on and Louie saw who he’d bitten. You could see the, “Oh shit,” look on Louie’s face. It may have wrecked their relationship, but it cemented ours. Louie was my valiant defender.

The kids lost interest in Louie as soon as they realized he wasn’t going to put up with their carrying him around like a baby or dressing him up like a doll. And so, he became MY cat.

I let Louie go yesterday because I had no choice. He had kidney disease and his heart was failing. He was gasping for breath and had to have oxygen. The vet said he couldn’t come home, and even if they tried to save him, success was unlikely. He was, after all, eighteen and a half years old. I was hoping he’d live forever, but if I were in his place, I would hope my person had the strength to let me go. I desperately wish he were here sitting next to me in the kitchen chair that was his. He slept there most days, coming out once in a while to eat, drink, use his litter box, or climb up in my lap and rub his face against mine. I was his person. He was mine. I knew every bump and curve on his body. I can still feel his little nose, half pink, half black, rubbing against mine. and hear his soft purr.

Louie, if there is an afterlife for kitties, you have earned your place in a sunny windowsill watching the birds and squirrels. I loved you Kitty Boy and I miss you terribly. You will always be mine.

Thoughts of You as I Sit on the Shore at Evening

Mom and Dad 1942

The fog is closing in. I sit alone
And watch the blinking lights across the bay
Or ‘neath the haloed moon with its soft play
Of silver light upon the pebbled strand
I hear the tinkling wavelets on the sand.
The South wind lulls the restless earth to sleep.
She passes softly o’er the heaving deep.
And soothes the soul of man into content
Beneath the everlasting firmament.

Yet as I sit and gaze upon the scene
so unsurpassed in beauty and serene
as peace itself, within my breast
There is a quiet but deep unrest,
a secret longing not akin to pain,
a yearning to come back to you again.
A wish for peace, a life well spent in love,
a home, some children, and a treasure trove
of memories unmarred by hate or fear,
a chance for joy again because you’re near.

Surely the dawn of peace will break again.
The Gods of war will die and peace shall reign
once more upon the earth. And love shall be
triumphant in the hearts of you and me.


All my love to Tancy, from Phillips (1944)



The House on Hammond Drive: Chapter Six

When Phillip left for Korea, Emma was just barely four months along in her pregnancy, not really showing yet. At first she kept herself fairly busy preparing for the baby’s arrival. There were baby showers, and of course the building of their new house to attend to. In 1950 the wives of wealthy men did not develop their own careers. Their purpose was to support their husbands in theirs. The house would just barely be finished in time for her and the baby to move in after he or she was born. The baby was due in March, the house, it was hoped, would be finished at the end of February. Until that time, she lived with her parents. Emma hated that, but neither her parents nor her in-laws felt it was appropriate or safe for a young woman in her “condition” to be living alone. Her parents’ house was a place where not only could her parents look after her, but so could the “help” Emma had known growing up. She felt as if the only purpose in her life was to incubate this baby, since she’d had to give up her job when she and Phillip married. She felt fat, swollen, and unattractive for the first time in her life. Those maternity dresses were “ghastly tents,” and she longed for the designer styles she was used to wearing. With Phillip away at war and her being pregnant and living with her parents, she felt listless and alone. And so the remaining five months of her pregnancy crept slowly by.

On March thirteenth Emma awoke to sharp labor pains. Her father’s chauffeur drove her to the hospital and after an exhausting eighteen-hour labor, Phillip Hammond Andrews III, “Trey,” was born into this world. Both sets of grandparents came to the hospital to admire him, then returned to their own lives. She had a telegram sent to Phillip in Korea. He felt proud to be a father, but Emma and the baby, their whole world, in fact, seemed so foreign to him that it — the reality of his becoming a father– didn’t seem reality at all.

After their release from the hospital, Emma and baby Trey returned to her parents’ house for a few weeks of recuperation, then they moved into the new house — along with a housekeeper and a nanny. Emma had never felt so tired or so alone in her entire life. She was perfectly happy to hand her newborn baby over to a nanny. It’s not as if she knew what to do with him. She was pleased with him and believed him to be the prettiest baby on whom she’d ever laid eyes, but that getting up in the night, changing of dirty diapers, and constant feeding? Well, that was not what she envisioned herself doing. She was, she thought, too smart for that, so as soon as she could squeeze herself into her size-three skirts, she was back in the society column, not writing it now, but starring in it. She threw herself into as many charitable organizations as she could, becoming heavily involved in the burgeoning M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She felt that to be an appropriate cause for the wife of a promising, young surgeon. There were charity balls, cocktail parties, galas. Emma was strikingly beautiful, clever, and well-connected, which insured she made the news at least once a month. Helping to organize these events and of course attending them kept her away from home often. She played in a women’s tennis league at the River Oaks Country Club, made some efforts at golf, and she was determined to learn horseback riding before Phillip came back from Korea. Twice a week she drove out to the Andrews family ranch in Fort Bend County for a private lesson.

So, in these ways Emma entertained herself and staved off a general sense of malaise that tried to creep up on her during the nearly three years of Phillip’s absence. She wrote to him, giving news of the baby’s firsts, and more often than not, her latest social conquests and news of who’d done what to whom. His letters to her were vague and vacant. They showed scant interest in Trey’s accomplishments and even less in hers. They told nothing of what was happening there — by by U.S. Army regulations, and virtually nothing of what his feelings about it all were. The man who came home to her in the summer of 1953 was not the man she remembered, and certainly not the man she had created in her own mind while he was gone. Had he ever been as handsome and charming as she’d thought on that long-ago horseback ride at the ranch?

The House on Hammond Drive: Chapters Four and Five


When they returned in July, Emma wasn’t sure yet, but she was already pregnant with their first son. Sadly, something else began during Emma and Phillip’s honeymoon: the Korean Conflict. Phillip’s letter of induction was waiting for him in the huge stack of mail that had been held for them.

As a wedding gift, Phillip’s parents had given them a beautiful lot in River Oaks. Meeting with architects, interior designers, and landscapers, occupied much the time between their honeymoon and Phillip’s leaving.  They were both happy, of course, but their happiness was undoubtedly subdued because Phillip wouldn’t be here for the arrival of their newborn, the move into their new house, or even their first Christmas as a married couple. Their happy married life would last for only three months. He was to report to Camp Lee, Virginia on October fifteenth, after which he would commence fourteen weeks of basic training and officer training. Phillip was included among the first medical draftees of the Korean Conflict, and would be stationed in Korea as early as January of 1951.


Chapter Five

Nothing in his life of privilege had prepared Phillip for what he saw in Korea. He was very near the front line, the surgeon in a “forward collecting station” where jeeps and sometimes other soldiers bore litters carrying injured soldiers. After being assessed by medics and nurses, those with the most serious injuries were seen by Dr. Andrews. If he felt the wounds were survivable, he would, with the assistance of his staff nurses, complete whatever triage could be performed on the scene, and then helicopters would transport them to the battalion aid station. In many instances, Phillip was the one person standing between a soldier and his death. Soldiers came to him sometimes in pieces,  missing limbs, and sometimes even missing faces. He sifted through the wounded like someone might sift through fruit on a conveyor belt, tossing aside those considered to be unsalvageable. He dealt with this monstrous responsibility by gradually developing a cold detachment.

The forward collecting stations were in constant danger of being attacked. Phillip always worked with the sound of gunfire in the background, and often with the sound of grenades exploding nearby. What he saw while stationed there, he never talked about after his return to the states, but the stories of soldiers who survived make it clear that there we more than physical scars carried with the men and women who served during wartime. While some men returned from war missing a limb, Phillip returned missing his heart.

The House on Hammond Drive: Chapters Two and Three

Chapter Two

Their courtship was short-lived, but in a good way. They seemed perfect for each other, both sets of parents approved, Phillip finished his residency in May and had already secured a lucrative contract with Hermann Hospital. All agreed it was time for this handsome bachelor and his beautiful debutante girlfriend to marry.

The wedding was celebrated at the First Methodist Church on Main Street in June of 1950. It was, of course, what many would say was a veritable who’s-who of Houston society. Their fathers’ connections with the oil and real estate industries along with Phillip’s recent connection with Houston’s rapidly growing medical community ensured that. Emma was quite literally breathtaking as she appeared on the arm of her father at the massive double doors that opened to the aisle that would lead her to become the wife of the man she thought was the love of her life. Phillip, looking confident and handsome in his dark grey morning suit, his eyes focused on Emma. Her Christian Dior dress, requiring twenty-three yards of pearl-white satin, accented her narrow waistline with its full, princess-style skirt and three-foot long train. The bodice, embellished with imported French lace, was off-the shoulder, and accented with seed pearls and Swarovski crystals. She wore her hair elegantly in a simple French twist, which accommodated the tiara from which her cathedral-length veil gracefully draped. One-carat diamond teardrop earrings and a matching necklace, gifts from her grandmother, completed her wedding ensemble. Emma took a deep breath as the seven-thousand pipe Aeolian-Skinner organ signaled her entrance into the sanctuary with the first chords of “Canon in D.”

The reception, held in The Rice Hotel’s recently air-conditioned Crystal Ballroom, reflected the station of their parents in Houston society. A sit-down dinner for seven-hundred followed by cocktails and dancing well into the evening was the topic of The Post’s and The Chronicle’s society section on Sunday.

“Happy?” Phillip inquired during a rare moment the two had alone on the same balcony from which both Presidents Harrison and Taft had addressed their public.
“Desperately so, Darling. Desperately so,” Emma answered.

Chapter Three

On Monday morning Emma and Phillip boarded a Pan Am flight at Howard Hughes Airport for New York City, where they would embark on a four-week long Mediterranean cruise aboard the Cunard Line’s Caronia. They both had every expectation, and with good reason, that they would live a long and most fortunate life together. Emma Richmond Andrews was the kind of wife any prosperous, handsome, respected man could hope for and he was sure she would make him proud in every way. Phillip represented the same for Emma.

The Caronia, or the “Green Goddess,” so designated because of her distinctive pale green color, was christened in 1947 by then Princess Elizabeth II and was dwarfed only by the Queen Elizabeth and the Queen Mary. She boasted all of the most luxurious amenities of the day, an outdoor swimming pool, en-suite baths in each stateroom, and seven air-conditioned salons, including a smoking salon, a writing salon, and a library.

Their first stop was Madeira, where they rode a basket sled with greased runners through the streets of town. From there it was on to Tangiers, where the Moorish architecture astonished them – so different it was from the Houston skyline. They dined on fresh seafood caught by Majorcan fishermen and rode in a surrey in Malta. In Egypt they rode camels and climbed into the pyramid of Giza to see the pharaoh’s tomb. They visited Israel and Jordan, Turkey and Romania. They toured the Livadia Palace in Yalta, where Allied leaders met to discuss Europe’s post-war reorganization in 1945. From there it was on to Athens, Venice, and the Amalfi Coast. It was the kind of honeymoon most couples only dream of.  But honeymoons are short-lived, and life doesn’t usually turn out the way we expect it to turn out.

The House on Hammond Drive: Chapter One

Chapter 1

Emma Richmond loved the country, at least she thought she did. Though she’d grown up in Houston, a city of 400,000 people, she never really felt quite herself surrounded by all that hubbub. She liked to say God couldn’t live in the city. The thing is, she really believed that, so when the attractive son of a prominent Texas cattle rancher invited her to go horseback riding on his family’s land south of the city, she eagerly accepted. It was a beautiful early spring day in 1949, one of the few precious days in southeast Texas when the sun and humidity weren’t oppressive. Phillip Andrews was tall, muscular, square-jawed. The kind of man you’d expect to see in a western movie. They’d met at The River Oaks Country Club at a reception honoring one of her father’s friends, both of them children of money, whose parents traced their roots back to Texas’ founders.

Phillip parked his white 1948 Alfa Romeo in the garage connected to Emma’s high-rise. Despite the fact that Emma made a respectable income from the writing she did for the society section of the Houston Post, her apartment was well beyond her means. Daddy, an oilman, picked up the tab, of course. Phillip took the elevator to the 14th floor, found apartment 14C, and rang the doorbell.

“Hi, Emma. Hope I’m not too early. It’ll take us a while to get out there and saddle the horses, and I wanted to be sure we had plenty of time to enjoy this beautiful weather.”

“Oh no, you’re fine, fine. Just let me get my scarf and sunglasses. I’ll be ready in a jiffy.” Emma tied her scarf beneath her chin, covering her sleekly tied-back, blonde pony-tail, and picked her stylish brow-lines off the counter separating the kitchen from the breakfast room. Glancing toward her and also out the window at the expansive view of downtown Houston, Phillip smiled at the sight of her obviously-never-worn-before jodhpurs and boots. This was a good sign, he thought to himself. This date must have been important to her if she went to the trouble to buy them. She looked great in them, too. Emma had the perfect figure to go with the riding gear – just enough curve. Not too much, not too little.

The two stood, somewhat awkwardly, as the elevator descended the fourteen stories to the ground floor. They’d only known each other casually and never had any conversation other than the one which led to this invitation. Emma knew he was in medical school – actually just finishing his surgical residency at the brand new Texas Medical Center, founded by M.D. Anderson.  She knew his father was in real estate, and that his mother was a descendant of a prominent Texas family, the Bensons. The land on which they would ride today, had come from her family – 800 acres which had been in the family for generations, Emma’s mother had said. Emma was nervous about the horseback riding. Even though she was a Texas girl, born and bred, she’d been raised in the city, and had very little experience with horses. Phillip assured her that he’d put her on the gentlest of horses, and that he’d show her everything she needed to know, but this nervousness, compounded with her unfamiliarity with Phillip, made the silence in the elevator all the more uncomfortable.

Phillip had the top down on this gorgeous Texas morning, so the rush of the wind compensated for – or perhaps nullified the need for – conversation. The drive into Fort Bend County took about thirty-five minutes, south on US 59, then several miles on the two-lane blacktop farm-to-market road that led to the long oyster-shell drive of the Benson family property.

“Do you come out here often?” Emma asked, as Phillip saddled his own horse, Bill, then the horse he’d chosen for her to ride, Princess.

“I come out as often I can, but unfortunately, my residency has me working some long hours. I’d never be able to keep a horse if it weren’t for the hired hands. I can’t complain, though. Med school’s kept me out of the draft, at least for now. This place . . . this place is where I feel most grounded. Maybe because it’s been in my family for so long. Maybe because I spent so much time here as kid. My little brother and I used to camp out here when we were teenagers.  Ever done any camping?”

“No, Emma answered. I’ve always thought I would like it, but my parents didn’t camp. Our vacations were always spent at five-star resorts.”

“You’ll never see a night sky like what you see when you’re camping. You have to get away from the city lights to really see stars. I can’t wait to show you the trail along the creek. It’s beautiful and lined with live oaks. If we’re lucky, we’ll see some wildlife. In the evenings the deer come out to drink – um, I mean, if you don’t mind staying that long.”

“What about snakes?” Emma inquired apprehensively. Do you see a lot of snakes out here?

“You don’t have to worry about them, Emma. Horses are smart. They’d sense a snake long before you or I would. As long as we’ve got ol’ Bill and Princess here, we don’t have to worry about snakes.”

Emma was proud of her natural athleticism, so when Phillip offered to help her into the saddle, she insisted she do it herself. Luckily, she had seen it done enough in the movies to have a pretty good idea of how to go about it. Hands gripping the saddle horn and reins, she slipped her left foot into the stirrup and threw her right leg gracefully across the horse’s back. Princess was a pro. She stood tall and steady and showed no sign that she was uneasy with Emma in the saddle.

“Princess knows to follow me and Bill, so all you really need to do is sit there and hold onto the reins,” said Phillip, as they exited the barn. “If your rear-end gets tired, put your weight on your feet,” he laughed. Emma wondered how long it would be before that happened. She guessed not long. While she was athletic, her butt wasn’t used to the bouncing up and down of a horse-back ride. She hoped Phillip wouldn’t notice when she got to that point.

The ride started out slowly, and Emma gained confidence enough to appreciate the wide-open spaces of the Texas prairie. This part of Texas is coastal – flat as a pancake. A person can see for miles and miles. As they rode east, they disturbed a covey of quail in the brush. Emma startled as the birds took to the sky. By this time the sun was high. It must be nearly noon, Emma realized. The morning had slipped away while she silently acknowledged her deep physical attraction to Phillip Andrews. She’d had just enough time to admire his quiet self-assurance as she rode along behind him – and just enough time to admire his incredibly handsome physique.

“To the southwest, of here,” Phillip said, “is a lot of swamp land. Great for duck hunting, but you do have to watch out for gators.”

“Alligators?” thought Emma. “That hadn’t even occurred to me until now. Phillip said that horses can sense snakes, so I guess they have enough sense to stay away from alligators, too,” she tried to convince herself. Before long the path became more wooded, and Emma could hear the sound of Oyster Creek nearby.

“I packed us a light lunch. Thought we could picnic here in the shade by the creek,” Phillip said as he dismounted and tied Bill’s reins loosely to a small tree near enough to the water so the horse could drink. By this time Emma was more than willing to accept Phillip’s offer to help her from the saddle. Her inner thighs were stretched and tired, as was her aching backside. After securing Princess’ reins to the same tree, Phillip opened up his saddle bag and retrieved a bottle of a nice pinot noir, a block of gruyere, a chunk of hearty French bread, and a couple of apples. All foods that could handle a couple of hours on the saddle without adverse effects. He tossed a blanket on the ground in the shade of an ancient live oak and said, “This is my favorite spot on the property.” His eyes were smiling toward her. “I hope you’re having a good time,” he said, as he reached in his pocket for a corkscrew and opened the bottle of wine, poured two plastic cups full, and offered her one.

Emma hoped he didn’t realize just how much she was enjoying this time. Not only had she fallen for this beautiful land, but, she realized, she was also falling for this handsome man who seemed so much a part of it, so completely comfortable in it, that it was hard to say where the man stopped and the land began. Maybe it was the wine, maybe it was the romantic horseback ride, maybe it was the fresh air, the sound of the water running over rocks, but when Phillip reached to turn her face toward his and kiss her lips, she felt no inclination to resist.


Next week, Chapter Two

The House on Hammond Drive: Forward

Dedicated with love to my husband, Dennis, and our two greatest accomplishments, Sarah and Daniel.


The following is a work of fiction, based partially on fact. The house is real, but the story around it is entirely a work of fiction, created to satisfy my desire to understand what chain of events could lead to a beautiful home’s being left, just left, in the middle of a growing subdivision. No one who knows the real story is telling, so I’m left to create a story of my own.




I had always been curious about that house, but that didn’t set me apart from most everybody else in the neighborhood. The stories surrounding it were many, most of them unsubstantiated, of course. Teenagers enjoyed accessing it from the golf course, slipping in at night through a breach in the fence, engaging in God-knows-what behind the privacy of the thick line of bushes surrounding the eight-acres which hadn’t been sold off to realtors after the place was abandoned. Moms on their way to the grocery store or to swim team practice nearly break their necks every time they drive past the only space from which you can actually get a decent view of the house, the driveway gate. It’s a wonder there haven’t been more accidents at that curve.

The thing that makes everyone so curious is that there it is, right in the middle of a bustling subdivision, for the most part ignored. I say, “for the most part,” because someone regularly mowed the lawn during the many years it sat empty. The property has always been maintained to some degree, and taxes were paid, but no one lived there for over forty years, a modern day Satis House, without its Miss Havisham.

The house had been built – and this is substantiated – by a couple from the city. He and his wife had hired a prominent architect to design the Frank Lloyd Wright-style home. They’d had stones shipped half way across the country to build it. In its day, it was undoubtedly magnificent. The family had used it as their country estate. Thirty miles outside of the big city, it was nestled on several hundred acres of pasture which had a creek running through it. If you’re really interested, you can look it up on-line. There are a few photos and some details about the people who built it. What came after, though, that’s what makes my imagination run wild. It’s high time somebody explained why a beautiful, multi-million dollar home was just left, sitting empty for decades, while a whole new community sprang up around it. Since no one else is talking, I’ll make up my own story.

Stay tuned for Chapter One



The Chain of Choices


I sobbed the last time I walked out the door of 1629 Whitener Street, the house where I’d grown up; I was closing a door on this huge part of my life. My life is not that house or any other house, but where we live makes such an impact on every other part of our lives, it’s hard to know where to draw that proverbial line. I sometimes dream about moving out of 2811 Spyglass Lane, and I’m never happy about it, but is this house me? Is my life in this house? Some parts of it — some very happy parts of it — have happened here. Would they have, could they have happened in a different house?


What’s funny is how much one decision can affect the entire rest of a person’s life, how much the place in which we choose to live our lives affects so many other things about our lives.

Thirty-three years ago I made the decision to accept a job teaching at Dulles High School in Sugar Land, Texas instead of accepting a teaching assistantship at University of Missouri. I wanted to try life far away from Cape Girardeau, Missouri in a place I’d never known. At Dulles High School I met Betty Baitland. Betty fixed me up on a blind date with Dennis Griggs. We married. Dennis was friends with people who lived in Quail Valley and Dulles High School was Quail Valley’s zoned school, so we bought our home here. Our neighbors have been a second family to us. They are among the dearest people in our lives. David Daniels officiated at our daughter and son-in-law’s wedding. David marries Sarah and Nick
Our children grew up together. Kim Daniels cried with me at Sarah’s senior dance recital when she danced with her dad. Bebe and Barney McDougal stood in as surrogate grandparents at Sarah’s wedding. We’ve been included at countless McDougal family holiday meals. We’re close to Bebe’s sister and brother-in-law and have been invited to their beautiful Hill Country home on a number of occasions. Now we hope to retire to The Hill Country someday. How different our lives would be had we bought in another neighborhood. The people who are our neighbors have, unquestionably, had a profound impact on our lives.

In 11/22/63 Stephen King wrote “The past is obdurate.” The main character goes back in time to try to stop the Kennedy assassination. I wonder, is the future obdurate as well? Were we destined to know the Daniels and McDougal families? Was I destined to meet Dennis? Is destiny even real? We use the phrase, “It was destiny” flippantly, but is there even such a thing? Or, as I’m more likely to conclude, is life a haphazard set of circumstances, a puzzle made up of accidental pieces? Was anything ever “meant” to happen, or do things just happen?

My sister, Melinda, when diagnosed with a brain tumor about ten years ago, first asked, “Why me?” Later she confessed, she had asked — or rather realized, “Why not me?” Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. There’s a great randomness in life. I didn’t choose to be born into a white, middle class, educated family anymore than those starving children in the Unicef ads chose to be born in their circumstances. Is it divine will?

Is there a divine will? We like to think there is. It is a safety net, a last recourse when there’s nothing left within our power to remedy a bad situation. In my egocentricity, I tend to think that divine will is really the power we have within ourselves to manage adversity. I have seen kids born into horrific situations who have thrived — a student named Brittney whose mother, a drug addict, abandoned her and her younger brother and sister, leaving her to raise them and her own infant son. Brittney is now married to a good man with a good job and together they have a daughter. She has earned her associates degree in business and a cosmetology license. She posts beautiful family pictures on Facebook. BrittneyShe is being the mother she never had, providing the stable home life for her children that she never knew. It was her determination that saved her. But why did Brittney have that determination, while other kids didn’t? I have seen kids in seemingly optimal situations flounder. What quality is it, what magic ingredient, that makes some people thrive in circumstances which appear insurmountable?

So, my conclusion is, at least in part, that life is like a line of dominoes. We make a decision — to accept a job, go on a blind date, buy a house — and that decision affects all other aspects of our lives down the road. But how we react when those dominoes fall, well, I think that’s up to us. My deepest hope is that my own two precious children, now all grown up, will have whatever magic ingredient it takes to overcome the adversities that befall them. Because the only sure thing in life, is that there will be adversities. What kind? How many? No one knows, but the atoms will bounce against each other, and the results, well, that we do have some control over.




For Ruth, Maxine, Bryce, Jim, Claude, Raymond, and All the Others

I’ve let some time elapse before writing this blog entry. I didn’t want it to be just an angry outburst. What I want is to make it better for older people who don’t have the luxury of options my dad has. Specifically, I hope that the care of people living in nursing homes will improve. During Dad’s stay at The Lutheran Home for the Aged in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, I grew close to many of the residents. I care about what happens to them. I have friends whose parents are there now, and I worry for them.

Dad and his Lady Friends

As all of you know, in May my ninety-seven-year-old father lost a leg due to an aneurysm which released blood clots into his arteries. Following the surgery, he required weeks of rehabilitation. Being in a small town, the options for that were limited. The best place which had a bed available was The Lutheran Home. My sister and I made a visit, I called a neighbor who I knew had had a relative there. She said — sort of hesitating — that they hadn’t had any problems there, so there is where we took Dad. It appeared to be clean and efficient. It had all the necessary props. It seemed ok. On the evening my dad was admitted, his nurse was meticulous in his admission examination. She was friendly and professional. This blog post should not be interpreted as a blanket condemnation on all those who work there. There were many bright spots — people who clearly and genuinely cared about the residents/patients. Unfortunately, there was a certain lack of consistency in care. FullSizeRender (3)

This blog post will review several incidents which occurred during the the approximately six-week-long period in which my father was an inmate at The Lutheran Home while he began his recovery after his traumatic surgery. I use the word inmate deliberately. When a person is incapacitated, when he can’t get out of bed on his own, can’t use the toilet on his own, can’t dress himself, or leave the building, he is trapped. He’s just as trapped as a prison inmate. This post will include some information which will be upsetting and graphic. Be forewarned. If you can’t take reading about excrement, you might want to stop here.

During his first week at TLH a long, long wait for someone to respond to call light resulted in his having a bowel movement in bed. I found him lying in his own feces. Of course, this is no shock. They’re giving him stool softener and Miralax to offset the side effects of Hydrocodone. Shortly thereafter we discovered a serious “level three” bed sore near his rectum. To this day, he’s still fighting the bed sore, even though he is now in a lovely facility in Michigan. The skin of older people is delicate and they don’t heal quickly. Any irritation can lead to sores which don’t easily heal. The skin of older people must be kept clean and dry.

On numerous occasions I walked down halls in which call lights/alarms were on, while staff members sat calmly at the desk, completely ignoring them. Sometimes I’d time them. It was not uncommon at all to see call lights on for an hour before anyone responded. My dad timed his own call once. It was an hour and fifteen minutes. When I made my visits, I regularly helped out as many people as I could. Pushed them where they wanted to go in their wheelchairs, got them drinks, tied or untied their bibs at mealtimes. Some of the ladies joked that I should be on salary there. They need so much and there were never enough people to take care of them all. People were left sitting in the wheelchairs calling for help,  or slumped over staring either at a blank TV screen or one with old black-and-white reruns. They weren’t watching, mind you. They were just sitting there, waiting to die. Activities planned at TLH consist mainly of bingo, bad music, and “Porch Perching.” Porch perching means they get their wheelchairs pushed out to the front entrance and look at the parking lot for a little while. They don’t even take them to the green areas where there are trees and bird feeders. They sit and look at the parking lot!FullSizeRender (2)

About three weeks after his admission, I attended Dad’s first Care Plan meeting, I was told he would be ready to leave in about two weeks. We made our plans then to move him to Michigan. It was complicated. Admission to a new facility had to be arranged, medical transport had to be scheduled, and I had to pack all his belongings and hire a moving van. Three days after all that had been planned – for two weeks later — we were notified that he would be discharged more than a week early because he was not making adequate progress in his physical therapy.

My sister hastily contacted the director of the assisted living facility where he’s been, CapeTown, to see if they could keep him until we could reschedule everything. We’d have to hire a full-time CNA to care for him during that time. We figured it would be about a thousand dollars.

Then I started thinking. During every phone call it seemed to me that Daddy was more and more groggy. I had seen his list of meds during my second visit – I spent a total of four weeks in Cape during his illness and recovery. After reviewing it, I realized that he was being administered all of the following medications: Hydrocodone, Xanax, Flexoril, Cymbalta, and Restoril (four narcotics and an antidepressant, prescribed for nerve pain). Good Lord! I had been on Hydrocodone and Flexoril (a muscle relaxer) for about a month once when I had a herniated disc. While I was on them, I could barely get out of bed. I slept twenty hours a day. No wonder he wasn’t making progress!

So, I began my campaign to reduce the drugs he was being administered — no simple process. My first call was to the doctor who was treating him while he was at TLH. This was a doctor I knew, because I had deliberately moved Daddy to another physician several years ago because I considered him to be Dr. Incompetent and Uncaring. He is a man who apparently went into the field mostly for the money. I’ve talked to several of my friends in Cape. I’ve never heard a good report about him. When dad was admitted to TLH we were told his new(er) doctor doesn’t work with TLH and Dr. Incompetent and Uncaring had been assigned to his case. Sigh. When I called his office to discuss my dad’s prescriptions with him, they wouldn’t talk to me because I wasn’t on his HIPA form. Now mind you, I am on his new doctor’s, TLH’s, and the hospital’s HIPA documents, but not Dr. Incompetent’s.

Step two was a call to TLH administrator, who referred me to the nursing director. She agreed to have the pharmacist review Dad’s meds. After another day of overmedication, he agreed that they should discontinue the regular two-per-day doses of Hydrocodone and Flexoril. They were to be administered only as needed. Whew! Within a few days, Dad was alert again and started making rapid progress in physical therapy. TLH agreed to keep him until his move to Michigan. I’m not sure that was a good thing, after all, but I was glad to have my dad back.

During my second visit to Cape after Dad’s surgery, Dad tells me they got him up to use the bedside commode and left him alone, sitting on it. He’s wearing his prescribed “stump-shrinker,” which has a strap leading up to a stretchy belt to hold it in place. The strap is across Dad’s rectum. He has his bowel movement, but the feces is trapped inside the stump-shrinker strap. He hits his call button. An hour and fifteen minutes passes before someone comes to help him. This certainly will impede the healing of the previously mentioned bed sore, not to mention the risk of infection.

He’s also fighting a mighty cough, due to fluid in his lungs, an effect of prolonged inactivity. It takes a visit from a nurse practitioner to prescribe a nebulizer. Within two days his cough (which had hung on for weeks) was gone. One wonders why it was a month before this happened.

For the entire six-week period he sleeps in his clothes every night. The CNAs apparently consider it too much trouble to change him into his pajamas. Luckily, my sister and I have bought him t-shirts and gym shorts to wear for PT, so this isn’t uncomfortable.

He’s supposed to be bathed twice a week, but tells me they have forgotten a few times. One time the CNA insisted on shaving him with a cheap, disposable razor, even though he has an electric shaver in his room. He tells her that, but she dismisses him. She is so rough with him that I find blood on his sheets in the morning.

The morning of his second-to-last day at TLH, my sister gets a phone call from a nurse explaining that a mistake was made with his medication, and he’s been getting the muscle relaxer again for two days. I’d noticed the grogginess creeping back. This explains it. The nurse says not to worry; she’s caught the mistake and it won’t happen again. Until it does.

On his last evening at TLH I take a quick trip to go get dinner, since the medical transport isn’t due until 9:30. When I return he’s crooked in bed and his covers are twisted all around him. He says he tried to call me, dropped his phone, pressed his call button for help, but no one came. He somehow crawled out of bed, retrieved the phone, put it back together (the back had popped off) and somehow, miraculously, crawled back into bed . . . without any help. It’s a wonder he hasn’t broken any bones.

The nurses bring in a bag with all of his meds, which I must sign for. He is so drugged-up that his speech is slurred and he cannot participate. I ask what meds he’s been given tonight, but the nurse is not able to tell me. I tell her what he’s supposed to have had; she says he hasn’t had that since Friday (this is Monday). It’s clear they have absolutely no idea what drugs he’s taken and what he hasn’t.

As the medical transport pulls out of TLH parking lot, I fear for him. I know he is so groggy he doesn’t know what’s happening or who’s caring for him. It’s a scary thing to send a loved one off on a 655-mile journey with two total strangers, especially when you know he’s in no shape to advocate for himself.

And so, how do I end this blog post? Well, I can only say that as a society, we can do better. If we love our parents, and most of us do, we have to do better. People are living longer these days. Who knows how long some of us will live? Many of us will undoubtedly end up in nursing homes. We have to find a way to make them places where people can live out their final days, weeks, months, and often years, in dignity and comfort, surrounded by care-givers who live up to their title, CARE-givers, not just job-doers. I can’t say that the people at TLH weren’t doing their jobs, but they were often not caring, and clearly, the administration of medications was — well — frighteningly inefficient.

They need to monitor the administration of medications with technology, as it is done in hospitals. This is 2015. There is no excuse for the frequent errors I saw during the time Dad was there. The nurses’ station should never be left un-monitored, call lights/alarms should be timed. A resident should never wait for more the five minutes for help to arrive. The CNA’s don’t know why they’re calling; it could be serious. Visitors should have to sign in and out. Anyone can go in or out of TLH without any staff member’s noticing or caring. I could walk in there today and go into any resident’s room and do just about anything. No one would notice. Names of residents and their room numbers should not be posted at every entrance. That’s a huge violation of HIPA.

There’s a new administrator there. I met with her a couple of times and spoke with her on the phone as well. I hope she cleans up the mess. In the meantime, if your mom or dad is there, you’ll have to monitor his/her care closely. Don’t assume he or she is being well cared for. We can do better. I know we can do better to care for our elderly loved ones. Soon, we will be the ones needing the care.

In the last week Daddy was there, three residents passed away. This blog post is dedicated especially to Mary, Myrtle, and June. My sincerest hope is that they are at peace, that they are running through hills of wildflowers while the sun shines down on them forever and ever, and that they are laughing out loud, surrounded by love.



Families and Frequent Flying

FullSizeRenderI certainly have become a frequent traveler of late. My trips to St. Louis and on to Cape Girardeau are becoming routine. I’ve set a personal goal: to become a Southwest A-Lister, which requires a particular number of trips within a 12-month period. I imagine once that happens, Southwest will hire a marching band to escort me to my gate with each subsequent flight. I have to hand it to Southwest; they’ve made the flights as unmiserable as flights these days can be. I always pay the extra for Early Bird Check-in. It means I’m always in the A Group of boarders. I’m not so interested in boarding early as I am de-boarding early. I am always anxious to get off the plane. I also like getting an aisle seat for the same reason — a fast getaway. I’ve learned to pack a whole week’s worth of clothes in one carry on, though Southwest, unlike other airlines, doesn’t charge for checked bags. Again, I choose to carry on so I can make a quick getaway. I suck at standing and waiting. I hate elevators, escalators, and moving sidewalks for the same reason. I can’t tolerate the standing. I want to move.

This visit, I failed to make my Drury Lodge reservation in time to get a non-smoking room, so, on Friday I will have to check out of the very nice room I’m in and check into a smoking room. On Sunday I will check out of the stinky room, and back into a non-smoking room. Dennis says it would be easier if I just took up smoking. I disagree.

I’ve lined up dinner and drink dates, more-or-less, for the week. I’m grateful I still know some people in Cape. Then I have a list of to-do’s for Dad. Tomorrow morning he has a follow-up visit with the surgeon who did his amputation. I’m supposed to try to get a feel for when he might be able to tolerate the surgery to save his remaining leg. He has the same kind of aneurysm in it. It’s a ticking bomb. If blood clots break loose, as they did in his ex right leg, he’ll lose the left one too. That would really be over-the-top torture. He is still fighting pneumonia and he may have an infection in his urinary tract. I didn’t get the verdict on that lab test yet.

Then I need to determine when he’ll be able to travel. We are hoping to move him to Traverse City, MI, where he will be close to family. Both sisters live there year-round now, and nearly everyone shows up there at some point during the summer, including Daddy’s little brother Richmond, aged 90. I think he’d be much happier having the opportunity to talk with people who still have reasonable intellectual capabilities, and of course, being with his family.

The move is a tricky thing. When will a place open up? How should he travel? There’s an exorbitant long-distance ambulance service, nearly $4000, but I’m really not sure that’ll be necessary. Sarah and I have talked about renting a U-Haul and just driving him and his belongings up there. It’s an eleven-hour drive from Cape, but if we broke it into two days, maybe it wouldn’t be too hard on him. He’s pretty much relegated to sitting now anyway, at least he’d have someone to talk to and something to look at.

So much depends on him — how far can he take his rehab? How much strength can he recover at his age? What about this damn pneumonia? He’s had fluid in his lungs for a month now, I think. Then there’s timing. Will a desirable place in Traverse City open up at a time which coincides with his ability to make the trip? Or will he ever be able to make it?

Then there’s my sister Melinda’s major spine surgery in July — her second one, as the first one failed. She’ll need support too, and probably months of rehab.

And my job. I still have one, you know. The aneurysm and amputation couldn’t have come at a worse time for my job. Among other things, I am the test coordinator for our school. I had to miss all the AP testing. A good person took over for me, but just how much can I miss and still maintain? I like my job and the people with whom I work. I’m not ready to quit.

Oh yeah, and it’s my birthday Sunday. Whoopee! Celebration at The Drury Lodge!!

So many things to think about. So much to consider. It’s a tough deal all the way around. Thank God for my supportive husband — who completely understands what I’m going through because he’s going through a quite similar situation with his dad — and for my wonderful children. I am grateful to have my two sisters and my niece and nephews to weigh in on the decisions.

My advice? Have two children. They’ll need each other when you get older. Families are good — even in dysfunction — families are good. Frequent flying . . . meh.