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.

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 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.

P.’s Path: And Now the Hard Part

Day 3, Post Surgery

Maybe we thought the hard part was making the decision to amputate and wondering if he’d survive the surgery, but now is when the real work begins, the long hours, long days of sitting in the hospital and watching him struggle to regain his strength and his clarity of mind. His hands shake so much and his fine motor skills are so poor at this point that it’s difficult for him to eat. Part of me wants to just feed him, but I know he won’t get stronger unless he has to do things for himself. It’s a mess — hard to watch.

The physical therapist comes in to get him into a chair for a couple of hours a day. Within a few minutes Dad is asking how much longer he has to sit up. He’s tired. Hell, he was tired before this happened. Just imagine what his 97-year-old body must be experiencing. His skin is paper-thin and I worry about bed sores, even though his bed has some sort of system designed to inflate and deflate channels within the mattress to keep that from happening. 97-year old skin is a lot more sensitive than younger skin.

He is swollen with edema almost everywhere, so the doctor took him off IV fluids for awhile. I wish they’d give his wrists and hands a needle break, but hospitals love needles. They allowed a student nurse to practice on him today. She couldn’t get a new line started. I wish I’d just said, “No. No practicing on my Dad.” I will next time.

How many more days in the hospital? No way to know. He’s developed “a touch of pneumonia,” the nurse says, so they’re also giving him antibiotics and cough medicine. After this, it’s The Lutheran Home for rehab. Again, no way to know for sure how long he’ll be there. The goal is to get him strong enough to move himself out of a wheelchair and into bed or onto a toilet and back again. If he can do that, he can go back to CapeTown Assisted Living, where his second family loves him and takes good care of him.

Day 7, Post Surgery

Both he and I are getting grumpy. It’s really hard to maintain a positive attitude for such a long time. My friends have been super supportive, and I am more a Facebook fan than ever, since it is through it that I have reached out to high school friends who have really, really helped to take my mind of the situation for brief respites.

Dad is getting better, but progress is incredibly slow, as anyone might expect for his age. He’s not in a lot of pain — just discomfort. He’s very weak and can’t even shift himself around in bed by himself, but he can raise and lower the head of his bed, call for the nurse, and he can feed himself (although it’s a very messy operation). He has some swelling in places you might not expect, and still some pneumonia, but it isn’t serious.

I’m here until Wednesday until Fleda comes to take over, then I suppose I’ll be back. We’ll have to keep taking turns until he’s well enough to trust others with his care. If you’ve ever had a loved one in a hospital or nursing home, you know that’s true. Patients MUST have someone to advocate for them.

I keep telling him, “You can’t go dyin’ on me now, Dad. If you were gonna do that, you should have done it last week.” I sure hope we can manage to keep his (and our) spirits up in the weeks to come.

My Dad is a Superhero

P. Brown Begins His Recovery

Yesterday my sister Fleda and I went with our dad down to pre-op where he was prepared for the amputation of his right leg — at age 97 — after surviving a 3-hour attempt by a vascular surgeon to save his leg on Tuesday.

The anesthesiologist tried in vain (argh, argh — pun intended) to get an arterial catheter in his right wrist, but the vessel was too calcified and after poking, prodding, and wriggling for several minutes while blood spilled all over the bed and floor, she gave up and managed it in his left wrist.

A nurse arrived and introduced himself to Daddy asking, “How’re you doing today, Mr. Brown?”

His response? “Oh, I can’t complain.”

Really? Oh, I think most of us would.

Fleda and I waited alone and anxious for the hour-and-a-half this surgery would take. Saturday night is not a popular night for surgeries. No one else was in the surgery waiting area. We did yoga stretches to relieve the enormous built-up tensions of the week. We watched a YouTube video of a leg amputation and read about the post-op pain associated with it. Nearly nauseous, at last we saw the surgeon come into the room. Ready for anything, we heard the unbelievable. He came through it “solid as a rock.” They would keep him in recovery for about an hour then take him back to his room in the CTU, where we could see him. The nurse tells us to take a break, go get ourselves some dinner, and she’ll call us when we can see him.

We opt instead for a quiet glass of wine at a lovely little place called Cup ‘n’ Cork, which I highly recommend. There was music from two guys about our age playing music we like, and the wonderful smell of good coffee.

About 9:00, the nurse called to say we could see him now, so we headed back to Southeast Hospital, braced for what we might see. Walking through the doorway we are greeted by the sight of Daddy, sitting up, alert, and talking. His first words? “I don’t feel nearly as bad as I thought I would, and my right right leg doesn’t hurt at all anymore!”

Please excuse my language, but this man is un-f***ing believable. Would that we all could go through life with this kind of courage.

Daddy, you’ve always told us you were a coward.

You lied.

But that’s ok.


Popliteal Aneurysms — Weighing the Risks — Weighing the Outcome

P. Brown at Southeast Hospital

So, yesterday, toward the end of a very busy workday, I received word that my dad had been taken to the emergency room by ambulance due to pain and numbness in his right leg. Upon examination, doctors diagnosed popliteal aneurysms in both legs. Now, everybody knows what popliteal aneurysms are, right? Well, for the few uninformed, aneurysms are balloonings in a blood vessel. Popliteal means they’re in the back of his knees. He’s got one in each knee. Treatable by surgery, but surgery when you’re 97 is sketchy. Leaving them alone is even more sketchy — he’d likely lose both legs. You’re between a rock and a hard place. No choice but to try.

If Daddy didn’t wake up from this surgery, he’d be glad. He’s tired and ready to go. I’m selfish, though. I don’t want him to go, but as he’s lived to be 97 years old, I know that’s just plain selfishness. I can’t keep him with me forever. He’s going to die, so why not while he’s asleep on an operating table feeling no pain? If he wakes up, he’ll have pain in his groin and in both knees, he’ll likely be nauseous from the anaesthesia, and he may even suffer some cognitive impairment, which is not at all uncommon for post-operative nonagenarians. Yet, I sit here by my phone, waiting to hear from the scrub nurse, hoping for good news. Pure unadulterated selfishness. I want to keep my dad. I have no right to keep him longer. He’s done his time, earned his rest. Let him go, Michelle.

If I’m not ready now, will I be ready next month, the month after that? I tell myself I just want to be there, so he’ll know he’s not alone, that someone who loves him is there. This is, I recognize, not as much for him as for me. He knows I love him, but I need to be there, for him and for me. My dear, sweet high school friends, Janet and Rob went to the hospital yesterday and they’re going again this afternoon. Thank God for them, for friends who care. Daddy has known them nearly as long as he’s known me, and he knew their parents, too. Again, it’s as much for me as for Dad. It comforts me to know someone is there for him when I can’t be.

P. Brown with Usha

In the end, whatever I wish for is irrelevant. As Doris Day would sing, “Que sera, sera.” What will be, will be. I wish the best for you, Dad. I always have, always will. You’ve been a good man, a good dad. You will always live through your daughters, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. Imagine, you have lived to see all of your grandchildren graduate from college and go on to enjoy successful careers, and you’ve even welcomed nine great grandchildren into this world. You’ve led a good life.

“He could imitate Irving, play poker and pool, and tickle the Spanish guitar, In fact quite the cream of the Muscovite team, was Ivan Skavinski Skavar.”

Ivan had nothin’ on you, P. Brown.

In My Mind’s Nose

Oranges in SevilleI was thinking about smell today because I put on a dab of orange blossom essential oil that I bought several years ago in Morocco. Despite the real beauty of the fragrance of orange blossoms, I rarely use that essential oil. I had never smelled orange blossoms until I went to Spain with Daniel and his Spanish club in 2008. Now, whenever I smell orange blossoms I am whisked back to Spain and to our day trip to Morocco. The day I bought the essential oil was the day Daniel lost his passport, and I had visions of his being locked away in some third-world prison in Morocco, and my having no way to get to him. I also had many wonderful memories of Spain,  but the smell of orange blossoms still sends waves of panic through me. Where is Daniel? Is he safe?

That made me think about the power of scent. For example, I have not been inside my grandparents’ house since 1968 when the house was sold. All I have to do is close my eyes, and I can smell that house in my mind’s nose as clearly as if I were standing inside it again. There was always a faint cedar scent, since all the closets were  lined with cedar, and unlike my parents, my grandparents had bacon and eggs almost every morning, so the cedar always had traces of bacon, toast, and coffee filtering through it. Bacon, eggs, toast, coffee, and cedar. It was an old house, built in 1908, so there was that too — oldness. It’s still there. I wonder, does it still smell of cedar and breakfast?

Our family cottage in Michigan has its own fertile fragrance. The soil is sandy, but rich with the odor of decomposing cedar needles, beech, poplar, and birch leaves. The sound your feet make walking on that earth is different from the sound they make walking on the rocky Texas Hill Country soil. It’s a soft padding, quiet. The little cottage, a century-old Brown family historical site, holds a potpourri of that soil, wood-fire, and the gentle wisp of the lake water blowing in through the screened windows and doors. It’s the best smell in my world. I am as rooted in that soil as the willow tree on the shoreline.

I have scents associated with people too. Daddy smells of sawdust and grease. He was always either building a boat or fixing something. His hands were never clean. He had a workshop in the garage that always smelled of freshly cut lumber. And he could fix anything — I mean anything. He took the engine out of my sister Melinda’s VW Bug and repaired it, rewired the dryer motor, and even when we moved him out of his house at age 90, he had two motors for the furnace. He’d switch them out back and forth. Fix one, put it back in. Fix the other, put it in, and so on. The world of machines makes sense to him. It’s manageable, logical. Still, the smells of sawdust and grease make me think, “Dad.”

Jergen’s Lotion makes me think of my mom — the original scent — cherry-almond. It came in a glass bottle then, with a black label. I still buy Jergens because it brings back a little of my mom. Summer is Coppertone. It has to be Coppertone. Long summer days at the Cape Municipal Pool with the neighborhood girls, Kim, Kaye, and Ann. I love the smell of old books too, of libraries, even though I do nearly all my reading on my iPad now. Still, I like to pick up an old book from the shelf and flip the pages so I get a whiff of it. Takes me back.

Mad Dog. Mogen David 20/20. I haven’t smelled that since 1976, but man oh man, I can smell it and taste it just as clearly as if it were last night. Of course, I generally tasted it twice, once going down and again coming up. Carole Anne knows. Ah, high school.

So, smell. Right now I’m smelling our cat box. Not so great. Guess I’ll go scoop the poop.



Positive Reinforcement


little yellow boat

In the world of education (which is my world) there is a lot of talk about positive reinforcement as opposed to punishment. As a teacher, an administrator, and a mother, I’ve never felt there was a whole lot of value in making a child feel guilty. It sure hasn’t made our chihuahua stop peeing on the floor, though he sure appears to understand his culpability. We’ve tried repeatedly “rubbing his nose in it,” then swatting him on the behind. He lowers his head, flattens his ears, and most certainly, the look on his face says, “I know. I did it. I’m bad.” We’ll find another yellow puddle tomorrow, just the same.

The reason I bring this up, is that positive reinforcement is the reason I’m starting this blog. You see, if you don’t want to read my stuff, you have only yourselves to blame. My big sister, who has regularly written a blog since her cancer diagnosis two years ago, recently honored me by making me her guest blogger for the week. The responses I received were so rewarding, that here I am, starting my  own blog.

Blogging guides generally suggest that a writer categorize her topics. Maybe I will and maybe I won’t. I don’t like being hemmed in. I don’t even like appointments on my calendar, because they force me to adhere to a schedule. I’ll write what I feel like writing and I won’t keep to a schedule. If I feel I have something of value to say, or if I feel like I have a story to tell, I’ll write. Otherwise, I’ll keep quiet, just as I do during meetings in which I feel my input isn’t valuable. And Carole Anne, if you don’t want me to have a seizure, don’t point out any mechanics or usage errors.

I’m calling my blog www.littleyellowboat.com. If you know me at all, you know why. I’ll tack back and forth with my words, probably making very little progress one way or the other, sometimes just heading so far into the wind that I make no progress at all and other times, letting out the sail and zipping along so fast I can hear the centerboard humming.

I hope sometimes you’ll come along for the ride.