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.



Musings on the Significance of Stuff

Reposted from fledabrown.com

My Wobbly Bicycle

Guest Wobbly From My Sister

Five years ago my sister and I cleaned out my parents’ house, in which they had lived for 47 years. Staying in any place for that long carries a high risk of stuff accumulation. In fact, anyone who’s ever moved knows that the Stuff Accumulation sneaks up on a person. To complicate the situation, our dad is what is now commonly referred to as a “hoarder.” Any item he considered having the potential of being useful at any time in the future, was kept: rubber bands, coffee cans, yogurt cups, and box tops. If it was broken, but might be repaired by someone in the future, he kept it. Think of the apocryphal frozen head of Walt Disney. Who knows? Maybe future mankind will have the knowledge to attach that thawed-out head to a healthy body and, voila! Walt Disney lives again. Last weekend I moved my nearly 97-year-old father from his independent living “cottage” into the assisted living unit of his senior community. It was a hard move for both of us – not so much physically, but psychologically. For Dad, it steals the last of his dignity. He will no longer be allowed to choose when or how much medication he can take, he will no longer choose how often he will bathe, and he cannot leave this protected environment without supervision of his caretakers or family. For me, it was acknowledging that the man I’d known to have once been so strong, athletic, and knowledgeable is now frail, unable to care for himself, frightened, and addled. A second acknowledgement I stumbled into though, is what I’ll call The Significance of Stuff. My sister and I had parted with most things several years ago, when we moved him from his house to the cottage. The cottage, however, allowed us some wiggle room. He had a second bedroom, closets, some places to keep stuff. His new accommodations do not allow for that luxury. I found myself holding seemingly insignificant items, but strangely sensing my mother’s presence or my father’s in those things. So, what did I keep? Some obvious things: my mother’s and grandmother’s DAR papers, my dad’s WWII dog tag and War Department ID card, and a gold medallion given to him by the university upon his retirement. Two other things, though, I couldn’t part with: a level – yes, a small, rather beautiful wooden level found among my father’s tools. I can see him using it. A tool. That’s the item I most identified with my dad. He is and always has been, above all else, utilitarian. It is the object that I chose to hold on to. Maybe I think somehow I can level myself out with it, though God knows my dad was never “level” in any literal or figurative way. Even in this move he wavers from humble gratefulness to near hysteria over seeming minutiae. The second item, a set of aluminum measuring spoons. Think about measuring spoons. They represent the potential for beauty, perfection, deliciousness. That was my mother. She had such potential. Life crushed her, though. These are the same measuring spoons that remained in my mother’s (and father’s) kitchen for my entire life. I never knew her to use any others, while I am on at least my third, if not fourth set of measuring spoons. Measuring spoons, you know, are held together, hooked inescapably to their partners, for better or worse, for eternity. I thought about these spoons in my mother’s hand as I held them in mine. And so, the spoons. I ask myself, when the time comes, what of my stuff will my children want? What will mean something to them? Remind them of me? I don’t know myself, just yet. What do I want them to associate with me? A point to ponder. So many things are obvious: my wedding ring, family heirlooms (or as Dad always called them “hair-looms.” But what of the not-so-obvious? What common household item would they one day hold in their hands and think, “Mom”? –

See more at: http://fledabrown.com/2015/03/guest-wobbly-from-my-sister/#sthash.5f5hYA2M.dpuf