Thursday, January 30, 2014

Doctor, My Eyes

I’ve been in a place where time crawls and every day unfurls like the one before it.

My dad entered a nursing home.

How long he’ll remain there, I don’t know and neither do the doctors, nurses, and aides caring for him.

My youngest sister asked why I haven’t blogged about our dad’s trip to the hospital, hospital stay, and subsequent transfer to the nursing home. “You can’t say we haven’t given you lots of material.”

I have an ambulance-load of material, but most of it isn’t mine to share. Someday, bits will come out, heavily fictionalized. Names, places, and events will change. Meanwhile, the emotions unleashed by the experience: fear, frustration, gratitude, and love have elbowed their way into my work in progress. Those emotions may be second cousins to the ones I’ve experienced, but they demand to be acknowledged and included.

Here’s something I can share: When my brother, sisters, and I get together, we may start out serious, but wisecracks can’t be denied for long. The first time laughter broke out in my dad’s room at the nursing home, it seemed inappropriate, but then I remembered jokes and teasing formed the background music of our years at our family home. Laughter is an appropriate sound for my dad to hear.

When it comes to teasing, I’m an easy target, and my sibs don’t let me forget it. On day, my youngest sister drove to the nursing home with me as a passenger. She bypassed a free parking space in the coveted visitors-only strip close to the entrance and parked in the back lot, next to a snowdrift. The day before, I’d counted myself lucky to snag a space in the coveted strip. When I asked my sister why she didn’t take the close-in space, she acted surprised by the question. “I save those spots for the old men and women who are visiting friends or relatives.” That answer made me squirm over my selfishness. “Ahh,” I said. 

Two days later, I sailed past one of the empty coveted spaces to park in the back, next to a patch of black ice. I, too, would save the good spots for old people. My middle sister must have spotted me in the lot’s far corner, and, once we were warm and cozy in my father’s room, she asked why I’d parked so far from the entrance. I told her about our youngest sister’s Act of Kindness. Middle sister laughed and laughed. “She (youngest sister) parked in one of the good spots yesterday.” Punked

Here’s something else I can tell you: there are medical professionals doing outstanding jobs. At the hospital, a speech therapist did a swallow evaluation on my dad because he’d lost a lot of weight prior to his admission. She discovered everything he ate or drank was going down the wrong pipe. (Excuse my technical language.) Her discovery prolonged my dad’s life. Me, I discovered speech therapists do more than correct sibilant s’s and stutters.

Nurse Harry (name changed) explains what’s going on in language a layperson can understand and doesn’t sugarcoat anything.  I’m of the if-I-know-the-truth-I–can-deal-with-it school, so I appreciate that approach.  Nurse Elise (name changed) appears distant and shares information on a need-to-know basis. Initially, her manner ruffled me. When my father became disoriented, though, she swung into action to make sure he was getting enough oxygen. Now I value the strengths both nurses bring to their jobs.

I’ll share what I can in upcoming blog posts. As my youngest sister said, I have lots of material.

Have you lost track of time during a friend or family member’s stay in a hospital or nursing home?

Have you laughed about illness to keep from crying?

How old does a person have to be to qualify for a close-to-the-entrance parking space? (I ask because I’m hoping to make the cut.)

Thursday, January 9, 2014

A Shiver in My Bones

Temperatures in Houston dipped into the twenties Monday night but climbed into the fifties yesterday. I am not gloating; I’m saying winters here are mild. Yes, we get the occasional hard freeze, but it’s short-lived. January gives us no cause for complaint.

Last week, the local temperature hit an almost sultry 55 when my brother-in-law texted me to say a major snowstorm was headed for his house in New Jersey. Major snowstorm? It wasn’t on my radar.

I turned on The Weather Channel, surprised to find it had interrupted regular programming for breaking news about Winter Storm Hercules. Uh-oh. A named storm? That’s never good. Sure enough, there was Jim Cantone, struggling to stay upright as winds buffeted Boston.

Before I went to bed, I pulled an extra blanket from the linen closet. I live 1,800 miles from Boston in an area blessed with balmy winters, yet my reptile brain had caught a glimpse of bundled-up Jim Cantone and demanded an extra blankie.

Then the polar vortex roared. Folks in Minneapolis-St. Paul endured 62 hours of below-zero temperatures. Chicagoans braved temps in the double digits below zero. I empathized and tossed on an extra sweater before dashing outside to pick up the morning paper. But wait! The weather I dashed into represents spring to Minnesotans. They wouldn’t have put on one sweater, never mind two.

Am I suggestible? Maybe, but a lot of people in south Texas watched coverage of the bitter cold and headed for the grocery store to stock up on non-perishables, bottled water, and batteries.  What? That was just me?

Television and Internet give those of us in the far South an inkling of the trouble arctic chills cause, and those of you in the North know summer heat in Texas wilts more than crops.  I want to be connected. Yes, I may scoff at some pre-storm coverage as hype, but it’s hard to argue with a camera that pans a snow-blanketed city street or the aftermath of a tornado.

Nothing froze at my house this week, but that doesn't stop me from anticipating the forecasted Big Thaw. Hang in there, Minneapolis!

Tell me I’m not alone. After you see footage of fires several states away, are you tempted to wet down your house’s roof? Do reports of hurricane force winds prompt you secure lawn furniture although you live hundreds of miles from the sea? Did you pull a puffy jacket from storage even though your local temps rarely drop below forty?