Nursing Home Saga, continued

vinebridges
Two days ago I brought Jack home from the nursing home. He stayed ten nights, ten days, twelve hours and eighteen minutes. Or so he informed me. The decision to admit him to a nursing home after rotator cuff surgery on his right shoulder was a difficult one, a choice he and I made together.
Turns out we based that decision on incorrect information. Several of our basic premises were wrong, therefore our conclusion was flawed.
How’s that for hiding the emotional trauma of the decision behind a wall of logic?
The care in the home was not what Jack or I anticipated, but the main trauma, for me and for Jack, was in his being in a place where 90% of the people in residence would, had they been beloved family pets, been gently euthanized. In truth, were it in my power to prevent, I would not leave my worst enemy in a situation like that. To abandon my husband to such a place was simply impossible.
Please notice that the previous sentence contains the clause, “were it in my power to prevent.” As it turns out, escape from a nursing home is a strong motivator for a person to learn to do for themselves, with one trembling hand, that which one wouldn’t believe could be accomplished. Jack learned to care for himself. Slowly. Clumbsily. But he figured it out. If he had not been able and willing to do so, no matter how anguished I felt over him being there, I could not have brought him home.
The decision to place someone we love in the care of strangers can emotionally gut us, leave us broken and wounded. For some, this decision is the only possible solution to the diminishing capacity of spouse or parent. No one makes the decision lightly, and no matter that they know it is impossible to care for this person without endangering both themselves and the loved one – still, there is guilt and a deep feeling of having failed. If you are in this position you have my deepest sympathy and complete understanding.
As for Jack and I, we got lucky. Again.
Life did mess with us just a bit. I brought Jack home on Wednesday afternoon. Within an hour of walking in the house, both of his feet were painfully swollen and he could not lift himself from a chair or bed or walk.
All that self-sufficiency that had been the very basis for me bringing him home, flew right out the freaking window.
He could not move without help, could not take care of his toilet needs.
I admit, I panicked a bit.
Every single friend and relative I have (except my sister who worked for years in assisted living and nursing homes) advised me not to bring Jack home. These folks are fond of Jack. They love me. When I spent two weeks in the hospital a few months ago they lifted me up with their love and support and rescued me from death. And, honestly, caring for Jack (and this was pre-shoulder surgery) is one of the reasons I ended up in the hospital to begin with.
I understand their point.
So, when less than two hours after springing Jack from the nursing home, he could no longer care for himself, it was not a good moment.
But necessity and the stubborn refusal to admit when we’ve made a mistake have carried Jack and I into and through countless adventures in our years together.
We survived the night.
Thursday morning I took him into the VA emergency room.
Gout. He has gout.
They gave him medication and a wheelchair.
This is Saturday and he is walking again. Shuffling slow, but ambulatory and able to get up and down from his chair and bed and to and from the toilet on his own. His pain level has dropped from a ten to a two.
Will I be able to keep him out of a nursing home for the rest of his life? I do not know. But I will do my best to keep him with me for as long as I can. The gout flare-up was a sharp reminder to both of us of just how razor thin and swaying is this bridge we’ve patched together to carry us over the canyon of aging.
For now, we’re together, holding hands, and we’re not looking down.

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Aging Warrior

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Yesterday I checked Jack into a nursing home. For the first time in the twenty-five years, I cannot care for him and keep him safe.
Through all of our adventures together – scuba diving, backpack travel around Asia, dragging a trailer the length of Mexico and parking it under a grass-roofed palapa on the beach, moving to the Republic of Panama with two giant service dogs strapped to our wrists, riding out a hurricane in a cement block room in the Yucatan – through it all, Jack has bulled and laughed and maneuvered his way through some damn tough spots.
This time is different.
He can no longer bull his way past the effects of the stroke he had four years ago.
Laughing in the face of tremors and dizziness and chronic falls does not save him from the pain of the impact.
His maneuvering cannot stop the creep of dementia.
Six months ago he fell for the thirteenth time in a few months, banged up his entire right side, bruised his knee, ankle, and ribs, and tore his rotator cuff. Everything healed, more or less, except the shoulder.
Finally overcome by the constant pain, he agreed to go in and allow the surgeon to stitch and bind and do his best to repair the damage to the tendon and joint.
At 320 pounds, Jack is almost twice my size. His left side never recovered fully from the stroke and he has limited use of his hand and arm. The stroke took his gag reflex causing him to cough and aspirate liquid and requiring him to eat slowly and carefully. His legs, which were the most affected by that landmine he stepped on outside Danang in ’65, can no longer lift him from a sitting or reclining position. He uses his right arm to get up and down from a chair or bed.
All of these challenges meant that, after the rotator cuff surgery, with his right arm strapped to his chest, there was no way I could care for him at home. It took a very long time to convince the VA that this was true. But with the help of several good people within the Fayetteville VA system, those in charge finally looked away from their computer screens and saw Jack. Bureaucrats and social workers agreed that he could not possibly go home to be cared for during recovery by one crazy-assed woman who loves him madly but is still, only one woman.
So, yesterday, after his surgery, the nurses helped me get him loaded in the car and I drove him thirty minutes up the mountain and checked him into the VA approved nursing home. He will be there about five weeks – until he regains the use of his right hand and arm.

I found the home to be a perfectly nice place. As long as I didn’t allow myself empathy for the old folks sleeping in wheelchairs with their mouths hanging open, or staring blankly at walls, or calling out to me as I hurried past with a sleep apnea machine under my arm, medical paraphernalia slung over my shoulder, and the five sets of clothing marked with the name of the man who is my husband dragging behind me in the suitcase that has seen better adventures.
I have had a few moments of grief in my life. Few people get to be my age without knowing the pain of losing someone or something dear to them. Kissing Jack good-bye and leaving him in the care of strangers is certainly right up there in the top two or three. It was all I could do not to go back in and load him up and bring him home. Even knowing I could not care for him the way he needs while recovering, even understanding that trying to do so would be dangerous to him and to me – still it was difficult to drive away.
I got a call from him this morning saying they tried to put him on a liquid diet. He managed to get himself to the administrator and she arranged for him to have sausage and eggs for breakfast. The old guy in the bed next to him keeps the room too hot so they are moving Jack to another room. And my dear husband has bribed one of the nurses to bring him a milkshake when she comes back from lunch.
I think he’s going to weather this latest adventure just fine.

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Tribute to Chesty

Chesty

Jack and I brought Chesty home as a six week old pup. He was about ten pounds then – a small, black, yellow-eyed whirlwind of mischief and energy.

Within hours Jack and I looked at each other and said, “What have we done?”
We lived in the Arizona desert at that time. Each morning we sat on the back porch, sipped coffee and watched the rabbits, roadrunners, horned toads, and the occasional snake hop, run, scoot and slither across the yard. Within hours of our first morning with Chesty there was not an animal, bird, or reptile to be seen. The dog had the prey drive of a deranged wolf and the single-mindedness of a heat-seeking missile. All any animal, wind-blown-newspaper, or raptor had to do was move and here came Chesty, tongue flopping, eyes gleaming in hot pursuit.
Nothing to chase? No problem. He found a plastic bucket, rammed his head inside and ran in circles at top speed until colliding with a mesquite tree or cactus. Rescued, he immediately found the bucket, leaped up onto the table to retrieve it, and promptly stuck his head inside again.
Each evening at 9:10 sharp, he woke from a nap and ran through the house at top speed, skidding at corners, biting Jack’s toe at each pass around the recliner.
On a walk, he jumped in circles, bit the leash, attempted to chase anything that moved faster than a dead tortoise. When he was about a nine months, he and I were on one of our five mile hikes – an attempt to burn off a smidgen of his energy – when he began his routine of jumping up and biting the lead. I forced him to sit. To down. To stay. Waited for his eyes to lose their mischievous sparkle. Began to walk again. He jumped up and bit the lead just below my hand. I stopped. Made him sit. Lie down. Get calm. We began again.
Twelve times we did this routine.
I began to be frustrated and angry and this, of course, fed his energy.
In desperation, I tied his lead to a cyclone fence and walked away, turned my back on him. An attempt to get control of my own emotions as well as to teach him that his disruptive behavior would be ignored. Chesty, of course, immediately jumped up and bit the lead, hanging a foot or so off the ground by his teeth, all four feet churning the air as he twisted from side-to-side.
Great fun.
Until a load of prisoners being transported to jail saw the squirming dog, and pounded on the windows of their bus, drawing the attention of the driver – a county sheriff. The sheriff pulled the vehicle over, strutted back to me.
“You! Did you hang that dog from the fence?”
Chesty, his focus now shifted to the big guy with the gun on his hip, dropped to the ground and, stubby tail wagging in tight circles, eyes sparkling, made ready to leap upon his newest prey.
“No,” I said, “will that make him behave?”
Readers of Boogie with Chesty and Clueless Gringos in Paradise know that, with much love, and training, and persistence, Chesty became Jack’s Post-traumatic Stress service dog. The dog saved Jack’s life. Simple as that. If you don’t believe me, read Boogie with Chesty.
We had three female cane corsos as well over the years. Velvet and Rocca and Lacy. All three girls bossed our boy around most of the time, though Chesty would get between the females and give a look that generally calmed things down if the three got out of hand. When the girls hit puberty, Lacy, the smallest and most dominant of the three, decided the other two should recognize her rule. Velvet and Rocca had other ideas. There came a day when, Chesty outside in the front yard, the girls in the house, Lacy physically attacked Velvet. Jack, in an attempt to break up the two females, got his hand between snapping teeth and was bitten.
Chesty barked and leaped through the single-pane window that separated the front yard from the living room and broke up the fight. Jack had several stitches and we gave Lacy to a wonderful older man who loved her so much he told us, “If she could cook, I’d marry her.”
Service dogs are usually retired at about six year of age. Chesty walked beside Jack for almost twelve years before he finally gave up his job. His last couple of years, he grew slower. His girls both died of bone cancer. A year ago, I looked out the window and watched a rabbit hop past him, saw Chesty turn, catch sight of the bunny, calculate his chances of catching him, and simply let the furry hopper go on about his day. Last year, for a month or so, an armadillo took up residence in our backyard. Chesty would lie beside the lumbering Hoover hog as the animal clawed at the grass, ripping up bugs. I figured Chesty missed his girls and enjoyed the company.
Last Wednesday night, Chesty, at the ripe old age of fourteen, fell and that was the final blow to his old hips. The vet came to the house Thursday morning and, with me stretched on the floor beside him and Jack in a chair with his hands on Chesty’s head, we held him as he died.
I promised him his girls, Rocca and Velvet, were waiting for him, asked him to be there for me when my time comes to cross over.
Jack cussed the vet for not bringing enough medication to put him down along with his best friend.

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You’re Not the Boss of Me

No woman can expect to be regarded as a lady after she has written a book –Lydia Maria Francis Child (paraphrase) 1802-1880

Don’t air your dirty laundry in public — Mom

Yes, that’s right. Another blog post from me. Nothing for months and then two posts in one week. I am neither moderate nor consistent, nor do I strive to be.
Recent events have set me to thinking about censorship, and before your heart sets to racing and you start forming rebuttals in your mind, let me assure you that I am NOT speaking of censorship in the word’s legal definition. I’m talking about personal, internal censorship.
Artists of all stripes – and writers in particular – hate censorship. It’s our C word.
To write anything, and I do mean anything , from a sweet story of a mother loving her child, to the chilling mother/child relationship in Mike Miller’s Murderous – to write at all – requires exposing our innermost selves to strangers. To reveal ourselves day after day requires that we guard against any and all who seek to shut our mouths, close our minds, dictate what is and is not acceptable.
I’m talking about censorship as a mental state.
Let me give you an example.
A few months ago I posted a blog about my grandmother, one of the most important people in my life as a child. Grandma was a smart, funny, nurturing woman. She valued me, listened to me, encouraged me. She was also an alcoholic. The point of the post was that people are never all good or all bad. That we love people for who they are, not what we want them to be. That perfection is not a prerequisite for love.
A week or so after that blog post, I received a letter from my mother in which she said, among other things, “Your grandmother would be so disappointed in you. Thank God she died or she’d be crying right now. Never write about me or anyone in our family again.”
That is censorship.
Is it legal for my mother to make the request? Of course.
Is it understandable that she did so? Absolutely.
Is it possible to accept this edict and still write? No.
No, no, no, a thousand times no.
Because to write anything at all, from a love scene, to a fight scene, to a tender story of mother and child, we must draw upon personal experience. There is no way to write except to expose ourselves to the reader, dig deep and re-experience that first kiss, first love, first lust. Allow ourselves to fall, once again, into grief or rise up into joy.
And the second we allow that internal voice of censorship to whisper in our ear or shout in our face, we stop growing as writers, I suspect we stunt our growth as humans. The creative process cannot survive worry about the reaction of others to our words. Internal censorship kills the ability to tell the truth, demands that we twist and mutilate the past in order to avoid offending the reader.
Many of the skills required to be a writer can be learned. We can be taught to rattle off our opinion on the Oxford comma, to rail against passive voice, or falling out of point of view. The ability to reject censorship – that is a personal journey, one on which we must embark if we are to become tellers of tall tales and revealers of truth.

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Hillbilly Revolution

Originally posted on Pamela Foster:

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When Jack and I strapped the leashes of Chesty and Rocca to our wrists, came out of retirement in the lovely tropical country of Panama, and returned to the USA – specifically to Northwest Arkansas – our families and friends were flummoxed.
“You’re moving to the Ozarks? Isn’t that hillbilly country?”
“Well, at least you’ll save money on dental care. Fit right in when those teeth just fall right out.”
“Seriously? The Ozarks? Are you crazy?”
Since we heard the exact same incredulous tones when we moved to Mexico, and when we immigrated it Panama, neither Jack nor I argued with the stereotype, but neither were we swayed. There is no stronger bias than that which is based on unsubstantiated beliefs.

Click on cover to purchase from Amazon. Click on cover to purchase from Amazon.

Besides, we had those two giant mastiffs to worry about getting back onto the passenger section of a Delta jet in order…

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Beware the Tums

You may have noticed it’s been a while since I posted a new essay on this blog. Or maybe you haven’t noticed at all. At any rate, I was in the hospital for two weeks and am still recovering. That’s my excuse.
I keep trying to write an explanation of what happened to me, but honestly other people’s health issues are as interesting as mud, so I’m going to share with you two details and then we’ll move on to more entertaining posts.
• I almost died from taking too many Tums
And, moving on to the interesting part,
• When you have calcium poisoning, you hallucinate. A lot.
An entire village of people visited with me during this time, but the two whose company I enjoyed the most were a stoic, white-faced geisha and a Samurai whose face was a roadmap of pain and suffering. The geisha’s kimono and the Samurai’s armor were both heavily decorated in shiny gold, glowing silver, and flashing gems. The intricate details of their attire morphed and twisted and became an entire universe of beasts and forests and interlocking mazes.
There were other beings around too, however, and these others looked like ordinary men and women. Nice folks who crept close, spoke pleasantly, and peered into my soul before dropping their masks and revealing their true, evil natures. I did not enjoy the company of these individuals. Especially as it was so difficult to separate them from the doctors and nurses who drifted in and out of my room at all hours. I kept thinking of the line Stephen King stole and put to such good use.
“Is it real or is it Memorex?”
Here’s what I learned from my adventure through the terrifying world of hallucinations:
• Don’t ignore your health, no matter how busy you are, no matter how much someone else is depending on your to care for them, stop your life and see a doctor if you have a chronic medical issue. Like heartburn. Oh. And never, ever take more than two Tums a day. You might get unlucky and end up with a body that just decides not to eliminate excess calcium but to collect the chalky stuff in order to dish up fascinating and terrifying hallucinations on its way to killing you dead.
And even more important:
• Evil, Memorex or ‘real’, cannot be defeated with hatred. Nor will anger do more than fatten the fear so that it grows stronger, and ever more powerful. No. When one walks through the valley of the shadow of death, the only way to defeat evil is to become a conduit of God’s love and acceptance. Light defeats darkness. Every single time.

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The Week of Darkness

“Mercedes Benz”
Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz ?
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,
So Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz ?

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a color TV ?
Dialing For Dollars is trying to find me.
I wait for delivery each day until three,
So oh Lord, won’t you buy me a color TV ?

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town ?
I’m counting on you, Lord, please don’t let me down.
Prove that you love me and buy the next round,
Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a night on the town ?

Black Friday has become The Week of Darkness.

I don’t know about you, but I have far more things than I need or that are good for me.

Therefore, this Christmas I’m not buying gifts for you, my friends and family, and I’m asking you not to buy anything for me. Oh, none of you have been naughty. In fact, most of you have filled my year with joy and lifted me up when I’ve fallen. Some of you have very nearly smothered me in advice and love and concern. I thank God for showing me His love through you.

Most of us are generous with our gifts to those less economically fortunate during this season. We do what we can to keep Christ in Christmas, some of us work to keep God in Hanukkah, others strive to keep the teaching of Mohammad in Ramadan.

This year I challenge each and every one of you to double your efforts to feed the hungry, to help those in pain, to reach out to those who are having a year that’s maybe not quite as great as ours has been. We all have good intentions. But, sometimes we think about making that donation, or reaching out to that lost soul, but end up just dropping an extra five in the Salvation Army Santa’s red bucket and trying to feel good about our generosity.

This year I challenge us all to donate to one of the causes listed below, or to post one of your own favorite charities in the comments section. Please, share with me what you’re doing this year to keep this season one of joy and spirituality in the best sense of those overused words.

Soldier on Service Dogs provides trained service dogs for veterans with post-traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury.

Toys for Tots  Check out this video and donate, please.

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