Friday, February 28, 2014

Report from Pillville: The Echocardiogram

Bad hearts run in my mother's family. Both of her parents died of heart attacks when they were in their 70s. One lingered in a hospital bed, the other dropped to the floor. He was dead when he hit, my mother is fond of saying about her father. Her oldest brother died of a heart attack when he was in his 50s. My mom herself has had a pacemaker for years, and has been on warfarin to keep the blood from pooling in her heart. It's all worked pretty swell. She hasn't had a heart attack or a stroke--so I guess things have gone according to plan. She will be 90 in September.

I've seen changes in her in the past year and a half that she's lived with me. She grew stronger at first. Quit smoking. Put on weight. But lately she's slowed down. She sleeps more. She has more pain. Her blood pressure fluctuates sometimes causing nausea and headaches. Mentally, she's slower too. Last night she asked me how to spell my first name. Most mornings it's a crap shoot as to how she'll wake up feeling--too queasy for coffee? Neck pain? Back pain? Head ache? Too wobbly to fix her own breakfast?

Today she had an echocardiogram and has other heart tests scheduled as well this month. Then there will be a consultation with the cardiologist. The echocardiogram is the rorschach test of diagnostic tools if you're like me with a wild imagination and not a fucking clue as to what the image on the screen actually shows. One minute, her beating hear looked liked a malevolent serpent opening and closing its mouth, (Heart valve? Ya got me.) and the next, this guy in his little pointy hat was in there beating his drum, first one arm rising up to strike the drum, then the other.

And then later it was a weather map in there. Red, yellow, blue. Colors swirling around like there's a hurricane brewing in her heart.

The next test is a type of stress test sans treadmill where she will be injected with some nuclear substance or another after fasting for four hours and foregoing the morning coffee, after which she will be expected to eat a fatty meal that we have brought with us--or we can go out to McDonald's for an Egg McMuffin---hahahaha, after which there will be more testing. The whole thing lasts 3-4 hours. Fasting for the blood test a couple of weeks ago sent us off to the ER with non-stop nausea and a splitting headache, so I asked the receptionist if this particular stress test was ever done in-patient in the hospital. "If the doctor orders it," she said. 
"Then I guess I'm asking the doctor to order it," I said. "I don't think my mom can handle the fasting--especially if she needs her pain meds."
"It's only four hours of fasting," she said. "And we don't need to administer pain meds for the test." I explained that my mother is routinely taking oxycodone and can't function without it. That I was most definitely requesting that the test be done as an in-patient in the hospital. She gave me a form to fill out--a tad bit grudgingly. And a little hurricane began brewing in my own heart.

The Power Goes Out in Margaritaville--Twice

In the torture chamber of beeps, I awoke (if you can call getting up after you've barely slept waking) to find the empty gelato container on my night stand. Yes, after the first onslaught of power outrage beeps, I confess that in my darkened but far from silent house, I mistook my need for peace and comfort for hunger on this first night in over a month with the man who loves me back at his own place.

Somehow in the dark freezer I found the container of pistachio on my first try. I'll have a spoonful while I set the battery lantern in my mom's bathroom, I thought. Another while I tuck an extra blanket around her.

And what is the point of the almost dead battery on the cordless phones continuing to beep? Wouldn't it conserve the battery if they just beeped once or twice? And the security system, doesn't its beep just make me feel more insecure? All of that thinking required more gelato until I sat with it my bed staring out at the dark water, knowing that any minute the Southern California Edison would text me a sincere apology. And that after that they would call expressing more remorse. They did, and I sat spooning the smooth green gelato into my mouth marveling at how light it still was from the car headlights passing by, and from the battery security lights in the offices across the water.

I dozed and then woke to the powering up chirps and beeps, the clack and sigh of my mother's oxygen machine. I dozed again until SCE let me know the power was back on--and they were sorry for the inconvenience (and would that be sorrow over the darkness and the beeping or sorrow over waking me with the texting and the phone call?)

And then it happened all over again, and I surrendered to the wind and the rain. I surrendered to the dark and the sound of my mother talking in her sleep. I surrendered to  myself alone in my bed, thinking back to the immediate aftermath of my divorce. Awake for days, and sleep still ruined months later when I finally moved out of the house and into my own place. I could not sleep in the silent emptiness. Sloshing with red wine, I'd load up the CD player and turn up the volume while my dogs waited for the completion of this ritual at the foot of the stairs, the climb feeling like forever, the grief feeling like forever.

And now this life on the water with my mother. With my heart full even when my bed is half-empty. Two more storms are coming, they say. Come wind. Come rain. Drench us out of this drought. I have vanilla ice cream and sea salt caramel gelato in the freezer.

this morning the water in the marina was so high it obscured the sign with the name of the street

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Pillville Residents Go to the Mall

You didn't want to see a photo of the mall, did you? So here's a picture of the tomatoes purchased at the farmer's market on Sunday.

Miracle Ear! Sears! Trying out the new wheelchair!

Are you excited yet? If not, I'm guessing you do more interesting things with your day, but here in Pillville an outing that includes all three of us (my mother, the man who loves me, and myself) is a rare occurrence.

I'm happy to report that my mom's hearing aids seem to be working a bit better. The new Miracle Ear technician is very handsome, and I suspect that, if through some miracle of shape shifting, I could become him, my mom might hear me a bit better. The new batteries and the cleaning will help too, no doubt.

During the visit from the in-home nurse this morning, we were advised to wheel my mom at least part of the trek to Miracle Ear due to her sudden blood pressure fluctuations, and that went well, too. The chair is just light enough for me to get it in and out of the hatch without a great effort.

I didn't do any shopping at the mall--which is just how I like it. Sometime in 2014, I hope to buy:
1) some new lingerie
2) a cardigan sweater
3) a couple of t-shirts that look nice with the cardigan sweater.
4) one of those fizzy water machines
5) a deck of yoga flash cards and a yoga book (on-line, probably, so I'm not sure this counts)
6) a tube of lipstick

I still have ten months to accomplish this. But I absolutely hate to shop with anyone, and I hate to just browse (unless it's a thrift store or a garage sale.) I prefer the get in and get out method of shopping.

The man who loves me researched new jeans at Sears. I tell him that he reminds me of Gandhi since the weight loss after his surgery--and if he doesn't get new jeans soon, he may look even more like him once his pants fall off. This smaller version of him makes me feel quite zaftig. 

I had a dream not too many months ago where we went to a Halloween costume party as John and Yoko. He was Yoko and I was John.

If we were to go to a Halloween party this year, we could give this a try:

Looks to me like she's a bit heavier than he is.

Wednesday Morning Beach Report

Rain Predicted

Sky like chalk above a silken sea
Pelicans, sharp strokes of ink 
as the sun struggles through

And now all residents of Pillville head to the mall. Story at 11:00.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Tuesday Morning Beach Report: Blue on Blue

Seriously, this is reality.

Today is one of those southern California mornings when I fee a certain responsibility to get the word out. Walk here if you have to. Crawl over the Rockies on hands and knees. This is what awaits.

And when you get here you can walk on water.

I don't know why the sky looks yellow in this photo. It was really the blue of the photo above.

And there's treasure on the beach!

Note the new color: Salmon pink

Monday, February 24, 2014

Report from Pillville: The hospital bed, the wheel chair, the companion

photo of my mom after her birthday trip to Maryland last September

On my second day of trying, I believe that a hospital bed is working its way through the bureaucracy to my mother. It may or may not be accompanied by a hospital bedside tray table. The transfer (or is is transport or transit?) wheel chair is another story. Medicare does not seem to provide those--or maybe they do, and the agency in my area that "won the bid" is just too dysfunctional to provide one. Anyhow-- I bought the damn chair so I can get my mother to Miracle Ear (oh, if only their hearing aids were actually miraculous) on Wednesday. The trek through Sears to its remotest corner where Miracle Ear is housed is another of the inexplicable inconveniences of old age--and will be impossible if she's having a bad day.

I have a phone call in to an agency that provides a free 1-hour consultation with a lawyer to help me figure out the ins and outs of paying a companion for my mother since the IRS information sheet on paying a domestic employee is devoid of plot and character and poetry, and therefore cannot be read by me. I have an email into the CPA that does my taxes regarding the same issues, and meanwhile I'm concocting a story whereby we just pay this wonderful woman under the table in cash, and I cook the books here in Margaritaville to "prove" that we've been ordering expensive take out every night on my mom's dime. If she has to eventually go into a nursing home,  food would be a permissible spend down of her savings, and making it look like we eat caviar and lobster (so easy to chew!) every night seems preferable to actually figuring out withholding and Social Security and how to file Schedule H with her taxes when her income is so minuscule that she hasn't filed taxes in years.

Oh, and I have to check something about accidents and domestic employees on my homeowner's insurance policy, but it's too late to do this this evening, so I think I'll just get drunk. My sciatica which was kicked up a week or so ago by lifting a regular wheel chair in and out of my hatch 3 times is killing me. So yeah, I'm calling out for some caviar right now. If you want to come over and join us, give a call so I get enough for all of us. Oh and yeah, there'll be martinis, too. We're switching to the expensive gin.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Better than This

Right now, right here the man who loves me is playing music in my living room with a friend. The thump of his bass is pulsing upstairs into my bedroom where I sit at my desk letting it come through my feet and into my body like a heartbeat.
My life has never been better than this.

My mom is sitting at the dining room table with her bowl of Rice Chex and her strawberries that were probably grown a mile from here. Maybe she hears the music; maybe she only feels the pulse of it. She tells them they're very good and that they should start a band. They are a band, I tell her when I come down to warm up my tea.

The water outside my back door is barely moving, it seems. But the tide flows in and out in the marina, too, and right now, right here that water is imperceptibly higher or lower than when I started this post.

All of us in this house are breathing in and breathing out. A breath older. A heartbeat farther. The musicians breathe in and out comes song. I breathe in and out come words. My mom breathes in, and sometimes the out breaths are moans--but right now she's quiet. Maybe she's back in her room breathing out snowflakes.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Thursday Morning Beach Report/Report from Pillville

Sanderlings before flight

Sanderlings take flight
white bellies flashing, then swoop
A turn to gray backs.

I learned the ins and outs of medical equipment rental today. Medicare awards contracts through a bidding process to the businesses that provide this stuff. I thought I could swoop into any medical equipment rental place with the prescriptions that the doctor had written and simply make arrangements to have a hospital bed, a bedside tray table, and a wheel chair delivered, and Medcare would cover it. Nope. And it turns out that the place with the Medicare contract in my area has beds, but no wheelchairs. They have the contract for both, but are "out of chairs and won't get any more." I'm still trying to unravel what that means--and will find out--if the place calls me back. They've never heard of anyone getting a bedside table.

The way we handle health care in this country never ceases to puzzle me. How do old people ever figure this stuff out?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Wednesday Morning Beach Report and Other Extraordinary Things

The islands only a memory.
Gray one direction. Sun breaking through the other.
No stun of blue.
Only gulls. No curlews, or willets, or godwits.
Ordinary beauty. Ordinary day.
If you believe in ordinary.
I don't think I do.

Last night the man who loves me and I got taken out to a ukelele concert. I expected a rather ordinary evening--me somewhat lost in a sea of Hawaiian shirts. Instead  this happened, and it was extraordinary.

This afternoon was extraordinary too. "I don't think I've ever been half naked in my kitchen before," I said to the massage therapist as I got up off her portable table. The man who loves me, my mom (15-minute chair massage) and I all had massages today.

And the massage therapist told us about THIS--which I found to be extraordinary too.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014


Accompanying the man who loves me to the oncologist yesterday, it felt like a lonely trudge through the dark parking garage to the elevators. We got lost looking for the second set of elevators that led to the office wing of the hospital and ended up at the hallway that led to the maternity floor. There was a cluster of people holding a bunch of balloons, and for a second I envisioned a sign with diverging arrows: LIFE/DEATH.

But when we opened the door to the oncologist's office, the waiting area was bursting with people and a hum of conversation. It didn't feel dark and lonely at all. ALL of these people have cancer,  I thought. It was both alarming and weirdly comforting. And the realization that followed was even more comforting. It wasn't true at all that everyone in the waiting room had cancer. Each patient was there with someone. When a names was called, groups of threes and fours went through the door that led to the exam rooms. We needed a maître d'--"Party of three to exam room #1"--not a receptionist. Which made me think of this:

The title of this print by Balinese artist, I Made Arya Dwita Dedok, is Stronger
I own this artwork, and it hangs on my living room wall. I met the ARTIST at a residency at the Vermont Studio Center.

We are carried along by so many others, and I think the willingness to be carried makes us stronger--not weaker. I was able to spend the day away from home because daughter M was with my mom. And we also enjoyed the first day with Rosa--a woman who may become a regular companion for my mother. The comfort and help from M and Rosa infuses me with strength, and I give thanks for it.

Monday, February 17, 2014

How to Predict your Future: Write a Story?

I love serendipity and co-incidence. Who doesn't? People fall in love serendipitously. Adoptees and birth parents reunite. Long lost siblings find one another. Old photos and prized possessions of the long dead get returned to loved ones. I'm brought to tears by stories that are powered by coincidence or serendipity when I come across them in newspapers and magazines.

I've written about some lesser serendipitous events of mine on this blog--like THIS. Recently, a   STORY of mine that was published has caused me to consider co-incidence in a more internal context. The story was first drafted in the spring of 2011 while at a writer's residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. It was more than a year later that I brought my mother to California to live with me, so I did not write the story with any daily close observation of my mother or any woman in her 80s. The medical-alert button that Addie (the woman in the story) wears/refuses to wear  was not an item I had any first-hand knowledge of while writing the story--or when the story was first send out to literary magazines a few months ago (I am a very slow worker)--or even by the time it was accepted for publication. But when the story appeared in Fiction Fix, my mom was wearing a Phillips Lifeline button, and having a particularly rough week that required some quick study on my part on the differences between hospice and in-home nursing care.

My mom, this evening, seems to be rallying. A martini was involved.

I find it rather un-nerving, though, that the week I had a story published wherein the 80-something protagonist dies is also the week that my mother was at her most frail. Coincidence.

I write things down that move me. A visual impression. A quote. A scene. Anything and everything. I have hundreds of not-very-well organized notecards. How they get combined to make a story is its own weird kind of serendipity. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Meditation and Poetry

buffleheads in the marina

Traditions of deliberate attention to consciousness, and of making poems, are as old as humankind. Meditation looks inward, poetry holds forth. One is private, the other is out in the world. One enters the moment, the other shares it. But in practice it is never entirely clear which is doing which. In any case, we do know that in spite of the contemporary public perception of meditation and poetry as special, exotic, and difficult, they are both as old and as common as grass. The one goes back to essential moments of stillness and deep inwardness, and the other to the fundamental impulse of expression and presentation.

- Gary Snyder, “Just One Breath”

Now, If I could just shut my mouth and remember to breathe instead of talk.
Coming across this piece in Tricycle Magazine made me remember that the only library book I ever stole was by Gary Snyder. It might have been  "Practice of the Wild." I didn't mean to steal it. I just didn't want to give it back.

Here in Margaritaville/Pillville these days, it seems to require a stolen moment to blog. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Begin Anywhere

Begin like this:

It wasn't a dream. The footprint in the hallway was real. The rubber glove in the driveway was real.

Or begin with my mother screaming at 1:00 a.m.
Or after we tuck her into bed, home from the hospital at 6:00 a.m. Or begin when the ER doctor tells me he's sending her home because nothing is wrong and I mutter something I am too chagrined to see in print here.

Or begin yesterday when I walked on the beach (thanks to the man who loves me and his caregiving of my mother) and forget everything else because it's over, and we're back in our never-a-routine-for-long routine. Or begin with the dead fish on the sand, the birds plucking out the parts they like best--or the dead sea lion.

Or begin with laughter. "Like kittens on opiates," the man who loves me says the day before yesterday as he and my mother and I straggle into the car. Wheelchair in. Wheelchair out. Repeat. Repeat.

Begin with the word hospice. Then,  no--unsay it because the doctor and my mom and I all agreed to start with in-home nursing care.

Begin right now. Because everything seems like a beginning to me.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

You know you're in trouble when: are googling "weekend pain clinic" in the wee hours of a Sunday morning
2....there are not enough microwave hot packs in the house stupidly decide to have ice cream and gingersnaps for breakfast and your stomach rebels feel sorry for yourself when it's your mother who woke screaming in pain at 1:00 a.m. close all the shades so you can't see the water

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Me 'n Kobe

Yesterday the man who loves me told me I was the Kobe Bryant of caregiving. I don't always play well with others, but look what I can do with the ball. 

I think I'd trade my record-breaking career achievements for a team. Tryouts are next week. If you expect me to pass you the ball, let's hear some talking out there. Let me know you're open. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

How to Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask

Self care has been my foundation ever since my mother moved in with me. I try to begin every day with either a yoga or a t'ai chi chih class followed by a walk on the beach. After that I devote myself to whatever my mom and our household needs. There have been many mornings when my regular scheduled programming has been preempted, but more often than not, I've made it to the gym, if not always to the sand. Since November, the tide has been turning. This past week, and the previous couple of weeks when the man who loves me was in the hospital for his lung cancer surgery, self-care simply had to come second. It's been all right. In fact, due to the support of friends and daughter M, and the man's family, it has actually been smoother than I could have imagined. Self care can take a back seat when others are caring for you.

This evening I'm sitting in the ER with my mom waiting for her to be admitted to the hospital. She was fine this morning, and then she wasn't. Thursday morning we were in the ER too. We were here at the beginning of January. And there were ER trips and hospitalizations in November and December. I've lost track. I had to check this blog when the doctor in the ER this afternoon asked me about her visit on January 7th. You mean the 31st, I said.

I experience a weird surge of relief when my mom gets admitted. The last time I went directly to a fabulous cafe for lunch. And I believe that evening I took myself out to a rather pricey place for dinner. Tonight there will be  no such frivolity with the man at my place recuperating. But I think I'll go home and make popcorn. He'll probably be in bed, but I plan to fan the smell of fresh popcorn up the stairs. If he wakes up,I'll tell him how much I love him. And before I leave here for the night, I'll tell my mom how much I love her. The telling of love is one of the ways I take care of myself.