Thursday, January 30, 2014

Report from Pillville: the ER, the pharmacist, the nightmares, and the nose

I used to travel.

Let me begin by suggesting that you read  THIS. I had two dogs and two cats then. All of them getting older with a myriad of problems. By some stroke of incredible luck my lovely niece and her fiancĂ© were willing to pet sit while I was out of town for weeks. I think I may have gone to Greece.

I may be completely under the control of an overactive ego, but I'm pretty sure I am now irreplaceable. My human "patients" can not be sated by meds tucked into jerky treats.

The man who loves me had a typical rocky night last evening. Up and down with opiate nightmares and pain. Last night was night six post-hospital. He's in command enough now that I pretty much roll over and sleep through most of his getting in and out of bed. Guiltily. But I have no musical talent. I cannot paint or draw or design costumes. Sudoku is a mystery. I am, however, the world champion of sleeping. So I do what I am good at.

The plan this morning was that I would go off to the blood lab with my mom for a routine blood draw and leave him alone for an hour. Which turned into four hours because after she threw up in the wastebasket at the blood lab and complained of a splitting headache, I drove her to the hospital. The man did fine while my mom was rehydrated, given anti-nausea meds and some morphine. I did less well while there in the ER cubicle, fantasizing about nursing homes in Iowa while I simultaneously trembling at the thought that she might be dying. My own heart was racing, and I wondered about the physical toll on me  of all these ER visits. For my mother, a CT scan of the  head. X-ray of chest. Swab of nose to test for flu. EKG. And a paper cup of water for me. It turned out my mother was fine. Maybe a stomach virus, they said.

And when we got home, I found her morning meds still in her pillbox. She interpreted her orders to fast for her blood test as no water--and so did not take her pills. Which would explain her to the moon blood pressure this morning. Closer oversight on my part is now required.

While my mom slept most of the day, the man and I sat on the couch calling his doctors and the insurance folks. How to get his check-up x-ray here in the county where he is recuperating instead of in L.A. county. What do the instructions "take 3 times a day" really mean. What is the difference between hydrocodone, oxycodone, and oxycontin? Is there any difference at all between Percocet and Norco? His eureka moment that the reason he isn't sleeping is his nose. And that he needs antihistamines.

I was thrilled to manipulate a trip to the pharmacy into a dusk walk (only a tad guiltily) under billowing clouds  to discuss the nose with pharmacist, who, after considering the myriad of meds, cautioned against antihistamines.

Somehow we all managed to eat dinner together. And now I sit here on the couch with the one remaining resident of the old Pleasure Palace and Pet Hospice. Piper, the ancient cat, just sneezed. But she's okay. Nearing 100 in human years, she's heartier, I believe, than the human residents of this house. My mother is in her room murmuring, the man upstairs searching for a way to comfortably breathe while his body adjusts to the absence of a section of his left lung. I am neither murmuring, nor missing a body part. My body is not racked with pain. And I know that I am kidding myself when I say that I am irreplaceable. I could go nuts and hop a plane to Greece tomorrow, and love and care from others would fill the void. Love and its path of least resistance. I bow down to the love. I bow down to the path.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Wednesday Morning Beach Report/Winter in Southern California

Wave devours wave as fishermen joust toward the surf

and empty lifeguard stations stand sentry as squadrons of pelicans disappear into the haze.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Healing Meals

This is just marvelous, the man who loves me says when he sits down to dinner. He smiles at his plate  and gets a faraway dreamy look on his face. Tonight, day four out of the hospital, we had salmon poached in vermouth with dill and roasted cauliflower with sweet red peppers, garlic, and onions. Last night it was spinach and onion quiche (and 2 strips of bacon for that comfort food feel.) Side dishes were squash and beet greens with garlic, sesame oil, and peanuts. The night before that was meatloaf and sweet potatoes and a green salad. The first night home was lentil soup and sourdough bread. He's been so enthusiastic that I feel I'm now my own hard act to follow. Tomorrow night I might have to make this:

Before word gets out that I am a very lazy cook.

From the children's book "A Medieval Feast" written and illustrated by Aliki,

Saturday, January 25, 2014

How to Heal

First this happened.

And yesterday, after nine days in the hospital, this. Welcome home committee included Piper, the ancient cat.

Tonight there was even a little music.

The daughter of the man who loves me is staying here, too--and that has been the silver lining--getting to know her a bit. Today she slept and rested most of the day. The relief crash. I'm feeling it, too. The sweet slowdown. The knowing (as much as we can know) that this will all be okay.

We are all burrowed in. Heads full of song. Bellies full of meatloaf. Present full of wellness.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Welcome to the Hotel California

2007: The 30-year marriage ended. Husband ensconced with a 34-year-old. Somewhere in the timeline that ensued, I'm  pretty sure I told everyone that all I wanted was dinner and sex (not necessarily in that order) and a sign to hang on my bathroom door that said "Check-out time 12 noon." A lot has happened since then.

Tomorrow the man who loves me will move in temporarily while he recuperates from lung cancer surgery. Everything is so fucking temporary. You are temporary. I am temporary. And yet,  we are permanent, too. If I had a sign to hang on my bathroom door now, maybe it would say, "Welcome to the Hotel California. You can check out any time you want, but you can never leave."

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Post Holiday Beach Report/Love Letter

On this page we call today is a sky of chalk rubbed pale,
a lone surfer,
the morning soft and cool.
There will be dolphins, I said, and

there were-- tinted green in the translucent curtain of a wave's curl.
And willets rest, one-legged, while my heart rides

a single track toward you.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Word of the Day

pneumothorax (plpneumothoraces) is an abnormal collection of air or gas in the pleural space that separates the lung from the chest wall and which may interfere with normal breathing.

Not a particularly happy word. The happy part is that the pneumothorax,  in the lung of the man who loves me, is small. It should heal itself, the doctor says. Meanwhile, he's pretty much confined to his hospital bed. I have confined myself to my bed in solidarity.

And doesn't the Glendale train station look stunning at night?

Sunday, January 19, 2014

I confess: I'm fickle

The Glendale train station is an architectural gem
Cheating on the freeway system that I professed my love for yesterday, I took the train to see the man who loves me this morning. I awoke at 3:30 a.m. (and yes, that's when he awoke, too, I learned) and couldn't get back to sleep. Brimming with worry, I decided I would leave my mom home alone for a few hours and pay a visit to the hospital.

More train station architecture

So I trained past green fields and fallow fields.

Suburbs where horses reigned,


Barren rocks...

The weird temporary plastic green houses sheltering some crop or another that you see around here,

and strawberry fields...forever

Back to this.

Early this evening, I learned that the man who loves me was finally moved out of the critical care unit.

Dear Ozzie,

Your bed is ready.

Love, Harriet

Friday, January 17, 2014

Hospital: Day 3 or How I learned to love the L.A. freeways--and thank you

The infamous 405, (as seen from the Getty Museum) looking like a river of molten lava

I moved to Los Angeles from the midwest in 1975. I didn't have a car, so I took the bus to work, and my boyfriend drove me anyplace else I wanted to go. The freeway on-ramp in our neighborhood was also an off-ramp (I'm not going to explain this--if you don't get it, be glad.) When I finally started driving in L.A., I would cry--no matter if I was merging in or getting off. Thirty-some years later, I still loathed driving the freeways.

It was a big relief for a million reasons when I moved out of L.A. to my little paradise up the coast. These past few days with the man who loves me in a suburban L.A. hospital, the freeway speeds me to him. Five lanes going exactly where I want to go.

This marvel of modern urban engineering also delivered my friend Toni to my house this morning where she is hanging out with my mother, who after her tug of war with the neurologist yesterday, has fervently promised to be good, while admitting that she should not be left alone for hours and hours. (More about that in the next report from Pillville.) This evening the freeways will speed me to the nearby house of a couple more friends where I will enjoy their good company and the antics of their handsome cats before I'm given a bed for the night.

Then tomorrow, back to the hospital for day 4. The man who loves me is doing well--as well as anyone can do after such a traumatic surgery. The cancer is out. The road ahead of him will not be a fast and furious freeway. But on that slow and narrow lane that leads back to wellness, all I ask is that it be smooth.

Thank you all so much for your good wishes.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

My Guilty Vacation

Athens, Greece 
"I'm having such a good time," I told the man who loves me as I tore a bite out of his lamb sandwich at a hole-in-the-wall Greek restaurant. No not in Greece. Glendale--suburban Los Angeles. We were just a few blocks from the hospital where he'd just pre-registered for his surgery, and I couldn't seem to hold onto the idea of his up-coming lobectomy for lung cancer. How does a girlfriend put that out of her mind? I don't know, but I did. It slipped away that night at dinner, too. Blame the vegetarian curry and black pepper pork confit at the neighborhood place with a Southeast Asian flair--or maybe it's the way he looks at me. The look that makes me forget just about everything. We drove to the supermarket for a bottle of wine, talking the way we always talk, sometimes veering onto the subject of his cancer and the surgery. But not for long. Back at his place, we poured the wine into the "good" glasses and ticked items off the to-do list as we packed up for his recuperation at my place. Hat, scarf, warm sweater? Check. Chargers for the electronics? Check. Do you want to bring your own coffee? No. Books? These. With his overstuffed duffel on the couch, it still felt like a vacation. It was a vacation when we climbed into bed, and a vacation when we woke several time through the night. Are you okay? Yes. How are you feeling? Just fine.

It felt less like a vacation when he had to abstain from his coffee this morning. Less like a vacation when I ate the leftover curry for breakfast, knowing he couldn't eat. At the hospital with him on a gurney in a paper gown waiting for what was almost forever, we had nothing to do really but talk and the vacation feeling came back--almost. All the time in the world was what we had, it seemed. Me resting my hand on his forehead, on his arm; leaning over to kiss him. Just the two of us behind a flimsy curtain.

My stomach didn't feel like it made it all the way up to 5th floor when we rode the elevator to surgery. He was sleepy by then. His blood sugar off a bit. We talked to the surgeon and the anesthesiologist which is something one doesn't do on vacation. And on vacation, one doesn't usually sit in the hospital lobby, waiting to hear if the cancer was successfully removed.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Last Tango in Oxnard

Friday night at the supermarket!

Still in my yoga pants and overdue for a shampoo, I was pretty unenthusiastic, but my mom was out of yogurt, and I know a grocery crisis when I see one. So I drove off to the local Vons, musing about my long ago stints doing factory work. After a week of doing mostly the same task over and over again, people got rowdy on Fridays. There was talk of getting paid, laid, and drunk. Nobody talked about how they just couldn't wait to shop for some groceries.

I would be chatty at the supermarket, I decided. Shopping, the Friday night social event. And I would buy whatever I wanted besides the yogurt and the other things on the list. But I lost my nerve and  traded the idea of chatting someone up over the tomatoes for buying candy or getting a coffee from Starbucks. Whatever treat I wanted was mine. 

Then I saw the butter. Not just any butter, but butter from France. On sale. And it was in a utilitarian container with a lid that would fit in the butter keeper on the door of my refrigerator, which would mean that it might stay soft enough for my mother to knife it out of there without the usual battle. (I've been searching for one of those Tupperware butter dishes for ages, to no avail.) So I put two containers of the stuff in the cart.

Turns out French butter is conversational dynamite. Two people asked me if it was good before I rolled to the checkout. The cashier could not stop talking about it. Then the guy bagging the groceries got interested. Suddenly that scene (you know the one) was running through my head. "The butter is for my mother,"I said.

When I came home I looked that scene up on YouTube. I'm not putting up the link. I found it just as weird and unsettling as I did when I saw it in 1970-something.

But I am going to go have some toast.
What are you doing with your Friday night?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Report from Pillville: The orthotics, the fall-detector button, mental decline, and lingerie?

My mother's feet have killed her most of her life. "It's because we grew up wearing other people's shoes," she says over and over again. "You'd have bad feet too, if all your shoes came from a church rummage sale." Then of course there's the fact that for years she had jobs that kept her on her feet all day while she was wearing those shoes that didn't fit properly--and she walked to and from work--or at least to the bus.

When I was a kid, buying shoes was kind of like going to the doctor or the dentist. We went to THE shoe store where we had our feet measured (both length and width) and a professional shoe salesman came out with the appropriate styles that would fit our particular feet. It was such a big deal that I remember that the names of the salesmen to which my mother entrusted the process.

I'm trying to return the favor here in Pillville, but the first foot doctor was, I'm certain, the brother of the dentist in Little Shop of Horrors. We're on the third podiatrist now, and my mom hates the way she trims her nails--though it is not with power tools. As for the orthotics, well, they might make nice trivets, I suppose.

The fall-detector button is swell, so it seems. The range of the base unit is pretty amazing, and my mom is willing to wear the thing. The form that I must send in to the lifeline folks is a testament to our lack of support network. There are half-a-dozen spaces to write the names of relatives, friends, and neighbors who are within 15 minutes of our house. I suppose I could write my name in all of them.

I'm really trying to open my eyes to things that could cause a fall, and tomorrow a heater will be installed in the ceiling of my mom's bathroom ceiling right next to the shower. She's been dragging one of those little oil filled plug-in radiators back and forth between her bathroom and bedroom, despite the fact that I've offered to do it almost every time. To which she answers, "No, I don't need it." Then she moves it.

This morning we spent hours going 'round and 'round over a bank statement and a credit card. Numbers do not make a whole lot of sense to her anymore, though through some burst of fortitude or a moment of clarity, she managed to get on the phone to one of her favorite mail-order catalogues last week and order 7 sets of matching bras and panties in every color of the rainbow. Given my love for nice lingerie, I'm hoping that's a genetic skill that I'll be able to count on when I'm 89.

All-in-all, Pillville is without a crisis right now. But my mom is sleeping more and is less active. Her hearing is worse; her grip--both literally and figuratively--is weakening; and names for almost everyone have skated off into the polar vortex. She still loves to eat though and is maintaining her weight. And she still has that martini almost every night.

As for the other ancient resident of Pillville, Piper the cat, we're doing our best to keep a bit of CatSure in both of her bowls--the one next to her bed in the laundry room and the one on the coffee table (I know.)  She feels heavier to me, but it might be wishful thinking. Piper got a catalogue of her own in the mail today. Maybe she'll order a new collars in an array of colors.

As for me, my favorite catalogue looks like this:

And yet, here I am in paradise.

january afternoon view to Anacapa and SantaCruz islands

Monday, January 6, 2014

Every Which Way

The Christmas tree is down.

The moon is up.
My brain is sideways.

The daylight grows longer.
My temper is short.

The thermostat is high.
The winds are low.

My wine glass is too close to empty.
My heart is full.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Little Victories

I had it all figured out at the beginning of the week. After the four ER visits in one month with my mom, it was clear that I needed to change everything.

I ordered the fall detector button. My mother and I went adult day care shopping. "The second one is the best one," she said enthusiastically, her smile for the camera smile frozen onto her face. I told various people, including the social worker at the day care place that I needed someone to come into my house a few mornings a week as well. Following what seemed to be other prudent advice, I bought keyed doorknobs for my bedroom and the daughters bedrooms--what with "strangers" coming and going--and made arrangements to have them installed. The schedule for the day care place was worked out including the pick-up and drop-off. My world cracked opened so wide I almost felt agoraphobic. What would I do until 2:30 on Tuesdays and Fridays? Would the placid silence inspire me to write? Would I be able to read without getting up to see if the moaning or swearing or banging around was something more than crying wolf? Would I go out to lunch with a friend? Take off early for a weekend away if M could come by on Friday afternoon? I could do anything I wanted for six straight hours, knowing that someone else was responsible for my mom.

Friday evening she told me she wasn't going to get on a bus so early (9:00 a.m.) in the morning. She simply was not going to do it. The therapy chairs, the hot packs, the massage for arthritis pain, live entertainment, other ladies to crochet with, physical therapy, dancing--none of it could change her mind. "Well, great," I said, Now, I'm a prisoner."
"Then have someone come in to babysit me," she said, obviously not happy about that either.

Meanwhile the man who loves me and I were squabbling. "But you said..."
"That's not what I meant...."
"You absolutely said that."

In a completely black mood all day yesterday after the glow of yoga quickly dissipated, I raged and mulled unable to do much of anything except walk around and around my neighborhood. I woke every hour last night asking myself what sort of a person picked fights with old ladies and guys with lung cancer doped up on pain killers.

Today I decided I would read in my room with the door closed and some non-distracting background music to muffle whatever was going on downstairs. An easy book. Something engaging. So I picked up an Elmore Leonard novel and napped every ten pages or so feeling like perhaps I should be the one going to adult day care, and asking someone to accompany me on my doctor's appointments. At 4 p.m. I woke in time for a sunset walk.

I didn't jump in the marina or stop a boat and ask to get on. I didn't go to a bar and drink ten margaritas.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Comfort Food (and that, dear blogosphere, is all the news that's fit to print)

The Eve of New Year's Eve Dinner
Meat Loaf and Roasted Veggies
Tonight: Homemade Chili and an 8-Dollar Fabulous Cabernet
And if you're a 19 & 1/2 year-old cat, comfort food is served on the coffee table.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Waving, Not Drowning

We all managed to stay afloat during this weird New Year's visit that involved keeping the child recuping from the chicken-pox away from her great-grandmother--and the other children as well just in case they were incubating it. It involved a lot of waving and smiling through patio windows, evening get-aways with glasses of wine in hotel rooms, children sequestered briefly in my garage, and on my boat dock (thanks to C) and explaining and re-explaining about chicken-pox and shingles to my mother. Having had shingles once before, her eyes grew huge every time we talked about it. Absolutely not--she didn't want to go through that again. It was inconvenient and wonderful, this visit. Four generations got together--sort of--for some of the time with some of us actually in the same room. C traveled from Minnesota by plane and bus and train to get here. My son drove his mini-van stuffed full of family from Arizona. M worked us into to her impossibly busy schedule, coming and going. We laughed and talked. Planned and reminisced. And if I were quizzed, I could not tell you how much time all of us actually spent together. My son and his family were the last to leave, and when five people pull out of your driveway your house is instantly very empty.

But I did what I had resolved to do: I began. I ordered the fall detector button for my mom. Of course a fall preventer button would be better. I imagine it would work something like THIS. I called the Ventura County Area Agency on Aging and had a 47-minute conversation about everything with a wonderful woman who took her time answering all of my questions. Tomorrow my mom and I will go to see two adult day care places whose emphasis is more social than medical. I have familiarized myself with the spend-down rules for Medi-Cal. I have a list of resources for home care and caregiver support. I called a friend of a friend who has been taking care of her father, who has Alzheimers, for 7 years without much of a break. I have no idea how one does that. The four of us plan to get together. 

My mother did not seem enthusiastic when I first broached the idea of day care and in-home care, but she's on board now. I actually think she's looking forward to it. Honestly, I would look forward to getting out of the house away from me because I am introverted and boring. I like to read, write, and putter around with various home improvement/organizing/cleaning projects. Today's projects included moving all of my sewing stuff from the garage to the upstairs and all of the single bed linens from the upstairs (where there are no single beds) to the garage (which is where the grandchildren camp out on air-beds during a normal non-chicken-pox visit.) I also cleaned and organized the cabinet under my kitchen sink. That's how interesting I am.

I also finished cleaning out my closet (see previous post) which involved going through a bin of stuff that included a notebook titled "NYC Summer 1984." That was the summer I left my husband behind in L.A. (by mutual agreement) and moved to New York and took classes at HB Studios because it was something I had wanted to do for quite a while. In addition to a wonderful acting class with Bill Hickey, I took a play analysis class with a man named David Fittleson, and the notebook, which I at first  thought was empty and had retitled "Mom" still had notes in it on a bunch of plays including Chekov's "The Cherry Orchard" which is a play that seems to keep popping up with an uncanny amount of relevance for me. This is how my notes on that play begin:

Inaction??!! Bah.