IN the Ravine

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We always knew someone in The Compound would fall in the ravine. Lord knows Dad tried. He decided in 2010 he would cut brush and clean up the vines on the bank; you know, “clear the land.” He devised the perfect way to enter and exit the big ditch. He routinely lowered a tall ladder (a really, really tall one) over the edge of the bank and propped it against a tree on the steep side of the ravine. Before descending, he’d throw all the tools he might need somewhere near the ladder. When he finished with a tool, he reared back and threw the tool onto level ground.

You haven’t really lived–or maybe come so close to dying–as feeling a hatchet whiz by your head while peacefully attending the weeds in the lower garden.

I yelled as soon as I heard the whoosh of the ax. “Dad! You almost got me!”

He shinnied up the ladder, and when he finally saw me, said, “But I didn’t.”

Dad stopped his forays into the ravine a few years ago. I admit I was a bit relieved. He  warned me, “Don’t get too close to that ravine. That ground is soft. You don’t want to fall in.”

The vines returned; Virginia Creeper, Japanese honeysuckle, wintercreeper, and a few muscadines. Brush re-established; same old non-native privet, pokeweed, winterberry, and thistles. We keep them controlled for about two feet off the back yard, what we can easily reach. We’ve also seen a fair assortment of plants whose roots or bulbs Dad tossed over the edge including Rose-of-Sharon, iris, cannas, and a couple berry briars.

This past May, I noticed a bunch of  one- to two-foot Royal Pawlonia sprouts in the area where we’d taken down the tree several years ago. We’ve watched the grounds carefully since the removal of the offender, so I was surprised to see the scary little crop with the pretty purple flowers. Royal Pawlonia, or Princess Tree, is wildly invasive and spews out millions–no, really, I mean millions–of seeds every year. If you want to find out how bad it really is, just look it up in your Wikipedia.

“Dave,” I said, “you’re going to have to spray those little purple trees or we’re going to have hundreds of them full-grown before we know it.”

He chose to fertilize the roses and eradicate the Pawlonia shoots on a Sunday about 1:30. I knew he was tending to roses, but I did not know he’d loaded up a sprayer to kill the tiny trees.

I put on what I call my painting clothes, dug weeds, and had just gone upstairs to Mom and Dad’s apartment to tend to some needs of our old folks when I heard the special tune on the phone.

“Hello, I know it’s you,” I said to Dave.

He answered, “Help, I’ve fallen into the ravine and I can’t get out.”

“What do you want?” I asked my usual first question when he starts with some (lame) humor.

“I want you to come get me out of the ravine.”

“So what are you doing in the ravine?” I chuckled a little.

“I was spraying those purple things.” He blew out hard.

“You’re joking, right?”

His voice gained decibels. “No, I’m not joking. You have to come help me.”

“Well, I’m not…” I started to tell him no way was I going to go in with him. “No, wait, are you hurt?”

“Yes, I’m hurt,” he said.

“I’ll be right there.” I stuck my phone in my pocket and called to Mom in the kitchen, “He’s not kidding. He fell in the ravine.”

I hurried down the steps of the apartment and ran over to the edge of our beloved big ditch. He was lying on the bank in a mostly-vertical position, the spectre enhanced by a bush with little white flowers wreathed around his head. I saw blood.

“Where are you hurt?” I called.

“I don’t know.”

“Do you think you’ve broken anything? A leg? Arm? Shoulder?” I asked.

“I don’t think so, but I can’t get up the bank.”

“Okay, let me just…” I tested three places on the ground above him. All were soft.

“I think we better call 911. I can’t get down there,” I said.

“No, don’t call them. Go get Don.”

I called our next-door neighbor, hoping he’d be home.

When he answered, I asked, “Don, are you at home?”

“Yeah.”

“Dave has fallen in the ravine. We need help.”

All the other times I call him, Dave is headed his way with soup or ham or pie. He could have been disappointed, but he was there in what seemed like two seconds.

“See that stump?” I asked. “He’s just to this side of the stump.”

Don called down to Dave to check his condition. I whispered, “I think he landed on his face. There’s a lot of blood on his face.”

“Have you got a long pole?” he asked.  I don’t know what I gave him, but he told Dave he was lowering the pole. “You grab on and I’ll pull you out.”

Dave struggled to hold to the pole, and when he finally got it in two hands, his feet gave way to the slippery slope.

Don turned to me. “I’m going down.”

“No, don’t do that,” I said. “Then I’d just have two of you down there. Dad used to go up and down on a tall ladder. Maybe we should try that.”

“That’s right. Where’s the ladder?” he asked.

“Propped against the side of the garage over there.” I pointed. “I’ll help you.”

“I don’t need any help. I can get it,” Don said, but I still followed a few steps behind him. He picked up the ladder. We stopped at the edge and looked down. “I don’t see anything to prop it against.”

“What’s wrong with that stump he just face-planted?” I asked.

“Dave, I’m lowering the ladder right next to you. Do you think you can get on it if I prop it on that stump?” Don asked.

“Maybe,” Dave answered.

After two unsuccessful attempts Don said, “He can’t get his feet on the ladder.”

“I’ll go down on the ladder and pull him onto it,” I said.

Don was quick to stop me. “No, then I’d just have the two of YOU down there. I’ll go down.”

“I’m on the ladder,” Dave yelled.

“Did you get on it? Can you climb it?” Don asked.

At the top of the ravine, Don grabbed Dave and pulled him up.

“Thanks, Don.  Dave, honey, come on, get in the van. We’re headed for the ER.”

He staggered after me in the garage. I threw a towel in the passenger seat for him to sit on.

Southern Hills Hospital is a mile and a half from us. We were there bloody, muddy, and generally nasty but triaged and in a bay in no time.

I looked at my watch. 4:30. My friend Peggy and I had a Lyft scheduled at 6:00 to take us to Schermerhorn Symphony Center to see PostModern Jukebox. This was the second time I’d bought tickets to PMJ. The first time I was ill and, even though I tried, no one used the tickets. The current set of tickets was a birthday gift to my friend and I had already reneged on another trip (another story) so I was determined. (I’m trying to pre-explain why I did what I did later.)

I messaged Peggy. Dave is in the ER. Fell in ravine.

Peggy:  Is he hurt?

Me: I don’t think it’s too bad. I mean, he’s bloody and all that, but the doctor ordered x-rays and CT. They just came and took him to x-ray. He’s got a big gash on his face.

She asked more questions about his condition and then finished with No way we can get to the Schermerhorn on time. 

I was quick. We’re going to see PostModern Jukebox.

Peggy:  I’m dressed. I’ll wait until you tell me to leave home. The drive from Readyville to our house is about forty-five minutes.

After the CT scan, I was relieved to know that all Dave needed was a few stitches across one side of his face–the side that hit the stump. (He’d already started planning a story about how he got the scar in a bar, his favorite tale, something about defending my honor.)

I messaged Peggy. We’re going to go to the concert.

Peggy: But you’re not dressed. Didn’t you say you had to get in the shower?

Me: I can make do. I’ll hurry. I’m going to call Darrin (Dave’s son–mine, too). I should have already called him. 

I messaged the whole story to Darrin and Dana, ending with, “So can you come and pick up Dave and take him home? They’re about to sew up his face and I’ve got tickets to PMJ.” I knew Darrin the Drummer would understand.

I turned to Dave.  “Honey, do you think it would be okay for me to go home, get dressed, and go to the concert?”

“Sure,” he said, “but you’ll need to bring me a vehicle so I can drive home. Maybe Peggy could bring me the van while you get dressed.” He really hadn’t thought that she’d need to get back to our house somehow.

Peggy answered my earlier text. I don’t see how.

Me: Come on, we’ll figure it out. 

I received a return message from Dana. Darrin is on a plane. (He travels for work.) Do you think it would be okay for me to bring Evan with me? Evan is their very active three-year-old.

I wouldn’t, I answered. What if you just came and picked him up? He can call you when he’s ready.

“Is that okay, honey?” I asked Dave.

“Sure,” he said.

She called. “I can pick him up. Tell him to call me and Evan and I will come and get him. I’ll stay with him for a while to make sure he’s okay.”

I told her I needed to leave like, right now, and to text me when she got Dave home. She told me to go on and have a good time.

At home, I threw off my filthy pants and shirt, washed my face and reapplied deodorant, sprayed some dry-cleaner on my hair followed by a some fluffing, and found some clothes decent enough to wear. At least I think they were decent enough.

Peggy yelled “I’m here” when she came in the door.

I was still in the bathroom. “You have to take Dave’s wallet to him.” I rushed to the bureau where he kept his wallet.

“To the emergency room?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said, handing it to her.

While she was gone, I had plenty of time to smear some makeup around and grab earrings. It wasn’t my regular routine, but I declared it finished.

In the Lyft vehicle, I looked down to see that my feet looked like they were still in the dirt. I had two wipes in my purse and used both of them. My feet weren’t perfect but they were “better than they were,” one of Dave’s favorite sayings.

***

We arrived at the Schermerhorn just in time.

I checked messages every few minutes. No word from Dana. Finally, I texted her to ask how things went. She thought she had already messaged me. She said things went fine except… Oh my god Diana he looked like an ax murderer.

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What a show, what a show! PMJ was all I thought they should be and more. At one point, I gave thanks for Dad’s ravine trips up and down the ladder, for Dave’s willingness  to allow me to abandon him in his hour of need (he really wasn’t that bad off, okay?), for Dana’s pickup and delivery, but especially for my man’s survival with less-than-could-have-been injuries.

So, maybe the thanksgiving was after the concert when I got home to see him sitting in his recliner watching one of his favorite shows.

“I got all but about two of those little purple things,” he said.

I love that man.

***

 

The Last Best Place on Earth

For Dad, it’s Alive Hospice, Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

The Nashville facility was full and the admissions nurse so determined that Dad needed to be there that she sent him to the Murfreesboro campus at midnight Friday.

Daddy rests in a large room halfway between the nurse’s desk and a family room containing comfortable chairs, recliners, and couches that flip into beds. There are several family rooms here, one with a dining area in front of a wall full of windows. The light streams in as if on cue.

In Dad’s room, we keep the lights dim. The room is quiet and peaceful; so is Dad.

He only stayed at the skilled nursing facility less than two days. We knew it was not the place for him, and when his kidneys began to fail Friday, the attending nurse practitioner recommended an immediate move.

With the help of the SNF’s social workers and nurses, Alive Hospice Nurse Gail ordered an ambulance for 11:00 P.M. They arrived at 11:45, two youngsters in ball caps reading Medic One.

“I’ll be riding in the back with him,” the smaller one said. “I see his diagnosis here is dementia. Has he ever become combative or kicked or punched a nurse or tech?”

I hesitated. “Yes, he did at the hospital, but that was when he was in complete psychosis. He’s not doing that now.”

“Well, I just wanted to let you know that if that happens….”

Big Guy butted in. “No, no,” he told his sidekick. “If something happens, you just let me know and I’ll pull over to the side of the road and come back there to help you get him calmed. We want to be very soft…soft.”

I could actually imagine a scene like that.

I left before the ambulance. The ramp to I-440 was closed, probably because of a fatal accident earlier in the day, but when I turned around to go the opposite direction, there were cars making left turns onto the interstate so I followed them.

I met Shirley, the night charge nurse, the techs, and the front door security guard. Shirley went over the care plan, medications that they’d be using, and ways they operate. She said the doctor would see me on Saturday. I told her it was already Saturday.

A nurse stuck her head in the room. “I am wondering what is taking that transport so long. Did you leave a long time before they did?”

“No, I was right in front of them, but I bet they got to that closed ramp and found another route.”

Turns out, that’s exactly what happened. They were automatically re-routed.

Dad was awake. Shirley explained what was happening.

“Ernie, we’re going to give you some pain medication and then we’ll give you a bath first thing and get you all freshened up.”

Two techs and two nurses busied themselves over him. He talked to them in slurred speech and from an altered state, but they caught about every third sentence.

“You are a handsome man,” one said. Another asked him about his 72-year marriage. “What’s the secret?” she asked.

“Let each other be free to grow and develop” is what we think we heard. I confirmed that he might have said that.

Then came the washing of the private parts.

“Ernie, we are going to have to wash you down there. Normally, we’d just let you do it, but you have some leftover bm there and we want you to be clean, okay?”

“Ah, you girls just want to look at me,” he said. “All the time.”

We all laughed at him.

“No, we don’t, but I’m going to raise your gown and clean you up and then we’ll put a fresh pad and gown on you.”

He picked up a towel a tech had left beside him. “Then I’m just going to put this over my face,” he said, and hid his whole head from the offending eyes.

We laughed some more, but they got him cleaned up and bundled up in his new bed.

***

Dad now gets a pretty stiff cocktail of haldol, morphine, and a valium-like drug. The dosage is small but repeatable. If he is not calm twenty minutes after the last offering, the nurse starts the routine again, or she slightly increases the morphine.

He lies quiet in the bed most of the time but when the meds start to wear off, he twists, grimaces, and mumbles.

The grandsons and families came to visit yesterday, including Jaxton and Savannah, ages 5 and 3. Neither was upset by Grandpa’s condition. Savvy said hi to him several times, anxious to get an answer from him.  Mom was glad to see the little ones.

I stayed last night. I played music to him and sang to him, hoping something might connect. In the middle of the night, I heard him say, “Diana.” I wasn’t sure of that until I sat up and waited for him to call me again. It’s like what happens when you try to say my name without being able to move the tongue.

“Lie-ah-uh,” it sounds like.

“What, Dad? What do you need?”

He grasps my hand. I kiss him on his old bald head.

“You’re in a really good place,” I tell him.

 

Trying hard to leave.

My daddy hovers, sometimes thrashes, naked, his mind somewhere along an invisible jagged line between his tiny spot of time and space on earth and the ultimate reality of Infinity.

His heart beats so fast sometimes that we fear stroke. Doctors get his heart rate down and his blood pressure goes up. Get the blood pressure down too low and some other wheel falls off the old bus.

He fell in his bedroom sometime very early a week ago Tuesday morning. Before we found him on the floor with a bloody gash on his head,  he’d pulled shirts, belts, and a bootjack from his closet. He told us he’d ducked into a shed for shelter from the rain and realized he’d stepped into some man’s corn crib. Then he couldn’t get out of the field and had crawled through rough straw for miles.

Dad did not get confused because he fell; he fell because he was already confused in the night and hallucinating. We’ve seen a slow slide toward dementia for about three years, but since last Christmas the disease has tracked him like a cat, consistently and with increasing speed. We’ve watched a wretched auto-immune disease rob him of the ability to enjoy food and then to swallow well. His legs grew weaker and weaker, so often he could not stand, even with his walker.

In the emergency room after the fall, he fought with three cats, two black and one black and white, that kept pouncing on the bed. Every time he kicked them off, they came back.  I shooed them away. He re-told the corn crib story with variations and repeated an earlier adventure stripping tobacco with two youngsters who would not talk to him. He was pretty sure they could talk, they just wouldn’t. The ER physician called a hospitalist to provide overnight observation.

Once in the room on the fifth floor tests began, including an ultra-sound on his legs. The technician came in Wednesday morning, made it through the scan of one leg and then Dad refused. He kicked at the machine operator. She dodged and moved the equipment. He kicked some more. When nurses arrived to rescue the tech, he doubled his fists and slapped at them.

I said, “I don’t think you’re going to get that next one.”

She smiled and said, “I’m pretty sure of that.”

Within a few hours, the a-fib grew worse and Dad grew so wild and combative I wished for restraints. They came quickly. He did not sleep–not one wink-– for four days.  One night, I bent over to pick something up just under the edge of his bed and even though his hands were tied, he grabbed my hair. It took a few minutes to pry his hand loose.

My dad’s wild mind fashioned a scary story with escalating horror. He gave me the base plot as he dressed me down. I was trying to kill him, leading a band of nurses are my followers. He kept saying that he can’t believe I would do this for money.  “Greed. Evil. You are no daughter of mine.” I stood stark still, as if at attention, stung and disoriented. The words might have attached themselves to a deep sorrow if I hadn’t heard a voice. “This is not your dad.”

For several hours, there was a huge farm machine loose on his farm. We–the nurses, Jade, John, and I–had already destroyed the farm with this wrecker/excavator. We knocked down trees and ran through the shallow creek, breaking the flat limestone into small pieces. We were going to let it run over him, and then it was somehow above him and we were preparing to let it fall to crush him. One hour we were setting him afire. Another time, we were trying to poison him.

He disowned me, then started yelling again. I tried to slip a dry mouth lozenge in his mouth but I wasn’t quick enough. He can’t bite since he has no teeth but he clamped his jaws shut, turtle tight. Then he said to the air on his left, “Jameson, look at your mother. This is the kind of mama you have.” Jameson is my grandson, not my grandson, and he is safe at home in his own bed.

Dad got back to serious yelling. “Where is Mom [my mother]? She’s the only good person around here.”

The student nurse asked, “Does he like music?”

“Yes!” I said. “I can’t believe I haven’t thought of that. I should have brought in a player. There’s no music channel on the TV.”

Wait, I thought. I could stream from my laptop.

I grabbed my almost-dead HP from my bag and began the frustrating process of hooking up to the hospital free-for-visitors wi-fi. It’s a finicky network. I spent twenty minutes and then gave up.

Dad changed the venue. “Help! Come on, we’re down here in the bottom by the creek. They’re trying to crucify us all.”

The last time he had mentioned crucifixion, the nurses were attaching restraints. I watched him pull at the cords and thought of rodeos and roped calves. I remembered a pig bound and hung for slaughter at my grandfather’s farm, and of holding my dog Murphy for an injection.

That night, I left him praying. The words were plain and the sentences cohesive. “Lord, thank you for this life I’ve been given. And if you want me to die now, I’ll come. I ask you to forgive Diana and all these evil persons who are doing this to me. They know not what they do. Take care of their little children.” I walked out of the room, on down the long hall to the parking garage.

The next time, he was on the hill at the farm in Smith County. He called for his mother. “Mama, come on here. I’m up on the hill. They’re about to kill your last son. Don’t you see the smoke?”

He did not remember that seventy-two years ago on the same day, Halloween, he and my mother took a long taxi ride to Georgia and married. He was seventeen, she “fourteen-almost-fifteen,” they said.

My mom waits at home, not really worrying, just pondering. She is dressed in blue matching pants and top, her curly hair neatly combed back, and her ensemble accessorized with the usual rings, earrings, bracelet, and necklace.

After two days and several doses of psychiatric drugs, the restraints were removed. He was still agitated but not trying to hurt anyone. He rolled his sheet and blanket into a wad and tossed them to the floor. He pulled his arms through his gown, easing the heart monitor through a sleeve. The gown and a couple Chux pads found the floor. I heard a pop, pop, pop as he removed the leads to the heart monitor. He seemed pleased that he had wires to untwist. He repeated the process several times.

He slid down the bed and pounded the foot rail in a surprisingly steady rhythm. He called for my mother, yelling louder than he’s been able to in years.

I told him, “Dad, Mom is not here.”

Sometimes, for a minute or two, he believed me when I told him, “You’re in the hospital, Dad.”

“In the hospital? What am I doing here?”

I told him, “You have to stay for a while until you get better, and you are getting better.”

“Am I in South Carthage?”

“No, Dad, you’re in Nashville. At St. Thomas.”

At times, it connected and he said,  “Oh-h-h-h-h-h.” Another time he added, nodding his head, “So that’s the problem!”

One afternoon, he asked, “Did you know the cats are back?”

“No,” I said. “What are they doing?”

“Oh, they’re just lying around down there at the foot of the bed.”

I said, “But you’re not trying to kick them off.”

“No, I got used to them.”

From time to time, the psychiatrist Dr. Le Coguic stuck her head in the room to ask a few questions with telling answers.

She: What year is it, Mr. Blair? He: 2017. She: When were you born? He: Five, twenty-nine, no. Five, nine, no. Twenty-five. She: That’s good enough! Now who’s the President? He: Truman. She: Hmmmmm.

I snuck in a word there. “He really knows. I asked him myself yesterday and he said Truman and I said, ‘No, it’s Trump, Dad,’ and he said, ‘Yes, that’s who I mean so just pretend I’m saying Trump when I say Truman.'”

Dr. Le Coguic laughs out loud. “Good enough!” she said.

The next time she asked him, he said, “Oh, that damn Trump. Truman.”

The morning of November 7, I walked into the room where a soft-spoken chaplain introduced herself to me as Gail. She was asking Dad if he was a spiritual person. She didn’t understand him, but he answered her, “I suppose so. I’ve got a Master’s of Divinity from seminary.” I translated a few sentences to her until Dr. Chris MacMurdro from the Palliative Care Department stepped in. Because Dad was still talking with Gail, Dr. Mac asked if we might step down the hall to talk.

“Call me Dr. Mac or Chris,” she said and explained her specialty.  After several minutes of discussion about what I might expect or anticipate or decide, Dr. Mac told me with his refusal to eat or drink, Dad would likely be gone in two weeks. It’s too early for hospice, she said, but you will need them. If Dad goes to a skilled nursing facility, he might get a few days.

Just as Dr. Mac and I were ending our conversation, Gail approaches us from the doorway of the family waiting room. “Your dad,” she said, and placed her hand over her heart. “Oh my. And thank you for helping me understand what he was saying. I could understand him after that.”

“Good,” I said.

“This is the first time a patient has prayed over me,” she said.

“He did?” I asked.

She teared up. “I asked him if he would like me to pray with him, and he took my hands and said, ‘I’ll pray for you.'”

“And he did?” I said.

“Yes, and now I have to go sit down somewhere and cry.”

***

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Still a small smile.

Later that day, when I told Dr. Mac the evening Zyprexa seemed to make Dad more agitated instead of less as it was supposed to do, she wanted to revisit his history of hallucinations and his increasingly weak legs. “Let me go back and look at his chart again,” she said. “I’ll call you back.”

“Dad,” I said, “would you drink one of your protein shakes? I have a cooler over here with three drinks in it. Which one–chocolate or vanilla?”

His eyes lit up a little. “Chocolate!”

I rolled the bed up and offered him the straw in the bottle. He tried to take the bottle.

“I want to drink it. Myself.”

“Well, okay.” I grabbed some Chux pads and tucked one around the top half of his body. I helped him hold the drink, with him struggling to wrest it from me, until I knew he’d had enough that he wouldn’t immediately pour the stuff all over himself.

He drank almost all of the eight ounces. He drank almost ALL of the EIGHT OUNCES, the most food of any kind he’d had since more than a week ago. 

Dr. Mac called.  “Diana, this is not Alzheimer’s. I’m thinking more like Parkinson’s with Lewy bodies. That would explain the reaction to the Zyprexa. Do you know much about Parkinson’s?”

“Enough. A lot,” I said.

She said he wanted to confer with the hospitalist, Dr. Meadors, about switching him over to something like Valium, which would be much more effective if we were treating Parkinson’s.

Sure enough, the Valium (or whatever it was) helped calm him. Dr. Mac called to say that Dad appeared now to qualify for in-patient hospice, and she had arranged a meeting with Rosie from Alive Hospice downtown. She explained her wish for inpatient hospice.

“The Parkinson’s thought changes everything. His medications seem to be headed in the right direction. He could use the meds management at inpatient to get them all tweaked to the point that you could manage him at home with the help of home hospice.” She fears for my ability to physically manage him at home right now and for my mother’s emotional health as she watches Dad decline.

I made her promise that she will always work toward our goal of getting him home. She repeats to me all the information I’ve given her, including the DNR and comfort care directives.

End of day, Wednesday, November 7.  Dad slept peacefully almost all night.

Yesterday morning, he knew me when I arrived. He smiled and said, “Hello, honey.” Dr. Mac called to discuss the latest strategy since he has improved enough that he probably does not qualify for inpatient hospice. “We’re thinking we can send him over to the rehab facility.”

Dad and I sat in quiet most of the day yesterday. He was tired. He thought he might want sausage and eggs. I tried. He drank a bit of milk shake. I tried again. I massaged his aching hands with cream, swabbed his gums and washed out his mouth.

“You’re going to make me bald,” he said when I rubbed his head. That’s a little joke we have. Not long after that, we both dozed at the same time.

When I told him I was leaving for the day, he said, “Be careful driving home. Is it still raining?”

I said, “No.” It did not rain all day yesterday.

Just as I started to exit the room, he called softly but firmly, “You are going to call Red Blair to help you get that big machine off the hill, aren’t you?”

“I sure will,” I promised.

*****

 

 

 

 

 

Murphy bit my nose.

I knew it was coming someday, and it was my own fault. She was already in bed, curled up, occupying the space that would hold my feet if that little Punkin’ wasn’t there. I bent down at the foot of the bed to kiss her on the head and she didn’t feel me coming. Bless her, she can’t see, hear nor smell very well,  but most of the time she senses me present. She didn’t hurt me and didn’t growl. It was as close as she could get to biting without biting.

We’ll celebrate Murphy’s fourteenth birthday April 22.

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Jameson Blair Graham, the oldest grandson, will turn fourteen on May 17.  Our little black and white fuzzball Murphy Sweet Punkin’ has been plagued with medical problems, including an autoimmune disease, and has already lived past the average age of demise for a Shih-tzu. In contrast, Jameson is leaned in and fast approaching adulthood. He’s left all pre-teen notions behind and is a bonafide, full-fledged teenager.  He still loves his young cousin, and they think he’s wonderful. He’ll be driving on a learner’s permit in a little over a year.

Yeah, we know what’s coming, and we know it’s coming soon.

We bought a lift chair for Dad yesterday. It is a pretty chair, just the right size for his space, chocolate brown faux suede. LIFT chairDad turns eighty-nine in September. He’s fallen several times since Christmas, the time when his scleroderma started acting out as if on a mission. Some days, he’s needed help to get out of his old favorite recliner–or actually any chair he sits in. His legs won’t hold him up without his Rollator, and several times a day, he can’t even move his feet holding to the walker.

After Sunday Dinner this week, Dave and I made the decision to set the table at the apartment from now on. Mom always writes Sunday Dinner with the two capitals, I think because it’s one of their favorite times at our house.  We set the table with the good silverware and glasses, and we always use cloth napkins–unless we’re eating pasta with red sauce or pork barbecue. Dad was too weak to eat Sunday. It was exhausting to walk those one hundred steps or so to the table, impossible for him to navigate to a chair in the den, and futile to think he could get out of his at-my-house favorite, an old red chenille recliner.

Murphy loved Old Red in her younger years. It’s been a long time since she could jump on and off a chair.Murphy3

Monday morning, he was in the bedroom trying to play Merle Haggard on his new boombox (generously donated on Sunday afternoon by fellow book-clubber Susan) when he fell, punching out the cane back of his sturdy wooden chair. I hurried next door when Mom called. Dave was away from home, but I knew I could call on neighbor Don to help me get him up if necessary.  I found Dad on all fours, trying to crawl across the bedroom to the bathroom. He knew he needed to clean up and change some clothes. With Mom’s help, I convinced him to get his chest against his punched-out chair. It took three tries, but I got him up–and he helped. His voice was so weak I could barely hear him.

Once in the bathroom, he cleaned up as much as he could, holding himself upright by pressing against the clothes dryer. I “polished him off” and then scrubbed down the place, paying particular attention to the washer and dryer that acted as his props. I was reminded to find Mom a dryer since hers quit that very morning.  Later that afternoon, I bought a new dryer at Lowe’s and drove a few miles to Franklin to pick up my newly repaired sewing machine.

The dryer arrived on Tuesday morning.

We moved Dad’s old leather recliner downstairs to his study, a place nobody goes anymore except to water overwintering plants. We got another wooden armchair for Dad’s bedroom and started looking for a sturdy chair for the den, one that might be described as “easy in, easy out.”  Then we put Old Red up for sale, even though it really was the most comfortable seat in the house. It doesn’t match the den colors anyway.

So we’re prepared. We know what’s coming, but we don’t know how soon.

 

Lent…and New Year’s Resolutions

 Boy-oh-boy, Ash Wednesday seemed to come early this year—what to give up for Lent, what to take on, what to lose, what to find, what to… I’m still pondering my New Year’s Resolutions.

I made some. It took me until January 11 to adopt my list of intended personal improvements for 2013. I make resolutions every year. There have been years—and years—that I have vowed to “lose fifty pounds and walk to China” as my friend says and at first I added to my 2013 list,“Weigh xxx on x date.” (On x date, the Revells will be attending the Bucking Horse Sale in Miles City, Montana.)

There’s a reason I don’t include that intention on my final 2013 list: I’m a bit superstitious. Dr. Joyce Brothers (remember her?) appeared to me in a dream the night of January 10. In my dream, she just faded in and then faded out, but the next morning I remembered that sometime in the early seventies, I saw her on the Mike Douglas show and she talked about goals. I know exactly where I was standing and what I was doing. The boys were both down for the afternoon nap. I stepped into the living room from the kitchen, drying a plate with a dishtowel. Dr. Brothers said that perhaps it would help to set a “series of small goals” rather than one large one. Mike asked her to give us an example.

She answered, “If you are washing dishes, and it seems too overwhelming a task to accomplish, perhaps you could say ‘I’ll wash all the silverware’.”  Then, she said, after you’ve washed and rinsed the forks and knives, you make a promise on the salad plates.

Dishes? She thought washing the dishes was worthy of goal-setting? I sat down in the rocking chair, the plate and towel in my lap, when I heard her say, “You psychologically reward yourself when you accomplish that small piece of your larger goal.” I thought, maybe even aloud, that anyone who had to set a series of small goals to wash the dishes was in bad trouble for anything truly worthy of accomplishment.

After my Joyce Brothers sighting that morning, I considered my long, oppressive list of possible resolutions and thought about small steps I could take to work toward the major changes. I concluded that might be too ambitious and unrealistic and that what I needed was a shorter list. I was a tad inspired—only a tad—but I reduced the multiple-item list to three. I combined, eliminated, and re-stated resolutions to get to:

  1. Never wear pants that are too short.
  2. Walk every day.
  3. Get off sugar, as in “eliminate sugar from my diet”.

Gone were such specificities of the original promises as “Be two sizes down in my jeans by May”, “Give away half of my 40 T-shirts”, and “Walk to China and lose 50 pounds.” I completely forsook entire original list items like “Meditate/Read/Journal daily”, “Write every day”, and “Organize that *!%$ garage.” I cleverly placed myself in the arena of the possibility of success by declaring only three (3) resolutions.

#1 seemed easy. I tried on and sorted “too short” and “okay”. The dress pants are fine, but only one pair of jeans gets the label “okay”. #1 could get difficult, certainly expensive. There are two resolutions to this resolution dilemma and I’m going to use both of them. One, wear lower heels with the shorter jeans. Two, save the shorter jeans for summer cropped jeans; they’ll look fine with sandals. I changed #1 and I think it’s going to work:

  • Never wear pants that are too short. (Substitute “buy” for the “wear“.)

Let’s talk about #2. I don’t know when (although I do know why) I made the decision, but I changed #2:

 Walk every day.  Get some kind of exercise every day.

Then I changed it again:

Walk every dayGet some kind of exercise every day. (Substitute “MOVE” for the strike-through words.)

I figured the stairs to The Cellar would count; I could make extra trips up and down. I also ordered Zumba Gold – Live It Up. I haven’t started my dance exercise education yet but I have new shoes. And I’ve kept the bird feeders filled (another abandoned resolution from List Uno). And I’ve made great progress on one I mentioned earlier in this writing, the one about “that *!%$ garage”.

Let me just say that it takes stamina and calories to hoist boxes of chafing dishes and bins of T-shirts. I moved a before-plasma, ante-LCD 36-inch TV along with an HP multi-function printer that insists it has a paper jam when I know that it does not. (Somebody else is going to have to deal with that big fat liar.) I climbed on ladders and stools; I stretched, bended, and bounced. I dug and sifted and swept.

I also sat and sorted and remembered. Things like a program from my high school musical, Guys and Dolls, provided not only a jaunt up and down Memory Lane but also time for rest. I gave myself permission to spend time. I let myself wander through the boys’ report cards and achievement tests; there was plenty of time to re-visit favorite cards and letters.  I remembered that resolution I wrote that said, “Work at being present” and followed it with “Live in the moment”. My leafing through old pages was hardly “present” but I was present for the experience and I was certainly living in that blessed moment.

I sort of “came to” (Southern speech for “woke up from being out cold”) one evening after a particularly productive three hours in the garage. I only stopped working when the back end of the garage became too dark, even with the door open, to see what I was doing. I considered that I was tired; I wondered how many calories I had expended. But my promise to myself wasn’t to burn calories; it was to set aside time to just move—intentionally and regularly.

So, today, while Dave installed two additional overhead utility lights so that I can see to finish my storage project, I hurried to a neighborhood church to start a regimen on the family life center’s walking track. I remember that walking time is thinking time and I turn joyful. Walking is meditation. I think of savoring these weekly hours on the track.

Walking at the church costs $15.00 a year. I get a tote bag when I walk 592 miles—“to Branson, MO.” If I come back (and I might not since I’ve never been to Branson), I get a gift certificate for double that mileage. At least it’s not to and from China.

January 15 marked the first day of infringement on #3.

I hate to blame a baby, but when my new grandson Jaxton didn’t arrive by 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon, and there did arrive a prediction that “it will probably be 6:30 or so”, OtherGrammy Helen and I made a break for the cafeteria. After a small and sensible meal, we dawdled in the hospital gift shop, almost as if our absence from the OB waiting room could somehow hasten Anjie’s labor.

There was a sale on everything Christmas-themed. I found the perfect thing, a size 18-24 months furry reindeer jacket, complete with antlers and red nose on the hood.. Somehow, a Snickers bar, a Yorkshire Mint Patty, and a bag of Peanut M & M’s snuck their way into my bag to keep company with Jaxton’s next (first) Christmas coat.

I’m not saying a word about what Helen and Anjie’s sister Jackie brought back to the waiting room. That’s their business, but I will say that the condition and inhabitants of the place where you wait for babies propelled all three of us into a gone-rogue sucrose attack.

Six young women sported primary colored hair; I lost count of combinations on others. There was no end to the tats on one guy, even when he stood still, never mind the piercings. A full-back dragon on another (shirtless) was mesmerizing; the tail swerved down his right leg. (He donned saggy shorts.) And there was this one fellow who somehow lost the entire crotch of his pants! How do I know? Because he showed us.

For some reason, a fast-food bag rested under every third chair. I noted McDonald’s, Arby’s, Hardee’s, and Taco Bell (my choice of the four–it was NOT my bag, though). A garbage can sat less than twenty feet away from any row of chairs.

A young mother (I don’t know what relation she was to which imminent birth) arrived with a fat set of keys on an 18-inch pink lanyard. For forty-five minutes, she swung the keys by the end of the strap, round and round through the air, scraping the floor with a loud crash when gravity inevitably brought them down swing after swing. She only lost complete control of the keys one time and they launched across the room, unfortunately stopped by the full wall of windows. I fleetingly hoped the big wad of metal would break the plate glass and sail into the HVAC unit on the roof, but no. She was just as quick to retrieve the keys and start the swing all over again.

And then First-time Grammy (FTG) two rows away succumbed to the stress of pre-Grammyhood and stood in the middle of the room to sob, “Why don’t they do something for her?” Shortly thereafter, “they” did do something for “her” and FTG’s daughter brought her own nine pound daughter into the world via C-section. First-time Grammy de-railed again but was, this time, quickly comforted. I felt her helplessness—and then her relief.

Jaxton Edward Graham said hello with a loud wail at 8:35 p.m., according to the young blonde female doctor who finally came to take us to the room at 10:30. I fell in love with all 6 pounds 7 ounces of him. He looked teensy in the arms of his big daddy.

I ate the M&M’s on the drive home. All that was in the bag of reddish brown fur was Jaxton’s reddish brown reindeer coat. The sugar solution evades me yet.

I do know this: Resolutions only work for me if there is only one resolution. It’s a vague statement, an elusive promise, but the same every year, every month, every day: Balance. Everything in moderation. Live abundantly, but live. Be frugal, but generous. Organize for the future, but live in the moment. Let the past be gone, but savor memories. Be happy, and dance. Dance, and move. Move a little, and move more.  Moving inspires good eating. Eat well can mean eat less. A treat is special at a special time.

Pare down and attend more intensely. Diana, dwell on the riches: a new grandbaby, healthy Mom and Dad, loving children, a place to write, books to read, a working body. Warmth in winter, shade in summer, the stillness of the ravine.

Clean out the clutter. Give away. Consume little. Share everything. Work to be a good human.

So what singular item do I choose that might start a chain of living in balance? What might feed my spirit most? What might be most appropriate for Lent?

In the most real observance of Lent, we discover the full humanity of the Jesus of Christianity. So much of the time, it is so much easier to imagine mystical divinity than to accept the flesh and blood human—the human like us, the human that we are also meant to be.

For my Lenten journey, I’ll begin with time for a thoughtful walk—three or four times a week. At the very least.

Ins and Outs, Part 1

I have two mental lists of “Things that indicate that I’m old”—even though I’m not. Old.

List #1-Visible Signs:

  1. Chin hairs. Need I say more?
  2. Wrinkles. I don’t have many, though—because I am plump.
  3. The way I get up out of a chair after sitting for a while. I tend to walk like Fred Sanford for the first few steps.

I’m sure there are more items that might be added to that list, but I don’t pay much attention to those external things. Oh, wait… I have to admit I’m death on chin hairs. Chin hairs are out with just about everybody I know.

It’s this item on List #2-The Way People Treat Me that widens my path to so much indignation:

  1. “Sweetie”.

Now, all us good Southern girls call each other—and people we don’t know—Honey. Honey is a versatile salutation. Rarely do I hear the word used in any offensively condescending way, but when I do, I can usually overlook the idiocy of the sexist sales clerk or forgive the sweet Yankee girl who just wants to fit in.

But, now, there’s that “Sweetie” thing. I just never hear that word used in a nice way—ever. It makes my eyes squint and my short neckline itch. It’s, at the least, patronizing, and, at the worst, condescending.

So, everybody listen up: “Honey” is in, “Sweetie” is out.

Mom and I got a few lessons on Ins and Outs in the last couple of days.

Several weeks ago, after a routine ultra-sound, Mom’s cardiologist, Dr. Scoville, ordered an angiogram on her carotid arteries. An angiogram is an X-ray of dye injected into the blood vessels. We presented for this outpatient test twice and, each time, Mom was sent home because her creatinine levels were high, an indication of poor kidney function.

Upon each rejection, we received apologies and the explanation that “we have to make sure her kidneys can get rid of the dye”. We understood, after that second rejection, when Dr. Scoville said she needed to see a nephrologist. Scoville has been in for a long time; in fact, he’s the most in of any of Mom and Dad’s doctors. Scoville is the reason they choose St. Thomas Hospital over several others in Nashville.

One day, we traipsed into Nephrology Associates to see what Dr. Vito Rocco might suggest. Dr. Rocco never once called Mom “Sweetie”. I think the phlebotomist might have, but whatever she said was overpowered by Dr. Rocco. He talked to Mom as if he were talking to a non-physician peer. It doesn’t hurt that he sat down and crossed his legs as if he had all the time in the world, and that, according to my 81-year-old mother, “man-oh-man, is he ever easy to look at”.

After careful investigation and deliberation, Dr. Rocco’s recommendation was to admit her to the hospital one day about 10 o’clock, hydrate her intravenously for the rest of the day and night, and do the angiogram the next morning. Dr. Scoville’s office ordered the admission and his nurse gave us instructions. “All you have to do is walk in on Monday and get admitted. They’ll start a drip, they’ll do the test Tuesday morning, and then you can go home.”

We left for the hospital at 9:15. Mom was waiting in the driveway, dressed in a navy blue pants suit with pink embroidery trim, her hair arranged and her makeup applied well. Her jewelry was subdued–for Mom. She wore pink rhinestone earrings and a silver-tone watch. She carried a few items in a zippered tan nylon tote.

Getting in was not quite as simple as Dr. Scoville’s nurse had projected. Mom got a number immediately, and she was called to speak with the admissions clerk right away, but then we waited for someone to come with a wheelchair to take her to her room. And we waited…

I went to the desk once to ask if things were progressing and a second time to ask if there was a chance of falling through cracks.

“No,” the handsome guy at the desk said (both times), “They’re cleaning a room for her.”

Mom went to see the handsome guy, too, and he told her of this intensive cleaning project.

“That room must be some kind of mess,” she told him and sat back down.

We were getting tired—and hungry, and somebody (we didn’t know who) was on their way to being out with my mother. After she sat down that time, she joked, “Go up there and tell him we’ll go up there and clean that room for them if they’ll buy us some lunch.”

“You know, I do think I’ll ask him if we can go downstairs to lunch,” I said. “It would at least pass some time. This is ridiculous.”

“No,” he said, “I’m just afraid they might come to get her and you wouldn’t be here. But you could get lunch right around the corner at one of the sandwich bars and bring it back here to eat.”

“I don’t want Subway,” Mom said.

“I don’t, either, but let me go over there and see if I can find a little snack to tide us over.”

I brought her Captains’ Wafers with Honey-Peanut Butter and a bottle of apple juice.

“Oh, this is good,” she said. “I think these are the best crackers I’ve ever had. I’ll have to remember this. The honey is just the right touch on that peanut butter.”

More talking and snack finished, Mom raised up from Dolly the Rollator’s seat and just as the handsome guy hurried around us, back to his desk. Now he was wearing the jacket to his suit-pants.

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“Going to talk to him,” she said, nodding toward desk. I knew better than to try to stop her.

“Hello,” she said just as he approached his chair. She was not too quiet but she had such sweetness in her voice. “I’m not going to wait any longer. It’s time…”

He never really got sat down. He jumped up from his almost-made-it position.

“Oh, no,” he said. “They haven’t come after you yet…Oh no. I am so sorry. I thought you were gone. Okay, I’m going to take you myself, that’s what I’m going to do. Wait right here. I’ll get a wheelchair.”

Mom turned her head and smiled at me, triumph in her eyes. I grabbed our bags.

“Here, you’ll have to take Dolly,” she said, assuming her queenly reign in the throne of  a wheel chair.

“I’m just so sorry,” he said as he opened the footrests. “We went to lunch, and we’ve got contract people doing this job now and …”

“You mean the transporting?” I asked.

“Yes. We just never know.” He paused. “Y’all, wait right here. I have to get you a gift.”

He trotted in and out of his office and handed me four little cards. “These are meal tickets for the food court,” he said. “They pay for everything. Y’all please enjoy.”

He wheeled Mom through the large room of benches, chairs, and short couches. The name on the sign now says Reception Area. The old name seems more appropriate—Waiting Area.

“We did you wrong, Sweet Pea,” he said to Mom.

“Sweet Pea,” she said. “I know you didn’t know that my nickname when I was a kid was Sweet Pea.”

“Really? Like a sweet-smelling flower,” he said with a big grin.

“Well, actually, I wasn’t named after the flower. This little neighbor boy said I frowned just like Sweet Pea in the comics.”

“Nooooooo,” he answered. “I can’t believe that. You’ve been pretty patient with us.”

The handsome guy handed us off to an arriving transport person at the elevator. She needed him to help solve a problem back at the admissions desk.

“Bless you, Sweet Pea,” he said just before he hurried back across the Reception Area.

We both called after him, “Thank you so much”—and we meant it.

We were IN. Mom sat on the side of the bed. “Well, I would change my clothes,” she said, “but I don’t see a gown. I’m ready to eat.”

“Okay. Maybe I’ll just go on down to the food court and get us some lunch with our freebie tickets. I’m not sure what it’s going to be. That hot lunch line is different every day.”

“I don’t care what it is. I’m hungry,” she said. “And I need to take that Flagyl. I brought it with me.” She had about four days left of two antibiotics for last week’s case of diverticulitis.

“I wondered what they would do about that,” I said. “I know they’ll give you all your regular meds, but it seems silly for Medicare to pay for more Flagyl and Cipro here when you have just enough. We need to ask them about that.”

“There’s a wet spot on this bed,” she said.

“Now where did that come from?” I asked.

Two nurses appeared with a gown; the first introduced herself and her shadow. Number 1 was the nurse and Number 2 was in training. We got acquainted. They were both the same age, 25. Nurse graduated from Tennessee Tech in Cookeville; Trainee got her nursing degree from Belmont and a Master’s in Public Health Administration from Vanderbilt. We liked both of them.

“We’re glad to see you,” Mom said. “It took us two-and-a-half hours to get in.”

“What in the world?” Nurse said. “Were they just backed up? This room has been ready since 11:30.”

“There’s a wet spot on the bed,” I said.

“Now, where did that come from? Would you get a change?” Nurse asked Trainee.

“We’re going to start your IV, Sweetie,” she said, “and then Somebody will be in to do your admissions paperwork.”

The two changed the draw sheet and pad on the bed and then discussed veins.  Mom told them they usually had to do the left arm. She has bad veins. They considered the hand but decided that Trainee would work the IV into a tiny little vein in the crook of Mom’s left arm. Nurse told her she did not need to squat on the floor, and that she needed a better angle. Trainee said she could do it better in the lower position, but she rose a bit and corrected her angle. Mom winced and I worried while she wiggled the needle. After a few minutes, and several unsuccessful tries at re-positioning the needle so that it moved blood into the line, Nurse took over. I held Mom’s hand and tried to distract her.

“Oh, Sweetie, I am so sorry,” she told Mom as she probed. “Did you bring your medication list?”

I answered. “No, I didn’t realize you’d need it. I was thinking that this was just an observation admission. Dr. Scoville’s nurse sort of said just walk in.”

“Well, actually, it’s an admission to hydrate her so that she can have the dye tomorrow. We want to make sure her kidneys can handle it. That’s why they have her here. The dye is hard on the kidneys.”

“Yes, we know why she’s here,” I said.

Mom added, “I’ve had this test done several times. I know all about it.”

“I can do a medication list for you,” I said.

“Yeah, we need that,” Nurse answered.

She stood up and claimed a victory. “It’s in,” she said, and then added, “But it’s not in the way we’d like to see it. I’m not sure it’s going to stay in. I think you’re going to have to hold this arm pretty still, Sweetie.”

“I can do that,” Mom said.
“Can you eat with one hand?” I asked.

“Oh, yeah. Just watch me. I need some water,” she said to Nurse. It was the second time she asked for water.

“Can I also beg you out of something to drink?” I asked. “Anything diet would be fine.”

“Okay,” I said to Mom as they left the room vowing to bring water and two Sprite Zeroes, “I’ll go get lunch.”

“Oh, boy,” she answered.

Just as I returned with baked chicken, sweet potatoes, squash with broccoli and peppers, and apricot cake with citrus glaze, the admissions nurse arrived, pushing her laptop on a rolling stand that also afforded a seat. We liked her. Somehow, we all got started on her show dog, a Rhodesian Ridge-back. I wrote the name in my notebook. She showed us a picture on her phone. We re-constructed the medication list from what was in Mom’s record. I asked if she should take the Flagyl and Cipro she brought in.

“I can’t answer that,” she said. “That’s their job. I don’t step on their job. They’ll let you know.”

“I didn’t get you anything to drink,” I said, and as I was opening and arranging the food boxes, Nurse and Trainee arrived with the drinks. They breezed right out.

“Here, Mom. Take this Flagyl. I forgot to talk to them about it.”

We loved our lunch. Mom ate the whole thing with her one free hand (fortunately, the right); she didn’t spill a morsel.

“Let’s take a nap,” she said after I cleaned up. “I think I could nap.”

“So could I,” I said. “And I put your Flagyl and Cipro in the pocket of your bag.”

“Okay.”

I packed my bag to leave for home around 4:00. I promised her I’d stop by Ross to see if they still had a pair of sandals she tried on but didn’t buy on Saturday. I called Dave just before I pulled out of the parking lot to tell him I was on my way with one stop.

Mom called about 7:00. “Bring my medicine tomorrow. They told me I need to take my own or they’ll have to order it and I’ll have to pay for it myself and you know how outlandish that would be.”

“Really. That’s interesting. Then this really must be what they call an ‘observation’ admission.”

“Who knows,” she said. “And they also told me it’s not a sure thing I’ll even have the test. They said they’ll do blood work first to see if the IV’s work.”

“So you don’t know when they’ll do the angiogram.”

“Nope. I guess I’ll know tomorrow. If they do it. Did you see your father tonight?”

“Yep.  He’s fine. Tired. He was down in the ravine today, clearing vines and chopping brush. He got my chair.”

“The one the wind blew down in the ravine?”

“Yeah. I don’t know how he got it but he brought it up and tied it down.”

She laughed. I told her I hoped she could sleep okay. She said she’d call as soon as she knew something about the test.

“Goodnight, Sweetie,” she said.

I didn’t mind. She’s still in with me.

Tune in for Part 2.

***