Thursday, July 30, 2015

George Couch, Hurt Ankles and ME

How old is one in the 2nd grade? 7? 8?
My second grade teacher was Mrs. Burducks (I have no idea if that's how you spell it).
At the end of the year we were all promoted, even Mrs. Burducks.
My father was stationed at Great Lakes Naval Training Center, outside of Chicago, IL.
The elementary school was in Waukegan, IL.

I fell in love for the first time in my life while in the 2nd grade.
George Couch.
Granted, it's been many years and many loves since, but George stands out for a few reasons.
He was lanky like me with blonde hair.
He was funny.
His goal for the school year was to buy me rings for every finger and toe.
Bubble gum rings.
I still swoon at the idea.

When you live on a Navy base, your life is pretty regulated. You play with Navy friends. You don't venture too far from home. If you were of dating age, you usually picked the son of a Navy family on the base. An officer's child. Enlisted men were not to considered.

George Couch was from Waukegan. Though I didn't know what it meant back then, I think he was from the "other" side of the tracks.

For reasons that have been as lost to me as the the yellow haired romeo my girlfriend and I decided to sneak George on the base. Granted it was long before homeland security but bases were still guarded by uniformed sailors who checked I.D. cards coming and going. Only 8 year olds would attempt sneak an un-ID'd civilian child on base and seriously think they'd pull it off. The details are sketchy. I don't have a clue how we did it. But for one Sat. afternoon George Couch, Lisa Schofield and I explored places on the base I'd never dared to go before. Towards the end of the day, at the top of what I remember to be a rather large grassy hill, George and Lisa decided to ditch me by running down the hill. I did what any girl would do when it looked like her best girlfriend was running off with her boyfriend. I took off after them. Halfway down the hill, I took a rather ungraceful tumble. I landed in a heap at the bottom of the hill. Beneath me my ankle began to swell at the same rate of speed I began to concoct believable stories. I limped off behind my friends to whatever adventures awaited us. I don't recall how the afternoon ended. I suppose George Couch walked through the gate with no more questions asked. I have no other memories of him, though I've often wondered what became of him. Did he go to Vietnam the way so many boys of my generation did? Did he do well in business and become a CEO? Did he fall in love for real and buy that person rings for every finger? 

Getting back to the real point of that story - my ankle. By the time I got home for dinner, it had swelled to grapefruit size proportions. It was not to be ignored. Off to the medical dispensary we went. It was an odd time in our family life. Mom didn't drive. Thus she didn't shop or take kids for dental checkups or emergency room visits. Dad did it. It's strange to me even now. Perhaps Captain stripes got head of the line privileges. 

In order for my ankle to be x-rayed and set I was instructed to take off my pants.  I don't remember all the details of this day, but I recall vividly how embarrassed I felt at the very idea of stripping down to my white cotton underpants. Not just in front of not just my father, but a hospital corpsmen as well.   No one in the room took note of my mortification.  No towel to cover my modesty offered. No mother's soothing, it's-gonna-be-okay reassuring words. Fixing the sprained ankle was the order of business. The corpsman wrapped it in plaster. When it dried, I'm sure it weighed more than I did. 

That should have been the end of the story. Girl sneaks boy onto Naval Base. Girl chases boy down a hill and sprains her ankle. Girl sits on a plastic covered table in her underpants. Corpsmen sets ankle. Girl goes home sticking to her story that never once mentioned the boy. Girl contracts the measles. 

Yup. Measles. I lay on the bottom bunk in a dark room in what can only be called agony. After awhile the skin under a cast begins to itch. It begins to smell. There is little to do to ease the discomfort. I did the only thing I could think off. I began banging my foot on the floor which just happened to be the ceiling for the living room below. Like the constant beating of Poe's Tell Tale Heart, my banging came close to driving the rest of my family crazy. Thunk! Thunk! Thunk!

Thunk! No I could not stick a hangar down inside the cast to scratch. 
Thunk! No the doctor would not remove the cast.
Thunk! I swear I'll never break a rule or tell a lie again.


Fast Forward 57 years.
I'm sitting in my den surrounded by old people paraphernalia - walker, bedside commode, medicine bottles. My leg is propped up on the end of my father's recliner. My purple polished nails poke out from the tip of a soft cast holding broken bones, titanium plates and screws in place. My heart beats in time with the thrumming of torn and jangled nerves. Tears trickle down my face.

I'm grateful for the good care I have received. Sweetie is at my beck and call. Johnson keeps a close eye on the puppy. Maizey returns frequently to check on me. Boy Cat takes full advantage of the fully available spot on my lap where he likes to doze. I'm in good hands. I have no reason to ask for more.

Yet, I can't help but return time and again to that cold, sterile Navy hospital room. A small, skinny girl, stripped to her Spanky pants. "I want my mommy," she cries.

Author's Note:
This post was written under the influence of narcotics.
Merry ME

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Mr. Holmes

Sweetie and I went to the movie today.
Mr. Holmes starring Ian McKellen.
It didn't take very long to figure out that the aging Sherlock had some severe cognitive deficiencies.
In fact most of the movie was about him trying to remember a case he'd worked on.

I leaned over to Sweetie and whispered, "I didn't know this movie was about memory loss."

His response. "Who better to learn from than Ian McKellen."

Good move. Good time.
Too much popcorn.

I give it two thumbs up,
Merry ME

Friday, July 24, 2015

Crazy Days

Buddy at the vet for the 2nd time in a week
It's been kind of crazy around here lately. I guess I should have realized it would get that way before getting the puppy. How can one little pooch be as rambunctious as 101 Dalmatians? I think I've set a world record with the number of times I've said "potty, pee and poo" in one day. To make matters worse, we found out yesterday Buddy's got an intestinal thing going on.  Once we get that cleared up maybe the number of trips outside will be less frequent.

I thought he was catching on. Running to me like the Purina Puppy Chow puppy, when he heard my kissing sounds. Loving the treats he gets for responding. Alas, now he's decided to do things in his own time and own way. This morning he actually turned his back on me to chew on bark as if to say, "yeah, yeah, I know it's potty time. I heard you the first time. I'll get to it when I'm ready." Perhaps we've bitten off more than we can chew. How long does it take to turn a puppy into a couch potato?

Sweetie has also had a rough few days.  We went out to lunch and a book signing with my sister and husband. Sweetie got a little mixed up while trying to recount a recipe he'd read on FB. I could tell he was searching for the right word(s) and getting frustrated. What I couldn't tell, and probably should have, was that he was also feeling embarrassed. He clammed up, chugged his coffee and made it know he was ready to leave. I missed the signs. Although I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do when/if I see a sign.

Later he got angry about something. Completely out of character he got in my face and demanded I do what he wanted me to do. I am not sure what possessed me to stand my ground and not go slinking into a corner like the puppy after Maizey growls at him. Sweetie shouted at me. I shouted back. The stalemate was broken when he picked up Buddy and huffed out of the room. All this happened during our Sunday night PBS shows. I stayed in the den. Sweetie watched in the bedroom.

It took us both about 24 hours to realize the anger was more from that "out of control" feeling than the actual situation. That realization doesn't make the shouting okay. It just makes it easier not to take it so personally.

Then he tried to fix something on the car. I won't say it was an easy fix, but one that he's done before. After messing with it and getting nowhere, he said "uncle" and headed for Pep Boys where the price went from changing a light bulb, to needing tires and a bunch of things in between. So he went to Maaco where he once worked.  They couldn't fit him in, but had time to reminisce about "the good old days." Nothing like remembering the past to remind you you're having trouble remembering the present.  He made a couple more stops before finding someone who could replace the broken part and light bulb. He came home dripping in sweat, feeling frustrated and waving the bill like a white flag of surrender.

"I'm scared," he told me later, with tears silently dripping onto his cheeks. "I think I may be crossing over into the next stage."

While all this was happening to Sweetie, I noticed I've how jittery I've been feeling. Loud noises set me on edge. I'm having trouble focusing on more than one thing at a time. Instead of making me grateful for the water, the heat index of 100+ degrees, afternoon storms, and lack of daily walk make me crabby. Under the circumstances, all these feelings for both of us are undoubtedly to be expected.

  • More than 40% of family caregivers report that the emotional stress of their role is high or very high. (Alzheimer’s Disease International)
  • In 2014, Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers had $9.7 billion in additional health care costs of their own. (Alzheimer’s Association)
  • Seventy-four percent of caregivers of people with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias reported that they were “somewhat concerned” to “very concerned” about maintaining their own health since becoming a caregiver. (Alzheimer’s Association)
Since I've spent the last 20 years as a caregiver at both ends of the age spectrum, I know there's one sure way of not going crazy. Give up trying to be in control. Let things unfold as they will. Go with the flow.  I'm trying, like anything else, it takes practice. As Martha Beck suggests, "Practice staying calm all the time, beginning with situations that aren't tense."

Looking forward to some less tense times,
Merry ME

Monday, July 20, 2015

Be Your Best Self

Yesterday I joined my sister, her husband, Sweetie, a passel of aspiring ballerinas and their mothers at a book signing by Misty Copeland. Copeland is the first African-American to be chosen as the principal dancer in the American Ballet Theater's 75 year history.  Let me just say she is as poised and beautiful in person as you would imagine.

Photo by Michael Bondanza
Most of the questions were from the students of a ballet academy started by a young woman who Copeland mentored for several years. Sadly, this woman suffered a career ending injury. All her energy these days is focused on encouraging young girls of color to dream the dreams Copeland must have had once.

What should I do to be like you? asked one girl clothed in a black leotard and pink tights.
"First of all, don't try to be like me," advised Copeland. "Be your best self. Find a path that works for you." I love that advice. What a perfect thing to say to a girl, a teenager, a young woman, an old woman.

Serendipity that I was just talking to Sweetie about growing and becoming more of me?

"Ballet. something pure in this crazy world"
Misty Copeland

Coincidence that I was just relating to Bella's mom a story I read about how to talk to young girls without making it all about their looks?  I admit every time I see that cutie patootie I want to tell her how beautiful she is and seeing her in a tutu makes me melt. While I'm not sure I'll be able to stop doing that, I will remind her to always be her best self - smart, brave and in her own words, silly. Even though her parents will most likely point her towards an academic, not artistic,future, there's always the possibility that one day, because Misty Copeland opened a door, Bella could be the first Indian principle dancer at the ABT.

When else fails, remember to be your best self,
Merry ME

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Never Say Never

"Happiness is a warm puppy."

Charles Shultz

My father had several credos he lived by:
Be prepared.
You can never have to many flashlights.
The best way to get over losing a dog is to get a new one as soon as possible.

The month before he passed away his beloved Black Beauty's hind legs gave out. She was in so much pain, I did made the decision to euthanize her. The next day my father started talking up the pros of a new dog. He failed to see how much more work that would be for me. I didn't know Dad was so close to death, but I did know he was getting harder and harder to take care of. There was just no way I could handle the responsibility of a new dog so I put my foot down. Not something I did very often with my father. It was the right thing to do. But I still regret it. Especially so because he would have loved Suzi Q. 

About 6 months after Dad passed away Sweetie and I went to the Humane Society to look at a dog that had been advertised as a German Shepherd. It was more horse than dog. On our way through the maze of kennels and cacophony of barking/crying dogs, I noticed a beauty with the biggest, brownest eyes. I've always been a sucker for brown eyes. It wasn't the dog I had come for, so I kept walking. However, after deciding against the shepherd, I took a second look on the way out. Big mistake. Once our eyes met, I knew this dog would be going home with us. 

We were told Suzi was a Beagle/Shepherd mix. There is doubt that she carried a variety of canine DNA in her veins but she was more American Fox Hound than anything. Of course we didn't know that until we crossed paths with a fox one night on our walk and she let out a sound that I've only heard in British movies when a fox hunt was in full swing. Although Suzi may have known exactly where the neighborhood fox hung out, she wasn't what one might call the smartest dog in the litter. Despite the money we spent on training, she never learned to do much more than appear in the kitchen at dinner time. But oh, how she loved. I fussed at her a lot because she was always asking for one more head rub. 

And then, in an eerie similarity, her back legs gave out. She was in excruciating pain. As Sweetie, Johnson and I sat nearby sobbing, the vet gently put an end to the pain. I took the exact opposite approach from my father. I swore I'd never have another dog again. Saying goodbye is just too damn hard. Besides we still shared the house with 2 cats and a 4 year old, 70 lb. American Bulldog with the heart of a puppy.  There really wasn't any to get another dog. 

Except. We missed Suzi. And the more we missed her, the more we considered getting another dog to fill the hole she left behind.  We decided to "just look" at rescue sites, the City Animal Control, the Humane Society, Craig's List.  I was pretty sure when the right dog came along, we'd know it.   We brought a couple home. One didn't like Maizey. One didn't like the mailman.

Then Sweetie began to wonder if there is such a thing as a service dog for ALZ patients.  Could a dog be trained to remember where he left his keys? If he stood in the kitchen wondering why he was there, could a dog give him some kind of clue? If he began to wander like some ALZ patients do, could a dog bring him home - a la Lassie? All good questions deserving lots of research. Not to mention dollars and time.

There are a lot of things that can be said about my son, at the top of the list is his affinity for all creatures large and small. It's a gift. To see him with Maizey is to see love in action. Johnson knew we wanted a dog. Knew all the pros. Knew all the cons. Knew better than us that a Lab puppy was what we were looking for.  Knew that once we saw it we'd melt and not think twice about the work involved in taking care of a puppy. He was right. And something tells me, even the spirit of Dad that hangs around the house is a little bit happier.

He-e-e-r-r-e's Buddy.
7 week old Yellow Lab from Hoboken, GA

Love at first sight
Grumpy Grandma watching the young whippersnapper play with a ball that looks suspiciously like hers.
I'll just jump down to the bench, then I'll be that much closer to the floor when I fall.

A rawhide. I knew I'd find something good in here!
Big dog. Little pillow.
Little dog. Big Pillow.

One of these things is not like the others. Can you spot it?

The great explorer
You said fetch. You didn't say anything about bringing the ball back to you.

 I've noticed we've done a lot more laughing lately,
Merry ME

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

What, me worry.....

truth be told I do worry but not excessively. See post below.

Any way. Here's a salute, hat's off and a hearty Thank You To John Ellington.

John is Mary's son who has lived with us for some time. Recently I realized she and John were discussing dogs while both were looking on line at various offerings and pet rescue places. Then I heard a discussion with a breeder in Georgia over some puppies. Next thing I know John is in his truck going to Georgia to see this puppy. The next thing I know is Mary showing me a picture of a puppy in the front seat of John's truck which is returning home. There's a message "jack will melt when he sees this pup." Mary say's "he's a gift from John and will be your service dog."

I was stunned. For about three seconds. WOW Holy S___T is this for real? And My Buddy Boy has been with us for just more than a week. He is ever so much smarter than John said he would be. He sits when told to to get a treat. Other than that though he is a puppy who needs some training.

Mary and I spoke to the trainer at Pet Smart who told us she can give Buddy his basic training up through advanced training and was able to teach him how to pick things up and a few other basic service dogs things. Buddy won't ever get complete service dog training so I will just refer to him as my Semi-Service dog.

If you know John, send him a tweet, or message or e-mail to applaud his generosity. I'm still in awe of what he has done. THANKS AGAIN JOHN.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Brain Pharts, memory lapses, stumblebum

Words - bless 'em, damn 'em. I know I keep forgetting words when speaking, then closing my eyes I go searching for them in the recesses of memory. what's new is getting my words tangled. tonight I told Mary I was going to go and shower. what came out was intelligible I repeated it, which came out right, but it was too late she asked what did you say before that? I repeated I am going to take a shower and left the kitchen. Mmmmmmmmmmmm.

Memories - I've got plenty, but where exactly are the new ones going. There must be an Abyss hidden in the center of my brain where new thought becoming memories are meeting a cruel, untimely death.

Stumbling - My sure foot-ed-ness has abandoned me. A few weeks ago I was stepping out of the shower (wait is there a connection rearing it's ugly head here) and scrapping my foot across the sill landed face down in the bath room. No harm done, but shades of Luther. Did that rascal push me? I'm convinced this house is haunted, One ghost upstairs and two down. Today, while taking Buddy to the yard to pee, crossing the threshold I was suddenly falling. Buddy was in my right hand, draped around my fore arm. My left hand and arm were free to stop the fall. My  hand hit concrete, so did my knee and I saw Buddy, out of the corner of my eye, do a perfect 4 point landing in the grass. He looked a little bewildered but was not hurt. I scraped my knee, was embarrassed even though Buddy was my only witness, and I didn't feel bad until after Mary called to check on me and I didn't tell her what happened. I waited until she got home.

To the hospital she said. To which I replied, "no way." She got a I'll fix you look on her face declaring "I'll call Aaron (my son) and see what he wants you to do." Oh boy, Mr Big Gun. She left the room. I could hear her on the phone (speaker phone that is) as she came down the hall. "Here, you talk to him" as she exited the room. Then Dr. Aaron gave me the third degree about blacking out, feeling odd before it happened and about 30 other questions he learned to ask listening to his mother interrogate patients. I must have passed because when I abruptly changed the subject he didn't object. Then verdict was in. "It's up to you, whatever you want to do."

We've had dinner, set up the crate for Buddy and I said I'm sorry I didn't tell you on the phone, please don't be mad at me. Tersely she said "I'm not angry because you didn't tell me, I'm upset because you fell in the first place."

Knowing she will read this, I better quit while I'm ahead. jdc


I worry.
Merry ME

Friday, July 3, 2015

In a Fog

I woke up this morning well before Mary. As usual, my first stop was bathroom then on to kitchen for coffee. That made I was on the computer following my routine through the various e-mails that come in over night. Realizing it was 9:45 I went to wake up Mary and we both prepared to leave for the hospital. I went to the garage, opened the garage door and as I was walking around to open the door I realized I felt small. Shorter. As if I were in a fog.

At the hospital, we went up to the women's center on the second floor and signed in. A nurse came to take us back so Mary could do the pre-op prep. Suddenly the nurse stopped and said I would have to stay in the waiting room, she would get me when it was OK to join Mary. I panicked, I felt smaller still but I did what I was told.

Finally we were in the pre-op room together. Mary  handed me her rings (I shrank some more.) The Dr. came in, he answered questions, explained about the procedure and going to sleep. Then the surgeon lady came in and went through it all again. She left. A nurse came in asking Mary a series of questions. Once done I looked at her and said I guessed she was there to take Mary away. She was.
Mary and I kissed, I shrank some more. Mary had told me that if something went wrong I was to let them do a hysterectomy. WRONG? WTF WRONG. Let's just go home I thought to myself but said nothing as I walked away.

As directed I went to the cafeteria. I'm in a fog again. Everything is pushed back and away from me. I walked around the food court looking at all the different stations and got back to where I started. A fish sandwich with fries. A diet coke and I'm at a table eating a tasteless sandwich on a big bun, no condiments. The fries are cold, the drink is warm. It should be, I didn't get ice.

I'm back in the waiting room, book open, reading, studying. I'm taking notes, high lighting passages and it all seems like a dream. Time is wrapped in molasses but my heart is racing. Finally the doctor is there telling me Mary is OK, how the operation went and about sending a specimen to the lab. She left. I packed up and waited to be told to go get the car. A nurse came in asking me questions.         explains about taking care of Mary tonight, has me signing stuff. All of this filtered through the fog, at a distance from me.

At last I'm out front. The valet has brought the car. Standing there waiting I feel faint. I sit in the car in the open door. Waiting, where is she, what's wrong? Then she is there and we are in the car headed home. She wants to stop for a coke. The fog starts to lift, I know she must be OK if she wants a coke. Another stop at the pharmacy where the girl we know offers her a chocolate cookie. Mary says great, I say no. not until you have lunch. Mary backs away, I relent and take the cookie for her and the fog lifts some more as we banter back and to about the cookie.

We're home. Mary is in bed resting. Then she's up. We're talking and I feel like I'm landing on planet earth after a scary trip. Eventually we talk about my experience. She says you have to blog this so we can look at it and remember later. Really? Remember what, I wonder. LOL

Hours later, messages are out and in. Mary is eating soup and crackers in bed. Crunchy crackers and slurppy soup. Hey, I'm blogging here. jdc YADA YADA YADA and life goes on.

The Caregiver's Perspective
(A card from Johnson and Maizey greeted me when I came home from the hospital. Two dinosaurs sitting on a rock watch Noah's ark filled with animals float away. "Oh crap!" says one to the other, "was that TODAY?! The message on the inside of the card "a bad day is all about perspective."

A few weeks ago I was quite concerned about this upcoming surgery. I'll be honest, I was pretty sure I had cancer. (see The facts that I had no symptoms, there is no herstory of cancer in my family, and the doc only requested an ultrasound because I wanted a re-check didn't make any difference. Even though DR. J. is a psychiatrist when told me I didn't have cancer, I believed him. All my concerns floated away.

I have felt no anxiety at all leading up to this procedure. None. That said, this morning I could tell something was not quite right with Sweetie. We had the following conversation about every 15 minutes.
M: How are you?
S: I'm ok.
M: How ok?
S: Ok. Ok.
He was getting tired of me asking so I just held his hand instead.
He looked tired.
A little shaky like maybe his blood sugar was low even though he told me he'd eaten.
He was holding it together for me.
But I knew.

When he finally fessed up, I had three aha moments.
1. We know each other pretty well. When one or the other says we're "ok" sometimes that means ok, and sometimes it means no so good. We have to get better about telling the truth. Not responding how we think the other one wants us to answer, or "lying" so the other person doesn't worry. We have to get to a place in this process where we trust the other person to handle the truth. If something needs to be talked about, then we need to stop whatever is going on and talk.  I would have done that before being wheeled away. I would have addressed Sweetie's fears (it makes sense now that I know because of all the times Little Jack watched his mom being wheeled away in a truck driven by men in white coats. No wonder he felt small.)

2. Yesterday we watched a video about the 7 stages of ALZ made by a woman who described each stage and how it affected her mom.  The woman was very up front about saying, a lot of the information was from hindsight. As in, she might not have recognized a different stage until her mother was well into it.

By knowing that Sweetie is having these feelings, it helps me keep tabs on things. Helps my perspective. Maybe it won't have anything to do with ALZ. Maybe it's a sign that the disease is progressing to another stage. That's why I asked him to blog about it. So we'll have it documented. We can come back if we need to and say, "oh, now I get it."

3. The way Sweetie kissed me before I left for the OR was not only sweet and tender. It was long - not so much passionate as "I don't want to let go." Like that final hug a kid give his mom before she waves goodbye on the first day of kindergarten.  I felt the sweet and tender. Not so much the I don't want to go. I need to be more in tune. Live and learn.

Glad the fog has lifted,
Merry ME

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Sweet Life

I had lunch today with my writing buds.
Buds is really not the right word.
I think "lady" friends would be more appropriate.
The first thing I noticed was how bright everyone looked. Summery. Like fresh fruit from the garden. Like a glass of raspberry lemonade. Like a Mason Jar filled with a bouquet of wildflowers. Like an azure blue lake in the late afternoon sun. Like a ladybug on a blade of green grass and strawberries on shortcake.

Sparkly silver jewelry.
Ah, yes, sweet peals of laughter like fairy dust sprinkled amid friendly chatter.
Fruit filled wine.
Lemonade and tea.
Salads galore - all the dressing on the side.
Chilled glasses of water, dripping with condensation.
Muffins to go.

Concerned questions.
New ideas.
Plans for the future.
Possible moves.
Casa Katy.
Squirrels dining on juicy GA. peaches.
Magic Mike 2.
Claire the Clairvoyant.
Camp Broadway.

"Embrace whatever it is that will make the time you have together sweet."
Pretty good advice for everyone, not just Sweetie and me.

I don't think today could have been any sweeter.
What makes your life sweet?
Merry ME