Monday, August 29, 2011


Since I began writing this blog I have been fairly diligent about posting stories and recipes.  I have striven to keep sharing stories and events of my caregiving experiences until a few months ago.  Usually writing is a good, constructive outlet for my frustrations and I am always hopeful that sharing can be of some help to others.

My hiatus began when an unexpected tragedy struck my family.  In the past I would have taken a little time to get things back in perspective and use an event as a teaching or entertaining moment.  This summer has brought an onslaught of events, illnesses, accidents and mishaps which has kept me from my virtual "pen".  My favorite way to refer to a series of events like these is as a "Cluster Fuck".

[credit: Gary Larson, the far side]

Easter Week of this year my family was anxiously awaiting the birth of my [only] niece Kate's second daughter.  I was preparing for the usual family Easter dinner which would, as always, be at my home.  Decorations and holiday china were unpacked, menu was prepared and guests were invited.  I got the long awaited email that Kate had successfully delivered another beautiful, healthy girl. Mother and daughter  were both doing fine.

Two days passed and I was slightly concerned because I had no further updates on the new arrival and my phone calls and emails were going unanswered.  That evening I finally got a phone call from my brother to explain the lack of contact and to deliver the shocking news that his seemingly perfectly healthy 32 year old daughter had gotten out of her hospital bed the morning after delivering and collapsed to the floor with a massive heart attack precipitated by blood clot.  They had performed emergency surgery and now Kate was in a chemically induced coma to recover.  

It was one of those rare times when I was mute.  All I could manage was to offer my love and support and services in any way I could be of use.  I could hear the forced bravado in my brother's voice and I suspected there might be even more to his daughter's condition than he was able to share in that phone call.  I called our sister to catch her up on the situation.  

More time elapsed without further contact or new updates and my sister and I feared the worst.  We struggled with our overwhelming instinct to run to our brother and sister-in-law's side but we also respected that they were inundated with worrying about their only child while helping to care for the 2 year old and now the newborn grandchildren.  Finally, on that Saturday, I got the call we feared letting me know that Kate had passed away.

That evening we went to Kate's home to be with the family and to offer any possible love and support that we could.  In this twenty-first century women are not supposed to die from childbirth.  As I sat holding one child on my knee and the other in my arms all I could think was that parents aren't supposed to outlive their children.  Men aren't supposed to become widowers at 32.  A two year old and a newborn are not supposed to be motherless.  Nothing was right.  The world was off its axis. 

After some time had passed and I was settled back into the normal routine of caregiving for my mom I was feeling the urge to resume my blog.  Summer was just beginning, I was planning a short vacation and also planning my annual summer shindig that my friends and I all look forward to.  I had a birthday party to go in Central New Jersey and I needed some "down time" with dear friends.

It was a beautiful day for the birthday party and everything was shaping up great.  I didn't even have to drive myself to NJ as I was being "chauffeured" by a friend and her husband. We arrived at the party and I was having a great time seeing old friends, laughing and relaxing.  That lasted for about 2 hours before I got a phone call from my mother's aide telling me that my mother was having difficulty breathing and I needed to come home.  I told her to call 911 and get her to the hospital that that I would be home as soon as possible but that was 2 hours away.

I informed my "chauffeur", we said hurried "goodbyes" and headed to the hospital.  All the while I was in contact with the aide for updates which were not good.  My mother was turning blue.  My mother was struggling to breathe.  "Where was the 'DNR'?"  [Oh my God]  I was in a panic.  After all these years of caring for my mother on a daily basis I didn't want her to die without me by her side.  I understand her advanced age and declined health but one is never ready to lose a loved-one.  Now this is a caregiver's big fear.

Meanwhile I called my sister who was also out of town on vacation and about the same distance from my mother as I.  I make an executive decision not to call my brother until we know what's going on because he had enough time in the hospital with his daughter and this was too soon.

I arrived at the hospital and when I saw my mother in the ER she was in bad shape.  I knew she was close to the end.  The doctors said it was pneumonia and we all know how serious that is for anyone let alone a 90 pound 90 year old.  She was struggling to breathe and looks so frightened.  I tried to comfort her to the best of my ability.  They had her on antibiotics, fluids and oxygen but her numbers were very bad.

The doctor caught me up on her condition and suggested we give morphine to try and relax her breathing.  That concerned be but I agreed.  He also informed me that she wouldn't make it through the night.  I know this is a prophecy we have been given all too many times in the past but this time I believed the doctor.  

We stayed with my mom until she calmed down and was more comfortable and at least her oxygen level approached normal.  She was resting and had had the morphine so there was really no more we could do.  I asked her aide to stay with her and to stay in contact with me through the night, which she did.  She's great with my mother and my mother loves her so I knew my mother was in good hands. As is my tradition in these situations, I kissed my mother goodbye, told her I loved her and also told her that I was making sure she had whatever help she needed to survive but the choice was hers'.  I told her I would understand if she was tired of fighting but it was between her and God.

Once again my amazing Adelaide defied all the odds!  That woman has the most amazing strength, grace and will to live.  It was a struggle, to be sure, but my mother was back home with me in plenty of time to celebrate her turning 91!  You may recall that it was a year ago that we went through a similar trauma and she celebrated her 90th in the hospital.  

We survived another "incident" and Adelaide is doing fine!  Aside from getting even more gray hair, I also managed to get a nasty upper respiratory and inner ear infection while spending so much time in the hospital.  That lasted nearly two weeks with heavy, nausea-inducing antibiotics.  I also had to postpone my planned [very much needed] vacation.


Mom and I were both back to health and I booked a second attempt at a little vacation.  I was desperate for some swimming, sun and fun.  New Jersey Shore: here I come!  I had a week before the second attempt at vacation so I decided to begin work on my afore-mentioned annual summer party.  I tend to go just a little overboard and build some simple theatrical sets so there is a backdrop for whatever theme I have conjured.  Yes, my neighbors think I'm nuts but they know my history as a man of the theatre and arts.  Last year one of my neighbors wanted to know if I was "getting ready to put on dinner theater" in my backyard!

The set-building was going great.  This party was to have a simple Italian-American backyard BBQ theme to invoke my childhood.  Think of it as "Jersey Shore" meets "The Godfather" with a lovely trellised, grape covered bar, chianti, red and white check table cloths and make-your-own panini buffet.  The trellis / arbor bar structure was done and looked great.  After 4 or 5 hours in the blazing sun I decided it was time to hang the grapes and vines.  I stepped back to admire/assess my wonderful creation.  Unfortunately when I stepped forward again I was still admiring and not looking at the ground.

I managed to stumble over the combination saw that was on the ground and I fell smack down onto my face. I remember thinking "I think my teeth went through my upper lip" before I passed out for a couple of seconds.  When I came to I put my hands to my face and was ecstatic to find my teeth and lips intact.  It wasn't until I managed to get to my feet that I noticed that in the stumble over tools I managed to tear a chunk of fat and muscle out of my right leg.  

After some screaming and swearing, my friend helped me to the front porch.  I told him where to find my emergency kit along with some wound-care supplies [always on hand] and I cleaned the wound and got a nice tight bandage around the leg.  I then had him fetch my wallet, iPhone and some clean clothes for our trip to the ER. He yelled at me for wanting to change my clothes before heading to the ER.  I guess he doesn't know me as well as I had assumed. After so many years of caregiving I should have my own parking space out front although I am rarely there for myself.

While we were waiting for me to get stitched up my friend said " well, I guess you're not going to the shore on Tuesday".  "Like hell" I protested.  Frankly, it hadn't crossed my mind with all the commotion.  "If I have to go in an ambulance, I'm not missing this trip again!"

Did I mention that although I'm a terrific and brave caregiver, I'm a horrible and cowardly patient?  I'm fine with blood.  ....other people's blood.  My blood, not so good.  I hate needles.  I've only had stitches one other time.  I'm thinking it might be a good time to pass out until it's over.  I didn't pass out even though the lovely doctor kept telling me how "ugly" the wound was and that "it wasn't going to be one of those nice scars" and then added "I'm going to have to stitch it open because I can't pull it together".  I still didn't faint, but I wanted to.  Instead, I explained that I'm a coward and asked the kind doctor to get me an nice little anti-anxiety pill.  She obliged and while I was being x-rayed and examined, the pill had time to take me to a better place.  

I got stitched up [without fainting], asked the doctor about swimming in the ocean on my vacation [told "NO"] and even managed to have my mom's aide drive us out for dinner that evening.  Perhaps the dinner wasn't such a good idea.  In the middle of dinner Niki the aide looked at my leg and noticed that I was hemorrhaging through the bandage.  On the way home we made a side trip back to the ER.  Yes, twice in one day...and now it was mid-evening and the place was mobbed.  Anyway, I got patched up and sent home to spend lots of time with my leg elevated and not much else.

Vacation day finally arrived.  I decided I was OK to drive and I was going to go even if it meant bringing medical supplies and of course, eliminating the "swimming" portion of the trip.  Yay!  The shore at last!  I walked a lot.  I played tons of mini golf.  Everything was swell.  No, really, swell.  Or perhaps I should say "swollen".  My leg swelled from my toes to my knee.  I called a doctor friend and was assured I'd be OK if I kept it elevated as much as possible and that did work.

My trip was short but great.  I didn't / couldn't swim but that was OK.  There was a lot of summer left and I'd get more chances to swim when the stitches came out after 10 days. To ease back into being at home a friend invited me to a workshop of a new play.  Perfect!  It was a beautiful sunny Sunday.  

We sat in the theatre thoroughly enjoying the show.  A short time into the show I was thinking to myself "I know it's hot out but I wonder who it is that stinks".  This was odd because we were surrounded by some pretty well know celebrities and theater people.  It wasn't until intermission that my dear friend said to me: "look, I know you hate doctors but you have to promise me you'll go to the doctor tomorrow.  I think your wound is infected because it smells".  She was, of course right.  I had been smelling my own leg wound!  I hope no one from the CLOSER reads this!

OK, trip number three in 10 days to the ER.  Hell yes, infected.  So much for having the stitches out and resuming my summer activities.  Antibiotics and 5 weekly visits from my mother's wound care doctor the last stitch came out 2 weeks ago.  I'm as good as new but the original doc was right about not being "pretty".  No leg modeling in my future.

So far it's been a great summer.  Anyone else who shares my seasonal depression will understand just how important my summers are to me.  I forged ahead with my summer party plans.  I streamlined a little but I was determined the "show would go on".


About 10 days before my big party my wonderful old pal Mickey, who had a rather large tumor, began to bleed where the tumor had ruptured.  I tried to tend to him but I couldn't get things under control.  This guy is over 13 years old which is very old for a golden retriever.  I felt so sorry for him but knew I had to muster the strength to do the right thing. I kissed him goodbye and I sent him off to the animal hospital to be put to sleep. I sobbed like a child along with a dear friend who was helping me through this.  This is the same friend who told me my leg was rotting.

The day you get a puppy is the same day you begin to dread the eventual day that you are going to have to say goodbye to him.  We picked up his bowls and gathered his toys from around the house because I didn't want to stare at them.  My friend left.  I moped.  The phone rang.  It was the Vet calling to tell me that Mickey was in good enough shape, even for his age, that they could remove the tumor safely and that we didn't need to euthanize him.  Oh, it was, of course, going to be expensive.

When you're grief stricken and get a reprieve how can you think about cost?  I think they know that, the doctors.  Now if I say "go ahead with the original plan" I feel like a murderer.  It's one thing to put your friend to "sleep" when it's the right thing to do but quite different if he can be helped.  Of course I gave the "OK" for the surgery.  Money be damned.

Mickey did very well with the surgery even though it took twice as long, he had to stay in the hospital twice as long and the cost was three times as much as the estimate!  After some recuperation, my dear old pooch is doing just great.  I keep telling him I want to change his name from Mickey to Jaguar because I could have had a new car with what he cost me!    Still, that is the most happy news of the summer.  Instead I tend to call him Lazarus because he came back from the dead.

My summer soiree came off without a hitch.  The weather was wonderful.  My friends and I had a really great time.  Some of my high school mates that were at the party hadn't seen one another in 30+ years!  

Since the party I have seen the babies a few times, my mom has been doing well, my leg is healed and I'm OK'd to swim, dog is amazingly well and summer party was a huge success!  We have also had a 5.8 earthquake, a direct hit by a hurricane, some locusts, plague and a meteor hit but we survived.

This summer is not one that will ever be forgotten.  Our lives were forever altered.  We will always see Kate in her two beautiful and precious gifts to us.  

I am looking forward to a wonderful autumn!

OK blog readers, I'm back! 
I hope you get back in the habit of visiting here.