Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Rough Start: What Next? Maybe I Shouldn't Tempt The Fates By Asking!


“GOD DAMN IT! Don’t ask me again! That’s the FIFTH time you’ve asked me and I don’t want to talk about it anymore!”

I hear my father shouting at my mother as I walk carefully down the worn steps leading away from my upstairs bedroom.

“Oh no! It’s only 7:51 a.m. and she’s up?” I think.

The first five weeks after I moved home to care for my parents, I had to wake my mother from a sound sleep every morning at 9:00 a.m. The time change occurred last Saturday and I thought she would transition well to it, sleeping an extra hour each morning. But this past week, she has woke up earlier and earlier each day. I can’t seem to get up before her, even when I set my clock.

“I just want to know why I can’t have ANY COFFEE!” my mother snaps back at my father. She is diabetic and has not had her fasting blood sugar test yet. My father is denying her coffee until I get up and test her.

I step on the carpeted floor of the hallway, walk quickly down its two bedroom length and turn the corner into the living room.

My mother is leaning forward on her green velour lounge rocker, with a frustrated look on her face. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s three years ago and cannot form new memories easily. Lately, she seems to fixate on one question or comment and repeat it throughout the day.

She is dressed in the black pull-on pants and printed blouse that I laid out in the bathroom last night. I discovered that if I leave a pair of protective underwear on the shower seat, in front of the toilet, she will put them on if she wakes in the middle of the night and finds herself wet. I applied that idea to her clothing and started putting the next day’s clothes in the bathroom closet at night. She has found them on the mornings she gets up early and has dressed herself.

My father is leaned back on the new, tan couch. He is visibly upset and angry. Earlier this year, after his second bout of chemo for lung cancer was finished, he began to hallucinate. The doctors did tests and told my father that the cancer had spread to his brain stem. The hallucinations have been brought under control with Thorazine, even as the inoperable cancer grows. Last Friday, he began to hallucinate again. I have added another Thorazine to his bedtime dose and the increased dosage has made the little girls in white, who poke needles in his eyes, disappear.

I stand in between the green rocker and the tan couch. “DAD, YOU CAN WAKE ME UP WHEN SHE GETS UP.” I shout. My father is hearing impaired.

“Ahhhh!” He growls and waves his hand at me, as if to wave me away. The irritation he feels is mirrored in his expression. He reaches for the remote and mutes the booming surround sound system, fed by the TV. “Whaaat?” he drawls.

“IT’S OKAY IF YOU OPEN THE UPSTAIRS DOOR AND CALL ME WHEN SHE WAKES UP. I WAKE UP REALLY EASY. I’LL GET UP AND HELP.” I tell him.

“You’re up late writing your book. You need your sleep,” he says. “Besides, you always wake up before 8:00.”

“DAAAD! WHEN I WORKED IN SAN DIEGO, I GOT 3 HOURS OF SLEEP A NIGHT, MOST NIGHTS, AND I FUNCTIONED FINE. I’LL BE OKAY AND IF I’M NOT, I’LL TAKE A NAP WHEN MOM TAKES HERS.”

He shrugs his shoulders. I’ll set my clock earlier for tomorrow, because I know he won’t wake me up.

I turn to my mother. “Mom, Let’s get you up to the table and I’ll take your blood sugar. Then you can have your coffee.”

My mother scoots to the edge of her green rocker. She leans forward and pushes herself up from the worn arms of the chair. She balances her weight, hands gripping the chair arms and gets her feet underneath her. She grabs her cane, holds out her free arm for me to hold and walks, supported to the table. She sits in a table chair and waits for me to set up her testing kit and insulin.

I sit next to her. I give her an alcohol swab to clean a finger. After she wipes her finger with the swab, I hand her the Ulti-Lance® Automatic Adjustable Lancing Device to prick it. She positions it on her finger, pushes the trigger and says, “Ouch!”

I load an Eclipse test strip into her GlucoLab™ meter and as she squeezes blood from her finger, I apply the test strip. The capillary action of the test strip pulls the blood from her fingertip.

“Five, four, three, two, ONE!” I count down with the meter. “Oh no! Your blood sugar is 229!”

“Is that good?” my mother asks. Four years ago, she tested daily and maintained a diet that kept her blood sugar between 90 and 130. That’s the goal we are now trying to make.

“It’s too high, Mom.” I tell her. I show my father.

“229?” he asks. “What’s she been doing?”

“I THINK I SHOULD HAVE GIVEN HER A HALF OF AN ORANGE LAST NIGHT, INSTEAD OF A WHOLE ONE.” I say.

“Okay.” He walks back to the couch, shaking his head. Last week she tested 130 and 131 on two consecutive days.

I insert the BD Ultra-Fine® II insulin syringe into the Lantus®, turn the bottle upside down and withdraw 10 units of insulin.

“Where do you want it?” I ask.

She slides up her left sleeve. I wipe her upper arm with another alcohol swab. I insert the syringe. It resists, then goes in. I wince and quickly plunge the insulin into her arm. I pull out the syringe and rub the injection site with the alcohol swab.

“How’s that? I ask.

“Pretty good,” answers my mother. Apparently she didn’t feel the resistance.

“I’m setting up a new needle for tomorrow.” I tell her. I toss the old needle into the sharps container on the end table we use for the medicines.

“Now, I’ll get you coffee.” I tell her.

“Finally!” she says.

I notice her feet are bare when I set her black coffee on the table in front of her. I walk to her bedroom, get a pair of socks and hand them to my father. He has developed a ritual of putting her socks on her each morning. She insists she can’t bend down to put them on, but every once in a while I see her do it. Not today, though.

“Oh! Your feet are bare,” says my father. He hobbles to the table, bends down and puts her socks on. “I get to gaze upon your lovely, painted toes.”

“You’re a keeper!” she says and gives him a smile. This is why he puts her socks on each morning. He likes to hear that specific compliment.

I go into the bathroom to change into clothes. I see her used protective underwear lying on the floor under the shower seat at the same time I step into a wet spot on the carpet in front of the sink. I sigh and pick up the underwear. It has soaked through the carpet in front of the toilet and left droplets of urine on the floor tile. I throw the underwear into the waste basket, pull the liner out and tie it closed. I pull the extra liner from the bottom of the trash can, shake it and line the can with it. I pick up the rugs and pile them outside the bathroom door, along with my mother’s nightgown. I take a Clorox wipe and clean the floor. I reach into the closet for clean carpets and place them on the cold tile in front of the toilet and sink. I wash my hands, change from my nightgown and pick up the trash bag and dirty clothes, as I leave the bathroom. I drop the clothes into the laundry basket on the back porch and throw the trash into the trash can on the patio outside. I wash my hands, again, take the clothes out of the dryer, transfer last nights wash into the dryer and then fill up washing machine with a new load. I start the machines. I wash my hands a third time.

I throw defrosted ribs into my computerized Crockpot for tonight’s dinner. I cook a breakfast of ham, eggs and toast. I serve my mother at the table and my father on the couch. I set my place next to my mother. We eat silently, while the TV blares and when we’re done, I collect the dishes to soak in the sink.

My mother gets up, walks to her green rocker and sits down. “Will you bring me coffee?” she asks me. I rewarm her coffee and bring it to her.

There is a knock on the door. Our Maltese, Roxie, growls and begins to yip shrilly. I answer the door, while shushing the dog.

“I’m from Pacific Power. I’m here to collect on an overdue bill,” a woman says.

“I paid them!” my father hands her a bill for September marked paid. It’s now November.

“Sir, you’ll have to look in your checkbook,” she says, looking a little unsettled.

I follow her gaze and notice he has blood under his nose. It looks like the toothbrush moustache that Hitler wore. I make a mental note to tell him after the Pacific Power lady leaves. He steps back into the house.

“He has brain stem cancer.” I tell the lady, to explain the September bill. “How much is the bill? Do you take credit cards?”

“Oh. I’m sorry,” she answers. “$180.88 is due. You’d have to call it in over the phone if you use your card. I can take a check.”

“Even if it’s a California check?” I ask. Some companies don’t want to take out-of-state checks.

“Don’t matter to me,” she says.

I write out a check. I ask if the company will credit the double pay to his account when they get the check he sent. She assures me they will.

When I go back inside, I see that my father has laid out all the bills on the table. He is searching for the power bill.

“IT’S TAKEN CARE OF, DAD,” I tell him.

“There!” he says, pointing at an entry in his checkbook. Instead of writing Pacific Power, he had written the monetary amount on the payee line, when he recorded the transaction in his checkbook.

“OKAY.” I said. “NEXT MONTH IS ALREADY PAID FOR.”

He starts trying to figure out what bills he has paid and what bills he owes. The piles of bills are too overwhelming and he says, “I’ll do this later. The checkbook’s a mess.”

“YOU CAN TAKE IT TO YOUR BANK AND THEY WILL BALANCE IT FOR YOU.” I tell him.

“Ahhhh.” He shakes his head, “I don’t want them to see how I messed it up.”

“YOU KNOW, THEY’VE PROBABLY SEEN WORSE.”

He shrugs, gathers the bills into piles and shuffles off to the couch.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I think I’ll go to bed,” says my mother.

“No, Mom. You just ate. You’re blood sugar is up. Drink some water. It’ll make you feel better. You have to wait until after lunch to take a nap.”

She looks at me as if trying to figure out an argument to rebuke my statements, and then she takes a drink of water from the bottle on the end table. “I can’t take a nap?” she asks.

“No. If you sleep now, you’ll stay in bed all day, and then be up all night. It’s not fair to the rest of us.” I tell her.

“You can stay up to entertain me.” She grins, widely. Her eyes are devoid of cunning. They look as innocent as a two-year old’s eyes.

I smile and shake my head. She continues to grin at her joke. I know the focus of the questions of the day. They’ll be about napping.

I hit the ground running this morning, when I wanted a slow start. It’s calm now, but I can’t help but think, “What’s next?”

Maybe I shouldn’t tempt the fates by asking.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Visit To The Red & White Store: I Hear Dead People


“Let’s go!” My husband was impatient.

I set the cooler full of drinks on the floorboard behind the front seat and the bag full of snacks on the back seat next to my sister. “You’re the one who gets to hand out the goodies!” I said to her.

“Better be nice to me then!” she joked.

I climbed behind the wheel of our rental car and turned to my husband, sitting in the front passenger seat. “Where to?” I asked him.

“Diamond Lake,” he answered.

“Good choice!” My sister’s voice resounded from the back seat.

We drove through Roseburg, turning onto Diamond Lake Boulevard and headed east on Highway 38. The road parted fields of tall yellow grasses, dotted with blackberry bushes laden with berries. Dilapidated old barns stood majestically on weathered frames amid tall, green Douglas Firs. The river wrestled chaotically over rocks revealed by summer time water levels. Panting deer lay in green shaded meadows at the foot of rock studded mountains that pierced the cloudless sky. Hawks glided on the gentle breezes, searching below for field mice.

“Look!” I said, pointing at a road sign. “Crater Lake is open. We’ve got our National Parks Card so we can get in cheap. Do you guys want to see the Pinnacles?”

“Yeah!” my husband answered.

“I haven’t seen Crater Lake in a long time,” said my sister.

“Cool!” I smiled and followed the signs that would take us to the lake. I arrived at an intersection and stopped. It was then I saw the sign for Chemult.

“Let’s go to Chemult and see if the Red and White is still standing.” I suggested waiting at the stop sign.

“Grandma and Grandpa’s store!” said my sister, sentimentally.

My husband grinned and nodded. He loved spontaneous adventure better than a planned road trip.

I turned onto the two lane highway framed on either side with red pumice and thick groves of dust coated pine trees and headed towards Chemult. I drove several miles before arriving at the small town where my grandparents had operated their business. Their small grocery store had opened to the public from the front. They had lived in the back, entering the store whenever a customer opened the door, striking bells hung to alert them to the visit.

We parked in front of the small store built of wooden planks once painted white with red shutters.

“Wow. It sure looks different.” I said. My sister nodded. We looked at the two story fa├žade built of graying boards. The second story served as a bulletin board for product advertisements. The windows held even more placards for items sold inside. It was a chaotic mess. I remembered the windows of my youth. They had held neon signs advertising beer and nothing more.

“Let’s go inside.” My husband said.

We walked through the door, announced by an electronic beep. The nostalgic smell of the old Red and White filled my nostrils. Unfinished wooden floorboards and Red Man tobacco still permeated the store.

“Do you remember how the store was set up?” I turned to my sister.

“Not really,” she answered. “Do you?”

“Yeah.” I pointed to the southwest corner of the store. “They built a wall there and installed coolers. That used to be where Grandma and Grandpa entered the store from their kitchen. The counter and register was there.”

I took my sister and husband on a tour of the small store, describing the set up I remembered. A clerk behind the register listened to my dialog while waiting on customers.

I got in line so I could talk to her. “My grandparents used to own this store when I was a child,” I told her. “We’re visiting our roots. Is there any way we could look in the back?”

She smiled. “Sure.” She asked a coworker to mind the register and volunteered to give us a walking tour.

“The bathroom is in the same place.” I said, noting the updates. The shower stall had been removed and an antique dresser holding live plants sat in its place. The toilet was now installed on a wide platform.

The clerk stepped into the long walkway to the back of the house. “This is the cooler.”

“This used to be my grandpa’s bedroom. I think he died here.” I said to her.

“Wow.” She said. “This room is haunted. We’ve seen a man standing here. We have a clerk who is kind of lazy. She’s told us that she’s heard noises during her shift. We think that he doesn’t like laziness.”

The hair on the back of my neck stood up. I believed her. When I was 10 years old, my grandpa died. He appeared to me in a lucid dream, scared, reaching his arms out to me and calling my name. The third time he called my name, he started to rotate with the spinning vortex behind him. He was sucked into the vortex, still calling my name. I knew he had died, frightened and resisting his death. It made sense that he was still at the Red and White. I told the clerk about my childhood dream.

The clerk walked us to the back of the house. “This is the storeroom,” she said.

“Oh my God!” I said. “Our school pictures used to hang there forty years ago!” I pointed to an area on the back wall. The wood had darkened with time, except for five rows of three by five inch rectangles. I looked on the north wall of the room and spotted a light irregular shape. “The deer head used to hang there!”

The deer head had been a four point buck that my grandpa shot. It weighed 345 pounds and the meat was so tough even the dogs couldn’t eat it. Its rack measured one inch wider than a regulation doorway. It was the only deer head my grandpa had ever mounted.

A train rumbled by and the house began to shake and rattle. “When I was three, I was sleeping on the couch, under the deer head. A train went by and rattled it right off the wall. I woke up to the deer’s horns straddling my head on either side of my ears, its eyes staring into mine. It scared me and I screamed. The room filled with my parents and grandparents. They all made such a fuss that I started crying. They finally calmed me down with the promise of ice cream from the store.” I recounted the memory to the clerk.

I pointed out all the changes I could recall to the clerk. She seemed genuinely interested. She told me she really loved the store and hoped to buy it one day. She told me there was a memorial garden on the east side of the store. We were welcome to visit it.

My sister and I went out to see the garden. The plaque nailed to the ancient pine commemorated a Viet Nam veteran, the son of the family who had bought the store from my grandma. The blue and yellow flowers in the garden spilled their fragrance into the air, attracting bees. My sister and I sat on a bench in front of the plaque.

“Can you believe that?” I said. “I was hoping he would appear to me. He did when he died.” I remembered how scared he was. “I just want to know he’s alright.”

“Me too,” said my sister.

Three loud raps echoed through the side yard, startling birds into flight. I looked at my sister. We glanced toward the small rectangular window just under the eaves. “I guess your hubby wants you to go back into the store,” she said.

We stood up, stretched and walked back around to the front of the store. As we opened the door, my husband walked out and handed us a soda.

“What were you knocking for?” I asked.

“I didn’t knock,” he said.

“Who knocked? Was it the clerk?” I asked.

“I didn’t hear a knock. What are you talking about?” he answered.

My sister’s mouth dropped open and her eyes widened.

“Wait.” I said.

I popped my head into the store, locked eyes with the clerk, and asked, “Did you just knock on the window?”

As I glanced at the window, I noticed the large rack of commodities in front of it. Someone would have to climb the rack to reach the window. I looked back at the clerk.

“No. Why?” she asked.

“Uh, I heard knocking.” I said, feeling stupid for saying it. “Did you hear it?”

“Oh!” she gasped. “No. Our haunt, your grandpa always knocks three times when he makes noises.”

I grinned and nudged my sister. “I guess he was letting us know he’s okay.” I felt calm, loved, and relaxed. My hardworking, no nonsense grandpa was still managing the store he loved from the other side.

“I want to get some pictures,” I told my sister. She and I pulled out our cameras. My husband turned on his video camera. It was no use. All of our batteries had died.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Alzheimer's vs. Deafness: The Cross Dresser Conversation


“Freddy has my shoes on!” my mother says. She is sitting at the table watching my husband.

My husband smiles and says, “These are my shoes.” He has just purchased a pair of black Crocs.

“No, I think they’re mine.” My mother argues.

I start to laugh. My husband hunts down my mother’s black Croc look-alikes and holds them up. “Here are your shoes,” he says as he stands behind her easy chair.

“See, you did have my shoes!” my mother insists.

My husband smiles, steps out from behind her chair, holding her shoes in his hands and wearing his Crocs. “These are your shoes.” he says and he moves her shoes as if they are performing an air dance. “These are my shoes.” He steps forward. He sets her shoes where she can see them, and then sits down next to me.

I laugh, turn to my husband and say, “You little cross dresser!”

My mother says in dead earnest, “If he wants to wear my bra, he can.”

I laugh until tears start to roll down my cheeks. My father, who is deaf in one ear and has impaired hearing in the other, has missed the whole exchange. He looks at me and asks my husband, “Is she okay?”

My husband grins at me and says, “I think she’s a little tired.” It has been a long day.

My father nods his head towards my mother and says, “I’m tired too, after trying to figure her out all day.”

“That’s my job!” my mother kids.

I continue to laugh, wiping the tears.

“We knew someone who dressed up as a woman for Halloween,” my mother says to my husband.

She turns to my father. “Who was it that dressed up as a woman for Halloween?” she asks. “Was it Billy?”

My father looks at her, confused. Clearly, he does not hear the question. He looks at my husband, who takes the role of translator.

“She says that you knew someone that went out dressed up as a woman for Halloween. She wants to know if it was Billy,” my husband asks loudly.

My father continues to look confused.

“Did Billy dress up like a woman for Halloween?” my mother yells.

My father looks at my husband and says, “I’m missing something here.”

My husband says in a louder voice, “She says that you knew someone that went out dressed up as a woman for Halloween. She wants to know if it was Billy.”

“I don’t know who Billy went out with. I think it was the woman he married.” My father answers.

I rock back and forth as I laugh at the erroneous exchange.

“No.” my husband teases my father, “Did Billy dress as a woman for Halloween or was it you?”

“I don’t know.” my father answers. “There are a lot of weird people in this town. I wouldn’t go out dressed as a woman.”

“I think men that dress up as women are funny,” My mother says.

My mother has Alzheimer’s. My father has a brain tumor and is nearly deaf. Their communications (or lack of) create a type of humor that makes being their caretaker an enjoyable experience.