Candy Rant

"I killed a rat with a stick once."

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Happy 99th, Mrs. Fossilfuel

And what a day it was. When I got to her house at 10 a.m., I checked on her, and since she was only half-asleep I softly said "Happy Birthday, Mrs. Fossilfuel."

"Oh no, honey," she said, in that gravel-filled wisp of a voice. "It's not my birthday."

"Isn't February 22nd your birthday?"


"Well then, it's your birthday."

"Oh, IS it?"

"Yes. And we must celebrate."

Our celebration began with her taking a nap. As any good birthday should. I could hear her snoring while I was in the kitchen, taking stock of the situation. The Son of Mrs. Fossilfuel came into town on Monday the 18th. I had yet to meet him. Perhaps this would be the day. He is the dentist from Seattle who mysteriously doesn't actually work. But then, he is just a boy, only 65 years old, and just getting started in the world. Barely out of college.

Esther had left many notes with instructions from John Fossilfuel.

"Candy/Sherrie, John says we must take Mrs. Fossilfuel's blood pressure each morning after breakfast and write it in this notebook."

"Attention all caregivers: John says we are to make Mrs. Fossilfuel three protein smoothies each day with the following ingredients (blah blah blah) which are in the lefthand cupboard."

I hadn't even met the dickweed yet and he was giving me orders. He was out attending some woo-woo seminar on Chinese healing, the main reason he came to town. If I were guessing, I would say that percentage-wise, his reasons for coming to Phoenix stacked up this way:

Attend Chinese healing seminar: 13.5%
See Mother: 1.5%
Check on Mother's money: 85%

As I've said, I keep trying not to despise him, but the evidence of his prick-ness has accumulated.

Since the agency I work for provides strictly non-medical help, we are not allowed to take blood pressures, or even take a temperature or hand someone an aspirin. I wrote a note for John to that effect. I did not add: "If you want to know your mother's daily blood pressure, you can keep your dead ass in Phoenix where she needs you, and take it yourself."

I woke Mrs. F. at 12:30 so we could start getting her ready to leave at 1:30 for her radiation treatment. It takes a good hour for these preparations, including changing her from the green-checked dress she sleeps in, to the green-striped dress she wears for outings. Her only outings are her trips to the oncologist 5 days a week. This would be her 20th visit, with 10 more to go.

Her first stop out of bed is her potty chair, where she gives me the usual play-by-play as to what is escaping the dark hallway of her digestive tract. I then help her into her wheelchair, wheel her to the bathroom, help her out of her wheelchair into her pink vanity chair in front of her pink bathroom sink. Each time she has to stand up or sit down, mostly through my effort, she is in pain, and terrified I'm going to drop her. Even though I have, for lack of a better term, a death grip on her emaciated frame.

She sits in front of the mirror and begins her make-up routine. You know those blemish covering sticks that come in tubes like lipstick? She has 3 of those, all the same color, all of them totally empty except for a speck of make-up left at the very bottom. Mrs. Fossilfuel takes a rat-tail comb and digs down into that exhausted tube, and pulls out 4 molecules of cover-up and applies it under her eyes with the end of the comb.

Next, the rouge. You can tell she's from another era because she still says "rouge" instead of "blush" and "cold cream" instead of "lotion." I am especially fond of hearing her say "cold cream." It reminds me of my mom.

Loose powder comes next, carefully applied over the rest, then lipstick. While she's doing all this, I stand behind her and watch every detail. I used to try to turn away, or at least pretend to turn away, to give a girl some privacy. But I don't even try anymore. It's just too interesting to watch.

Most fascinating of all is the fussing over the wig.

"Is this the front?" she always asks. Yes, I say. Even though this thing is now so worn out and dull that she could turn it inside out and wear the netting for hair and it would look better. But this wig makes her happy. She takes the comb and pushes her stray white hairs up inside the horrible fur cocoon. Then, and this is my favorite part of all, she uses the comb to pull down a couple of wisps of "bangs" and says "It just looks more modern this way." Once she made the right side of the wig curl upward in a jaunty little Marilyn Quayle flip and then said "That looks more casual."

Just before it's time to leave, one of Mrs. Fossilfuel's neighbors, Anne, drops by to give her a birthday card and a giant cupcake piled with enough icing to paint a small doghouse. Mrs. F. does not eat sugar. At all. Which is probably why she has lived to be 99. But she is very gracious and effusive in her thanks.

Now to the doctor. We take the streets I've learned to take, the route which must never be monkeyed with. She is visibly shaken to be riding in a car. I don't talk to her because it shakes her up more. I only respond to her comments about a pretty tree or a little girl and her mother standing on a corner waiting for the light.

As always when we drive, she is wearing one sweater over her dress, and is covered by a second one, and also by a lime green afghan. When there isn't much left to you, what is left gets chilled very easily, it seems.

I sit in the waiting room, holding my purse and Mrs. Fossilfuel's ancient handbag, the color of dirty butterscotch, which she has instructed "You guard this with your life." 40 minutes later her treatment is finished, and the doctor has seen her and given her the news that the radiation is working very well, but she must eat more and start getting out of bed again. "Eat cheesecake," he tells her. "Get all the calories you can hold." She would sooner swallow Drano.

The nurses have some birthday treats for their oldest patient. "We don't get many 99-year-olds in oncology," the head nurse tells me. They have gotten Mrs. Fossilfuel 18 bright pink roses and a cake made of cupcakes, also pink. But they're having trouble coordinating a handful of nurses to gather round to sing "Happy Birthday." Mrs. F is exhausted and waiting to go home. I try to keep her spirits up by bending close to her and whispering things in her ear.

"You won't believe the great birthday surprise they have for you," I say.

"Oh NO, honey. Do they?"

"Yes, and you will love it."

Two more minutes pass.

"Mrs. Fossilfuel, they have MORE. THAN. ONE. treat for you!"

"No!" she hisses. "You don't mean it!"

Finally they let me wheel her backwards from the exam room into the reception area and we all sing. They show her the vase of gorgeous pink roses and she puts her hands to her cheeks. They put the pink-frosted cake (another confection that she will not eat) on her lap and we finish singing. She lowers her head and says "I'm 'fraid I'm going to weep."

"But they're tears of happiness, aren't they?" I say, trying to keep my heart from falling out.

"Yes," she says. "I'm so grateful. I have such good friends."

"What have you learned from living so long?" a nurse asks.

"Never look back," she says. "And I'd do it all again just the same."

By the time I get her home, she is very quiet, beyond exhaustion. I change her dress and put her on her vibrating cot, a fifty-year-old contraption handed down from her mother (who lived to 103) that jiggles her old rusty bones like a cheap motel bed with a slot for quarters. To me, it looks painful. But under her four afghans she says "This is heaven."

I have to leave in an hour, and her son has not returned from his seminar. Sherrie is not coming tonight because John has cancelled the evening shift while he's in town. I decide to make one of the complex smoothies and see if Mrs. F. will drink it. There are 10 ingredients, some of which make sense, like whey protein powder and whole milk and a banana. But then there is this jar of something called Bio Greens. I take the lid off and the crap inside looks like clumps of green nasty dirt. It smells like a mixture of boys locker room and maggot piss. I look at the label to see what it contains, and I see that it has expired in January 2001. My hatred for the Son of Fossilfuel grows another horn.

I make the smoothie without the green clumps and it doesn't look bad. I offer it to her. Take just a sip, I say.

"No. I'll eat real food."

The clock ticks and I have to go home. She has been on her vibrating cot for almost two hours. You have to wonder if that's healthy, but then really, what difference could it make now? I tell her I need to go, and ask if she'd like me to help her back to bed before I leave.

"No, honey, I'll just stay on here."

We three caregivers thought that if the son came to Phoenix and saw what bad shape his mother is in, he would be at her side, or make sure someone else was with her all day long. No. Dump these smoothies into her gullet and let her fend for herself. I consider staying, but I'm worn down to a nub myself and would really like to see my husband's face, a rarity these days with our work hours.

I leave a second note for Dickweed next to the "we don't do blood pressure" one.

"Made your mother a smoothie. She didn't want it. I left out the Bio Greens, since they expired before the Twin Towers fell."

Locked the door as I left, and hid the key.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Mrs. Fossilfuel Has Clean Hair

Though I could not talk her into a shower, I contributed some of my pointed and superior psychological skills to coerce her into what my grandma used to call "a good head-warshin'."

The bait? Her son's upcoming visit.

All Mrs. F. has been able to talk about lately is that son of hers coming from Seattle.

"When John gets here this" and "When John gets here that." We Fossilfuel caregivers are sick to death of hearing his name. We have pieced together enough information about him to conclude that he is a worthless, humorless hyena of a man. 65 years old, allegedly used to be a dentist, allegedly has many "clients" but doesn't actually work. Doesn't draw social security yet because he draws so frequently from Fossilfuel Bank and Trust. When he calls to check on her, no amount of our welcoming phone chitchat can warm his level of friendliness to anything above the witch's tit/brass bra category.

Esther, Sherrie, and I, the trio Mrs. F. calls "my good team" have been using His Excellency's arrival as leverage with his mother about her all-consuming stench. We each have our own style of approach:

Sherrie: I could help you get a shower before bedtime, Mrs. Fossilfuel.

Mrs. F.: Oh no, honey. We won't worry about that.

Candy: You know what always feels good? A shower. Let's put you in the shower.

Mrs. F.: Oh honey, I need to rest. Maybe later.

Esther: You know what, Mrs. Fossilfuel? You're going to stink when your son gets here. He's going to take one whiff and run out that door.

Mrs. F.: (Remains silent, fearing that any sass aimed at a half-Hispanic will get her knifed in the spleen.)

You can guess which approach was most effective. The "Lose Your Son Because of Your Stink" Threat. The idea of repulsing her precious royal offspring dropped into Mrs. Fossilfuel's mental crockpot and simmered for days. Until, on Friday, during my shift, it plopped out of her mouth like this:

"You know, honey, I think today I might like to get a good shower."

My mouth fell open, as did the squeaky gates of heaven, and a platoon of angels came floating into the room playing harmonicas to the tune of the Hallelujah chorus. It was very moving.

But don't get excited. At the moment of truth Mrs. F. declined the shower yet again and agreed only to letting me wash her hair in the kitchen sink.

It was a lengthy process. I wheeled her in her wheelchair to the sink. Locked the wheels. Buckled her highest-heeled sandals onto her feet so she could be tall enough to lean over the sink. But wait. Before I could help her stand up so we could get started, she zeroed in on the basket of fake pink geraniums sitting in the windowsill. "Oh no," she said. "Oh NO. Who has been monkeying with that?"

"Monkeying with what, Mrs. Fossilfuel?"

"With THOSE FLOWERS. Oh my God."

"What's wrong with the flowers?"

"Oh honey," (I get very tired of being called honey, especially because she uses it only when she's annoyed) she said. "I had that arrangement just PERFECT and now someone has ADDED flowers to it and it is just ruined."

I was stunned. My brain went into acrobatics. You're turning 99 on Friday. Why in the hell are you obsessing on some crappy fake flowers? Get some perspective, for God's sake.

"I just can't believe someone did that."

I ran water to get it warm, and tried to ignore her. Nothing in the house is perfect. The decor is woefully stuck in 1955, the white eyelet lace curtains in the kitchen windows are gray with age, the wallpaper is loose on the walls, the carpet is worn and dismal. The chandeliers, still elegant, are coated with dust and look like something from the set of "The Shining." Screw the geraniums.

"I'll bet that Sherrie did that. I'll bet it was her."

"Mrs. Fossilfuel, I do not think Sherrie monkeyed with your flowers. But if she did monkey with them, I'm certain it was not her intention to make you unhappy."

"Oh I know, honey. You're right. Just please put them somewhere I can't see them." I put the horrific, nightmarish, traumatizing flowers on the other side of the kitchen.

"Now can we wash your hair?"


I assumed the pose I use to help her stand up from her wheelchair. I bend over at the waist toward her, brace myself on the wheelchair with one arm and hold the other one out to her as though I am an usher at a wedding. She hooks her arm into it and stands up in a slow, slow, careful, painful ascent.

I have never washed anyone's hair but my own. Not anyone human. It all feels weird and embarrassingly intimate. I put that out of my mind and just tell myself to go through the motions and deal with it later.

So there we are, me and this crooked little woman in her high-heeled white sandals that are yellow with age, bent over at the kitchen sink. I'm careful not to press too hard on the part of her scalp where the staples are, from her fall just after Christmas. The fall that began her decline. Two months ago she was still cooking for herself, living life alone in her house, paying little attention to the fact that she was 25 years past her life expectancy.

Things change. And before know you it, strangers are coming into your house to make your meals and answer your phone and help you to the bathroom and check on you while you're sleeping and talk you into washing your hair.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Meanwhile, Back at the Fossilfuel Ranch...

It's actually only a ranch house.

Mrs. Fossilfuel will not take a shower. It has been five weeks since she's had a shower or washed her hair. All three of us who go to her house are willing to help her with personal hygiene, but she refuses. And we can't force her.

Esther, who spends 12 hours a day, Monday through Thursday, in the Fossilfuel orbit, took the bull by the horns this week.

"Mrs. Fossilfuel," she said, "you smell. You smell bad. Let me at least give you a sponge bath and wash your hair. And my God, please let me wash that wig!" (At this point the wig is tangled and stiff and all akimbo like a roadkill possum.)

"No, no, honey. We can't bother with that right now. We'll just take care of the important things."

"Mrs. Fossilfuel, being clean IS important."

The argument continued. Esther lost.

When I arrived at 6 p.m. on Tuesday for the evening "shift," Esther was massively honked off. She had had quite enough of the smelly Mrs. F.

"She has been wearing that blue-checked dress every day for a month. And she won't let me wash it. I am ready to choke her."

Somehow I had not yet seen the dress, since Mrs. F. is always in her bedwear when I arrive: her slip (the old-fashioned kind I remember my mother darting around the house in while getting ready for church), her 40,000% polyester quilted pink robe, and her pink fleece bed jacket. I had never seen a bedjacket in real life. I thought they were all in Hollywood draped over the shoulders of skeletal old actresses like Jessica Tandy (wait, she's dead) and Bette Davis (Oh. Also dead.) as they are propped up on pillows to clutch hand-held mirrors in order to paint on their eyebrows.

Esther left and I went to say hello to Mrs. F.

"That Esther..." she says. "She can be so argumentative."

Esther is lucky to be allowed into the Fossilfuel residence at all, because she is half Hispanic. But she is also light-skinned and "passed" as Caucasian. By the time Mrs. F. found out, via Esther, that Esther's mother is Mexican, Mrs. F. said "Well, it's too late now--I already like you."

Many eldercare women have come and gone. Our client is very difficult to please. The agency has run out of people to send.

"They say it's because I'm 'racially biased.' That's what they told me," Mrs. Fossilfuel says. "And all I ever said was 'no Blacks or Mexicans.'"

I do not attempt to correct her. Once you enter that splintery door, you are captured like a butterfly on a bed of nails. Nosiree. And anyway, what's the point? Even if she weren't irreversibly set in her ways, I'm not here in her home to alter her biases. I'm here to cook oatmeal and wash dishes and remind her to take her medications, and drive her to the oncologist. And to occasionally get splattered with enough excrement to cry out for Moses to bring his staff and part the Brown Sea.

At least now there is a potty chair one foot from her bed. When I walked in and saw that thing, a few days after the Castor Oil Night of Horrors, I could not have been happier if a woodland fairy had come along and showered me with solid gold confetti.

Next project: shampooing Mrs. Fossilfuel's hair. This will be accomplished. Even if I have to detach her head and drop it in the washer. On "delicates."

Monday, February 11, 2008

Freshly Hoosiered

Spent 6 days in Indiana with the folks. Oh, how I needed it: to escape the annoying city I now know as "Northern Mexico" and dwell for a few days in a town barely two miles from one end to the other, where almost all the inhabitants speak English. Or at least a backwoods/inbred "I seen him downta the Dairy Queen" version of it.

I made an incredibly stupid mistake when booking my travel. A couple months back, I chose a random time to go see my family. Hmmm. Early February. I'll leave on a Monday, since Scott is off that day, and can more easily take me to the airport.

The random Monday I chose? It just happened to be the day after the Super Bowl (held in Phoenix) and the day after the FBR Open golf tournament (held in Phoenix) ended.

When I got to the airport, the crowd was impossible to believe. Like a combination of Christmas travel, Russian bread lines, and "A Missile is Headed for Phoenix Tomorrow, Get Out Now or Fry Like a Slab of Bologna at Graceland" crowds.

Normally when I fly out of here, there are maybe 40 or 50 people in line ahead of me to check their luggage and get their boarding passes. On post-Super Bowl Monday there were approximately 600 people in line when I got to the Southwest counter. I, along with the other pathetic fools, was herded all the way to the other end of the terminal, then guided outside the terminal to stand in a line a full block long. Everyone was freaking out. Hard. And so was I. Would I make my flight? Would there be fistfights? Would I go insane before I even got inside the terminal? Would I get into trouble with a TSA person like I did that time in Fort Myers?

I stood pondering my level of stupidity, trying to rank my stupid decisions in order of their heinousness. Where, for example, did choosing this day to travel rank in comparison to handing over the shit-bomb concoction to Mrs. Fossilfuel? And where would that decision rank on my lifelong scorecard of stupidity? Where does my transforming Mrs. Fossilfuel into a rectal pinata rank against, say, my poor choice of a prom date?

Examining one's own history of stupidity does make the time pass. Fortunately, Southwest Airlines showed themselves to be efficient. There were a dozen Southwest employees moving the line along, shouting instructions, busting people who were trying to cut in line. One woman's job was to stand and loudly repeat this: "If you have a Super Bowl program inside your luggage, please take it out and carry it onto the aircraft with you. Do Not Put Your Super Bowl Program Into Your Checked Bag!" When the guy in front of me asked her the reason for this, she claimed that the programs somehow would set off the X-ray machine. No one believed her. What she really meant was "If you're stupid enough to check that program, it will be stolen by baggage handlers and sold on Ebay before your buttcheeks warm up your seat in economy." After her announcement there were so many men fumbling with so many zippers, it sounded like "roofie" night at the Kennedy Smith beach-house.

In only 40 minutes I had checked my bag and was on my way to the security check-in. The line there was just as scary, and dispersed with just as matter-of-factly, this time by, dare I say it? FRIENDLY, well-trained security people. Unbelieveable. Miraculous. I was going to make my flight. Hallelujah!

Except for this: half the flights were cancelled because of the ghoulish fog in Chicago. Mine was delayed by 90 minutes, but not because of fog. I was told at the gate that "around 300 private Lear jets are trying to leave the airport" and us poor-ass fokes would have to wait our turn.

I can't believe it did not occur to me to take my Lear jet to Indiana. Another stupid decision I will need to rank.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Mrs. Fossilfuel's Castor Oil Adventure

Do not read this while eating.

I've now spent a few days with the 98-year-old Mrs. Fossilfuel. She sleeps a lot, and I check on her every ten minutes or so to make sure she's OK. Or at least OK for 98. Sometimes, to keep warm enough (though her house is kept at 81 degrees) she wraps a pink scarf around her head and over her eyes, and resembles an ancient, reclusive movie star napping at a day spa. She only needs a discarded script next to her bed.

She eats simple meals, fixed to a very precise set of instructions. I fix them as best I can, being a very reluctant visitor to the kitchen, and she always says they taste good. Even if I have to take the pear back and peel it, or the hot milk is not hot enough. Her microwave is, in microwave years, as old and tired as she is. I heat her milk in it for 5 full minutes and it is still not quite hot.

Mrs. Fossilfuel's purse is kept right next to her pillow at all times. Except for when she goes to the bathroom, during which time she asks her caregiver to follow behind her as she hobbles there with the help of her walker, and to bring the purse, then place it next to the toilet where she can see it. It's too sad to be insulting. As though she could protect herself from a dishonest person who came into her house.

Now. About the bathroom. Though Sherrie, the overnight person who comes four nights a week from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., tells me that Mrs. F. indeed walks to the bathroom when she has to go, she will not do it for me. She insists on peeing into the cottage cheese container next to her bed, while I gather her robe and nightgown upward from front and back, and hold her steady with that as though she is a wooden marionette. Her legs shake and I worry she will collapse any second. She gets upset when she can't "go", and asks me to go to the bathroom and turn the faucet on so she can hear it. I do. And then she can't hear it anyway. When finally the first drop falls into the container, she says "Oh, here it comes, honey." And then "Listen, here comes some more." It is a urine play-by-play. Two things come to mind during this.

1. Dennis Miller says that one way you can tell you're getting old is when you start peeing in Morse Code.

2. When my grandma was alive, if she felt weak or had the flu, she'd say "I'm shakin' like a dog shittin' peach seeds." This is how Mrs. F. shakes.

This past Saturday, she said she was terribly constipated. Terribly. Since she would not walk to the bathroom, she laid in her bed actually trying to poop in her pants. She refused to even attempt to walk to the bathroom so I was stumped as to what to do. I couldn't just take her outside and beat her with a shovel. Could I?

When I would check on her, the grimace on her face made me grimace, and she was seemingly in pain from straining. I asked, tentatively, with my shovel behind my back, if there was anything I could do.

She asked me to go to the kitchen and mix this up for her:

One ounce of pineapple juice
One ounce of castor oil

She said this is the potion her mother told her about, (yes, her mother, who I believe was a contemporary of Betsy Ross) and she learned it from an old woman who was an expert in natural healing. And a contemporary of Cleopatra.

Right now you might be saying to yourself: Oh, Candy. I know you didn't give Mrs. Fossilfuel a full ounce of castor oil. I know you didn't. Because only a true dumbass would do such a intensely dumbass thing.

But Candy is not terribly well-versed in castor oil. Also, since Mrs. F. has been deemed "coherent," it is not my place to tell her what she can and cannot have.

So yes. I gave her the mixture in a measuring cup and she drank it. It was 3:00 p.m.

At 4:50 p.m. the world grew dark.

When I checked on her, she said "Oh honey, I think I need the pot." The "pot" is her name for the cottage cheese container.

In my estimation, it was way too late for that. But perhaps I was too hasty in my judgment. After all, she had so far only soaked her robe, nightgown, and bedsheets in shit. Great pools of shit. For a moment, I could not move. My muscles came to a complete frozen stop as my cognition took hold of the news that I was somehow going to have to deal with this flurry of feces.

"Oh my God, Mrs. Fossilfuel. Let's get you to the bathroom."

"Oh, honey. I just can't."

It was then that I wanted to kill her.

I'm going to condense this next segment, partly for your sake, partly for mine. But let me just say that when I helped her sit up, there was a long, juicy, horrible sound coming from her nether regions that I thought was the devil himself calling my name. I was shocked to the bone that this feeble old woman who is as fragile as a wasp's nest could rip off such a sinister, echoing frapp that could peel the fur off a baboon. But there was no time to be shocked. Mrs. Fossilfuel was unloading every morsel of food she had eaten since she had stood on the dock as a three-year-old bidding farewell to the Titanic.

For the next hour, I tried desperately not to breathe. I went through five pairs of latex gloves, a full roll of paper towels, opened the windows that would open, plunged the toilet numerous times, and listened to comments like "Oh I feel so much better" from Mrs. Fossilfuel, the old woman who had transformed herself into a rectal pinata.

When Sherrie came for the night shift, she took one whiff inside the house and started loudly calling the name of our Messiah. I explained what had happened. I told her she could kill me. I just didn't care any more.

When I got home, Scott came up to hug me as he always does. I waved him off because I was too tired to summon the words "Don't hug me. I've been slithering through shit." I sat on the kitchen floor, leaned back against the side of the oven and said "Please bring me some alcohol." He did. I drank. And I told him the story, as I threw everything I was wearing into the washer. And then threw myself into a hot bath.

Here is how Mrs. Fossilfuel thinks. Here is how she prioritizes things:

When Sherrie and I had moved her to a chair and sat her atop a pile of plastic grocery bags to keep the chair safe from her radioactive brown lava, and were scrubbing her bare mattress with carpet cleaner and trying not to lose the will to live, we pulled a clean sheet out of the closet to put on her bed while the mattress pad soaked in bleach. Mrs. F. looked at it and said "Oh, don't use that one. It's all cotton. It wrinkles."

Friday, February 01, 2008

Hankie Got a Tie for Christmas.

And so, in a brief intermission from all the posts about elderly people, I present to you Hankie, our elderly cat.

He is almost 20 years old now, and more dignified than ever, sporting this beautiful tie sent to him my his Aunt Futuresis, a frequent commenter on Candy Rant, and my amazingly cool new sister-in-law.

As you can see, Hankie received treats for striking a pose.