Candy Rant

"I killed a rat with a stick once."

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

More Bonding With Mom

I've mentioned before that my mom is a food bully.

When I was in Indiana last week, I was making myself a turkey and cheese sandwich for lunch.

Mom: You want some sweet pickle slices on that?
(She knows I have always hated sweet pickles like I hate a rake in the face.)

Candy: No, I don't like sweet pickles.

Mom: You asshole.

Candy: I'm an asshole because I don't like sweet pickles?!

Mom: Yes. Asshole.

Hear ye, hear ye. Let it be known throughout the land that if any person shall reject the offer of a sweet pickle, that person shall become a giant rectum for all time.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Five New Babies

This is my niece's Lab, Legacy.

No one noticed until a couple weeks ago that she was a bit plump. Then Saturday morning she secretly delivered this output that was impressive but still left her three away from being an Octodog.

Apparently she had been dating, Jungle Fever style. Her owners are still trying to find the father. The two dark male Labs in the neighborhood have been "fixed." And Legacy's not talking.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Jinks and Beulah

At Shiny Meadows, a few rooms down the hall from Dad, reside a long-married couple, Jinks and Beulah. They're both around 90 and both in wheelchairs.

At mealtimes in the dining room, Jinks sits with "the boys" at his table of four, and Beulah dines with her 3 girlfriends. At first this bugged me a little (I've been there for a lot of meals and have become familiar with the people and their dinner habits), but when I considered that they spend all day in their room together, this seemed like their social time out. And yes, I do realize this is none of my business, but I can't help watching it all.

At the end of the meal, Jinks lines his wheelchair up behind Beulah's and pushes her along, tiny moves forward, as he shuffles his feet to inch his own chair forward. This process of getting back to their room takes five to ten minutes, and when I first witnessed it, I felt like melting into a pool of "Awwwww." It was so sweet, so romantic that even in their heightened frailty, Jinks is this devoted to Beulah, fully invested in seeing her safely back to their room and taking some of the burden of daily life off her tired shoulders.

However, it is easy to look at someone's marriage partnership and decide how it is, and be just a sliver off-track in your estimation. A friend of mine who comes to visit her grandfather in Shiny Meadows, lived next door to Jinks and Beulah out in the deep rural backwoods of Indiana, and knows them well. Apparently, Beulah entered the nursing home way ahead of Jinks. Two years ahead. And she was delighted to get away from him. Her freedom, earned so late in life it was practically in the closing credits, was delicious and long awaited. Jinks's visits to Beulah were as close as he could get to ruling the roost, because eventually he had to go back home.

Until he went into Shiny Meadows. And roomed with her.

Reunited and it feels so good? Not according to the nurses who work there. "Jinks like to control her," they say. "He pushes her right back to the room after dinner so he can keep track of her."

"Maybe that's why she's so sour," my mom tells me. "She never smiles. I think she takes a vinegar bath every night."

I don't know what kind of trouble Beulah could get into at the Meadows. There are no pole dancing classes, no speed-dating sessions, no dark rooms set aside for the smoking of opium. The trouble must reside in Jinks's own heart, the fear that after all these years his bride might get away. Doesn't hurt to remind her who's boss, with a little, er, rear-ending each night after dinner.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Roommate Shuffle at Shiny Meadows

Even with the vast flurry of things we worried about when Dad entered the nursing home on January 2, it didn't occur to us that roommates of all kinds would come and go. It's hard enough for college kids to deal with that when they're young and healthy and resilient. When you're old and sick and confused, the whole scenario is jarring at best.

I wrote about Dad's first roommate, Marvin, who moved out in less than a week because he was awakened many times during the night when Dad had to use the bathroom. Very nice man, who was then moved down the hall to stay with Herbert, equally nice old guy. But Herbert started to have hallucinations and terrible fear, some from his medications, some from his dementia, some from his near-blindness and Marvin has now been moved around the corner and way down the hall to a third roommate I haven't met. Marvin's doing OK, still playing bingo, still going to the dining hall for meals in his dapper cardigans.

Meanwhile, Dad had the luxury of a "private" room for a few days. An actual private room isn't available. There are only 6 of those at Shiny Meadows, and we are third on the waiting list for one. (This has created many family jokes about which of those six residents we could "off," focusing on a 104-year-old woman named Marzo. But after I saw Marzo rapidly doing her leg and arm exercises in the physical therapy room, I knew she'd have me on the floor in a headlock before I could successfully sneak into her private room to smother her with a pillow.)

During the brief no-roommate stage, Mom enjoyed the slightly lowered stress level of not having Dad continually asking "Who's that over there?" They also had a bathroom to themselves, and could sit and watch "Wheel of Fortune" in the evening without a dueling TV 6 feet away.

Enter Vernon.

Vernon is a former local bank executive, tall, thin, outgoing, friendly, and almost totally deaf without his hearing aids, which always contain dead batteries. When he speaks, he bellows. Bellowing startles a lot of old people, unless they are bellowers themselves, as some of the Shiny Meadows residents are. But not all. My dad, for example, can hear just fine.

Here is what happened: The very first night that Vernon and Dad stayed in the same room, things changed with Dad. He yet again had to get up and hobble to the bathroom several times. He can't help it. Vernon yelled at Dad for waking him up. Or maybe he just spoke at his normal skull-cracking decibel level. Which seems like yelling. (The night nurses told us this, since they are automatically summoned to Dad's room when he stands up. His bed alarm goes off.) As far as we can tell, Vernon's yelling made Dad too scared to get up and walk past Vernon's bed to get to the bathroom. So Dad didn't get up anymore. And he has not walked since that night.

Vernon was moved down the hall to room with a guy who wasn't spooked by his bellow.

By the time I got to Indiana for my latest visit, 5 weeks since the visit before that, I couldn't believe how Dad had gone downhill. He became deadweight. Unable to walk to the bathroom anymore, unable to stand unassisted, unable to even scoot himself far enough back onto the bed to lie down.

On that same visit, Roommate Number Three appeared. On the day he was to arrive, I waited and waited, staying with Dad late into the evening so he wouldn't be alone when yet another person moved in to the bed next to his. I was about to give up and go back to Mom's, when I saw an ambulance backing into the driveway of Shiny Meadows.

The new roommate's daughter stood in the doorway of our room, just a silhouette with the light of the hallway behind her. She introduced herself to me. Linda. I introduced myself and Dad. "Oh, I know your dad." (Almost everyone in town over the age of 40 knows him. He held public office and was often in the newspaper, in addition to being very, very outgoing.) I got up and went into the hallway to talk to her. The paramedics were bringing her father into the building, after transporting him from a hospital.

"I never thought I'd see my father like this," she said. "He's in agony and he keeps calling out 'Help me, help me.'"

I said, without thinking, "Oh, man. That'll upset my dad."

[Let me step in here and say that I know that was a selfish way to respond. I'm realizing just how protective and bristly I can get, inside this new world of the nursing home. When some circumstance presents itself that will cause Dad's experience to register even a tenth of a notch higher on the Unpleasantness Scale, I become a mother warthog, trying to ram the offending interloper against the nearest jagged-barked tree. Even so, normally "Warthog Candy" has a little more tact.]

Linda's father, Corvin, is wheeled in. He is very yellow. Very jaundiced, miserable, in pain, on oxygen, moaning with every movement the stretcher makes. I am amazed that any hospital in a developed country could have released this poor old man. As the paramedics move Corvin from the stretcher to the bed, and he cries out in pain, they tell the Shiny Meadows nurse that when they found Corvin in his room at the hospital, waiting for transport, his oxygen tube was wrapped tightly around his neck. Very comforting to hear.

When Linda is alone with her father, behind the curtain separating us, I hear her dad begging for help, and I hear Linda crying, trying to soothe him. I don't know what is proper to do, but I go over and put my arms around her and she holds onto me. We are total strangers suddenly thrown into the most personal of moments. I tell her how sorry I am that they are both in agony. I apologize for being selfish before. "It is your dad's right to call out for help," I say. "It is his right to make noise."

All this time I have been rubbing Dad's head, telling him there is nothing to worry about. That the man in the next bed is just not feeling well, but he is being taken care of. Dad relaxes as I continue to smooth his hair down and smile at him. He asks, several times before beginning to doze, one of his frequent questions: "Am I a good boy?" Yes, I tell him. "The very best."

Even above the whirr of Corvin's oxygen machine, I hear him crying out. "Please, please." Linda speaks gently to him, telling him God will take him when it's time, and that it'll be OK. "Please," he says. "Tell Him to hurry."

It is Tuesday night. The theme from "American Idol" plays on a TV a few rooms away. Corvin will die Thursday at 3:45 a.m.

The Shiny Meadows CNA's will clean out Corvin's side of the room Thursday afternoon, and prepare it for Roommate #4.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Delicious Tidbit

My sanity is at stake with my workload and travel-back-and-forth-to-Indiana schedule these days. I am neglecting my little space here. I'll be back soon, but right now I have to share with you this paragraph I got today from the man who has been my best friend on the planet since 1986. As is usually the case when my sanity is being javelined, he suddenly shows up with something that makes me laugh:

When I was a kid living in our old house up the road here, for lack of anything better to do I once rolled a big rock out to the end of the driveway, lovingly painted it white, and then in my best lettering, I painstakingly painted SHADY REST upon it with black paint. Upon seeing this my mom said with great hilariarity and not a little sarcarsm, "It sounds like a damned LOONEY BIN." I had to admit that she had a good point so I hastily painted it all-white again. And so ended my aspirations for being high class...and so much more. A great metaphor I think for all my life's follies. Using white-out to correct the mistakes.