How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were? ~ Satchel Paige

Tintern Abbey, Monmouthshire, Wales by Phillip Capper (fotopedia) 


“In a dream you are never eighty.” ~ Anne Sexton

Ash Wednesday. Cloudy and chilly.

Bamburgh Castle by Anthony Dodd (fotopedia)

I spent nine hours on Monday in the emergency section of DePaul Hospital. This time it was not my mother; it was my mother-in-law, my ex’s mother.

Some people find it strange that I still refer to this woman as my mother-in-law. I don’t find it strange at all; she’s been in my life since I was a young woman. I find it incredible to be able to have two mothers-in-law, both of whom I admire and love. How many people can stay that truthfully? My m-in-l here has Parkinson’s Disease, a very unforgiving disease that takes away chunks of the mind without warning.

On Sunday night, my sister-in-law Ann came over and spent a good hour crying. She had found her mother on the floor of her bedroom on Sunday morning. When asked why she was on the floor, my m-in-law said that “it felt good.” As the day progressed, she was better, but she was still talking a lot of nonsense. I told Ann that I was afraid she might have had a mini-stroke. We decided that we would take her in the next day if we could convince her to get in the car. Turns out, we didn’t have to.

When we got to her house around 9 a.m., she was on the floor of the playroom, the first room off the hallway. She was lying there, and it was apparent that she had been there for a while because her skin was icy cold. I went into the bathroom to get a warm washcloth to wipe her with, and the floor was soaking wet as was everything under the sink. When I asked her if she knew how the bathroom had gotten wet, she told me that the people who live upstairs had left their bathtub running.

There are no people upstairs.

Ann and I called 911, and she was transported to the ER. The EMTs asked her if she knew where she was, and she said that she was at the hospital. They told her that she wasn’t at the hospital yet. One of the doctors in the ER asked her if she knew the date, and Ann and I looked at each other—neither of us knew the date . . . Turns out that my m-in-law was dehydrated and had a urinary tract infection, but the CT scan did not show any signs of a stroke. The doctor admitted her to get her stabilized, but there were no available rooms, so Ann and I spent the entire afternoon in the little ER cubicle. I’m certain that the ER staff thought that we were both batty as we got the giggles more than once, and at one point, we were singing.

It had been hours without food, anything. Ann needed her insulin. I needed something besides Pepsi.

“When I was younger, I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; but my faculties are decaying now and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the things that never happened.  It is sad to go to pieces like this but we all have to do it.” ~ Mark Twain

Castle in the UK by Anthony Dodd (fotopedia)

During all of this, my m-in-law was in and out of reality. She would be talking to us about something, and then she would turn to her left and have a conversation with her sister (who was not there). It took a bit of getting used to, but we muddled through. There were times when she was eating imaginary food and sewing invisible clothes.

If I sound as if I’m making fun, I’m not. It was one of those situations in which the pain of the reality could become so acute as to be overwhelming, so the better approach was to just go with the flow and try not to think about anything too much. 

I finally asked Corey to come and get me around 6:30 when I was certain that she was being moved to a ward. I had been wearing my contacts all day (something I am not yet used to), and my eyes hurt as did my back and my head. Ann was able to leave a little after 8.

In between all of this, I texted and phoned people, including my ex as I was acting as an intermediary between him and his sister.  The whole brother/sister thing is very touchy as my ex has been unwilling/unable to pitch in at all with his mother’s care; therefore, it has all fallen on Ann. She makes sure that her mom takes her meds three times a day, that she eats, that she has groceries in the house, that she hasn’t set the house on fire.

I try to do what I can, and I know that it’s not enough. Paul’s reason for not doing more is that “it’s so depressing.” Oh, and I suppose it’s a piece of cake for the rest of us? Yes. I would slap him if I thought that it would do any good.

“The great secret that all old people share is that you really haven’t changed in seventy or eighty years.  Your body changes, but you don’t change at all.  And that, of course, causes great confusion.” ~ Doris Lessing

Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland by Juan Diego Robles (fotopedia)

Today, Brett and I went to visit with Ann. When we got there we found out that they had to restrain her mom because she was trying to get out of bed. It’s like it was with my mom except that my mom was more coherent during the day.

Brett was not prepared for the state his grandmother was in, and it really upset him. She didn’t know who he was. I wish that I had thought to prepare him better, but the reality is that there probably isn’t any adequate preparation.

After several texts and phone calls, Alexis finally texted me back last night. This is a real sore spot for me, and I am not yet able to go into the full story on why I am so upset with her other than to say that it deals directly with Alexis’s participation in this family.

Last night, Ann and Paul and their respective spouses met for dinner, and Ann said that it went fairly well. Paul has agreed to go along with whatever medical decisions Ann makes, and he and Penny will do research for Ann as needed (big whoop). Ann told him that she isn’t asking for a time commitment but that if he could really try to go have dinner with his mom or spend an hour with her it would take some of the stress of Ann.

I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see how all of this works out.

“To know how to grow old is the master-work of wisdom, and one of the most difficult chapters in the great art of living.” ~  Henri Frédéric Amiel 

Looking West from Dun Beag Broch, Scotland by Anthony Dodd (fotopedia)
For me, the saddest part of this situation is the loss of the woman I used to know, a woman who sang in her church choir (alto), a talented woman who sewed beautiful clothes, read voraciously, listened to classical music, wallpapered and painted every room of her house, and knew how to grow any kind of flower, herb or vegetable.

This person is gone, and there are only small glimpses of her, and those are appearing less and less. And I am left to wonder if she is aware of this loss. How much does she know? How much does she remember? In one instance, she could name the main road that abuts the hospital; in the next, she was talking about a ticket taker on the train. I hope that this logic makes some sense to her and that she doesn’t really perceive how far from reality she has strayed.

To lose a bodily function from disease, arthritis, whatever—it seems that we as humans have an ability to compensate for such a loss. We use the affected limb less, or we don’t lift as much weight as we used to. But to have a keen mind, a mind that hungers for knowledge, a mind that enjoys continually learning about new things—to lose that gradually must be infuriating. And then after a few years of the slips here and there, to begin to lose great chunks of time and memory—how does one cope with that?

Today, Yvonne held out her fingers to me and asked me if I wanted this (invisible thing). I said that I sure did, and I pretended to take it and put it in my pocket.

I have not yet allowed myself to cry, and I’m not entirely certain that I will because the tears would be tainted in a way. Would they be tears for her, for us, for what has gone, for what is going, for having to watch this helplessly, for not knowing whether or not to acknowledge the invisible things she moves around with her fingers, for the papery thickness of her skin that is blotchy with bruises from the blood that they try to take from her veins, for Ann’s burden, for the resentment that I bear towards my ex and my daughter for their unrelenting self-centeredness, for my sons who are visibly hurting.

What exactly? I have no answers, and that pisses me off more than anything, having no answers. That’s’ the part that really, really sucks.

More later. Peace.

Music by Bird York, “In the Deep” (I know that this is a repeat, but it felt right).


Memory’s Voice
For O. A. Glebova-Sudeikina

‘What do you see, on the wall, dimly alive,
at the hour when the sunset eats the sky?

A seagull, on a blue cloth of waters,
or perhaps it’s those Florentine gardens?

Or is it Tsarskoye Seloe’s vast view,
where terror stepped out before you?

Or that one who left your captivity,
and walked into white death, freely?’

No, I see only the wall—that shows
reflections of heaven’s dying glow.

~ Anna Akhmatova

Just When You Think That It Can’t Possibly Get Any Worse . . .

People Falling Down by Maniac World 

This Is Why My Mother Did Not Name Me Grace

tortoise-on-its-back-by-joe-carroll-and-world-of-stock1My recent physical lows hit an all-time high today: I tripped down the stairs going into the garage and landed on one knee with my left foot twisted awkwardly beneath me. I’m blaming it on Tillie the lab as she was gamboling in front of me on the way down.

So I am currently sporting an ace bandage around my left ankle, and a wrist brace on my left wrist as that has begun to throb as well.

Corey’s first question was if I had hurt my back. Believe it or not, that’s the part of my body that hurts the least at the moment. Small favors.

“My friend, you are not graceful—not at all; your gait’s between a stagger and a sprawl” ~ Ambat Delaso about tortoises

yogaI was not always this clumsy. In fact, when I was a teenager, I cheered, which required a certain amount of grace and agility. I have practiced yoga, which gave me great flexibility. And as a youth, one of my favorite things to do was to climb trees. I swear that I never fell out of a tree.

I skied quite well and never took a major tumble, a few minor ones here and there. And believe it or not, I have never broken a bone, just a few sprains. I also studied ballet, granted not for long as it is one of those things that you can assess your natural abilities for fairly quickly. It was good exercise, but I was never going to dance Swan Lake.

So what’s up with my increasing stumbling in recent years? I’m assuming that it’s related to my back surgery and my other ailments. But I have to tell you, it’s not a very attractive trait to have.

“She was terrified of tripping and falling” (about Gloria Swanson playing Norma Desmond descending the stairs)

My fall today brought to mind some of the more famous clumsy people I have watched and known. I’ll never forget when Carol Burnett played Norma Desmond on her show. Burnett descended that curving staircase with such feigned grace that I was sure that she was going to make falling part of the act, but she did not.

chevy-chase-and-gerald-ford-by-david-hume-kennerlyAnother one of my favorite physical comics has to be Chevy Chase. His imitations of President Gerald Ford’s clumsiness are what skyrocketed Chase’s career. He carried that tripping and falling routine into his movie career, and few of his movies do not have Chase tripping at least once. 

John Belushi was an incredibly agile comedian. But because of his girth, most people did not expect his gracefulness. Belushi could do hand stands and acrobatics and land perfectly. He could also crash against walls and into furniture in ways that appeared had to cause him injury. But he would bounce back up, literally, unhurt. Of course, the cocaine could have kept him from feeling pain, but he was still great at his craft.

“In life as in dance: Grace glides on blistered feet” ~ Alice Abrams

My former sister-in-law Ann is also very accident prone. I remember that during a school talent show she was in a routine in which the players wore pillowcases over their arms crossed above their heads, giving them the appearance of having short legs. The pillowcases had no eye-holes, so everyone had to be very aware of where they were moving.

Ann finished the entire routine without any problem. However, when it came time to leave the stage, she walked forward instead of to the side. As a result, she landed in the orchestra pit below the stage. Major ouch. I can’t remember, but I think that she broke her arm.

slicing-tomatoesWhen the two of us are together, we tend to bring out the clumsiness in each other; it seems that one of us always ends up with an injury whenever we are in proximity of each other. Last summer during one of the outdoor family gatherings, we both tripped and fell on her deck (at different points during the day). I survived with only a minor bruise on one leg. Ann, on the other hand, ended up with a huge bruise, about six inches wide and eight inches long, on her thigh.

Another time, Ann was slicing something, tomatoes I think. She went right past the vegetable and proceeded to cut a deep slice into her hand that required stitches.

” . . . the great art of treading on the brink of the precipice without falling into it.” ~ Giacomo Casanova

For my part, I have had a few interesting accidents that required stitches and trips to the emergency room. Ever since I was a young child, I have hated to wear shoes. I walk barefoot outside most of the time, and when I was a teenager, I rarely went place with my feet clad in anything. One day I was riding my bike with Erica, and of course, I had no shoes on. My soles were so toughened that the rough pedals on the bike did not bother me.

That is, not until I crashed my bicycle into Erica and landed on the street with my bike on top of me. What I did not realize at first is that when I crashed, my foot dug into the peddle and scraped forward (makes me  shudder now to even think about it). This resulted in a very large flap of loose skin on the bottom of my foot.

Together, Erica and I walked the bicycles home, and when I walked in the door, I was bleeding everywhere. That was my first occasion with stitches.

old-diaper-pinAnother time that my disdain of shoes caused me pain was when I was playing tag with my cousins in Great Bridge. We were playing in the field behind my aunt’s house, which was covered with fallen leaves and sticks. I was wearing only a pair of flip flops.

As I was running, I suddenly felt a sharp pain in one foot. I lifted the foot and found an old, rusty diaper pin sticking out of the bottom of my foot. The pin had impaled the shoe and attached it to my foot. I adamantly refused to let anyone pull the pin out, my logic being that if it hurt that much going in, coming out had to be worse.

The diaper pin was pulled out, and I was driven to the doctor to get a tetanus shot.

“Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.” ~ Albert Einstein

But undoubtedly one of the most doltish accidents I have ever had was one that I knew in my head was going to happen, but I did it anyway. This one occurred when I was teaching English at Old Dominion University.

I was putting away clean wine glasses on the top shelf of a cabinet, which required me to be on a step stool. A glass fell out of my hand and crashed to the floor, breaking into several large, very sharp-edged pieces.

btoken-glassHave you ever known that you were about to do something stupid, but you just couldn’t stop yourself? That’s what happened in this instance. I looked down at the glass and thought, “I could really cut myself badly if I stepped on that,” because of course, I was not wearing shoes. I then proceeded to step down from the stool right onto a huge piece of glass, cutting a deep, comma-shaped gash into the sole of my foot.

Luckily, by this time there was an urgent care facility fairly close to the house. I wrapped up my foot in a towel and drove to the center. More stitches, but some really good pain pills.

I went back to school with my injured foot in a bandage, and one shoe on. I still vividly remember going into my Technical Writing class and trying to teach the group of engineers that were enrolled in my class. They asked what had happened, and I told them. They were merciless in taunting me, especially after I tried to talk to them and couldn’t form coherent sentences because of the medication.

Of course, there are other incidents, but I think that I have revealed enough about this less than graceful side of myself for now. I think that I’ll go lie down and put some ice on my ankle. I can hardly wait to see what happens next . . .

More later. Peace.