Friday, December 31, 2010

Organic Chem Lab

My daughter's blog dredged up a memory for me of those way-back days when I was taking Organic Chemistry at the U of M. I liked that class. Honest, I did. I loved the symmetry of those carbon bonds, the variability of what and how things bonded to the carbon atoms, the puzzles of how what fit where and combined with which.

It was the lab work that defeated me, and the prime reason was my cooking skills. I'd always prided myself on those skills. I grew up in 4H, and making breads and all sorts of other goodies was just one of many points of pride with me. All those blue ribbons had to mean something, right? What her posting helped me realize was my skills were the ability to combine approximate amounts of ingredients, stir an approximate length of time, cook at an approximate temperature. With a lot of things in the kitchen, that's good enough.

Not in chem lab.

I had other things distracting me. You can take these as excuses, but they were not really the cause of my poor work. I fancied myself a pre-med major, and was carrying a course load that also included Microbiology and Quantitative Analysis. Or perhaps it was Qualitative. Whichever, both were required, and I sucked at both of them. Or would have, had I not dropped the first and never made it to the second.

These were all evening classes. I also worked 60 hours a week doing family day care, generally 6AM to 6PM, with an occasional Saturday thrown in for a mom who worked at Daytons Department Store and needed to pull the occasional Saturday.

And did I mention that I was pregnant with my third? As my enormous stomach preceded me into the lab that first night, the very, very young TA who'd gotten stuck teaching that particular lab eyed me uneasily and asked the inevitable question: "How far along are you?"

"Nine months."

I knew full well by now that I carried my babies for 10 months, but as I watched him turn a bit greener than he had been upon first seeing me, I declined to inform him of that fact. I took great amusement each night as I waddled through the door in his reaction of semi-panic at my continued presence in class. It might explain why other students may have gotten more corrective instruction that I got, but that could just be my own skewed perception. At any rate, my results were below standard.

One night I bent over to open my floor-lever lab drawer, and felt my water break. Oops! How embarrassing. I relocked the drawer, stood slowly up, and called him over. I explained that I would not be completing class that night, and why, and watched as complete panic tried to take over his face. I was a veteran at this, calm as could be, but he...!

"Uh, um, I mean, is there, uh, anything I can, uh, do?" I just knew behind the words was the fervent prayer that the answer would be an emphatic, "No." I had other ideas.

"Can you tell me where there's a phone so I can call my husband and my midwife?" (Remember not having cell phones?)

He wasn't sure he should let me walk out of the room, much less go down to the first floor to find the phone. I finally convinced him that my hospital was about a block away on this very campus, and that I wasn't even in labor yet. (But I would be. Soon. It really would be best to let me go.)

Since Paul came by caesarean, and this was the good old days when that meant an 8-day hospital stay, it was a while before I got back to lab class. It didn't help my grades a bit. There were no make-up labs.

And the first thing the TA did when he recognized me was glance suspiciously at my stomach, just to make sure I wasn't still pregnant!

Vivid Dreams

Yesterday morning my dad wakened with three contradictory ideas held firmly in his mind. First, he'd died during the night. We spent several conversations convincing him he was still alive. It included going over who had already died ahead of him, and the list was long. Plus, we were still with him, and we were still very much alive.

Second, he hadn't had any sleep at all. He'd spent the night paddling a boat down the deepest river there is, over a thousand feet deep. The way he said it he meant depth from the surface down canyon walls to the river, not water depth.

Third, the problem with the experience was that he had dreamed it was very cold, and he was sure in his dream that it was the cold which kept him alive: if it had warmed up he would have been dead.

The most surreal part was that none of the contradictions in these three ideas ever occurred to him: awake vs. dreaming, alive vs. dead.

I do somehow manage to keep a straight face during these morning conversations. I figure it's just a gesture of respect. Reality can intrude later. Like this morning.

He wanted to sit up right away. He had something very serious that he wanted to tell me. He'd been mulling over whether or not to do so for the last 36 hours.

(What? Did he want to tell me he was dying? Like we hadn't had that discussion several times already? Oh yeah, he'd have forgotten all of them. But that wasn't it.)

He needed to tell me that the war was over. Last night his unit had bombed _____ Island (he actually supplied a name, he with the terrible memory for names), where the last of the Germans and Japanese armies were meeting, and they were all destroyed. All fighting had ceased.

There was to be a victory breakfast in the middle of the town this morning at 10:00, and I was invited. What did I think of that?

Sorry, I'll miss it. I have to be at work. "Sounds wonderful."

"America will never fire a shot again." He thought a minute, and ammended, "If they can help it."

Oh, if only!!!

Gradually he came to understand that the war had been over for years. After all, I was his daughter, and I hadn't even been born at the end of the war. Now I was a 62-year-old old lady. And this other person (getting him ready to walk to his chair - needing stronger support than I can give) was his grandson, and he was 38.

He puzzled over this a bit, and asked where was he all those years? So I filled him in on some high points of his life the last 65 years.

Later, in the living room as we watched the news and weather together as part of our morning coffee ritual, he turned to me and asked, "You're a war hero. How come you have to go to work?"

"Well, Daddy, first, I'm not a war hero. I've never been in the military. And even you had to go to work after the war ended."

After a heartbeat, he growled, "Well, there's a four-letter-word for that situation!"


I almost can't wait to see what idea he'll wake up with tomorrow.


Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Wee Hours


I was suddenly awake, thinking my name had just been called. When it repeated on the baby monitor, I headed out of bed and down to Daddy's room. It wasn't clear, but he sleeps with his mouth open and dry mouth renders his speech mostly unintelligible. Water helps. Either way, it was a call out.

When I announced my arrival to him, picking up his hand to hold as I sat next to his bed, he asked me to please go find Heather. He had something he needed to say to her.

"What did you want to tell me, Daddy?"

"I need to tell her to write a story, a good story like the Bible."

Oh, that's not presumptuous, not a bit.

"It doesn't have to be the Bible, just a good story like that."

Oh, that's good. 'Cause it's already, like, been written.

"OK Daddy, I can do that. In fact, I've been writing a lot. It's one of the things I do when I'm on the computer." It's called a blog, but you wouldn't understand that word.

"That's good. Say, you really are Heather, aren't you?"

A bit more conversation and I returned to bed. Of course, by now, there was no sleep left to be had.

Later, as I was getting ready to leave for work, he was busy admiring the apple tree growing out of the entertainment center and the orange tree growing in the dining room table. I wished Richard a good day. He was going to need it.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Turnaround... And Around Again

I'm getting dizzy. The plan was to have a nice family X-mas party at my house, opening presents, having dinner, and letting Daddy head off to bed if he got tired. I could stay and socialize.

It started in a rather unpromising fashion. Then it went downhill.

The clear mind we expected and got briefly after wringing out the Benadryl from his system was not to last. The previous morning he got up determined that he had spent the night before tracking his deer through the woods after wounding it. That took hours to straighten out in his mind. This day was worse. He was convinced upon waking that he'd just spent 4 days in childbirth, and noted in passing his amazement that the cat had picked that same time to have 5 kittens. Amazing!

Yeah! Miraculous is more like it.

While the boys were getting the last bits of the house ready for company, I was getting Daddy ready. I had promised him a shave. Basically this involves making sure his shaver is charged, walking to the bathroom to get it, and handing it to him. No big deal. I watched him as he shaved his cheeks, chin, neck. Then he swept it up to his forehead and took off half of both his eyebrows.

Hmmm, interesting choice.

When he turned it to the back of his head, I decided enough was enough. Richard would be giving him his usual haircut with the clippers and the 1/4" guard in a few minutes, after all.

We didn't change his clothes until after lunch. Since it was soup, that was a wise choice.

He settled down pretty well by the time company started to arrive, listening to the conversations he could, and generally acting like a lucid, well-behaved adult. By supper time he asked me if I knew who those other people in the house were. I reminded him who they were, that he'd exchanged presents with them already, and that they were now doing all the last-minute food prep so we could all sit down and eat.

After eating he became convinced that we all needed to go to work, and he was our supervisor, needing to crack the whip. We're still not sure if this was a factory floor or we were his troops in WWII and he was our First Sergeant. We stalled him for a while by saying we'd have our pie first, which he joined us in. Then he decided it was now too late to work, so we all needed to go to bed so we could get some sleep before morning. He started to yell at us to turn the lights off. We humored him by turning down a few, but that wasn't enough.

Not for him, anyway. It was enough for two of our guests, who decided that the festive part of the day was over. After they left, we got Daddy put to bed with the usual meds that should have put him to sleep, but he could still be heard talking to imaginary people down in his room. This was early enough that he was able to take another dose about the time I was heading off to bed. I hoped it would help. He was lucid enough at one point that he asked me just how long this was going to go on? I told him that at this point I suspected that only God knew. He accepted that.

A wee hours potty stop showed me he was still at it. I was, apparently, learning to tune out the noises from the baby monitor in my room. I was desperately in need of sleep, and if it wasn't my name or "help" or "Nurse", it didn't register.

About 4:15 it was my name. Not from him, however. It was Paul calling for me over the monitor. When I hurried to his room, the door was blocked. The boys had managed to get in, but they'd had to push my dad out of the way to do so. He'd fallen, again, this time hitting his head. He'd landed with his head in the corner where the door was, sporting a golf-ball sized goose egg, with a dent in my wall to match it.

They managed to get him into bed, and I talked with him for a while, trying to determine if he were seriously hurt or could just be gotten back into bed. We opted for bed. Paul couldn't believe I'd not heard the loud thump over the monitor. I had a hard time with that myself. Going back to bed, I heard him mumbling away for about another hour before finally getting quiet.

In the morning, I peeked in his room. He was still quiet, laying on his back with his mouth open. Still breathing. I decided not to wake him, but let him sleep for a bit. I took my own nap in my recliner after setting up his nebulizer and fixing coffee. Around 11 he was still sleeping soundly, and while I was still letting him, gearing myself up to deal with whatever new problems he came up with, I was also beginning to worry. The goose egg was still as high as a golf ball, but now with the diameter of a softball.

It was time to call in the calvary. I called Randy. Or tried. About 1:00 she answered, and we had a great talk. She also decided to come out. She had already arranged with her bosses at the county to allow for the overtime if she was needed to help with Daddy. It was, after all, a 3-day holiday weekend.

She and Rich and I had a long chat, both before and after she examined him. I needed reassurance that it was OK to do nothing if, for example, it were a serious enough head wound that he wouldn't wake. It was OK to let nature take its course if it was in fact that time. She suspected it was, by the look of him. A blood pressure check registered low enough that it indicated he was not in pain, whether or not he could tell us. It woke him up, and we chatted with him a bit. Randy asked him if he knew what was going on?

"I'm dying."

Five minutes of concentrated attention and he was ready for sleep again. He did indicate that he had been trying to call to me those times earlier when I'd peeked in to check on him. There'd been no motion or any other sign of anything but sleep, but Randy reminded me that hearing is the last thing to go, and from now on when I entered his room I should talk to him, reassure him I was there. I or someone should stop in hourly, change his position, offer a sip of water or dab some into his mouth from a straw. If we awakened him and kept him "busy" for five minutes, it would exhaust him so he'd go back to sleep and stay out of trouble. Meaning no more wandering.

He was no longer feeling hot or cold, but still a bit itchy, so we removed his longjohns he used for pajamas, as well as his pressure socks so we could keep an eye on his legs. One sign of imminent death is blotchy legs, creeping up from ankle toward knees. When it hits the knees, you've got about 2 hours left. We also added another sheet - a flat one - under him so he could be moved back into position easily, and removed excess blankets. Sips of water were to be offered for his chronic dry mouth, and his face and other spots sponged off periodically to remove sweat salt. We weren't to be surprised if he didn't want to drink, or eat - wait for him to ask for food - and we didn't need to shovel his huge supply of pills into him. We could still do his nebulizer treatment even if he slept, simply by holding it in front of his open mouth. It would ease his breathing anyway, as he would pull enough of it in that way.

He slept that way all day, as well as all night. Monday I left for work with Rich taking his hourly visits to tend him. His goose egg had gone back down from softball diameter to golf ball size. He of course had no memory of the fall. I cancelled his Meals on Wheels, had a long chat with my brother to prepare his family for what was happening. They were out of state, visiting my married niece in Oregon. By no means should they cut their trip short, I told them.

By the time his aid came in that afternoon, he was wanting to get up and go sit in his chair in the living room "for the last time." A few hours was all he managed, and by 5 he was ready for sleep again. He commented to Rich that he hadn't seen me for weeks and wondered where I was. We chatted once I got home, and he said he knew I'd been taking good care of him but his memory was screwing around with him. I mentioned his fall, and he expressed surprise. I took his hand and laid it over the bump. Now he was impressed. Perhaps the biggest mercy was that the whole time since he'd been awakened Sunday afternoon, he was lucid, aware of where he was and who was - and wasn't - around him. I had no thoughts left on how to keep him in bed if he decided to go wandering again in the night.

This morning when I woke him, he wanted to get up and go sit in his chair immediately. I asked him to wait while I tended to a few things, like switching over his oxygen and giving him his nebulizer right there at his bed. I'd need to get Richard, as Daddy needed more help than I could give him to stand and walk safely to his chair.

Once in his chair, it was much like any ordinary day. He had coffee, a bit of breakfast, juice and pills, and we watched news and weather together. I asked him not to try to get up and go anywhere today without Richard there to help, mentioning the three falls which he'd forgotten he'd taken. To illustrate, I suggested he feel his head, and mirrored where. His comment was, "It was much bigger yesterday."

Perhaps the hand remembers what the brain doesn't.

It turned into a full day in his chair, and he was hungry again well before lunch time. Richard reported him as mostly "present", as in lucid. He did say something about dying soon to his aid, upsetting her. He seems so much better, and yet he's more ready than ever psychologically to go. Randy stopped by, likely unable to believe my reports of his recovery left on her voicemail. I don't know how long it'll last, or how long he'll be lucid this time. Whatever it is, we'll celebrate this day. And maybe nickname him "The Comeback Kid."

And just one more thing to take care of.

Ring. Ring. Ring.

"Hello, this is ... Meals on Wheels.... Leave a message..."

Hi, this is... calling on behalf of.... You guys must think I'm schizophrenic, calling to resume, then cancel, then resume, then cancel. Anyway, he's just had a wonderful recovery, so could you please resume his meals tomorrow again please? ..."

Friday, December 24, 2010

Notes on the Day

He's Back!!!

The Benadryl finally seems to have worked its slow way out of his system. The mind is functioning, alert, and full of its old humor. He even hums. We've explained a couple of times to him that his meds were messing with his mind and we stopped giving him that particular one, and to bless his aid Patty for passing on the info. He knows he's back, knows he's been out of it, and is happy things are back to normal.


There is a new/old concern. The burn spot on his foot, the one we think got there from too hot of heat packs being used to warm up his forever-cold foot, is looking particularly nasty. It had to be pointed out to me. I'm not the one who deals with changing socks or washing feet, and with pressure socks on most of the time for the edema in his legs, I just don't see his feet. When it was first pointed out to me, it was a raised blister about an inch across sitting in the middle of a red spot. Now there's a large brown area deep beneath the skin. His aids and the county nurse think it's all necrotic tissue, going down to the bone. We're to keep a close eye on it, and if it "pops", we're to call her (Randy) immediately. Even if it's Christmas! She even got extra special permission from her superiors to deal with it if necessary over the holiday. And if our county OKs overtime, that's worthy of comment!


I wasn't remotely jealous in the beginning. After all, they were having to drive from Bemidji to Portland, Oregon in winter snow and ice, even having to postpone the trip for a day while a winter storm blew through, resulting in the next day's driving being over icy roads. I already get plenty of that for work. Why be jealous?

Then I heard that my brother's family stopped for the day in Yellowstone, mostly to shoot winter pictures. I've seen a few of those in magazines. It's absolutely gorgeous there, even if it is winter. Maybe because it's winter. So for the moment, I'm indulging in a bit of jealousy.

Oh, well, maybe some year I can do that too. Even if it means walking on these crappy knees over ice and through snow just to get the shot.

Or maybe not.

Whew! I think the jealousy is cured!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Settling Down

I hope!

It's been two nights now, and I've been getting better sleep, progressively.

The first night, he was still hallucinating - loudly - for a couple hours after I went to bed. Somebody was having a party in his room and wouldn't give him any wine. He was yelling at them, finally challenging them that they really didn't have any anyway. Silence finally descended, holding until 2:00 AM.


I arrived to find him half in, half out of bed. He couldn't go either direction. (Thank goodness - and good drugs!) He'd been trying to get across the room to get the clocks to stop ticking. They were too loud. I got him back in and tucked in for the rest of the night.

Last night was peaceful all the way through. Of course, he slept nearly all the day through yesterday as well. I'm wondering about backing off on his dosages, but we'll hold off on that thought, see how he does today. It's time to go wake him.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

May Cause Hallucinations in the Elderly

Actually, that was the best piece of news in what had been a very very long day. Now there was some hope again. But I'm way ahead of myself.

It started with tucking Daddy in bed as usual, but with him waking up again just after I went to bed. He was already itching again. I applied lotion (having just bought another 6 tubes of Lanacane) to the spots and went to bed. Too early to add a 2nd Atavan to put him back to sleep. A couple hours later, he was calling again. More lotion. This time I literally had not pulled the covers back up to my chin when...


"What do you need, Daddy?"

"I found a couple more spots."

Sigh! "OK, show me where they are."

"They're up there," he said as he pointed at the ceiling. "But we don't want to eat the ceiling, do we?"

After assuring him that we were not going to eat the ceiling and tucking him in, now adding another Atavan to try to get him back to sleep, I returned to bed. This time he was mumbling away, talking to people who weren't there (mostly due to their deaths years ago) about things that weren't happening. It's one of the joys of being on the other end of a baby monitor, listening in on things like that, trying to sleep, trying to decipher what needs attention and what doesn't. Silence eventually descended, and then...


"Damn! ...Heather!"

I was already on the way, finding him on the floor next to the bed. He was trying to do something with the phone, tangled up in his walker and his tubing, trying to get up, trying to make sense of his world. I pulled the walker out of the mix, determined that he was not hurt beyond a scrape needing a bandage, and asked him to please sit still a minute so I could go and get help. I woke Paul, who was able to get him back into his bed. Daddy informed me he was trying to go back in the corner to get his bicycle.

As if.

After settling him in, asking him to promise me he'd stay in bed, I returned to my room. He was immediately holding conversations again, and about twenty minutes later called me back to his room. This time he needed me to hang up his needle for him. He was finished sewing and the shelf that had been hanging directly over his bed had somehow disappeared.

On it went. Shortly after I heard Paul leave for work, there was another crash. This time he was on his floor, leaning in the hollow between his armoire and his laundry hamper. He'd scraped his same arm down the rough edge of the front of the hamper, and was bleeding more than after the first fall. I determined he was not all that seriously injured, asked him to again sit still so I could think about what to do - right then sleep deprivation was interfering with my decision making abilities - and went and called Richard. This time it took both of us to get him back into his bed. I left him sitting so I could clean up the blood, both on him and not, and give him another bandage.

It was time for another dose of lotion, which I applied while Richard made coffee. May as well give up trying to sleep now. We didn't need another fall. Let's get him out into his chair, feed him coffee, and maybe help him get lucid enough to cope with his day. He couldn't even give a reason this time why he'd gotten out of bed.

After one sip of coffee, he promptly fell back into sleep, or at least what passses for sleep for him these days. He spends a lot of time in this state where he isn't asleep but isn't awake. It's like dreaming, but lacks the paralysis of REM sleep. He can talk, he can go through the motions of whatever he thinks he's doing. And, we found out, he can fall. For right now, though, it appeared to be genuine sleep.

I knew I was in no shape to drive, so I called work and let them know I'd not be coming in. Then I called Randy.

I'd been trying to hold it together, with various degrees of success, through the night. I tried hard not to burst into tears at the first sound of her voice. "Help!"

She was great at helping me sort through events and figure out what was important and what needed attention, and why. Suddenly I wasn't helpless. Some things could be done. He needed to be seen, either at the urgent care/ER or his doctor's office. Was it a medication reaction? One of several other possible causes? Suddenly there was a list of questions, answers to be found.

I couldn't conceive of getting him into the car and driving him down to Maplewood, so it was going to be the hospital. And as I thought more about it, it would be an ambulance ride. He had almost fallen on the way from bed to chair - three times! His balance was terrible, his strength virtually nonexistent, cognition still impaired, and the walk was icy from the night before. Strike that, it was still coming down freezing sleet. He needed professional transport, with a gurney, oxygen, and lots of extra muscle.

Rich and I took turns staying with him while the other dressed, prepared a cleared path to the house, showered, fixed and fed him breakfast. Once we knew we were ready, I made the call, the living room became crowded, Rich climbed in the ambulance with all his medications for the ride, and I got in the car, now warm and sufficiently deiced after running for over 20 minutes. Daddy'd actually become fully alert with all the attention from the First Responders. It's the kind of thing that makes you wonder if they're scratching their heads and asking themselves just what the heck these people were complaining about? (Just like the hyperactive child is fascinated and quiet in the doctor's office and the parent gets pegged as an incompetent whiner.)

In the ER he became himself - the most recent version that had us so worried - again. After lots more bustle, vitals being taken and sensors getting dislodged, blood being drawn and tested, questions asked, answered, and asked again with the shift change, it was time to try to make some decisions. Should he be admitted? Would it be possible to keep him both safe and comfortable at home? Should he be sent to a nursing home? Could they even keep him safe if he was determined to wander in the night? Would there be a high enough staffing level to do the checks necessary?

At one point I had Randy on my cell phone talking with his doctor, sharing information, opinions, suggestions. We all came to a resolution. The best place was still home for him, if there were a way to keep him asleep and tranquil through the night. If he still wasn't all that lucid during the day, we could cope. During those times he was lucid, he'd be much more comfortable at home, in familiar surroundings, knowing he was being cared for by family, not abandoned by them. If and when we decided to fully switch him over to hospice, the paperwork was handled and could be done quickly.

When the labs came back, we had the last bits of information we needed to make our decisions - for now, anyway. Everything showed deterioration in his condition, but it was all chronic, not acute, and nothing that really justified admitting him for treatment. There would, however, be two medication changes made, hopefully ones that would settle him for the night. Likely what was waking him was pain, whether he could communicate that to us properly or not. Since we didn't really know that he could tolerate morphine, the doctor prescribed Dilaudid, or hydromorphone in the cheap version. This ought to keep the painful itching from waking him. It would also work well with the Atavan, which was being increased to a full mg. instead of a .5 mg. dose.

Randy would get us a bed alarm for him as soon as possible, so we'd be warned if he moved. Both times he'd gotten up, the effort paradoxically had quieted him so there was no warning. Everyone agreed that there was no safe and humane way to keep him restrained in bed. We'd hope the combination of drugs and the alarm would work.

Now to get him home! I had to run home for clothes. He'd been transported in pajamas, stocking feet, no jacket, no home oxygen. I was still highly doubtful that he could walk from the car to the house, especially with ice continuing to build while we were inside, and we still had no wheelchair for him (another thing Randy is working on). The hospital social worker contacted the local transport system for nursing home patients, one that actually provides wheelchairs with the ride. They could be there at 2:30, and cost a mere $26.

Another problem solved.

Rich would stay with him and keep him calm, providing directions home, helping get him dressed, hooking him back into the home systems when he arrived. I'd head back out to the pharmacy and get the new scrips filled.

When I got back home, one of his home health aids was working with him. His other one called to find out how he was doing. During the conversation, I'd reminded her of the bizarre behaviors she'd witnessed yesterday when it was her turn. She casually asked if we had him on Benadryl? She'd gone to a medications seminar and learned that it can cause hallucinations in the elderly. It's often given as a sleep aid. She'd actually seen the results in person before, and they were much like what Daddy was dealing with.


Guess what he was taking? Generically, of course. And it had just been added back in to his stack of meds to help him sleep - we thought. It worked with the other meds, and could also decrease itching if there were a histamine component to what was going on. Nice theory. Unfortunately, the elderly can react to it in the opposite fashion.

I thanked her profusely, removed it from his pills dispenser, relabeled the bottle with the cautionary note, and removed it to a different part of the bathroom. We could still use it, after all. Unfortunately, we'll have to wait for it to wear off. One of the things the doctor tried for his itching while he was still in the ER was - Benadryl! Via his IV.


Oh well, his life continues to be filled with things and people that aren't, but now we have hope that lucidity can return, and fairly quickly. He ought to be able to make sense of whatever time he has left, and his test results suggest it could be fairly short.

Oh yeah, and maybe I can sleep. What a lovely X-mas present!

Monday, December 20, 2010

What Didn't Go Wrong When Wrapping Presents

You now have a blog. Therefore you can use it to blow off steam over all the frustrations from what went wrong.

People reading your blog will have read the other posting first so that the rest of this makes sense.

Since all the cutting took place on top of the bed, it's a miracle that you didn't cut through the bedding in the process. Again.

Nothing actually broke.

The bubble wrap that wound up too close to the electric heater and got melted and stuck together, now actually fits around a different present than one you had in mind. But it's still usable.

You didn't run out of wrapping paper. (Darn!)

There were enough packing materials.

Your children have long since gotten too old to believe in and demand extra presents from Santa.

There's still time to mail out that last package - Priority Mail!

You found the source of that unpleasant odor and eliminated it. Enough said.

You didn't have to spend time getting the ink out of all the keys on your key rings and the rings, off your purse, and off a new set of spots on the counter, wasting all that time before wrapping. This of course is due to your not discovering the full extent of the mess until Monday.

No fingernails were broken in the process. They had already been clipped as short as possible to remove all the blue/black ink stains. OK, most of the blue/black ink stains.

After all the presents were located, wrapped and removed from the room, there's still plenty of disorganization and clutter instead of the giant cleared spaces that might actually leave you slightly uncomfortable.

And at the end of the day, you discover there really is - pause for dramatic effect - an end of the day!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

What Can Go Wrong When You Are Wrapping Presents

Well, it can take all day for one thing. Not because you've been extravagant. Who can afford that these days? But because you're wrapping your own presents and the ones you picked up for your father to give which he can't wrap himself. And because you've an extra family to wrap for, the family you plan to marry into, and the presents aren't large but the family is.

While gathering supplies, you find out after the fact that the pen you grabbed has broken and you're not only covered in ink but you've been spreading it all over your hands, your clothes, the counter, the X-mas cards, the ... OMG! NOT THE PRESENTS TOO!

You can realize that you miscounted the people to whom presents need to be given, and still need to go shopping. Which, of course, leaves you with more wrapping to do another day.

Your legs can go all pins-and-needles while you're sitting on your bed all cockeyed wrapping present after present after...

You can find the present you misplaced last year and need to give this year but you've already gotten that person another present and this isn't something that will be appreciated by any other person than the one to whom it was originally intended. So it all winds up being a bit overboard.

You can't find that present you know you got this year. This winds up being a good thing after all, since it's for the person whose present you lost last year and just found. Now you have a year to locate this present. And to try to remember not to buy another.

There can be the wrong number and sort and size of boxes to put things in. Now, we have this family tradition of reusing boxes for presents, so one learns never to trust the wording on the box means anything about the contents, but one still winds up needing some sort of a box. It's particularly frustrating when the box you just used was really the perfect one for the next gift to be wrapped and now there's no box at all for it when any of several boxes would have done for the previous gift.

You can, while checking the gifts before wrapping, find out one of them, or more, are damaged in some way. For example, I was checking the calendars, and the very first one I picked up looked a little odd inside. It turned out that all the pictures were upside down relative to the calendar layout. It is a unique calendar, having one of my very own pictures in it, but it can't possibly be given in that condition. Plus the place to exchange it has no open hours where I can visit for several months. It's something I shopped early for with just that issue in mind, but who thinks to look at every calendar to make sure the pictures are right-side-up?

You know that sweet spot on the scissors, the one that curls the ribbon just so? Well, it's good you remember it, because the scissors doesn't.

You know that sweet spot on the scissors, the one that suddenly glides right along the paper, slicing it like a razor, instead of sawing through like a scissor? Some scissors just do not have them. Others do but only for a bit, and suddenly you hear a ri-i-i-p-p-p-p... It seems to happen when the paper is being cut with very narrow tolerances for how it covers the package.

The paper also is good at tearing as you pull it around corners, so you get to chose whether to invest a yard of tape patching it or starting with a whole new piece.

When you cut it just a little off, you can wind up with a trapezoid to cover a rectangle, or something so large that there is an abundance of extra paper to wrinkle into impossible shapes for folding that an engineer couldn't salvage into mitered corners the way Mom taught you to fold it. Even if you can avoid the wrinkles, there's an extra bit of under-paper sticking out showing the wrong side or jagged cutting.

After folding around the package oh so carefully, nothing lines up. You either have a spiral wrapper winding around the package or a stripe that just won't line up. It did until you put the tape on, but moved just as the tape stuck.

The tape cannot be repositioned without leaving a big jagged raggedy hole in the paper.

The tape runs out. You know you bought plenty more. It's somewhere. You can bet it'll show up next year when it's time to start wrapping again.

The packing tape got left in the car. Because it's winter, and you've been lounging in your PJs, you ask your son to please run out on his very next smoking break and fetch it in for you. Because it's winter, he rummages through the basement and proffers another roll instead. When you pull on it, the tape decides it would rather split into pieces and chunks and decreasing-width stripes rather than peel off the roll in any usable form. You ask your other son to please go get the tape from your car. Because it's winter, he rummages around and finds another roll to offer instead.

The replacement pen refuses to write on the surface of the gift tags.

You are left with blue and silver tags to go with the red and green paper. Maybe nobody will notice. Ri-i-i-i-ight!

You have known for years that you have a thing about collecting X-mas wrapping paper on sale. Every year you wind up with more. Every year storage gets harder, not to mention the simple challenge of putting less paper back in the space it came out of mere hours earlier. Every year when you open the storage tote for the paper, there's nothing in it you like. It all looked so beautiful on sale. Now it all looks so ugly. And the rolls are all the super large economy size. They never run out. You hope somebody in the family will help you by using some of it up. They're wise to you. It's still ugly. Paul has developed the prefect excuse by making and giving jelly each year. It's impossible to wrap, so he doesn't. He just hands it out in boxes.

I think I can see his point.

Did I mention it can take all day? And at the end of it, there hasn't been time for sitting with a book, sitting watching a DVD, sitting.... And the knees ache. It's a reminder that so much was going on that ibuprofin got skipped, a really really good reminder. There's still paper, labels, removed price tags (uh, they were removed, right?), tape, scissors, pen, packing materials, scraps, ribbon, and what-not to be removed from your bed before you can get to sleep. Leaving it on top of the dog's bed doesn't work either. Deprived of his own spot, he'll fill your dreams with doggie bad breath, doggie gas, squirming, turning, digging up the blankets until they're just so....

But hey, the presents are wrapped.


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Playing Tourist

Thursday is the kind of day that reminds me why I love my job.

I do love it, though it might be hard to guess from all the times I blow off steam on the blog. But Thursday I got to play tourist.

It wasn't a promising start to the day. My first run took me right into the snow. I'd hoped to avoid it because it was only snowing on the southern part of the metro, and forecast to be gone fairly early in the day as it moved further south and east. Some days I never get that far across the metro. But not today. I hit snow about a mile from my first drop. Slick stuff.

I leaned my seat back for whatever kind of nap I could grab before the next run. It had been a rough night that way, but luckily I'm the kind of person who can benefit from cat naps. Dispatch woke me with a query of whether I wanted to chase east for a run into Wisconsin? They've gotten coy these days in how much the tell you before they send you a run. But at least this dispatcher knows my walking limitations and is pretty smart about working with them.

Sure! Out of the snow - maybe. He didn't say how far into Wisconsin or which way, but it would likely beat driving through more snow here. I'm willing to take that kind of gamble.

It turned out to be another of those electrical parts runs. They've been good to me lately. And this one turned out to be going to Niellsville. Never heard of it either? Well, head just a bit further south out of the metro to pick up Hwy. 10 as it crosses into Wisconsin, and just keep on driving 'till you get there.

I'd taken 10 into Prescott many times. Never further. It's beautiful country out there, even with snow covering everything. The first bit holds lots of hills sharply cut by streams, heavily forested, windy-twisty driving but nothing that need to slow you below the posted 55 MPH.

Except the towns, of course. There is no general rule, so Wisconsin small towns can be posted anywhere from 45 to 25 MPH as you drive through. You better find the sign. But in addition to the scenery along Hwy. 10, the first several towns had some character. No cookie cutter construction here. Nothing suburban, no '30s or '40s - or '80s! - development clusters, no single builder with their 5 patterns and variations. Lots of small starts with add-ons sprinkled through others obviously built all at once. The huge house wasn't obviously the funeral parlor or the insurance office because nobody really lived there any more, but more likely held an actual family. Unlike Prescott, first along the border, there were no obvious signs of urban sprawl.

So despite myself, my dislike of all things winter, especially snow, I found myself enjoying what I was doing again, loving the drive, playing tourist. I was especially hit by the vista as I came up over one hill and saw an opening to a huge valley spread out before me, hills so distant they were blue, reminiscent of views way out west. This was a major surprise to me, as I'd been through other parts of Wisconsin, and remembered it as a state with lots of rolling farmland and shortened views. Not as flat as southern Minnesota, but pretty much similar: fields and corn and cows, mixed in with the higher level of trees found in northern Minnesota, just slightly different species.

The sharply cut hills leveled out about twenty miles in, giving way to widely rolling farmland. There were no more vistas until just before my drop. A motel sign by a veterans memorial advertised its great views, so I tried to look in its direction to see what could be seen. Sure enough, the road was on another major elevation, with wide valleys spread out in three directions from there, better viewed on my way back, actually. Another sign hinted that this hill was likely a huge glacial moraine left behind.

Eagles and pheasants were the only major wildlife visible, but the drive with those kind of sightings is always worth while. If I wanted to view cows, llamas and horses, there were plenty of those as well, including some horses so tender they were out wearing blankets for warmth.

The drive did wind up taking the whole work day, though it needn't have. I did find myself trying to doze behind the wheel on the way back, and pulled over for a half hour snooze. I keep a kitchen stove timer in the car for just such a purpose. It serves me well.

Eggshell Pink

It was sunset last night, a lovely subtle blend of horizontal layers of pinks, mauves, blues, whites, creams, lavenders. The only phrase that hit my mind as I looked at it was "eggshell pink." There are no pink eggshells, of course. So there is no counterpart in reality. I don't know just why that seemed to fit. But Steve called right then, and he knew exactly what I meant.

Maybe that's why I love him.

Redux Redux

So, it wasn't the morphine.

Randy (whom my sister-in-law refers to as "the sainted...") is back after a family medical crisis of her own. It was her replacement who diagnosed the morphine allergy. Nothing that treated this rash as an allergy had any effect. Not stopping the presumed cause. Not anti-itch cremes. Not Claritin.

Randy took her own look Thursday and rediagnosed it as a yeast infection. Apparently it's common enough after taking high-dose antibiotics for extended periods. All the good bugs get killed off along with the nasty ones, and the ever-opportunistic yeastie beasties come out to play. And boy were they playing up a storm! Whole big patches of skin were solid red instead of covered with distinct bumps.

New meds were called in, and I was told to hit the pharmacy on my way home to pick them up. No problem. Meanwhile the only relief on the home front was Lanacane. Lots of it. Tubes and tubes (do we own stock yet?) of it. I asked Paul to pick some up since he had the day off and was to be out and about running errands. The remains of an old tube of Nystatin were dug out and used. Clothes were changed.

We'd just ordered him some fleece, loose winter garments for comfort and warmth. They had arrived that morning, and he liked them. At least, until the itching took over again, and the soft fleece started stabbing him everywhere! So folks on the home front were digging through the wardrobe looking for things he could stand to have next to his skin. There were mixed results.

When I stopped at the pharmacy, they had no clue what I was after. Nobody had called anything in. I called Randy. She'd been promised results, but somebody at the doctor's office dropped a ball. Now they were closed. I had to settle for picking up a tube of an OTC remedy for yeast invasions for the night.

It was going to be another one with little sleep for two of us.

When I got home, I discovered that Paul, usually reliable, had forgotten to pick up his grandfather more Lanacane. We were now out, and it was the only thing that numbed him enough to allow some sleep. I sent him out to the local WalMart for 2 tubes. He came home with three - and we're again out after this morning.

Yesterday morning the doctor's office called, saying they'd called his pharmacy to order both a pill and a powder to treat his yeast infection. The pill, 2x daily, treats it from within. You can't take it along with the antibiotic that caused the yeast opportunity in the first place, but he was through taking that now. The powder treats it externally. Used as a powder, it helps dry the skin. Otherwise it can be mixed with the Lanacane for a double-attacking skin treatment. There's still so much pain that we're using it that way for now.

The new hospital bed arrived and got set up last night. We're hopeful that getting away from his lift chair - finally! - will offer him new positions and do some good for the skin. At 1 AM I had to persuade him not to give it up and head for the living room. I told him it would give me an hour's worth of work for all the things that needed doing for the transfer. It's only a small exaggeration. I really wasn't in the mood for much but a little dose of creme, adjusting blankets, and heading back to bed. And bless his heart, avoiding causing inconvenience to others is a powerful motivator for my dad.

This morning I had to give him a very careful washing of his back, in order to remove the built up layers of cremes. It hurt despite my care, but we both understood the need. Without it, the new medicine had no chance of reaching actual skin and doing any good. Then yet another new soft knit shirt on it - more pain - and he's been managing to sleep most of the morning. It gave me a chance to stuff envelopes and address X-mas cards. Not enough time to make the Saturday pick-up, however.

Time for me to shower and go shopping: Lanacane, groceries, X-mas stuff...

As for the morphine, well, we can re-order more next year. So far his breathing is good enough that he doesn't need it.

I do still wonder about those rats and spiders though.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Morphine Redux.

Itchy. Scratchy. No, that's not a pair of cartoon characters - well yes it is, but not here - it's my dad as he wakes up this morning.

I offer some of the soothing hospital lotion that got sent home with him. Ah ha, there's a little rash where he's pointing. He jumps when I touch him to smooth the lotion on the spot. It's highly tender.

I tend to the morning routine, and get interrupted by another complaint about being itchy. OK, this time I go dig up the Sarna lotion, an old standby for itching that he's used since after he had shingles.

I fix him breakfast, set up his meds, take a shower, get dressed and am almost ready to go out the door...

He's itchy again. This time I dig out the anti-itch creme in the tube. Both tubes. Not a lot left, but there's some there. I clue in Rich, and leave for work.

Early afternoon I get a phone call. The nurse has been going over all his meds with Rich. Changes need to be made. Most are as simple as when and in what combination something is given. One is called in to the doctor for approval to double the dosage. And the morphine has been poured down the sink.


Remember that bracelet in the hospital that stated No Known Allergies? Well, now that would be wrong. He's allergic to morphine. It manifests as an extremely itchy rash. So, down the drain.

I have mental images of very happy rats in the local sewer system, though I know of no actual beasties therein. Or perhaps there are spiders down there that survive winters underground, feasting on other bugs that inhabit sewers for food and warmth. What kind of weird webs would a spider spin under the influence of morphine?

He'd gotten his last dose this morning, and luckily it was only a half dose. We were already playing around with reduced dosages because the anticipated constipation proved not to be a myth. He got no morphine the previous evening, to enable peristalsis to return. It was an extremely successful gambit. I know because around 4 AM I thought I needed to make a potty stop. It was in use. For quite a while. Another of those mornings where I can't quite get back to sleep. Two hours sleep-deprived.

But since withholding worked, I returned him to a half-dose this morning. Oops! Who knew?

Since coming home tonight, he's been dosed with Lanacane at least 8 times. One spot gets treated, and another makes its presence known. The rash is spreading even now. Every five minutes he calls out for some place to get treated. He's gotten his sleeping pill, plus the old one that also is used as an anti-allergy med. We added a second ibuprofin to help the pain, since it sometimes helps me with an itch too. Blankets have been removed, and added. A pillow has been placed between him and the chair.

I'm trying to finish this and get to bed. Maybe he can fall asleep before the next something drives him nuts.

I'm very well aware of the baby monitor in my room.

Addendum: It took until after midnight for him to get to sleep. Thus for me too. When the alarm went off at 6, he'd been so quiet that I had to check to see that he was still breathing. He was. The rash has been treated again - it's still spreading - and Paul has orders, since he's home today, to go buy more Lanacane.

Poke Poke

When life is full of stress, you take your entertainment when and where you can get it. Sometimes it's only available in taking a couple of pokes in your blog at someone who irritates you.

I was delivering freight from an electrical supply place to an electrical contractor working in Mound. The location on the order was Mound Pump House. Never heard of it.

I've been to Mound quite a few times. There's a company there which uses our services regularly. So I know, for example, that it's a lovely lakeside community due west of Minneapolis way out on the shores of Lake Minnetonka. I know several roads in and out, where to buy a Subway sandwich, the location of the SA with its usable bathrooms, the location of a bank, a printing company, a clinic and the city offices. I knew where my street was located without looking it up on a map, and approximately where the address numbers should wind up. I just didn't know exactly what I was looking for. I had a nebulous idea, with a name like that, that it might be a bar in a remodel of an old fire station. I didn't count on it.

I was on the street in the general area, hunting for street numbers to guide me to the exact location. Depending on the community, these can be either easy or impossible to find. With the snow narrowing street lanes, there was no way to park to check out each building, so the initial plan was a slow drive-by, getting clues to narrow the search. I call it "address hunting", and anybody on the phone with me at the time knows that's when I need to hang up and concentrate on the job. I can talk with you while I'm doing my "big map" driving, the part where I mentally picture my route to the area, and my autopilot takes over getting me there. All I need to concentrate on then is safety. There's brain enough left for a casual conversation, or listening to the radio, or enjoying the weather, or....

I'd already noticed the street name had changed, as the street had just swung a block north. So I needed to follow it back to before the curve and find out if my drop would be there or I needed to backtrack and pick up my street from another angle. That's when it happened.


I pulled the cell from my pocket and glanced at the caller ID to see if this call could be ignored. These days many can't. This one was from headquarters. I better answer.

"This is Heather."

"Hi, this is _____ from the office. How are you doing?"

"I'm address hunting." Take the hint, make this quick, I'm busy here.

"I'm on the phone with _____ and they want to know how soon you'll be in Mound."

Really? Already? I'm not late yet. In fact there's still a half hour on the run. "Mound is where I am. I'm looking for the drop now."

"Oh, if you're having trouble finding it, you can call _____. He can guide you in."

Well, I wasn't having trouble. Not until you called and interrupted my process. I'm now in a moving holding pattern, taking left turn lanes to make u-turns to go up and down this street since there's no safe or convenient stopping place, staying out of other drivers' way, keeping in the location. As for the number, it's standard procedure for jobsite drops to get a first name and cell number to facilitate the hand-off. I've already looked at the order and know it's there.

"I'm not having trouble. I just can't find it and talk to you on the phone at the same time."

And even if I were, I can't call the guy, because - Hello! - you're on my phone. Duh! Now I'm trying to be polite, but I'm getting irritated, and I suspect by this time a little "tone" is creeping through. Maybe she can type and talk on the phone at the same time - it is her job, after all - but certain things do not combine well. And there seems to be a failure of imagination on her part.

"What do you mean?"

"I mean I can concentrate on talking to you or on finding the address, but not both."

"Well, what do I tell the customer?"

Hmmm, that's an open ended question if there ever was one. I have several ideas, but... Professionalism wins.

"Tell him I'm at the corner of _____ and _____ and will be there in under two minutes." Now please go away and let me do the job you're so anxious for me to finish!

During this exchange I have determined that my address is where I am but a block back, so it's time for the different angle approach. Odd, because there's nothing visible back there. But I check it out: a one block dead-end street. No exits. Just piles of snow. But at the end, as I turn around, I spy the truck I'm looking for by its company logo. I just have to go back where I was originally and come back behind the building on the other street. No biggie. Now I know.

Still within my two minutes, I pull up next to the truck. It's parked right beside a little tiny - oh hey! It's a city well house. I should recognize one of those, even if it has no sign. I used to have keys to a couple of those, back in the day. I call the guy, and he comes out for his freight.

"So you're bringing me some light bulbs?"

Ah, that explains the four-foot box. He signs, grabs both boxes, and we part, each with work to do.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Meteoric Irony

There was a spectacular meteor shower last night. I heard about it on the radio.

I wish they wouldn't have said that.

This is, after all, Minnesota. And December. And we have exactly two choices - well, alternatives, rather - when it comes to meteor showers in December. Either it will be beautifully clear, and even if you can get past the bit about the best part being around 2:00 AM, you will have to experience it when the temperatures are around -18 degrees. That's below zero. We're talking Fahrenheit here. I mean really, really cold. That doesn't even factor in the wind chill. Now be honest: what meteor shower is worth that?

The other alternative is warmer, but only in a relative way. It involves lots of cloud cover.

There is no happy medium. Not here, not now. So I wish the radio announcer had just kept that particular tidbit to himself.

Tripple Charlie

It seems I learn something new nearly every day. Some good, some bad, some, despite being new, boring.

On Sunday night I discovered something about lower legs. Between the knee and the ankle there are at least three very distinct different muscles, holding things together and facilitating movement in three very different ways. There is one extending down the outer side of the calf. It seems to be long and thin. Up high behind the knee, there is a short lumpy one, and another in the back, mid-calf.

While I can't say for sure these are the only ones, I can say for sure they are distinct, and they pull in different ways. I know, because they all cramped at once on me.

My usual attack on charlie horses is two-fold: stretching it out, in the short term, and upping my calcium intake for the longer term. The second was simple. The first, not so much. Every way I moved to relieve one muscle, another one cramped harder. There was no way to become stable. Rubbing didn't help. Eventually, I was able to, from a sitting position, extend the heel way back behind me. This didn't eliminate the cramping, but it did exert some stretch on all three muscles to the point where I could bear it. Well, so long as I didn't move even a twitch. Then it was back to where it started.

Finally, and just because I very much needed to, I was able to stand and walk to the bathroom. That actually seemed to ease the cramping out. Or perhaps the calcium I'd sent Paul to fetch had started working. (I wasn't feeling up to a double-blind study right then: try everything and hope something works.)

I'm keeping the calcium levels high for now. They're still sore muscles, reminding me that they're ready to attack again, given provocation. But for now it's just a reminder.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Grumpy Young Man

It didn't seem like such a big request when it was made, or when it was accepted.

My daughter and her husband just went on vacation to Canada to visit friends for a few days. I expect, with her usual thoroughness, she thought of everything that needed doing before they left: mail, the cat, how to pack for the flight, all the usual.

Because it's winter, and they live in Minneapolis, she had to add one more thing to her list. Minneapolis has an ordinance that requires property owners to shovel sidewalks within 24 hours of the end of a snowfall. She asked my youngest, Paul, and he accepted.

No big deal.

By now you've likely seen the film of the Metrodome ripping and dumping some of its accumulation of the 17" weekend snowfall on TV. There was to have been a Vikings game there yesterday, if the Giants could manage to fly in from Kansas City, where their plane got diverted to Saturday because the airport here got shut down. Due to the roof collapse, it'll be in Detroit, tonight. Eleventh Avenue runs along the south side of the Dome, the angle most of the outside shots are taken from. About a mile later, it runs past my daughter's house. One can safely assume that 17" is close to their snowfall as well.

Now Paul is the most easygoing of my kids. He cheerfully helps out when asked. But yesterday was not a good day for him. While we didn't have nearly as much snow here, as it turned out, what we did have blew off the roof and onto the driveway, which his brother had cleared the evening before. He just hadn't bothered with the drift around and over his brother's car. We couldn't actually see it from the front door, so it looked like all the new shoveling remaining on Sunday morning was a couple of foot high drifts in the middle of the drive.

Paul timed himself accordingly. His plan was to quickly dig out of here, dig out his sister's sidewalks (corner house, 2 sidewalks), and then hit a movie or two on the way home. An hour later he was just getting out of here. He was not a happy camper.

It was getting dark by the time he returned. He reported that the snow he shoveled came to just over his knee. That was just the sidewalks. One street had been plowed, and the plow drift left behind was about shoulder height on him. He opened one of the curbs, but left the other to wait until the plow passed there as well. He didn't even bother with their driveway.

He spent another half hour in the den on the computer when he got home, looking for a movie he could still go to that appealed to him, and had a showing that qualified for matinee pricing. I hoped his mood would improve after he returned from that and had some of the venison crock-pot supper he'd helped prepare the night before.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

On Morphine

I've learned some things about morphine recently.

I already knew it wasn't addicting if you used the proper amount for pain. I already knew I wasn't worried about addiction for end-of-life care. But I thought it was only used for pain. Apparently not.

It's been prescribed for my dad. That's not because he's in pain, because he says that most of the time he's not. But it opens the sacs in the lungs, helping him breathe better. It works well with the Atavan which relaxes the chest wall muscles to make more room for air. That's why he'll be getting it.

We think the Thick-It used in his beverages is causing diarrhea. (Something is, and that's the only big dietary change, other than decreasing amounts of food intake.) Morphine will actually work against that, tending to cause constipation. If we're all really really lucky, it will balance out.

We won't find out until Monday. Well, Tuesday, really, since I won't be bringing it home until after work Monday. That's because it can't be called in to the pharmacy over the phone from the doctor's office, nevermind caller ID and any other prescriptions or identifications that make the caller legitimate. Paper is required. And I won't be picking that up until Monday.

Monday is when the doctor's office opens again. And it's when I also stop in for the doctor's signed DNR orders that we can post in the house, proof that CPR need not be tried if EMTs ever get called. And even more than that, Monday is when I venture out of the house again, after the storm blows over, when we know the possibly 18-20 inches of snow and whatever drifts the winds create playing with it have a chance to be cleared off the roads.

Meanwhile I'm contentedly snowbound.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Another Visit From Randy

"Released into hospice". That was the official word on his discharge.

I was seriously wondering if I'd bitten off more than we all could chew when I picked up my dad from the hospital this afternoon. He had trouble standing, much less walking the two or three steps from his chair where he was eating lunch to the wheelchair for his ride down to the front doors. Same thing for his transfer into the car.

How on earth were we going to get him into the house?

It took both Rich and me to help him get on his feet out of the car. Once attached to his walker, he made a bit of progress, but we had a chair waiting for him immediately after he crossed the threshold. He sat for about ten minutes, during which time we raised the seat of his lift chair, changed his oxygen supply from the portable tank to the house feed, emptied the car, removed his hat and jacket, and Rich maneuvered his chair with its tiny wheels across the carpeted floor to sit next to his lift chair. With help again from both of us, he got seated into his lift chair.

Problem was, he couldn't stay there. Sure, we can - and did - bring supper there, but there's the matter of bathroom breaks, and heading down the hall to his bedroom at night. If he stayed this disabled, how would we manage?

I called Randy, letting her know he was now home, and she could visit at her convenience, as previously arranged. She arrived within an hour.

He came home with new meds, one of which seemed to contradict what another one was. She explained, letting us know to keep using the old one on schedule, but we could insert the new one in between if necessary. Another had extra benefits as far as breathing: it was a sleeping pill but also relaxed the chest wall muscles so it could expand while he was sleeping. She also said it could be given again if he woke, as he often does, at midnight and had trouble getting back to sleep. She would pursue getting him a second Rx to allow for extra usage.

She made sure Daddy knew what hospice is. He's had it explained to him several times in the hospital, but didn't recognize the word this afternoon. He knows perfectly well where he is in terms of his life expectancy, and easily explained that to Randy, adding that he had accepted it and was finally ready to go any time. Words, specific words, however, cause him problems. He's lost their meanings or can't recall the one he wants at the moment. That's progressive. He refers to it as holes in his brain.

We work around it.

She made a late afternoon phone call to the person she knows who can order him a hospital bed delivered to the house - and charged to Medicare. It's extra-long. He complains that my full-sized bed is shorter than normal. He's just taller than normal, and has been used to a queen bed with Mom for many years. This new bed will let him stretch out and keep his feet covered. The bed will arrive Tuesday or Wednesday. Meanwhile we may continue to have nights like last night where he wakes and wanders into the living room to sleep in his chair so his head is elevated. This means his strength is returning, something we noticed several hours after he came home. It also means nobody is awake to switch his oxygen over to the tubing in the living room.

Luckily I made a mid night potty call and saw him in the chair, switched the tubing, and covered him with a throw. He's been sleeping well since. I wish I could have.

But he walked it! Hooray!

Now I just have to figure out sheets for an extra-long hospital bed. And get memory foam for a topper. Not egg-crate. And, if we rent it for six months, it's ours. Like the nebulizer. Oh, and the height-from-the-floor adjustment is a hand crank. Medicare finally began to offer hospital beds for home use with electric head and knee lifts. Those used to be hand crank as well.

We discussed the "Thick-It" we need to add to his liquids. This gets them to a variety of consistencies, as we've already found out. There is a learning curve! The hospital says "honey", though many of his liquids didn't arrive that way. We've gotten slightly thick to solidly jelled, so far. Randy said "nectar" to "honey" works well enough. She doesn't care if his plain water is treated or not.

Then she asked if he remembered what he was taught about how to swallow?

Huh? News to me, and apparently to him as well. There's a "how"? And obviously nobody was taught. So she demonstrated. By swallowing with the chin down, the airway is closed off even if the mechanism is no longer working properly, like his. You can't aspirate. It's exactly the opposite of during CPR when the head is tilted back to open the airway. So Daddy tried it, and we now know to remind him to do it.

Randy decided to order up physical therapy for him, as she'd planned after his first hospital stay. The focus will change, however, to strengthening muscles that will assist his breathing. That brought up the issue of the focus of hospice vs. the focus of the county health agency. She will focus on keeping him as well as possible for as long as possible, while also keeping him as comfortable as possible. Hospice focuses more on comfort care. Each gets paid differently by Medicare, but simply because he is post-hospitalization, two hours of home health aid support daily will be covered for 6 months, as well as the PT. She can work on the bed, catheterization changes (he was sent home without the Foley and leg bag when he was too weak to get to the bathroom without help), fighting for meds needs, etc. The added bonus to staying with the county is their staff knows him and his needs already. They know how to deal with his blindness and his memory. And he trusts them.

What the county does not offer is 24-hour care, which he does not need yet. Hospice, I'm told, can. They are coming out this morning to make their presentation, answer questions. Randy tells me that they do not cover home health aids for two hours a day, so far the most expensive part of his home health care. I'm thinking we stay with the county for now, although I'll wait to hear what hospice says. Should things change, we can switch over, or take what's best of both programs, paying some expenses ourselves.

We'll see. Meanwhile I need coffee.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Just Which Part of Blind Don't You Get?

There's a dry-erase board on the wall in my dad's hospital room. It lists his name, nurse/aid of the moment, family phone number, dietary needs, and other important information needed at a glance about the patient. One of those items is "PT is legally blind".

The first evening I was there to see him, the TV in his room was tuned to what I later found out was channel 71. There is no picture. There is music, nice soothing selections like the "Moonlight Sonata" by Beethovan, or "Nutcracker" selections. The music is sprinkled with bird calls, some of which we actually recognize, like chickadee and cardinal. He enjoys listening to it.

Nearly all subsequent visits, the staff has turned the TV so the picture is on and the sound off. Last night I corrected it immediately - as I do now that I know how to tune in the good stuff - and the next staffer to walk in "corrected" it to screen on, sound off. I changed it again, and before I left somebody had again "fixed" it.

If Daddy could see the controls, I'd teach him how to do it himself. But if he could, he wouldn't need to. And that leaves him at the mercy of the staff. So tell me, guys, just what part of "blind" don't you get?

Come Back Soon

It was off the beaten track. It didn't used to be, but a freeway bypass has kept me going past the town rather than through it, unless like the other day it is my specific destination. Heading east out of Long Lake now, there is a sign along the road at the junction of a side road that invites us to "Come Back Soon".

Since the speed limit there had increased to 45 mph, I had only a brief moment to look up the road to try to determine who wanted my business. Up a small rise, before the curve, I caught a lovely view of a smattering of headstones in the local cemetery.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


The first one is white, with a wide space for a typed paper insert, giving his name, address, birthdate, and other information the hospital deems important.

The second is orange, marked in large letters "No Known Allergies".

The third is yellow, warning that falls can be an issue.

The fourth one is purple. It simply says DNR. This one was a long time in coming. Even yesterday he was telling the doctor that he wanted all possible measures taken to revive him should his heart fail. The doctor gave me two reasons that was not a good idea for him. First, should his heart fail, he could be deprived of oxygen long enough to cause serious brain damage. Second, any chest compressions would most likely break his ribs at his age. Thus any remaining time gained by CPR would be spent in pain.

We want to keep him as comfortable as possible. That's why he's likely coming home tomorrow. We'll know for sure after the lung specialist examines him again tomorrow. He'll be more comfortable at home. It won't make any difference to his pneumonia, which they have determined to be chronic rather than acute. That's why no fever, no real progress. Still, he'll likely get sent home with antibiotics just in case they can do some good. Being home won't help the fibrosis, or the emphysema, or the infiltrates found on his recent CT scan. And being home won't help his congestive heart failure any more than staying in the hospital would.

Nothing can.

But he can feel better here, more cared for, more comfortable.

He understands he will not be getting better than he is right now. He discussed his funeral, wanting to make sure he'd be cremated, his ashes buried alongside Mom's at Fort Snelling. I said, "Of course." Mom's urn has been waiting in my living room for 20 months now. He doesn't want us to be devastated when he goes, and joked that I didn't need to agree quite so quickly. His sense of humor is still there, along with his gratitude and appreciation.

He wants more help, so he can do less work, need to struggle to breathe less often. I'll be looking into what kinds of things can be done here at home, what kinds of assistance is available and who'll be paying for it. Tomorrow I'll have to ask at the hospital if they believe he qualifies for home hospice care. That would open some doors.

I think we'll leave the purple bracelet on.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A Day In The OMG

I hope it's just a phase. I'd like to think I'll get my sense of humor back, that I can get through a day without feeling on the edge, without mentally swearing at half the people I interact with, without feeling ready to lash out for real. Maybe just a simpler day or seven. Maybe some more sleep. Something ought to help.


I hear it on the baby monitor, not sure whether it's a call for help or just more talking in his sleep. One eye opens. 4AM. Maybe it's a false alarm.


No such luck. I get out of bed, head through the house, and open his door. I bypass the bathroom without stopping, grateful that I woke and used it an hour earlier. As I open his door I hear him calling once again, "Nurse!"

"It's me, Daddy. What do you need?" Realizing now where he is, he asks for a drink of water, and for me to check his nose tubing bringing oxygen. He's never convinced the one in his bedroom brings as much as the one in the living room. Maybe it's plugged? I'll go through the motions of checking, although I can hear the hissing halfway across the bedroom. It's not plugged. For that matter, part of it is not even there to be plugged. He's got a prong and a stump, not two prongs. Did somebody get hungry in the middle of the night? It seemed fine when he went to bed. I reassure him everything's OK for now, that we'll fix his nosepiece tomorrow, but if he can hold on for an hour, we'll get him up then and get him out to the living room where he can breathe better.

Maybe I can get back to sleep soon enough to do some good.

5AM and the alarm goes off to MPR news. I don't want to listen to whatever it is, and there's just not time even if I did. Put the dog out, hit the bathroom, take my pills...oh wait, Paul's using it, those have to wait... start coffee, clean up around his chair, rinse and reset his nebulizer, dig out his coffee cup and breakfast dishes ready for later, let the dog back in and give him his milkbone, set out the rest of my pills - the vitamins, etc. - and now it's time to wake up Daddy.

Please please hurry up Paul.

As soon as Daddy is in his chair, which now takes twice as long as normal, I dish up coffee for both of us and we watch just enough local news to get headlines, traffic and weather. Paul finally finishes his shower, and I can get in, do what I need to, and fix Daddy's breakfast. I bring it to his chair, get his portable O2 tank set up to go along, find his jacket and knit hat - Paul's, actually- and remind Paul that they need to leave in 15 minutes. Daddy has an early morning post-hospital doctor visit. Paul is driving him. They leave late. Paul comes back in to get a plastic wastebasket. Daddy is nauseous from the exertion of getting to the car. They leave even later.

I finally grab my shower. Coming out, I hear a very familiar sound: more bad news. It's Thursday morning, garbage pick-up day. Nobody put the can curbside. And since last week was Thanksgiving, and pick-up day moved to Friday when we were focused on bringing Daddy home from the hospital, nobody had put the can curbside then either. And right now it's winter out there, I'm in lightweight PJs, my hair soaking wet, my feet bare. I'm not even tempted to try to run out and race the garbage truck.

Damn good thing it's a big can!

I get dressed, and head out, not yet to work, but taking advantage of my early start to go for the $10 off early bird oil change special. It's a bit late, mileage-wise, even by my relaxed standards. There's just been no time. I mention that my tire low pressure light has just come on, (causing another delay while I inspect each tire for its likeliness to last the trip to here), and ask them to check. I'm later informed that each was 5 lbs. low, no doubt caused by the weather. Yesterday's similar weather didn't have an effect, but this day must be special.

I'm just getting into the Dan Brown book I've been working on for a week - again, no time - when the squirt calls me back into the service bay for a chat. He wants to verify my address is the same - he couldn't just ask in the lobby? - and show me his little power point presentation of all my options of oils and extra services along with charts of what the manufacturer recommends. My knees are not amused. He's got all my information from numerous previous visits. I forbear mentioning that I've put 2 million miles on my own cars, am very well aware of dealer recommendations and actual tolerances, both of the cars and of my budget. I cut him off, tell him to just do the usual, and that I'm not planning on standing there.

Hey, squirt, notice that blue card under my windshield with the little wheelchair symbol on it? It should show up even better when you clean the windshield like you are supposed to have done.

When it's time to pay he makes a snotty comment about my air filter being dirty, but they just put it back in. Now that they could have asked about, provided, of course, that they brought it out to the lobby. Pissant!

Once in my car, I log in to work and head down the road. I'll stop for breakfast in my usual stopping/waiting place, likely the McDonalds. Just as I pass the last place to turn around for over five miles, three runs come in - behind me. So far behind me that their origin is considered out of town. So 5 miles later, I u-turn and head back north. When I'm back in Forest lake, I exit at their McDonalds and order, to eat as I continue north.

When it hit my first destination town, I stop and ask where the post office is. By now it's 9AM, and I have to mail a package. Priority. When Steve left yesterday afternoon, he left behind his cell phone. Since it's over a hundred miles, Uncle Sam can do the walking. At least the phone was charged. When he was here last week, he brought the phone and left the charger home. This week he'd brought - and remembered to pack - the charger. I called his son last night, telling them I had the phone and would mail it. But what was his address? I can drive right to it, but...

It's a picturesque post office. There's a single window open, and the lady ahead of me in line needed a lot of stamps. Of the specific variety that wasn't in stock at this particular window. The fellow didn't trust his counting and had to do it three times, then figure the price twice, and chat, then refold the stamps for their folder, and.... My knees were again not best pleased. Once it was finally my turn, he directed me to the far side of an unlikely looking display for my priority box. Way across the lobby, of course. "Next?" So I get to fill it out, and return to the line at the window for mailing.

The pick is a pharmacy. I know this customer. Their clients are hospice patients. Never a happy time, but usually it means somebody is there who is lucid, most times a family member, and who knows how to give directions to the house. Out there there are no maps better than the state map, and these three runs go to three different towns even further out than where I'm picking up from, so I need all the help I can get. I check each package for phone numbers. Nada. Zip.

The usual out-of-town plan is to go to the first gas station you can find and ask directions or, better yet, for a local map to look at. The first town doesn't have a gas station. OK, call dispatch and ask them to call our customer and see if we can get phone numbers for each drop. I do that, and get switched over to the driver helper. I explain my predicament. It's compounded by the fact that the address numbers I'm looking for don't work in this town. It's a 5-digit number starting with 49, where the ones in town start with 36. It should be way-y-y-y north of here. She suggests I call the customer, and I tell her there's no numbers on the freight. She very patiently and politely informs me the numbers are on my Nextel, if I scroll down way into the nether regions that I tend to forget are even there, since they are 1) invisible and 2) seldom used. I check, and sure enough... oops. Thanks. Bye.

I get pretty good directions, once I get the woman past the idea that I might have any clue at all where the red barn is that used to be a .... They're just not in this town, as claimed by the pharmacy sending out the meds. In fact, I passed the turnoff at the town before this one, so I need to go back, then head east about six miles past the ____ Store and over the railroad tracks and about three or four more blocks and.... As I finally arrive, I realize the numbers were so far off because I just crossed a county line - into my own county, in fact - and we use a whole different system. Now it's perfect. Well, aside for the fact that the road signs are still completely covered from the sticky snow of two days ago and I have to pass each one, stop, look over my shoulder, and see if this is the right road or not. Nobody ever cleans the snow off the signs.


After dropping this one off, I stop and write myself clear directions in case I get to come this way again.

OK, call number two, town number two. These directions are all about bridges and "cattle ranches" and the farm machinery in the front yard. They won't be home when I get there but leave the package in their mail box. I refrain from commenting on the legality of that particular move. Their two dogs are friendly and will be out in the yard. I do comment this time, suggesting that they will likely be too busy smelling the two dogs from my last stop to bother me much. I'd had to keep them entertained so the woman there had a free hand to sign with. I find this drop mostly despite her directions, give the two largest dogs I've seen in years some time to get accustomed to me, try the door in spite of her saying they'd be gone because that's what we have to do, and then put the package in the mailbox. At least there's a name plaque at the door, even with no number out on the road. I know I've found the right spot. Again, write directions so they make sense, in case.

Call number three, and I know I'm in trouble. The guy mumbles, and from the directions he gives and the long pauses throughout his sentences, I figure it's a good thing he's home already because otherwise he'd never find it. He does keep repeating if I get to (illegible)I've gone too far.

Oh goodie.

Time to head into town for the old tried-and true. Besides, I need a pit stop. Luckily, this time there's both a map and someone who knows what I'm looking for. I passed it about three miles east of town on my way in - why couldn't he have said that? - but it's really simple once you know the street is the same as the county road. Then it's just a matter of looking for the address number on the fire number sign. I never did get to find out what I'd see when I went too far, because I didn't get there. But I did find him, driving out his driveway as I pulled up, then backing up to a turnaround, and heading up towards his house again parallel with me until his wheels started spinning on the ice-coated snowy grass. I figured if I stopped, he'd stop, and I better stop him from spinning any more as he was slipping sideways downhill. Whatever kind of drugs he was getting, apparently they didn't cure stupid any more than they cure whatever was killing him. They did seem, however, to be keeping him happy.

I guess that's the point.

I had to leave the driveway in a bit of a hurry since his caretaker pulled in just as I was leaving. There's only so much room. I figure he needs her way more now than he needs me. I wonder what other kinds of trouble he can get into on his lonesome. I did stop up the road and give myself clear directions to this place too.

Time to head back into the cities. By now I was starting to worry about Daddy. I should have heard from Paul about the doctor visit. He wasn't answering his cell. I'd already tried twice. He hadn't even turned on his cell. And they weren't home yet either. Just then he called, letting me know that Daddy was now in St. John's Hospital. He still had pneumonia in his right lung, was still anemic, and the doctor sent him over there.

Crap! Double crap: I hate that hospital. Don't get me wrong. They give excellent service. But they put such strong emphasis on the esthetics of the lobby it's a huge walk from car to patient room.

Time to call Randy and call off the aids until further notice. Got her voicemail, so I called Patty, one of Daddy's aids who is also a friend, who could call ChiChi in time for her to not waste a trip. Patty chatted a bit, bringing up in the course of it something that had been troubling her. Daddy had asked her earlier in the week what it was like to die.

Now we've gotten kind of used to comments like that. This very morning he'd commented that he'd thought dying was going to be easier than this, as he was struggling to catch his breath while I was getting him up and dressed. Patty hadn't heard many of those comments and takes them very much to heart. So she answered him, bless her heart, with, "Well, I haven't tried it myself, but I hear it's usually peaceful." I tried to thank her for her thoughtfulness, put this morning's comment in a new context, and tried to reassure her that this was fairly typical for him when he's sick or depressed.

Next call was Meals on Wheels, not in time to cancel since by now it was 11:30, but stop for tomorrow and until I called again. Then my brother Steve, letting them know what's going on.

All this time, I'm wandering around on unfamiliar roads, working my way back to Hwy. 65. I knew it was east of me, and the cities were south, and if I kept going east until I had to turn, south until I could go east again.... I'd come down about 7 miles on the county road from the highway to the last fellow's place, and didn't feel like heading back all that way north again. Eventually it worked, but it was slow. The country roads, of course, were all iced from two days ago. But the phone calls were a long way from done. But hey, lots of time while I drive back to the cities.

I called "my" Steve's son, informing him that the phone was mailed and what was going on with Daddy. Then there was Planning Commission. Doubtful I'd make it by 7PM, but lucky I had one phone number of a member to call, make my excuses, and let them know not to wait for me. Then I called Lynn, the city clerk, and left voicemail on the same thing with her.

Next was Daddy's bank, checking whether Blue Cross's direct deduct bill had cleared in the confusion between closing the old account and opening the new one. I'd thought I could take care of handling them, Social Security, and his pension check from an unknown company, getting them switched over. Boy was I naive! Social Security will only take that kind of orders from the bank itself. Blue Cross needs to send paperwork for Daddy to sign, which they're slow on. And the mysterious company is still mysterious. Sara has been a great help, so I called her to check how things were going, this being the first of the month.

Sara is on vacation. They gave me Kelly. She'd have to call me back, since the person she needs to check with is at lunch. And she can't tell Social Security to switch the account numbers since their bank doesn't offer that service. (Sara does. I guess someone forgot to send her the memo. Shhhhhh!) There will be more calls required tomorrow.

"My" Steve called back. I filled him in on both situations. I informed him I only needed the smallest Priority box: last night when I got home I checked around the house for his head, but since I didn't find it, I guessed he'd had it screwed on when he left. (He wasn't all that amused.) I've been missing being able to pick up the phone and reach out. It's been nice to call as needed to check in, vent, listen, exchange support. Today it was especially welcomed.

Lynn called, letting me know that Planning was canceled due to lack of a quorum. Not to mention lack of business. Don't hurry home for the meeting.

Kelly called, letting me know that accounting is aware of the issues and watching for things as they come through. She couldn't tell me about Blue Cross, the one right now that I'm worried about. If that request for withdrawal bounces, his insurance gets messed up. Not a good time for that.

A bit of road spray clouds the windshield, so I hit the washer/wipers. Two teeny spouts of blue juice, and ...out! Really? Out? Hours after a full-service oil change? They worked perfectly an hour earlier. There will be another early morning visit tomorrow. I'll rub the squirt's nose in their top-off policy! While getting confrontational sounds like it might be appealing, in reality it's just another thing to put on the list, and the stack of things on that list is mounting. This whole time I'm worrying about Daddy, and everything on that list is changed in reaction to what I don't and do know or suspect about his health. Just changing the things on the list is part of the stack-up. No one thing is much. All of it is more than a lot.

For example: should I rush to select the picture for this year's X-mas card? I signed last year's card with a printed set of both of our names. Will he still be around then? Which would be worse: send it out with just my name? Or with both with the possibility that he won't be around then? Wouldn't either way, wrong, be cruel? We can hope he'll get better in the hospital, but he did last time and relapsed within a couple days at home. Will his body respond faster this time? Slower? Will we just yo-yo until he's gone, no real good days left, struggling to breathe for weeks and/or months? All of that background surrounds everything on the list, even if it doesn't directly affect it.

I call Rich at home to have him turn off the coffee pot, pop the coffee in the fridge. I'll have it tomorrow, another cup Saturday. It was barely touched. Oh, and turn off his equipment, lower the thermostat to our temperature, not the higher one we maintain for Daddy. Mental note: remember to unplug the baby monitor again, save energy that way as well. Coil up the oxygen hose, noting we can delay having Paul replace the chewed piece until it's needed again, if....

By now I pull into a gas station lot down in Blaine and have lunch, just a bit late. At least when the can of chunky clam chowder is cold, you can heap it on the spoon and not worry about wearing it on your uniform the rest of the day. The white would glare against the navy of the sweatshirt. Dispatch suddenly remembers me, and offers a pair of runs coming out of Coon Rapids heading to Zimmerman and Princeton: do I want them? Sure! Sight unseen. Of course. Three minutes later as I'm heading that way, only one shows up on my Nextel, just another frustration with the system. I switch modes to contact dispatch, technically an illegal act as it involves a wee bit of key pressing that could be interpreted as texting, to let them know my phone is having problems. He informs me that other run was canceled. "Hey, thanks for letting me know." Amazingly, there was no hint of sarcasm in the spoken tone of that comment. Written, it screams through. But he's a bit.... well, let's not go there just now.

The Princeton run is two boxes of printed material, going to the second floor of a building right on the main drag, easy to find. I've been there before. I also, come to think of it, now remember that there is no elevator in the building. I get to haul 68 pounds up stairs!

Lucky me. The anticipation grows.

Heading north, I mostly finish lunch, a spoonful per stoplight. As I drive I notice something disturbing: can that really be gas at $3.049? I paid $2.799 last night, and actually saw $2.659 once yesterday when my tank was still full. Yep, other sightings confirm the bad news. I'm hoping it doesn't spread to my area before I get home, putting (another) mental note on my list to fill up tonight, not in the morning. We usually trail the pack in my area when gas prices rise.

The UPS driver is pulling out as I pull in. I hope his boxes were lighter. Or maybe he delivered to the first floor. Anyway, I now have parking. No more excuses to delay on this one. I load the boxes on my two-wheeler, haul them over to the door, let one sit in the lobby as I hoist the other on my hip. Luckily it's just the right size for my arm to grasp one corner over the top with its diagonal corner on my hip. I start up the stairs, using the opposite arm on the railing to both balance and pull, doing what I call the two-year-old's stair climb. One foot goes up, then the other joins it, same step. Repeat for each step. It's made more interesting for the scrinchy-grinding sound I hear as each knee joint moves under the extra weight. It's pure bone conduction, straight to the brain. I suspect the accompanying nausea is purely psychological. The same sound greets me as I step out of the tub in the morning. I know what these are going to feel like tonight, and likely several days more.

Entering the office, I announce that this is just the first of two boxes for them from ____. Here I catch a break. One of them offers to come back down with me and haul the other one up.

Bless you!

She signs, I leave, heading back to the cities after finally scooping the last of the clam chowder from the can. It was particularly unsastisfying. Right now I'm needing some comfort food, and stop for a bag of popcorn to munch along the way. My carpet has just been cleaned along with the oil change, so there's plenty of room for new crumbs, white on black. Dispatch aims me towards Anoka. Plenty of time to drive and brood about Daddy, how he's doing.

I let dispatch know I need to look towards Maplewood tonight, so of course they give me a run heading to Eden Prairie, diagonally as far away from there as possible while still remaining within the 494/694 metro perimeter freeway ring. I know which particular dispatcher this is, and have come to expect his pushing our limits as much as possible. He rarely disappoints. Still, I drop the run at 4 PM, issuing another reminder of where I'm aiming. He sends me down to the Flying Cloud airport for a run to Eagan, which at least covers the eastern part of my northeastern trip. After I accept, he mentions it's not ready until 5 PM, but hey, I can walk in early.

Well, typical of him, even more so as the run progresses. This run is freight forwarder to freight forwarder, an envelope of customs documents. They wonder why I'm there a few minutes early. This never goes off on time. We should know that. (Yeah, I agree: dispatch should know that!) They have to wait for customs to clear the freight, and customs has their own priorities. My need to get to the hospital at a reasonable time to see my dad is distinctly not one of them. But would I like a cup of coffee while I wait? And there's a nice seating area just behind the fireplace.

She was right about the nice seating area, and next to the fireplace is the warmest part of the lobby. I quit shivering as I soak in the heat, but the fuming mounts as time passes. I pass some of it by texting to dispatch about what's going on - or rather, not going on - and comment that this is typical for this place and that they, dispatch, should know this. After about 4 comments, I get a query, was there a delay?

Well, Duh! Hey, idiot, have you been reading any of this?

After several more minutes, I approach the front desk again. I've had enough, If it can't be ready in about two more minutes, I'm prepared to walk out and a different driver can be sent in. They'd have to call us first, of course, but.... Sometimes customers need to be reminded we're not their personal slaves and have other customers to be served and other needs to attend to. It's done as politely as possible, but it will inconvenience them. Learn to use us wisely, guys. She calls back to the guy getting it ready, and lo, it's actually ready! He just has to walk it up to the front desk. I'm not told how long it's been sitting on his desk waiting to be brought up.

OK, I give them the two minutes that takes, thank them, and leave. Once in the car, I ask dispatch for loadtime charges on the run. The reply back is a verbal query: wasn't the freight ready when I got there?

Arrrgggghhhhh!!!!! We've just been texting about that very thing. You've confirmed my worst thoughts about your competence. Again.

I bite back all the nasty things I truly want to blast this guy with, but can't quite keep the sarcasm out of my tone. Well, tough. With his skills, surely he must have developed a thick skin by this time! You know, to match his thick skull. A complete, matching set.

I'm going to be lucky to reach the hospital by 7, late as it is, far as it is, rush hour in full bloom. I wonder if Daddy'll still be awake then. He's been going to bed lately any time between 4 and 7, since coming home from the hospital the first time. I mentally map the likely fastest, though not shortest, route to my drop. At any moment I expect the dispatcher to call me up and wonder why I'm not going his preferred route. He's done it before. It's in my contract that I get to choose. That doesn't stop him.

Once there, I walk in and stand at the counter. I'm the only customer there. The dozen others who pass by me in all directions are apparently not the person who has to wait on me. Or perhaps they have unseen broken fingers and can no longer hold pens to sign their names with.
Apparently all are employees, having free movement within the area and chatting with each other as they move around. Wait, here comes a likely-looking guy.

"I'll be right with you, sir." Sir? Again? I wonder this at his back as he passes into the next room. My knees are seriously unamused. I have plenty of time to study a poster next to the counter. Many companies have them. They are reminders of high company standards for service to their customers. Things to do, things not to do, pep talks on paper. This one lists nonproductive behaviors in a middle section, including saying, "Not my job." I have plenty of time to wonder if the dozen or so milling around me have read this and appreciate the irony. My actual thoughts are a tad less charitable.

No, actually they are a whole hell of a lot less charitable. I'm gritting my teeth to hold myself in check by this time, not swearing, managing a smile and a thank you when I do finally get that signature and can leave. Mentally swearing at them all and calling them out does relieve a bit of the stress, but only one thing really holds me in check: When I get home tonight, I'm going to blog! No ands, ifs or buts, don't care who else might be using my computer. I walk in that door, it's all mine! Mine mine mine! I've already picked out the title and the first sentence, and I'll blog till I drop. (Actually about 11 PM and about a third of the way through this.)

Finally arriving at the hospital, I manage to snag a front-row handicap parking spot. This place has three rows of them. None are actually close to the front door. The relative closeness of this spot I credit to the lateness of the hour.

Every time I have to come here, I spend time mentally cursing the architect who designed this space. Oh, it's beautiful! No question about that. It's just so inefficient, heat-wasteful, and way too damned long a hike from parking to patient rooms.

Take the circle drive in front, reserved for loading home-bound patients. It can't be a straight drive, allowing parking on the other side. It's got its own center island, a full island, with clumps of birch trees, decorative boulders, plantings and what-not. A semi could successfully navigate that turning radius.

Then you have the air lock, about 30 feet long, where one can sit in one's wheelchair with the flowers and detritus one takes along when they leave, nominally inside and out of the elements though the doors open electronically every time someone approaches and lets all that cold/hot air in, while you wait for however long it takes your driver to go locate the car and bring it around for you. Have patience. But, hey, you're sitting, right? Lucky you.

Next is the hike to the info desk. You pass a lovely water feature on your way, which some folks have turned into a wishing well, providing endless fascination for waiting children who kill time trying to figure out how to scarf up a few of those coins for themselves without getting into trouble. You have plenty of time yourself to watch them as you trudge by.

If you know the room number and your way, you can save the time spent at the info desk asking, and breeze right on by. Past the gift shop, with fabulous window displays of wares for sale. Past the coffee nook, past the fireplace with tables and chairs, around the corner, around another corner, through the first segment of art gallery (all for sale, prices marked), past the creche scene in the courtyard, past the vending machines and the nook with tables and chairs, past offices, past more art gallery, past another sizable seating area, this time no tables, around the corner, down the hall, and finally to the elevator nook. Push the button and wait. Head up to four, read signs for which wing your room number is in. Ahh, there, turn right, pass the nurses station, turn left, and - of course - last door at the end of that last hall.

I am, at this point, after all that turning, directly behind my car, about 50 feet back and four floors up. There's just no direct route here. Out of some perverse need, I counted my steps from parking to room on a previous visit. There were several hundred. This is why I curse the architect. May he be blessed with my knees, and with my need to visit this hospital three times a day for the rest of his miserable life!

Daddy's sleeping when I walk in, but there is one chair. You can tell it's a chair because it's what's holding up five extra blankets, two extra pillows, and a couple things whose function you're not sure of. It's certainly not ready to hold you. At this point, it doesn't matter. If there's something breakable under all that, too bad. Sit! The chair tries to repel me, the stack toppling forward under me. After rearranging, I hit the nurse call.

The aid answers, since his nurse is at supper. Lucky her. I'd like some of that myself. By now Daddy is awake, and the three of us have a good long chat. He's feeling better, getting antibiotics via IV again, and comfortable with a Foley and bag so he doesn't have to get up. They even bring bed pans to him here. The room is hovering somewhere close to 80 degrees, quite comfortable for him. Even his perpetually cold foot is refusing to bother him. I make sure they know everything relevant about his special needs, and the aid lets me know what they're doing for him to meet those. When I point out the burn on his foot, most likely from the super-hot hot packs to keep his foot warm in the other hospital, she seems shocked. They haven't been allowed to use hot packs here for a long time: too many patient burns.

Ya think?

For his vision problems, they taped a gauze "bump" over the right button to push on his call button controller, one that puts the many choices on my TV remote control to shame. Not only can he now find it, he's been using it through the day. The TV monitor is off in his room, but there's a selection of music and animal and bird calls piped into his room. It's very soothing, at a level that just barely penetrates his hearing, enough that he likes it.

It's the same thing they had in Mom's room here when she was dying, but she (or rather we, her visitors) had the video as well.

After satisfying myself that he's getting good care, and comforted that he knows that I've visited, I let him persuade me that it's time to head home. I do have to work tomorrow, which the forecasters promise will be snowy, and I will need some sleep. Before that, I'll need to unwind, but I've got my plan for that. Supper will be fast food on my way home. French Dip at Arbys is demanding my attention, and I comply. Rather than sitting parked and dipping, however, I decide to try another plan so I can drive and eat. Opening the sandwich, I pour the au jous over the baguette, reassemble, folding protective wrap over the bottom along with a pair of napkins to soak up most of the drips. It pretty much works but those last bites are unpleasantly soggy. Still, I am making progress home.

I actually manage, once in bed, to sleep through to the alarm.

Dang, another day! Already!

But, hey, it's just stress, right?