Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Lifeline... Forever?

Parting is such a bitch. At least it seems to be for Phillips Lifeline.

When my dad was first widowed, we ordered the pendant for him. You've no doubt seen the commercials. An older person falls and can't get up, pushes a button, and help is called. While the commercials' tag line has become a punchline, the system really works.

One memorable use was an evening when Daddy had helped himself to an extra drink, fell getting out of his chair, and had the paramedics come pick him up. When I arrived - with granddaughter in tow - he was sloppy-happy, unhurt, and completely unimpressed with the fact that his catheter bag had leaked all over the carpet. What was even more irritating to me was finding the EMTs treating the whole episode as a lark. He didn't need the encouragement to drink to excess, no matter how much he was grieving.

At least that time I got called. The first time he used the system, there was a flub and neither Steve nor I got called. The first I heard of it, the call was from the hospital ER asking about his meds. After an irate call to Lifeline, apologies were made along with the necessary changes.

When he was moved in with us, we decided to keep the system. He was, after all, still on his own for hours at a time in the house. The one time he should have used it, when he fell in the bathroom before we put in the support bar, he forgot about the pendant and waited for about half an hour until the Meals on Wheels driver found him.

A few months ago I found him on a couple occasions staring at the pendant with a puzzled look on his face. He'd forgotten what it was and how to use it. I reminded him, in case it might do some good in the future. Once he was home from the hospital in December and under constant supervision, I decided to call Lifeline and cancel the service.

It was a pleasant enough call, although I was put off by the tone of voice at one point that demanded to know why we were canceling, were we absolutely sure we were properly taking care of him? The word "hospice" goes a long way in such situations.

She canceled the service, asking me to disconnect the machine from the phone system once I got home, pay the most recent bill whose arrival the day before prompted memory and my call, and informed me that they would be sending out a FedEx label to attach to whatever box we packed the system in, for free return shipping.

A couple weeks later the envelope arrived... not with the label but with a bill for the price of the whole system! You better believe I called them immediately, and not terrible politely either. I was apologized to, assured the matter would be checked into, and told to ignore the bill. Just return the system.

Yesterday I realized another full two weeks had passed, and since I was a work at the time, called home to Rich to give them a call and ask WTF? This time the answer was they were sure the label had been mailed, but it would be checked into. We're wondering if they sent it to the original address. Things have gone astray that way before.

Meanwhile the box sits on the dining room table, collecting dust. Or maybe crumbs. The last bill payment is inside, waiting for that free shipping label so I can be cheap and avoid the $.44 stamp. It's overdue by now, of course. Under the circumstances I don't feel a bit bad about it. When we signed up for the service, the level of customer service was excellent. Signing off is a whole different story.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


It would be way less humiliating to simply claim being another victim of the re-freeze ice. After all, I'd be in great company. Jordan, for example, was jogging, slipped, and now wears a bandage on her face where a sharp bit of ice poked a hole through her cheek. She got up and immediately fell again, this time on her back.

I didn't see that damage.

While I do claim ice-damage occasionally when large numbers of explanations are requested, since it stops questions rather neatly, my inclination against lying brought me around to a simpler explanation that allows the asker to draw their own conclusions without piling too much humiliation on me, adding insult to injury, as it were. "I landed on it."

That is completely true, without adding the detail that I am seemingly capable of tripping on my own shadow. In actual fact, I tripped over a half step in my very own home, the entrance to my bedroom as one comes inside from the screen porch, where I had been chatting with Rich, exchanging details on Daddy before I left for work and he took over care.

My first reaction upon landing was a huge mental sigh of relief that this time, at least, I'd landed in a twisted position which avoided more tendon damage in my knees. I actually think I avoided bruising them this time. I merely needed to embark on the lengthy process of getting myself up off the floor and standing again, something involving contortions to avoid putting pressure on either kneecap. Richard tried to help, but I have evolved a method which doesn't involve anybody else putting their back out. It's not graceful or ladylike. It just works, slowly. Congratulating myself on having escaped damage, off I went to work.

OK, maybe there was a wee bit of bruising after all. There was a bit of soreness as the day progressed. No biggee.

Then about 2:00, I grabbed a thick envelope with about 5 lbs. of paper inside with my left hand, and that's when it hit. Boom!

I'd forgotten about the third point in my three-point-landing: my left hand. That took the brunt of the impact, being the first contact point. It seemed perfectly fine at the time. Turns out it was just a stalker, lying in wait. While I quickly transferred the package to my right hand, and began favoring the left, the damage was done. By 4:00 I informed dispatch I was done for the day. Since I was then in Shakopee, and there's rarely work there late in the day, there was no pressure for "just one more, it's going your way."

After sitting a bit, and upping the ibuprofin dose from my knee maintenance level of 2 pills to three, I started driving home, stopping in Stillwater to pick up Jordan for Saturday's auction. I also called Paul, home on his day off, for a piece of engineering for me. He'd need a paint stirring stick, in one 8" piece and one 3" piece, duct tape, padding (he cut up old socks), and an ace bandage. The wrist was going to need to be immobilized. We were designing a splint.

I actually did consider hitting an urgent care clinic to get it checked out - for about three minutes. Start with the $180 to walk in the door (last time I stopped), add in X-rays and the cost of a splint or cast, and, well... no. Whatever the diagnosis, the result was going to be immobilizing the wrist/hand. Let's cut to the chase and just immobilize the dang thing. And celebrate the wonderful US system that is for-profit healthcare and for-bigger-profit that US health insurance. It's the system that might actually cover the visit - if it exceeded the $3,000 deductible, and if I could afford to spend more than every after-tax dollar of my income on the monthly premiums for something that considers everything in my life a non-covered pre-existing condition anyway.

So no, do it myself. With a little help from my sons. OK, a lot of help.

I've had bruising, bone spurs, tendon damage, and joint damage from loss of cartilage. This doesn't feel like any of those. I think it's broken. I think it was a greenstick fracture until suddenly it wasn't any more, from the sudden stress of grabbing that heavy package just the wrong way. The pain pressure point is on the back of the hand, just above the wrist where the middle finger would extend down to through the hand. Don't push on it there. It hurts. I've tried it, so I can tell. There is a lump. There is no discoloration.

And there is an ache. Bending the wrist causes it, in whatever direction. Lifting fingers causes it. Grasping with fingers causes it. Stopping any of those things causes it, or at least allows it to continue. It reminds me not to use the hand. Or it tries. Problem is, I'm so thoroughly left-handed that I need it for everything. Except driving.

Back when I had my rotator cuff injury, from which I'm somewhat recovered now, to the point I can (could) use both arms equally to shampoo my hair, I had limited arm motion but still had full hand use. If I could get the hand to someplace, even if I needed to hold it in place with the right arm, I could still use it. I had full grip strength.

No more.

I've been finding out that it takes two hands to open a bottle, whether of water or pills. I can try to cradle it inside the elbow against my body, but it doesn't work well. I have limited finger use, something very apparent when pulling my pants on or off. I have discovered an itch that the right hand can't reach, and now the left can't either.

Yesterday I got an inkling of what work is going to be like. I had already learned to close the car door by reaching across with the right hand, but now I also have to have the seatbelt across my lap first. I can't begin to reach that with the right hand. Driving itself is no problem. I usually drive with one hand. (Shhhhh!) But the other things - turn signals, radio, holding the cell phone while talking, holding a glass of water or a bite of food, take more planning and don't come without pain. I expect there will be a lot more pulling over and stopping. Without any grip strength, there is no more than a token touch on the wheel if the right hand needs to do something else. Fortunately, my car doesn't pull to either side at the moment.

We use little Nextel phones to send text communications for dispatching. Think lots of button pushing. Think an extravagantly large and unnecessary number of buttons to push. Typing in the letter "s" involves 5 punches after however many to navigate to the right place to type it in to. Add six or seven more to delete and start over because the system just can't keep up with anything resembling speed and fails to recognize anything but the absolutely perfect level of pressure and a certain speed on the number pad. Now, I can barely hold my cell phone in the left hand just to talk. Any communication from dispatch means stopping the car. Any!

My real wake-up call came at the gas station yesterday. I had to sign the charge slip. It was the first thing I'd had to write since putting the splint on. I could barely hold the pen, much less apply pressure, and the splint (now corrected) held my hand so the pen was two inches higher than the paper. I put the receipt on top of my pocketbook, but it wasn't high enough or firm enough for a mark to register. The store clerk finally grabbed a carton of cigarettes to set on top of my pocketbook, and that worked, so long as I kept sliding the receipt so the place I was writing on was right next to the edge.

I returned the cigarettes, of course.

Even more fun was filling out the check after the auction, since I bought something for slightly more than my day's pay. The information was printed, not script, one slow wobbly letter at a time, and the signature was unrecognizable. It took about four minutes. (At least I can type on the keyboard with just the right hand, so I was still able to earn that day's pay.)

Tomorrow I have to fill in my tripsheet by hand, with name and address of every stop, and expect to have to fill in security logs at certain stops. All this doesn't even take into consideration picking up and carrying packages, or using handrails to navigate stairs with my lovely knees.

At this point the pain level increases with each use of the left hand, even with the splint. Tomorrow is going to be interesting. Oh yeah, there'll be new snow again, too.

Friday, February 18, 2011

So Long Sonny

So long, Sonny. Oops, I mean "Sunny", after talking to Steve about how he mentally spelled the name. No, nothing happened to the dog. He hasn't been returned, in spite a sleepless night and some adjustments needing to be made due to separation anxiety on the dog's part. He's just renamed his dog, after a comics character. So...

So long, Sunny. Hello, Fred.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


No, not me, despite all the stresses I've been complaining about. Literally, I mean the snow, accumulating on the ground and building up since before Thanksgiving. We're finally having a stretch of warm weather, and the snow is melting down.

It was pretty bad. Snowbanks left by the plows were so high that you had to pull out into the street in order to see if any cars were coming. Sidewalks were narrow, icy, lumpy - and that's the ones that were shoveled! The rest were simply impassable to anybody over, say, 25. I have seen the piles at the edges of parking lots as high as 30 feet, judging by how high they towered over trucks parked next to them or how they obscured trees behind them except for the very tips. Street parking was - still mostly is - pushed out to half a car width from the curb, leaving less than a double lane for moving traffic down the streets. It's either a test of Minnesota Nice manners or a game of chicken when two cars meet. Some blocks had a few narrow, high-walled access points from sidewalk to street, available if folks parked their cars with a thought given to not blocking them. If not, well, there was a hike down the middle of the street to access another cutaway, hoping to dodge any cars using the same street as you were.

Really, it was ugly. With bad knees, every step wobbled the legs and made the bones grind against each other.

But - Halleluia! - we're having a nice string of above-freezing temperatures during the day and the snowbanks are dropping, sidewalks and driveways and streets are appearing. One still has to be wary of the refreeze when driving in the mornings or walking into the house after dark, but still, it's melting. With care, there's level footing with traction again. It's safer to turn corners. It's possible to get a carwash and have the car mostly clean for several days now. There's no need to scrape icy windshields before leaving the driveway. I even spotted a tiny patch of green grass at the base of a tree yesterday, and stopped to stare at it for a minute.

Of course, there are downsides. Potholes hide under puddles, so care must be taken when driving over what looks like smooth surfaces. Trash is reappearing. Snowbanks are turning black, which helps speed further melting, but really, it's ugly. The whole world is turning from white to dingy grey, brown and black. It needs a good washing.

Really, it's ugly.

But so, so welcome.


Nobody knows - or admits knowing - what happened to him. His history starts when he was brought to the animal shelter in Hutchinson with a broken leg and a broken pelvis several months ago. At the time he was still a pup, a very scrawny basset hound with a really big need.

It's a no-kill shelter. He got the care he needed. The bones healed, the body filled out, he got his shots and neutering. He must have gotten a lot of love as well, because he's now a loving, gentle dog. He gets around fine, including getting into and out of the car. I'm told the only - or at least main - residual effect from his early life is that he sits funny. He was put up for adoption a few weeks ago.

Yesterday he got a home, with a new owner who's as loving and giving as he is, a bit slow in the walking-around department, and as thrilled as he is with someone new in his life to love. It's a perfect match. They spent last night falling in love with each other. I heard all the details over the phone, when Sonny was in his lap, or finding the right snowbank to lift his leg at, or sleeping in his new kennel. It was Steve who adopted him (the fiance', not the brother), so he's going to become a part of the family. I can't wait to meet him.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Nighttime Conversations

These are always preceded by calling me out of sleep to walk through the house to his room.

* * * * *

"What do you need Daddy?"

"I need to let you know that there is going to be a new quality to the light at night from now on."

"Yeah, the nights are getting shorter. Spring is coming. Let's get you back to bed."

* * * * *

"What do you need Daddy?"

"Oh, is that you? Go back to bed."

* * * * *

"What do you need, Daddy?"

"What time is it?"

"It's ten minutes later than the last time you called me out here to ask that question. Try pushing the buttons on your talking watch."

* * * * *

"Why are you up already, Daddy? It's not even four in the morning."

"I didn't want them to call me lazy for staying in bed."

"Nobody thinks you're lazy for being in bed at four in the morning. Why do you think you're lazy?"

"My brothers told me."

"That was a dream, Daddy. Let's get you back to bed."

"I just thought I'd get up ten minutes early and start the plowing."

"It's snowing, it's February, the ground is frozen, there's no plowing. This is my house, there's no farm here. Now are you ready to go back to bed?"


* * * * *

"What do you need, Daddy?"

"I just needed to ask you what things looked like at your gate?"

"I don't have a gate, Daddy."

OK, your door, your... what ever it is."

"Normal, Daddy. Thinks look normal. And dark. It's midnight. Time to go back to bed."

* * * * *

"What are you doing up already?"

"My bag. It's full up to here, " pointing mid chest height to describe his leg bag.

"OK, I'll empty it."

"Well, don't go away mad!"

"No, Daddy, I just had to go get the bucket."

"I've been awake all night long".

"Oh, I'm sure that's not true." (He was sound asleep when I poked my head in half an hour earlier when I got up to use the bathroom.)

"Yes I have. I stayed up all night waiting for my surgery at 4:00."

"There's no surgery."

"Yes there is. The girls came in and told me."

"There were no girls. They were a dream. And a dream, by definition, means you were asleep."

"I don't want any surgery performed on me. And I don't want anybody else performing surgery on me." (What, those are two different things?)

There's no surgery, Daddy."

"What time is it?"

"It's not even five in the morning. Let's have a sip of water and get you back in bed." (He does.) "See? If you were having surgery, I couldn't let you have any water. There's no surgery."

"When's getting-up time in this house?"

"You don't know yet?"

"No, I don't."

Well, on working days, I get you up at 6:30. On weekends it's nicer to sleep in till 7:00. Today is a work day, so I'll see you at 6:30. OK?"


Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Elevator Conversation

I eavesdrop shamelessly on elevator conversations. If they wanted privacy, why chat there?

Yesterday, the discussion was on the cold weather we'd been having. (High yesterday 3 above, wind chill brutal.) One woman noted that our June brides were not dressed like the ones in the fashion magazines. Her companion responded, "You're talking about the mink coats and the leg warmers?"

Hmmm, now there's a thought for a Valentine's day wedding!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Momentary Panic

I do admit my little Nokia is not much of a cell phone. There's no camera, none of the fancy smart phone features. No qwerty keyboard. No apps. No internet. I even had texting disabled after I had to pay for my first spam text. There's wear showing on the face where rubbing occurs, and scratches on the view window. It's so old that when the battery wore out, I actually went on eBay to find a replacement - the only source I could find - rather than replacing the phone like last time. The "zero" key has to be pushed several times hitting just the right sweet spot in order to register the stroke, something a bit tricky when navigating through voicemail systems. Since zero is also the key that works as the spacebar when typing text (still used when adding to the phone directory) it can get really interesting. It falls out of my shirt pocket in the summer when that's my only layer of outerwear and I bend over to pick up something from the floor. I can't put it in a pants pocket if it's on, because the keys and detritus in that picket will dial out for me: there's no flip piece to protect the keys.

It is just a phone. It's practically an antique in today's world. But it does carry 1500 minutes a month for a very reasonable price. As a phone it functions very well. While it can be depended upon to drop calls on a particular 12-mile stretch of Hwy. 95, that's along the river valley and I figure all phones do that there.

It is also my connection to the world. Everybody's phone number is in there whom I might want to talk to again. My take-out Chinese place is there, my pharmacy, my post office, my dad's doctor, my... well, everybody. I gave up memorizing phone numbers years ago when I had known some people long enough that they'd changed their number for the fifth time. Somehow the brain memory is no longer there for that kind of thing. I don't even know Steve's phone number. The only one I really know these days is under the heading "home".

Some of those numbers just aren't anywhere else. So last week when I reached to my shirt pocket and found it empty, having made a call an hour earlier so I knew I hadn't just left the phone home, I panicked. I was driving, and spared a hand to check the floor on either side, looked at the floor in front at a stoplight, checked out the passenger seat where I lay the work Nextel.


It must have been put back next to the pocket instead of in the pocket, and slipped out the bottom of the sweatshirt at some point when I got out of the car. I'd had several stops since I'd used it.

The implications start to sink in, contingency plans form rapid-fire in my brain. Do I take off work? Where do I go to get a new one? Will I relent and get a camera phone this time?

Suddenly the brain kicked into gear. There was one last chance. Next time I pulled over, I texted my dispatcher to please call my cell so I could see if it was still in the car. I could hear the ring and know where to hunt. Within a minute the tinny sound of Pachelbel's Canon sounded, to my great relief, from my lower right side. Not on the seat, not between the seats... IN THE PANTS POCKET!

My relief greatly outweighed my humiliation at such a boneheaded move, as I answered dispatch with, "Oh thank God!" I didn't bother to mention where I'd found it, just thanked him for his assist. And since I still wasn't fully recovered from whatever bug had laid me low, I chalked it up to that and forgave myself for putting me through the stress.

After all, it ended well.


OK, so maybe not the chicken.

Whatever the bug was, Paul had it later the same weekend. Steve asked me on Monday how he could have caught it over the phone, since we hadn't seen each other inside of any reasonable incubation period. Neither of them had my chicken. And my dad's home health aids report several of their other patients have had it as well.

My daughter says her friends think there's some kind of Norwalk virus circulating.

Whatever it is, however it's spread, at least my dad and Richard missed it. I'll quit being amused by Richard's spraying Lysol over every bathroom surface for several days and just be grateful for his diligence.

I came down with it on a Thursday, with overt symptoms lasting over 24 hours, finally clearing up with judicious applications of Immodium AD. I felt like a limp dishrag with little appetite through the weekend, catching up on a lot of sleep. Monday I returned to work, not sure if I'd make a whole day, though I did last nearly till 5. I finally feel now back to some kind of normal energy level, even after having worked Saturday (auction) and driven out to Steve's and back on Sunday, a grand total of 310 weekend miles.

Oh, and Friday night I went back to KFC. Hotwings, Yummmmm!