Tuesday, September 27, 2011

One Person's Trash...

C'mon, I didn't really think the collection was trash. I lovingly collected every bit of it. Still loved the idea of them every time I had to move them from one spot where they collected dust to the next spot where they collected dust. I just never found/made the time to walk back with them along memory lane. It would have taken months, after all. But finally the day had to come to get rid of them, and I got really lucky: I found a new someone to love them just as I had done.

I am referring to my old record collection. It took up about two feet of shelf space, starting with the first two I ever collected when I turned twelve. I got a turntable for my birthday that year (something my brother always regretted my getting, especially when I replayed and replayed and replayed favorites in the room with thin walls next to his.) There was also a bit of money, partly from just having my appendix out in the hospital right at that time too. Being home sick, I was privy to watching the Today Show - yes, it's that old! - when Peter Paul and Mary were performing "Lemon Tree." Man, I had to go buy that album! And somewhere in Park Rapids there was a store that sold records. (I can't remember where it was, but I'm guessing it was where you got band instruments too.)

Having a bit of money left over to burn a hole in my musical pocket, I asked the clerk what he might recommend in a (cheap) classical album to go along with it. I had no idea about classical music at that time except to know that I liked a lot of it. He suggested Tchaikovsky's 4th Symphony sitting in the bargain bin - apparently he thought he'd found a sucker - and I bought it. Loved it. May still be the only person in the country who does, but so what?

Over the years money went into the collection. It became quite eclectic. Lots of classical, including Readers Digest version of the complete 9 symphonies of Beethovan. Lots of folk. More PPM, of course, but branching out from there to Chad Mitchell Trio, Smothers Brothers. There was a Judy Collins phase, a Helen Reddy phase, an Andy Williams phase. Then came the Muppets and Free to Be You and Me, fairy tales on vinyl. Later were "Solitutes" and similar voice/nature sounds collections, James Gallway, and some of the best X-mas music ever produced and irreplaceable now. (Yes, I'm prejudiced. So what?)

Eventually along came 8-track and cassettes, finally CDs, and lots of dust. The records got shuffled, boxed, unpacked, repacked, moved from one set of shelves to the next as each former location became more desirable and earned something "better". I just couldn't give them up. They had been well loved. In an abstract way, they still were.

So what finally happened? WalMart, that's what. They finally met my can't-resist-any-longer low price for a HD TV. A 40-incher can't fit in the space designed to enclose a 27" TV, so the entertainment system had to be reconfigured as well. These days that means replaced. All that storage space no longer existed. Out also goes the turntable, the old 8-tracks, the amplifier, the DVD player, the cassette player, the switcher box, the PS2, the speakers, the...

It was a lot of work. Mostly, Paul's. I did my part by sorting and throwing the little bits and pieces. But while the 8-tracks went in the garbage can with no backward glance, the records piled up in a couple stacks.

Along the wall in the living room now sits a discrete table/cabinet holding the new TV, the DVR box, the whatchamacallit thing for the surround system that Paul insisted I get to go with the enhanced visual capabilities and which includes AM/FM, 4 of the 6 speakers (two on the back wall), and a PS3, all new. He decided we'd keep the piece-of-crap VCR since you just about can't find them these days anyway. However, its disgraceful presence is hidden behind the lower level cabinet doors. Right opposite the PS3 which also functions to play CDs, DVDs and Blue Ray - should we ever acknowledge that the world is still changing technologically. The organizing principle is that what needs to be controlled by remote every time the TV goes on goes in the open part of the cabinet.

The principle behind doing the controlling of them is figuring out which of the three remotes one needs to use to make them work. Three! One turns on the TV. No, the universal remote won't turn it on. It will turn it off, but that only helps later. The second turns on the sound. Paul disabled the TV speakers because when they were on at the same time as the surround sound, we got an echo chamber effect. All three will turn off the sound, since it automatically turns off when the TV shuts off. The third controls the DVR, so you can change channels, pause, skip, set up timers, play recorded programs. (You can also turn the TV off.) Then, if you remember to push the right button, once the sound system has been turned on from its original remote, it will also control volume and mute, just like remote #2. You just have to remember to put it back to controlling the DVR again before you start hitting the wrong thing and getting a wild variety of unpredictable results. Or none at all.

Paul is not patient with me while I'm learning all these things. He especially gets upset if I go back to the original remotes to control volume or turn off the TV instead of switching functions on the DVR remote, since he spent so much of Sunday setting up the remotes and systems to recognize each other.

The old entertainment center has found a home. It's just not there yet. It's waiting for its new owners to find a vehicle large enough to transport it, or time enough to disassemble it before loading, so they can take it out. Meanwhile it's in the aisle between the kitchen table and my chair, blocking access to the back door. The good news for the new owners is that it's not outside getting rained on. The good news for us is - besides getting rain - we don't have to fuss with it. Just fuss around it, I guess.

We've been asking everybody we can think of if they know anybody who wants the old sound system and CD, DVD players. Most of them were polite enough not to snicker outright at us. But today that changed.

Those of you who have been reading this long enough will know who "the sainted Randy" is. I had to call her this morning when my dad's catheter became blocked, and it was either she come over and flush out the system, or we get the catheter replaced, possibly in the ER. It's not an insignificant note to mention that it all got properly fixed and Daddy's comfortable again. And I'm here to make note of it because Jessica's got a sick kid at home - throwing up, 102 degree temp. - and I had to stay home from work to take care of Daddy instead of her.

While Randy was doing her follow-up paperwork, since I was here, I asked her The Question. Expecting the usual response, I was delighted to see her light up. Yes, she indeed know somebody who'd like to take them off our hands: herself! When I threw in the offer of the record collection, knowing it wasn't "everybody's" choice of Beatles, Jefferson Airplane, and such, she positively started beaming. Every label I called out to her as I packaged them up in bags to carry out was met with, not just politeness, but enthusiasm. I even had the Judy Collins LP which was missing from her collection!

I had found the right person! These would indeed become her treasure as once they had been mine. I can feel good about their new home as well as loving the space created here in in their absence. That's important. Steve's moving in in November, and that's getting closer fast.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Just Another Week on the Job

Monday: got a nice little out of town run, heading out to what turned out to be a hog slaughtering company - or at least a hog carcass cutting enterprise. My instructions were to see a Randy and pick up four coolers, bringing them back into the metro area to a medical device company. They make shunts, skin grafts, and other substitute body parts out of animal parts, after lots of processing.

Randy wasn't there, of course. Nor did he answer his cell the several times employees tried to call him. (Nooners for lunch, perhaps?) It wasn't that they needed him to tell them what the freight was. Everybody knew I was picking up pig skins. Frozen ones. Six of them. What nobody knew was how they were supposed to be packed in the coolers. The issue was there were supposed to be no creases in the skins. Hard to do when there must be a fold somewhere in the skin, even if the other way was rolled up. Were they to be cut? And if so, to what size? It was presumed that if the company paying for me to travel all that way to pick them up, and issued such specific instructions about packing, that they would also be picky about any sizes they were to be cut into.

I got on the phone to dispatch and had them call the customer, asking them to call the company where I was waiting, and please explain what these folks needed to know in order to pack the freight so I could haul it back to them.

It worked. I overheard a whole lot of "uh-huhs", a few questions, more "uh-huhs". The coolers were quickly packed, loaded, and off I went. I even got a message from dispatch informing me that they put me down for loadtime. I would get paid for standing around. Cool. Even better that most of the standing around wound up being sitting around.

Arriving at the dock for delivery, I walked in to find nobody in the receiving office. I brought the coolers inside, and still nobody. Heading over to shipping, I located the guy who looked like he was actually doing something and explained what I needed ( as in a signature). It turns out he was actually doing something, in fact so much something that he delegated another guy to check out the delivery and sign for it.

This fellow appeared clueless. First he checked the receiving office again to make sure I wasn't just overlooking some person tucked in a mysterious corner somewhere. Since the office was about 8" x 8", leaving little room to hide a body among the two desks and chairs, vertically or horizontally, I did my best not to feel insulted at the suggestion of my incompetence. After all, maybe he was just looking for an out for himself.

Then he let me point to the four boxes that the coolers had been packed into. The shipping company had thoughtfully left them completely unlabeled. I had to explain what they were, where they were from, what they needed - which I assumed was immediate chilling. He just kinda shrugged, signed, and walked off, saying, "Maybe when my supervisor gets back...."

I was impressed. Maybe if I had been a flirtacious sweet young thing, he would have tried harder?

Moving my car away from the dock so the waiting dock truck could back in and unload his freight, I found a patch of shade to wait in for my next run. The dock truck left, and a semi backed in. I was imagining the chaos and the likelihood that four coolers of (formerly?) frozen pig skins were in the process of getting lost on the dock. I couldn't leave it like that.

Now, we ignorant, uncouth drivers are not supposed to call the customers directly. But there was a phone number listed on the drop information, and I called it. Getting the front desk, I explained what I had just delivered, who had signed, his attitude, subsequent events, and my fears that four coolers of pigskins were rapidly warming up anonymously on the deck amid piles of other freight. She thanked me and stated she herself would go right back and make sure that they were taken care of properly.

Whew! Duty discharged.

I soon got a new run, and after picking up it, all hell broke loose. The system that allows dispatch to communicate with drivers via text messages on our blackberries was suddenly no longer working. Once we found out we were no longer communicating (no reply, the count of backed-up unsent messages climbing, etc.) we had to switch over to cell phone communication. It works, but it's slow. Dispatch has to read the run, we have to write down and/or remember pertinent details, and call back with updates. By 3:00 PM we're down to two dispatchers. After 6:00, one. As long as we don't have to talk to the dispatcher himself, we can call in to the phone support staff, called CSRs, with picks and drops and signatures. As if they weren't busy enough already.

At least they can log us out on their systems once we finish the day. In the morning, we have to log out via our blackberries before we can log in again.

Tuesday: I started logging in, the steps you have to take to start our company software in the blackberry, connect with HQ, and send in a zipcode. Then you can log out and start up again. Unfortunately, nothing worked. And I showed a backup of 89 messages! 89!

I called Bill at dispatch. Were we down again? More like still, not again. OK, he knew I was on the road, ready for work. Cell phone dispatching again, oh goodie!

I did manage to confirm with one of the many CSRs I talked to that day that we so far had been successful at keeping our customers from being aware of our technological problems. The work was getting done. Everybody was frazzled, just not the customers.

About 2:00 I received a call, telling me to park the car and get ready to reprogram my blackberry. Kristin patiently talked me through every step, in spite of my complete lack of expertise. It took about half an hour, with one break while the phone was processing that was long enough for me to head into the Holiday I parked in front of and use the restroom, my original plan fifteen minutes before. (Since my surgery I can be that patient these days.)

Reprogramming is a very slow process. She had to tell me what to scroll down and find on the menu, which button to hit (mouse, berry, etc.), and I'd report what I now saw on the screen. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Once I hit the wrong thing and it took a few extra moves to get back in the menu I was supposed to be in. That was where the blackberry wanted me to watch its video telling me about its copyright or some such thing that I have no interest in ever knowing about, since I never bump into that stuff. The only way out of the video was - OK, I forget now. The red phone? The berry? Whatever, the third thing we tried worked. And by 2:30, I was now back to text dispatching.

Hey, I could actually use my cell phone for personal calls again!

The rest of the day was good news, aside from having to turn down a run to Park Rapids so I could get home to relieve Jesssica taking care of my dad. Tuesdays she has to leave early. Last week I turned down one to Sleepy Eye, and two previous weeks I've turned down Tuesday runs to Pine City.


Wednesday: I started logging in, fully confident that the system had been fixed and everything would be hunky-dory. Well, it partly logged in, but wouldn't accept my zipcode. It decided to let me into the working menu anyway. That wasn't any help, but it did let me know I had another problem. There were still two messages screens on it from last night, and it would only let me go from one to the other and back and over and over. None of the usual commands to escape or erase worked. Come to think of it, I couldn't get rid of them last night either, and just turned the thing off, hoping it would reboot without them in the morning. After all, one was confirmation that I had successfully logged out. Today I got drastic and pulled the battery out. It worked, but at a price. I just didn't know the half of it yet.

Those adorable little wafer batteries in the latest blackberry models we are using don't have much of a life, even fully charged. But I didn't know this yet. What I did know was it was taking me an awful long time to get it up and running so I could get logged in. Time that another driver or 30 could be using getting logged in ahead of me in the cue, in line for first-come, first-served work. But finally it was ready, I hit the buttons, and... wait... wait... wait... crap! It wouldn't log in!

Another call to dispatch, here-I-am-please-use-me. Bill logged me in, and there was a run for me! Heading that way, suddenly the blackberry log-in worked! I was up and running!

Sort of. When I got to the drop, things went haywire again. Messages backed up, dispatch had to be called. This time I was told to come into HQ, close to my drop - lucky me, and get the phone reprogrammed. Just like yesterday, but this time done in person without the go-between of me slowing it down. And hey, incidentally, meet the new dispatch supervisor.

We have a new dispatch supervisor? Wait, there was an old dispatch supervisor? Who was it and what happened to whatever's-his-name? Nobody tells us lowly drivers anything, unless we stop by after hours and bribe the night dispatchers enough for them to share gossip. Caramel rolls work.

Anyway, I met him, handed him my phone, and he quickly went through the steps on the blackberry. I knew I'd have ten minutes or so, and excused myself to use the facilities. Sound familiar? As soon as he handed it back, commenting my battery was very low, I was given a run, looked at it, and headed out to the car.

Oops. I now automatically hit the button on the side of the blackberry. It mutes it, locks the keypad, and shuts down the screen, saving battery. It's a habit. Otherwise, every time the mouse rubs against the fabric inside the pocket, meaning with each breath or slight movement, it gives a very loud BEEP! A you'll-soon-be-deaf-if-you-keep-hearing-this beep. Pressing the top button unlocks it. We both found out that Brian-new-dispatch-supervisor didn't know that this could/should be programmed into the phone. When it isn't, the phone starts talking at you, and not in a useful way. Besides, I had no idea how to get the phone back to the dispatch menu from here. So, out of the car and back inside again, hand the phone over, and demand a fix. (I'm not sure I remembered to say, "please.")

He figured it out in two minutes and fixed it. Meanwhile another driver was having him reprogram his blackberry. (The line is endless.) Seeing what Brian was doing, he piped up, "Really? You can do that? That beeping drives me crazy! Fix mine too!"

I had another fix I wanted restored, putting the work icon as 1st choice on the start-up menu, but I figured if Brian didn't finish the job properly, I'd have the person who's originally done it on my phone, namely Kristen, the one who'd talked me through the process yesterday, do it for me. Conveniently, the drop on my waiting run was to the off-site office she now works at.

By then of course, my blackberry was registering zero charge on the battery. Not beeping at me yet, but any minute. When our company hands them out to drivers, they leave the accessories off, suggesting we spring for the cost ourselves. This includes a protective case, and a car charger. I hadn't purchased either.

There was a Target on the way between my next pick and drop, and with the slow service it was paying for, I took a detour and went shopping so I could charge the phone. (It fits my cell as well, but I'm claiming it strictly as a work expense. My personal cell battery lasts more than a full day of lengthy conversations.)

Thursday: If any day on this job can be called normal, this was it. Well, except...

I was heading eastbound on 394 in the right lane when a squad car came screaming up on the driver in the carpool lane. Since he (?) took about a full minute to wise up and pull out of the lane - despite a double white line - I thought for a moment he was in trouble. But no, he pulled out of the lane and the squad kept going. I bet that was worth a huge sigh of relief! And as soon as the squad went past, he pulled back into the carpool lane. Alas, that move was short-lived. The squad stopped right in the lane, siren off but lights still flashing, and the original driver had to pull over once again.

While all that was entertaining, a look ahead and across the center barricade revealed the reason for all the fuss. A white sedan was stopped in the carpool lane heading westbound with the driver's side door open. About 100 feet behind it was another squad, lights flashing, driver's door open and the officer standing behind his door with his gun drawn and held rigidly in front of him in a two-handed grip. Just like on TV.

In the time it took to register all that, I had driven past. We were all slowing down a bit, but still going at close to posted freeway speeds. I had time to reflect that I had never before in my life seen a cop with his gun drawn. Not in real life. As I kept on, coming at the scene from the east were squad after squad after squad after unmarked after squad, all with sirens going and lights flashing. There must have been about twenty before I pulled off close to Hwy. 100, and that's just coming from the east. Who knew how many were piling on from the west, behind me?

I had reason to go by the area twice more that afternoon. The first time I thought I could get off the freeway before getting stuck in the traffic backup, but misjudged. All traffic was directed off at 169. They closed it down completely. Coming back, I'd seen earlier that eastbound was still moving, and took it. There was another delay since they had it down to only one lane. There was nothing to see except lots of cops standing around in ones and twos, not doing much of anything.

By end of day the radio stations were all talking about the officer-involved shooting, the freeway closure, and the officer's routine suspension. Eventually they passed on the information that the woman driver was dead, she had had a handgun, and the car had California plates. By Friday night we had a name. Still not much explanation. I'm thinking either she was already in deep shit and not wanting to go back to prison, too stupid to know you can't get out of a situation with a gun when surrounded by cops, on drugs, or just doing a suicide by cop. We may never know.

There was another remarkable sight on those same journeys, one much more pleasant. Cavalia is in town, set up in the southwest corner of 394 and 100. The tents have been there for over a week, along with signs. Now there were smaller tents along the perimeter, privacy fencing, and signs of actual occupation. Plus horses.

Oh, my, the horses! If you haven't heard of Cavalia, think Cirque du Soleil with horses, which is in fact part of the story of its origin. Cirque has no animals, and a small group split off to make a circus with horses. Half a dozen were out in the exercise areas at any given time, different ones each time I passed. The privacy fence ended just in time to allow passers-by a full view or a chance to park and stand around and admire them. There were white ones, and palominos, one even white with little brown polkadots like oversized freckles sprinkled over its coat. There were a couple small ones, either young or ponies, but with slender builds. Mostly, though, what registered is that they were gorgeous! Gorgeous!

Much worth waiting through the delays in traffic to drive past.

Friday: Thank goodness! A day with a whole lot of ordinary in it. Well, except for logging on at 7:40 and having to wait until 10:00 for my first run! Good thing I had a copy of "Port Mortuary", the latest Patricia Cornwell out in paperback, with a couple hundred pages left to read. Now, not so many.

And except for getting a run to Menomonie.

And except for what happened with my last two runs of the day, both medical deliveries up north of the metro. Both late, as in ending finally at 7:30. Not that any of that is unusual. But this was the first night that it actually was night by the time I had to hunt down my last rural address since last spring, even with DST keeping daylight going for as long as it can. I hate hunting numbers in the dark. So many people never think about needing to be found at night. So the numbers on the mailboxes are tiny or not reflective, or if on the house, are dark-on-dark or light-on-light. And don't get me started about the ones covered by shrubbery or - worst - by X-mas decorations! So after the great relief of finally finding the place and dropping off the meds, I went to drop the run on the blackberry.

I had 13 messages backed up! I couldn't send through anything, log off, and shut down. The number to call dispatch after hours (that's after 7:00 PM these days) went to recorded message after two rings. Three times.

Here we go again!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Two-Minute Solution, 18 Months Later

The problem? A simple annoyance. I have a handicap parking sticker. Why it's referred to as a sticker when it's a hanger card, I couldn't say. When parked, it hangs from the rear view mirror. One is not supposed to drive with it in that position because somebody is concerned that it obstructs vision. So, it needs a spot.

In my car, that's on the dashboard on the driver's side, up in the corner next to the windshield, where the dash curves down a bit, so gravity helps keep it from sliding onto the seat or floor. That works perfectly, keeping it in sight to help remind me to actually use it and not risk a very expensive ticket. I have walked away from the car without hanging it. At least if I do forget, it's visible if some cop cares to actually look inside at the dash before writing the ticket.

However, while driving, when I take a sharp corner, inertia flings the card across the dash to some other resting place somewhere between the middle of the dash and the other corner, places much harder to reach once parked when I need to hang it again. The card is smooth, the dash is smooth, and away it goes. I do not drive that recklessly. It's just a lack of friction. Honest!

I got an idea several months back. Do not mistake this as being the same thing as implementing the idea several months back. No, that took until this week. I bought a brand new bottle of rubber cement, having ascertained the the previous bottle was as empty as if it had never held a drop of the stuff. Pretty neat trick, that. I would have expected at least a dried dollop on the bottom, wherever the bottom was in its resting place for the last few years since its last use. But, nope. Nothing.

Nor can you infer an instantaneous sequence of events from the ascertainment of need to actual procurement of replacement supply. That took a full day and a half. Then you must factor in the day the new bottle sat in the shopping bag on the table before transfer to my lunch cooler, and an additional day before its actual use. (Lest you find these gaps an anomaly, I must in all honesty inform you that the jar sat in the car another full day after use, before returning in my cooler to the house, and in fact still sits on the kitchen counter next to my cooler awaiting its transfer to the storage spot the other jar sat in for years and where I would in fact expect to locate it for its next use.)

Once I found myself with a few minutes on my hands, I took the rubber cement and applied a generous layer in a patch across the dashboard where the hanger card would have to touch it somewhere when tossed into its usual spot after parking use. After letting it fully dry, about two hours to get past tacky at that thickness, I set the card back in its usual spot. The rubber grips it just enough that it doesn't slide a bit while driving.

A little finger friction removed the bit I accidentally smeared on the inside of the windshield. (Both places.) And should I ever sell the car, more rubbing should remove the rubber patch as if it never was, except for the unexplained lack of dust clinging to the plastic.

Of course, since I average about 75,000 miles a year, I've never yet sold a car once it's been used for work, not once in 25 years. I'm just not up to the challenge of trying to convince somebody that there's life left in the old buggy when it's showing close to 400,000 miles on the odometer. I feel really bad when they laugh at me.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Talking With Daddy

Last night he started counting, each number taking one breath. He made it up to 19, and fell back to 11, 12, 13... Last I noticed he made it into the thirties. He had quite a quiet night, but I heard as I went to get him up and dressed that he was counting again. 21, 22, 23...

"Hi Daddy, what are you counting?"




"Counts of what?"

He just looked at me as if I were the stupidest person in the world. Oh well. I dropped it. There were more important things to do.

* * * *

Last week he mentioned in passing that he was 100 years old. I couldn't resist. I should know better, but there's a slow learning curve. So I inquired politely whether he would be very disappointed to learn that he was only 97.

Well! He should know just how old he was! He "begged to differ." But he let me know at length and in detail just how polite and well mannered he was being in not pointing out my mistake to me.

So there!

* * * * *

Those were what passes for actual conversations, rarer than ever these days. When he's in the pattern of saying one word with each breath, it can take him long enough to finish a sentence that either the end has no relation to the beginning or he forgets where he was going with it and just lets it hang there.

It's not always words between breaths. Occasionally he hums, usually nothing you can recognize. One exception to that was "Rock of Ages."

Sometimes it's just noises. They manage to sound like cries for help, but if I ask him if something hurts or what he might need, there's no answer of anything that can be addressed. If he manages to understand the question, usually he claims nothing is wrong. Sometimes he even tells me if he makes too much noise, I should just tell him to shut up. I don't. He raised me not to be rude. I just turn the TV up or leave the room for a bit.

There aren't too many conversations at night any more where he yells at imaginary people who won't cooperate with him and take his orders. I have learned to tune those out so I can get some sleep. Mostly.

The other night though, he started calling for help. When I came in, all he wanted was to chat. I explained politely what the hour was ( being a work night, of course) and left to return to bed. Ten minutes later came, "I need help! I need help!" Once again there was nothing wrong. All he wanted was chatty company. Not a chance in hell he was going to get that! I got right in his face, explaining how I needed sleep to drive safely, explained the condensed version of the boy who cried wolf, scolded him for calling "help" when he didn't need it, explained the consequences - short version - and left again. When I got back to my room, I unplugged the baby monitor so I could sleep.

All the way back to my room I was mentally kicking myself for bothering to explain things to him, telling myself he couldn't understand, wouldn't remember, I was being mean to him, and I was wasting my breath.

Much of that is likely true.

But he hasn't pulled it again, either.

Thoughts From a Wake

I don't know whose perfume I'm wearing. I quit buying it for myself years ago. But tonight I hugged two cousins, two cousins-in-law, and one aunt. One of them shared her perfume, cheek to cheek. I quite like it.

The occasion was the wake of another cousin, Donald Price Maxson. He was my dad's nephew, and had Daddy been better, both physically and mentally, we would have told him about it and taken him to tomorow's funeral. Don was one of the cousins who came to the family parties Mom used to sponsor in the community room of their apartment complex while she was alive. Unlike many of my other, more distant cousins, I have actual adult memories of him. Most of us have lost touch with each other, or at best exchange a few words at the latest funeral.

I never knew until I picked up the little card on the table at the wake that his middle name was Price. I recognize it, of course, being a family name just like Donald was. Daddy's youngest brother was a Donald, though I don't guarantee that's the person they named him after. There are plenty of Donalds in the world. One less now. But Price was our grandmother's maiden name: Jane Elizabeth Price. Welsh, despite not having seventeen syllables and impossible spelling. I never knew until a relative few years ago that Grandma's first name was Jane. I just knew her as Elizabeth, since that's the name she used: Elizabeth Maxson. It occurs to me finally to wonder if anybody else in this large family is carrying on her name(s).

I got to talk to Bonnie (widow) long enough to find out what had happened. Don's brother Alan had called me with the bad news, so I knew a few details. Don was 77, and as far as anybody knew, in perfect health. He just didn't wake up one morning. I, of course, envisioned Bonnie freaking out waking up next to a cold stiff body, but that's not exactly how it happened. Bonnie told me she went to bed and Don elected to stay up a bit longer to finish watching something on TV. When Bonnie came down the next morning, he was still on the couch, his feet hanging over the side, sitting slumped over. She thought he was still sleeping, and called to him to wake him up. Since he could wake instantly, she knew right away something was wrong, and knew what it was as soon as she touched him.

While still a tremendous and sudden shock, I still think it was much kinder to happen this way than how I imagined it. That could disrupt my sleep for months! A part of me would be wondering just before waking just what I'd find next to me in the bed this time! However, I bet Bonnie would trade that for more time with Don.

When I contrast his death to my father's long, drawn-out process, I think I wouldn't mind so much going the way Don did. True, Daddy has lived longer. But Don enjoyed all the time he did have. Daddy's not enjoying much of anything these days, sticking around not from love of life but from inertia.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Good and Bad vs. Loyalty

Our small town is abuzz. The gossip mill has been fired up and everybody's taking sides. And all in the absense of real information - that is, unless somebody's been talking out of turn.

As a former mayor of this town, I've learned to let go of a lot of things I used to be very involved with. But there's still a network out there of people who think I should be involved, or at least informed. I no longer have the inside track, especially on privileged information, but experience has given me the framework to fit facts into and come to my own judgment.

The thing is, the issue at the center of it concerns the firing of a city employee. This is where data privacy laws kick in, big time. When there's any job performance issue that may require some kind of disciplinary action, a closed meeting is held. In this case, closed means only the council members, the city attorney, the city clerk, and the employee in question attend. The doors are locked. Minutes are approved by the council afterwards, and both minutes and tape of the meeting are turned over to the attorney. Nobody is supposed to talk about what went on. Only the verdict at the end is public knowledge, as in, "X got fired for cause, effective such a date.," or, "nothing actionable was found against X". The only way such a meeting is other than closed is when the employee asks for an open meeting. That is always their choice and theirs alone.

Of course, in small towns, gossip is always a factor. I have heard tidbits over the months that can be summed up as two employees having a very bad working relationship. Downright disfunctional, in fact. Having known both people involved for years, I felt fairly confident in making my own assessment of the accuracy of the tidbits which came my way, as well as the likely person at fault. If I had to work under similar circumstances, I would have thought long and hard about quitting, despite the dearth of available jobs these days.

Recently, something happened between the two people. When? What? I don't know, as is entirely proper. Was it an escalation of what was already wrong in the relationship? Or something stand-alone outrageous? Again, I don't know. I do know one complained, the other denied. Classic he-said, he-said. It might have remained a stalemate, until something truly stupid happened.

This is where the issue of loyalty comes in. Because the stupid thing was that the person who previously denied wrongdoing went to a third city employee and said, "Here's what happened." Suddenly it was no longer just he-said, he-said, but he-told-me-too. And that third person became a witness against the employee who confessed all.

First of all, folks, if you really, really, really have to confess just how you screwed up at work, don't tell another co-worker who by virtue of their job description has divided loyalties. Go find a priest. He can keep it secret, because the secret part is a big piece of his job description.

Your fellow city employee can't. Their first loyalty is - properly - to the city. If information comes their way that can harm the city - say, if it could lead to an expensive lawsuit as well as a very public black eye - then their first duty is to protect the city. In other words, blab to the Mayor and the attorney so that appropriate action can be taken. In cases of eggregious wrongdoing, if it is not stopped, the whole city becomes liable. Lawsuits mean higher taxes or dropped services so the city can cover the costs. That's not how I want my city taxes spent.

The confessing employee was very upset - betrayed may not be too strong a word for those feelings - when the "secret" was not kept. But consider the employee who was confessed to. Had the secret been kept, there is the possibility that whatever action took case would be repeated, or even escalate. Silence implies consent. At any rate, the person receiving the new knowledge is now having to think about their own job. If the secret is kept, and it gets out that they knew but said nothing, they could also be subject to firing.

If you doubt the ethics or legalities behind needing to "tattle", ask yourself why criminal law includes a charge for "accessory after the fact". Weigh your loyalty against that.

Of course we value loyalty. Especially among our friends. It's what makes those people our friends. A breach of loyalty can kill a friendship. Loyalty's one of the things that makes relationships with other humans even possible. It's a wonderful ethic.

Just not the highest.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Great News

I finally saw the hospital bill today. Wasn't sure I wanted to open it. Was sure I needed to.

$25,600 and change.

That wasn't the great news part. That came at the bottom. First, apparently the part of the claim that they are denying is the surgeon's bill. That I still haven't seen. After they paid their part of the bill, and knocked down the price on the rest of the bill, the part I was left owing was...

Wait for it...

$1,000. Even.

WHEW! What a relief! I won't have to cash in IRAs, pulling funds out of the stock market at the worst possible time, cashing in CDs before their maturity dates, and generally destroying my retirement plan. As a matter of fact, I was so braced for bad news that I've been taking extra care to keep as much as possible in my checking account rather than paying max on the Master Card or indulging in unnecessary shopping - though I did break down and pick up winter weight PJs yesterday. I'd done such a good job of economizing that there was enough to actually pay the bill.

The check is in the mail.

No? You don't buy that? OK, it will be tomorrow. Tonight it's sitting on the counter with my lunch cooler. Sealed, stamped, the works. Ready to go.

And now, maybe I can plan an extra couple days on the honeymoon trip.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Define "Stable"

Randy noted a while back that my dad's condition has been stable for a while now.

That sounds good, right? No hospitalizations for pneumonia, no urinary tract infections, though his last diagnosing doctor mention he's been thoroughly colonized by nasty bugs by now. He can still walk - using a walker - from bed to chair and back, from either one to the bathroom or to the chair in front of the TV for, say, a Vikings game. His appetite is steady mostly, though low. He's also stable in being unable to really fight the pressure sore on his behind from sitting and lying always on his backside, however much you try to vary his position. (We're trying a new sample medication right now, but who knows how well that'll work?)

He's also fully in the grip of dementia. What's really rare are the times he seems to have some clue as to who/where/when he is. But he tries. He'll ask what day it is. Repeatedly. He can manage most days to button the front of his shirt while I manage the rest of his dressing for him. He gets how to thread his arms through the openings in his suspenders, though it's often a fight to keep his balance while each hand leaves the walker. Routine, and slow, simple sentences are key.

Sleep is both his best friend and his worst enemy. His brain resets each time, both good and bad, depending. Sleep is his escape from the daily struggles to make sense of his world, as well as just how he gives his body rest from the struggle to keep breathing and performing all the other functions. Many days he will sleep through except to be awakened for dressing, being bathed, being fed. He's always surprised at how fast the day has fled when we wake him up to go to bed.

Occasionally he has a day or two where sleep eludes him. Then we worry. He becomes crabby, touchy, balky. He'll try to find a way to cut his oxygen line, and when balked, refuse to wear it. (As I told Jessica when she was trying to cope with him in this frame of mind, you can't force oxygen on him until he's unconscious. But back off, and soon he'll forget whatever it was that put a bee in his bonnet.) He'll get very lewd in his conversation, and grabby-handed with his aids.On those occasions, we wait for an easing in his uncooperativeness, and get an extra Lorazepam into him. "Extra" meaning other than at bedtime. Usually this means he'll sleep, though it's not perfect. It also means he might not wake for his bath, and we've found out that it really matters that we tell his aids when he's been given an extra one. They worry, bless their hearts.

He alternates between not keeping an idea in his head for more than a minute, and worrying one like a terrier with a rat in its teeth for hours. The other night he stated he needed to go out to make mail deliveries. I tried to disabuse him of this need. He wasn't having any. It didn't matter that he wasn't sure if he was working for the local post office or the State Fair post office (doesn't exist). It didn't matter that he had no idea what he was to deliver. Somebody called and told him he had a job to do and by gum, he was going to do it. I tried to tell him nobody called: I was sitting right next to the phone for the last hour and it hadn't rung. Didn't matter. I reminded him of his difficulty walking. No matter, he'd make me drive. He wanted to know what I'd done with the $55 which Agnes had given me the night before to do this. The facts that nobody had given me money, that Agnes died years ago, and there was no job all had no effect on his obsession. He knew what he knew. Would I please go get the car ready? No, I wouldn't. There was no point driving him to the post office because it was closed for over an hour and everybody was home, like we were. Well, then, could I please go look up their phone number so he could call them? I could, but no. Same reasons. He tried to bribe me with the idea that there was $150 being paid for the job. No go. Well, was I willing to take his pen time then? Pen time? The time he'd need to serve in the penitentiary for not getting the job done. Sure, no problem.

That settled him down for a bit, but it was good that Paul arrived home from work about that time. He was just starting in again, and I needed to leave the room. And he couldn't be left unwatched. He just might decide to head out of the house on his own. He's tried before.

He can't stand to anybody holding a conversation near him that doesn't include him. He can be asleep and low voices will wake him. But there are times when we need to talk to each other either about the state of his care or just how's-your-day stuff. It doesn't matter if it's none of his business. He will get upset.

He has more problems handling familiar objects. Every nebulizer treatment, 3-per-day for over two years, is a battle. He keeps pulling it out to try to see the vapor stream, and wants to declare it over when he can't see anything. Nevermind that he's nearly blind and we can still see it fine. He wants to lay his chair back, putting the dispenser at the wrong angle to feed the medicine through. Sometimes we just take the chair controller away from him till the treatment's done. When it's time to shut it off, often as not these days he'll try the chair controller first, then the part he holds, looking for an off button, then finally going to the machine to fumble all around it to find the little rocker switch to shut it down. I can tell him where it is, but the words don't register.

His reward for all that is a hot cup of coffee (mornings), yet some days he can be told it's there and hot, even what color cup it's in today, and it won't matter. He'll put his chair back and tune out the world. (Of course there's nobody there for me to talk to at the time to drive him nuts. That would keep him awake!)

There have been no repeats of the what-is-a-spoon-for? incident, so apparently that goes far enough back in his memories that he still recognizes it. Some days the chair controller gets stared at like some foreign new contraption. The radio has so many buttons on it that he doesn't even try any more to turn it on/off for himself. Unless he has to. So sometimes I wonder just how much of what is going on with him is creative imcompetence for attention, and how much is real.

Speaking of attention, the moaning really gets to me. Partly, it's designed to. The instinctive reaction is to ask what's the matter? What can be done to help? He will say he's fine, nothing's wrong, he didn't even know he was making noises. Used to be that if you turned on his radio, the moaning would stop. Nowdays, not so much. It can go on and on, every breath a moan, for hours.

You can tell it's real when he starts squirming too. That means his butt is sore. He needs a change of position, a clean-up, an application of medicine. Sometimes all the above. He'll confuse the issue by confusing when he needs his leg bag emptied and needs to go to the bathroom for a bowel movement. When we question what he really means, he'll get angry at us, often while insisting on using the wrong word for the function needing attention.

When he's angry, it's tough trying to soothe him. Any explanation of what you meant is heard as criticism of him or his abilities. I understand the frustration, but some days whatever you do is wrong - just like it seems for him, I'm sure. If you're lucky, you can change the subject, say, by offering him a hot cup of coffee. If not, wait a while and he'll have forgotten what it was all about. If still not, get up and leave for a bit. Don't come back until your tone of voice can express your happiness to see him again after all this time, and your willingness to help in whatever way you can.

And mean it.

I wonder on occasion just how much of a favor we're doing to him by keeping him current on all the meds and procedures that not only keep him comfortable as possible but keep everything functioning at whatever its top level is these days. He's often expressed the wish to die. Perhaps that's why he removes his oxygen, or tries to find a way to sever the line. We let him know we won't cooperate in speeding him on his way. We replace his oxygen tubing, give him his full dosage of pills, keep track of his food and liquids, maintain all the systems as best we are able. Had he been lucid when these wishes came upon him, we might treat him differently. But his living will expressed his wish for everything possible to be done for him. It was only last December, when he became officially a hospice patient, that he finally agreed that DNR orders would be appropriate. It helped that he was more lucid then, and understood that CPR would likely break his ribs, and he'd live in extreme pain for however much time he had remaining. Even he didn't want that.

So we look for the small pleasures. A favorite cookie. A hot cup of coffee. A football game, likely watched by halves several hours apart, bless the DVR. A regular evening phone call from my brother. The drumstick from the turkey. On a really good day, a backyard bonfire and brat roast. A backrub with lotion.

And always greet the new day as if it's great news that he's still here, and let's get ready for that next hot cup of coffee.