The Chair

Once upon a time there was a chair.

A young married woman refinished it and took an upholstery class to learn how to reupholster it. 

The chair looked nice.

Then time and a daughter with two cats and no experience in reupholstered took ownership of the chair, and eventually the chair looked, well, horrible  

Then one year the girl and her husband decided to redo the chair as a team  he would give the wooden arms and legs new life, and then she would redo the seat and back.

He got his share of the work done with characteristic speed and efficiency.

She did not. There were always other things to do that seemed (or were) more pressing, and truth be told, she was kind of intimidated by the task. She had never done this sort of thing before, and with characteristic fear and procrastinating, she kept putting it off.

And outside things were also going on in her life, more so than in his life, and taking on this intimidating project felt like more than she could handle.

Around a year and a half went by this way, and resentment grew in him, while guilt and paralysis grew in her, until one evening there was an unplanned exchange of words, and she realized she needed to face and finish this project.

So she did.

And it really wasn't all that difficult after all.

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The End

For more pictures, you can see them on Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/barefootkitchenwitch/posts/1372746166101060

 

Grief and Guinea Pigs

Dad passed away in July. 

He had a pretty rough day one Saturday – was uncharacteristically difficult and hostile toward the Hospice CNA and my sister when they were trying to get him cleaned up and I called Hospice to let them know and to get advice, different meds, whatever might help.

I headed there after work and Meredith went home, and a little bit later a Hospice nurse – a different one from “our” nurse because it was the holiday weekend and schedules were different – came to check in on Dad.  He sort of resembled Sam the Snowman from “Rudolph.”  He was kind and smiling and, like all the Hospice workers we met, so supportive.  Told me, after I went through a synopsis of what was going on with Dad and what we’d been doing to care for him, that we were doing everything right.  We were good daughters. 

I can’t describe how important little comments like that were to us. 

He also said Dad was angry, and that’s why he’d been so hostile earlier.  I didn’t have time to process that but it made sense.  Angry, frustrated, at what his body wouldn’t do, at the pain he was in.

Anyway, by the time this nurse arrived, Dad was in a better mood, watching the Red Sox and resting. 

The nurse – I’ll call him Sam – introduced himself and he and Dad talked for a while.  Sam asked Dad about his life, they talked of military service and family and sports and photography and flying and birds and the cat and sometimes Dad drifted away onto other topics, but Sam went with him and kept smiling throughout.

At one point toward the end of the visit Dad told Sam “There are still so many things I want to do…but I guess I can’t do them now.”

After Sam left, Dad dozed off watching the ball game, and slept.  He wasn’t really eating much by this point, and sometimes it was difficult to get him to take his meds.  His sleep that night was sometimes loud, labored, liquidy.  I didn’t sleep well on the couch.  Sometimes it would sound like he wasn’t breathing.  But his feet would wiggle or his hand would move, and I’d start my own breathing again.

The next day he slept late and I don’t remember if we had a CNA come that morning or not.  It was Sunday, July 3rd.  I was scheduled to work the closing shift that day instead of my usual opening shift.  Dad mostly slept.  And the sleeping, again, was sometimes ragged and gurgling.  Hard to listen to, but the nurse had said he wasn’t in pain.  It was just saliva and secretions.

As the morning went on and Dad kept sleeping and his breathing kept being ragged and, yes, upsetting, I felt more and more like I should stay.  Meredith got there and I let work know – with apologies for the late notice – that I wouldn’t be in.  They understood.  My coworkers were so supportive during all of this.  So supportive. 

Meredith and I sat with Dad.  We cleaned him up as needed.  We tried to give him meds when he was awake.  We crocheted.  Watched TV.  Ate.  I don’t remember what else, really.  I stayed the night.  And I didn’t work the next night either.  I just felt like things were winding down and I didn’t want to leave.

I stayed during the day on Tuesday.  It was my birthday.  Meredith came over after work and I went home.  Bill and the kids made me a great dinner of steamers and lobster and I’m sure there was dessert but I remember very little, to be honest.  I checked in with Mere periodically and nothing had really changed. 

The next morning I drove down.  I lingered so I could have a long cup of coffee at home, with Bill.  And I got stuck in some beach traffic on my way to Dad’s, even though I took the back route.

And when I pulled into the driveway Meredith came and opened the porch door and by the look on her face I knew, before she even shook her head.  He was gone.  Ten minutes ago.

We did all the things you do next.  We notified Hospice and they sent a nurse over who “pronounced” him dead.  Meredith had written down his actual time of death, but apparently time of death is determined by the official nurse, not by the actual time on the clock.  It bothered me.  I am a little obsessive about accuracy at times.

Anyway, we notified our families, and the nurse contacted the funeral home.  The men came to take Dad away, and we set up a time to meet up the following day to plan the wake and the burial. 

The house was so empty and quiet after that.  There was nothing to do.  No one to take care of, except the cat.

I took the rest of the week off.  We found clothes for Dad to be buried in, and we held a wake and saw lots of familiar faces as they came through the line and paid their respects.  There were hugs and tears and laughter and what has stayed with me was how many people said what a kind man Dad had been.  “Never had a bad word to say about anyone.”  Not a bad legacy at all.

Meredith and I went back to work and found ourselves at loose ends at first. We weren’t used to not going to Dad’s all the time.  Free time was strange and it took time for us to relax into it.

At some point I remembered what Dad had said on that Saturday.  That there were still things he wanted to do, but he guessed he couldn’t do them now.  And I realized that was when everything shifted and Dad let go.

~~~

Cookie died on September 11th.  We’d been feeding him by syringe because his molars weren’t growing back any better and he wasn’t able to chew properly.  The vet had told me this could happen, and euthanasia might end up being the kindest option.  I’d been thinking about that conversation in the days leading up to Cookie’s passing.  He just still seemed so full of life….  September 11th was a Sunday.  I got a text from Alex while I was at work that just said “You might want to answer this phone call. Sad smile“ So I immediately called him and he told me and at the same time Julia was calling me so I called her back from a storage room and felt my heart break for her as she sobbed over the phone. 

She’d gone to give them hay and water, and Cookie was just lying there.

Cloudy was sitting right beside him.

~~~

Alex pointed out to me that Julia cried more when Cookie died than when my Dad did.  And I told him that was okay.  Small furry creatures can have a big grip on our hearts.

I felt pretty horrible when Cookie died, too. I felt guilty for not knowing enough about Guinea pig health issues, and it hurt to see Julia cry.

Bill was mostly worried about Cloudy, who was now living alone in his cage.  We tried many times to see if he and Oliver and Marshmallow could live together, but Oliver wanted to be the alpha male – despite his being about half the size of Cloudy – and after one bad altercation where Cloudy bit Oliver and drew blood in two places, I decided that was the end of THAT wish.

And I started looking online for rescue Guinea pigs.  I didn’t want to go the pet store route any more.  I wanted to do better.

I don’t know why I became so obsessed.  I never had any particular desire to own a guinea pig or hamster or gerbil or rabbit or any of those things.  Didn’t hate them, it just never occurred to me to want one. Might be because my mother was TER-RI-FIED of mice and so the notion of pet rodents was NEVER entertained in our home when I was growing up. 

I wonder what she’d think of these guys.

Anyway, I was obsessed.  I found websites that would locate the desired species of rescue pet within any mile radius I could request.  There weren’t a lot of Guinea pigs in Rhode Island, but I admit I felt the Boston area wasn’t too great a distance if there was a lonely cavy in need of a home.

The thing was, I needed to find the right one.  I’d read that when trying to pair boars, sometimes it works better if you’ve got an older male and a much younger male.  They are less likely to fight for alpha status. 

I found one young male listed at a shelter in Providence.  I emailed and called to inquire about him, and I visited him when I dropped off my application.  I learned his owners had to give him up when they discovered someone in the family was allergic.  He was 8 months old.  Black and white.  Smooth fur.  I was told the woman who handles small animal adoptions would be in touch if I was chosen.

I marveled at my nervousness.  Would they like me?  Would they think I was an acceptable adoptive Guinea Pig parent??

The next day I was doing another Guinea pig search online – because clearly I had lost my mind – and !  A new posting!  This one was at a shelter in Middletown, which was across two bridges and next to Newport from here.  This one was a baby!  A male baby!  I called. I’d have to fill out an application and then I could visit him, if I wanted to.  I filled out their online application that night and the next morning (!!!) they called me to let me know they’d received the application and was I planning to visit?  I was out of breath from moving stuff out of the house and into the back of the truck (long story) so I think I sounded a little nuts, but I told them I would be there in the afternoon.

Julia came along.

The shelter had named him Mason, and they figured he was about 7 weeks old.  He’d been in foster care with his mother and sister and was now ready for adoption.  One of the volunteers went to get him and brought Julia and me into a little room, like an examining room in a doctor’s office, and left us all to get acquainted.

Julia took this picture while I was holding him.

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And yes, we brought him home.

He is so small and sweet and we changed his name.  First, Julia suggested Pepper.  It seemed perfect – the gray fur looked like the ground pepper in a dish by our stove.  But then she thought is was too girly a name.  I didn’t agree, but she was adamant, so I told her to come up with other names. The ride home went something like this:

“Um…Schnitzel?”

“No”

“…Squeakers?”

“No”

“…Bread?”

“Julia, we’re NOT naming an animal ‘bread’!”

“Pretzel?”

“No”

“Tree?”

“NO”

and you get the idea.  Weird suggestions from Julia, with lots of crazy laughing.

She got tired of all my rejections and asked me to suggest something.  I thought a minute and came up with something as silly as I could for a tiny little sweet fluffy creature.

“Thor?”

“Yes!”

And we laughed, but we also kept coming back to it, and by the end of the drive, Mason had become Thor. Our tiny God of Thunder.

~~~

We introduced him to Cloudy far sooner than recommended by all the websites I’ve read, but I just really really wanted to find out if they would get along.

And – miracle of miracles – and after back and forth attempts at domination (which consists mainly of the would-be alpha guinea pig mounting the other one – nothing reproductive about it, it’s all about who’s going to be in charge – and let me tell you it was pretty funny to watch when it was tiny Thor trying to dominate fully grown Cloudy…kind of looked like a bizarre Circus act), they pretty much settled things and Thor decided it would be perfectly fine to just be the annoying youngster rather than continue his fruitless attempts at alpha-hood.

So here they are:

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Thor watches Cloudy and copies what he does sometimes – most noticeably with new and different vegetables. Thor will watch Cloudy eat something, and then he’ll bravely decide to have a try.

It’s unspeakably cute, at least to us.

And also cute – the two living areas (Cloudy/Thor and Oliver/Marshmallow) of the cage are separated at the feeding area, and all four of the boys hang out near that panel and talk to each other and sniff and chomp on hay. We have put them all together in the “corral” a couple of times, but peace is fleeting and usually we have to remove Oliver within a few minutes. They can’t live together (Oliver and Cloudy just don’t get along, and I know Oliver would want to dominate Thor, too), but like Robert Frost wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

~~~

Guinea pigs are funny creatures.  Ours are all sweet (to humans) and cuddly and have definite personalities. They insist they are starving when they see any of us near the cages, and they go loud with mad joy when they see us open the hay bin.  They run for their little lives when we try to pick them up, but then settle in for a little snuggle under our chins or on our chests when we have them in hand.

I don’t know why they have worked their way into my heart so quickly and insistently, but there you go.  Some things can’t be explained.  I guess the timing was right.

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The New Guys

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Not these guys – these two are now the old guys, sort of, even though they’re not even a year old. 

When Cookie was recently going to the vet for teeth and eye issues, the veterinarian let me know that if he keeps having problems, the kindest thing to do might be to euthanize him, as he wouldn’t really be able to gain weight and his quality of life would deteriorate.

🙁

So we had his teeth filed down and I have become extremely controlling and bossy about his diet and meds, because I want him to have the best possible chance to have a good little life. 

But – the possibility exists that down the line he might get worse.

Julia asked me about it one day, asked if Cookie was going to die.  We were driving home from somewhere.  We stopped at a red light and I looked at her and said yes, it was possible.  But hopefully not. 

She thought about it for a moment, and then said if that were to happen she’d be worried about Cloudy.  He’d be so lonely.

Guinea pigs are herd animals; they prefer company to solitude.  And Cloudy LOVES Cookie.  Cookie is his world.  Cloudy would be lonely.

So somehow the family ended up discussing it in bits and pieces and we kind of agreed that maybe we should get another guinea pig NOW, just in case.  Then, provided Cloudy and New Guinea Pig got along, Cloudy would not be lonely.

Actually, even if they weren’t in the same cage, but had their cages side by side, they’d be happier than Cloudy would be alone.

I started looking for rescue guinea pigs.  I thought that would be a kind thing to do, you know?  And on the local SPCA website I found a pair of rescue Guinea pigs – males – that were looking for a home.  I talked about it with Bill, and emailed an inquiry about them…but when I called a few days later to check on the status of my email, I was told they’d been adopted. 

Okay.  Well, I was glad they had a home.  But there weren’t any other rescues – not online anyway – that I could find nearby. 

This past Saturday we went to the same pet store Cookie and Cloudy came from to see what they might have.  There were two – a brown and white short hair and a mostly brown crested short hair.  Julia wanted the brown and white one, but I knew it was only because – like Veruca Salt, she wanted a Guinea Pig NOW!

We told her no, lets wait and keep looking and we went to look at adoptable cats to distract Julia from her grand disappointment.

On the way out I asked when the next guinea pigs were coming in. 

The guy told me they had a new batch in right then, but they were isolated for a few more days to make sure they weren’t sick or anything before they would go out on the sales floor.

That was promising.  He told me to call back Tuesday. 

So I did.

And so yesterday – which was Tuesday – Julia and I went to “take a look” at the new Guinea Pigs.

There were only three new ones.  All were mostly white with some bits and pieces of other colors.  Two were Abyssinians, one was another short-haired crested guy. 

Julia and I sat down on the floor and watched them all in their cages.

I took pictures.

I knew, before I knew, before anything was really said, that we would bring two home. 

And we did.

Here they are – The New Guys:

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THEY’RE SO SMALL AND SOFT AND CUTE!!!!!

Anyway.  We went back and forth on names, and finally, let me introduce them to you:

First up, Oliver (I named him)

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See the little dimple in his fur on his head?  It’s like he’s wearing a little crown, or something.  He’s a crested guinea pig, not sure if he’s all-crested or a mix of that and basic short hair.  Don’t care.  He’s sweet.  I like the gray patches. End of story.

And why Oliver?  I don’t know.  He just looked like an Oliver. 

 

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And this is Marshmallow (Julia named him)

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Julia explained that he is called Marshmallow because he’s all soft and fluffy, plus he’s all the marshmallow colors – white, and golden brown around one eye, dark brown around the other – depending on how burnt you like your campfire fare.

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So that’s the story of the new guys.  They are very small and sweet and are in “quarantine” in a different cage in a different room for a few weeks, just to make sure they are healthy and don’t have anything contagious going on.

~~~

This should do us for Guinea pigs for now.  Plus the two cats. 

But I’m still very interested in some day adopting a rescue guinea pig or two eventually. 

First, though, I need to convince Bill to let me convert the music room into a guinea pig town…..

Status Update: Guinea Pigs and Cats…and a bit more about my Dad

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Here’s Cookie, slurping down every last bit of his Vitamin C supplement.

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Cloudy likes his Vitamin C as well. 

They both like this stuff so much that sometimes they will play tug-of-war with Cloudy’s syringe.  He gets a larger dose than Cookie because he’s a larger guy, so it takes longer to consume.  Also, we give Cookie his dose first, and once he’s done, he wants more, so he goes for what Cloudy has.

The boys get their Vitamin C every evening. 

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Cookie is also still getting the probiotic paste to help make sure his little gut is working properly.  Julia or I will put a little blob of it on our finger and Cookie licks it off and looks for more.

I wish companies made kids’ medicines (and adults’ medicines, for that matter) taste as yummy and appealing as they do for guinea pigs.

And one more picture – just a selfie – me with Cloudy.  He’s so cute.

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Anyway, that’s where we are with Cookie and his issues.  His left eye still doesn’t look like the right eye yet, but he’s eating well, we are feeding him a better proportion of hay and greens, and he is perky and snuggly, so hopefully things are on the right path.

~~~

And the other night I brought Audrey home.

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Audrey was my Dad’s cat.  He got her around a year ago or so, from the local Animal Rescue League.  He’d spent a lot of days hanging out with the cats, getting to know them, narrowing down his selection, until he finally settled on Audrey. 

She was probably 5-7 years old, if I remember right.  The info on her said she didn’t like other animals, so she was a perfect indoor companion for Dad, who had no other pets. 

She shared his love of watching birds at the feeders outside the living room window, but her interest seemed…different…from my Dad’s.  Her tail twitched.  She made little throaty cries as the delicate feathered creatures flitted oh-so-close to her.

She also kept an eye out for intruding neighborhood cats. 

She did not like them. They were trespassing on her property.  And they were trying to catch her birds.  She’d hiss at them and race from the living room window to the dining room window or the porch door, glaring at them and probably cursing like a sailor-cat at their gall.

There was one in particular – a gorgeous orange tabby.  I saw him most often, so he either lived very close or really liked our selection of flying prey.

Audrey wanted to GET him.

One afternoon, the Saturday before Dad passed away, I was at the house along with a visiting nurse from Hospice.  This wasn’t our regular nurse – we’d called Hospice earlier that day because Dad’s mood and behavior had become uncharacteristically hostile.  He told the CNA that morning to “get the hell out” of the house, and called the CNA and my sister “bastard.”  He didn’t want them bathing him or cleaning him up or changing him or moving him.  He slapped my sister. It was probably a combination of pain and dementia and another step closer to the end.  My sister was understandably upset – I talked to her from work and notified Hospice – they put in an order for a different medication and arranged for the on-duty nurse to come out later that afternoon. 

After work I picked up the prescription and took over for my sister.  Of course, by the time I got there Dad was in a better frame of mind and was watching a Red Sox game on tv.  A couple of hours later the nurse arrived, a tall gentleman who reminded me a little of the singing snowman – Sam – in “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”  He was very kind and patient and asked me about Dad and I told him how Meredith and I were taking turns staying at the house and taking care of him along with the Hospice and private CNAs.  He said we were wonderful daughters – or something along those lines, I don’t remember exactly – but it felt so good to hear that.  We needed that positive feedback so much – it was like not knowing how thirsty you are until someone hands you a glass of water and you actually get to drink the whole thing.  Okay, maybe that didn’t make sense, but it made sense when I was typing it, so it stays.

Anyway, he came in and met Dad and visited with him and talked to him for a while.  He asked Dad if he was a veteran, and then thanked Dad for his service. 

And Dad cried.  So did I.

More talking, more listening.  Sometimes Dad was lucid, other times his mind and words wandered.  But he was calm and amiable.

Toward the end of the visit, I can’t remember how this came up, but they were talking about things Dad loved to do – flying, photography – and Dad paused and then said “There are so many things I’d still like to do…but I guess I can’t.”

That has stayed with me.  The anger in the morning, and then what he said that afternoon.  From that day on he slept a lot more.  Didn’t really eat much except a bit of watermelon.  A sip of coffee.  Maybe a bit of ice cream.  But not much.

That Sunday, the day after his angry outbursts his breathing was different.  I sat with him as Mere came and I was supposed to go to work at noon, but first I said I’d be late and then I cancelled all together because I didn’t know if he was going to die and I didn’t want to just leave Mere there by herself, with neither of us knowing what might come next.

I didn’t work the next day, July 4th.  Or the next day, either, my birthday.  I couldn’t.  We stayed with him on the 4th, and I slept over that night and spent the day there as well.  Meredith came over at some point that afternoon and I went home to have my birthday dinner with my husband and kids.  I was glad to go, and I felt horrible leaving.  But I would be back the next morning.  It was my scheduled day off.

And then, Wednesday morning, while I was stuck in beach traffic about ten minutes from Dad’s house, he passed away.  Meredith was with him.  I pulled into the driveway and she came out of the house and she didn’t usually do that and I knew just looking at her and she shook her head and her face crumpled a bit and I’m sure mine did too and we hugged and cried. 

~~~

I just realized I’d started telling that whole story to tell you another thing about the cat. 

When the Hospice nurse was just about done with his visit, we were standing there in the living room, my Dad was in his bed watching the Sox game, and I’d opened the front door to let some air in. 

We were talking, watching the game, when all of a sudden there was a LOUD, crazy noise in the room and I looked over and Audrey had seen that orange cat in the front yard and she RAN STRAIGHT UP THE SCREEN DOOR in an attempt to get at him. 

Fortunately the latch held and she had to drop from the top of the screen to the floor.  I didn’t have to lose my mind trying to catch her or stop her from attacking the orange cat.

But really.  She ran up the screen.  Bottom to top.  I think maybe she thought she could just go straight through and when that didn’t happen she just kept going.

We three humans sort of froze, looking toward the door, not knowing, at first, what had happened.  After that, we laughed.

~~~

Audrey stayed at the house by herself for the rest of July.  Meredith and I stopped in to feed her and give her fresh water and deal with the litterbox. 

I wasn’t ready to bring her home.  I needed to make a lid for the guinea pig cage first.  And then we had a softball tournament out of state, and I didn’t want to leave her here, unsupervised.

But this past Monday night, after work, I got Audrey and some of her possessions, and drove her home.

She spent the first night in Bill’s and my room. 

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She was very, very happy to be with people.  Julia slept in the room with me and Audrey.  Audrey couldn’t get enough of the attention and the scratches behind her ears and under her chin.  Much purring took place.

And over the next few days she relaxed and grew comfortable in her little queendom.

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And then we let the Audrey and Scratchy meet.

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That’s Scratchy on the left and Audrey on the right.  Their markings are very similar.  It just occurred to me that on Audrey, who is about a third of Scratchy’s size, the markings look like pictures of land masses before the continents started splitting apart and moving all around on Earth’s face, and on Scratchy it’s more like where all the islands and continents are today.  Of course, he’s also shaped more like the planet, too….

Anyway, mainly this new relationship has consisted of hissing and Scratchy running away.  Audrey’s territory is the second floor,

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Scratchy’s is the basement,

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and they share – sort of – the main floor.

Audrey has only hissed at the Guinea pigs once.

So far, so good.

Tooth Stories

I’ll start with the easier one.

Alex got braces almost exactly two years ago, and today he got them off.  Very happy day for him, though my beaming Momsmile probably got annoying.  I tried to rein it in.  But it was hard.  His teeth look great, and I think it’ll be easier now to get him to smile for pictures.  When I can get him to allow me to take pictures of him, that is.

That was the easy one.  Julia will be next.  But not today.

This morning I dropped Cookie off at the vet’s to have his teeth filed down.

I need to back up, of course. 

About two weeks ago (I’ve lost track), we noticed Cookie’s left eye looked squinty and a bit crusty.

Internet at my fingertips, I read far too much about Guinea Pig eyes and what ailments might present themselves as eye problems.  For instance, at first my thought (my hopeful, naïve thought) was that he’d gotten poked in the eye with a piece of hay. I couldn’t find any bits of hay under the lid (and I looked, of course), so for a couple of days I wiped his eye and rinsed it with saline and kept my fingers crossed.

Because sometimes an eye ailment is not an eye ailment.  Sometimes it’s a sign of a respiratory infection.  Or a dental problem.  Or an abscess.  Or I forget what else.  So many possible life-threatening issues.  Guinea pigs are apparently susceptible to all sorts of things, and because they are prey animals they have evolved to not show distress until, well, it’s just about too late.  (My eyes were aching from all the reading I’ve done about Guinea Pig health.  Crash course.)

Well, I clearly needed to bring him to the vet.

Our regular vet was on vacation, so I brought him to the emergency room at the same veterinary hospital where Scratchy stayed when he had fatty liver disease and had a tube put in so we could feed him and keep him alive.

They thought his cornea might have been scratched, but when they put dye in his eye, there was no sign of that, so they put him on some medicated eye drops and metacam orally for five days for the pain, and recommended a follow up with our regular vet or with their own exotic animal specialist the next week.

So we did all that, and sometimes his eye looked better, but sometimes it didn’t.  He still seemed interested in food, in doing all his usual guinea pig things, but the eye didn’t improve.

I wasn’t able to get an appointment with our vet (scheduling conflicts) so I brought him back to the hospital and met with their Exotics specialist.

I kind of felt like a loser during that visit, partly because I’ve never had Guinea pigs before and am doing my best to keep them healthy but it’s a lot more complicated than just giving them a dish of food twice a day.  They are kind of delicate little beings, and as I told Bill, I didn’t want Cookie to die.

My father passed away on July 6th.  I will write about that in time, but suffice to say I am still wiped out from these past months of my sister and me caring for him in his house, and now this little furry animal could die and I really wasn’t in the mood for any more death in my family for now.

So some of my loser feeling was being emotionally and mentally exhausted. 

Anyway, the vet pointed out that Cookie was pretty thin – he weighed half of what Cloudy weighs.  (I’d brought him along on the vet visits – I figured they’d prefer that to being separated.  The Dr was glad – she could see that I wasn’t actively starving Cookie – Cloudy shares his cage and he’s doing just fine, weight-wise.)

Then she checked Cookie’s teeth.

His incisors were crooked.  He wasn’t wearing them down evenly, so on one side of his face the teeth were longer.  Kind of like this –>   /   <-   only not as drastic an angle.

Next she took a look at his back teeth.  I couldn’t see very well, but the molars were apparently too big – he wasn’t wearing them down enough, and they were growing inward and the lower ones would start blocking his tongue if they got much bigger, and he wouldn’t be able to swallow. 

So there were a couple of possible scenarios.

This could be a freak thing (not her words) that, with meds and a little dental work, would be fixed and he could live a long and full little Guinea Pig life.

It could also be a genetic anomaly (a not uncommon guinea pig thing) and we might fix it for now, but not forever.  Quality of life would be lessened, and the humane thing, eventually, would be to euthanize him.

She gave me new meds for him, and an estimate for the cost of his dental work, and we scheduled him for the following Tuesday morning (today).  I went home kind of in shock and too muddy-brained to take it all in. 

I told Bill and Julia about the possible issues, but not the dental work scheduled. Only one financial wave in the face at a time.

Anyway, now he was on better eye drops – they were a bit thicker and stayed in his eye better.  And he got more of the metacam.  And liquid Vitamin C.  And a probiotic paste to help his digestive system, since he didn’t seem to be eating enough hay.

Eye three times a day.

Metacam twice a day.

C and Paste once a day.

Julia had already learned to do the eye drops and the metacam, which makes all this a lot easier.

That was last Thursday.  We gave him his meds and cut back on extras that are yummy but not as nutrient dense as greens and hay. 

I woke up at one in the morning on Saturday and spent two and a half hours actively worrying and researching guinea pig health issues on my phone.  I finally shut it off and shut my eyes but couldn’t fall back to sleep.  Eventually had to get up anyway and be at work at 6:00.

I brought Cookie in this morning and spent some of my day worrying, of course, and I was tired so I tried to take a nap, but that didn’t work out because frankly I kept expecting them to call and say he’d died on the table.  They didn’t call, so around 2:30 I did, and they said Cookie was doing well and eating, and I could come get him any time before 5.

I was out the door.

The vet showed me pictures of how his teeth looked before, during, and after the filing. She told me which meds to continue or use up or stop, and asked me to let her know how he was doing.  He is young, and hopefully he will thrive.

Cloudy was practically turning hand stands when I brought Cookie to the cage.  I kept them separated at first, thinking maybe Cookie needed some solitude, but Cloudy was frantic, wheeking (that’s the noise they make) through the cage and trying to see Cookie in the other cage.  Cookie chirped back, so I put him in with Cloudy and watched to make sure there weren’t any issues.

Cloudy did a lot of sniffing all over Cookie.  Cookie headed for the hay rack and parked himself there and ATE.

At one point Cloudy came over to Cookie, sniffed the left eye and licked it.  He’s done that before.  It makes my heart tremble a bit.

And at this moment, both are taking naps.  Cloudy is inside a paper bag with some fleece for snuggly comfort.  Cookie is in the corner by the hay rack, resting.  He’s had a busy, weird day.  He’s not himself yet – I put some cucumber in the cage and he’s not at all interested, but he’s just gorged on hay, so that’s understandable.

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Now, we watch and wait and give meds and hope.

And Cloudy will bombard Cookie with love.

~~~

As soon as I hit “Publish” for this post, Cookie grabbed a slice of cucumber.  Smile

Salad Days

It’s been a weird Spring.  Warm, then wintery cold, some sun again, a bunch of rain.  All over the meteorological map. 

The seedlings are very confused.

Some plants are behind schedule, like our peas, which are short and haven’t offered up any blossoms yet so who knows if we’ll even get any this spring.

Others seem to be thriving.  The garlic we planted last fall is huge – thick stalks that look more like leeks than garlic.  Cilantro is springing up everywhere – we can’t keep up with it. 

Fortunately, we have the Guinea Pigs.

Cookie and Cloudy LOVE cilantro.

They squeal with delight when we bring them fresh stalks of it from the garden (Bill had to pull some to make space for other plants that were going in). 

Cookie is especially fond of cilantro.  And watermelon.  And broccoli stalks.  I was roasting some broccoli florets the other night and I’d trimmed them off so there was just this central stalk left.  Bill brought it to the guinea pigs and Cookie promptly snatched it and backed away from us, huge chunk of green in his little teeth, into one of their little huts so he could feast privately.

Yesterday, just as I was about to leave Dad’s house, Julia sent me this picture:

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The guinea pigs. 

In one of our raised beds.

Nibbling happily on red leaf lettuce and baby New Zealand spinach.

That’s Bill’s leg in the bottom left. 

Now, in time I realized they weren’t going to suddenly bolt for a chance at freedom and disappear into one of the neighbors’ yards where they would be snatched up by hawks or coyotes before I could drive the half hour from Dad’s to our home to save them.

But my immediate response was

WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?????

So I called Bill and tensely demanded to know if he was in his right mind.  “I think so.” he said, after some consideration – or, more likely, some eye-rolling and face-making at the phone in his hand.  He told me everything was fine, and that Cookie and Cloudy were having a great time.

We got off the phone.

Naturally, I did not believe him.

Well, I believed that Cookie and Cloudy were enjoying the all-you-can-eat buffet in our back yard, but I did not believe that everything was fine.  I did not believe that the guinea pigs were safe, or that they wouldn’t take it into their little heads to make a dash for the forest of Lily-of-the-Valley in the corner of the yard below two Lilac trees.

I did not believe they were safe, because I wasn’t there to save them.

It’s not a healthy trait, but it’s one I’ve had as long as I can remember.

I’ve felt – no, believed – that it was my job to save.  To protect.  To fix.

I remember this one time when my sister and I were little kids – elementary school age, but I can’t get any more precise than that.

We were in the kitchen – the “old” kitchen, before the north wall was knocked down to enlarge the space.  We were at the round table on the dining half of the room, and I was sitting in my chair by the window, and Mere was to my left.  Mom was standing, leaning back against the counter beneath the white metal cupboards.

We had candy.  Fancy candy.  From New York.  Bloomingdale’s.  Aunt Audrey – Mom’s best friend from childhood, our godmother – had brought it for us on her latest visit with her husband, our godfather, Uncle Bob.  They made me think of Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore, sort of.  Anyway, they’d brought fancy candy for us kids and now we were at the table, probably after dinner, staring at the the colorful packages.  I’m not sure where Dad was – maybe it was bowling night.

Anyway, one package contained colorful candy sticks – like candy canes only without the curve.  Different colors – white and green, white and yellow, white and red, white and pink, white and orange – all glowing and shiny in cellophane. 

The other package was a little plastic box with a few different compartments, each containing a different type of candy.  I don’t remember them all.  I do remember these lumpy red things that resembled raspberries.  They were kind of hard, but not too hard, on the outside, with a raspberry jelly on the inside.  I think the other candies were red, too.  Maybe all this took place in February, around Valentine’s day.  That might explain why I remember it as dark outside, even though I don’t see windows in my memory.

Now, we had rules in our house.  One of them was we cleaned our plates at meals.  And we didn’t leave the table at dinner time until we’d eaten everything.  Ev-er-y-thing.  Even salad.  Salad in these wooden bowls that seemed enormous and were filled with lettuces and tomatoes and a homemade herbed vinaigrette. My mother, as I’ve said here before, was a great cook, very much a foodie, though I don’t think the term had been coined back in the 70’s.  Now, as an adult, I admire all the effort she put into making our meals delicious and healthy, but at the time, all those chopped herbs and vinegar on top of boring lettuce was pretty gross.  I remember there were plenty of nights where my parents were finished and had moved into the living room to watch tv while my sister and I sat in our chairs and picked at leaves and made faces and came up with games and imaginary animal companions to make the time go by as we worked up the intestinal fortitude to eat our green torture food.  Because we couldn’t leave the table until we were done.  That was the rule.

I don’t remember, but I’m guessing that shiny packaged candy was an incentive to eat our salads quickly. 

And when we were given the opportunity to have a piece of the fancy candy from Bloomingdale’s in New York, things got weird. 

My mother suddenly, eerily, terrifyingly, lost her mind.

She said we could go ahead and have some candy.

“Go ahead,” she encouraged us.  “Have as much as you want!”

Immediately air raid sirens and flashing lights went off in my brain.  Something was wrong, something was very, very wrong.  I didn’t know what had happened, but this was not something our mother – our real mother – would say.  We didn’t have as much as we wanted in this house!  We had a serving.  A portion.  A slice.  We did not gorge ourselves.

My younger sister, untroubled by the sirens and lights in my head, dug in with joy.  Candy was WAY better than the salad we had suffered through!  As much candy as we wanted was EVEN BETTER!

The world had suddenly tilted off it’s axis and I WAS THE ONLY ONE WHO NOTICED! 

In great panic, I knew I had to save my baby sister from this madness. 

“No!” I said urgently.  “Don’t eat it ALL!  Just have one or two pieces!” 

She looked at me like I was nuts.  What was my problem?  UNLIMITED CANDY!!!

And I remember being very adamant about showing restraint, about only having a piece or two, a portion, not the whole package. 

And my mother, as I remember, watched this little drama unfold, and she just stood there, watching, and smiling.  She appeared…entertained.

~~~

I brought this up not too long ago with Meredith, and she remembered it too, and speculated that Mom was drunk at the time.  That this was a fun little psych 101 experiment for her.

It’s certainly possible.  We were not aware of drunk vs. sober.  We had nothing to compare our family to.  This was our world.  This was our Mom.  A great mother in a lot of ways, but she was not perfect and had her own demons to face or evade, as we all do. 

So I can’t really comment on her behavior that night, other than to say that it freaked me out.  And that I had to save my sister from whatever craziness was – or might be – happening.

That’s how I roll.

~~~

Over the years this facet of my personality has manifested itself in all sorts of ways.  I spent years feeling it was my role to defend my sister from my parents – not that were abusive or anything, it was more a lawyerly kind of defense whenever she did something wrong or needed to speak up for herself and I felt she was taking too much time to state her case.  I would just jump right in and take over.  She didn’t ask me to – I just took it upon myself. 

And, even later, I thought – no, I believed – that I should and could and, if I tried hard enough – would get my mother to stop drinking.  In my inexperience, my naiveté, my ignorance, my desperate desire for things to be okay and for everyone to be safe, I thought I could fix this problem by getting my mother to open up about what was upsetting her so much.  I wanted her to know that I would understand, that I could understand, despite that she had “been around a few more years” than I had.  I wanted her to understand that I could help her, she could talk to me, she could tell me what was wrong and just the act of talking about it would surely help her get better.  Wouldn’t it?  I firmly, fervently believed it.  I spent years and years believing it, serving that belief, running in circles trying to say JUST the right thing to her that would flip a switch somewhere in her mind or heart and she would no longer be so sad, and no longer need to drink.

Turns out my sister really didn’t need me to talk for her, and I was never able to fix my mother. 

~~~

But I haven’t entirely learned my lesson, and while I might not try to fix everything and everyone all the time, I still worry.  About everyone.

And by everyone I mean the guinea pigs, too.

A month or so ago I was home, everyone else was at work/school, and I noticed that Cookie was breathing faster than normal.  I grabbed my phone and looked up “guinea pig respiratory issues” or something like that and filled my head with all the things that could be going wrong and I counted Cookie’s breaths and stared at him intensely and worried with purpose.

I CANNOT LET COOKIE DIE!

And for a moment, I saw myself.  I saw myself as a whacko, actually.  Not just content with all the legitimate things (people) I worried about regularly, I also had to grab and NEW things to worry about. 

Because, you know, if I didn’t actively worry, something bad could happen.

And that brings me back to yesterday.

When Bill and Julia took the guinea pigs outside – WITHOUT ME TO STAND GUARD – and let Cookie and Cloudy discover the joys of foraging.

They didn’t run away, in case you were wondering.

They were not eaten by hawks or coyotes.

No, they stuffed their little bellies with fresh greens and would have kept eating until they popped if Bill and Julia hadn’t brought them back into the house.

They were not interested in racing to freedom – they just wanted to eat.  And eat.

I did not need to race home to save anyone or any thing.

~~~

But, of course, if I hadn’t actively and intensely worried for that whole half hour as I drove home as fast as I dared, the hawks and coyotes would surely have appeared, and so it’s a really good thing I worry the way I do.

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I kept those guinea pigs safe – with my crazy frantic save-the-day mind.

One Little Thing

At my best, I am an awesome multi-tasker. I get a jazzed feeling when I’ve got lots of things going on at once and I’m on top of all of them.  I revel in my brain’s ability to keep various dates and schedules and projects sorted out in my mind, to keep plates spinning and balls in the air.

We have a big calendar on the door to the music room in our house.  I’ve got us all color-coded with sharpies so I can tell at a glance who has something going on every day.  Baseball and softball practices and games, plus Alex’s Jr. Umpire schedule.  And the rest of us – work schedules, Bill’s students’ concert schedules, my Dad’s various appointments.  We’re all up there. 

I love calendars and sharpies.

We’ve been extra mentally and physically busy since Dad came home, my sister and I.  Our sleepover schedules at Dad’s and our normal work schedules and getting used to Hospice coming in and out and our own families’ schedules and needs and wants…it’s a lot.

In addition to all the scheduling and physical care and grocery shopping and laundry (in Dad’s house and our own homes), there are our families who have to adjust to our absences, our divided attention.  And there’s our own knowledge of and sometimes guilt for being pulled in so many directions.  And the sleep deprivation. It’s a lot.

But we are doing our best.

~~~

A week ago I got Bill and the kids out the door and then headed down to Dad’s.  I took a different route so I could stop by one of our favorite coffee places and get coffee for my Dad, my sister, and me. 

I placed my order at the drive-thru and while I waited at the window for my coffees and a bacon-egg-and-cheese-on-an-english-muffin each for my sister and me, I checked my phone and saw a text from Bill.

“Looks like Alex missed his umpiring games on Saturday.”

Oh shit.

The girl came to the window and handed me the three coffees on a tray, and as I turned to place them on the seat beside me in the truck, I spilled them.  All three.

I screwed up Alex’s schedule and now I spilled our coffees.

I tipped the coffee cups up and saved about half the contents of each. 

While I waited for the sandwiches, I checked our email and sure enough, there was a message from the umpire coordinator and the head of the league and did Alex forget, was anything wrong, did he try to get another kid to cover his games?

And all I could see was this:

YOU SCREWED EVERYTHING UP, JAYNE!!!!!!!!!

The girl handed me my bag of sandwiches and I pulled into the parking lot and typed a hysterical apologetic email to the umpire coordinator and a weepy apologetic text to Bill.

I had forgotten to write May’s umpire schedule on the calendar.

I forgot.

I failed.

I failed EVERYONE. 

I deprived two little league teams of a Junior Umpire on Saturday and left the adult umpires to handle the games on their own. 

I screwed Alex out of TWO PAID UMPIRE SHIFTS.

I let him down, the local little league organization down, all little boys and girls everywhere who play little league down, and demonstrated my supreme incompetence to all the little league powers that be.

That one text dropped all my spinning plates and airborne balls to the ground in one long, deafening crash, and I started crying angry, frustrated, I’m-a-loser tears for the rest of the drive to my Dad’s house in my coffee-scented truck.

I got to the house, parked, and called Bill.  Fortunately he was not in a class, so he could listen to my flagellating apology without having to stop me.

And he said the right things.

He said I have a lot going on.  He said Alex needs to take responsibility for his schedule.  He said he would find the schedule for May and write all the dates on the calendar. (Thank you, Bill)

I calmed down.

My sister was standing in the doorway, wondering what the delay on the coffee was.  I got out and went around to the other side of the truck and tried to lift out the tray.  The bottoms of all the cup sections were soaked and one of them disintegrated and I watched, helplessly, my hands full, as one cup dropped most of the way through.  Fortunately the wide top stopped it from going through completely.  Small miracles.

I carried all my stuff to the house and told Meredith my long tail of hysterical woe and she reminded me that the world really was not coming to an end because of me, and it will all be okay. 

Hers is the voice of reason when my thoughts spin out of control. (Thank you, Mere)

It was just one thing.  One relatively little thing to tip everything in my giant bag of stuff over and spill everything on the ground.  One relatively little thing to make me burst into tears.

I tried to explain those tears to Bill the next day.

They were not tears of helplessness.

Those tears were not of sadness or sorrow. 

They were rage and frustration, reigned in. 

They were an alternative to me shouting and swearing, or throwing things or breaking things or being violent and loud and out of control.  

They were cleansing and healing, and now I pick up my broken dishes and juggling balls and get new dishes and start them spinning, and toss the balls up into the air. 

I start again.

Almost Two Years Later…

A week or so ago…

I’m at my Dad’s house. 

My fingers make tentative taps at the keyboard but I don’t know where to begin.  Begin with the now and work backwards?  Go back to two years ago and pick up from there?

I should have kept writing back then.  It would have solved this current conundrum for me.

Anyway.

We are in the living room.

The tv is on.  “The Andy Griffith Show” is on tv.  We’d been watching “Blue Bloods,” but I switched over to this because it’s lighter.  Less violent.

Dad’s in bed. The hospital bed that was delivered on Monday.  Audrey, the cat Dad adopted from the local Animal Rescue League within the past year, is snoozing at his feet.  When he was in the hospital last month and then in a nursing home for rehab, my sister and I would stop by the house to take care of Audrey and she would complain loudly and at length about her missing human.  When he came home last Friday, she attached herself to him like a burr and refuses to be unstuck from him for very long.

My laptop is on top of a partially done puzzle – one of the Norman Rockwell Saturday Evening Post ones – on an old card table that sags down slightly in the middle. 

The room is crowded.  A couch along the front wall, below the windows.  The tv is in the corner.  A wingback chair on either side of the bed, this card table kind of plunked beside the couch, and the piano is behind my chair.  A bit crowded, but functional.  There are some of my grandmother’s paintings on one wall.  Lots of photos of family on the piano, near the fireplace, and on a shelf up on the wall to my left.  Lots of…stuff.  When my parents bought this house years ago, my mother didn’t want to get rid of anything, so the contents of their much larger home are crowded into this smaller one. 

Despite all the familiar things everywhere, sometimes Dad asks when he’s going home.  We explain to him that this is his home, that he and mom bought it a while ago.  Sometimes he will accept that.  Other times he looks skeptical.  Suspicious. 

Other times he will ask about Mom, or mention her as though she is still alive and out shopping or something.  We gently remind him.  Sometimes he shakes his head and grunts in annoyance at his own flawed memory.  Other times he wrinkles his forehead trying to remember. 

It’s been a gradual thing. 

~~~

That circle of life …it’s been brought home to me over the course of these last couple of years.  Not so much with Mom – hers was a different situation.  But with Dad, I can see it.  Maybe not a circle so much as an arc.  Or a mirroring, of sorts.

When my kids were babies, every new thing was remarkable and notable and deserving of a blog post or a letter or email to someone.  All those milestones as they progressed and grew and learned and went from helpless to wobbly to upright and forward-moving and determined and independent.  I look at my kids every day and (to their annoyance) just stare and marvel at how amazingly capable they are when just yesterday they weren’t even potty trained….

I remember tying little shoes. Helping small arms and legs into clothing.  Steadying little bodies as they took shaky steps.  Watching carefully, ready to help or catch or protect.  I remember amazement and pride in their little accomplishments.

With my Dad, as the months have gone by, it’s been like watching that movie in reverse, sort of.  Or, maybe, like walking up a staircase with someone, and now walking back down.

I don’t know what analogy to use.

I have felt odd deja-vu-like moments, when I have helped tie the shoe on his right food – same side as that broken leg from two years ago; it’s stiffer, harder for him to reach all the way to the shoe – and I feel like after I’ve finished the double knot I should be smiling into the face of one of my kids, not my father. 

But here we are.  Time rumbles along.

When I was still a very new driver, maybe still learning, I remember my Dad picking me up after work and letting me drive home.  The first leg of the journey was a dark two-lane road, and I remember panicking as approaching headlights blinded me and I was afraid I might suddenly drive straight into the oncoming vehicle.  In his calm, comforting voice he simply said “Just keep your eye on that white line on the right side of the road.”  My panic dissolved and I managed to get us home without a crash. 

Every time I drive down a two-lane road in the dark, and see headlights coming toward me, I hear Dad talking to me.

~~~

He has always been – as I remember my childhood – the epitome of patience.  Calm.  Unruffled. 

Sometimes it would drive me nuts.  Sometimes he took too long to respond.  Thought too long about what he was about to say.  Chose his words too carefully when I thought they should already be locked and loaded and ready to fire, like mine were.

I do not always have his patience, although I have worked hard to cultivate it in myself over the years.  But I’m still working on it.

My sister and I are here at his house a lot.  Especially now.  But even before the two surgeries last month, we were in and out of this house at least three times a day.  My sister was making him dinner pretty much every day. 

Sometimes when I’d stop here after work, I would feel impatient.  I just wanted to get home and be done.  I live about half an hour away, and at the end of the work day it seemed like such a long drive.  I was fidgety and in a hurry to get going.  I felt pulled in two directions, and I thought my family at home needed me there more than Dad needed me here.  And at the same time, I felt horrible and guilty and rotten.  The bad daughter.  Not always.  But often. 

Anyway, I have been working on patience.  He never rushed me, hurried me along, or tried to make a speedy exit.  I have been working on changing the pace in my head.  I am working on not being mildly irritated when he moves slower or when I need to help him with things that he never needed help with before.  My head is adjusting.  But it’s strange and new and unsettling at times.  He’s the father, I’m the kid.  In my mind, anyway.  Time likes to switch things up.

~~~

Like I said, Dad had two surgeries in April. The first one was planned.  Dad has bladder cancer.  The tumors have been relatively slow-growing, and when they started interfering with normal plumbing operations, Dad’s urologist would scrape as much out  of the tumors and clots as possible.  Things would go back to normal for a while, and then when blood started appearing again, we’d schedule another surgery.  This was the third or fourth scraping surgery.  The days leading up to surgery were kind of rough – in addition to the blood, there was pressure, the feeling of needing to pee but not being able to.  And the incontinence, which has been a part of his life for maybe a year now.  Or more.  I’ve lost track. The couple of nights leading up to surgery, my sister and I took turns sleeping over.  Dad was up constantly through the night, shuffling from bed to bathroom and back.  Exhausted, uncomfortable, frustrated.  When the day of surgery arrived, we were all relieved.  Well, a bit annoyed that his surgery time got pushed back to eleven o’clock when he was originally supposed to be first in line, but at least he was IN the hospital and things would start improving again.

I slept at his house the night before surgery.  My sister brought him to the hospital and I went to work five minutes away.  My sister texted me updates throughout the day, and I planned to go over after work.  I would also bring him home the next day.  We had it all planned and figured out.  Just before noon my sister texted me something about clots and kidneys and tubes.  I don’t remember it, but I could probably find it on my phone if I looked.  I called her and she filled in what she knew at that point – the tumors in the bladder had been blocking the urine coming from his kidneys, and blood and clots were backing up into the kidneys, and the doctor wanted to put tubes in so his kidneys would drain that way instead of getting slowed by the gunk in his bladder. I left work as quickly as I could and met up with my sister and the doctor, where he described the procedure and really, it was what needed to be done.  Blocked kidneys would be bad.

So we got to see Dad briefly before the second surgery.  He was sleepy on the gurney, we signed off on the paperwork, and they wheeled him away for round two.

~~~

The second surgery – the double nephrostomy – was relatively quick.  Dad spent a few days in ICU, hooked up via tubes and wires to machines and bags.  He was fidgety.  He played with them, pulled on them, set off the alarms and brought nurses in to re-attach or reset whatever he’d been plucking at. For a few nights the nurses had to put mittens on his hands and restrain his arms so he wouldn’t yank things out in his sleep. 

Despite the fidgeting, he recovered relatively quickly, at least from a machine and bag standpoint.  They wanted to move him into a regular room, but there weren’t any available, so he stayed in ICU but without the intensive care.  And then he was moved to a nursing home/rehab facility to build up the strength in his legs again so he could go home.

While we were in the hospital, we were connected with one of the local Hospice/Palliative Care representatives.  And now we have Hospice CNAs and a nurse and a volunteer and a couple of social workers on our team.  Plus the private CNA who comes three times a week for a couple of hours. 

We’re still figuring things out.  We empty his nephrostomy bags and take care of his meals and shopping and laundry and some personal care.  We can flush the nephrostomy tubes and I’ve changed the dressings see previous post), though usually the Hospice nurse does that.  We take turns sleeping over on the couch in the living room.  One or the other of us is here most of the time. 

And that’s it for now. 

Dad’s awake.  Gotta fix him some coffee.

Swedish Chef Meets Lucy Ricardo

My dad recently had nephrostomy tubes put in.  I almost said “installed.”  Anyway, they were put in a month ago, and then he stayed in the hospital for about a week, and then went to a nursing home for rehab for another couple of weeks.  He came home a week ago today, and now emptying nephrostomy bags and flushing tubes is the “new normal” around here.  We have hospice/palliative care nurses and other hospice people coming in and out daily, plus his regular 3x a week CNA.  And my sister and I have been at Dad’s house in shifts, daily and overnight. 

On Monday one of the hospice nurses was here to flush the tubes and change the dressings where the tubes come out of Dad’s back.  I watched, so I could learn what to do.  The flushing is pretty straightforward, you unscrew where the thinner tubes (the ones that come from his kidneys) connect to the wider tubes (which connect to the bags at the other end), clean the connections with alcohol swabs, and then empty a pre-loaded saline syringe into the thinner tubes. 

Changing the dressing involves removing the cotton padding and the plastic film that covers the padding and sticks to his body to hold the padding in place over the sites where the tubes come out.  The film is sticky, like a huge section of scotch tape, and it does its job, sticking to the padding, the tube, gloves, whatever.  After all that covering is peeled and snipped away, the insertion sites (if that’s the correct term – I have no idea) are swabbed with more alcohol pads and cleaned off), and then new pads and new tape are put on. 

And that’s it.  Not really difficult.

If you know what you are doing. 

So last night when I was emptying the bags for the night I got ambitious and decided to change the dressings.  One side looked like it was maybe a little damp or something, so I figured it would be good to do it then, rather than wait for the next day when a perfectly capable and trained nurse was scheduled to do it. 

I got out the bags with the syringes and alcohol swabs and pads and everything, and got to work. 

First I emptied the bags.  That part’s easy, the ends of the bags just unscrew a bit and I drain them into the toilet. 

Next, rather than flush the tubes, I figured I’d go ahead and remove the dressings, then do all the alcohol swabbing everywhere, and then flush tubes and re-dress. 

It took me a while to get the dressings off because, as I said earlier, the tape/film stuff sticks to everything.  I used scissors to snip away where it was all stuck to the tube, and I had visions of snipping the tube itself and having a geyser of urine shooting everywhere, and then I’d have to bring Dad to the ER or something to have a new tube put in.  So I was very careful with my scissors and no such disaster occurred.

Still – I am inexperienced and slow.  Dad was standing in the bathroom, holding onto the windowsill for support, and I kept asking if he was okay and apologizing for how long it was taking.  He always told me he was fine.  He is 91.  He is a WWII vet.  He can take anything.

So then I flushed the tubes.  First the left one.  I unscrewed the connection, swabbed the ends, and started plunging saline into the smaller tube.  I think I plunged too fast because I had a puddle of saline on the floor.  Not a lot, really, but of course it seemed like Lake Michigan.  I flushed the right side at a slower pace and that worked much better.

And then it was time to redress the wound sites.

Now, when I cook, I get everything ready first.  Get all my ingredients out first, then start putting everything together. 

I should have done the same thing with the dressing supplies, but of course, I didn’t.

So during the whole process I was reaching into bags and rummaging around looking for whatever I needed.  And that was fine with the flushing because there were plenty of swabs and syringes.

I fished around and found the pads that are cut down the middle half way, so you can just slide them up and around the tube and you don’t have to cut them yourself.  And then I went fishing for the plastic tape/covering things I’d seen the hospice nurse use the other day.

I found one.  One.

Oh shit.

I read labels of other mysterious packages of things and tossed them into the sink if they didn’t look like what I needed. 

I got the left one re-dressed with moderate success.

Now what to do with the right side.

I poked around in the bin where I’d put all the band aids and things when I cleaned the bathroom closet earlier in the week, but there was nothing, really, that was big enough or plastic/seep-proof to protect the site. 

What was I going to do?

Now that I’m typing this, I suppose saran wrap or something would have worked, but my brain was only working with the things available in the bathroom, and it was sort of frozen in mild panic, too, so I couldn’t think outside that little box of a room.

So I grabbed a glove and tape.  And yes, I covered the split pad with the palm part of a glove, and taped it on and used enough tape to wrap Christmas gifts for my whole family to make sure that glove stayed in place.  And I taped the fingers down too, for good measure.

I think I’d begun sweating at some point. But the wounds had clean dressings and were covered, so I chose to consider it a success.

I wrapped the bags and tubes in this stretchy thing that’s like a girdle – it holds the bags and tubes against his back so they don’t get caught on anything and so he doesn’t yank them out when he’s fidgety. 

And that was it.

A success, of sorts. 

~~~

Update – when the Hospice nurse called the next day to set up her time, I told her about my little adventure.  She rearranged her schedule and came out sooner rather than later, and told me, when she saw my handiwork, that I was very resourceful.

It’s amazing how much that little bit of feedback did for my self esteem.  What with worrying about and caring for my father, my family, and working, and all the many little things that make up each of those larger categories, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed, drowning at times, under everything that makes up my life right now.  Writing it out – and finding the humor in it – helps tremendously.  My sister and I are doing all we can do to juggle everything, and I am so grateful to have her as my teammate.  I think we mostly just try to keep each other sane. 

I’ll be sharing other bits and pieces of this “new normal” in our lives, partly because if there’s funny stuff, it should be shared, and because I know there are plenty of other people out there – I think we’re referred to as the sandwich generation, taking care of aging parents on one side and children on the other.  Plus spouses – who are going through the same or similar experiences.  Talking – or writing, in my case – keeps the tidal wave in check. 

Before My Very Eyes

“Mom, a bird just took a crap on this window.”

Alex and I are getting into the car.  I am about to drive him to the Little League field where he has played baseball since he was little. 

And shorter.

My little boy is at least two inches taller than I am now.  He wears shoes about a half a size smaller than my husband’s. 

And he doesn’t play Little League baseball any more.  I am bringing him to the field because he is a Jr. Umpire and this will be his first game.

First full game.  He umped (is that a word?  spell check isn’t disputing it, so I’ll leave it) two scrimmages at the field on opening day, this past Saturday.  I only saw part of the second game.  He was behind the plate for the first game, in the field for the second game.

Bill took a picture.  I was too cold to.

It was surreal, watching that part of that game.

Bill and I stood back a bit.  Families – parents, grandparents, siblings – of the team in the green shirts filled the bleachers nearby.  We were on the first base side.  Some parents had brought their own chairs.  Tiny little brothers and sisters screeched and chased in and around the adults.

The ballplayers were tiny, too, at least to us.  Our little boy looked…well, he looked like an adult in comparison. 

And Bill and I looked at each other with similar shell-shocked expressions on our faces.  And we said things like “Look how little they are!” and “He’s so tall next to them!” and “Once upon a time he was little like them!” We didn’t know any of the parents.  Our kids were older than theirs.  We did not overlap.

Cue “Sunrise, Sunset.”

But it’s true.  And unbelievable, a bit. 

All this time has passed, from tiny ball player in an over-sized tee shirt to tall junior umpire in his blue shirt that fits just right.

I only closed my eyes for a second, and this happened.

~~~

His voice is deeper, too.  That still startles me when I call his phone and this…this man’s voice answers.  I think, for a fragment of a fraction of a second now, who is answering Alex’s phone??  And then…good lord, it’s Alex.

He’s a teenager.  Not just a just-turned-thirteen teenager, when I could still sort of pretend to myself that he was twelve and therefore still really just a kid, but a going-on-fourteen, it’s for real, there’s no pretending otherwise, teenager.

It’s…weird.

At times I wonder where my sweet little boy went.  Because, let’s be honest, teenagers aren’t all that sweet all the time.  There’s hormones and emotions and the embarrassing fact that one has parents who are inclined to be around and sometimes even talk to you in front of your friends.  It’s not easy being thirteen going on fourteen.  Or the mother of one.

And yet, my sweet little boy is still in there.  I see him peek out.  Sometimes he even comes all the way out to hang with me and watch tv, or tell me, excitedly, about the possum he saw in our neighbor’s yard the other night, right on the other side of the driveway! 

In addition to the sweet little boy and the sometimes moody teen, I see a compassionate young man who watches and takes things in and thinks and has empathy.  The little boy had this, and as he transforms into taller and deeper-voiced versions of himself, he carries these good things with him.

~~~

My father is 91.  He has early dementia.  Sometimes it’s okay, sometimes he decides he needs to go somewhere and sets off (on foot, we don’t let him drive any more), without really remembering where he thinks he is supposed to go.  It is just another chapter in all our lives, but Alex hadn’t really experienced his grandfather’s new dimension until one morning when I brought him down to visit my father early one Saturday morning. 

Dad didn’t remember Alex’s name.

Not at first. 

Adults aren’t supposed to forget who their grandchildren are, much less their names, right?

A bit of an eye opener. 

And about a week after that, Alex asked if we could take Papa – my dad – out to breakfast, if he was still able to do that sort of thing. 

It was one of those filled-with-pride moments, you know?  It was sweet and kind and sensitive.

And we did – Alex, Julia and I took my dad out to eat at his favorite breakfast place in town, and we had fun.  Basically fun means Dad and my kids seem to conspire to drive me crazy, and then they all laugh at me.

I loved it.

~~~

On Saturday, when the scrimmage was done and Alex and the other Jr. Umpire were crossing the field, I started walking toward the gate next to the dugout.

And then I stopped.

Sometimes I remember when I was that age.  I didn’t want my parents around either.  I certainly didn’t want them smothering me in any way.  (Unless, of course, I did want them around, smothering me.  Not that I would admit it.  Much.)  So I paused, away from the gate, and waited.

Alex and the other umpire came out, walked toward me and yes, I started walking toward them and Alex kind of only made eye contact with me with about a quarter of one eyeball, the other kid walked away to wherever he needed to go, and Alex asked if I had any money because he was hungry.

Of course.

And I said something about it would have been polite to introduce me to his friend (and ohmygod I sound like someone’s annoying mother!) and he said I had this big MOM SMILE on my face like I was all proud of my little boy, and so he didn’t want to.

Oops.

I told him my face was frozen like that because it was so cold.

We got burgers from the snack bar and drove home.

~~~

Today is his first day working with a regular adult umpire.  We didn’t know the name of this person or where they were supposed to meet, but at least umpires wear umpire uniforms, so they’re kind of easy to spot.

We pulled into the parking lot and I asked Alex if he wanted me to wait a little bit.

I was completely prepared to be dismissed, but no, he said yeah, maybe a couple minutes, okay? and I said sure.

I sat and watched him jog across the grass and over to the ball field.  He introduced himself to the umpire and I saw them shake hands.

And the goofy, MOMSMILING sappy part of my brain, the one doing the cinematography, watched him jog away from the car in my mind over and over, the scene slightly fuzzy, with a swell of tear-jerking music playing in my ears, and it was like my little boy was jogging across the grass and growing up right before my sappy, annoying, MOMSMILING eyes.

~~~

So I came home and typed this.