Tuesday, May 27, 2014

home sweet home

Like most people who are approaching the downhill side of their lives, or who have already gone over that edge, we are faced with some hard decisions
about how to live and where to live the remainder of our lives. We have lived in our house for over forty years so contemplating moving away from here is painful enough. Actually making such a move would be grossly traumatic. We have , over the years completely remodeled, redecorated (several times), and nursed this edifice through a number of potentially catastrophic ordeals. We have poured our hearts and souls into making this house our home. I should say, OUR HOME.
So it has been an unsettling experience we've inflicted on ourselves over the past couple weeks. We somehow came to the realization that as we get older the house and yard that we worked so hard on keeps getting bigger and harder to handle. So we did what thousands of others in our position have done. We seriously started looking for a new place to live that would be easier to live in (no stairs to climb to get to the bedroom), easier to clean (read "smaller") with a yard that would be easier to maintain (grass cutting, hedge trimming, shrub pruning, leaf raking and blowing, snow shoveling the walkways and snowblowing the long and wide driveway.) In other words we have been looking at our conviction that condominiums as a viable substitute for our beloved house.
The more we look, the more condos we see, the stronger our conviction that condos are overpriced apartments for which the gods of housing exact a monthly tribute on top of the bank's usurious mortgage rates. No condo we have seen has anywhere near the feeling of being HOME. They offer less than we now have for twice the money we are able to afford or are willing to pay. We have come to the conclusion that we are better off staying here and hiring the help we will eventually need to maintain our home. Rather than throwing money away on a place we could never call home, we have decided to stay put where we are happy and content.

No more losing sleep agonizing over the decision to sell and move or to stay where we belong. I have been breathing easier since we came to our senses and abandoned the ludicrous condo idea. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Who said technology is supposed to make our lives better? It does, I guess, when it works. Getting it to work is the wrench in the cogs of the machine. Most new devices in the parade of new products that never ends, do have a positive effect on our lives when they act as advertised.  But anytime you hear that all you have to do is plug it in and you're ready to go, it's a lie meant to get you hooked. 

This isn't meant to be a diatribe against all the electronic devices that we've come to depend on. I,m as guilty as anyone when it comes to lusting after the next big thing. I'm writing this on my new iPad while listening to Dylan on my new smart TV that's streaming music from Pandora. But how I got to this point is an example of the "plug it in and go" bogus claim that prevails in the electronic marketplace. 

We recently bought a new TV that the salesman said would practically jump up and hang itself on the wall, plug itself in, start the movie playing, and add extra butter to the popcorn.  We were naive enough to believe him.  Of course the installation process was far more complicated than that because we didn't have all the latest software in our surround sound system or in our cable connection.  See, they don't tell you at the store that you will need to update the software on everything electronic within the four county metro area in order to use your new TV. So what should have been relatively simple took nearly 6 hours of trial and error with cables and wires and connecters until we stumbled on to the right combination of cables and wires and connecters.  

From now on when I have to replace some electronic device, I will know not to believe all the outrageous claims of simplicity that spew from the lying con men who prey on the innocent consumers who only want to buy something that won't take a degree in electrical engineering to hook up, that won't require a platoon of geeks tripping over each other's pocket protectors to find the correct slot that fits the cable that was supposed to be in the bag of cables but is missing for some unknown reason, and eventually works as advertised.  

Saturday, May 03, 2014

a losing battle

I was reminded today of how much I've lost to a formidable foe.  After ten years of battle with Parkinsons Disease, it is readily apparent that I certainly haven't won many of the skirmishes in our war.  If you count just maintaining position as a mark in the "win" column, then I'm not too far behind.  But it seems that the position I'm maintaining is getting weaker and weaker.

Today my son called on me for help with tearing down an old wood playset in his backyard in preparation for a new one due to be installed in a week or two. I spent the better part of twenty years designing and building decks, so being a carpenter outside working with my tools building something is as natural to me as is a mechanic working inside his garage using his tools to rebuild carburator.  I was in my element, happily sawing and hammering.  My son was there alongside me working. What more could I want?

How about some stamina?  Some energy? Some more muscle control?  Those are the things that over the past ten years I've lost and continue to lose more of everyday.  These days, if I can realize three to four hours of productive time a day in my workshop, I consider that a winning day in the PD war.  Unfortunately those days are getting more and more difficult to find. I keep falling farther and farther behind.  Maybe I'll get more of the motivation that kept me working today. Helping my son and working along side of him is a strong push in the right direction.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

music education

Lately I’ve been feeling so much more sophisticated than I have any right to be. For years we’ve intended to attend a performance of the symphony because that seemed like something sophisticated people do.  We always managed to find an excuse not to go.  The cost of the tickets was usually the main reason that we stayed home instead of entering that new world of sophistication.  But the symphony has had a special low cost series of concerts intended to lure new fans into the concert hall.  There went our excuse.

It’s not that I don’t like classical music.  It’s just that I don’t really understand what I’m hearing when I do listen.  I don’t know one composer from another.  I don’t know the various eras represented by the music.  Who came first, Bach or Beethoven? Where does Mozart fit in the long scheme of things? I am intimidated by all the music I don’t know. So to avoid the embarrassment of my educational lapse I stay away from anywhere where a discussion of the Romantic period or the  decline of the clavichord might break out and suck me into the black hole of my ignorance.

 But now I have discovered that my ignorance of all things classical is really no handicap.  I’ve found that if I just sit back and let the full force of the live  orchestra’s sound wash over me  I can lose myself in the music and enjoy it the way the composer, whoever he may be, intended.  There is really nothing sophisticated about it. The music is the same whether you are formally dressed in a tuxedo or wearing your faded blue jeans. 

 Now that I’ve put aside my fears of the symphonic experience nothing will keep me away from the concert hall. Except maybe those high ticket prices.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

back pain or pain in the butt

A couple days ago I strained my back while lifting and moving some heavy boxes in the basement.  I’ve done that before—lifting heavy objects improperly-- with the same result so I should know better.  You know how they always tell you to lift with your legs and not with your back?  Well, I’m not good at following advice, especially really good advice. Consequently, I hurt my back.
There has been a lot of moaning and groaning and grimaces since that incident.  All of it by me. I have to play up the hurt –even exaggerate a little-in order to get the sympathy I so richly deserve.  Unfortunately, my whining has fallen on mostly deaf ears. I think se may be onto my act. But not to worry, I have a few cards up my sleeve to play whenever I need to pump up the sympathy meter.  There’s the frightened gasp that escapes me whenever I rise from a chair and momentarily lose my balance and fall/sit back down. That always gets her attention and elicits a few “be carefuls” and offers to help me get up. I can usually count on an offer to take my arm whenever I employ the feeble old man act. And there’s always the reliable PD shuffle if I want to sit in a wheelchair and be chauffeured around instead of having to walk. Soft and nearly inaudible whimpering in a corner of the next room is sometimes good for “what’s wrong, Baby.” Since I have a compromised sense of balance her antennae twitch anytime I approach a stairway. If I really want to get her riled up I can “stumble “ on the stairs.  The coup de grace would be an actual tumble down those steps. That’ll boost the sympathy quotient off the charts.
I just wish I could get all that attention and sympathy without actually hurting myself.  I haven’t quite figured that part out.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

trust and stuff

Yesterday we, Mary and I, met with an estate planning attorney to get a new trust established to deal with the consequences of our inevitable demise.  The meeting ran smoothly and most of our questions were answered, so now all that’s left is the paperwork.

But it all seems so trivial.  Here we are, deciding what to do with all the “stuff” we’ve accumulated over the past 45 years.  Stuff that has meaning and value, both fiscal and emotional, to us, but, except for rare instances, means squat to our heirs.  By designating certain objects to go to particular individuals, we are hoping that they will cherish and appreciate them as we did and add to the continuum of family heirlooms.  At the same time I know that styles change, taste and sophistication change, and our valued stuff becomes their trash.  In trying to do right by them, we will have burdened them with the task of disposal of all our treasures that they don’t want and probably won’t need. 

I think a better way to do this is to let them take whatever they want and agree on and sell the rest or donate what might be useful to others.  Selling as much as possible puts more money in the kitty to be divided among them and relieves them of the burden of accepting stuff they don’t want.  Of course, all this conjecturing assumes that Mary and I are going to drop dead at the same time, and real soon, before we have the chance to use all those assets by living too long.

What I hope we can pass on to our children and grandchildren, that will mean more than all the stuff, is our value system and sense of respect for others. The intangibles that we leave them with, our living example of how to conduct a good life, are our most prized possessions.  How can we put that into the trust?

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

another miracle

While cradling my three week old granddaughter I was once again amazed that this little jumble of  bone and muscle and nerve could be arranged so  perfectly into the purest  of miracles.  That she might one day be fully grown and have a little miracle of her own to wonder at, just compounds the amazement.  The circle of life continues. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014


The sun was shining, the temperature was over 50 degrees, and even though there are still a few desperate clumps of last winter’s thigh high drifts in the north side shadows, there was no doubt that Spring was winning the battle of the seasons.  It was impossible to stay inside with such alluring conditions calling my name to join in the annual dance of Spring’s arrival. So I stuck my nose out the door to test the air, judging whether all that sunshine was an illusion.

One of the year’s annual joys is venturing out into the yard for the first inspection of the grounds after the long, long winter. The grass is still brown and matted and seemingly lifeless, but, as experience has shown, that will change. The shrubs have yet to show any new buds, but, as experience has shown, that, too, will change. The evergreens are showing some unusual damage due to the exceptionally cold winter and early freeze last Fall, but, as experience has shown, they will, in time, recover and be green once again. That Spring is really exerting its will is fully evident in the south side flower gardens where the sun’s heat is especially inviting.  With the sun’s heat intensified by reflecting off the stone of the house wall, the soil warms much earlier than anywhere else in the yard, resulting in the appearance of tender new shoots of crocus.  The tulips and daffodils won’t be far behind.

After picking up an armload of sticks broken off the trees during those months of dormancy and dragging the rake over the messiest sections of lawn to get rid of the clumps of leaves and other detritus deposited there during the winter months, the yard looks so much neater and under control, ready for another green season. 

Once the grass greens up and the trees have budded out in the warming weather, the sense of renewal will be complete. Every year the same sequence occurs and the reaffirmation of life is once again presented for our enjoyment. Today was just the first indication that we are back at the beginning of our annual seasonal dance. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

upsets, upsets, upsets

Upsets, upsets, upsets.  That’s what I love about March Madness. There is so much parity in college basketball that any team can rise to the occasion and have the game of its life. # Fourteen seed Mercer will be bragging about its win over #3 seed Duke well into the next millennium. Ohio St, a #6 seed, will be talking about it’s game against #11 Dayton for that same millennium,  but they won’t be bragging. The scholarly student athletes of Stanford and Harvard play for schools that are hardly considered basketball powerhouses, but they took their noses out of their books long enough to win their first games,. Another 12 seed, N. Dakota St., ventured out of the Badlands and slapped the #5 Okies  back into their dustbowl.  And the list goes on.  Half way through the round of 64, I was betting that there would be more of those upsets along the way.  I sure hope so.  Seeing the range of emotions, from the delirious euphoria of the “little guys” to the stunned stare of disbelief on the faces of the vanquished assumed better team, make this annual event the best theater of the year and I love every minute of it. 

another day, another doctor

Another day, another doctor.  For the past two months or so I have been having recurring bouts of nausea and constipation and cramping with the occasional surprise of diarrhea thrown in.  Not a very pleasant subject, but one that I bet bedevils a lot more people than who will admit to having such problems.  The cause of this change in my bodily functions is a mystery.  But there are a few suspects that have cropped (or should I say crapped up) up during my several visits to the doctors who are supposed to have all the answers.

My first thought was that the difficulty I was having was due to the various Parkinsons Disease medications that I take every day. Recently we had changed the strength and frequency of the doses of the carbadopa/livadopa that is the mainstay of my battle against this disease.  But the neurologist who treats me for this insidious condition was quite adamant that having such a reaction to the meds now, after having taken them for 10 years, is likely not the culprit causing the current disfunction in my body.  His instinct was to look elsewhere for the cause.  One usable and reasonable suggestion was that I take an OTC laxative to see if that would stop the constant constipation. He also gave me a prescription for a nausea relief medicine that is usually used for patients undergoing cancer treatment. I am willing to try anything at this point.

The symptoms all became too much for me last week (see the previous post “a long day”) and Mary took me to the ER to get some help last Monday. Then on Tuesday I had a follow up appointment with my primary doc who decided that he would send me to a gastroenterologist for his take on my problem.  That GI doc now has me on a colonoscopy prep to clean me out so that we can start with a clean bowel.  He said once we get to that point we can adjust whatever medicines I take and address the issue of diet to avoid the same thing happening again.  Sounds reasonable to me. So tomorrow I will do that cleansing and hopefully get some much needed relief.  

Thursday, March 27, 2014

a long day

What a long day yesterday.  And not a particularly good one.  I have had some stomach problems plaguing me for the past couple months.  Well, yesterday I was so cramped up and sick with this condition that I was barely able to walk from my chair to the bathroom (where I hoped the remedy would lie).  By 2:00 PM Mary was so tired of hearing me moan and groan and carry on like the sissy I deny being, that she hauled my sorry carcass to the emergency room at the hospital.  By this time I had already seen three doctors about this nausea and constipation and constant bloated feeling with no tangible results.  I didn’t expect to find a remedy at the ER, but was hoping for some kind of treatment that might ease my discomfort. 
But before they could begin any treatment I had a massive panic attack that must have convinced them that something was actually wrong with this guy who merely complained of a stomachache. Mary conjured up a Valium from her purse (her purse has everything a person could ever want or need.  One time she pulled a hammer and an anvil out of there. I swear it’s true) and pushed it down my throat like you would feed a pill to a dog. I didn’t ask where the Valium came from. I don’t want to know. But it did calm me down so the nurse could hook me up to an IV, to get me hydrated. That IV must have had some kind of magic ingredients mixed into the concoction because the panic attack was calmed and I returned to being the benign lovable person we all strive to be.
Panic attack, you’re wondering.  What’s that all about?  It seems I have a really strong aversion to hospitals and medical personnel. Ambulances scare the bejeezus out of me.  But what it really is is a reaction to being helpless and controlled while knowing something is wrong with me that I don’t want to be.  As soon as I get put on a bed and the medical people start doing their thing I go all rigid and start breathing fast and shallow and then I start to shake uncontrollably while clenching my teeth and making unearthly noises.  Possessed would be a good way to describe it.  This has happened three times before, all in medical situations.  It scares the crap out of me and embarrasses me because all those people are watching me make spectacle of myself.  Of course my Parkinson’s symptoms are exacerbated by all this and so they kick in, adding wild dyskenesia to the mix.  It’s not a pretty sight and not a lot of fun to go through. 

Anyway, the ER doc ordered a CAT-SCAN of my stomach and the surrounding organs.  I had had an ultrasound done on the same area just a few days ago, but it wasn’t clear enough to show any great detail.  Naturally, hospital tests never get done in the now.  Expediency is not part of the job description.  So we waited.  By this time, the supper hour had long passed, Mary was whining about the famine she was suffering, and we had been there for around seven hours, or long enough to get to know the entire ER staff, their names, their birthdays, their political leanings (4 Democrats, Three Republicans, two Independants, and a couple of guys who could have been Birchers, and some refusers to commit), whether they wore boxers or briefs (men) and bra sizes (women, and one questionable), all of their children’s names and vital statistics as well. There was Mark, John, Sharon, Shannon (I always get those two mixed up), Al, Betty, Art, Mike, Stephanie, …..you get the picture.  They finally wheeled me into the room with the necessary machinery and spent all of five minutes dissecting, ressecting, and doing some other mumbo-jumbo technical stuff that only an alien could understand. Then we had to sit patiently as patients for the results to be read by a radiologist in some remote corner of the world via computer (there was no one with the necessary credentials on staff at this hospital.)  I pictured an Indian named Patel sitting cross legged on a prayer mat in the Mumbai market, playing a flute with both hands intent on mesmorizing a swaying cobra while punching computer keys with his dusty toes to the rhythem of a  twanging sitar played by his cousin Kanu.  The CAT-SCAN images were read by the guy in the next tent who had the computer.
Finally the results of all that technology were delivered to the ER doc who then delivered them to us.  Everything was normal.  According to that report I am the healthiest human male in the four county metro area.  I quote:
Lymph nodes:  unremarkable
Hepatobiliary:  unremarkable
Spleen:  unremarkable
Pancreas:  unremarkable
Adrenals:  unremarkable
Kidneys:  unremarkable
Vascular:  unremarkable
Bowel:  unremarkable
Mesentery:  unremarkable
Bladder:  unremarkable
Ureters:  unremarkable
Bones: unremarkable
Reproductive organ: incredible, fantastic, an
                                  amazing specimen to be
                                  used as the gold standard of
                                  reproductive organs through-
                                  out the known world.
Other:  unremarkable

We eventually were released from custody and made it home having discovered that I was feeling no different or wiser than before we got there. My stomach problems are still a stomach problem.  The nausea in my stomach resisted any attempt to quell it.  I felt like crap when I got there and I felt like crap when I left there.  The only difference was that I was more tired and discouraged than ever.  And then the fun began.
We got home around 9:00 PM feeling defeated and ready to crash.  When we opened the door we heard a chirping sound coming from somewhere in the house.  The noise was familiar but not immediately identifiable.  As I walked into the living room the chirp became louder and definitely identifiable.  It was either the smoke detector at the top of the stairs or the carbon monoxide detector around the corner in the hallway.  I hurried as best I could, which is none too fast, up the stairs to find what the ruckus was about. It wasn’t the smoke detector.  The carbon monoxide detector was causing the commotion. 
We had a carbon monoxide event back in the late eighties that we discovered just in time to get us out of the house before any of us was overcome.  Still, Mary and I and both kids spent the rest of the day in the hospital with oxygen masks pumping clean air into our bodies. I immediately flashed back to that incident and yelled for Mary to open the front door and call 911.  I could swear I was feeling woozy and lightheaded while standing in the hallway upstairs. I crouched down to pull the detector out of the electrical socket to stop the alarm and when I stood back up I nearly fainted.  I stumbled and bounced off the walls and nearly fell to the floor with my head dizzy and my eyes seeing stars.  I stumbled down the stairs and went to the front door, which Mary had opened to let in fresh air, expecting to find her out on the front porch safely out of the house.  But she was blithely wandering around the house turning on lights and hanging up our coats as if all was normal.  She said she didn’t smell anything so she thought everything was all right.  I had to explain to her that carbon monoxide has no odor.  That is why it is so dangerous.  She did do what I had asked her to do though, which was to call 911.  I was convinced that we had narrowly escaped a tragedy when I heard the sweet sound of sirens getting louder and louder, the flashing lights of the emergency vehicles visible blocks away and heading in our direction.
The response was overwhelming.  A big ol’ firetruck, an ambulance and two cop cars were spread down the block, all there just for me.  And of course for Mary too. The EMTs headed into the house to inspect it and test for the poison gas.  Two of the responders stayed outside on the porch with me asking if I was all right.  That’s when the second panic attack of the day hit me. As I sat on the porch steps shivering in the cold, I went all rigid and started shaking uncontrollably.  Then they hauled the gurney out of the ambulance and headed my way with it.  I’ve already told you how ambulances make me feel so now I started breathing faster and faster and got into full panic mode.  That was the worst one ever.  They strapped me down on the gurney and rolled me toward the ambulance.  The way I was acting they thought I was having a seizure or some kind of strange reaction to the events around me.  Mary finally came out to the ambulance to explain to the paramedics that I was in full panic mode and that she would shove another Valium down my throat and all would be fine.  So she did.  And I calmed down.  And then they explained that the house was clear and safe with no trace of carbon monoxide detectable.  The alarm was faulty and was giving a false alarm.  My near faint and stumbling around was caused by my crouching down to pull the alarm and then standing up quickly, making my  blood pressure drop.  That drop in blood pressure was caused not only by my sudden rise but also due to the fact that I had not eaten all day.  The paramedics and their cohort were incredibly kind and understanding when they helped me back into the house, assuring me that all would be fine now.  And it was. 
How’s that for an interesting Monday?  Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you about….but that’s another story for another day…