I had a wonderful, relaxing weekend.  No one else in my family did.

I was away and SOB wanted to protect me from the weekly crisis.

On Friday afternoon, ULOB was not answering his phone.  POULOB, panicked, called SOB.  SOB ran to ULOB’s fourth floor walk up in Hell’s Kitchen (where he lives in voluntary squalor).  She found him, half dead.  He had tripped on a cord and probably grabbed for the chair (with piles of stuff on it) and brought everything down on top of him.

SIDEBAR:  We had been begging him to use LifeAlert for so long.  But he is stubborn and independent.  You could buy him every gadget in the work and he won’t crack open the box, let alone wear it.  He doesn’t use an umbrella when it rains.  Why? “My father never did.”

ULOB had been lying there for quite a while (based on the level of dehydration).  Had SOB not gotten there when she did . . . .  Well, let’s just say that she found him in the nick of time.

SIDEBAR:  What a difference a day makes.  His friend Frank spoke to him on Thursday afternoon.  By Friday afternoon, his world had changed.  

SOB “unburied” him, got him water, and called an ambulance. She called BOB (who was in town, taking the Dad call) to meet her.  SOB rode in the ambulance.  BOB and POULOB came later.

Still, SOB did not call me.  She wanted me to have a fun weekend in Boston.  Even if she was left to deal with ULOB while the other adults were kicking back with cold ones.  Even holding back the the gross details of what happened to the urine-soaked pants, and ULOB’s aspiration of gross smoker’s phlegm.

Saturday afternoon, I turned my phone off after seeing my college friends.  I really wanted to disconnect a little.  What could happen in 12 hours?  Hell, I didn’t even know about the last 24 hours.

But during those 12 hours, when I went off the grid, that’s REALLY when SOB needed me.

ULOB worsened significantly as the pneumonia took hold and needed a ventilator.    Thank G-d for HOSOB who anchored SOB and kept ULOB entertained.

Sunday morning, the hotel phone woke me.  POB, who was having her own nightmarish weekend tending to her much-diminished and ornery father, called and said, “Call your sister.  It is not your Dad.”

I called SOB and got the download.  I hopped into my car and drove straight to the hospital.

When I arrived, ULOB was on the ventilator but he was alert, hungry and cranky.  In reasonable shape, all things considered.  We will take the future day by day.

Strong work, SOB.  From now on, I will sleep with my phone beside my ear.  I will never let you go through an episode like this again without me right next to you.

Hairless and Fearless Part II

(For Part I, see:  http://40andoverblog.com/?p=5058)

This weekend, I saw my dear friend who has cancer.

SIDEBAR:  I would say, “had,” but I am too superstitious. There is still radiation, to eradicate any stray cells.

I had arranged to drive up to her house in late April, but I got sick.  And no one who is a friend goes, when sick, to see someone undergoing chemo.  And I knew that to battle my friend’s cancer, the doctors were taking out the big “chemo” guns.  The remedy would eradicate the cancer, but she had to survive the remedy.  I worried every day about that.  (The perils of having a doctor in the family.)

This weekend, the stars aligned.  She finished chemo; I am healthy; and she has a break before radiation therapy to make sure the “big guns” got it all.

I drove to the suburbs of Boston.  I was early, so I parked a street away and let my thoughts run wild — through the fears of what chemo had done to her body; through the fervent belief that my friend would be there, just as she always was, although maybe a little paler, a little weaker, and little less hair; through everything in between.

I waited 30 minutes, and still I was early.  I couldn’t wait anymore.  I pulled up to the house.  Her husband and I hugged.

“She’s upstairs resting.  I’ll get her.”

NOOOoooooooooooooooooooo!!!!!  Let her rest!!”

Very soon afterward, my friend comes down the stairs.  Thinner.  With a head scarf.  But, same smile.  Same beautiful eyes.  My friend.   An indomnitable spirit and with a certain grace that even poison cannot kill.

Letty Pogrebin’s article about her friend’s fight with cancer prepared me for the difference in my friend’s appearance.  I knew to focus on the windows to my friend’s essence — her smile and her eyes.

And then she took off her scarf and showed me that her hair was growing back.  I ran my hands over the short growth.  It was good to feel softness.  The regrowth process started gently.  I was glad to think that recovery might be as gentle and kind from here on out.

And she is beautiful without hair.  And she was relaxed and happy to laugh and recount some of the crazy, Seinfeld-like, stories of various people’s reactions.  And eager to listen about the crazy stuff in my life and in Soeur J’s life. Soeur J lives not too far and rearranged her schedule to match mine (thank you).

We had a fun, funny visit.  But it was too soon time to go.

I told my friend not to wait for me to pull away because I had to input GPS coordinates back to Boston.

In truth, I needed to let the tears stream down.

Tears? Of gratitude that my friend survived chemo.  Of gratitude for her and Soeur J’s friendship.  Of gratitude that I, a healthy person, and my friend could look each other in the eyes and be grateful for the moment, the years of friendship, and an abiding love.

Radiation starts on Wednesday.  Keep my friend in your thoughts and prayers.

My morning with Bessie and other things in a random day

I am sick (with the flu) and have been home almost all week.  The problem with being home (besides cabin fever) is that you notice every imperfection in your house, every age spot on your legs and those barely perceptible (to the naked eye) and asymmetrical droops in your breasts.

I was feeling pretty ok this morning.  And I needed to get out of the house.  And I was despondent over missing a Soeur reunion in Cancun.  And my bras didn’t provide the necessary level of support.  So, off I schlepped to the local mecca for women’s undergarments.  This is the place where, for decades (until her death), the Dowager Countess of Ladies’ Undergarments would cup your breasts in her hands and yell out a size and style and point you to one of the dressing rooms.  And if she determined that your current bra was ill-fitting, she would pitch a loud fit.  You had to have self-esteem or you needed to be high to deal with her.  I never went while the Dowager was alive.

POB and I went to here to get our undergarments of steel for our wedding dresses.  Bessie, an older Southern woman, helped us.  She noted that day that I was wearing “some kinda ratty bra.”  http://40andoverblog.com/?p=4354

Today, I walked in and saw Bessie and strode straight for her and said, “you helped me with my wedding undergarments and I promised I would be back and here I am.”

“I remember you.  You was with a friend and you was both gettin’ married.”

“To each other,” I  responded, gently.

“You had a ratty bra that day, I’ll tell yoooooo.”

Sidebar:  OKOKOKOKOKOKOKOKOK, really?  She remembered?  And I was here to rectify that.  I was thinking that I wasn’t feeling better; I was just delirious.  And why do you think I don’t go bra (other than sports bra) shopping often, huh?  A little humiliation every other decade or so lasts a looooooong time.

I spent 90 minutes topless in a dressing room that others had no problem entering at will.  I must have tried on 30 bras.

Bessie commented on each:  “Now that one make you almost look perky!” “You don’t fill that up anymaw.  Betcha you did once!”  “Now, that is a beautiful cup on you!!

“But, Bessie, it is electric blue!!!”

“It don’t matter what color it is.  A good fittin’ bra is a good fittin’ bra.  You don’t turn your nose at a good fittin’ bra.  Not when we’s our age!!”

Pause.  We are NOT the same age.  I may be going on 50 but she is 70.  Wow, I really was delirious.

“I’ll jest put this in the buy pile.”  She walked away.  Ten bras (of varying colors; some electrically so, some not) later, she went to find matching bottoms.  I prevailed on nixing the dull blue and brown striped one that was almost like a bikini top.

“You a full-cut or a thong type?” She yelled for everyone to hear.  Of course, the entire conversation was for everyone to hear.

“How about we look at the matching bottoms and then I will decide.”

Bessie packed up all the things she decided I needed, less the bra that I would not, could not, buy.  “Now, send your friend on in here, hear?”

Wow, I needed a long snooze.

POB and SOS were doing G-d’s work, by having lunch with my Dad, so I could rest.  Or be delirious, whatever.

We arrived home at the same time and had a little rest hour.  And then POB and SOS set about making a cheesecake for SOS’s friend who is recovering from serious back surgery.  Our hearts were on standby to be broken if anything went wrong.  An 11 year-old’s undergoing serious back surgery is a parent’s every nightmare.  He came through like the champion he is.   And he wanted cheesecake.  “Then, give the boy a cheesecake,” said (and did) POB and SOS.

So we all hovered in the kitchen while POB did most of the heavy-lifting, SOS helped a little and I helped not at all.

SIDERBAR:  Hey, there needs to be a slacker in every family.  I proudly claim that mantel.  In fact, I “gold-medal” in it, without the need for performance enhancement drugs.  (It is a non-performing sport.)

Then SOS remembered that Cousin Gentle and he are going to visit a Sikh enclave in Queens tomorrow and he needed to learn, “hello”, “good bye” and “thank you” in Punjabi by tomorrow.  Cousin Gentle sent a link to a primer on Punjabi.

So, now, I sit in a warm kitchen with wonderful smells wafting through the air, blogging about my day and over-hearing my son practice words in Punjabi.

Yes, yes, I must be delirious.


More on role reversal

My daily mantra:  “It is what it is”.  Nope, not the serenity prayer.  Serenity doesn’t accomplish the gritty tasks of daily life.  And the serenity prayer implies I am good with the some of the things that children or nieces and nephews should never have to know about their elders.

First, family secrets are meant to be kept secret.  That is why they were secrets in the first place.  Because no one would understand and the younger generation would be saddened.  Not horrified (because this is 2013) but saddened about these lives as they had to be lived.  (No, I am not talking about Dad.  OTHER relatives in our care.)

The list of things I don’t need to know about my relatives (not my Dad):

  • that the bed linen was changed some time in the early part of the last century;
  • that elders can continue live in filth, even if they are part of “good families” and fight change;
  • that testosterone levels are low (ok, this is a good thing); and
  • every little detail about urinary tract and colon activity, with visuals.

Now comes the mantra:  “It is what it is.”

And SOB and I are the new sheriffs in town and so we need to invoke base level sanitary standards, base level responsiveness to our calls (other than just in times of crisis), and full capitulation to our will and our loving vision of how they will live out the remainder of their lives.  Because, although they didn’t ask for it (exactly), they understand that they need us.

Here is my bottom line:

If I need to know family secrets that disgust me and deal with facts on the ground that gross me out, there is a quid pro quo: Disobey SOB’s and my benevolently despotic decrees at your peril.

Because “it is what it is” is more than a phrase to live by; it is a threat AND a promise.


Things I learned today (and Phoenix was awesome)

I learned why the health care debate is bullshit.  It is sterile and removed from reality.

When a family member is ill and you cannot care for him or her, you must rely on strangers.  Strangers are not always reliable; not because they don’t want to do their jobs but because there are so many in need that your loved one is not necessarily the first on the list.

So, health care is flawed.  It is a morass.  It is frustrating.  It isn’t the well-intentioned attendant’s fault; it isn’t the overwhelmed agency’s fault; it isn’t the government’s fault.  (Sure there are bad people out there, but let’s discount that factor for a moment.)  Illness is at fault.  It is a problem that we are not all health care professionals who can leave our jobs to care for our loved ones.   Forget Federal Medical Leave Act during bad economic times.  Most people are too scared that there will be some other pretext for the employer to fire them.

When you delegate, you lose control of the outcome.  That is why there was poison in toothpaste imported from China.  That is why we throw away electronics when they stop working because it is cheaper to buy new than to fix the old.

People don’t fit into an economic model.  There is value in keeping people healthy; there is joy in adding quality to the waning years.  There is pain when science keeps the body going after the mind and soul have left.

I have lived the cushy private system for only a few days and it is hell.  When a patient can’t help him or herself, then it doesn’t matter who is providing the service.  If you are lucky, you can telecommute and keep an eye on the situation and reassure your loved one, with your words, hell, with just your presence.  But most people are not so lucky.

So, don’t talk to me about vouchers or Medicare or the Great Solution.  When your family member is in need, there are no good answers.


Dad remembered my name today.  He was true to his word last night.  He also remembered a host of other crazy facts and information.  We all thought he earned that scotch tonight with his hors d’oeuvres.  (Ok, let’s be honest, club soda with a splash of the good stuff.)  Clap if you agree.  (Yes, we hear you.  Thanks.)

Don’t bet against Phoenix.  He is roaring from the ashes.

What life holds in store for us

I am usually snarky or maudlin or kumbaya in my posts.

But sometimes I am stopped in my tracks.

I have written before that my family is like a clan if you look at my parent’s generation of brothers (referred to as “The Five Brothers”) and my generation of cousins (we refer to ourselves as “The Cousins”). The children of The Cousins are less tied to the clan as a whole and while some are close to some of The Cousins (who are not uncles or aunts) and the last of the The Five Brothers, many are not.

The day before Thanksgiving, the son — whom I don’t know at all — of one of The Cousins was diagnosed with brain cancer.  He is 35 years old and has two little kids.  He had surgery and is undergoing treatment.

At 35, he probably knows that life likely doesn’t hold old age and grandchildren in store for him.  Probably life won’t allow him to see his children grow to tweenage, let alone adulthood.  I hope he beats the odds and life holds all those things for him, along with happiness and love and peace.

Some days you just have to stop, bow your head and be grateful for life, family and shelter — the basics.  And then, whether or not you believe in G-d, you have to pray for people like my cousin.

My mother’s words . . .

“My poor baby, if I could have it for you, I would!”

My Mom would say this in a soothing voice whenever one of her children was sick, be it mind, spirit or body.  I say that now to my son whenever appropriate.  And I mean it, for all loving and nurturing, yet practical, goal oriented reasons.

My son had an upset stomach last night (no fever or other symptoms).  He started feeling sick at 9pm when he was already in bed, at around the same time the Jets were a lost cause and Janet2 was cleaning her kitchen floor (because the Patriots WERE OUT OF CONTENTION — these digressions are getting worse).

POB (partner of blogger) and I dutifully took turns in the night soothing him when he woke up and giving him Children’s Tums.  Because I was just recovering from a thrown-out back at around the same time our son got sick, POB did more turns initially.  Each time he woke up and I went in (and freaked him out by yowling in pain), I would rub his head and back and say Mom’s magic words that always comforted me.  He would eventually drift off for 45 minutes or so. And I would roll out of his bed and crawl to my room so as not to scream in pain and wake him.  Of course, that woke POB, so I probably did more harm than good despite all loving intentions.

3am rolls around and he is up and really, really feeling bad.  I go in, because I know POB has to get up in 2.5 hours and I can stretch my alarm until 8am if necessary.  He is really feeling bad and I say Mom’s magic words and, lo and behold, like a miracle swept in from the sea, he vomits all over me and then runs to the bathroom for the other end of the story, so to speak.

Nothing makes you feel more mom-like than having your child yawn in technicolor all over you.  I cleaned up and started to strip the bed and hose everything down.  (At this point, POB was up and ready to crank up the washer/dryer.)

Our son has a strong stomach for all that to have stayed in for six hours.

I couldn’t help thinking that if he were able to give it to me at 9pm, my system would have expelled everything in 5, maybe 10, minutes and we all would have been happier and all have gotten a good night’s sleep.  Instead, today, our wiped-out son stayed home, I was essentially in traction and POB had to be nursemaid to two babies at once.

Do you think Mom ever had the same thoughts about wanting to be sick instead of us, or am I just a diluted (and deluded) version of her?

All quiet on the Upper West Side

Our son is sick and so POB (partner of blogger) and I have split the task of caring for him so we can have at least a half-day at work.

Sometimes, the delicate balance maintained by two working parents is thrown off and you have to deal.  I was able to be on conference calls and do some work, all the while hugging and kissing my child and saying things my mother would say, “My poor tsatskela, I am so sorry you are sick.  If I could have it for you, I would!”

Our son wanted to watch a nature video on the Grand Canyon.  So, I am watching as a tarantula hawk wasp (as in insect) paralyzes a tarantula (as in huge, hairy and gross) and drags it off so the wasp’s larvae can feed on the tarantula.  Something small dragging something comparatively elephantine is quite extraordinary.  It is also quite disgusting.  But it is better than a SpongeBob SquarePants marathon.  I am grateful for life’s small graces.

Now, the nature show has moved to the effect of human intervention on the natural course of the Grand Canyon on humpback suckerfish and chuckwallises (sp?).  I keep returning to reading proposed model changes to credit agreements made necessary by the lessons (??) learned in the economic downturn.

Suckerfish and chuckwallises are more interesting.  Now, that is a statement.

We are now looking at the ecosystems of the Everglades.  Two many reptiles and I keep thinking of Horatio Caine and CSI: Miami.  This, I can tune out.  Work wins this round.

Happiness is . . . predictability

I was too sick to go to our family 11th night of Hannukah party but I felt like a I was there (http://40andoverblog.com/?p=3114) because, as predicted, my dad did try out his Japanese, my son turned all the bird-nerders on to Chirp, an iTouch app, the latkes were authentic, and Cousin Gentle spent the whole evening talking up the eligible single woman in the room (and of course we have pictures and depending on the number of time she appears in future pictures, we will need to footnote the length and quality of her relationship to the overall clan).

Life is good even though I am still sick as a dog.

Being Sick, part 2

So, I opted to get better and not infect anyone at our family’s 11th night of Hannukah blow-out raging party (average age of party rager:  57 years old).

I called over and spoke to my Dad who was brushing up on his Japanese to speak with HOSOB’s (husband of sister of blogger’s) friend who is Japanese.  Uh oh. I told SOB (sister of blogger) to take action shots and possibly video, if things get really crazy.

More to report later.  Now, back to sleep.