MISSING MONDAY – RICH PASCHALL

If you have been stopping by this space for a while you may recall a series of stories about Harold, the retired planner from the Midwest.  He tried to organize all of his time with care, but life had a way of throwing up little distractions along the way. Then came something he did not plan, a major detour.  Links to the original stories follow this unexpected event:

In Need of a Plan, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

Bill rolled over to take a look at the alarm clock. It was almost 8:30 so he decided to spring into action. He never set the alarm clock. He saw no need. He was retired and had always longed for the time when the alarm clock was not to be used to alarm him out of his sleep. Some days he got up by 7:30 am, other days it was 10. It depended largely on how late he stayed up reading or watching television.

Since he needed to make a call at 9 am, the affable retiree rushed about the house in a rather disorderly fashion, leaving a bit of a mess in his wake. That did not bother him as there would be plenty of time later to clean up the place. Now he was making coffee and giving just the slightest thought as to what he would buy today at the supermarket.

The only thing Bill tried to be punctual at all week was the Monday call to his neighbor, Harold, who lived just a few doors down. The way Bill saw it, old Harold probably relied on the weekly call.

The Midwest planner from down the block seemed to know no one and had little contact with the world. Bill was convinced he was doing Harold a big favor. He did not know exactly how Harold felt about the weekly sojourn to the giant Publix supermarket, however. It must have been a Monday highlight for the newly retired neighbor and new friend.

A very quiet neighborhood
The quiet neighborhood

A quick glance out the window revealed a perfect Florida morning. Bill loved this area of Florida. In honesty, he settled there because the property values were quite depressed in Sarasota County after the big recession, and he got a good deal in a good neighborhood of old timers, like himself.

Now it was time to help out an old guy who needed a friend, so he called Harold on his AARP phone and waited for his tentative voice to respond. Bill was quite amused as he thought of the same surprised tone Harold had each Monday morning when he answered the phone.

Much to the amazement of Bill, there was no response. He let the phone ring a long time before giving up. “I wonder what the old guy is up to this morning,” Bill thought. So he decided to wander down the street and ring Harold’s doorbell.

As he went up the steps to the front door, a voice called out. “You ain’t gonna find no body at home, young man,” Harold’s next door neighbor called out as Bill chuckled to himself. Not too many people referred to him as “young man.” In fact, no one did. He turned around and walked in the direction of a woman who did seem to be a lot older than Bill or Harold.

Mabel Crockett was well into her eighties but still rather spry. She kept up on the neighbors by frequently finding an excuse to do things around the outside of the house. It was unnecessary as there was an Association to deal with maintenance and yard work, but she liked checking up on things.

“So where is old Harold this morning?” Bill asked in a cheery tone.

“They carted him off pretty early, I reckon,” Mabel said in a deep southern drawl.

“What?” an astounded Bill exclaimed.

“Well I ain’t one to meddle in other folks’ affairs,” she lied, “but I seen that Sunday paper still settin’ there on that landing he calls a porch, so I just took a walk over there. In the back I could see he was, uh, just layin’ there on the ground in that screened in patio. So I went on home, dialed 911, and it’s a good thing.”

“Good thing?” Bill questioned.

“Why, he was still breathin’ when they loaded him into that big ol’ ambulance. Leastwise, I think he was still breathing. The young feller drivin’ that big vehicle said he still seemed kinda fresh.”

“Fresh?  That seems a strange way to put it,” Bill said with a rather incredulous tone.

“Well, I guess it was because he couldn’t a been layin’ there too long. Anyways, they said they was taking him over to the general hospital. Right over here a piece,” she said pointing to the south.

“Oh my,” Bill responded with a great deal of concern. He said good-bye to the old woman and rushed to his car.

72-StPete-Pelican_2When he arrived at the general hospital, he went right to the emergency room and inquired about Harold. His questions only got questions in return. “What time did he arrive? What was the problem? Did he come by ambulance or did someone bring him?”

Finally, the woman without the answers invited him to take a seat and someone would come out shortly. By “shortly” she must have meant an hour.

After the long wait, a nurse with a clipboard in hand appeared. “Are you here about the elderly gentlemen who had a stroke?”

“Stroke!” Bill exclaimed as he got all choked up about someone he barely knew.

“Yes,” she said calmly. “Are you the next of kin?”

“No.”

“A relative perhaps?”

“No.”

“Do you know who is next of kin or related somehow?”

“No.”

“Do you know who his doctor is?”

The series of questions went on until Bill finally explained that he was just a neighbor. In fact, Bill did not even know Harold’s last name.  The nurse looked disappointed but thanked Bill anyway and went back to her station. Bill followed.

“Excuse me, nurse, will I be able to see him?” Bill inquired.

“No, only immediate family,” she explained.

“But we don’t know if he has immediate family,” Bill said with a sense of urgency.

“I’m sorry,” she said as if she has had to say that a thousand times before.

As he left the hospital Bill realized that the master planner from the Midwest had no plan for this. Although Bill rarely planned anything, he decided he better go home and make one.

Note:  The next “Harold story” appears Friday.

Related:  The first series of “Harold stories” in order: Soup and Sandwich,” “The Case With The Missing Egg,” “Come Monday, It Will Be Alright,” “A Tuesday Mystery,” “A Tuesday Fantasy With Harold,” “A Wild West Wednesday,” “A Library Lesson,” “Harold and the Tiny Wizard,” “At The Old Ballgame,  The Saturday Schedule. Click on any title to jump to that story.

HEALTHCARE NIGHTMARE – BY ELLIN CURLEY

My closest friend has been dealing with her mother’s recurring cancers for two years. The battle is nearing an end as her mom goes into a hospice for end-of-life care.

There is one part of this story that has affected me deeply. It has been watching middle-class people, who worked their whole lives, struggle to afford the medical care they need at the end of their lives. I knew that our healthcare system had serious problems. But I had never seen the effects of these issues, up close, on people’s lives.

My friend’s mom was a nurse and her father was an engineer. They saved some money over the years and were comfortable up until the time they got sick. The dad died a few years ago. His last illness soaked up most of the extra cash that they had put away. So when the mom got cancer, money was tight.

My friend works 60 plus hours a week as an executive at AT&T. Her sister, also local, is the mother of two teenage girls. There came a point when their mom had to go to frequent doctors appointments and chemo or radiation several times a week. The sisters had to take turns driving their mom to her appointments and staying with her through her treatments.

They couldn’t afford to pay an aide to spend several days a week doing testing and treatment runs. If the sisters hadn’t turned their lives upside down to take care of their mom, I don’t know what would have happened to her. If she didn’t have two willing daughters living near her, she would have been screwed.

This situation became a real hardship for both siblings. As time went by, the mom’s symptoms got worse and she eventually needed a feeding tube. That upped the level of care she needed exponentially. After a while, the mom couldn’t handle the feeding tube on her own. So the sisters had to get to her house several times a day to help her.

When the mom needed help getting to the bathroom, the daughters broke down and hired the most affordable aide they could find to come to the house twice a day to supplement the daughters’ visits.

Then the mom became effectively bedridden and they had to hire a full-time aide. They couldn’t afford a fully certified RN. So they found a willing woman with some healthcare experience.

But she is Russian and speaks almost no English. She could communicate with my friend with a translating program on her phone. But she could not communicate with her mom at all. Unfortunately, that’s all they could afford. They were lucky to find anyone.

It’s outrageous that families are left on their own to take care of sick relatives unless they are in the top 1% of earnings.

My friend was lucky she can work wherever she has a computer. So she could get work done at her mom’s house or at the hospital or at the treatment centers. That’s not a common situation. If she had had to show up to work at an office every day to keep her job, she’d have been unemployed long ago.

Which is the situation in which most people find themselves.

So how do average families take care of their sick? Watching my relatively well-off friends struggle, I have no clue how other less lucky workers manage.

Our health care system obviously has serious problems. I understood this intellectually. Watching my friend try to do right by her mom, I suddenly understand the flaws in the system on a more visceral level.

Affordable help should be available to everyone who needs it to care for sick family members. People should not have to suffer extreme hardships just to care for a loved one who is ill. People should not have to choose between their job and their own financial security and caring for a family member.

This situation is outrageous in as rich and sophisticated a country as America. It’s not an issue in most other democracies in the western world. Hopefully, the movement towards universal healthcare here will eventually solve this problem. If we’re all lucky, I’ll live to see enlightened healthcare for everyone in my country. If not, shame on us!

BROKEN? ALSO, DISCONNECTED – Marilyn Armstrong

Broken

I got up this morning in a pretty good mood. Bright sun, not humid. Looks like a nice day as spring heads into summer. Put up the coffee, gave the dogs treats. My son came over to install the new router and that’s when things started to go downhill.

The new one is exactly the same but bigger.

I hate new routers. It means everything which connects to WiFi is going to need a new password and a full restart. The phone started ringing … and that was when I realized we still have one, single hard-wired WiFi item in the house — my husband’s caption phone. I couldn’t get it to hook up and it turned out that this was because I had not yet fully installed the router itself.

To make this just a little more difficult, Garry’s phone is at the back of the house in his office. The router is in the middle room which used to be my office. And my computer is in the living room where I mostly live. I needed my computer. I needed information off the bottom of the previous router and I needed the serial number from the new router. It’s easily a dozen numbers long and probably 6-point type. Does anyone try to read those numbers?

I unplugged my computer and kept moving me and it from room to room.

Of course, this is the week that I had to reinstall everything on my computer and that meant I have new passwords and I don’t remember any of them. Although I used to have a NetGear account, I’ve apparently changed email addresses since then, so I had to register as if it were the first time.

I did that. Then I had to reinstall Garry’s caption phone and of course, it had a whole set of new software on it (we don’t reinstall it often, so inevitably when we do this, there’s always new software). Yet, I got all this done and somewhere in here, I vacuumed the floors, too.

I still hadn’t gotten a cup of coffee — was cruel and unusual punishment. I needed coffee!

The doctor’s scheduler called and lucky for me, that was exactly when Garry emerged from the bathroom. I set up his dates for pre-op and the surgery. Plus the first follow-up post surgery — and realized, I also had to arrange for him to get a meningitis shot. Which, it turned out, I have to get at the pharmacy, but not our usual pharmacy because the vaccine for people over 55 is different than the one for everyone else and requires a nurse practitioner. Which means CVS. Which I couldn’t speak to because they only have recorded messages. No humans.

I tried to call the hospital, but kept getting disconnected. By now, I’m breathing slowly and deeply because this is stuff I simply must get done, no matter how aggravating. It’s important. In the case of the vaccine, also expensive!

For reasons best known to our government, vaccinations (except flu) are NOT covered by medical insurance. Don’t ask. I don’t have an answer. A lot of our medical care is senseless and this is one of the more irksome items.

Garry wants a list of grocery to get and I feel brainless. I can’t give him an answer because my head is swimming with vaccinations and appointments and computers and I really, really need coffee.

It’s two in the afternoon. I still haven’t cleaned Bonnie’s eyes and I have no idea where I’m getting $150 for Garry’s vaccination. Some credit card, I assume. Lord knows how I’ll pay for it. I also have to change the post surgical checkup because it’s on the only day Owen can’t drive us there.

If I drink some coffee, I’m sure this will all work out. I’m sure of it. No, really. I’m sure.

It’s all about the coffee.

LOVE IN INTENSIVE CARE – Ellin Curley

On February 11, 1972, my 88-year-old grandfather was hit by a truck crossing a street in New York City. His left side was smashed and a broken rib punctured his lung. Within 24 hours he was in a coma. My mother, grandmother and I camped out in the waiting room of the I.C.U at Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan.

My grandfather

Another family was also spending most of its time in the same waiting room – the Palmers, father mother and younger son, who had Tourette’s Syndrome. Their older son, Jeffrey, 18, had been hit by a car. He was a Julliard student training to become a concert pianist. His pelvis was broken and his leg was fractured in several places. He was also in a coma.

Our two families got very friendly over the next few weeks. My grandfather was declared brain-dead. Jeffrey regained consciousness but was in traction and had a cast up to his thigh. I started visiting him and hanging out in his room.

It’s hard to describe what life is like when you’re living it in a hospital. Your day revolves around doctor’s visits and reports. Every little change in the patient becomes major news. And now we were monitoring two patients, Grandpa and Jeffrey. It is all-encompassing and totally consuming.

Me, my mom and my grandmother

Me, my mother and my grandmother

The good news was that Jeffrey and I hit it off. He was smart and funny and we had a great time talking. He was a bright spot for me at a horribly depressing time. My grandfather was gone but still alive. Our family was in a horrifying limbo. We tried to talk the hospital into letting us disconnect my grandfather from life support.

Jeffrey left the hospital after about four weeks. I stayed in touch with him and his family, who lived on Long Island.

The hospital finally disconnected my grandfather from all life support – and he survived on his own. Everything had healed and he was breathing on his own! The stress caused my mom to go into heart failure. She was hospitalized for a few days in a different hospital.

After six weeks (and withholding of food and water), my grandfather finally died on March 26, 1972. My mother recovered. Shortly after, Jeffrey moved into the city and went back to school, still in a huge cast and on crutches. We began dating.

I was 22 and taking time off before going to law school. When I wasn’t with Jeffrey, I spent most of my time helping my mother sort out my grandfather’s finances. He had left his estate in total chaos. It took at least a year to track down all his assets and get my grandmother settled financially.

Jeffrey and me

Jeffrey and I were together and very much in love for a year and a half. His family loved me and I loved them. I went on a vacation with his whole family to Bermuda. Jeffrey spent time with me and my family at our summer-house in Connecticut. It was a good and happy relationship.

I don’t remember exactly why we broke up. Jeffrey had decided to quit Julliard and was starting college at N.Y.U as a pre-med student. I was leaving soon to go to law school in Washington D.C. The age difference was an issue. But I think the breakup had more to do with Jeffrey’s new found infatuation with Scientology.

We met under strange and dark circumstances. But I have only fond memories of Jeffrey. He got me through a very tough time in my life and he was my first real love. Everyone should have such a wonderful experience with their first love. I was very lucky! And how we met makes such a great story!

COMPLICATION, COMPLEXITY AND NO ONE IS LISTENING – Marilyn Armstrong

What constitutes a complication?

When does the complexity exceed the nature of the problem to the point where someone would really rather die than have to deal with all that “stuff”?

For example — it’s dinnertime but the shrimp isn’t defrosted and you can’t cook the potatoes because you ran out of onions. Home fries without onions? Are you mad? Or, it’s Thanksgiving and the oven won’t turn on. How are you going to make that big bird? Turkey stew? Seriously?

But those things are simple when compared to medicine, doctors, hospitals, and tests.

The Front Door at UMass Memorial where they said I didn’t have an appointment

Life is a mess of complications and complexities and misunderstandings. I told you that, but you heard something else. You told me everything, but I forgot what you said — or even that you said it.

The older I get, the more simple I want life to be. I want appointments at a time when I can reasonably get to them, not at 7:30 in the morning following an hour and a half drive. There are some tests they insist on medically that are so complicated, I think I’d rather just die.

My favorite was the one where they wanted to examine my brain. It had taken weeks to even get the appointment. I got there, they’d lost the appointment. They made me a new one, but this one was so complicated, I was grateful when it came around and I had the flu and couldn’t go. Be there — in Worcester — at 6 in the morning. Get tested. Wait two hours for another part of the test. Wait until a doctor is available.

More of UMass Memorial

I said “Why can’t I just talk to a doctor and explain what happened? Maybe none of these tests are necessary?”

“The doctor insists,” she said.

Au contraire,” I murmured because I was the patient and I insisted I be allowed to talk to the doctor before testing starts. In the end, I didn’t take any tests. I was sure I didn’t need them. They were procedural rather than diagnostic. Expensive, time-consuming, unpleasant — and more than likely — useless.

Whatever is wrong with my brain, so shall it remain. I really would rather die. Sad, but true.

Too complicated. Call me crazy, but I think we should be able to talk to the doctor before they order a lot of complicated tests. Sometimes, you don’t need the tests. If no one talks to you, how do they know what you need?

The world is complicated, at least half the time because everyone is doing what someone else told them to do … and no one is listening to anyone at all.

No one is listening.
No one.

SICK BODY, UNHAPPY MIND – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I think of myself as a strong, healthy person. When I think about it at all. I’ve had periods in my life when I wasn’t healthy, but that was way in the past. Healthy is my reality now. I’m not athletic, but I can do what I want, when I want to. At least I could until four months ago.

Suddenly I started getting stiffness and pain that would come and go randomly. Then the episodes started getting longer and the stiffness and pain were accompanied by weakness and fatigue. Now I get these several times a week at random times and for varying durations.

The weird part is that on days when I don’t have symptoms, I’m absolutely fine. Totally normal. No sign of any problem whatever. This is making me psychizophrenic.

I went to a rheumatologist who diagnosed me with Poly Rheumatic and Fibromyalgia. I’ve been put on medication. But apparently these conditions get better very slowly. I’ve read and been told that a year is not uncommon to suffer before you go back to normal.

I’m going for a second opinion.

But in the meantime, my life has been turned upside down. It’s hard to plan anything because I never know how I’ll feel on any given day or night.

Did I mention that I can’t take much Ibuprofen for the pain? And unfortunately, that is the only thing that helps me weather my episodes. I donated a kidney to my son so I have to be very protective of the one I have left. Anti-inflammatories, like Ibuprofen, are bad for the kidneys. So I can only use them very sparingly. This means that I’m screwed.

So I’m left in this nether world between healthy sometimes and debilitated the rest of the time. It’s doing a number on me psychologically. On bad days, I feel old and decrepit. No energy and no motivation. Then I bounce back to my chipper, active self. But even then, I know that my good health is not going to last long.

This experience has emphasized for me the interconnections between body and mind. When my body is healthy, my mind can stay upbeat and positive. When my body is struggling, so does my mind.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about people who live with chronic pain and/or discomfort from a wide variety of medical conditions. I have a new respect for people who manage to deal with permanent disabilities or illnesses and still manage to lead fulfilling lives and maintain positive attitudes. I’m not sure if I could do it. I’m struggling with sporadic issues I’ve had for only four months!

If this is going to go on for seven or eight more months, I’m going to have to put my big girl panties on and get my psych back in fighting mode. I’m going to have to power through the bad days and make the best of the good days. Do what I can when I can and accept what I can’t do when I can’t. This is my version of the serenity prayer. I hope it works for me.

THE BEST WAY TO CATCH SOMETHING – Marilyn Armstrong

In my many long years of getting sick, sicker, even sicker, and under the wings of hovering Death, I have concluded there are four ways uniquely suited to get you sick, sicker, then sickest.

I do not count sitting in a doctor’s office full of people NOT wearing masks who claim their cough is “just an allergy.”

No, I mean “out in the real world” where shit happens.

These are the four best ways to catch whatever is going around.

1 – Be an elementary school teacher. You will be sick ALL the time. Just keep the Tamaflu handy and the tissues and throat lozenges nearby.

2 – Work in a mall. You will earn very little money and you are doomed to endless disease. A single sneeze can infect everyone in half the mall. Two sneezes? Total collapse of all immune systems.

3 – Be a working reporter. You will meet everyone everywhere and at least 75% of them will have something lurking, just waiting for you and your cameraman to show up. When Garry was working, he had a cold, the flu, bronchitis, sore throats, ear infections. You name it, he had it. Four days later? I had it too. We believe in sharing.

This probably applies to politicians on the stump and performers on tour. Which is probably why they won’t shake hands. All they see are germs.

4 – Take an airplane anywhere. The recycled air is putrid. I swear this is true — takes whatever diseases every passenger has on the plane and pumps it up. I have never taken a flight anywhere and not gotten sick within 10 days.

Except Arizona. Maybe it’s that lovely, hot, dry air or something. We survived both trips to Arizona and we felt actually better after a week in the warm, dry air.

I should add one more: life in the cold north of America where it’s always damp and the air is full of allergens. And never, ever go to see the doctor if you aren’t already diseased unless you know for sure nobody sick will be there. Those allergic coughs  are not allergies.