Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Feliz Navidad, Kwirky Kwaanza ... !

... as for me and mine, we'll settle for a totally non-traditional holiday that -- for the first time does not include a Dorian-decorated tree in its place beside the hearth, a turkey in the oven, wrapping gifts, and everyone gathered 'roun' for the festivities.

And it's okay. Not only okay, but really quite wonderful.

I've always been the center of the universe on this day, as was my own mother for most of our lives. Grandma was always the central figure on December 25th, along with the turkey. This year -- given recent developments -- it will be my thoughtful niece, Gail, bringing a restaurant-prepared pan of lasagna and a home-baked cake to which I'll add a tossed green salad, a pumpkin pie, and assorted goodies -- all to be shared with Dorian at the nursing home at 3:30. The family will bring our gifts to exchange in a brand new and unanticipated format. It will be what it is, and what it is begins to look like a day as memorable as those of the past; something to be talked about in years to come.

Dorian is in good spirits (though sounding a bit low when she made her morning call at around seven) and her mother is elated at the progress she's made over the past several days. She has handed out her handmade gifts to staff members who are obviously delighted with them. She's been choosing those who've been tending to her round-the-clock needs; the rehab specialists, the dietician, head nurse, those who answer the bell when she rings -- and she's bringing the spirit of the season to a place where it's surely welcomed.

She is now in less physical pain or perhaps better medicated, and is learning the important bed-to-wheelchair transfers that allows her to be up part of each day now. She has learned the first names of those who are taking care of her, and (surprisingly) in some cases their relationships to one another. "Lani is Jack's mother."

My initial fears at the quality of care in skilled nursing facilities -- memories of my mother's final days in same -- have given way to new criteria for what's important. I've been watching her bond with those who are tending to her needs and find myself wondering whether I should be as concerned about the room temperature (sometimes over 80 degrees), and other trivia and more aware of the relationships she's building with her caretakers. The fact that she's paying attention to her environment enough to know the names of those around her may be far more valuable than any other factor.

I'd been worried that -- upon checking out the ratings of local skilled nursing homes on the Internet -- where they rate on a scale of 1 to 5 -- this one is pretty unimpressive (rated 2). But what if the compensating factor is something other than that which can be measured on a scale of 1 to 5? There may be some immeasurable intangibles unaccounted for in these ratings; some kind of human connectivity that our instruments just can't pick up, at least not yet.

I need to give this more thought before I start making decisions about what I see as best for her recovery. This may be one of those instances when watching how she deals with her immediate environment is the wisest course to take before wresting her away from this new world that she's shaping for herself and introducing her into a newer and stranger place where the room temperature is reasonable and the Tower of Babel of languages more understandable. She's making the translations, or, making the accents irrelevant somehow. This is one of the wonders of life with Dorian, and is what will survive our time together on earth. This is what I've learned to watch for and to nurture. How she moves through this awful test of her resilience may be that all important teaching moment -- for me.

Today will be a fine day. Different -- new and strangely off-tradition for our family -- but it will be what it must be, and we're doing just fine, thank you.

Now I have some gift-wrapping to do and calls to return while I'm feeling this fragile sense of holiday spirit, and some new confidence in the future. My son, David, and grandchildren will be with us; with only Rosie, Bob, and Margaret among the missing this year. But this means that they're creating their own holiday observance. I remember how important it was for me to begin to establish my own nuclear family traditions long ago, and of how hard it was on my parents when that time came. It's all a part of letting go and allowing our own to grow into their own futures. And -- for the first time the holiday was not marked by the empty chair that our eldest son, Rick should have occupied. Perhaps it was because the peace plant that arrived the day of his funeral was not in this room. Maybe it's time now, to let him go, too.

Peace on earth may be a little hard too come by these days, but we're seeing an awful lot of goodwill toward men (and toward the rest of us, too).

Enjoy your day. There's every indication that we're in for an interesting day of our own. This is as it should be and often is -- if we keep faith in ourselves and in our ways of moving through the world.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

All's well -- or at least relatively so -- given time and patience -- and ...

Monday's dreaded visit to Eden Medical Center turned out to be reassuring in every way. Dorian will eventually recover fully, if all goes as anticipated. There was some fear that her "dropped foot" was a permanent condition. Not so. It looks like two broken legs is no longer the life sentence it once was, and that with 8 weeks of bed time and wheelchair plus continuing physiotherapy to strengthen her upper body for the transfers she must now learn, she will eventually learn to walk again. It does mean life in a skilled nursing facility for many months, but we can handle that. She will be given a brace for the left leg and an expectation for "...8 months to a year before recovery." Then it will be months of learning to walk again when she's ready for weight-bearing exercises.

After two weeks of recurring nightmares during which I'm still careening through the mountains in unending terror, on Saturday I disintegrated into a madwoman with absolutely no sense of where to turn or whom to trust, and a depression the likes of which I've not experienced for decades. It had a familiar ring, but not enough to let me know that it, as before, would come to an end about the time that I allowed myself to go with it and simply scream it all away! I'd become too fearful to allow myself to sleep for fear of the dreams, so after two weeks of driving to and from the hospital and the nursing home in (apparent) complete self control -- "crazy" took over and now I'm making sense if only to myself. And through it all I'd continued to work as though life was normal. My co-workers were understanding -- giving me the space and the time to try to absorb this cruel reality. Over the past two weeks I've worked 3 hours each day with 3 hours to deal with the demands of this emergency. I needed to hold onto my work to the extent that I could, for some kind of balance. That much was certain.

Finally picked up the phone on Saturday and called Dion who hit the ground running with all of the know how required to bring some sanity into the situation. As promised, on Monday morning she and Barbara swept their appointment calendars clean and met me at their Berkeley office where we went to Eden Medical Center together for the news. Last week at her first followup exam, the surgeon had been completely candid about his concern for the condition of her left leg which had become infected since she was discharged from the hospital. I was prepared to demand that she be re-admitted had that not subsided. I could see the relief in his face as he removed the bandages and exposed the wounds. This is a professional that we could trust. I felt certain that -- had it been necessary -- he would have been truthful with me about her condition as well as her future. This has not always been true, unfortunately. I was learning in this crucible just how little faith I have in those in whom we must trust.

On Tuesday we had a visit from four young music students (violas and violins) who came to the nursing home at noontime to perform a short concert of Christmas music for Dorian and the other patients. It was her first lunch hour in the dining room and her first extended time up in a wheelchair. This was a gift from my friend, Pam, who is their teacher among other incredible things. Dorian was so pleased!


...and she's still crocheting away such colorful afghans and scarves as presents for the staff of the nursing home. If ever there was the spirit of the season ... .

... should I be worrying about carpal tunnel syndrome?

Oh no!