Art of Death Repackaged
Posted Dec 18, 2013
The Art of Death is now part of the blog on my website, complete with embedded illustrations and convenient navigation buttons to each day.
Ladera Chronicles - Conversation with R
Posted Dec 18, 2013
I was on my way to my room, with no real enthusiasm, after an emergency meeting of the Residents' Council to discuss a change in the menus. It wasn't an emergency except in the sense that Herman wanted our approval quickly so that he could start the new system in January. Afterward, I wandered down to the therapy gym and chatted with the staff, then finally headed back.
Passing the nurses' station, I noticed R hunched in his chair, trying to get the attention of an aide, several of whom were grouped near him. He is there very often, when he's not wheeling aimlessly in the day room. One of the aides, M, looked down at him and he proceeded to sort of speak, which he does in very quiet tones. He has a tremor and rather poor coordination. M soon grew restive; English is not her first language. She broke away, promising to be back in a bit.
I was only a few feet away, and watched as he intently reached out to the side of the nurses' station and rubbed a thumb and forefinger along the bumper board, something he does a lot. In the day room he does it to the edges of the tables. After a little while I made a remark about how M had not come back in a bit [she was not his aide -- she had her own call lights to answer]. He turned, took me in, recognised me, and started talking. So I rolled over and listened politely.
It was a jumble. Sometimes a piece of a sentence would emerge, perfectly formed. Then he would stop dead. There was something about small strokes, which thought he would illustrate with a little finger gesture. There was something about a horizontal line, something about "when they come by," but then he would appear to zone out and repeat, "Eehhh! Eehhh! Eehhh! Eehhh!" while looking intently into the near distance. Thinking he was dealing with a speech breakdown, I waited, then listened attentively when he resumed groping for words and would repeat bits back to him as I captured them. Eventually he rolled his chair forward to a break in the expanse of the station, where a small flat screen monitor sits. The nurse handed him a wrapped straw, and he started drawing it along the counter, like a marker.
I ducked back to my room, grabbed my big laptop and brought it back to where he sat, opened it, and started it playing John Dowland songs on lute as played by the late Paul Odette. He resumed his halting soliloquy, remarking " 'S pretty," of the music, and we sat there, front and center of the nurses' station while activity and loud voices and a PA system roared around us. He noticed the horizontal bar at the bottom of the media player, with the traveling bulb, and he suddenly focused and smiled. Like that, he gestured.
After about 4 songs, I closed the laptop, promised to meet with him the next day and play more music, then rolled home and put my things away. The nurse was right outside my room with her med cart, and I rolled back out to her. "Elmo taught music?" I asked. "Oh, no," she answered, "He was in the military, on a boat so he must have been Navy. I don't know what he was except maybe an officer or a technician..." "Ah," I said, "Somebody told me he was in music." "Well, he really likes the singing," she observed. "This one singer who comes sometimes, R really likes him. He sings along really loud, and claps. He likes the high voices." I nodded and retreated back to my room and waited for my aide to come and decant me into bed. I didn't wonder till much later why she didn't know more about his career background, seeing as R has been here for years.
Later on it suddenly fell into place. R had been telling me about radar! The little strokes were blips. The "eehhh" sounds were pings! And without knowledge of his history, I thought his utterances were nonsense, Alzheimer's potpourri. Was he a navigator? Or a specialist in a dark room staring intently at a screen just the way he was looking when he was making those ping noises? I am curious and will find out.
Staff have warned me that R can be violent, when he's frustrated or resists being handled. He has lashed out and will do so again. Of course you can understand the frustration if he's trying to communicate and he's met with patronising incomprehension from strangers. R is a green-eyed blonde with very special skills. R is an aging Alzheimer's patient slumped in a wheelchair, fiddling with a straw.
Ladera Chronicles - Now With Extra Added Bah!
Posted Dec 12, 2013
I took a little tour of the facility today, to see the Christmas decorations, which went up since the last time I was out and about. There's a big fake tree in reception and a surplus of other decorations in the reception area, red tablecloths and individual table decorations in the main dining room, and tinsel streamers all over the ceiling. Move down South Skilled and there continues to be an abundance of tinsel, plus the framed prints on the wall all have been turned into wrapped gifts. A four-inch red velvet bow is fastened to the overhead sill of each door, right under the call light.
Over on north there's no tinsel; tree ornaments hang from the drop ceiling supports instead, but the wall art is wrapped just the same and the bows are over the doors. When you get to South Back, however, and Cross Hall (which is 90 degrees perpendicular to the main halls, not full of irascible patients), there are big swags at the entrances... and then just the little bows over the doors. Cross Hall is private rooms, so it's not the cost of the beds. It must be about how visible those halls are to the outside world. The effect can be increasingly dismal as you travel further and further back into the building.
Della came back from the hospital with a new pill and the news that nothing more can be done for her. She is being discharged to her sons and daughters at their request, and a bed will become vacant. Most often, I'm told, they move someone off Skilled if it's clear they're not going home again (a bed on Skilled gets a higher rent than a long-term resident, so if a long-termer is filling a skilled bed then Ladera is losing money), but if no-one fits that description then the person at the top of the three-month waiting list is invited to join our island paradise.
What an icky dilemma for some family, to be invited to institutionalize their ailing relative a week before Christmas! Imagine them wheeling that relative down the hall past the fancy decoratin' on Skilled and then going past the nurses' station and finding ... little red bows. But if the family are too morally finicky they risk losing the slot to someone else.
There's uncertainty for both residents and staff, too. I'll miss Della and her recommendation, whenever we talked, that I should try reading Danielle Steele. What sort of person will replace her? Will it be a horror like E, or a stroked-out cipher, or somebody we can talk to? Will the aides have to hoist her around and feed her, or will she require minimal assistance like our J__?
Ladera Chronicles 7Dec13
Posted Dec 9, 2013
We all nearly got killed on South Back this evening. Louise next door was caught smoking in the dorm! And she's on oxygen!! Her cigarettes and lighter have been confiscated, and there may be sanctions tomorrow.
Meanwhile, 90-year-old Della was sent out the other night, having had a small stroke, but she's back today with a brand-new drug. E across the hall passes out for hours at a time, then wakes to demand more drugs and insult the competence of her aides because they forget to smile when she jerks on the reins. L is still walking.
Once I get my website revamped I'm going to publish the Art of Death series there and embed the photos in relevant places. I'm reading How We Die now, and this isn't the season to mine that vein. In January I may return to the subject.
Create is all about Christmas memories and rituals; excuse me while I sit this one out. Bah.
NaJoPoMo 2013 The Art of Death 30
Posted Nov 30, 2013
I'll Be Back.
There is an art to death, and it is insufficiently taught. Our acquaintance with both grieving and our own death is slight, and we are uncomfortable with it. Death is always at the party, but we look over its shoulder, seeking out warmer and quicker friends to rescue us from the halting conversation. We need to witness death more -- not bring it about, but neither hide from it or sanitize it.
A memory surfaces at this point, of an man who was kidnapped a few years ago by one of the mideastern terrorist groups whom I will not dignify by naming. It was one of their little snuff movies. I never saw it, but I read that their prisoner could be heard shouting in the background, "OK, kill me, you -----s! Let the world see how an Italian dies!" Blazingly good last words, but even more, an acknowledgement that dying is another one of those things at which there can be some proficiency, for lack of a better term.
They are exempted who slide into a coma, who are non compos mentis, who are so ratcheted by agony that they must have extensive palliation to knock them senseless. Everyone else must take this test, to demonstrate what we have learned in living and apply it to the final final exam.
To talk about death is actually to talk about life, as the journals of the past 30 days have demonstrated. By coincidence, I found the following short video clip just today, and it's both relevant and witty:
I encountered L on my way out of the shower room on Thursday. He had come to a halt in such a way as to block the corridor on the way to the day room. The shower aide pulled him out of the way so strongly that he was still rolling after she had moved away from him. And he looked after her with an expression part baleful, part resigned, part uninvolved. As I was pulled away toward my room I caught his eye and raised both hands, a small shrug of helplessness. What are you going to do with these people? He looked at me from way far away and nodded slightly.
I'm going to continue this series because there are still people to talk about and experiences to share. But I mark the end of NaJoPoMo with a gallery of photos I've taken to date. Rita has assented to a picture being taken of the two of us, and seeing her will be a real treat for y'all when I put up another page. The gallery pages were created on the small screen of my netbook, so please forgive the rather bunched appearance of the layout. I would also like to say this about my appearance: antibiotics really mess with the condition of my hair.