Monday, December 13, 2010

Let's Call it Sabbatical

One of the severance benefits offered by my former employer is the services of an outplacement firm for six months. Although I was lukewarm, at best, about getting a new job, especially a demanding one within my former career, I thought it couldn't hurt to learn more about job-hunting and, if I was lucky, finally figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I went over and met with my career counselor a few weeks ago. He was a middle-aged guy a year or two younger than me who had worked in HR at the firm I'd recently been booted from. As such, he understands their unusual corporate culture. Since I don't plan to return there, that is of limited value, but at the very least he has some insight into the kind of work environment I'd experienced over the last 7 years.

During our meeting, I talked about my desire not to return to the kind of demanding job I'd been in. It created work/life conflicts that were stressful and increasingly unmanageable for me. And the job didn't offer any personal or professional growth. That I was thinking about retiring (as in never holding another job) or potentially finding just a "job" rather than getting back into my career work.

So we agreed to work together to see what path might work best for me.

In the meantime, he suggested I call my current state "on sabbatical" rather than "retired." Job hunting in the current day is largely managed through networking. If I tell my large network of former colleagues that I'm retired, they probably won't think of me if a good opportunity comes up. When he suggested it, I thought it was actually a perfect fit for my current state, since I am taking a hiatus from work. Who knows where I'll be at this time next year ... but for now, I'm taking a break.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

What a Waste!

Yesterday in our town, a young man who died in Afghanistan was buried. He was a Lieutenant in the Army and had only been in Afghanistan for a month. His death and funeral got a lot of news coverage on the Boston news stations so we were aware of his death even though we didn't know him or anyone in his family. By accident, Skip happened upon the local cable station live feed of his funeral yesterday and we watched quite a bit of it. Apparently, almost 1500 people including the Governor were in attendance.

Of course, at a funeral, the deceased's good points get the most attention, as is only right. But this young man must have been quite a wonderful person, based on the stories and reminiscences related during the service. And, the turnout spoke volumes. There are about 18,000 people in this town, so almost 10% of the population (assuming most attendees were from here) attended the funeral.

I don't want to belittle the contributions this young man made to the U.S. And, to the contributions made by other service men and women who have died in service to the country. But, honestly, all I can think of is what a waste his death was; and the wastefulness of other deaths in wars. 

What if they gave a war and nobody came?

Monday, October 18, 2010

So How's Skip Doing?

In the last 3 months, while I've posted on a monthly, rather than daily, basis, I haven't mentioned much about Skip.

She is happy that I'm less stressed-out since getting laid off, but worries a bit about our finances. She trusts me to figure this out, though!

It's a lot nicer for her in the mornings that she doesn't have to "share" me with a work schedule filled with conference calls and deadlines. I enjoy our mornings together. We're both creature of habit and love the new routines we have.

She has been getting a bit restless to get out. Unfortunately, with the cooler weather upon us, the patio isn't the wonderful, relaxing spot it was all summer. Last weekend, we decided to try out a "chowderfest" at the Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut. It was a lovely day, weather-wise, a bit cool and breezy, but sunny. We enjoyed the drive there and back. Surprisingly, the food at the chowderfest was just "ok." We did take a walk around part of the museum after lunch and saw an exhibit of antique ship figureheads that were quite cool and I took a quick tour of a tall ship docked there.

MS does slowly but surely progress. Of late, Skip's hands are experiencing the biggest impact. Her fingers are weakening, making it harder to hold silverware and use the computer keyboard. On the left hand, the fingers are curling as well. We're working on stretching them a bit; I'm happy that I have more time so special projects like stretching exercises can be done without having it feel like one more thing being piled on top. I'm confident we can get them straightened out again.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Test Driving Retirement

Years ago, in the naivete of youth, I thought I'd retire at 50. Then, it moved out to 55. Then, as Skip's disease progressed and we started having expenses I hadn't anticipated, such as for household assistance, I figured we were looking at many more years of employment before I could retire ... would probably have to delay until 62. And, since I worked at home, I figured I was extending the years during which I could work without issue, since I could care for Skip intermittently during the work day.

I should point out that I've pretty much wanted to retire since I began working. I know there are some people out there who don't want to stop working. I do not count myself among them. I've enjoyed aspects of all my jobs and found satisfaction from them in many ways, but always looked forward to the day when my time wasn't spoken for by an employer. Maybe this is because I've never found a job that I was passionate about.

After being laid off, as I thought about finding a new job -- learning the ropes, having all those new responsibilities -- the prospect of imminent retirement looked better and better. I've found it very hard over the last few years to handle the triad of responsibilities for caregiving, a demanding job and self-care. And, when anything got deferred on the margin, it was always the self-care that got kicked to the curb. I thought if I didn't have to manage a job, I might actually start exercising, cooking healthfully and getting more sleep, all things I'd stopped over the last few years.

Also, if it turns out we can't swing retirement financially, having a significant gap in my resume isn't likely to be a huge issue during this "jobless recovery." There are millions of folks in the US who have been jobless for really long periods of time. Otherwise, the President and Congress wouldn't have extended unemployment benefits for up to 99 weeks. (Unfortunately, this extension is only in force for the folks who were unemployment in May 2010.)

I am still browsing the career sites and the sites of companies that I know employ home-based employees. Keeping those options open while I give retirement a spin!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

A New Phase Begins

Today, I am unemployed. Yesterday, my employer of over 7 years laid me off and today was my last day of work. The layoff process was quite different from when I was laid off from another company in 2002. That day, there was an armed guard in the lobby of our office building to ensure we meekly accepted our booting. And, once we received word of our dismissal, not one moment more was spent working. Turn over your laptop and head out the door. Here, at least, I got one day to try and do a brain dump for my colleagues who will be left to carry on managing the 25 balls I had flying through the air.

I have experienced a lot of emotions over the last 36 hours. I'd say they are surprise, anger, sadness, relief, euphoria, bitterness, euphoria, melancholy, euphoria and a sense of loss as I bid goodbye to my work friends and my ability to exercise my professional skills (at least for now). It's been a revelation to me in the last day and half to realize just how much the demands of this job weighed on me; as the burden has gone the spirit has lifted dramatically. I see now that I can be happy again.

My severance package is generous and I do not have an immediate need to find a new job. This is a wonderful gift as I sit here at 54 and contemplate a time of respite. I want to take some time to 1) enjoy this period of freedom, 2) find ways to cut expenses from our day-to-life so our income needs drop and then 3) figure out what I can do for employment that will give me the flexibility to work from home and provide a measure of personal and professional fulfillment. This is a journey I'm looking forward to. Of course, there will also be plenty of time for relaxation.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Break Over, Back to Blogging!

I stopped blogging, primarily because I was in a horrible funk. Perhaps the worst ever. I have come to some realizations about myself over the last week or so that have helped me emerge from that funk. So, I'm back to feeling positive enough about myself and my life that I can post once again.

* * * * *

My Dad's memorial service turned out to be excellent. When I had reviewed the program at my Mom's a week or so prior to the event, I thought there was so much music it would go on forever. However, most of the pieces were short, so it wasn't overly long. And, the brass choir (2 trumpets, tuba, french horn, trombone) that performed most of the pieces was absolutely wonderful. I enjoyed the eulogy as well. There was a lot of humor and reminiscence at the outset, but the minister wrapped with a wonderful and moving insight into my father's perspective on life:
He enjoyed almost everything he did - cutting brush, hunting, meetings, arguments, concerts, eating, taking naps. It seemed to me that any time I’d see John, regardless of what he was doing, he had a kind of half-smile on his face - working, playing, listening, talking. He embodied a sense that life was good.

I think his capacity to enjoy was the source of his confidence, his unquestioning conviction that things would work out, that we’d find a way, that, if we did our part, all would be well. John really believed that all would be well, and this is why, I think, we liked to be with him, and work with him and catch his faith in the future.

This rang so true to me. My Dad did have that positive outlook on life, but it wasn't just that some miracle would occur that would make everything come out ok, it's that we could positively influence our lives through our individual and collective efforts.

I used to feel that way, too. The long, downhill slide of MS and the unrelenting demands of caregiving have eroded that cheerful, positive outlook I once had. It is a goal of mine to regain that positivity. After all, we have a history of continually facing new challenges that we overcome. We can perservere despite all that MS has stolen from Skip.

Other updates ...
  • I ended up not speaking at the reception following the Memorial Service. I decided it was stressing me out thinking about it, so shed the stress by choosing not to. My sister spoke, she had prepared notes she read from, and did a lovely job. Lots of others got up and spoke off the cuff, most telling funny and moving anecdotes about my Dad.
  • Addy is 6 months old today. She's still a handful but a wonderful, loving puppy to have around. We were experiencing some real behavior problems, so a few weeks back had a woman who specializes in puppy problems come over for an hour and evaluate what was going on. She gave us some useful tips for getting better control over Addy and they've paid off beautifully.
  • My vacation, right after the Memorial Service, had two distinct phases. The first week, I was incredibly indolent, doing as little as possible. By the second week, I was able to dust off the to do list I'd prepared and actually got a few things done. Skip and I went to a nearby museum for an afternoon's visit. It's called the Higgins Armory, and specializes in armor through the centuries. I'd been wanting to go there for a long time and even Skip ended up enjoying it, though she was very disappointed in the gift shop at the end.  I also had a chance to visit my Mom for a few day trips during the second week, avoiding the summertime weekend traffic to/from the Cape.
  • Yesterday was my birthday. Skip had seen a review on TV of a Mexican restaurant about 30 minutes from here that sounded excellent so we decided to celebrate it there. Skip was never much on spicy food until recently and now it's as if she can't get enough of it. The service was excellent, the housemade guacamole came in 3 different varieties (we tried each), each dish we had was very good and I even drank margaritas. I hardly ever drink, but I just wanted to break out of my set-in-stone routine for the evening, so we got a pitcher of Sangria Margaritas.
* * * * *
At the top of this post, I mentioned that I'd come to some realizations about myself. I know I often joke about being cranky in this blog, but the reality is that, of late, I've been angry a lot and it's no joke. And, you know what I've found? That expressing that anger just amplifies it, it doesn't dissipate it, as conventional wisdom says. And, if you try to step back, take a breath, and react appropriately to the situation rather that in an angry way, it often fails. So, I'm trying not to express my anger or act appropriately, but to just shut up when I feel angry. I'd say I'm succeeding about 70% of the time, but that's been a wonderful experience for me and for Skip as well, who gets to hear me rant and rave far too often.

Since taking this approach, I've felt a weight lift from my mental state. I feel angry less often. I feel less guilty about being angry and ranting. It's been so much easier to have a positive mental attitude when I haven't been walking through the world with a cloud over my head (like Joe Btfsplk in L'il Abner).

Now, if only I could lose a few pounds!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Vacation and the Memorial Service

Today begins a two-week vacation for me (plus an extra day for the observance of the 4th of July) and, by coincidence, is also my Dad's memorial service, Skip and I are leaving the house early this morning to allow for the trip down to Cape Cod with an extra hour or so in case of heavy traffic. After all, we've hit the summer season and Saturdays are when weekly rentals switch over, so there can be a lot of traffic onto the Cape in the morning.

I am looking forward to and also dreading a bit the service. It will have a lot of music and a eulogy by an old friend of my parents' who is a retired Unitarian minister. I am very interested to hear the eulogy but know it will be very sad. Skip's companion, MW, offered to come along and help out since I'm going to have a lot of social/family obligations, especially during the reception to be held after the service. MW's sister is coming over to watch the dogs.

My siblings and I will probably say a few words during the reception. I've been thinking here and there all week about what I'd say and so far have some notes along the lines of "what my Dad taught me." These include things like how to wield an axe, how to drive a tractor, hard word won't kill you and how to age well. I'm struggling with how I'll get in some funny stuff and then some serious stuff without getting maudlin. Maybe, at the end, I'll not say a thing. We shall see!

Well, a million things to do before we head out, so I will wrap up now. Have a wonderful day, wherever you are.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Meet Miss Addy

On Thursday, I brought home the newest addition to our family, Addy (short for Adeline). She was born on 1/31/10, so she's about 14 or 15 weeks old. Just like Ruby and Sally before, she's a black and tan piebald mini-dachshund. Unlike her smooth (short-haired) predecessors, though, this little girl is long-haired.

We found a breeder about an hour and a half from our home who breeds minis and had a number of piebalds that she was breeding for spring deliveries. In early April, she had a litter that had a tiny little red piebald that we tentatively reserved until I could meet her. Pretty much every day, we'd visit the breeder's web site to check out the picture of the girl, hoping for updates, as the breeder updates the photos of her litters as they age. A few weeks ago, Skip found Addy on the breeder's site. The breeder was selling her for another breeder, so they showed up all ready to go. We were instantly smitten. She stared out at us from the web page with her bright eyes in her dark, sweet face.

Addy is sweet and lovable. She's inquisitive, like all puppies, friendly and fearless. One great thing about her is she has a bit of the mountain goat in her. She'll run right up Skip's body in bed and give her a kiss. All the nurses and aids and Skip's companion, MW, love her. Right now, the only one who doesn't love her is Ruby. She is very unhappy to have some 4-legged competition in the house. She is softening a bit, though, as she let Addy curl up beside her while they both took a snooze earlier today. So, we're cautiously optimistic that Ruby will be loving to her new sister soon enough.

So nice to have a new spark of life around the house!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Sad News

My Dad in the Fall of 1991, age 66

My Dad died on Thursday evening at the age of 84. He went into the hospital last Friday due to stomach pain and it was found he had a bowel obstruction. It was surgically removed on Saturday. Unfortunately, he never regained full conscious after the surgery, entering a state of "anesthetic somnolence." As the week wore on, his systems generally started to shut down and he eventually succumbed to respiratory failure.

My sister was able to spend quite a bit of time on Cape Cod with my Mom and Dad during that last week of his life. She'd give regular updates to my brother and me, at times hopeful and at times concerned with all the issues he was encountering. We're lucky she could spend so much time there, especially as she was once a nurse midwife and so has a good medical background and, more importantly, has a strong, "do it" personality. She kept in touch with a host of medical personnel arrayed in support of my Dad's health issues (though not always organized in support of them, something my sister tried to push them towards) and did her best to sort out for my Mom and the rest of us what was going on and what steps were being taken to help my Dad.

Early in the week, Skip and I tried to figure out the plan we'd use for her care if my Dad went far enough downhill that I had to take the 2-hour drive down to see him. MW was scheduled for Thursday but wasn't available on Friday. We had feelers out in a few directions to see what we could cobble together for Friday, but no Plan B was firmly in place yet.

Thursday morning, my Mom called to let me know my Dad was in respiratory failure. Because there was no plan to put him on a ventilator, his death was imminent, though no one could divine exactly when. I wrapped up some work stuff, ate breakfast, put my out of office notice on my email, got Skip fed, cleaned up and into her wheelchair, then showered and got myself out the door. That actually all took 3 hours, so I made it down to the hospital and the cardiovascular ICU by 2:30. My brother, his wife and two of his kids were there with my Mom. Also there was my parents' aid, AP, who provides wonderful care to my parents. They have basically adopted him, something they've done with special young people they've met all my life. Unfortunately, my sister, who did such yeoman work supporting my Mom and Dad all week, couldn't be there as she was in Vermont with her husband attending an event at the school of her two youngest boys.

When I arrived at my Dad's hospital room, his face was covered with a huge BiPAP oxygen mask, pushing pressurized oxygen into his lungs. His eyes were closed, his hands were limp. He appeared not to be conscious. My mom was there by his side. My Dad was a big guy, 6' 3", but I was struck by how thin he'd gotten. His breathing was quite labored. It was so hard to see him in this state. I wanted him to be alive but hated that he was struggling so much.

For the next 3 hours, we all became obsessed by the monitor showing heart rate, temperature, blood pressure, blood oxygen level and respiration rate. I hated that monitor but I was fascinated by its readout. My Dad's heartbeat was irregular and the rate varied a lot. His blood pressure slowly dropped, his temp slowly rose (up to 104 degrees F,40C), his blood oxygen slowly dropped.

Shortly after 5, we were joined briefly by a surgeon who was keeping tabs on my Dad. In the nicest way possible, he confirmed the situation was irretrievable but it was impossible to predict when death would occur. We decided to head off to dinner then. Those of us who weren't staying on the Cape with my Mom were planning to head home after dinner.

As we were finishing up dinner, the ICU nurse called my brother and let him know death was imminent, my Dad's heart rate was down to 20 beats per minute (before I forget, let me give a shout-out to the nurse, Denise. She was great. The ICU nurses only have 2 patients each, which allows them a lot of time with each. More importantly, though, she had a wonderful, caring temperament and gave much care and concern to my Dad and his family). We settled up and headed back right away, arriving about 20 minutes after the call. Unfortunately, my Dad had already died. I don't know how I would have felt to be in the room at his death, but I did feel badly for my Mom that she wasn't there at the exact moment.

Sadly, we trooped into his room and stood around his body. The human body should never be wholly still; it looks so odd to see no movement whatsoever. The nurse let us stay with my Dad for over an hour while we mourned. After a while, my Mom's minister arrived. Soon thereafter, we all left my Mom and the minister to sit with my Dad for a while before they transported him to the morgue.

So that's it. My Dad is gone and I shall miss him terribly. He was a larger-than-life Renaissance man. He had an amazing abundance of energy and drive which I was in awe of and wish I had as well. He was active in town government in my hometown for decades, he was active in the Unitarian congregation in town as well. When they retired to Cape Cod, they helped establish a new UU congregation and my father helped spearhead a drive to save it from financial ruin when it was still young. He designed and built the house they lived in on Cape Cod. When he was done with that, he acted as the general contractor for a Habitat House and then went on to help rebuild the Cape Museum of Fine Arts. He was on the board of a local foundation that funded college education for local kids and branched out into environmental grantmaking.

With him, our family cut down the trees to clear the lot for the house Skip and I now live in (I was about 6 when I learned to wield an axe). I worked with him over the years in his huge garden, picking rocks, spreading manure, harvesting, pickling, making jam and so on, endlessly over the years. One weekend in my teens, as the last kid left at home, he and I planted 2500 Christmas tree seedlings together. Yes, 2500 seedlings in one weekend. And it rained the entire time. When he decided to get into wine-making, he planted grapes that would flourish in our climate, built an arbor for them and then his own press.

I'm glad that in my later years, I was able to loosen up enough to tell my Mom and Dad, out loud, that I loved them. My Dad's love and affection for all of us was so clear. He was a strong family supporter, generous but expecting much from us. And, too, I'm glad that in the last few years, as he experienced growing health issues with his Parkinson's and other ailments, that I could help out both my parents by regular visits to the Cape, helping with paying bills and such, but mostly just being there for the chance to visit.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

How Do They Do It?

It's true that I often feel overwhelmed by my caregiving role. But sometimes when we joke about how the house can be like Grand Central Station, I realize that I get a lot of help every week. We have ...
  • Skip's companion, MW, who comes 10-15 hours a week. She is both company for Skip and a big help to me, handling piles of laundry, dishes and dinner. On the Saturdays that I go to visit my parents on Cape Cod, when I'm gone for 8-10 hours, she stays with Skip most of the day. This is a nice, extended break apart for both of us.
  • Skip's aid, KH. Because Skip is under the care of a visiting nurse, Medicare pays for an aid. KH comes 4 times a week for 1-1/2 hours each time. She gives Skip a bath, washes her hair, gets her transferred to her power chair, changes the sheets, gets her a snack, etc. She's energetic and friendly and she and Skip keep up a constant conversation while she's here.
  • Daily nursing visits to change the dressing on Skip's wound. The wound nurse who has been working with Skip for at least 6 months is very knowledgeable and has been a key part of the reason Skip is as far along as she is in the healing process.
  • A wonderful couple comes every other week to clean the house. They go from top to bottom and clean everything.
There's some stress associated with having visitors to the house so often. But that is far outweighed by the services each provides and the care and company these folks provide to Skip.

What about those caregivers who have a similar load to me ... a full time job, caregiving responsibilities for someone who needs a lot of care, family finances to manage, house maintenance to attempt. How do they do it? I can't imagine the level of stress, the feelings of being overwhelmed and the constant fatigue that person must feel.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Steady State

Steady state, that's what we're in now. We've got our Skip's-wound-is-small-and-healing-slowly routine settled in. It's a bit like being in limbo. The wound isn't all consuming, but it still shapes a lot of our daily lives.

We have our morning routines and our bedtime routines. We know when the nurses and the aids are coming. Every day, I keep Skip up to date about meetings and other work obligations so she knows my schedule. I know where she'll be.

This isn't our ideal. Skip wants to be up more, she wants to get out more, she wants the pain to go away. She's restless and doesn't feel quite human while spending so much time in bed. We both want to get rid of the hospital bed and buy a new bed that we sleep in together. I'd like to get out more and be a bit more engaged with the outside world. I feel lonely and isolated.

We both know this steady state isn't forever. It's working for now while we get the wound healed. We're counting on this state lasting for months, but not years. We'd both hate for this to be our forever state.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


Did you ever see the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding? In it, the father of the bride, Michael Constantine, uses Windex to cure all manner of minor ailments, especially of the skin (as I recall). At the end of the movie, the groom quickly heals a pimple on the morning of the wedding with Windex, showing his embrace of the bride's kooky family.

Over the last few years, as we've come into contact with lots of nurses and aids, we've found that they all seem to have some product that's their Windex. Of course, the product varies from person to person, but they all have something that is the cure-all. This is especially true with respect to the skin.

The two most popular windexes we've encountered are Aloe Vesta and Calmoseptine, with Calmoseptine the most popular at the moment. Skip's aid is always dabbing it on various spots on her skin to head off any new problems. We love the care and attention that's behind the use of these products to take care of folks like Skip.

May there always be caregivers and their Windex.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Osteo? Probably No and the Vac is Retired

At the wound clinic visit today (those biweekly visits sure do come around fast), the wound vac was officially retired. The wound looked good following the two-week vac holiday, with no concerning slough buildup, so the vac isn't likely to be required again. As I said before, it was a valuable tool for many months, but we won't miss it.

And, we discussed the osteomyelitis. The x-ray proved inconclusive. Skip doesn't really appear to have any significant evidence of infection, so there's no need to get out the big guns (IV antibiotics) to try and kill off something that might not even exist. The docs will keep an eye on her with her biweekly visits to the wound clinic and the wonderful visiting nurses will be able to be an early warning system with their daily visits for dressing changes.

Driving home after the appointment, it was lovely to see all the buds on the trees. We started spring here in New England with horrible weather, experiencing 10" more rain than normal in March. April has been up and down weather-wise, which is typical, but we're definitely experiencing more mild days now than cold. When we got home, Skip and her aid, MW, spent an hour out on the patio enjoying some cigars.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Steve and Bobrobert

(I stole this photo from the picture gallery Steve has set up for friends to post photos.)

It's a small world, this world of bloggers who have MS or are caregivers to someone who has it. When I first started blogging, I was very interested in finding others who walked in my shoes, caring for a spouse or partner with MS. When I found Steve and BR's website, The Wheel of Fortuna, it was like a gift. There were these two folks in Austin, TX struggling with many of the same things Skip and I did day in and day out.

They've shared their lives through postings in word and in video (especially to give BR a voice). We've joined in their hope and frustration with each new round of pain management attempted for BR. We've enjoyed Steve's annual guilty pleasure orgy on his birthday. Personally, I've always enjoyed Steve's comments to my posts here. He writes poems, song lyrics, adds his own experiences in the same vein as my posting, and has helpful advice.

Things have taken a horrible turn for them over the last week. Now, Steve and BR are surrounded by friends and family as BR's body is wracked with an infection that may end him. If you haven't had a chance to stop by their site, please take a moment to check in and send your prayers, hugs and best wishes for them.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


The May/June 2010 AARP Magazine has an article about Dr. Oz and his 6-month plan for getting healthy. To me, the most interesting month of the 6 was month 4 on managing stress. There's an "Oz Tip" that really resonated with me:
Among the major stressors in our lives are Nagging Unfinished Tasks (NUTs, I call them). Try to identify the NUTs in your life and then resolve to fix them, so they don't become a constant source of anxiety.
This is so true for me, and probably for many other procrastinators as well. I sometimes expend more energy thinking about and stressing about something I'm putting off than it would take just to get the darn thing done. I've understood and acknowledged this about myself for years, but, unfortunately, that didn't result in any behavior changes.

Interestingly, when I read this tip from Dr. Oz, it did result in a behavior change. I got up early on Monday and wrote a document for work that I'd been procrastinating on for a looong time.

Face it, I have enough stress in my life and seeing these NUTs as contributing needlessly to the stress load was just the trigger to prompt action.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Skip and Cranky in the 80s

I recently got inspired to start scanning and posting old family photos to Facebook when I saw an old friend had started this on his Facebook account. I found his photos very interesting, especially the ones within one generation. The older ones, not so much, though probably interesting to his immediate family.

I've pulled out all the old family photos my parents have shared with me. I also began pulling together the photos from my youth and that Skip and I have taken over the years. Although my original intent was to scan family photos from prior generations, I have been drawn to the ones that I'm in or that Skip is in. As usual, I am my own favorite subject!

I thought I'd post some snaps from the 3 decades in which Skip and I have been together, the 80s, 90s and the 00s. Too much for one post, so I'm breaking them up over 3.

* * * * * * *
Skip and I met in August 1981. We began living together two weeks later. We were both 25 when we met. In the 80s, we moved 9 times. Each move was to a different apartment until our final move in 1989 when we moved to the house we live in now. Our apartments were in Boston or surrounding cities. We each had a number of job changes, as well. Skip was a systems analyst, a bartender and bar manager and a chef. In 1989, she retired due to her MS. I was a secretary, student, programmer then consultant.

During most of this decade, Skip's symptoms, if she had any, were minor. She loved to golf, so I learned how to play, though I was never good at it. We played with her father, who also wasn't very good at it. Once, we vacationed with Skip's parents at a golf resort in New Hampshire. We loved to take long weekends at bed and breakfast inns in Vermont and go antiquing. We had a good-sized circle of friends and we loved having them over for small dinner parties where we ate a lot of great food and drank a lot of wine. Skip could drive and was very independent, going out and about on her own with regularity.

This photo of me and the one below of Skip were taken in October 1981, on our first weekend trip to Provincetown, MA. It's on the tip of Cape Cod. Wow, so young!

These photos were taken in our last apartment, probably in 1987. Taken by a photographer who was trying to publish a book of photos featuring gay and lesbian couples. The book was never published. Skip is in her classic attire from that era: polo shirt, v-neck sweater vest, jeans and Reebok sneakers. I can't believe how long my hair was.

For our 7th anniversary, we put together a little dinner party at a gay restaurant in Boston. Our roommate took some lovely photos of us before we all headed out to dinner.
In 1989, at our current home, with our first dachshund, Sadie.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Vac Be Gone!

The Japanese Maple buds are now transforming to leaves!

We had a successful, though not entirely satisfying, visit to the Wound Clinic today. The tunnel remained at the same depth as on the previous two visits. We confirmed the radiologist had read and commented on Skip's x-rays as if we were looking for evidence of osteoporosis rather than osteomyelitis. A nurse in the clinic will speak with the infectious disease doc to have him request another reading so we can find out if there's anything worrisome in the pictures.

The best part of the visit was the removal of the wound vacuum. We're taking a "vac holiday" that may become a vac retirement. From the plastic surgeon's perspective, the value of the vac has diminished, and it's time to move on to another therapy. Also, Skip's skin around the wound is starting to get irritated from the continuous covering with tegaderm. So, they packed the tunnel with an anti-microbial tape, put some gauze on the outside and it was done. We'll still have a nurse come every other day to change the dressing, but it will be much easier and quicker than the changing of the vacuum's sponges and drape.

Skip is quite pleased that she will no longer have to hear the vacuum gurgling 24 hours a day, as it has been for the last 4 months. (At night, our bedroom is alive with white noise from the vac, the air blower for her mattress and a fan. This is good for me to help drown out some of my tinnitus.) It definitely was a valuable tool in the wound healing process, but we're not sad to see it go.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Nothing Definite on the Osteo

I called over to the wound clinic today to find out if the radiologist had read Skip's x-rays from Friday. Apparently, they were read yesterday. Based on what the radiologist reported, there were no fractures or dislocations. Okay, but what about evidence of osteo? No word on that.

Fortunately, tomorrow we have an appointment at the wound clinic with Skip's plastic surgeon so I expect we'll get more information. With luck, the infectious disease doc will have reviewed the x-rays by then and passed on info to either the clinic staff or Skip's surgeon.

Bottom line ... we still don't have a definitive answer. But, we don't have bad news, either.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Spring is Catching On

The Japanese Maple on our patio knows it's safe to send out those buds. Leaves aren't far behind.

Wow, what a wonderful weekend we had here. The weather was sunny, highs of mid to high 70s F, just perfect.

Some friends invited us over for an Easter dinner so I ended up making our ham dinner on Saturday. Skip has been watching a TON of the Food Network lately and had seen a couple of chefs prepare asparagus by grilling it on the stove with just olive oil, salt and pepper. I did that with our asparagus and I don't think I'll cook them any other way again. I love asparagus and this was easily the best version of it I've ever had.

Great to visit with our friends. After dinner, we sat out on their deck and had a relaxed chit-chat until the early evening. By then, it had cooled off quite a bit so I was getting chilly. And, we needed to get Skip back in bed after being up and about for 6 hours.

I got us all settled in time to watch the Red Sox take on the Yankees in their home opener. I went to sleep expecting the Sox' first game would end up an L as they were behind 5-1 when I drifted off halfway through. I found this morning that they had rallied and ended up winning. Good way to start the season.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Osteo Again?

There are some trends emerging for Skip that may indicate osteomyelitis (bone infection) is back or was never really eradicated while in the hospital/rehab. At Skip's last wound care center visit, the tunnel in her wound, which is really the only significant part left, had actually lengthened, increasing in length by 20% from the visit 2 weeks prior. This tunnel is what had exposed the bone to infection in the first place, as I understand it. The fact that it's been resistant to shrinkage and now has grown could be a sign of infection. In addition, she had a blood test that indicates she does have an infection somewhere. Yesterday, I took her to the hospital to have an x-ray. The infectious disease doc that we saw at the wound clinic ordered this. He said an MRI can show evidence of a bone infection for a long time after it's been wiped out; the x-ray will show if there's been bone loss. I suspect he'll read the x-ray on Monday and I hope we hear something definitive right away.

The prospect of osteo has Skip worried. I don't think I'd characterize how I feel as worried, but I am a bit concerned about what's required to wipe it out if the diagnosis is osteomyelitis and how that will affect our current, stable status. We'd be looking at another month-long course of IV antibiotics. Medicare, for some unfathomable reason, does not pay for home infusion! How misguided is that? What, they want to send someone like Skip who only needs IV antibiotics to an acute rehab hospital, pay for the care there, expose her to other infections where instead she could be treated at home with me doing most of the IV administration? I understand there are some ways to work around this Medicare constraint, but we'll have to cross that bridge when we get to it.

So let's assume we can do the IV at home. She'd have to have a PICC line inserted, and I expect that would be done in a fairly sterile hospital setting. Then, someone would have to train me on the infusion approach, including troubleshooting and when to determine the problem can't be solved by me and I need to get a pro in. Then, I presume she'd have to get the drugs administered twice a day for 28 days (this was the course used at the hospital). I expect there'd be complications, as she had them in rehab. The PICC line had to be replaced twice, or even three times, during the 4 week period.

Part of me is sort of interested in learning how to do this as I expect most of the time, it's very straightforward to administer IV's at home. Another part, though, is concerned about how much of a time eater this could be. We'll definitely have to work out a schedule of administration that is outside of work hours, which shouldn't be difficult.

Well, perhaps all this ruminating by me is unnecessary. Maybe the doc will call on Monday and say all is well. But as a character in a favorite childhood book, The Phantom Toolbooth, said: "expect the unexpected and the unexpected never happens."

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Ham It Up

We have no particular plans this Easter weekend. Well, I have a few small chores on the to do list, but not much else on the docket. The weather forecast is for mild, early Spring weather with no rain expected. (This is a huge relief as we've had 14" of rain in March ... the normal average for the month is 4".)

If it's mild enough, I'm going to get Skip to come out and keep me company while I attempt to get some ground cover planted in the front yard. It's my latest attempt to solve the problem of covering the bare earth.

On Sunday, I'll cook a ham. A small, quarter ham since it's just for the two of us. I love the ease of the spiral-sliced ham for carving and serving, though the meat is drier as a result. For Sunday, I think we'll have asparagus and scalloped potatoes with the ham. After a few meals with the ham, I'll use the bone for a split pea soup. To me, homemade split pea soup is one of the best soups on earth and ridiculously easy to make.

Here's hoping we have a wonderful, peaceful weekend. Hoping that for you, too.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Batter Up!

I love baseball, especially Red Sox baseball. Opening day is this Sunday. The game is nationally televised, so it's been set at the ridiculous time of 8:00pm. I can tell you the last thing I'd want to do is sit in Fenway Park on an early April evening, freezing my butt off, even if it is opening day against the Yankees. I will be comfortably settled here, watching it with Skip, enjoying our first meaningful baseball game in many months.

In 2004, the year the Red Sox ended their 88-year long drought of World Series wins, we started going to games at Fenway Park. We discovered that the Park had set up a few wonderful spots for wheelchair fans and a few awful spots as well. In our very first visit, we found ourselves sitting in the front row, along the first base side, right beside the ball boy (who collects foul balls and such during game play). The seats were unbelievable. It was the clinching game of the American League Divisional Series, where the Red Sox swept the Angels in 3 games. It was a wonderful game, with lots of scoring, that went into extra innings. David Ortiz (Big Papi) hit a 2-run HR over the left-field wall (the Green Monster) in the bottom of the 10th to win the game for the hometown team. That was such a great feeling, to see the ball go over the wall and join in the celebration as the crowd erupted.

Another excellent spot for wheelchair seats is up in a relatively new area of Fenway, the right-field roof box. This area is set up with tables and waitress service. Along the top rung of tables, there are at least 3 tables that can accommodate wheelchair users, with the table seating 5. Skip doesn't have the best view of the action, but it is otherwise a wonderful way to take in a game.

Honestly, it doesn't get much better than a wonderful, sunny Sunday afternoon at the ballyard with your friends.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Caregiver Aids #1a: a New Way to Transfer

My very first caregiver aids post was about the Surehands lift system we have in the bedroom and bathroom. To me, it is the most important aid we have. (The modified Honda Element, aka the Toaster, runs a very, very close second.) It is saving my back and it is saving Skip from falls.

The lift system as we had it set up used what's called a body support to hold Skip during the lift and transfer. The first post shows the lift motor and body support as it was set up in our bedroom last year. Below are a couple of snaps from the Surehands web site. When Skip got home from the hospital, the body support hurt her shoulders when lifting. We're not sure why. It certainly wasn't due to heavier weight, as she'd dropped 20 or 30 pounds while hospitalized. Nonetheless, we needed a different approach.

We tried using a sling and found that it worked fine. We originally started with a full body sling that holds Skip securely in a hammock style. The sling is made with mesh as shown in the second sling photo. Even though the polyester mesh feels fairly rough to me, Skip never complained about the feeling of it on her skin. After a few lifts, we had a good routine for getting the sling well positioned under Skip on bed before the lift and placing the hooks from the chains at the right level of each strap (there are 3 different spots on the strap for hanging the hook). The only problem with it is that it was impossible to remove the sling once Skip was in the chair. You can see the sling on the chair in the photos from the Skipping Out and About post a few weeks ago.

Skip's physical therapist, who was with us during our first try with the full body sling, suggested we look at a divided leg sling. The design allows for the removal of the sling once in the wheelchair and then, most importantly, it can be put back in place when Skip's in the chair. The user's guide shows putting the sling on in the wheelchair with two assistants, but I was able to handle it by myself without issue. The key is having the two long straps go underneath Skip's legs to hold her place safely while transferring. She's commented that she doesn't feel quite as secure in the divided leg sling while transferring, but you can tell she can't fall out of it. Also, I thought the fabric of this sling would be more comfortable for her, as it's got a soft nap like suede, but she did mention that it was a bit more uncomfortable than the big sling's mesh. It looks like our routine has settled into using the big hammock sling when Skip's staying home and using the divided leg sling when we're going out, so she doesn't have the big sling draped around her wheelchair when we're out and about.

Below is an example of how a person is positioned in a sling (I didn't ask Skip to pose for this post!)

Slings are readily available from a number of different manufacturers. By chance, these are both Invacare products. We're very happy with them. I bought both brand new and in the box on eBay for well below list price.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Caregiver Aids #13: The Queer Fork

It's really a spork with a right angle bend, but MW (Skip's companion) calls it the Queer Fork, a name I like much better. We have other utensils with big handles and foam tubes to put on the silverware from our regular set, but this is the one Skip asks for the most. I have a similarly configured spoon on order from Allegro Medical.

Now if Skip is the one using this utensil, why do I have it as a caregiver's aid? Well, without utensils that are easier for Skip to grip, I'd be feeding her at most meals. This gives her more independence and me less work.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Tunes for the Road

Two "nosy blogger buddies" asked what I had on my iPod for yesterday's trip to the Cape. Thought this was a good idea for a blog post, since as anyone who's been maintaining one of these for more than a month or two knows, ideas for posts can sometimes be a challenge.

My iPod contains an eclectic mish-mash of music. I've got just about all the Beatles' stuff done while they were a group, lots of female vocalists, like Joni Mitchell, Alison Krauss, Ella Fitzgerald, Bette Midler, Bonnie Raitt, Janis Joplin, Joan Armatrading and Laura Nyro. Lots of jazz of various stripes from Big Band to Avant Garde, and a good amount of classical. Some rock and roll like Little Feat and The Who. I've got a Kenneth Davis book about the Civil War and a Stephen Ambrose book about WW II also loaded up. For some reason, I'm a Civil War and WWII buff. When I was a kid, I loved listening to Tom Lehrer records and bought a multi-CD set of all his recordings, which I loaded up to iTunes. While his material is dated now, it's still a hoot to listen to occasionally.

So, you can probably tell from the artists I listen to that I'm in my 50s. I once read that your musical tastes are pretty much set in your teens, and that is certainly true for me.

Yesterday, driving down to Cape Cod on a warm and sunny day, I first put on Linda Ronstadt's album Don't Cry Now, published in 1973. It's got Love Has No Pride and Desperado, two songs she does that I especially enjoy. I recently purchased this from iTunes, so it was an easy pick for me to start the trip with. I then chose Emmylou Harris' album All I Intended to Be, another recent purchase, but I got a bit bored after 3 or 4 cuts, so I switched to Bonnie Raitt's first album, entitled Bonnie Raitt. To me, it's the 2nd best of all her albums (her 2nd, Give It Up, is my favorite). Lots of blues influence and a wonderful, wonderful listen. I looked up her discography and saw this album was published in 1971. Still great after all these years, though the recording quality is not very good.

When that was done, I put on Melissa Etheridge's Brave and Crazy, but found it a little loud for my tastes at the moment, so changed to Mary McCaslin, listening to her Best of album. She's a folk-country artist that I listened to a lot in the 70s. I also had the pleasure of seeing her perform at Passim coffeehouse in Cambridge quite a few times. Passim was (is? not sure of its current status) a great venue for emerging artists such as Joan Baez in the 50s and 60s. When I frequented it, in the 70s and early 80s, it was a wonderful spot for folk/rock artists.

On the way home, I first finished off Mary McCaslin's album. Then, knowing it was quite late (left my parents' at 9pm), I needed something to keep me singing and moving around so I didn't fall asleep. Aretha got me home. I started with Aretha Sings the Blues, which was published in 1980 but contains cuts recorded about 20 years earlier. I particularly enjoy Evil Gal Blues from this album. A review of it from Amazon comments that the songs are great but the recording quality is poor. Then I finished up the ride with Aretha's 30 Greatest Hits (You'll notice I have a bunch of Greatest Hits in my library. This is how I've managed to migrate artists from vinyl to CD and now MP3. Not all vinyl even gets reproduced in CD or MP3 form, so sometimes the Best of albums are your only choice. In other cases, it can be very expensive to get all the old stuff in the original albums, so I go for second best by taking Greatest Hits.) Aretha's 30 Greatest includes some wonderful covers such as Eleanor Rigby, The Weight and Bridge Over Troubled Water. Also, has Respect and Rock Steady, which, to me, is the best dance song ever recorded. If this album had Young, Gifted and Black on it, I'd think it was just about perfect.

So, there you have it, all you ever wanted to know about my listening to and from Cape of Cod, and much more. Happy listening!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Off to Cape Cod

I'm heading down to Cape Cod today to visit my parents. It's a two-hour drive each way. The typical schedule, when I used to drive down every other week (not since Skip went into the hospital), is to leave here around 1pm, get down around 3. I do a few things to help out with bill paying and such. We'll have a nice dinner together. I leave around 8pm and get home around 10. I always enjoy visiting with my parents and they love me visiting, too.

Meanwhile, back at the house, MW will come over and spend the day with Skip. In good weather, they'll sit out on the patio and smoke and chat. MW will grill something for their dinner. They'll have an excellent time. We've planned that I'll get Skip up and out of bed, settled in her wheelchair, before I head out. MW can transfer her back into bed if and when she gets tired out.

Today, the weather is expected to hit the low 70s F and the sun is shining brightly. The iPod is charged and ready. Should be a wonderful day for a drive.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Spring Weather is Here

Yesterday, Wednesday, brought lovely weather to us here in Massachusetts. It was sunny and warmer than than we'd seen yet this year, I think it got to the low or mid 60s F. Skip thought it would be a perfect day to get outside and take in the fresh air, then stink up that air with a cigar!

I got Skip up and ready around 1pm. MW arrived shortly thereafter, and the two of them went out for relaxation on the patio. They set themselves up in a sunny spot to relax, chat and smoke.

Checking out, I see we're in for mid-60s temps and no rain through the weekend. Nice! That'll make my drive to Cape Cod to see my parents a pleasure.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Another Step in the Right Direction

Sunday afternoon we had dinner at our favorite Vietnamese restaurant. Woo hoo! It's been a long time coming, but Skip finally got there. We went with another couple, D&D, the folks who introduced us to the restaurant. We love them and their company and, for a good part of last year, every other Sunday afternoon found the 4 of us together eating Vietnamese. It was such a pleasure to be back there again.

Skip always gets the same thing. Papaya salad with shrimp and a spicy dressing; summer rolls with chicken and a sizzling beef and onion dish for the main course. I, too, love that Papaya salad, which I had followed by my standard: a huge bowl of chicken soup with tons of fresh vegetables. The soup is always served with a side dish of fresh mung bean sprouts, basil and another green I can't remember, along with sliced jalapenos and lime. Mmmm-mmmm, good. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I find the fresh jalapenos too spicy for me, so after the initial try of adding them to the soup, I leave those spicy suckers alone!)

Skip held up well and wasn't too weak. She did have one issue with the restaurant's silverware. Since her stay at the rehab hospital, she's been using silverware with built-up handles. We forgot to bring some with us and have made a mental note to do so when dining out in the future. Since she had some trouble with the utensils, I helped feed her part of the dinner, to make it easier for her. Although we were in a restaurant with other patrons nearby, she didn't seem self-conscious at all that I was feeding her.

After dinner, we headed back home, bellies full and happy for our venture out for good food and a visit with great friends. Once home, settling Skip back into bed, it was great to feel that she'd taken one more step back on the path to feeling human again.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The World is Spinning

Warning: I probably included way too much detail in this post.

I occasionally have bouts of vertigo. Fifteen months ago, I had two bouts in a two-week time period after having gone, I'd guess, about 15 years vertigo-free. This, combined with other symptoms like partial hearing loss in one ear and tinnitus in both, is a lovely condition I seem to have inherited from my dad, Meniere's disease.
When I had those two bouts in November 2008, they frankly scared me silly and I was very careful to limit caffeine and salt, both of which can trigger attacks. I had gone back to my old coffee-drinking and food salting habits, though, within a few months being attack-free.

The first attack occurred at an otolaryngologist's office while I was waiting for an audiology exam. I'd gone in for an appointment because the ringing in my ears had spiked dramatically in the previous few days, apparently a foreshadowing of the upcoming vertigo. I couldn't move my head without throwing up. They finally called an ambulance and had me taken to a nearby emergency room where I spent about 8 hours alternating between holding my head as still as could be and violent vomiting when I didn't.

Almost two weeks later, on a late Sunday morning, I felt the symptoms coming on again. I got Skip as settled as possible as quickly as possible and went directly to bed. During the 10 hours or so of the attack, I only threw up twice, each time I got up to go to the bathroom.

While I'm having one of these attacks, I can feel the world slowly spinning. My sense of position is gone and it becomes hard to walk upright. I spend most of the attack lying on my side with my eyes open, staring at a fixed spot. Things slowly rotate around that spot.

Thursday night was different, though. Earlier in the week, I'd been having a bit of mild vertigo, nothing nauseating, just unsettling. Then, on Wednesday, my ears felt plugged up and I thought that was the cause of the mild vertigo. That day, hearing was very difficult yet I was hypersensitive to sound. Whenever I'd go in to help Skip I'd have to make her either turn down or turn off the tv because the sound of it was so annoying. Thursday morning, the pressure was gone and things seemed pretty normal. But in the early evening, the vertigo came on with a bang and I knew I was in for trouble.

At first, the vertigo attack started out as the previous two had ... if I kept my head still, I'd keep from puking. But a few hours into it, it was like a switch turned on and I couldn't stop throwing up even if I held my head still. Also, I couldn't close my eyes to try and rest as that made the spinning more intense.

Skip needed some assistance, so she called MJ, the aide from the private pay agency, and she came over to help out for a few hours. She mostly helped Skip, but it was wonderful to have someone come over with an extra blanket and to change the bowl I was clutching.

In the morning, I was able to sit up then stand up without too much discomfort. I felt washed out and weak but the world had stopped spinning. I took most of the day off work and spent a good deal of it lying down, sometimes napping. Skip had smartly arranged with MJ for her to come for 3 hours that morning, so I was able to completely focus on resting and recuperating.

I am hoping mightily that history does not repeat and I have another attack in 2 weeks! I've cut out caffeine and am watching my salt intake. Who knows, I might even go back to the otolaryngologist to see if there's something he can recommend! I'll have to pay close attention to any of the symptoms that foreshadow vertigo so we can have a little forewarning to arrange for help.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Can You Believe It's Been a Month Already?

Our little Sally died a month ago today. I find that shocking, that so much time has elapsed and the sadness of missing her is still so sharp and fresh. The shock of her loss can come through the smallest of things. The other day, I opened the drawer in the kitchen where we keep the dogs' collars and leashes to get out the tape stored there. I was so sad that Sally didn't run out to the kitchen and up to me, dancing on her back legs, hoping we'd get out for a walk. She knew the opening of that particular drawer often spelled good things for them.

With the loss of Sally, it's interesting to see how much she drove the actions of the two pups. For example, the dogs regularly barked throughout the day at trucks going by on the street, whenever cars came up the driveway, if a particular leaf blew outside (in other words, sometimes the barking seemed to be for no reason). Well, that was all driven by Miss Sally, who was very engaged with the outside world. Ruby hardly barks at all. She'd rather stay nestled with Skip on the bed then bother to get up and bark. I used to be embarassed with the pups' barking when we got dinner delivered. Last night, the food was delivered with nary a peep from Ruby. She didn't even bother to get up until I already had the food in the kitchen and was starting to put it on a plate for Skip.

Sally claimed me as her "human." This made it difficult for Ruby to be comfortable getting loving from me. You could always tell she was a bit nervous when I was snuggling just her, worried that Sally would come over and intervene so all the love would be sent her way. Now, Ruby knows she has no competition so is much more comfortable getting love and affection. She even sometimes snuggles along my thigh on the couch, the spot that was always claimed by Sally.

Even though they had a funny dynamic at times due to Sally's alpha-ness, we loved having the two pups together. They played together quite a bit, snuggled together throughout the day and you can tell Ruby misses Sally's company, just as Skip and I do. We plan to get another dog of the same breed (smooth mini-dachshund) and similar coloring. We thought a bit about buying an adult dog to avoid some of the challenges that come with having a puppy, particularly housebreaking, but we decided a puppy would be best. We want to start the spoiling in the dog's formative months! We've found a breeder within a few hours' drive of the house who breeds mini-dachshunds who will likely have some piebald (that's the coloration of Ruby and Sally) puppies ready for adoption in the May/June timeframe. By then, we'll be fully into spring so the new girl can spend a lot of time outside while her bladder is small and the urge to pee is strong. After all, we're expecting by that time that Skip will be spending more time out on the patio, as she did last year. I plan to take some vacation when the puppy first gets here so I can concentrate on housebreaking and such without work concerns competing for my attention.

A new dog will never replace Sally, but we will love her and welcome her into our home, knowing that two dogs are definitely better than one.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Skipping Out and About

Yesterday was a milestone day for Skip, as it was her first time out of the house for something other than a doctor's appointment since getting home on January 14th. As you can see from the photo below, she was long overdue for a haircut.

After the haircut, we had some extra time before Skip's aide was due at the house. Skip felt good and the weather was sunny and warm, a wonderful early spring day. So, we headed off to a spot we used to love going to for breakfast, hoping they'd still be serving it at mid-afternoon. Fortunately, they were and Skip had a version of eggs benedict and I had poached eggs on hash. It was so great to be at a restaurant and look across the table to see Skip. That hadn't happened in far too long.

The only sad moment of the trip was coming home and being greeted by only one pup. Ruby was happy to see us, but we miss the jumping and exuberance of the lovely, departed Sally. I was probably projecting my own feelings on Ruby, but she did seem a bit subdued and sad when I let her out of the crate she and Sally shared when we left them home alone.

Skip's a good sport to have let me take this photo!

We're ready to head out to the hairdressers ...

Ruby taking it all in from the vantage of Skip's vacated bed

I took this photo to show Skip's newly shorn head, not realizing the shadow obscured the 'do. D'oh!

Order placed, just waiting for the eggs benedict

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Ruby With Her Peep

Since Sally's death, Ruby has begun spending most of her waking hours with Skip. Today, I couldn't resist taking some snaps of her snuggled up to the back of Skip's legs.

The girls in comfortable repose

Ruby stretching it out (you'd never believe I just trimmed her toenails last week)

The picture of comfort and relaxation

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Loving Works Better Than Crankiness

I know it sounds like blasphemy that I'm suggesting a different approach than crankiness, but I'm doing it anyway. I was getting tired of myself, with my crankiness and ill temper. It was sinking me deeper into the depths. More importantly, I realized how much of an effect it was having on Skip. She was growing more and more unhappy, confined to her bed with me as her main source of human contact. And that human contact was, frankly, an unhappy crank.

So we're both making an effort to be loving. I'm responding to requests with more openness, rather than a put-upon perspective at the first hint of a new task. Skip is showing more appreciation and acknowledgment so I feel more loved.

We're in this together. For a few weeks, we've been individuals unhappily existing in the same sphere. Now, we're reforging our partnership. We're definitely in this together and need to make sure we're building each other up, caring for each other in this highly demanding life we lead.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

No Respite for the Weary

Took my business trip. Everything at home went just fine, as I had anticipated. I know Skip was nervous before and during the trip, but everything worked out perfectly.

But the hoped-for respite didn't bear any fruit. I came home and felt the same burdens fall back on my shoulders within just a few minutes of my arrival and, most importantly, I didn't feel the 2-day absence from the house put me in any better position to bear them. It always sucks when hopes are dashed on the rocks of reality.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Heading Out of Town

I'll be taking a short, two-night business trip this week. Heading out on Tuesday afternoon and returning on Thursday evening. Despite the fact that the full-time care for Skip in my absence is expensive, I am looking forward to the trip quite a bit, primarily for the caregiving break it will provide.

From a work perspective, it's a low-stress trip. It's two days of internal meetings, so no client stress. I will spend the time with people whom I like (mostly) and it will be good to see some colleagues in person that I normally only interact with on the phone, in email and via instant messaging. I had some prep to do for one small part of the meetings, but the rest of the prep was done by others (yay!). The biggest stress, work-wise, is ensuring I have decent clothes to wear and comfortable shoes. Since I've been gaining weight of late, a lot of my decent clothing is a bit snug now and I've purchased some new, larger blouses and dress slacks in anticipation of this trip. And, I spend most of my time now in bare feet or slippers, so wearing shoes for 3 days straight will be a challenge.

For some reason, the fact that Skip is virtually 24/7 in bed makes me more comfortable with having others provide care in my absence. I think this is because there will be no transfers that could be an issue. MW, Skip's aide, will be here about 2/3rds of the time I"m away, from mid-afternoon through the night into the early morning. From 7-3 each day, we'll have a home health aide in to take care of some of the "heavy lifting" of caregiving.

This is the first time I'll be taking advantage of a new program offered by my employer. If you need emergency dependent or elder care or have a work obligation that requires additional coverage in your absence, you can get this coverage up to 20 times a year at a fraction of its actual cost by going through this work-sponsored program. Where we'd normally pay $27 per hour for an agency home health aide, using this service I only pay $8 per hour, my employer picks up the difference. This is a national program that works with local day care centers and home care agencies to provide the care.

When I first called to find out how to make arrangements and register for the program, I asked if the agency we normally used for coverage in a pinch was on their list and found out they were not. We were disappointed, as it meant there wouldn't be a chance for having the aide, MJ, that has been coming for 5 years. Skip wouldn't have the comfort of a familiar face and would have to train the new aide on everything. Imagine my surprise when I got a call on Thursday telling me the aide had been scheduled, and it was MJ! I'm quite delighted that Skip will have a familiar face, someone she likes and is very competent, come and help each day. The only thing I'm worried about now is how she'll keep MJ occupied for 8 hours each day as she is a whirlwind and a ball of fire who always likes to keep busy.

This leaves, really, only one concern for me. That is, the wound vac dressing. The wound vac works with a sponge inserted into the wound that is covered by a Tegaderm drape. Tegaderm is like the adhesive part of a bandaid, only much lighter. The dressing is changed every 2-3 days. It's being changed today, then again on Tuesday, the day I leave. On the days between dressing changes, leaks often occur that require minor patch jobs by me. I remove the small bits of dressing that have become damp and need to be changed then apply a strip of Tegaderm to restore the seal. If I'm not here, there won't be anyone to do the patch jobs. As a result, I expect a wound nurse will be needed both days I'm away, once to make leak repairs and once to replace the dressing completely. I've already discussed this with Skip's wound nurse so she's aware an extra visit will probably be needed.

So, it looks like my trip will be a good break for me. No stressful work stuff and few worries about the situation back home, knowing that Skip will be well taken care of around the clock. I look forward to spending time alone in my hotel room, relaxing and having no caregiving tasks awaiting my attention.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Back to the Wound Clinic

Last Thursday, the day that Sally died, we canceled our wound clinic appointment. Neither one of us was really up to it. Since Skip's wound has been progressing beautifully, it also seemed to be a very low-risk move.

So, yesterday found us back at the clinic for Skip's rescheduled appointment. Skip's aide, MW, came over about an hour before we left to give me a hand in the final prep to get Skip up and out. (I'm not exactly sure why, but getting Skip out of bed nowadays seems like a much bigger effort than before she was hospitalized. I think it's because it's no longer part of our regular routine and more of a special occasion.) The sling is working very well for the transfer and causes no pain for Skip at all.

At the clinic, once we got Skip settled in on the stretcher, the wound nurse removed all the old dressing and took measurements. While the wound hadn't shrunk as dramatically as in prior visits, the key measurement of length of the tunnel was smaller, so that was good news. The plastic surgeon came in and gave us a warm greeting, he is a very warm and friendly person. Last week, he called to give his condolences about Sally's death and he again brought up it to say how sorry he was. When he looked at Skip's wound, he declared it "superb," so everyone remains quite pleased with the healing progress.

In two weeks, when we return to the clinic, we'll meet with the infectious disease doc who consulted on Skip's osteomyelitis when she was hospitalized. He can determine when to have an MRI to confirm the state of the infection (that is, confirming its eradication!) and check the state of Skip's tissue on the left side of her butt (the MRI that disclosed the bone infection also showed damage to her left buttock tissue, a precursor to a wound on that side that has never developed).

Unlike our last trip to the clinic, the weather yesterday was mild for February, above freezing and in the 40s F, so no issue with iciness. Skip felt good being out and about. During our unusually long wait before being seen, Skip remarked how much better she felt being up and out in the world. Perhaps our next outing can be a visit to her hairdresser to get her haircut, which is about 6 weeks overdue. While we were sitting there, I joked that I should get a Flowbee to give her a haircut. On my blackberry, I googled Flowbee, and there it was, on its own website, still in existence, even though I haven't seen it advertised on tv in years. Maybe she should just get a buzzcut now while she's spending most of her time in bed. That might be fun!

Monday, February 15, 2010

When Cranky Met Sally

This photo was taken just a few days after we got Sally in December 2005.
What a tiny little peanut she was!

First, some background. We got our first dachshund, Sadie, soon after we moved into our home almost 21 years ago. When Sadie was 15, we figured she didn't have too much longer with us, so we started looking around for another dachshund to adopt. Skip had been looking around at the websites of different breeders and had come to love the piebald coloring. She found a 1 yr old piebald female that a breeder in Texas was selling. Skip worked out the purchase, and Ruby was shipped up to us via Continental Airlines, which has a good animal transport program. I picked Ruby up at Boston's Logan airport in February 2005.

Sadie and Ruby got along well. Ruby is very mild-mannered and so was Sadie, so there wasn't any jockeying for primacy. Sadie lived until May, dying shortly after she turned 16. We had loved being a two-dog household so began the hunt for another dog. Skip found Sally on the website of the Texas breeder and we arranged to have her come up again via Continental. She was 4 months old when she came to our home.

Sally was scheduled to arrive in the late afternoon. I headed over to the Continental baggage pick up to meet her. When they confirmed who I was, they brought out a tiny pet carrier. I was shocked at how small it was, it was more appropriate for a tiny cat than a dog. I looked inside and there she was! A tiny, shivering puppy.

I took the crate to the car, and placed it on the seat beside me. I cranked up the heat. When we got Ruby, the breeder had cautioned that we not take our new dog out of her crate until we got home. This would avoid any opportunity for the dog, who could be frightened, to run off and get lost. But in this case, I didn't take that advice. Here was a 4-month old puppy, who'd just flown up from a warm climate to a freezing cold place on a 3-hour plane ride. I couldn't leave her cold and scared in the crate all the way home. I opened the crate and took her into my arms. She clung to me. She was beautiful, tiny and sweet. I unzipped my jacket and held her close to me, so she could get some warmth. I could not put her back into that crate for the drive home. I knew it wasn't the safest thing I'd ever done to drive the hour home from the airport holding a tiny puppy, but I did anyway. When we got home, she didn't want to be far from me, and stayed in my arms most of the evening.

With that rescue of Sally from the crate, from holding her close to me for the drive home, from keeping her with me through the first evening, a strong bond was formed. Sally wormed her way into my heart right from the first moments of her life with us. I liked to joke that she "owned" me as I was completely helpless to resist her. And, the feelings went both ways. I was definitely her number one, and when she was nervous, she wanted most to be with me and get comfort from me.

Dogs bring so much joy to our lives. We were lucky to have Sally for even a short time.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

What Do You Say When the Unthinkable Occurs?

This morning, our wonderful and beloved Sally died. Just two weeks ago, I took her to the vet as she was out of sorts. Blood tests came back normal and we thought it was probably a back or neck strain from all of her jumping around, especially as dachshunds are prone to back problems. As the days progressed, her symptoms were minimal in the mornings, when she pranced around like her old self, but would come on more as the day progressed. The afternoons would find her sacked out on my bed, sleeping, with some tenderness and discomfort if you tried to move her.

Monday afternoon, when out in the yard to pee, she seemed to be experiencing a higher level of pain than I'd seen before. On her way back to the house, she stopped walking a few times as if it was quite painful for her to continue. Tuesday morning, she was extremely sensitive to any kind of motion, either her own or mine. That afternoon, I took her over to the Tufts animal hospital, which is a high-powered veterinary teaching hospital about an hour from here. We went there when our now-deceased dachshund Sadie needed back surgery. I thought we were in for back surgery in Sally's instance as well. The vets that examined her thought that likely too, as her symptoms were consistent with a herniated disc in her neck. They said she'd get a CT scan on Wednesday morning to confirm the diagnosis.

Sally needed anesthesia for the scan. About half an hour after the anesthesia was administered, she stopped breathing on her own. They breathed manually for her for about an hour, but she never took over breathing for herself. They put her on a respirator and set her up with fluids to help flush out the dye used for the scan, in case her problem was due to an allergic reaction. They also began treatment for her real malady, meningitis, that was identified as a result of the scan. But, as the day progressed, her status remained unchanged and the prognosis grew more dire. By early evening, we decided there was not really any hope for a recovery but had the hospital keep her on the respirator through the night. That way, I could go to the hospital in the morning and, assuming no miracle occurred, would be able to say goodbye and be with her when she died.

Two dear friends drove me over early this morning while a third stayed with Skip. When we arrived, the vet neurologist told us that Sally's situation had further deteriorated overnight as she was no longer able to control her electrolytes or blood sugar. Clearly, the condition was unrecoverable. We went in to the ICU to see our little Sally girl, stroke her, give her a kiss and cry while we said our goodbyes. They gave her the injections to euthanize her and, poof, in a moment, she was gone for good.

Goodbye, Sally, we will miss you more than you could possibly imagine!