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.