Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Donna Gets Better

NURSING - Glowing Neon Sign on stonework wall - 3D rendered royalty free stock illustration.  Can be used for online banner ads and direct mailers..

I found the following email in a draft file from last summer that I planned to share on FB...but, ahem, forgot to do so. It's from June, 2016.

We were heading out to a ballgame when Donna told me that she had  symptoms that mimicked heart trouble. She ended up having a cardiac catheterization – she then was discharged with good numbers and no discernible heart issues. She was in the hospital for 4 days.

I was in her room most of the time – talking, reading, writing, and observing the nursing staff…and it was a sight to behold. I have never seen a more caring group of people. Donna had 3 RNs and 2 Techs who were outstanding, each in a unique way. They shared competence, hugs, answers, follow-ups, and unlimited re-assurance. They saw Donna’s anxiousness and addressed it. They comforted while dispensing. They were wonderful.

I had time to think a lot while I was in the hospital room. I had been to my mechanic, Mike, a few days earlier. He put on two new tires for me. One tire had reached the end of its tread life, and the other had open steel belts that glided on the asphalt without the benefit of rubber – a kind of automotive arthritis. Mike is honest and gives me a fair price on parts and repairs – always has the car ready when he says it will be. He gives a good account for himself at work, and I’m sure in life. He likes fixing things, but he is no nurse.

He doesn’t have to talk to the car or be concerned for its feelings or anxiety. He doesn’t have to deal with the car’s family wishes, or take any blame. The car doesn’t care.

The nursing staff at Rex hospital in Raleigh are special. I saw them leave at the end of the day, and they left everything on the field.

In whatever afterlife they believe in – they will get the floor seats. No question.

Donna and I went out yesterday, spent some money, and bought each one of them a box of expensive chocolates (not the dinky ones at the end of the aisle in CVS. No Sir!) and attached a personal card. I gave Donna a list of each person’s attributes as a suggestion of what to write. I know, I’m awful.

We wanted to acknowledge and honor their work. I hope that chocolate gains altitude and jets into their hearts and heads and stays there for a while. Although being chocolate, that time may be abbreviated.

During her stay, too many people were texting Donna in the hospital. I finally made a suggestion…with tongue firmly planted in cheek…indicating to all the texters she would love a home-made apple pie (my favorite, not hers) to help in her recovery.

 Those folks know me, know I’m kidding, and know apple pie is my favorite. So viola! We come home and there are 2 pies at our front door!

I spoke with my friend kayak Larry, and when I stated my shock, he said, “We never know when you’re kidding.”

I feel real guilty about it. Maybe I’ll feel better... if I have another piece.

Next time I’m just asking for money.


Tuesday, January 31, 2017

So Long, Farewell to 2016

“Life is made up of moments, small pieces of glittering mica in a long stretch of gray cement.”
-A Short Guide To A Happy Life, by Anna Quindlen.

First the bad news from 2016. Out of approximately 90 posts from this blog, I’ve lost 30. My fault. I never backed them up with a flash drive since it was on Google, and I thought that if I ran into a problem, I could rely on Google support. Little did I know there is no Google support to speak of. Out of the 30 or so posts, I would like to recoup one, the“30 Years and a Wake Up” - about my alcoholism. If by some remote chance you have it, please let me know.

Now the good news from 2016.  Everything else.

Throughout the year two ideas attached themselves willy-nilly to my thinking like Post-it notes. One involved a renewed appreciation of family and friends; another the value of time. As I age, I seem to favor the familiar. I think of my wife Donna and how much happiness she has brought into my life. I am so, so grateful she has opened up her life and allowed me to enter. I don’t deserve her and don’t tell her often enough how much she means to me.

I’m grateful to my life-long friend, Jack, and the hours we’ve spent on the phone discussing Boston sports and growing up in a south shore suburb. Our memories will die a hard death as long as we have cell phones.

I’m grateful to my friend Larry. He doesn’t live life; he ignites it. He presents enthusiasm and good cheer to everyone he meets – every day. He’s fun to be around, and I have fond memories of our biking, kayaking, and working on the disassembly of my clothes dryer - on our knees - on my garage floor. What will 2017 bring?

I’m grateful for my sister, the original energizer bunny, who will not only survive the encroaching dystopian zombie apocalypse; she will thrive. Her time will be spent transporting the neighborhood zombie children to elementary school and then arranging quality childcare. She’ll do medical runs from New Hampshire to Mass General Hospital in Boston when the zombie parents’ limbs start falling off. As long as she doesn’t breech the entrance to any remaining retail space (Can’t you just see the New Hampshire store signs just over the border? “No Massachusetts sales tax – Zombies 10% off on Tuesdays.”), she’ll be just fine. The zombies and I will be grateful for her efforts in the coming years.

I’m grateful to live in a tree with so many strong branches.

During these yearly summary type of things, I dislike folks who recommend the best movies/books of the year. I, of course, would never do that. You’re an adult, you can figure it out yourself.

Best movie you’ve never heard of in 2016: I’ll See You In My Dreams – teaches baby boomers that life still has some atrial fibrillation to it, and besides you get to hear Blythe Danner sing.  On a trip to Northern Ireland, Donna and I saw flags designating protestant or catholic neighborhoods. The movie 71 (Netflix) explains the context – but very violent and exhausting to watch. Don't worry about acquiring a comfortable seat - you'll be on the edge of whatever seat you choose. Also liked Me Before You and Before You Go (also Netflix). I liked Before You Go a lot. I don’t know why.

Books: I told myself in my late 20s I’d found the great American novel – The Great Gatsby- and that I would read it every year. I read it last year for probably the 4h time. The characters aren’t as engrossing this time out, but they still live inside F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wonderful words. Also re-read The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V Higgins. The best crime novel ever written according to Elmore Leonard. It’s filled with gratuitous sexual references and plenty of misogyny so be warned, but I named a restaurant in my Boston Harbors Murder novel, “Dave Foley’s Steakhouse,” in honor of a character in the book. The 1973 movie is just as good.

So one book about broken dreams, another about broken bones. The characters in those books should have listened to their mothers.

I have noticed that as I age, somebody moves the chains when I’m not looking. I was filled with disgust during the 2016 Presidential race – with both party candidates. In retirement, my morning routine involved strong coffee and cable news, but the election coverage became so depressing, I turned to YouTube videos on our new smart TV. I bounced from auto detailing in a snowstorm (I’m not kidding), to Duke Ellington At Newport, to a Maserati Ghibli road test, to the best technique for wall painting with a roller, to the proper way to tie a bowtie. One after the other. Talk about your cognitive dissonance? No wait, cognitive dissonance was a Youtube 20 minute TED lecture.

The bottom of my TV screen was filled with a string of past videos that resembled a group portrait of a dysfunctional family…but it was still better than watching the election coverage…and then a good thing happened. A really good thing.

During my YouTube search, I came across video posts of a Catholic priest, Father Ian Vanheusen. He does 1-2 minute videos that can carry you through the day – “Our Mission”, “A Generation of Saints” and, “Desolations” are a good place to start. I watched one every morning, and many of them multiple times. His heart is full of God and wants us to realize that we all live in a community of saints – everyone of us. Check him out on YouTube or his website, ianvanheusen.com. You don’t have to be Catholic, you don’t have to be perfect, you can even be unsure of God.

So not a bad deal. I lost Trump and Clinton, but gained God. And that leads me to another thought from 2016 and Father Ian’s videos. Sometimes I wonder if we’re more ocean than land. God finds us formless with only rudimentary self-knowledge as we’re drifting through the troughs of the white caps. We slowly get filled with God’s gifts as He pushes us from deep ocean to shoreline. He is our following sea that propels us through the wave break toward land to use (or not-our choice) those gifts for others in need. He waits, and if necessary pushes us back out to sea for more nourishment, for more quiet, always wanting the best for us, always wanting us to realize what’s important in this life, always hoping we come to know what matters, always hoping we come to know Him.

I’ll leave with more Anna Quindlen,
“Get a life in which you notice the smell of salt water pushing itself on a breeze over the dunes, a life in which you stop and watch how a red-tailed hawk circles over a pond and stand of pines... Keep still. Be present.”

Happy 2017!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Why? Why Not? What's Next?

Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart: Thirty true Things You Need to Know Now by Gordon Livingston, M.D.

“…you can listen as well as you hear” – from The Living Years, Mike and the Mechanics (1988)

Psychiatrist Dr. Livingston spent his thirty-year career listening to people. He was a surgeon in Vietnam and received a bronze star with a “V” for valor. There must be a story there, but he doesn’t tell it. He also lost two sons within a year of each other; one a suicide, another through leukemia. He doesn’t believe in God because of the loss, but he isn’t judgmental about those who do believe. As a reader I sensed that he would like to have faith if he found that God tried to chase his anguish and pain.
For me, most chapters rang true, but a few didn’t apply or have meaning to me. But, oh boy, there’s one that favored baby boomers like me. I would recommend this book. And no, I’m not going to list all thirty. The following is a brief amalgam – mostly his, but some references mine. As you know, sometimes I just can’t help myself.
The Statute of Limitations Has Expired on Most of Our Childhood traumas.

In life, we leverage experience for lessons. Memories from our youth sometimes unexpectedly bubble up from our consciousness. They can take the form of a slight, an embarrassment, a regret, or unforgotten pain. They can come to the forefront as we age. Our youthful memories are forceful because they are our first. Often I’ll be driving the car and for no apparent reason I’ll say to myself, “Oh boy.” An embarrassing recollection bubbles up and floats to the surface. The trick is to let it surface and dispel. Realize it and let it go. I don’t always succeed, but I try.
Childhood is the training-wheels part of our lives. We sail that ship out of the harbor and hit craggy shoals before we get to open ocean. We don’t want to founder in the shallows and live there. One of Dr. Livingston’s chapters is titled, “The Most Secure Prisons Are Those We construct For Ourselves.” Enough said.

Why? Why Not? What’s Next?

These are the doctor’s favorite questions in therapy. He says that most people don’t make the link between behavior and feelings. As this paragraph title suggests, he writes that the most secure prisons are the ones we build for ourselves, but that if we investigate real prison breaks, the one constant in them is a lot of planning. The only real form of communication is behavior, not intent or words – confession may be good for the soul, but unless it’s accompanied by a considered behavior change, it’s all dross. He writes…”I don’t give much direct advice in therapy – not out of modesty or as a trick to get patients to come up with their own solutions to problems, but because most of the time I don’t have a clear idea of what people need to do to make themselves better. I am, however, able to sit with them while they figure it out. My job is to hold them to the task…”
In other words, to ask “why?” Why do they act that way? Then to ask “why not?” when they construct barriers for solutions – and woven throughout this process, he pushes the question, “what’s next?” Move them off the past and present complaint to a future change, and “change is the essence of life.” He writes that…”To take risks necessary to achieve this goal is an act of courage. To refuse to take them, to protect our hearts against all loss, is an act of despair.”

The Problems of The Elderly Are Frequently Serious But Seldom Interesting.

Ok, here we go...the bad news.
 In this society (and others) Dr. Livingston writes that old age is seen as a time of entitlement by seniors and stigmatized and infirmed by others. The idea the elderly have anything to contribute to our culture is not given consideration. He states, “One reason for our fear of aging is that those who have gone before us have, in general, set a poor example. Most families I talk to see their aging relatives as a burden. The idea that the elderly have anything to give the young in the way of wisdom and life experience is seldom conserved. The reason: most old people are preoccupied with self-centered. complaints….’How are you doing?’ What could be less interesting and more discouraging than a litany of aches, pains, and bowel difficulties, delivered in the querulous tone of those who realize that what they are suffering from is beyond remedy and getting worse?”
Ok, here we go…the good news.
Well, I guess our elderly parents can have aspects of burden, but it is a burden born out of love. They grew us into this life, and we, if lucky, help them grow into the next.
If you’re a baby boomer like I am, this chapter may be the apex of the book. Although I’m still active, I can peek at diminution around the edges of my life. I get emails from time-to-time from my high school, college, and military alumni organizations informing me of peer obituaries. What’s left for us besides senior discounts, “things aren’t what they used to be” conversations over coffee, FB, and day-time TV?
Just this. Dr. Livingston tells us that we are what we do and it’s never too late to do. He writes that it’s the task of parents (or others in similar roles) throughout our lives to convey to the young a sense of optimism. “A conviction that we can achieve happiness amid the losses and uncertainties that life contains is the greatest gift that can pass from one generation to the next.
If we can retain our good humor and interest in others even as the curtain closes, we will have contributed something of inestimable value to those who survive us. We will have thereby fulfilled our final obligation…”

And then, maybe this will happen.

“I wasn’t there that morning,
When my father passed away,
I didn’t get to tell him,
All the things I had to say.
I think I caught his spirit,
Later that same year,
I’m sure I heard his echo
In my baby’s new born tears.
I just wish I could have told him,
In the living years.”

I like that song. I'll bet Dr. Livingston does too.