Sunday, March 25, 2012

Iguana Meat and the Mayans

Our daughter has returned safely to U.S. soil after a trip to Belize which undeniably had vacation elements.

While there was time set aside to lie on the beach and gaze into the Caribbean, the primary activity of her traveling party was mission-oriented. So, their inland water views looked something like this.

She has come home for one night and has been given us abbreviated stories as time and movement about town allow. She spent the majority of her time playing, rough housing, singing and eating with beautiful Mayan children.

She is a person of many strengths, but has been notoriously deficient in being comfortable around young kids, so this seems to have been a growth experience for her.

She and the others worked in and around a school, as well as in a farming community, where she got up close and personal with an iguana.

The thing is, the big lizard she was holding was somebody’s future lunch. The missionaries made a stab at immersing themselves into the culture by eating iguana, iguana eggs and other indigenous food. At least they can say they did it.

As long as they were handling potential food, why not pick up something more familiar, like bacon or ham?

Being exposed to another way of life will serve her well in the long run. The people she encountered weren’t impoverished, oppressed or victims of natural disaster; but that doesn’t make the trip any less worthwhile. On top of all that, she got that “Belize” stamp on her passport.

She hustled back a day earlier than the others because she attended a wedding here in the hometown.

After about 26 hours using the family home as a base of operations, it’s back to Texas and her real life. It was certainly nice to see her.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A Brief Dispatch From Belize

Our daughter is out of the country on a mission trip. We didn’t add any kind of international plan to her phone, so the information we’re getting about the mission is coming in the form of late night e-mails from the church staffer who coordinates college ministry. This is a young woman who is fond of using exclamation points!

We’ve seen one photo of our daughter so far, and if you know her it’s kind of funny. She is notoriously uncomfortable around young children, so maybe this will be a growth experience for her, not to mention a boost to our hopes of someday being grandparents.

Their work at a school continues, as does their beachside worship experience. Here’s what we heard about that: “In our small groups tonight, our lesson focused on the differences between false and true repentance. We split up into even smaller groups of guys and girls to spend some time being open and sharing about things we need to be repenting of in our lives right now and ways we've been avoiding that. I can't speak for the guy groups, but from my group and hearing from the other girls; I can say that it was definitely a great time of growing closer together and encouraging each other!”

I’d like to encourage them to send more photos from Belize. I’m starting to think that one fabulous dock with the grass hut at the end is the only landmark they’re seeing.

Maybe it is. I mean, after all, the primary purpose of the trip is the mission, not sight-seeing.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Worthy Spring Break Destination

On this, the first day of Spring 2012, our daughter finds herself on Spring Break. When you think of a college student this time of year, what comes to mind? Panama City? Ft. Lauderdale? Destin? Or, maybe a different climate? I know a lot of young adults have gone skiing (many people in the South feel compelled to modify this and say “snow skiing,” to differentiate it from “water skiing.” This is an important distinction between a place like Vail and somewhere like Lake Bistineau).
None of those apply to our student, who left Monday with several friends for Central America on a mission trip.

She’s in a pretty large group, which split up into four teams on day one. Nursing students saw 63 children at a school clinic under the supervision of the school nurse. Others prepared meals for malnourished children. Another group was on construction duty, working to build a pavilion at the school “where they can have large groups meet for assemblies and things like that.” They put in a full work day and plan to do so every day this week. We are told there was “a decent amount of exhaustion.”
No doubt they were tired. They’re doing good work, to be sure; but let me be more specific about this “Central America” thing. It’s Belize, which isn’t bad. In fact, here’s where they’re staying.

They had dinner on the dock after the workday. This is a church group; so much of their free time was spent on a worship experience, including singing songs of praise on the beach for an hour and a half or so. If you want to feel the Glory of the Lord, this is a pretty good place to do it.

I’m happy they’re able to enjoy a spectacular setting to start and end their days. As a parent, I’d certainly rather know they’re having a positive impact on young children as opposed to binge drinking and puking off a hotel balcony on the Redneck Riviera. Because you know that’s actually happening, to many of their friends. Go, Belize!

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Friday, March 09, 2012

Good News But With Continued Frustration

There is significant progress to report in the rehabilitation of The Sick Person in my family. Two weeks ago, he was flat on his back in a bed. He worked his way through a wheelchair phase and now is showing a moderate level of ambulatory competence on a walker. (Um, he can walk pretty well with that thing but he still needs help).

We went to his doctor for a check-up; but other than getting a little fresh air in the process, the visit was unremarkable.
What is remarkable, however, is how challenging it is to get things accomplished. How about a couple of examples? Let’s start with this doctor’s appointment:

• I call to set up the appointment, but the lady who answers the phone can’t do it. She transfers me to someone else.
• The next person starts to set things up, but I mention he’s living in a nursing home. She says I have to talk to the Nursing Home Coordinator. I am transferred to her.
• The Nursing Home Coordinator answers a couple of questions, but tells me she can’t set up an appointment because “I don’t have a computer.” She transfers me to someone else.
• Fourth call transfer, finally someone set up the appointment.

When we moved into the nursing home, it was made clear that they will transport residents to doctors’ appointments. Whew. That’s a convenience and a time saver. So, I call the morning of his appointment to verify his transportation. The receptionist says “I’m very sorry, sir. Usually we can do it, but the van is being repaired today.” I said, “When you say ‘the van,’ this means you only have ONE?” She said “yes, sir.” I couldn't help myself. I laughed out loud. So, I called my boss's executive assistant, explained my circumstance and said I’d be out of pocket for a while, taking a guy from a nursing home to a doctor's appointment.

The nursing home provides a nice service. They send their residents to appointments with a packet of papers which includes the face sheet of their chart, recent medical history and a medicine list. This is huge, if you think about it. So, we get to the doctor’s office. I sign in The Sick Person and ask the lady at the front desk what I should do with the packet. Blank stare. “What is that?” I said it was the packet of papers the nursing home sent. She said “You have to talk to the Nursing Home Coordinator.” Finally, an office nurse overheard this and said “those papers go on his chart.” She shot me a sympathetic glance and said “I’ll take care of it, sir. Thank you.” Finally, somebody who understood what was going on.

(But hold on, there’s more. Why don’t you grab a cup of coffee or something?)

Next example: The quest to find someone to renovate The Sick Person’s house:

We are hoping he can go home. If/ when he does, he will very likely need a walker, wheelchair and/or scooter. There’s no way his house in its present configuration can effectively accommodate those things, so we need to talk about renovations: door widening, handrails, etc. You would think it would be a snap to find someone who is knowledgeable and proficient at this kind of work. Not so, at least not for me. I began talks with a contractor who has billboards around town, but my appointment with him has been pushed back a couple of times. I think he works at too high a level for this, anyway. I was thinking that healthcare entities which deal with newly handicapped/ impaired people would have a variety of resources along these lines. So, I called the home health agency with which The Sick Person has an established relationship:

• The first person I spoke with wanted to help, said he didn’t know a lot about it but “our social workers do this kind of thing all the time. Let me set up a time when you can talk to one. I think Linda would be great.” Okay. Now we’re getting somewhere.
• He sent an e-mail to Linda, copied it to me, in which he outlined all the details: Sick Person’s name, the fact that he’s a patient of the agency, my name and relationship to The Sick Person, and that we were looking for recommendations about renovating the house.
• Linda responded, proposed a meeting time and place which was agreeable to me. I responded and the meeting was set.
• I went to the meeting, where I was greeted by the first guy I talked to. He took me to Linda, introduced us and left.
• Linda looked at me with the “how can I help you?” face. I explained what I was looking for, making the mistake of assuming she knew since she read the e-mail and agreed to the meeting.
• In response to my explanation, she actually shrugged, glanced sort of off to the side and up toward the ceiling at the same time and helpfully said “I guess you’ll need to hire a contractor.”

I couldn’t leave fast enough.

I could go on, but this would turn into a novel. I will say that we’ve come across some competent, helpful, compassionate people. Rock Star physician, referred to in an earlier post, has gone out of his way to be of service…strongly affirming my perception of him. Two ladies at the local Social Security office were engaging, instructive and helpful. God Bless them. But I’m still amazed and a little discouraged at the nincompoopery I encounter on a daily basis as I’m just trying to help a Sick and Hurt Relative. I guess you can get good help these days, but you really have to search for it.

The Sick Person has a positive frame of mind these days. He’s working hard to get back on his feet. He might even kind of like the nursing home a little. Hard to believe, but it’s true. I know that will be short-lived, though. Everybody wants him to get home.

I did find a contractor, by the way. One phone call to the local Council on Aging got me pointed in the right direction. Somebody out there knows what they’re doing.

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Sunday, March 04, 2012

Love Goes A Long Way Sometimes

Four weeks ago, if you had told me I would be thrilled to see somebody stand up and pee, I’d have looked at you like you were crazy. The idea that I would be happy to stand around while it happened just to make sure nothing went wrong would have been incomprehensible. But here we are, celebrating milestones in the recovery of The Sick Person in my family. Since February 4th, the poor guy has been flat on his back most of the time and has suffered the necessity of a catheter until just a couple of days ago.
There's encouraging progress to report. This weekend, we loaded up the wheelchair and got him out into the real world.

That helped his outlook, but a grand gesture of love and kindness was like a bolus of adrenaline to his confidence. The man has been divorced for more than a decade and a half. His former wife and most of her people have moved away. Saturday, one of his stepdaughters brought her family to town from Texas specifically to visit him. While the trip had been planned for a couple of weeks, we decided to surprise him. I briefly checked on him during their visit, and let me say this: I’ve known him every day of my life and I have never seen him look so happy. He was ebullient, over the moon.
It’s not an exaggeration to say their showing up has been a major turning point. His primary care provider at the nursing home said that instantly he became a new person and I agree. With the snap of a finger, he was motivated to get out of the bed and into a wheelchair. He found out he is stronger than he thought. I fear he may begin terrorizing the halls where all the other sick people are trying to get some rest.
We brought him to the house for several hours later that day and he was just a chatterbox.
Mostly, he talked about how happy he was to see the people with whom he once shared a home.

He has begun to take pride in his appearance. So, today we plopped him back into the chair and took him to Target for supplies. It was like he had gone to the state fair or something.

His sense of humor is coming back, too. Always kind of salty guy, he’s taken to calling the nursing home “the chicken farm” because, he says “we’re all cooped up and all we do is eat and shit.” Disgusting and a little mean, but clever. When it was time to take him back, I said “Okay, Rooster. Let’s go back to the coop.” He laughed like I was David Letterman or something, which is a heck of a lot better than lying in the bed and staring out the window. That’s pretty much all he did before his surprise visitors arrived. While he still has a long, challenging road ahead, thanks to the affirmation that his well-being matters to someone; he seems eager to face it.
I got a note from one of them moments after they left. She said “I had no idea he missed us so much. I’ll be back.” I hope with all my heart she follows through. Sometimes, love is the best medicine.

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Friday, March 02, 2012

A Tap on the Shoulder From Above

Maybe I'm feeling especially vulnerable after weeks of feebly managing the affairs of a stricken family member, but the tingle I felt roll down my spine earlier today was very real.
I grew up in the Church and I remain active. I might even be a little unconventional because of frequent visits to a nearby place of worship while I'm actually a member of another congregation. While my religion, and maybe even my faith, are simply part of me...apparently the "gee whiz" God moments have gone largely unacknowledged. There have been one or two "God is real" affirming occurrences when I became convinced I was getting a message. Today's got my attention.

For several weeks before The Sick Person was struck down and sent to long-term care, he had been struggling significantly with a chronic illness. The specialists have been at a loss to help him. We tried many times without success to get him involved in a program at a Nearby Healthcare Facility dedicated to studying his particular ailment. That failure has been a source of frustration and discouragement.

For a couple of weeks now, I've felt like a dog barking into the wind. I was making a lot of noise, maybe even annoying some people; but I wasn't really accomplishing a damn thing. The place where we landed is fine, but to be honest it felt like the least objectionable of the absurd options placed before us.
That might be my outlook, though. I'm certain The Sick Person is despondent and I know I'm just damn depressed. To borrow lyrics from a 70''s song: I set my sights on Monday and got myself undressed. But that was after the little pat on the back from The Almighty, which certainly improved my frame of mind if not my outlook.

As moving day loomed, I made one move that was either desperate or inspired. I know and like a highly respected physician who is kind of a medical rock star at Nearby Healthcare Facility. We aren't friends, per se. He's way above me on the food chain; but he seems like a compassionate man and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is brilliant. We don't have the kind of relationship (I don't think) that would lend itself to this...but I dropped him an e-mail asking him for recommendations. He wrote back and said he would do what he can. He said he'd call. I wrote him back to thank him and left it there.

First full day in the new facility...Okay, I'm going to stop dancing around it. it's a damn nursing home. That's what it is and there's no denying it.
God, please, let it be temporary. Anyway, The Sick Person had a pretty good day. He was as alert as he has been in weeks. We were able to carry on a regular conversation and discuss what lies ahead. He's been away from home for so long, we have the postal service holding his mail. On a whim, I stopped by to pick up the big bundle of letters and bills early in the day.

When I discovered that he was encouragingly alert, I asked The Sick Person if he would like to look through his mail. He said okay. So, I starting thumbing through it...bill, bill, bank statement, AARP magazine, then BOOM! An envelope from Nearby Healthcare Facility. I opened it and saw a letter. He has an appointment with the program he's been trying to get into for almost a year! To be clear, the letter was postmarked BEFORE my e-mail to Medical Rock Star. Sick Person was elated. Hope. He smiled, the first time that's happened in weeks. Thirty seconds after I opened that letter, which was still in my hand, my phone rang. It was Rock Star returning the call as promised. He said he would look at Sick Person's images and records, do an evaluation and see if there's anything he can do to help.

These were two potentially enormous developments in the care of a person suffering from a significant debility and they happened simultaneously. Given everything we've been through over the past several months, it seemed like a little miracle to me. Here's what I heard: "Darrell, it's me, God. You know how you've been asking me to reveal myself to you? Well, Hi. I know this is hard, but I'm here. I'm helping. I have a plan. You might not understand it, but trust Me."

Okay. You have my attention.

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Thursday, March 01, 2012

Mad At The World and Sick About It

I know how Sisyphus might have felt….rolling that giant boulder to the top of the mountain, getting just to the top…and then having it fall back on you. Then, you start the process all over again.
It took us days to finalize the next destination for our stricken family member.

Before the whine continues, here are a few declarations: Obviously, references to the Sick Person are cryptic. I’m not identifying him specifically because he has no idea I’m venting on the internet. The people who know who he is know who he is. In response to several questions and many assumptions, I will reveal that it is NOT my father, who at age 85 is just fine these days.

I’ve been saying the Sick Person is very sick and will probably stay that way, so let me clear that up a little. He fell. He fell hard, apparently more than once. He has a brain injury. It has affected his eyesight, speech, short-term memory and mobility. It’s bad.

Today, he left the hospital where he had been since February 4th and was transported in a van to a skilled nursing facility.

Who knows how long he will be there? To ride in the van, he was in a wheelchair. He was also wearing clothes, which was nice to see after a month of looking at nothing but a hospital gown. But, it was all window dressing. The ride and the emotional toll took it out of him. Last time I saw him, he was in his new surroundings, still wearing clothes, but flat on his back in a bed in a room in a building completely foreign to him.

Phone calls, e-mails, text messages, site visits, difficult conversations. The process of choosing this place dragged on and on. We plowed through at least five facilities which either determined that they could not provide appropriate care for his injuries/ illnesses or didn’t like his insurance. I thought the top of my head was going to blow off. I think it didn’t only because the pressure was relieved in an unpleasant fashion from another part of my body.

When I find myself under this kind of pressure, I don’t like myself very much; and I’m pretty sure the people around me don’t like me, either. I just can’t help myself. Under stress, my voice gets loud and people think I’m yelling. Asking me not to raise my voice is like asking me not to breathe. It just happens.
It’s also intensely frustrating to be unable to efficiently find solutions to the problems presented to us.

I am grateful to the many co-workers who have endured my ranting over the past several days. As always, My Spectacular Wife goes out of her way to help. She knows when to rein me in and also knows when to step back and stoically let me yell a little.

The sad reality is, this current stop just buys us a little time. In three to four weeks, we’ll very likely need to make more difficult decisions. If you see me waving my arms around like a wild man and/ or speaking with a raised voice; please don’t be offended. Don’t be frightened. I’m just struggling. A pat on the back or a little hug may go a long way to getting me to be a little less loud.

Sometimes, it seems like I’m mad at everybody. I know it’s me. I keep talking to myself. Too loudly on occasion, of course.
I wish I could cry, but I can’t.

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