ME AND DESCARTES

ME AND DESCARTES

 

It’s now a little over a year since I broke my right hip and elbow, nearly died from pneumonia and congestive heart failure, and contracted a stage 4 open bed sore on my coccyx for which a nurse came every day for seven months to change the bandages. During these months I took pain medication at night and sometimes during the day when the pain got to be severe. On arriving home after spending four months in a nursing home, I found it difficult to care for myself. But rather than coddle me, my daughter Ingrid pushed me to try to do things for myself. I wondered about going to a assisted living facility, but I’m now so happy that I didn’t; if I had, my brain would have turned to mush from having so much done for me. But for months every task took physical and mental effort which I didn’t have; weak and oh, so slow! Even my speech, and I became winded talking to people who spoke fast( I had always mimicked the speech pattern of others). When I complained to my cardiologist, he said I should talk only to those who speak slowly or to Southerners. Then came an evening when I was able to wash the day’s dishes (thank goodness for paper plates and frozen Fresh Direct meals). A few nights later I was strong enough not only to take the garbage out but to hoist it up to the incinerator in the hallway. And then I could walk to the incinerator without using my cane. I could carry my food unspilled to the table without using the cane. I felt elated with each accomplishment!. Working out twice a week with my physical therapist, I had graduated from a walker to a cane when in my apartment (even without the cane in my apartment but not recommended) and when walking around my coop’s grounds. But as for giving myself a bath, forget it; no way I could aim the shower hose on my body instead of the bathroom floor. That problem was resolved by Becilla, a wonderful woman quite a bit younger than I, who comes twice a week, gives me a bath and keeps my household running smoothly. So physically I was recovering, but during all this time, my brain was in a fog. Read a book? It was an effort just to read the headlines in The New York Times. The Arts section which I had enjoyed for years held no interest for me. Even my favorite, the Obituary section, got hardly a glance. Thank God, for my pocket radio and NPR. Just as in the nursing home it was the only activity which didn’t take effort. It was somewhat reassuring to know that I was still interested in what was going on in the world. My wonderful granddaughter Sarah and her husband Chris took me out every Sunday evening, pushing me in my wheelchair to our favorite neighborhood restaurant Pisticci’s. Always in the past I had a great time going with them. especially because by now we knew all the staff, a collection of opera singers, poets, artists, photographers, and because on Sunday evenings there was live music with an ensemble and superb jazz and pop singer Pamela. However for months, although it was pleasant to get out, I got no joy from it. I felt as if I were only partially there looking in on the activity around me . And this was how my life had shaped up till now; it was depressing.

For years I had done most of my shopping from catalogs. I always loved looking through them which keep on coming, no doubt even when you’re dead. They held a vague interest now, but during these months my cloudy brain wouldn’t cooperate when it came to the actual ordering. I needed some summer nightgowns and it was now the month of June. I had leafed through the Vermont Country Store’s catalog several different times looking at the Eileen West nightgowns, and saw two that I liked very much, one especially which was white with a lavender (my favorite color) flower print. Came one evening when perusing them once again while eating dinner, my brain magically cleared and I could focus. Finally I knew I could do it; I immediately called up the company and put in my order for the nightgowns, but also for a set of bed sheets that had the same print of lavender flowers to match the nightgown. There was no stopping me now. I got out the Land’s End and Talbot catalogs, both of which announced sales and free shipping, and ordered four pairs of pants, towels and several blouses. I was reminded when they came, that there are risks when buying mail order; the towels which must be of the best quality ever made are so heavy and big that Becilla refuses to use them, and two of the blouses, though beautiful, were of a cotton that need ironing, and I no longer have the strength to open up an ironing board. I was afraid I’d have to get rid of them until Becilla, bless her, offered to iron them for me.

About this time I noticed my interest in reading the daily paper had returned; I could now manage a whole article. And I no longer was winded when conversing with neighbors; In fact you couldn’t stop me from talking once I got started. I found people fascinating. And going to Pisticci’s with Sarah and Chris was once again lots of fun. The Joy in my life had come back – seeing a new flower sprung up on our grounds, toddlers walking on their tottering little legs just like me on my tottering old legs, getting a video of my granddaughter Emma on a TV show in Japan belting out a terrific jazz rendition of ‘Mack the Knife.’ Joy even in seemingly inconsequential things. One Sunday Sarah took me to a trendy nail salon where I had my nails painted lavender; it gave me so much pleasure when going bed to see them against the lavender nightgown and the lavender flowered sheets. I like that with my walker I can make it across Broadway with all its traffic to the deli that sells the best bran muffins made with yogurt and talk with the young Middle Eastern man who greets me now as ‘friend.’ Recently my mind was sharp enough to finally get together all the necessary information needed for my accountant to file my 2015 and 2016 tax returns.

I think my body and mind began to come out of their once comatose state as I cut down gradually on the opioids I’d been taking for pain; after almost a year my bed sore had finally healed. I feel like I’ve been given one more stage of life to experience, and a very happy one. It’s interesting to observe my gradual decline, and I‘m comforted by the thought my family will come to accept this gradual decline rather than if I were to die suddenly like I almost did a year ago. I don’t want to die, but I’m focusing on living, believing that when the time comes, my body and mind will take care of the dying.. Even though my life has limitations (I could not go to Japan for my granddaughter’s formal wedding this summer), there is so much for me to enjoy. Of course, the times I share with my family bring me the most joy.

When did I know I had finally recovered? Why, when I was able to order that lavender nightgown and lavender sheets. Descartes said “I think, therefore I am.” As for me, it’s “I shop, therefore I am!”

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  I WOULDN’T HAVE MISSED IT FOR THE WORLD!      At 89 ½ years of age (we’re counting half years again), except when I broke my kneecap many years ago, I had never suffered extreme physical pain.  Last August when I broke my right hip and shattered my right elbow, oh, my God, did that hurt, especially when I was transferred from the ambulance stretcher onto the hospital bed.  But that was nothing compared to the truly excruciating pain caused by a stage four open bed sore on my coccyx gotten from lying in the hospital bed day after day.  Fortunately, due to the pain medications oxycodone and oxycontin, I was able to stay sane, although not totally pain free, but spaced out mentally and physically.  In conversations, words and phrases eluded me.  For weeks, aside from one and a half hours daily of physical therapy, I would spend hours sitting in the wheelchair in my room at the nursing home, my head resting on a pillow on the tray table to lessen my coccyx’s contact with the seat.  Of course, I had to sleep on my side.   I couldn’t focus on reading anything.  My family showed me how to listen to Podcasts and how to read books on my Kindle, and to watch movies on my iPad, but to no avail.  My mind was not capable of dealing with anything except existence.   Plus the constipation due to the oxycodone was a continuing problem (the solution: warm prune juice).  And then came the pneumonia, the congestive heart failure, the A-fib and MRSA! Recovering, I was so weak I couldn’t even button my shirt; my fingers wouldn’t work and I needed help brushing my teeth.  I did marvel, however, at how I could eat soup with my left hand without ever spilling a drop.  Thank God for my pocket radio and for NPR!  They were my constant companion day and night.  I wonder how people with chronic pain can go on living. I know now what extreme pain is and have compassion for those who suffer. I wouldn’t have missed these experiences for the world!      My family members and the few friends whom I notified (I did not particularly want visitors, reminding myself of my cats who when ill hid under the living room couch) were wonderful to me. My granddaughter Sarah and her husband Chris came to see me practically every night after work.  Of friends, I single out Feli.  She, from the Philippines originally, has been with my son and his family ever since Sarah was born in Paris 33 years ago.  She has continued to live with them ever since, mostly in Japan.  During my stay at the nursing home, Sarah invited her for a month’s visit with them.  Every evening at 6:00 Feli would bring me dinner she had  prepared that afternoon.  She followed no recipes, concocting her own which were always delicious.  One evening, after I had returned to my own home, my left foot was swollen as it had been for days.  Feli warmed some olive  oil, got down on her hands and knees, and massaged the oil into my foot until it returned to normal.  This was her home remedy and it worked.  A  real live angel had come to help me.  I wouldn’t have missed these experiences for the world!      Election night I was very depressed, thinking this is no life, lying in the  nursing home with no future.  I still thought Hillary would win, but I began to have doubts when the nurse who came in to give me my sleep and pain  medications said despondently that Trump was winning in South Carolina.  I went to sleep but woke up at 2:00 am and with trepidation turned on my  trusted pocket radio.  Trump had won.  The outcome fitted so well with the despondency I had felt earlier.  I went back to sleep with gloom settling over me.  What would become of our country and what would become of me?  I wouldn’t have missed experiencing this despair for the world!      “Shit, shit, everywhere shit,” my aide exclaimed, first in Spanish I was guessing, and then in English.  It was the day after I had returned to the nursing home after surviving the pneumonia and other afflictions in the hospital.  The bedpan was overflowing as she cleaned up the mess on  the bed, the floor, and me.  “Yup, it’s all of that and more,” I said at which she chuckled.  Upon soiling everything again the following day, I meekly said,  “I couldn’t help it.” “I know,” she replied gently.  I grew to become quite fond of her.  The hardworking aides hurrying from one patient to another are the unsung heroines of these institutions.  At 5:00 am, the aides working the night shift change our diapers and wash our bottoms with soap and warm water.  In my half sleep I wonder how they feel or what they are thinking while doing this gross job.  There were two evening aides, Carmen and Mirla, whom I loved, because they treated me as if I were their beloved grandmother.   Another favorite of mine among the staff was Dr. Lansey, who oversaw the healing of the wound on my coccyx.  He said they take weeks or even months to heal.  In my case, it was the latter. However, he did cure a digestive problem that had plagued me for four years by prescribing Beano before meals, so I’ll always be grateful to him.  It was always a pleasure to see him, because he wore the most gorgeous ties, which he bought in Paris. I wouldn’t have missed these experiences for the world! My stay at the nursing home lasted until December 5th, the maximum Medicare would pay for  (100 days!).  Actually I think it was time for me to come home, although I had misgivings as to how I would fare.  In the nursing home all my needs were met, but my daughter Ingrid thought that made me too dependent (the main concern of nursing homes is that the patient not fall so they’re overly protective).  She had arranged for furniture to be moved or discarded so I could get around the apartment more easily and making room for a hospital bed.  She arranged to have more bars installed in the bathroom, bought doughnut cushions for the chairs, and all the gadgets that would help me cope with my new life: a cordless phone in every room, a lamp over my bed which can be turned on and off by a remote control, and a paging mechanism hanging from the bed railing which, when I press the button, plays Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Flowers” very loudly from the speaker in the other bedroom.  For the first few weeks, my daught stayed most nights (on other nights a lovely woman covered for her), taking me to doctors’ appointments, arranging her lawyering schedule and working on her cases on the computer.   My darling son Christopher came from Japan when Ingrid went on a hiking tour in Europe, a trip arranged months before.  He made my life even easier by getting a remote control for all the lights in the living room.             However, Ingrid was determined to make me independent.  I didn’t know at the time that her husband, who is a doctor, told her that if I were not to walk and do things for myself, I would die.  It was an effort to dress myself, especially pulling up the pant’s leg up my right leg, which was still stiff from the operation.  It would take me two hours to get ready for bed.  For weeks Ingrid had been my spokesperson for calls to doctors and agencies.  I remember the day she told me that I should do the calling to one of the doctors myself.   Please, you call.  No, you call.   It seemed like an effort, but once I did it, I felt empowered as I began reasserting my independence. I soon came to value her approach, which she later termed bullying.  But she always applauded my accomplishments, thereby encouraging me to continue making strides.  I am now able to do almost everything for myself except take a bath, and I credit my daughter for my progress.  And I have loved her stays with me; she brings good cheer, optimism and stability into my life.  I wouldn’t have missed the greater closeness that has developed between us for the world! Fast forward to early evening on Easter Sunday.  My granddaughter Sarah and I arrive at Columbus Circle and Central Park headed for Rotisserie Georgette on 60th and Fifth Avenue.  Sarah thinks I need to get some fresh air (I haven’t been outdoors for a week) and exercise. “But that’s all the way to the East side”, I whine, “I could never make it that far even holding on to my walker with both hands.”  Two blocks to my neighborhood Starbucks has been my limit up till now. “Well, when you get tired, Granny Lydia, we’ll exit Central Park and take a taxi to the restaurant.”   You’d think I’d be onto Sarah’s ruses by now.   We keep moving along slowly while Sarah keeps up the conversation, even resorting to knotty family problems.  I look up and ahead.  “Fifth Avenue is so far away,” I say.  “We’re half way there.   Do you want to rest on the seat of the walker?  Shall we take a taxi?”   “No, let’s see if I can make it a little further.”  “Chris has been wanting to take you to this restaurant for Easter.  It has the best chicken.”  I still can’t believe there’s a rotisserie on Fifth Avenue, but maybe by adding the French name “Georgette” it was deemed acceptable. “ Well, it’s a little off 5th.”  “How far off?” The park is overflowing with picnickers and with people now heading home, all dressed in casual attire, the Easter Paraders having left long ago.  Sarah and I must be a sight to behold, dressed in our finery; she, young and beautiful in a long black dress with flared skirt, flowing black hair and dangling green earrings, steering my walker through the crowds. I, old, gray haired and stooped over, but in my best silk chiffon jacket over black, trying to avoid the cracks in the pathways as I keep plodding along.  I can’t believe we’ve rounded the corner at Fifth Avenue, but now I can’t take another step.  Sarah gets me a bottle of water from a food vendor.   “Only two more blocks to go.”  We get to 60th Street, but no Georgette sign.  I thought so. “It’s just a little further east.”  Which turns out to be almost to Madison Avenue!  Chris comes out to help me up the stairs of the restaurant, which are a piece of cake now.   Sarah is jubilant that I have made it so far.  As always, she gives me the credit, but I know by now that it is due to her encouragement  (and psychological manipulation).  Still, I am in awe of having walked over a mile.  Seven months ago the medical team said I would be confined to a wheelchair 24/7 for the rest of my life.      For months, I wondered why I had to endure all that I went through, especially all the pain and the adjustment to starting life all over again at the age of 90.  Now I know the reasons why.  Looking back on all I have learned and experienced, all the wonderful, caring people I have met, and spending precious time with my family, I wouldn’t have missed it all for the world!

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