Cutting Corners

We were on a roll. Seriously. Work actually cranked along on *Saturday* this past weekend. Normally, even when Tim thinks he’s going to get work done on Saturday, it doesn’t happen. The house gets cleaned, but that usually seems to take center stage, and the other “work” ends up getting justifiably tossed to the side until Monday.  But this past Saturday morning? Life was good.

I began fantasizing about bringing in the sink and its lovely, 1930’s-vintage-inspired polished chrome legs; the faucet; the shower head; the towel/grab bars and robe hooks from their (still cold, despite the fact that it’s April 9th, dammit) temporary holding pen out in the garage. I learned a long time ago, though, not to break into the boxes that cradle them, quiet and shiny and unblemished by hard water stains, to swoon at their classic beauty and dream of them in their quotidian functionality, because, well. . . As close as this feels to being done, I just knew from experience that any number of unforeseen delays could await, and what felt like another week or two of effort might stretch impossibly into the future.

We’re through more than half of the tiling of the walls of our really-not-very-big hall bathroom. Yet, not really half the effort. Maybe a quarter. Because facing us this week is the dreaded outside corner. This is one of the reasons, 2+ years ago, we spent a lot of money on a pretty-darned-good tile saw (with full water table), knowing we’d have to be cutting a fair number of 45-degree mitered corners on finicky stone tiles that are brittle and chippy and just hanging around in their stupid little 30-pound boxes, waiting to ruin your day when you cut them at any angle other than 90-degrees.

So picture the possible corners of the walls in a room. Most, blessedly, are “inside corners.” These are what you think of when you think of a corner in a room. Someplace you need to find a big plant, or a special piece of furniture to fill so it doesn’t look empty. Occasionally though, especially in a bathroom, you have an “outside corner.” Think of a corner on the outside of your house or building. It’s the opposite 90-degrees from the corners on the inside of the rooms in your house, right?

The inside corners are relatively easy for tiling. No special, angled cuts. You just run the tiles to one corner, then, on the perpendicular wall, run the tiles out from that same corner, butting the end of one against the flat surface of its corner-partner. Yeah, you might have to cut them to fit properly, and if you have a great tile guy (as I’m blessed to have), he’s thought the layout out ahead of time, so that the cuts for the end pieces at one end of the wall are the same length as the cuts for the end pieces at the other end of the wall. (If you pay attention, you’ll be surprised at how often this isn’t the case, and the end pieces aren’t even from one end to the next. Most normal people wouldn’t notice it. But I am now among the cursed – I mean blessed – who do).

The outside corners, though, are another matter entirely. They require, if you’re going to do it in style, 45-degree, mitered cuts where those corner tiles meet, and an even, straight line, right up the full corner of the wall. On an inside corner, you can fudge, just a little, with grout. With an outside mitered corner, though, there’s little room for error, and the weight of the world hangs in the balance (Because you never notice an outside corner. Unless it’s not straight). There are only so many pieces of stone waiting in those boxes. There are only so many opportunities for a wobble of the blade or a tiny change in density to cause a chip and send an entire tile (or at least half a tile) to the scrap pile.

We spent over an hour (and I do mean *we* – it was both of us out there in the cold, 41-degree drizzle and flying micro-bits of wet stone dust) yesterday, speculating on, then testing, a variety of techniques to quickly stabilize the blade at the beginning of a cut to prevent a slight, but irredeemable curve at the top or bottom of a given tile, which would render it perfectly useless. We were like two mad scientists, carefully noting the effect of each alteration we’d introduce, until finally, we hit upon a successful combination of variables and I beat a shivering, damp retreat into the warm house, feeling beyond grateful that it was him, and not me, who was going to have to be out there, doing this another 50-or-so times.

After much discussion and consideration this morning in the unrelenting, misty April chill, we concluded that it was best to do the two cuts for each side of the mitered corner of a given row of tiles first, then install the rest of the tiles in that row, out to each respective end. And all-in-all, it was a reasonably successful day, cutting corners, and laying in 7 respectable, hard-earned courses. It’ll look like hell until all the thinset dries and gets cleaned off tomorrow, but progress is progress, and, maybe symbolically, before sunset this evening, the clouds were starting to break and blue sky peeked through, hopefully a metaphor for tomorrow.

dry-fit bathroom corner
Morning Dry-Fit
Afternoon progress 1
Afternoon Progress 1
Afternoon progress 2
Afternoon Progress 2

Parenting the Parents – Part VIII. To Chill, or Not to Chill.

(** A little language. Again.**)

Dad is usually pretty laid-back these days. He’s accepted his dementia diagnosis and its unknown cause, which is interesting, because before we received the official diagnosis, he seemed a little fixed on the idea that it may have been a result of getting banged around playing football in his teenage years. He brought it up regularly as we discussed the steps we’d be taking once they moved. When we had our first appointment with the geriatric psychiatrist and the doctor explained that the causes of vascular dementia are still not fully understood, dad, as he has come to do so well, rolled with it, and he hasn’t brought up the football theory even once since then.

For the most part, he appears to have found peace with what’s happening with him, and (this is the part I love the most) he’s particularly good at not taking himself too seriously. He can laugh at himself, even in relatively dire circumstances, like when he’s slipped out of his lift/recliner chair and he’s stuck on the floor like a stranded sea turtle (though now that they’re set up with alert/fall-detection buttons, at least we have the peace of mind of knowing that if it happens in the middle of the night and mom doesn’t know or hear him, we’re covered). He sometimes has accidents due to his incontinence and the fact that even the best adult diapers can have fit gaps or (gasp) capacity limits. He’s forever making a joke of it, and when I’m there to witness it, I go right along with it (“jeez dad – I think we may need to cut off the Pepsi!”). I do this because it’s fun – for dad, who has decidedly NOT lost his sarcastic sense of humor, and for me, because I’m always seeking the humor in everything (unless Tim is criticizing my cooking – lol).

There’s a third reason I encourage the self-effacing banter with my dad: to reinforce with mom how important (and easy) it is to let things go when you realize that’s actually a choice you can make. I know how difficult this can be because I live it in my own house every day, where I’m my own version of my mother. When you’ve spent most of your life trying to keep things reasonably clean, orderly, and organized, that can be a very easy channel for bigger frustrations and fears (i.e. worries of what life might be like when he’s gone or how much more difficult things could become before that).

Despite the fact that disarray and disorganization are anathema to my entire sense of self, and I may never completely work through my borderline OCD over having a clean sink and countertops, I consider myself quite lucky that my husband and both sons have ADHD and my older son is also on the autism spectrum. Living with them has taught me, over the space of 20+ years, that I need to just release control and let stuff go. A lot. Or I’d spend all my life steaming in my own irritation, sucking the life and the joy out of everyone else along with me. So I’ve already had lots of practice, while mom hasn’t. Therefore, I try to take advantage of every opportunity that arises to show her that there’s a choice.

The day dad came home from rehab, he got to finally try out his new lift/recliner chair, which had been delivered the Friday after he went into the hospital, nearly 3 weeks earlier. I spent 10 or 15 minutes walking him through how to use it, showing him the different buttons on the remote and what they did, having him practice with it, while mom and their caretaker, Hannah, were out in the kitchen. (I had walked mom through it as well so she could take advantage of the chair while dad was still in rehab). He settled in and all seemed right with the world.

The following morning we had an appointment for dad for some follow up bloodwork, so I took him and we made an outing of it, stopping at McDonalds on the way home. After I’d dropped him (and the Egg McMuffins and hash browns) off with mom and Hannah, I went back home to do some work, trying to get myself ahead of the game in advance of a quick 6-day vacation to Mexico I was taking the following week. Around 11:15 mom called, completely pissed off because the toilet in the master bathroom was stuck and wouldn’t stop running, which just reminded her that the faucet in there also had a leak and oh-by-the-way she hated this place. AND the sky was falling. (Okay, she didn’t say that, but that was the tone). I had a call at 12:30 so Tim & I quickly ran down to assess what was needed but told her we couldn’t get to Home Depot to pick up parts until after 1:30. By 3:30 everything was fixed, including an entirely new bathroom faucet. Mom was a little contrite, apologizing for being so mad about it and taking it out on me. I told her it was OK, that I understood, and rather than getting all angry, all she ever had to do was call us.

Later that day, after dinner (and after Hannah was gone for the day), the phone rang again. This time it was dad:

“Marcia, it’s your father.” (No “Hello” first. Clear strains of irritation in his voice. I steeled myself).

“Hi dad! What’s up?”

“Not me! They brought me this goddamned chair and no one bothered to show me how to use the damn thing!” (Often, for both mom and dad, when something distressing happens, the nefarious “they” are a part of the story. These are the “they” of the paranoia that seems to be a part of the deal in so many cases of dementia. I bite down on my urge to challenge who the hell “they” are, realizing that will be nothing but aggravating and unproductive for both of us).

Stupidly, I attempt to walk him through which buttons on the remote do what (because I’ve tested it myself; I’ve shown my mother, and him, how to use it enough that I have the controls more or less memorized), and in the back of my mind I wonder where mom is as dad unleashes another irate invective at me about how confusing this goddamned thing is. The place isn’t that big – she has to be hearing this.

I ask him if he wants me to come down to walk him through it again and he says yes, but how the hell am I going to do that from Mexico, which is where he thinks I am right now (I tell him I won’t be in Mexico until next week, choosing to let slide the fact that he called me on the land line at my house). Then he yells at me in advance for going on vacation. I remind him that it’s only for a few days; they’ll have Hannah and Tim and James; my sister and her husband are coming down to stay with them over the weekend, but that’s little consolation to the Incredible Hulk who’s emerged, green and seething, on the other end of the phone.

Meanwhile something lodges in my subconscious: guilt-throwing is a rarity with my dad, so this must be deflection. I’m forming the idea that mom probably couldn’t remember how to use the chair either and got upset – more with herself than with him. The only thing that ever really flustered my dad was when one of us was really hurt or distressed, and I’m beginning to realize that pattern is 100% intact. I am presently squarely in the downstream path of their emotional sh*#storm.

I inhale deeply and exhale silently as The Hulk carries on. When he takes a breath, I offer calmly, “Dad. If you want me to come down and show you how to use the chair again, all you have to do is ask. If you’re not nice and you’re just going to yell at me, though, I’m not going to come. (Pause). Do you want me to come down and walk you through it?” Finally quelled, Bruce Banner replies, “Yes. That would be good.”

“Okay. I’ll be down in a few minutes.” I hang up the phone and exhale through puckered lips, mainly just to center myself. Tim, who’s been unable to avoid listening to this whole episode, jumps in. I know he’s trying to protect me when he tells me, a little angrily, that I shouldn’t have to just drop everything to run down there, but I snap at him and tell him that he needs to back off and stop telling me what my parents need and don’t need. The reality is that this won’t take long, and it’s going to calm them down so they, and I, can have a pleasant night. What I don’t need is him telling me how I should be reacting. What I do need is for him to just support me. He gets it, and gives me a hug, telling me he loves me and that I’m a good daughter, as I zip up my coat and head out the door.

I work with dad to unravel the mysteries of the chair. I make him press the buttons to practice standing himself up and sitting down, several times, until it seems that he has at least the basics down. I remind him that when he sits down he has to scoot his backside to the back of the chair so he doesn’t end up sliding off the front of it like he did yesterday (which had led to another call from mom to come and rescue him). Once he seems settled, I go out to mom, who’s been in the kitchen the whole time, cleaning up after dinner. Part of me really wants to just go home, but my better angels are guiding me differently.

We talk about the chair episode for a few minutes with me kicking it off with a joke, “man, I haven’t heard dad *that* pissed in a long time. I guess he was really upset about that chair.” She’s OK, but gets a little frustrated and weepy about it, which is really her reaction to feeling dumb that she (and he) have such a hard time with new things. I tell her that we all struggle with new things – I do almost every day – it just happens. But I tell her she has a choice about how she wants to deal with it: in a state of constant anger and frustration, where it’s actually even *more* difficult to learn because your emotional energy is being diverted to being angry; or to just shake it off, take a few deep breaths, exhale, and try again; or just call me. I point out that usually when these things happen, no one is dying (or, if they are, she needs to push the button), so to just remember to breathe.

I give her a reassuring hug, telling her I love her, and reminding her that if they just remember 2 things, their quality of life will be so much better: 1) BREATHE, and 2) drink water. She hugs me back, laughing a little; tells me she loves me too, and she doesn’t know what they’d do without me. I remind her that’s why we did this, and I’m so glad they’re so close. I really am.


This is What Happens When I go off on a Tangent

that articleI had been planning to post today about the myth and legend of the healthfulness of vegetable oils (I know – how much more compelling a subject could there possibly be?!? I figure if you’re reading these Food Friday posts, though, you might have some interest in understanding food/health myths, too). However, when I write about things like this, I want my points to actually have a basis in fact. I therefore began doing additional research, and I ended up going off on a fascinating, if sometimes blood-boiling tangent.

My vegetable oil research last weekend led me to a book I’m now reading that was published a few years ago, with a title I utterly love: “The Big Fat Surprise.” It’s written by Nina Teicholz, an investigative journalist whose credits include reporting for National Public Radio and writing for numerous publications including Gourmet magazine and The Economist. If you’re interested in the links between food and health, this book is a must-read, and despite the fact that she’s sifting through a virtual mountain of research and historical records, it’s written in such a way that it’s hard to put down – rare, in my experience, for non-fiction. It’s screwed up my entire sleep pattern this week, and this post is later than usual today because I spent far more time lost in reading over the past several days than in writing!

The author, who is decidedly not someone with any proverbial skin in the game of either the food or the healthcare industry, spent 9 years meticulously researching the nutrition science and research behind the “known” links between saturated fat and poor health  (cholesterol, heart disease, obesity, cancer), which was prompted by an article on trans fats her editor at Gourmet asked her to write (that article was published in June of 2004). The article was written about a year after the FDA announced that, starting in 2006, food manufacturers would be required to print information about trans fats on their labels. The book was published in 2014.

As she was researching and writing the Gourmet article, the question she was attempting to answer was “why.” Why, when research for more than 30 years had been indicating that trans fats were possibly far worse for health than saturated fats (which were the demon-children of the diet and nutrition world from the 1960s onward, and still are, according to many doctors), was further study not aggressively pursued? She was able to scratch the surface of an answer in the article, but the matter required a lot more digging –  in essence, meta-research (research on the research – especially about the methods that were followed in the various studies that were supposedly the foundation of what became incontrovertible dietary recommendations for the U.S. for several decades). It’s that meta-research which underlies The Big Fat Surprise.

I’m only about 1/3 of the way through the book as I’m writing this post, but what I’m reading certainly has my hackles up so far, as one might expect upon becoming enlightened about being lied to for most of one’s life, regarding genuinely life-altering things. I’m going to try to finish reading it before next Friday, by which point I should have enough rant-worthy material to keep us all going for quite some time.

Happy Food Friday!
NY Strip – Spicy Mustard Butter (by Jess Pryles –

Bathroom Update, and A Trail of Rubber Gloves

Some weeks I’m never sure what I’m going to write about until the last minute. Sometimes I don’t feel like there’s much of a story at all, but then, I look around. Today (Tuesday), I began my inspiration by taking a couple of photos of the progress on the main hall bathroom, which is the last major indoor project of this renovation (after 9 years, that’s saying a LOT). The tiling of the walls has begun, having finished the “field” tiling on the floor last week, so we’re definitely making progress. I give Tim a lot of grief for how long this is taking, but (shhhhhhh. . . ) considering some of the stuff this poor guy is struggling with physiologically, I’m really OK with it.

Back to this afternoon, I somehow decided that the way our yard looks, just beyond the front porch, might also be a part of the story. So I took a shot of the chaos out there.

Front yard tile setup_4-2-19
Clutter off the Front Porch

And then, I noticed it: a trail of discarded black rubber gloves. Everywhere. Around the front porch and the saw tables out front. (Yes, that’s plural – tableS. There’s the chop saw. The tile saw. The table saw. He has more, but those are the only 3, besides the roving Sawzall, which doesn’t require a table, that are presently in active daily use.) The bathroom itself. The hallway. The dining room, which happens to sit between the front door and the bathroom under renovation, so it qualifies as a key part of the “clutter zone.”

Glove trail 2_4-2-19
Clutter (and Dead Gloves) in the Hallway
Glove trail 3_4-2-19
Dead Gloves off the Front Porch (Do you see all 4?)
Glove trail 4_4-2-19
Dead Gloves off the Side of the Front Porch

I know why there are discarded rubber gloves everywhere, but the visual of it struck me. He bought a huge box of them to protect his hands, wrists, and fingers, which are really sensitive due to ongoing battles with eczema and the long-term effects of topical steroid use (which is a whole other discussion, clearly, but which he quit using more than 2 years ago, though they’re still exacting a painful residual toll on his body). But, because he’s Tim, he has a near-pathological incapacity to clean up after himself unless one of the following conditions is true: A) it’s Saturday, and therefore, it’s time to clean the house; B) it’s a different day of the week, but some sort of entertaining will be going on. I never provide him with fewer than 3 days’ notice for such events, by the way; or C) he’s procrastinating doing some part of a project that’s stressing him out, i.e., last week’s post about yard work in lieu of tile work. Sometimes this will result in random cleaning projects: the garage, the attic, laundry, the yard; sometimes a neighbor’s project; anything but confronting whatever imaginary boogeyman is lurking.

It’s a tradeoff of project productivity here: if there’s an insane mess, in the house or in the front yard, it’s highly likely that we’re making excellent progress on the current renovation sub-project. And, like an adolescent whose mind is perpetually scattered in other directions, he peels off the gloves at the end of a particular session, drops them, and there they remain. Until A. or B. This week, probably not C. But you never know.

And that’s the way it is.

Field tile bathroom floor2 _3-29-19.jpeg
Floor Field Tile in Bathroom (Shower area)
Field tile bathroom floor _3-29-19
Floor Field Tile
Hall Bath
Tiling on Rear Wall in Progress (Window Trim Shown is a Placeholder for the Real Stuff)
Hall Bath
Side Shower Wall Tiling in Progress

Parenting the Parents – Part VII. Ambulances and Electrical Problems.

On the Thursday before dad was scheduled to be discharged from rehab, mom called me around 6:30 pm. She hadn’t been able to reach dad on the phone in his room (this was not unusual – it often ended up in an unreachable spot on the nightstand on the other side of his bed from where he sat, and the ringer, I’m sure by design, wasn’t very loud). She had been calling him to remind him that the UConn Huskies women’s basketball game was starting at 7:00. As I was reassuring her that he was fine and reminding her we’d left him with the correct channel circled on his channel guide, I heard a muffled clunk, and a grunt. “Mom??” (Nothing). “MOM!!??” (Nothing). I wheeled around and was at the front door in my coat with time standing still. Half of my brain was in utter disbelief – wasn’t I just doing this with my dad 2 weeks ago? I yelled up to Tim and our older son, James: “I need you guys down at my mom’s – now! I was just on the phone with her and she fainted or fell or something!” They said they’d follow me down in the truck and I was out the door.

The trip, which usually takes me 3 minutes, took about 90 seconds. I pushed the button on the garage door remote as I came around the corner from the main street in their complex toward her driveway so it would be fully open when I pulled up and I wouldn’t lose any time waiting for it. I was in the garage and out of the car in what felt like a single motion, bursting through the door between the garage and her entryway, calling for her, but no response. I took a quick look around as I ran through the living area to be sure she wasn’t there, but I was fairly certain she’d been in the bedroom when she called me on the phone.

I found her, somewhat stunned and confused, but awake, sitting on the floor with her back propped against the bed. The first thing I noticed was some blood on the carpet. I knelt down and started tending to her, flipping on the flashlight app on my phone to look at her eyes (pupils: equal and responsive. Mild relief). She had a cut and I could already see a bruise forming high on her left cheekbone, between her eye and her ear – that’s where the blood had come from. This seemed odd because the bedroom has nice, thick, soft carpeting – a godsend, really, that she fell in here and not on the tile floor of the kitchen or one of the bathrooms, or the hardwood elsewhere. Tim and James arrived and I went to get some ice for the cut and water for her to drink. I was searching the room, trying to figure out what had caused the gash when I realized it was the arm of her eyeglasses, which had cut into her on impact.

I told her I was calling the doctor first thing in the morning to make an appointment tomorrow. We got her up and into bed, then, after getting the game tuned in and watching the first quarter, made sure she was settled with everything she’d need for the night from drinking water to toothbrush/extra cup to Tylenol. I positioned the walker next to the bed and told her that the only reason she was to get up was if she had to use the bathroom, and if she did, she had to first sit on the edge of the bed until she was stable, then to stand with the walker until she knew she wasn’t dizzy, before she began to walk, *with the walker,* to the bathroom. She’d been sleeping later – usually until 8:30 or 9:00, so I told her to call me when she got up and if I didn’t hear from her by 9:00, I was coming over.

I was able to get her in for an afternoon appointment the next day. The nurse, Beth, led us to the exam room and began to take vitals. When she got to mom’s pulse, I could tell something was off. Rather than standing, fingers on radial artery, for 10 – 15 seconds and making her notes, Beth stood with her fingers pressed to mom’s wrist for 20 seconds. Then 30. Then an eternity, which was probably just a full minute. She pleasantly excused herself, saying, “I’ll be right back.” Another minute later, she rolled in the EKG cart and said lightly, “I’m just going to do an EKG.”

As she hooked mom up, and I sat there wondering what was going on, mom casually mentioned something about having some kind of block in her heart that she was born with – she couldn’t remember what it was called – she recalled the word “branch,” and Beth helped her finish: “You mean a bundle branch block?” I had never heard of this – in general, OR from my mother. What?! While my mom tried to discuss it with Beth, I whipped out my phone and started Googling. My mobile consultation yielded enough information for me to start putting everything together: the dizziness. The fainting. The difficulty walking. The fatigue. It all added up. Hers was congenital, which meant it was a left bundle branch block. I quickly made the analogy: while the name “bundle branch block” sounds like a “plumbing” problem, it’s an electrical problem, and she was likely in a “complete block.”

I reasoned all of this out, and moved to my next phase of thumb-driven research: treatment. Logic told me that for an electrical problem, the solution very well could be a pacemaker. I confirmed that fact with my phone, and bounced it off Beth, also wanting to start socializing the idea with mom, who I knew wasn’t going to take particularly well to the idea of having a pacemaker. Just then, the doctor (“Dr. K”) walked into the room. She looked at the EKG printout. She asked several more questions. She declared that mom was, in fact, in complete block, and showed me the evidence on the slip of paper, as if I also had “M.D.” after my name. She asked mom if she had a cardiologist, but mom had only seen him once; he was in a town closer to their previous house, and she couldn’t remember his name.

Dr. K phoned over to the cardiology office across the street to find out who was on call at the hospital. She then asked me if I’d be OK if they called an ambulance to transport mom to the hospital. Her condition wasn’t immediately life threatening, but she had to be seen today, in the hospital. I gave a quick yes, remembering how easy it had been with dad just 3 weeks before, and also considering that, given the clear urgency of the situation, trying to drop mom off and walk her in myself seemed truly nonsensical.

The paramedics arrived and went through their routine; they were funny and gentle with mom and she seemed to be comfortable with them, so I told her that rather than riding with her in the ambulance, I’d drive myself there ahead of her so I could start the registration process before she arrived. The paramedics, somehow sensing my leadfoot, admonished me in advance about the dangers of following them through stoplights, etc. I assured them I wouldn’t – that I’d be out in front of them instead.

I walked alongside her stretcher as they rolled her out to the ambulance. I kissed her forehead, assured her everything was going to be OK and that I’d see her in a little while at the hospital. Then they slid her into her temporary mobile cocoon of equipment, tubes, and monitors. By the time I got over to my car, they were starting their trek, so I fell in behind them. I was certain they were thinking that I hadn’t listened to a single word they’d said about not following them, so after we all turned onto the entrance ramp to the highway, I downshifted, kicking in the turbo on my MINI, and blew past them.

What seemed like moments later, I found myself again standing next to mom’s gurney in what was clearly a cardiac-specialty room in the “ED,” with all sorts of doctors, nurses, and technicians buzzing in and out, explaining what they were hooking her up to and what else they needed to do. I was thoroughly alarmed to note her pulse rate, which, according to the monitor, was hitting between 19 and 30 beats per minute.

I described to mom what was going on with her heart at my simplistic level of understanding: that her bundle branch block was an electrical problem that was making it so that the electrical signal from one part of her heart wasn’t making it to the other part, and therefore, that it wasn’t pumping at the right rate – it was working at about half-time. I told her a normal pulse rate was about 60, and pointed hers out on the monitor. I reasoned that was why she’d been feeling so tired and dizzy, and it more than likely solved her fainting mystery. I again socialized the idea that the “fix” was likely to be a pacemaker, which would regulate that electrical signal and keep her heart going at the proper rate. As a result, she was going to feel a lot better, and a lot more normal. She still wasn’t very excited about the idea.

While we were still in the doctor’s office, I had called Tim & James to let them know what was happening. James showed up in the ED a little while later, advertising the aroma of fuel oil (typical after a day of his job, delivering home heating oil), and the concern of a 22-year-old grandchild. He was sweet and attentive for the 15 minutes or so his ADHD brain allowed him to remain confined there in our bustling little corner of the ED’s “Red Unit.” By then the cardiologist had been by and confirmed to mom that they were going to implant a pacemaker, hopefully that night, explaining that they needed to do a few more tests to determine which would be the best type for her situation. When the echocardiogram specialist rolled in with his cart, James took his cue, bent down to give Gramma a kiss and a reassuring pat on the shoulder, wished her luck, and was on his way. I was touched at how much compassion could flow from his 6’ 5 ½” frame, even if it did come in short bursts like this.

The rest of the evening passed in a relative blur – mom had her CT scan, where they discovered a small bleed in the front right of her brain. They proceeded with the additional preparatory testing for the implant surgery, got her scheduled for the procedure that night, and did a follow up CT scan a few hours later to determine whether the bleed was active, which, thankfully, it wasn’t, allowing them to move forward with the implantation. I walked alongside the gurney as they transported her upstairs for surgery and stayed by her side to ensure I was there to act as “interpreter” for her as the various specialists introduced themselves and described their roles in the procedure and what they’d be doing.

Once I gave the surgeon my cell phone number and they wheeled her into the operating theater around 7pm, I went home to eat dinner and wait for the surgeon’s call. As we were finishing our meal, our neighbors texted that they were going for a drink at the restaurant down the hill and asked if we’d like to join them. Figuring I had about 30 – 45 minutes to go before the surgeon would call, and justifying to myself that a glass of wine and the positive distraction of some good friends could be a great thing right about now, I told them yes – that I could only have one, but we’d be there shortly – in separate vehicles.

Around 8:20 the call came – the surgeon had just finished the procedure and I had just crossed the halfway point in my glass of wine – everything had gone well (primarily with the procedure, though things had gone well with the wine, too). They were moving her into recovery now and she’d probably be there for an hour or so before they brought her up to her room for the night. I considered the full sweep of my day, and took a few more minutes to finish my wine before saying my goodbyes, letting Tim know I’d be back once mom was in her room and settled. (He and the neighbors carried on gamely in my wake).

The next morning she was doing well enough to be discharged by lunchtime. Her doctors wanted her to have follow up home care: nursing check-ins, OT, and PT – I was all for it, though, knowing that dad was going to need the same things when he was discharged from rehab 4 days later, I hoped the home care agency would be able to coordinate the visits so that both of my parents could be addressed in a single stop for each of the specialties, and rather than having 6 different visitors 3 times a week, we could get away with 3 visitors 3 times a week doing dual mom & dad duty with each visit.

Mom’s physical transition home was smooth, but a little disappointingly, though not really surprisingly, she fixated negatively on the pacemaker scar, and seemed to believe that this confirmed that she was falling apart. Her emotional state had me concerned. I had hoped that once she got the positive reinforcement of progress from the OT and PT home care team members, her general mindset would improve. I did all I could to acknowledge what she was feeling but to also point out the positives now that her heart was quite literally once again firing on all cylinders.

After her second visit, the OT took me quietly to the side and let me know that she wanted to do a cognitive screen on my mom. “PLEASE do,” I begged. It had been easier with dad to think about and even embrace the possibility of a dementia diagnosis given his own openness to his physical and cognitive issues. Mom was different though – it didn’t seem possible to bring something like this up as directly without upsetting her even more than she already was, so a cognitive screen, suggested by a specialist who was seeing and working with her in her daily routines, could be the perfect way to open that door, depending of course on what the cognitive screen yielded. Turns out that the numbers backed up the story that my sister and I had been wondering about for months: mom, too, clearly had dementia. As a matter of fact, her score on the “SLUMS” test was even lower than dad’s (the OT administered it to both of them). Like it or not, another dimension of our new reality was revealing itself.