Thursday, July 08, 2010

Phone outside the box

This wouldn't be a major telecommunication breakthrough for most people, but Dad called me from out in the corridor tonight. Yes, he is out in the hall, and amazed the miracle of his cordless phone extends that far from its mothership.

Dad has lost the social filters that keep him from blurting out whatever he is thinking. He uses his nightly news hour phone calls as a megaphone for insulting his roommate, the roommate's visitors, and the care facility staff. I'm embarrassed 650 miles away. I'm often insult fodder myself. Tonight the dynamic was a bit better.

The time just before and after supper is difficult for elderly people. Dad usually feels compelled to call me during this time, and I am most likely to be able to talk with him then. Dad is irritable, anxious, and truly obnoxious. Unfortunately, people converge in his room at this time to watch "Wheel of Fortune" and coax his Alzheimer's roommate to eat supper. This is a powder keg situation.

Phoning from outside his room is a good step for Dad, even if he misses the tv news and weather report. Thanks to the trained staff for helping other residents and families understand the characteristics of Dad's dementia. Thanks to so many for kindness and patience.

Out in the hallway, Dad won't insult his roommate's family. He will still announce his uncanny estimates for the weight of every staff member who walks down the hall. "Hush, Dad," I say. "You don't need to say that out loud!" You won't win a giant teddy bear for guessing weight and fortune.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A flood of engagement and clarity

News flash! Dad is totally on top of the current flooding situation in both the Elkhorn River area of Nebraska, and the region north of Oklahoma City including Edmond and Guthrie. Dad can reel off names of all the towns along Highway 81 near Norfolk, the number of bridges out, and the sandbagging operations. When I fact-check his reports, he has it nailed.

This same dear old fellow couldn't separate news of Israel's Gaza blockade from the depressing reports about BP's disaster in the Gulf of Mexico when I was visiting him. Most days he doesn't bother to concentrate on current events at all. His big challenge is squinting at the digital clock to decide when to start wheeling down to the dining room for meals.

Dad's not just engaged in the news. He has a fresh perspective and sense of gratitude to be "high and dry," and living in a facility that cares for and about him.

I'm wondering just what part of the disasters hook Dad's thoughts and drag them out of the fog. Is it the placenames recalling childhood homes and more recent visits? Is it the Dustbowl Era childhood memories of Nebraska droughts and floods? Is it the tactile experience of his own distant childhood efforts to build little dams on Willow Creek? Or is it a resurfacing of the empathy that often made him contribute to Red Cross efforts during international catastrophes?

I wish I could share with Dad the Google Maps satellite views and YouTube videos, and record his memories of the topography and history of the region. As it is, I'm just enjoying this window of clarity with Dad. I wouldn't wish flooding on any person, home, or community, but I'm thankful for this side effect.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder

Friday, May 21, 2010

Life imitating Tom Robbins

Good grief! Dad is convinced that he's been invited to South America. He says his night aides won't let him leave. They want him to go back to sleep.

All this scenario needs is a parrot. It's been years since I read about Switters in his wheelchair. Dad is indeed a fierce invalid, and a recalcitrant dreamer.

I'm worn out trying to explain the use of a phone to Dad. He's lost the list of memory-dial numbers.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Wave

Thank heaven for major league baseball on tv! Alleluia, and then some. The romaine growing on my patio is doing The Wave (in slow motion). I am doing The Wave with inflated beach balls. If the magic invisible stadium organist played the macarena, I would do that, too. If Kate Smith bumped me out of my seat in the seventh inning stretch and started belting, "God Bless America," I would buy her a hot dog with relish. And one for my dad with kraut. And one for me with extra mustard. Life is good.

Dad is charged up about the exciting Cubs game today. He knows all that went on, even if he can't figure out how to turn down the volume when I call.

For several months Dad's only interest has been cracker jacks. The staff advised me that eating caramel corn was considered a fine motor skill work-out at his age. Now we've got peanuts and pine tar. Yippee. So let's root, root, root for the old folks' home team. If they don't win it's a shame.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder

Friday, March 26, 2010

Is there blood on the carpet?

Do you really need to call me at work? When my sons were adolescents and I was a working single mom we developed a useful guideline. I expected the boys to settle disputes and handle problems themselves up to the code level of blood on the carpet.

Tonight Dad has his undies in a bunch for no reason. Having left one phone message on my cell, he's calling and calling my home and cell phones so I can't even get a return call through to him. When I finally catch him he says he was about ready to call my brother to have him call me. What's the emergency? What's the problem? Is there blood on the carpet?!

Dad was just calling to tell me about his supper. This is our daily call. Sometimes it is the first of several evening calls. I remind him of the days when his grandsons had the blood-on-the-carpet rule. He remembers and laughs. For a second we are in the present remembering the past together in a relaxed way.

I love you. I'll call you tomorrow when I get home from work. Don't call me unless there's blood on the rug.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder

Friday, March 05, 2010

Downhill combined

Dad has no patience for the Winter Olympics tv coverage. He was glad to be freed from figure skating competitions when Mom died five years ago. Now he can't tolerate any of the downhill events. Instead he wants to be scooting his wheelchair out the door to keep tabs on the hallway happenings of the skilled care floor.

Dad is assisted living's answer to Dick Buttons and Scotty Hamilton. He is all about scoring, judging, and commentating on the skilled care facility medal events. The nurses, aides, food-servers, bathers, therapists, activity coordinators, and housekeepers are all being judged on a his strict Eastern European Cold War scale.

It took three phone calls Thursday evening for Dad to fully judge and report the carpet cleaning event. One phone call was to inform me that the one-man sawed-off bobsled was actually a National Sanitation Service (NSS) Pony 20 SCA carpet extractor for cleaning the hallway.

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder

Thursday, March 04, 2010

A Foggy Day in Lifesize Town

It had me low.
It had me down.
The "17-day charge capacity" time and energy concept on his new Norelco rechargeable electric razor has Dad in a fog. He needs a lot of attention to talk him through. He needs more help to ponder the best way to break the safety seal on a tube of Avon hand lotion. Small projects, big worries.

Many recording artists have sung George and Ira's "A Foggy Day in London Town." I'm hearing Julie London singing from a clearance bin LP Dad brought home for our hi-fi in the mid-Sixties.

My little art students are beginning a trace-around project. I haven't tackled one of these projects for a couple years because they are joyful, messy, logistical nightmares. On the upside, trace-arounds are popular and fun to display.

Wednesday the kids took turns lying down on a big roll of brown butcher paper in a pose. I traced around forty-five kids. Seeing the outline is exciting as each child loves to know just how big he/she really is.

I hope to post photos of the completed project in April. Until then, I have my own visual aid letting me see exactly how big and ground down my teeth are. My, what big teeth you have, Grandma!

But in foggy Lincoln town my dad is shaving...

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

How was your guilty day? Ask me about mine.

My students take a sideways glance toward me whenever they are doing something they shouldn't. Now I know how Mr. Salestrom felt patrolling East High when he was the principal of vice. As a former Cornhusker football hero, Mr. Salestrom had hallway cred. His cross-armed presence in the study hall was enough to make most mischievous deviants reconsider their plans.

My father phones me to chat whenever he thinks the aides might contact me. Dad would rather confess to a misdemeanor than be ratted on for a felony by the staff in his skilled care unit.

Cheezits! Howie got me again the moment I walked in the door after work. He was so pleased with himself because he had already had supper and his "afternoon purge". He had told the nurse aide offering to check his ear wax "at no charge" to "get the hell out" so he could have his dump. I said I was sure he was more polite, but he wasn't. Then he went into the litany of his meal menu, and said it was time to hang it up. I said, "Gosh, we can hang up, but I thought you would want to ask about my day."

"Oh. We could do that," Dad says.

I laughed, and proceeded to tell him about the girl barfing ALL OVER THE CLASSROOM, and me bravely leading the other children to the library for an impromptu storytime to prevent copycat chain-reaction vomiting. So, Dad, you don't really want to ask about my day today. But in the future it might be a nice gesture!

© 2010 Nancy L. Ruder

Monday, January 25, 2010

Eggs and eels

Life is short except when it is so long, and breakfast should be the best meal of the day. When I am old I will especially want exactly what I crave at breakfast. Don't mess with me!

We have just realized that Dad's allergy chart lists eggs, so he hasn't been served an egg--over easy, poached, or scrambled--since at least June. Somehow a very old list of allergies that may or may not cause eczema has limited Dad's breakfast choices. All this time I just thought he had developed a strange fondness for cream of wheat!

You are old, Father William, and you should have eggs cooked to your specifications! But no eel. Please do not balance your breakfast on your nose.

I'd forgotten that Father William is a creation of Lewis Carroll, and went searching for the old guy and his eel in Edward Lear's poetry.

"You are old," said the youth, "one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose
What made you so awfully clever?"

"I have answered three questions, and that is enough,"
Said his father. "Don't give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I'll kick you down stairs.

[Lewis Carroll (1832-1898) First publication date: 1855]

Peter Pan did not grow up. My dad is growing younger by the day. Christopher Robin had so many meals of sweetened condensed milk with Pooh. I plan to read the novel Alice I Have Been, by Melanie Benjamin, maybe even in time for the author's talk at the DMA Late Night on March 19th.

Arts & Letters Live: Melanie Benjamin
Date Friday March 19, 2010
Time 7:00 PM - 8:30 PM

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Dads in time-out/Dads in Dubai

My dad is in time-out tonight. The aides have suggested he spend cool-down time in the skilled care lounge instead of going back to his room. He needs an attitude adjustment. Like many of my students, Dad will probably forget why he is sitting aside.

The similarities between my preschool students and my father increase. So do similarities in management methods. Allegedly, another old fart tried to cut in line ahead of Dad at suppertime. Dad cussed him out, big time.

When the wheelchair gangs all travel toward the dining room it's like State Fair bumper cars. Then the frustration, impatience, limited empathy and stunted communication abilties kick in. Next thing you know, you've got a rumble between the Jets and the Sharks.

We said, "O.K., no rumpus,
No tricks."
But just in case they jump us,
We're ready to mix

My walking buddy has flown to Florida to meet her dad's flight. He's headed home from Dubai after being taken off his cruise ship with pneumonia. He spent a week in a Dubai cardiac ICU. She doesn't know if she will have to take him straight to the nearest cardiac hospital from the airport. For her

Today the minutes seem like hours.
The hours go so slowly,
And still the sky is light.
Oh moon, grow bright,
And make this endless day endless night

© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder