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Tuesday, December 21, 2010
I need to write something happy, so I am going to continue my story of Deidra, the Child Who Chose Us. The series starts here.
Poppy and Deidra at at fundraiser for The Red Cross. She was the Nurse-Bartender!
Her marriage to John lasted only about two years. It as doomed from the beginning, but when the divorce was final, she kept pushing herself into a life that included landing a job as Project Manager for a prestigious Savannah construction company - Reeves Worrell - who were doing a great deal of building on Sea Island at the time.
She took on the job like everything else in her life, with confidence and conviction, and in no time she was much sought after and respected for her work.
Her job entailed “walking the jobs” that were in progress. She did everything from boss around the workers to meeting with the clients to consult about all the details of the house - everything from light and bathroom fixtures to roof tiles and how big the pool should be. Where should the light switches go, and how many should there be? The outdoor kitchen? The appliances? She researched and shopped for them all, making trips to Atlanta at least once a week to do research and consult with clients and architects.
In short, she was an ace.
During this time, we learned more and more about one another, and in that knowledge, we found amazing synchronicity. After we sold our big house in Macon when we retired in 1995, and she was a student at Wesleyan College in Macon, she baby-sat for the children who lived there! She was as familiar with our house and our neighbors as we were.
We discovered mutual friends we would never have dreamed of. When she brought her new potential boyfriend by to meet us on July 5, 2001, it turned out that he had been in our house many times. The man who built our house worked for Taylor’s family before he retired. Taylor’s family owned Atlanta Falcons at the time. Then we found out Taylor was college roommates with the son of one of Clint’s colleagues, a surgeon in Macon.
The two eventually married, but not for four years. He is quite a few years her senior and was concerned that she would miss out on having babies and all that They continued date for a couple of years, each dating other people, too.
That all came to a halt when Peter Nedved, who played for the New York Rangers at the time, developed a serious interest in Deidra and began pursuing her. He invited her to South Beach for a long weekend at the Delano, and when Taylor found out about it, he followed her down there!
He and a friend made the trip, and the first person Deidra saw was Taylor, having a beer at the bar. They kept meeting each other in the elevator, and she was forced to introduce him to Peter, who sensed there was more going on than met the eye! She would never abandon a date - even for a man who had followed her 600 miles, but Peter did not know that. They started intentionally avoiding Taylor when at all possible. They had rooms on the same floor, and one morning - and you have to know Deidra to believe this - when Taylor was getting out of the elevator, she was getting in (in her bathrobe) to go to the lobby for Starbucks. She was too impatient to wait for room service. See a pattern here?
More next time.
© cj Schlottman
Wednesday, December 15, 2010
She doesn’t want to write about this but she knows she must. Her son, Parrish, suffers from a severe mental illness called schizoaffective disorder.
You can learn more here.
He lives in an assisted living facility in Hialeah, Florida. The facility is in a bad neighborhood and at times is not safe. It is all she can afford. How he landed in Hialeah is a story for another time. He is on Medicare and Medicaid disability for his mental illness, but she still must pay extra to make up the difference in his rent and what his benefits will pay. The only advantages he enjoys come from the Florida mental health system, which has assigned him a case manager who makes sure he has health and dental and eye care. They even send him a massage therapist every other week to work on his bad back - the result of a failed lumbar fusion. He periodically must be admitted to the psychiatric unit at The University of Miami Hospital to adjust his medications. His disease is very brittle, and maintaining proper medication levels is a challenge.
In an effort to assuage her guilt about not being able to take care of her son herself, she conducted a experiment - had him come visit for the weekend, thinking it would make life more tolerable for him if he could come home now and then to spend time with her.
The experiment was a disaster, the only good to come from it being her resolve that it would be impossible for her care for him on her own.
He is on so many medications, that he is drowsy much of the time, but when his mania (supposedly being controlled by lithium) kicks in, he perseverates almost continuously, repeating the same things dozens of time. He continuously fishes for compliments with questions like this: “Mama, don’t you think I look good for 41? I don’t look my age at all. Don’t you think I am doing better, acting more sane than last year? I love the new coat you bought for me, and I appreciate it so much. I love my new clogs, too.” And this goes on for hours at a time. He weeps a great deal.
Though heavily sedated, he is unable to sleep, so he wakes her at 2 AM. He wants her to get up and have coffee with him and go outside with him so he can smoke a cigarette. And the perseverations continue - same subjects over and over again.
The next day he wants to know if we are going to call Clint, his stepfather, who has been dead for 18 months. He hallucinates and thinks he is talking to his old friend, George, insists that he has been to visit him that afternoon. He has not left the house without her. He claims to have talked to another friend, which is impossible as she has kept the phone in her pocket. He declares that he will be eating Thanksgiving dinner, which was more than a week earlier, with Lil, his baby sitter when he was tiny. She has been dead for months.
They go grocery shopping at Wal Mart, and he begins speaking Spanish to everyone, including her. She has to remind him that she does not speak Spanish.
She cooks his favorite foods while he sits in the kitchen and talks incessantly - the same old things. He goes off on a tear about how much he loves her and her dogs. A wonderful friend takes them to see Christmas lights on Sunday night, and he seems disinterested.
She struggles to maintain some sort of equilibrium, keep her temper in check. She is exhausted, both emotionally and physically. Her heart is broken to know how much sicker he is than just 6 month ago. She does not know what to do.
On the morning of his departure, he was outside early to drink coffee and smoke. She told him when he arrived that he would not set the security alarm while he was there, so that he could go in and out without having to deal with the alarm code. She knows now that he would not have been able to handle it. As they are preparing to drive him to the airport shuttle to Atlanta, he says, “Let’s go have one more cigarette. Is the alarm on?”
It is a little more than a week later, and he is more miserable than ever. He calls her four or five times a day to tell him how miserable is life is, that he left his wallet on a bench at the park and it was stolen, containing his Christmas money, his new Publix card and his new phone card. She had instructed him to give all those things to the office manager for safe keeping. Is this true, she wonders. Can he be hallucinating again? She finally has to set limits and says he can only phone once a day and only with something positive to say.
She e-mails the ower of the living facility and suggests that her son might need a trip to the hospital for medication management. That was yesterday. She has not heard from her son since.
© cj Schlottman
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Thanksgiving is tomorrow. It is 1:00 PM, and she has not yet brushed her teeth or changed from her pajamas, having spent the morning reading and responding to blog posts, then crawling back into bed with her dogs to watch recorded TV shows. She has errands but they can wait. How long can she put off dressing and going out of the house to fetch the cupcakes she ordered for Thanksgiving at the farm? The shop doesn’t close until 7 PM. She has time.
She is sad. She takes her mug of green tea and walks onto the deck, shooshing her ratty old Uggs through wet leaves fallen there. She sits under the canvas gazebo, sips tea, lights a cigarette, looks around at the gloom and light rain.
The tears begin, silent at first, followed by sobs. She bends her chest over her legs and muffles the sound, shaking with despondency, wishing she could scream but afraid of alarming the dogs and the neighbors. She aches with melancholy; she is heartbroken.
Why? She asks herself why she is doomed to be so sad some days. Thanksgiving? Yes, her second without her husband is worse than the first. Last year, she was still numb and in shock. This year, she can feel it all, the loneliness, the emptiness, the heartache of his loss.
But it is more than Thanksgiving. These days happen to her, not so much as before, but they still suck her down into dolefulness, paralyze her into inertia when she least expects it. She takes her drugs and mostly they help, but today she feels herself moving in slow motion, riddled with anxiety, feet stuck to the floor. What is it that she needs to do? Oh, yes, the cupcakes.
She dries her face on the sleeve of her jacket and shuffles back into the house, ignoring the rain, and stands at the kitchen sink, meaning to clean up the dishes stacked there, but she only stares out the window and hurts in every fiber of her being. Slowly, she begins to carelessly load the dishwasher. That slow motion thing again. Her tea grows cold as she labors over such a small task, seemingly insurmountable. The dishwasher is finally running, and she goes back to bed.
Later, after trying and failing to sleep, she once more hauls herself out of bed and begins to dress. She pulls on her scrubs, so like pajamas, brushes her teeth and peers into the mirror at her wretched reflection. A women stares back from hollow eyes. She tries to smile but instead weeps once more, bending over the sink and sobbing loudly.
She lifts her head and scans the bathroom counter with disinterest. It is scattered with cosmetics, a razor, the sunscreen she used yesterday when she walked the dogs, wrinkle cream and leave-in conditioner and two pairs of glasses. There is eyeglass cleaner, hair clips, a bottle of Aleve and one of Ativan. There is the canister of toothpaste, uncapped. In the other sink sits a bag of toiletries purchased yesterday at Wal-Mart. She makes no attempt to create order.
No makeup. Just a perfunctory pass at her hair. What is it that she needs to do? Oh, yes, the cupcakes.
She loads the dogs into the back seat and creeps along the street, out of the neighborhood, past the liquor store, Mama Lowe’s Home Cooking and where they are building the new Burger King. Only one left turn without a light. She glides her late husband’s 1997 Lincoln Continental into a parking space in front of Hello There, Cupcake, flashing smiles at the young women whose new business is clearly thriving. She decides to buy an extra cupcake to eat later and makes a fuss over all the varieties, finally deciding on one called Cinnimon Bun for herself. She departs, cheerfully wishing everyone “Happy Thanksgiving.”
At home, she makes coffee and puts the cupcake on a pretty plate. And looks at it. And looks at it some more. Then she throws it into the trash.
Author’s Note: So, it’s out there. Yes, this was written by the same author only three days after “Sunrise on the Hampton River.” If you suffer from depression, you know that it happens. If you think you are depressed, please get some help.
© cj Schlottman
I am spending the weekend with Deidra and Taylor at their home on the northern tip of Sea Island, where the mouth of the Hampton River meets the Atlantic Ocean. The drive into Ocean Forest, their neighborhood, takes you down Sea Island Drive, lined with spectacular houses and even more spectacular Live Oaks dripping with Spanish moss. The terrain becomes more heavily forested as you approach their house, trees hanging over the road.
Across the river is Little Saint Simons Island, a tiny, privately owned wildlife preserve with a small lodge, which can accommodate about 30 guests. Years ago, Clint and I spent a weekend over there in April, when the migratory birds were moving, and with the help of an expert naturalist, increased our bird list by about half.
Yesterday morning, I took photos of the sun rise over the Atlantic, then cast its brilliance over the Hampton River. I watched a Wood Stork soar across the river toward Little Saint Simons, a most magnificent sight. When I walked my dogs yesterday afternoon, we ran across a Bald Eagle sitting on the bank of a pond. When he sensed our presence, he spread his incredible wings and planed off to the other end of the pond. Bird Nerd that I am, I was thrilled at both sightings.
In this incredible house, my room faces the river and the ocean, and I have my own porch from which to gaze out over the magnificent view. Every morning, I have gone downstairs for coffee and brought it back here to write and sit and think and be grateful, both for my delightful friends and their hospitality and the beauty all around.
Taylor and a friend went fishing yesterday morning and brought in some beautiful trout. Deidra took them to the chef at Ocean Forest, who cooked them for our dinner last night. Trout caught in the morning and consumed that night! Chef prepared the three ways for us - sautéed, broiled and very lightly Panko fried. We were in heaven.
Today, we went to a very interesting Sunday School class conducted my Deidra’s good friend and my pen pal, Mr. X. He doesn’t want to be mentioned on the internet, so I am honoring his wishes. Maybe one day I will convince him that all blogs are not created equal!
We lunched at Frederica, which is on the north end of Saint Simons Island and were once again surrounded by natural beauty - marsh views, magnificent Live Oaks, and ponds. We lingered over a second glass of wine, and when we returned home, Deidra and I lay around and played lazy while Taylor went to hit golf balls. I made mushroom risotto to go along with the steaks Taylor grilled for our dinner tonight, and after another relaxing evening, I am preparing for bed.
Tomorrow, I must return to Macon - and reality. I am refreshed and energized and very, very happy.
© cj Schlottman
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
This is a continuation of a series of post about our wonderful Deidra, the child who chose us. The series starts here.
So, time passed and Dej became a big part of our lives, spending several evenings with us almost every week. We would hear the front door open, and the clicking of her Jimmy Choos on the tile floor, as she called out “Honeys, I’m home!”
She would find us, bestowing hugs and kisses all around, then she would pull out the cocktail shaker and make Martinis for her and me. Poppy always drank a glass of white wine. We would sit on the deck and watch the sun go down and talk and talk.
We often went out to dinner. No John. He always had some excuse. And as time passed and her April wedding loomed, my concern that she was making a mistake galvanized. She even expressed doubts of her own. Three weeks before the wedding, we sat in her Yukon in a parking place in front of a shop where we had gone, and she cried and said she wasn’t sure about the marriage, but that she thought John would change, loosen up and be more social.
Having myself once been young and naive enough to think I could change a man, I knew my words were wasted, but I told her anyway that she had no power to change John, that she could only change herself. I knew my words fell on deaf ears, but I had to say them. I even told her that, if she wanted to call off or postpone the wedding, I would get with her mother and that the two of us would take care of everything.
The wedding took place, and for a while we saw less of Dej. After a few months, though, she, being the gregarious and social being that she is, once more started coming to see us often and going out with us. In spite of repeated invitations, John never darkened our door, and in the two years that the marriage lasted, he only visited her parents’ but home once.
During those two years, we became closer, more in love with this beautiful girl with a loving and giving heart. She became, indeed, the child who chose us. She came to me (Poppy was an emotional coward) for advice and I in turn learned a great deal from her. Never having been very outgoing, she taught me to plunge forward into social situations. I learned to smile from her, and it changed my perspective on life. Because of her, I smile and speak to nearly every person I meet. And they, for the most part, smile back.
Wonderful, isn’t it, to learn such a life lesson from a young person? As I get older, I treasure her friendship and love more and more, and I have made if a point to get to know younger people. One of my best friends now is 12 years my junior. Knowing it’s a cliché, I am going to say it anyway, because it is true. Younger friends keep me younger. Dej dresses me, for God’s sake - or she does her best. She is my fashion police, a challenge for her, for sure, she who wears Manolo Blahniks, trying to do something with me, who live in Birkenstocks and Uggs.
The next episode is here.
© cj Schlottman
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
First, though, we had lunch at the restaurant at Woodruff Hall, were the Atlanta Symphony performs. Loren, ever the carnivore, had some sort of exotic burger covered in bacon and cheese. I enjoyed a wild mushroom quiche, and we split a bottle of Veuve Clicquot. The champagne was divine and set the tone for the entire afternoon.
When Itzak Perlman took the stage, my heart swelled in my chest, and when he began Mozart’s Adagio in E Major, making his violin speak to my very heart, the tears came. No, no sobbing. I didn’t embarrass myself, and I was armed with tissues. He followed with the Rondo in C Major and I continued to weep silently as the music rolled over me, filling my soul.
Music is medicine for the soul, I think, especially classical music that has been touching hearts for centuries. Part of Perlman’s genius is in his ability to make one feel as though he is playing only to you, that you are the center of his energy.
It’s fortunate that I don’t wear much makeup, because the Symphony No. 25 in G minor (The Little G), brought more tears. (Do I really need that Restasis)? Perlman was conducting, and it was clear that every member of the orchestra was giving him his or her very best. He drew them together, and the result was magic. The symphony is not very long, but it is strong on emotion, and he brought it all to each of us. Amazing.
Intermission. A chance to breath and collect myself, ready myself for Perlman to conduct Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 - the Symphony for the New World, Clint’s favorite. I didn’t hold out much hope for keeping myself together.
But when the music once more began, I was surprised that my tears were fewer. Having heard the recorded version for so many years when Clint played it, it made me miss him, of course, but I came to understand why he loved it as he did. It is he - big and strong on the outside and warm and quirky in the middle. My husband was a symphony!
Tears sting behind my lids as I write this. I miss him so. But I smile to think how happy he would be to know that I had the thrill and privilege to hear his favorite work conducted by Itzak Perlman. I know he is smiling.
© cj Schlottman
Friday, November 5, 2010
Two weeks ago, I broke up with my Friend Boy and renamed him my Man Friend - or M-F. Please excuse the double entendre, but it just seemed like the appropriate thing to do.
He rudely walked out of a restaurant where he and Lisa and I were having a late supper. Swine. (Thank God, Lisa had her car). He had been acting petulant and selfish for a couple of months, and that particular action sent me into a fury that I unleashed on him in a text message the next day. Move over, Julia Sugarbaker.
I harangued him about his rudeness, his changing of plans at the last minute, his excessive alcohol consumption, and I told him I could not be friends with someone who was bad for me. I explained that I felt used and taken for granted and that I needed friends who made me feel good about myself. I made it clear to him that he was not good for me. Then I thanked him for helping me get through the first year of my life without Clint, but reiterated that his recent behavior was intolerable to me.
Well. After not seeing him for two weeks, and yes, I did miss him, but more like a toothache than anything else, I learned yesterday that we had been seated next to one another at an event this Friday night. What to do? I had not spoken to him, and as per my request, he had not tried to contact me. This could be awkward in about 14 different ways.
So, I texted him that I would be seeing him on Friday night, and that I wanted things to be civil, that he could count on me to be wearing my “company manners.” I said I would be willing to talk, if he were. He phoned me that evening and we chatted about insignificant things for a while - nothing about our problems - and he asked me to go to dinner with him.
On the way to the restaurant he invited me to the Atlanta Symphony on Sunday afternoon to hear Itzak Perlman do a program of Mozart and Devorak! The program consists of Mr. Perlman conducting and performing:
DVOJÁK: Symphony No. 9
MOZART: Adagio in E Major
MOZART: Rondo in C Major and
MOZART: Symphony No. 25 in G minor
We had a lovely evening, talked a little about reshaping our friendship and not seeing so much of each other, thinking we had supersaturated our friendship with too much together time.
I was ecstatic! The Symphony for the New Word was Clint’s favorite piece of symphonic music and he played it often, cranked up loud enough to rattle the windows! All I could think about was how thrilled he would be for me to have an opportunity to hear Perlman conduct it. Clint and I only had one opportunity to hear Mr. Perlman perform live, at the Kennedy Center in Washington back in the 1980’s, and it is a once in a life time opportunity for me to hear him live again.
It seems that good things come in bunches, so I reshaped my very important weekend in Savannah to make arrangements to be back in Macon in time to get to Atlanta to the concert. I even bought a new outfit - paid too much for it!
As for my friendship with the M-F, I am only cautiously optimistic. I'm afraid he has problems I can’t deal with in the long term. But, I am going with him to the symphony and enjoy the hell out of it. Maybe I am using him. I suppose I am, but it’s my turn.
We will see. Stay tuned.
© cj Schlottman
Friday, October 29, 2010
10/27/10 The Child Who Chose Us - Part 2
As we made our way into the shop, Deidra stood up from her desk and, walked toward Poppy (our nickname for Clint), looking somehow elegant and casual at the same time in her grey python miniskirt and silk blouse, four-inch Jimmy Choo sandals clicking across the tile floor bringing her up to a full six feet tall. Her blonde hair swinging, she smiled a smile that made her blue eyes sparkle and held out her hand to shake his.
“You must be Poppy! cj has told me all about you. Do you know how much that little woman over there loves you?”
Then, reaching around his neck as he stooped to accept her embrace, she hugged him and said, “I know I’m going to love you, too!”
Well. Nothing like this ever happened to us, not before, not since. We all fell in love standing in the middle of that shop, surrounded by the stuff that people buy to spiff up their houses - not a typical haunt for a girl like me. I just picked a shop and walked in, and all this happened.
“Come, let’s sit down and chat.”
She patted the slip covered, oversized white sofa I had been eyeing with the idea of buying a pair for the great room.
(Aside: Poppy was generous with everything, his time, money, love - everything. I knew he would buy the sofas if I wanted them, but I also wanted him to meet Dej - her family nickname).
“I came to your house when you were on the golf course with whom cj referred to as ‘that bunch of old geezers,’ and I think it has the best view in the island.”
Clint settled into a the sofa, just the right size for his 6’4” frame, and, business being slow, we were there for a hour. He was, of course, enchanted with Deidra, and he held my hand softly in his as we learned about her family and her fiancé.
Her daddy, Wayne, owns and operates at large farm in south central Georgia, 50 miles south of Macon. He also farms corn, and peanuts and has a small heard of Black Angus cattle. Her mother, Kay, runs the business, brokers the cotton and in general, keeps things running. It would be a few months before we met and discovered how Deidra came to be so beautiful. She has one sister, who at the time, was attending Auburn University. She a beauty, also, but dark and short like her mother. Dej is Wayne’s child, through and through.
Her fiancé, John, managed the Beach Club at Sea Island, and Dej was much enamored with him. But something in the way she talked about him made me worry that she might not be making the right decision.
We left the shop with a promise from her to bring John for a sunset cocktail on our deck later that afternoon. When Dej arrived alone, making his excuses, I knew I was right that something was wrong. She wanted so badly for us to all meet. It would not be the last time he disappointed her. In fact, he never had one drink with us - even after they married.
But this story is not about John..........thank God.
© cj Schlottman
The next installment can be found here.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
I’ve never written about Deidra, our child who chose us, and I don’t know why. I suppose I have been too busy writing down sad things, poems and journal entries and blog posts about loss and suffering.
It’s time to write about Darling Deidra, and I will do it in installments to keep it from being unweildy. I have learned that lengthy blog posts can be off-putting just because we are all so busy and trying to read as many as we can. I sometimes skip the long ones and save them for last, and yes, sometimes I don’t get back to them.
When Clint and I bought our dream house on Dunbar Creek on Saint Simons Island, Georgia, a rambling one-room-deep tabby house designed by the builder for every room to have a view of the creek. It was empty, and the contents of our small condo unit on the island as well our little cottage in Macon would be dwarfed by it.
The double front doors opened into a mirror lined foyer that faced the back of the tabby fireplace in the great room. Walking around the fireplace, we found ourselves in a 35 square foot great room, octagonal and lined with windows offering panoramic views out over the deck, the dock, the marsh and the creek. Our eyes followed the vaulted ceiling for 40 feet, where a fan turned the air into a small breeze around us. When our eyes met the mirrored walls of the foyer, the marsh view stared back at us. The house stretched out to the right with dining and kitchen and bedrooms, an office and a loft. Down the hall to the left, a den, another bedroom and the master suite, perched out over the marsh. A deck wrapped around the entire structure. We had a shower deck off our bedroom.
We were happy. We were very happy.
But we needed furniture, and I wanted to buy some new dishes - a nautical theme to match our enchanting new home. So, off I went on a mission to find china before buying the first stick of furniture.
That’s when Deidra entered the picture. She was 22, recently graduated from Wesleyan College in Macon and working in one of the many design shops on the island. It was the first one I visited, and she helped me find the perfect dishes, but not before coming to the house the see the view and analyze the colors of the marsh. We planned the design work around my new dishes!
She was living alone and engaged to be married the next spring. and we, well, fell in love. She was born the year Clint and I married, so could have easily been our child.
Since Clint was on the golf course when she came over, I was crazy to have him meet her. I knew he would love her, too. So, a few days later, I took him, knees locked and skidding into the store, to shop for a pair of sofas.....
© cj Schlottman
The next installment can be found here.
Sunday, October 10, 2010
This is me, typing with a cast on my right wrist and hand. i think i’ll go all lower case since this is hard enough without using the shift key. i can use my dominant right hand for some of the keys but it’s awkward and a little painful. when the bones heal, it will be easier, even with the cast, which is hot pink in honor of breast cancer awareness month.
so, here’s the story. no matter what my friend-boy (F-B) says, i was not crawling home from the neighborhood pub and got my hand run over by a 1957 ford truck. it’s a good story but not that good.
we, a bunch of us who work at the macon volunteer clinic, went out last tuesday night. we chose to go to shamrock, where they have great live music on tuesdays, because we were all in the mood to dance.
and dance we did. those of you who like to go dancing will understand when i say that a sort of dance fever took over the whole place at about 10 pm. EVERYBODY started dancing, even the F-B! he almost never dances, but he danced with all of the girls, separately and together.
the dance floor was full and everybody was dancing with everybody. the energy in that room would have fueled a jet plane to new york and back. it was SO much fun.
then a few of us girls, well mostly my best friend and i, got to doing the twist, the up-and-down twist, gyrating down to the floor like we did when we were teens.
oops! i lost my balance while in the downward position and tried to steady myself on my right wrist, wound up falling anyway, and took my full weight on my wrist - on the concrete floor. ouch.
i didn’t think much about it. after all, i was practically on the floor already so it was a short fall. i must have caught it just right, though, because it HURT.
it was pretty late, so the F-B brought me home and between our doctor/nurse brains, we decided i should get a x-ray in the am, just to be on the safe side.
when i woke on wednesday am, i was sure my wrist was broken. thing was, i had to drive to atlanta to meet my stepdaughter's plane, which was scheduled to land at 9:40, and deliver her to the hospital where her mother is recovering from emergency surgery to repair a ruptured aortic aneurysm. i am not making this up.
i also had about 3 hours worth of computer nursing notes to complete from my patients i saw the day before. so i took some mild pain medicine and did my day, knowing that, when i had my wrist checked, i would end up in a cast, and that it would preclude me from driving until it came off. also, it would turn my 3 hours of work into 6. i got my cast a little after 5 pm. 3 cracked bones - 1 on the thumb side, 1 on the pinky side and 1 in between!
so, there you have it. not as boring as having slipped in the tub but not so exciting as having been run over by a 1957 ford truck. but, oh so typical of my life, my crazy upside down life.
ps: it was worth it. i am out of work for at least 2-3 weeks. i am uncomfortable, cannot open a bottle of green tea or brush my dog or drive my car (which my stepdaughter is using), cut a steak or button my jeans, or sign my name, but.........................
I HAD REAL FUN FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE CLINT GOT SICK IN 2005!
i’m holding up the “applause” sign. everybody cheer!
© cj Schlottman
Saturday, October 2, 2010
I took my blood pressure on Monday afternoon, and it was 159/99. Boink! My Virginia Slims went directly into the trash, and I did a yoga practice, coaxing my body into slowing down and rejecting the stress that has bombarded me for weeks.
Work stress. Everyone is sick of hearing about it, but I am certain it is a factor in my blood pressure, which, by the way, has come down. Stress at work was my excuse for not giving up cigarettes; in fact, I used it as an excuse to smoke more and more.
(Aside. I am willing to admit that smoking is a stupid thing to do. I have smoked off and on since I was 15, even stopped for 13 years one time and taught a class on how to quit. Smoking is an especially stupid thing for a nurse to do. Really, now. Think about it. I work in a field in which I help people die, many of them from cancers caused by tobacco use. What do you supposed I have been thinking)?
Now, I have a plan.
First: Stop hurting myself with cigarettes.
Second: Stop hurting myself by bringing work home with me, a rule I intended to implement when I started my job.
You might imagine that I have a Type A personality. I was the kid who always expected straight A’s, always wanted to do it right the first time. Now I’m, 62, and I still want to do it right the first time. Only now, I can’t do it.
My perceived “failures” in my job are not my fault. It’s okay for me to say that out loud and not sound like a baby. I never participated in a formal orientation to hospice home care, was set free to make it on my own. I am not a genius, but I worked hard, and I’m a good nurse. I learned from the other nurses and am confident in my skills, knowing there are some areas where I need work. I am satisfied in my ability to take call on the weekends.
On August 26, I was handed a laptop and told to be ready to go paperless on September 1. Instead of whining that I had not been offered even one computer class while the others had spent days working on them, I got busy and made it work - with much help from my neighboring nurse in the next cubbyhole We’ll call her Angel.
The Hell Bitch saved my butt. She put together a little handbook to walk us - (Some of the others were having more trouble than I). - through the program and enter our data properly and get our time and mileage recorded so we get paid for it.
I am a winner. I’ve got it now, and when my previous errors get kicked back at me and I have to fix them, I will do it.
Now for the third part of the plan. I didn’t think it up. My bosses did, and I think it will work for as long as my job is part-time. It will doubtless bring down my stress levels. Instead of working two (five-hour) days a week, which only breeds frustration, I will work every other weekend and four hours in the office on the following Monday to clear out my documentation.
Here’s an example of why the shorter days are so exasperating. Last Monday, I had three patients to see. This is a reasonable case load for a five hour day - IF your day doesn’t start out with a meeting that runs nearly two hours. I felt rushed and pressured the keep my hours down, but I got the job done in six hours. (No bitching from the boss). If there had been any small glitch in my day, I would have been working for seven or eight hours - a big “no-no” now that they have stopped using me for full time help with no benefits and not paying me on time.
Bitter? Yes, I’m getting that way. I don’t like bitter. It’s ugly and it tastes bad.
Cigarette? I could eat one right now.
© cj Schlottman
Monday, September 27, 2010
When Mary Ellen gave me my copy of Rosemary’s book, she was unaware that Rosemary conducted Zona Rosa Workshops. I learned about the all-girl Savannah group from Jingle Davis, a writer for the Atlanta Journal Constitution and a friend of my brother, John, who also wrote for them. There are also coed Zona Rosa groups. In 1996, there were only three, but over the years, they have popped up and blossomed all over the country.
I attended my first meeting in April, 1997, accompanied by Jingle, who was thinking about writing a piece about it. My darling Mary Ellen died of lung cancer on Christmas Eve of 1996, so she never got to see me grow in the group. She had, for years, encouraged me to write, insisting I had talent of which I was unaware.
Back to the meeting. I walked into Rosemary’s house, which smiles at you when you enter, and I was paralyzed with fear. What was I doing there? Who did I think I was, here among these accomplished women, some of whom were published authors?
Susan Johnson, one of the original members of the group, is a woman of stature and a somewhat forbidding nature - until you get to know her. She made me shake in my shoes. Over time, she opened up to me and made me feel very much a part of the group. She is now emeritus, and I miss her. As for the others, they made me a little nervous but didn’t scare me!
Rosemary was the first person to tell me that my natural genre is poetry, but it would be a year before my work led her to that analysis. I attended the workshops regularly and had some private sessions with her.
My brother was dying of kidney cancer, and I was responsible for my invalid mother, so over time, my attendance grew spotty, but I never thought of myself as anything other than a Zona Rosan. My brother and mother died in 2000, three months apart, and I went through a dreadful mourning that stripped me of my confidence as a writer, but I kept going to meetings, sometimes skipping because I felt like a fraud, sitting there with nothing to present, taking up space and breathing air that a real writer could be using.
In 2002, when I felt ready to put my writing energy back to work, my darling Clint had a knee replacement that led to a cascade of health issues that eventually killed him six and a half years later. There were periods when he was a death’s door only to rally. There were infections and toxic medications and a ruined immune system. He was a functional alcoholic with cirrhosis and had no platelets to help his blood clot. Each time he had another operation, there ensued transfusions. His knee was infected, removed and replaced three times.
My writing took a back seat - except my paper journal. I had a nervous breakdown and spent 10 days in hospital about eight months before Clint died.
For two months after his death, I was unable to write a single word. Then I began my blogs, and the words began rolling out of me. And here I am today, back at Zona Rosa and building strength every day, taking control of my work and feeling strong and empowered.
© cj schlottman
After referring to Zona Rosa in my last post, I decided I have more to say about it. We are a sisterhood in creativity - all forms, not just writing. Our members are talented visual artists and musicians as well as writers. We are a sundry and heterogeneous group of wide-ranging interests and strengths. We are woman at her finest, and I am proud to be a part of it.
At our last meeting, I asked members of the group who follow my blogs to leave comments when they read my posts. For some reason, I rarely have input from them in that forum. I asked for constructive criticism, not just attaboys. These women have keen eyes for good work - and for work that can be improved. I can learn from them, have been learning from them for years.
So, a week later, when I got a e-mail from Ujjvala, with some suggestions about a post I published on September 14, I was delighted. I must confess that I am only now rereading the post and making the suggested changes she so thoughtfully sent me. They are spot-on (pardon the cliché). I have made the changes - and a few others - with many thanks to Ujjvala.
When I attended my first meeting of Zona Rosa, I did so at the urging of my then best friend, Mary Ellen Coleman. She was an editor and gave me an uncorrected reading copy of Rosemary’s landmark memoir, Fatal Flowers - On Sin, Sex, and Suicide in the Deep South, written in 1980. I read it in one sitting. It’s raw honesty tilted the Deep South on its ear and drew unwarranted criticism and wrong judgment down on Rosemary. She had already published a volume of poems entitled A Sexual Tour of the Deep South. Since then, she has published many work - poetry, fiction, volumes about our group - just a few examples.
Rosemary’s example of writing down her truths, no matter how raw or uncomfortable, made me the writer I am today. I don’t know how to sugarcoat my feelings or the things I see around me. She taught me to distill my work to its most dense and powerful form. I owe her a great debt.
There is no way to measure the atmosphere of trust and safety at Zona Rosa. It is my writing home.
I am at a loss for words. Me, at a loss for words. I cannot understand why my life is so out of control right now. It it seems more in control than say, a week ago, but I still feel pressure to do things that are not writing related. However, I am taking proactive measures to regain some control.
I hired a maid to come every Saturday and clean up the mess I leave each night when I come home, take a jasmine bath and go to bed, sometimes too tired to sleep well. When I get up in the morning, I glance at the dust balls and the dirty kitchen floor and the glasses sitting in the sink begging to be washed. I have time to deal with them, but it takes two cups of coffee and some alone time to wake up. So, I dress and wave at the mess as I leave for work.
This week I am off until Saturday when I am on call for hospice, which will mean I will miss my Zona Rosa meeting in Savannah that day. That fact is painful to me. The ongoing writers’ workshop led by my mentor, Rosemary Daniell, has been an oasis for me over the years, a safe place to present my work and receive nonjudgmental feedback from a group of talented writers, not to mention Rosemary herself.
But, for the first time in weeks, I have time to sit and write, let the words that have built up inside me flow out onto the keyboard - and into my paper journal as well. It is a good and liberating thing.
I will publish this small post first, then write another. Long posts can sometimes be offputting, and this one is really a “Hello. I’m back.” Glad to be here.
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Yesterday, when I received an e-mail from Katie Gates telling me she was planning to pass the LOVELY BLOG AWARD award on to me, I was flabbergasted! Then I began to obsess about what I should publish for today - something either profoundly funny or deeply moving seemed to be in order. The thing is, right now I don’t feel profoundly anything - except overworked and underpaid and really angry at my Friend-Boy, Eric. Although, like Katie, I did not receive the LOVELY BLOG AWARD icon, I am none the less proud and excited about it. Pretend it is on this page!
I know, I know. No one wants to hear me whine. So, I’ll try not to sound whiny, even if that is what I am doing.
If you wish, you can click on “Living Through It” for background on who I am and where I am in my life. It tells the story of the first year of living without the love of my life. Clint died on June 8, 2009 at 6:33 PM, in the capable and loving hands and arms of those of us who loved him so. The photo of the Red Sweater is one of his collection of cashmere sweaters he slept in during his last years. He was always cold. Now I sleep in it.
So, in addition to being a 62 year old writer, I am an RN, a hospice nurse. I went back to work in July, just a little over a year after Clint died. I took a part-time job doing home care only 10 hours a week, a job wit no benefits, with the understanding I would be offered a full-time job when our inpatient facility opened. That offer is still on the table, and as soon as we have a full complement of inpatients, I will be given the opportunity to apply for the full time job, which consists of 3-12 hour days per week - and it come with great benefits. I love home care, but I need more structure, more time to write.
Why don’t I have time now? Fair question. Our census has been high with many deaths and subsequent admissions, and the home care manager asked me to work full time for a few weeks until things settled down. I was delighted - at first. The money is good, I love my job, and hell, I’m a widow only responsible for herself and two dogs, Belle and Honey. (Their photos are on “Living Through It.”
So, where’s the rub? I work for a huge health care bureaucracy, and the payroll computer is confused that I, who was hired to work 40 hours a month, am clocking in more than 40 hours a week! So, it kicks back half the hours, and for the past two pay periods, my check has been short over forty hours. Ouch. The first time it happened, I let it slide because my manager assured me it would show up on my next check. Only, the same thing happened again, and now they owe me over 80 hours in pay.
I can handle this. I am not a struggling single mother with child care issues and school supplies to buy, but I do need the money so I can stay out of my nest egg which has taken a beating along with everyone else’s that is tied to equities and bonds.
However, last Friday, when I learned that once more my check had been shorted, I went to my manager and told her that, after two weeks notice, I wanted to fall back on my original job description - 20 hours a pay period. I said I was working too hard to get no benefits and not be paid in a timely manner. She agreed but said she needed the extra time from me because out census is so high. I stood my ground, and we came to a kind of compromise, I think. I will probably work 20 hours a week, two ten hour days and maybe some call.
This post is not nearly so interesting as I had wished, but it is what I know right now.
Maybe a little about Eric will give it some life. He is my Friend-Boy, to be differentiated from a Boy Friend. We are friends. He is brilliant and funny and very Metro, a rarity here in the Deep South. He is well traveled and knows art and music, and he is completely out of his mind. There is a reason he has had three wives and is divorced. He has big ole bats in his belfry, and I am accepting of that fact. I just don’t want to get involved in an intimate relationship with him. Even if I did, I’m not ready, still feel very married to Clint, but Eric has started talking sex and making passes at me. Hell, the other night, he grabbed me in the parking lot of our club and pulled me over to his car and put his hand up my skirt and started squeezing my butt. I’m terrified we were caught on the security camera and may be invited to not be members any more.
Then, the next day, he called me - at work - to ask if it were as good for me as it was for him! Started making jokes about my multiple orgasms and how the paint job on his Mercedes is ruined. I told you he was funny, but he is also a pain in my ass.
Sex for us would be relationship suicide, but I can’t make him see that. He can’t help it. He’s a man, and it’s in his DNA. He thinks if we don’t do well in bed, we can just go back to being friends. Shit. I’m a little nuts myself, but even I know better than that. So, after I refused his advances on Thursday night and was unavailable to go to dinner with him on Friday, he sent me the following e-mail: will be out of pocket all next week, have company and the next will be in nyc.will call in a couple of weeks when things are more manageable ps...don't call me. i will call you when i am if ever available again,,,,,,,bonne chance.
Then he started sending me annoying texts - in French. He lived in Montreal for several years during his medical education. Yes, he’s an MD. I can get by in French - having an education and some travel under my belt as well, so I have been responding in kind. Here’s a small example of the prattle we have carried on in a foreign language.
Him: “Tu devrais etre tres content. Ta vie est vide.” (Translation: "You must endeaver to be happy. Your life is empty)"
Me: “Triste, peut-etre, mais non vide." (You will pardon my French, I am sure). "J’ai moi meme.” Translation: Sad, maybe, but not empty. I have myself)"
What is this, tenth grade? For you young readers out there, don’t think groan-ups in their sixties can’t act like fools. Eric and I are doing a mighty fine job of it.
Sunday, September 5, 2010
I still feel very married to Clint, and I think I’ll be this way for a long time. Friends have suggested that I ask someone out. One friend actually recommended that I try an on-line dating service, the idea of which gives me a stomach ache.
I don't want to date anyone. I still want Clint. The idea of kissing lips other than his makes me shudder. His kisses were velvet, his lips soft and gentle, his tongue silken and giving, even when he was probing my mouth with it. I will never again be kissed like he did.
When we made love, his embrace was tender, sensuous and expecting. He was not a bear hug kind of man, though he was a strong lover. He always thought of my pleasure and ways to give it to me. He was never demanding in bed, because there was no need. The way he played my body brought to me great desire to please him. And so it was with this man, my man, my great love.
He was relaxed and easy to be with, a calming and empowering force in my life. It was only after he died that I came to know that I had drawn so much of my emotional strength and endurance from him. He was, indeed, my rock. (Oh, God, did I just use a worn out cliché)?
My self-confidence is coming back, but it is a slow process. I have had success at work in spite of a boss who is doing everything she can to see that I fail. The challenge has kept me sharp and determined. I love my work, but I need structure in my life, and Hospice home care is far from organized. By its very nature, it is fraught with making, then changing, appointments. There are emergencies during the day that throw off the most carefully planned timetable. I need a schedule, and I will have one when our inpatient facility opens. At that time, my job description will change, and I will work three 12-hour days a week, all in the same place. No more driving from house to house. And I’ll have a new boss, a woman I greatly admire for her knowledge and her sense of fairness. Meanwhile, I am grateful to be working. The money is good, and I have been working 40+ hour weeks, though I was hired to do part time outpatient work.
If Clint were here, I would be okay, knowing I could leave my job and come home to him, even if he were sick. I still miss him in an intense way that is hard to describe but is much like an aching hole in my core where he used to live. I’ve been weeping lately, more than usual - while driving, while writing (like now), while feeing the dogs....................
Honey and Belle are the family I come home to, and I thank God with all my heart that they are here. As I type, they are both on the bed with me, fast asleep, their presence a great comfort to me.
Saturday, August 28, 2010
I know it seems as though I am all caught up in the prayer thing, but here is a post I wrote on August 1, and failed, for whatever reason, to publish. It really should come before "Fired But Not Forgotten," so please, when you read it, go back to that post, my most recent. It is very dear to me.
They stood in a semicircle around the hospital bed, holding hands and listening as the Deacon laid his hand on the dying man’s head and began pray. We were a varied lot, this string of people connected by our hands. The Deacon’s unruly white tufts of hair stuck out in several directions. He was holding my hand - hard. My right hand was snuggled softly into that of a girl about about 17, one of the grandchildren. And on around the bed went the chain - children, grands, another nurse and the Hospice Chaplain, theirs and mine the only white faces in the room. She was holding the patient’s hand.
The praying began in earnest as the Deacon raised his head to heaven and sent up a squall of words to God Almighty, testifying to his knowledge that, though the doctors had given up, The Lord was stronger than all the doctors in the world, that he could send down a miracle and cure this man, this man whose cancer started in his pancreas and spread throughout his frail brown body. Cornrows, perfectly strait and colorfully decorated with beads, formed a sort of rainbow halo over his head.
The Deacon prayed hard, his grip causing my left hand to tingle with sleep, my wedding band to dig into my fingers. Yes, we had prayer. Indeed, we did.
The New Nurse was fired by one of her patient’s caregivers! Her feelings are hurt, but she is coping well.
Here’s the short version: Her patient is 103 years old and is rotting from the feet up. A diabetic for life, she has dry gangrene in both feet and ulcers on her lower legs. She has lost two toes; they just fall off when her dressings are changed. Dressing changes are agony for her and after the New Nurse changed her dressings last Friday, she visited on Monday to see how things were going. The dressings looked good, dry with a few spots of exudate that had not penetrated the outer dressings.
“The dressings held up well over the weekend! They certainly can wait a few days for a change, especially since it it so hard on her when we change them, but if you get worried, call me. We know these wounds will not heal, and our hope is that we can stop them from getting any worse, and I hesitate to put her through a dressing change that isn’t necessary. Here’s my work cell. Let me know if you need a visit before Thursday.”
The New Nurse led the caregiver in a short prayer for the patient to be delivered of her pain and for all of those who care for her to be blessed with healing hands. She departed feeling calmed by the prayer and happy not to have caused any pain for her patient.
There was a visitor present during the visit, one the New Nurse had never met before, and this is what he heard. “She’s not going to get any better, so what’s the use?” After the New Nurse's departure, he whipped the caregiver into a lather, demanding that she "do something."
Perception is always more powerful than truth, and she called the New Nurse’s boss and complained that the she had shrugged off her aunt’s needs, dismissed her as not worth the trouble.
The New Nurse’s boss soothed the caregiver and assigned her another nurse. Then she called in the New Nurse and told her the news. Tears welled in the New Nurse’s eyes, but she blinked them back. Never cry in the presence of the boss, especially one who is already riding you as though you were wearing a saddle.
In Hospice home care, the week flies by. Time is filled with meetings in the office, scheduling of patients and then, and best of all, the patient visits. They involve driving time and time spent doing hands-on care. The New Nurse nurtures the families and well as the patients, and she often lingers when families appear to need support and encouragement. It is not a 40 hours a week job for her. She rarely stops for lunch, but she is docked for the time - company policy.
She was hired to do part time field work until the new inpatient facility opens, but her boss is working her full time and ragging her ass about overtime. Her boss is a bitch, but she is only trying to do her job. The New Nurse imagines that her boss is being pressured from above to keep costs down.
(Wonderful, isn’t it, that caring for the sick and dying is just as bottom-line driven as the layoffs at Wal Mart)?
Thursday rolled around, and the New Nurse was caring for another elderly woman, this one in her 90’s, when her cell phone rang. She ignored the call, not recognizing the number, but returned it when she was finished with her visit.
“Hi, this is the New Nurse, and I missed your call because I was with a patient. What can I do for you?”
“Oh, New Nurse, this is Mary.* You know, we had prayer when you visited my Auntie on Monday. Where have your been?”
“Mary, sweet Mary, when you called my boss she took me off your case and assigned you another nurse. How are things going?”
“She’s okay, but she can’t pray like you. I didn’t mean to get you in trouble. I’m sorry we lost you. I was upset and didn’t really understand.”
“How about this, Miss Mary. How about I call you every few days and we can pray over the phone?”
“Can’t you come by and visit?”
“I’m so sorry, Mary, but I am forbidden to visit any more. I will call you, though, and we will visit and pray together. Here is a prayer I know by heart. It’s called St. Teresa’s Prayer. Close your eyes and listen.”
May today there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content knowing you are a child of God.
Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
It is there for each and every one of us.
(And they said our “good-byes” and hung up).
Sunday, August 22, 2010
She punched the “off” button on her phone, dropped it onto the bed, put her face in her hands and wept. Her son had called from the mental hospital where he admitted himself when the voices came back, and she was overcome with angst.
Since he once told her that the voices told him to kill his father and stepmother, she didn’t ask what they said. Though so dangerously ill, he realized that telling her would wound her even more, so he stopped telling her long ago.
She searched for some solace, some relief from the pain that penetrated her entire being and found it is the fact that her son had realized he needed help and and sought it. It was no silver lining to the clouds hanging over her head, but it was something to which to cling.
The voices weren’t always there. They began a few years back, before her son’s diagnosis was changed from rapid-cycling bipolar disorder to schizoaffective disorder. He didn’t tell her at first. He was living on the streets of Atlanta, and she didn’t know where he was. He was admitted at intervals to the state mental hospital in Atlanta, and during his last admission, he called her and told her everything.
But he had not yet toed the famous “bottom” - the one that alcoholics and drug addicts and mentally ill people need to hit before they can begin to heal. That happened after he he found himself in Miami, living in a shelter.
The state of Florida takes better care of its mentally ill than does Georgia. A state social worker visits homeless shelters and reaches out to the residents who have mental issues, and her son was in rehab within a couple of weeks. He had to get off drugs and alcohol before anyone could accurately assess the status of his mental illness.
But he still had not hit bottom, and after two weeks was back on the streets, sleeping in parks and shelters. When the social worker found him again, he was ready to start down the long road to some stability in is life, some sense of sanity, however driven by pharmaceuticals it may be. Some people cannot function without the proper drugs to stabilize their brain chemicals.
The social worker found him a place to live and worked with Social Security to have him declared mentally disabled and eligible for benefits. He also had him declared physically disabled as well, as he had suffered two failed spinal funsions in the past.
Her son lives in an assisted living facility (ALF), he sees a psychiatrist once a week and is involved with a state run program that includes computer training, group therapy and 12-Step meetings. His medicine is doled out by a nurse at the ALF, and he is stable most of the time.
He hates where he lives. The other residents are Cuban and only one of them speaks English. Her son’s Spanish is approaching the fluent stage, so he communicates fairly well with them, but not one of them is college educated, well read or on a par with his intelligence. He is lonely and humbled by his living situation.
His mother wants to move him closer to her but she is afraid of what the change might do to him. As much as he complains, he is entrenched in a pattern of living where he is, and he knows what each day will bring. She worries that a move to Georgia would strip him of the structure he has in his life, however humbling it might be.
There is a saying among people who live by 12-Step programs that says it is best to remain where one gets sober, best to stay away from the places where one did nothing but drink and drug and be unstable. In the town where his mother lives, there is only a skeleton of a program that might benefit him.
She worries. What will she do?
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
The Hell Bitch has a heart! Yesterday, when I arrived at work, there was a list of ten patients for me to see this week - by myself. I felt as though someone had dragged me up on the high dive and thrown me into the deep end of the pool.
My orientation is far from complete. Oh, I can do the patient care, but we have reams of paperwork, and The Hell Bitch has been doing it. I don’t have a laptop yet, so it was easier for her to take care of it. I was expecting to be oriented to all the paperwork and my laptop - before being set out on my own.
I felt overwhelmed, anxious and completely caught off guard, and when I walked over to The Hell Bitch’s desk to tell her I was longer hers, I was fighting back tears. She stood up and wrapped her big arms around me and hugged me tight, saying I would be okay. I was never so shocked.!
Yes, she is still a Hell Bitch and always will be. That is who she is, but now I know she has a heart, and casts a new light on her bitchiness. It is more bearable, but now that I have been throw off the high dive, I won’t be working with her one-on-one anymore.
I am surprised to feel sad about that, but I do.
PS: I did great!
Sunday, August 15, 2010
For the past week, I have been doing home visits with The Hell Bitch. After working with her one day week before last, I asked that she be my preceptor. (Yes, I did a four-week hospice preceptorship back in the spring in order to reactivate my nursing license, but now that I have been officially hired by Hospice of Central Georgia, I must do another one. The first one was all field work with no orientation to paperwork or checkoffs for specific procedures - starting IVs, inserting catheters, drawing blood for lab work, etc.).
The Hell Bitch is one of the smartest, most knowledgeable nurses with whom I have ever worked - probably the best nurse I have ever seen, so knowing what I was getting into, I requested her.
So far, she has taught me how to detect a heart murmur and now to titrate pain meds for our patients. When I graduated from nursing school, in 1969, nurses weren’t even allowed to do cardiac assessments and we sure as hell weren’t allowed to make decisions about medications. So, I am a reborn nurse, swimming in unknown waters, still feeling as though I need to call the doctor for advice on medication.
The Hell Bitch will not only go toe-to-toe with our medical director, she will push her agenda on him, challange him to see things her way. The woman has balls. Then she wonders why he runs in the other direction every time he sees her rumbling toward him. Naturally, she feels picked upon.
We recently converted from paper charts to electronic records, and she is the only one in the office who has mastered the operating system and navigates it with ease. Some of the others are making progress, and one nurse has refused altogether to use the laptop assigned to her and will probably resign because of it.
You are probably a little curious about the Hell Bitch part. Fair enough, so here goes.
She is a diabetic and doesn’t watch her diet, so part of the time her blood sugar is out of whack and she is fractious and spiteful when it is low. She will argue with a lamp post - about anything, if she thinks she is right, which is 100% of the time. I think she would even argue knowing she is wrong, just to bully the other person. I have heard her admit a mistake once, but the utterance it was barely audible.
She complains loudly, and I do mean loudly, about most of her patients’ caregivers and families. While we are driving from town to town, in her strident voice, she dissects every little weakness and foible. As for me, I don’t give a rat’s ass if the son has heart disease and won’t take care of himself. He is a grown man, and though in my heart I wish he would eat right and take his meds, my primary focus on the patient and the caregivers that I can work with. The ones that are recalcitrant have to go to the back burner while I work with the ones I can.
Jesus. I sounded like The Hell Bitch for a moment.
She hates everyone in the office except two nurses. (I’m not sure yet whether or not she hates me). And she while we are on the road, she treats me to diatribes about each of their weaknesses. Nobody does the job like it should be done - except her. She has pointed out who the manager’s pets are and warned me to “keep my head low and don’t offer an opinion unless asked.” This from a woman who, as soon as we arrive back into the office, swaggers her very ample personage into the office and begins to rale against this person or that situation.
As for me, I am willing to put up with The Hell Bitch in order to drain her of any knowledge I can take in. I am not in this line of work because I am a sissy, and though she outweighs be about three to one, I am fully capable of wading right into that pool of negativity if I think she is wrong or unfair. And she knows it.
Meanwhile, I went to the candle store and bought myself some jasmine candles to burn at home. According to Hothouse Bath and Body News, it has a sedative effect much like Valium. I’m burning one right now, and I think it is working.
And I bought some jasmine hand sanitizer - one bottle for me and one for The Hell Bitch. I hope she doesn’t throw it at me.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
What is it with me and men? Either they die on me or I push them away. I’ve had a fight with my Friend-Boy, and it may cause an irrevocable rift in our relationship. We both said things we shouldn’t have said, did things we shouldn’t have done, and now I am lonely and missing him.
He has a right to be mad at me, and I have a right to be mad at him. It’s just that I want to make up and he doesn’t. Shit.
I had a session with my therapist this afternoon, and she, who takes no prisoners, says she thinks we will be okay. I don’t know. Since Clint died, I have not been the strong and centered and self-confident woman I used to be. Oh, I’m making a comeback, but this is just so hard.
I don’t want to go into details, well, just because I’m not ready to share them with anyone except my therapist, but I will say that it is ugly.
Not fair to tease my readers? True. But I need to share my feelings with those who care about me, and I will say that he and I are not sexual; we are truly friends - without benefits, at least not that kind.
I am giving him space and hoping for the best. And as much as I want to believe that we will weather this storm, I am still afraid of losing him. See what I mean about men and me? I have lost so many men, starting with my father at the age of six, followed by my brother at age 12 and another brother ten years ago and ending with Clint’s death last June 10, at 6:33 PM, and after all that loss I believe I may have actually caused another one.
I’ll tell you a little bit about my Friend-Boy. He’s a retired physician; he was Clint’s physician until he retired. Our relationship goes back years, thirty years. He is funny and intelligent and well read and very metro - a rarity in Macon-Fucking-Georgia. He makes me laugh.
Here’s an example: When I am depressed, he does things like calling me up and asking to speak to Sylvia.
“Ms. Plath, take your head out of the oven. This is the gas company and we have turned off your service, so take you head out of the oven and meet me for dinner.”
We are both Pink Panther Fiends, and we speak Pink Pantherese fluently. I have been known to call him up and say, “This is Officer Bardot, but you may call me Brigitte. How about a little stroll through the Bois de Bologne?”
Thank God I finally got a job.
I miss him. I really do. (Sob).
Sunday, August 8, 2010
(I’m sitting on my deck drinking coffee and writing! Yes! It is cool enough to actually sit outside and breathe some air that doesn't feel like it was just blown out of a furnace. Just a little aside before I start my post. Had to share).
The New Nurse took things into her own hands. After working on a pain management manual at her desk for a couple of hours, she wondered when her manager was going to give her her marching orders for the day. Lavender Lane, the hospice where she works, was still in turmoil after moving into the new building.
She knew what the schedule paper said. It said that she was to spend the morning with either one of the chaplains or one of the social workers, but the morning was fast dissolving all around her. She was ready to get out of the office and see some patients.
The desk directly behind her is assigned to the night nurse, but since the night nurse was at home sleeping, Brenda, one of the social workers was using it. The New Nurse wheeled her chair around and asked, “What’s up with you today?” Teresa and I are supposed to be with one of you guys or one of the chaplains. Can we go with you?”
“I don’t see why not , but we won’t be back at the office until four this afternoon. You up for a long day?”
At that point, Teresa wandered into the new nurse’s space with a look of anticipation on her face.
“Aren’t we supposed to be doing something?”
Never having been accused of being shy, the New Nurse pulled herself out of her chair, which was a little deep for her, and strode across the hall to Katie’s office and, interrupting her, asked permission to go with Brenda.
Katie slapped her forehead and said, “Oh, shit! I knew there was something else on my plate. It’s just so full, I have to move everything around on it to see what’s there. Sure, tag along with Brenda. Hey, and thanks for being proactive. Go with my blessings” Then she returned to her conversation with another nurse.
The ride to Barnesville, mostly over country roads, was beautiful with deep green flora, recent heavy rains having produced a lushness in the landscape, unusual for these hot days of August.
The New Nurse tried to watch and listen as Brenda interacted with the family of the dying man. Having been admitted the day before, his family had only received his medication packet that morning. While Brenda’s voice began to sound like Charlie Brown’s teacher, the New Nurse could not take her eyes off the skeleton of a man in the bed. He was sucking for air and beginning to rattle. He had periods of apnea for as long as 30 seconds, followed by respirations as frequent as 30 in 30 seconds as he struggled to move air into his lungs. She held herself in check as long as she could.
No stethoscope or blood pressure cuff, no nursing apparatus at all, she interrupted Brenda, saying, “I must intervene her and be this man’s nurse.”
She explained to the family that their loved one was hungry for air, and that he needed some medicine to make him breathe easier and alleviate any pain he was having. He was nonverbal, so there was not way to assess just how uncomfortable he might be. She had the family look at his breathing, then opened the medication box, assembled the apparatus for delivering morphine drops under his tongue and guided the niece in how to administer it.
“But won’t morphine kill him, stop his breathing altogether? I don’t want to kill my uncle.”
The New Nurse took the frightened woman into her arms and whispered, “He is leaving us, and he knows it. We all know it. Your giving him morphine will make his leaving easier and more peaceful. By giving it to him, you are ministering to him, helping him along his way.”
Within five minutes, the patient’s breathing was less labored, though he was still having periods of apnea.
Then the New Nurse opened a tiny bottle of drops meant to dry the patient’s chest so the rattle would be less and maybe even go away. The niece was eager to give her uncle the medicine and was guided in doing so by the New Nurse.
They sat for a few minutes as the New Nurse guided the family through the signs of end of life, explaining that their uncle had some of them but not all. Though they had read the material on that subject given to them on the previous day, then remembered little of what they had read and needed gentle reinforcement.
On the drive back to the office, the lush countryside appeared even more verdant. New Nurse called the dying man's case manager and confessed to having intervened with her patient and was greeted with these words:
“Hell, Claudia, you’re a hospice nurse. You were just doing your job. We will write it up when you arrive. I am thankful you were there.”
synchronicity: the simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection
I have long believed in synchronicity in the lives of people and what happens and does not happen in them, and I am certain in my heart that a powerful force in the universe - call it what you want - moved me to stick my nose in Brenda’s business and ask to go with her. It was an intervention outside of me and my spiritual capabilities that led me to that bedside on a hot August afternoon in Barnesville, Georgia.
ALL NAMES HAVE BEEN CHANGED EXCEPT MINE.
Sunday, August 1, 2010
She blinked back tears as she wracked her brain for a path to strength, searched deep for the ability to put a smile on her face, a real smile, not just one pasted on for the benefit of her patient. He would doubtless see though it anyway. The dying have x-ray vision, she thought to herself.
The drive to his home would take three quarters of an hour, and since Debra was prattling on about purple crepe myrtles, it was hard to think, almost impossible to concentrate.
True, this new patient is 30 years older than her brother had been when he died at 45. But somehow there was no comfort in that knowledge. It was the same disease that sent her and John - that was her brother’s name - to Memphis for three weeks of alternative treatment at the end of his life. She thought she could will her brother to stay alive, that if she didn’t want him to die, well, he wouldn’t. Denial is deeper in health care professionals that in anyone else, she had decided.
She was planning to write a book about her brother’s short yet remarkable life but had been put off by her desire to keep that wound closed. After 10 years, it was still simmering under the surface of her psyche, and she was unsure, in view of her husband’s death just a year ago, that she was emotionally and psychologically capable of taking on that task without throwing herself back into the deep and dangerous depression that still haunted her.
What to do? She decided on the direct approach. She would tell her patient up front that she had lost her brother to the disease that was now killing him. Unsure of just how she would negotiate those whirling waters, she knew she needed to tell him.
So much so soon, she mused to herself as her Debra pointed out every fucking color of crepe myrtle they passed. Why is it that life has to jackhammer me at every turn? Why can’t life ease its punishments on me? God knows there have been enough of them. Do they all have to be hurricanes? Can’t some of them come quietly like a much needed shower of rain in the 98º heat of this day?
And then, there they were, at the patent’s house. Still without a firm plan in mind, she followed the Debra into the house, and much to her own surprise, asked her partner to handle the visit, volunteering to take vital signs and do the physical assessment only. Incredibly, Debra locked eyes with her and there was understanding and compassion in them. She knew. For training purposes, Debra had taken only a supporting role in the previous visits, but she remembered her fellow nurse’s tragic history with renal cell carcinoma and seamlessly moved into the leadership role.
As the visit came to an end, Debra offered to pray for the patient. She did that a lot. So, she prayed for a while, covering all her bases with Jesus and the Holy Spirit, asking for strength and guidance and all that. The patient punctuated her words every now and them with a “yes” or and “amen.” The patient’s brother was visiting, and he also lent his voice to the “amens”
The new nurse was quiet, remembering all her unanswered prayers for her brother’s recovery. All that praying had just brought him to a place where his heart and lungs, filled with tumors, got too tired to go on.
After the praying was over, Debra sang a hymn to the patient, and when she finished, the brother looked at the new nurse and said, “You need prayers, too. There is something in you that makes me know you are hurting.” And that is when she, in a hesitant voice, admitted her very personal connection to renal cell carcinoma.
So they prayed over her, too.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
I spent an hour this morning doing something that is so anathema to my sense of right and wrong that I makes my stomach hurt. I'm a hospice nurse and my job is to keep my patients comfortable and peaceful.
This morning I made a follow-up visit to see a little man who is dying of heart failure. He is hardly breathing with breath sounds almost absent. His heart rate is irratic and faint. His little arm is too tiny to record a blood pressure, and he reponds only to pain. Sooooo, I proceeded to hurt him. When I first went into his room, I had to chase roaches out of his bed.
I was given the task of changing the dressings on his legs. The circulation in them is nearly absent and the skin is thin and weeps blood. He's on blood thinners. If you can figure that out, please let me know. My job was to change the dressings on his legs. I gave him morphine twice because it was so painful for him. And when I was done, I realized that I had made a horrible nursing judgment. The dressings looked clean, and I should have left them alone - in spite of the instructions to change them.
When I removed the old dressings- complicated layers of dressings meant to heal burn patients - sheets of skin came off with them. And my patient grimaced with pain and recoiled - in spite of the morphine that I gave him before we got started. I was horrified and guilt-ridden at what I had done.
I got the family together, and explained that I was going to put a skin barrier cream on his poor legs and wrap them gently in gauze. I instructed them NOT to touch the dressing unless the the drainage became visible through them. I explained that the purpose of the cream was to make sure that it was what came off with the dressing and not my poor patient's skin.
Gruesome? Yes. Part of life and learning? Yes. Cruel? Yes.
What was I thinking?
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
Getting started at work is something of a challenge. When I did my preceptorship with Hospice of Central Georgia back in March and April, the census was at maximum, and we were crazy busy. It was like boot camp, and I loved it. I think I remember calling it baptism by fire. It was great training, though. I know just how hard things can get.
Now, I am employed by Hospice, and we are in transition from one location to another, adding an inpatient component to our services. It is chaos! I'm at home for lunch now, but I spent the morning assigned to one of the nurses who hasn't quite gotten the gist of the new laptop system, and one of the other nurses is helping him. You can imagine just about how much I am learning. I felt guilty, sitting there and getting paid to do nothing and learn nothing.
After lunch, we are going out into the field to do some home care. At least I know how to do that and will feel as though I am earning my keep!
The physical move will be completed by Friday afternoon, then all the chaos will be at the new location. I told my manager today that I would fully understand if she wanted me to take some days off until things settle down. (Although I could use the money). I am really bored.
Later - 7 PM
The afternoon dragged on and on and on. We did actually see a couple of patients, but the fellow I was working with needs improvement in the category of “Uses Time Wisely.” He waited until nearly 5 to call in a medication for the first patient we saw.
Can you believe I am bitching about this job that I have stewed about since April? It’s not the job; it’s the situation. It will improve, and with it, my attitude, I am certain. Sitting around is so much more tiring that working hard.
I’m going to put an end to this boring post and put my dear readers out of their misery.............
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
Yesterday was my first day of orientation to the mega-bureaucracy called the Medical Center of Central Georgia. It was long and boring and exhausting, but I was getting paid to be there! We have only half a day today, then I report for work in the Hospice unit which is off site and not very far from my house.
I had begun to think this day would never come, and now that it’s upon me, I am just as excited as a little girl on the first day of first grade. I have missed being a nurse - not counting, of course, the years I spent nursing Clint before his death.
Hospice, I have come to believe, is a calling for me. I can’t imagine working in any other area of nursing. Patients and their families have a right to a dignified and peaceful and pain-free dying process. And it is a process, much like any other change. I love dealing with the patients. That goes without saying. Many times, though, the families feel left out of the loop, and frightened, and sometimes they are even afraid to be in the room with their dying loved ones.
I think of the entire family as my “patient.” Families need to know what to expect, and most especially, they deserve permission to begin their grieving as their loved ones lies dying. Many don’t want to look sad or cry in the presence of the one they are losing. Someone has to give them permission, to say to them, “It’s okay for Grandma to know you are sad. She knows she is leaving us, and it’s okay for you to let her know how much you will miss her.”
Every case is different, though, and each person must handle death in his own way. I want to be there for them, not matter how they manage their pending loss. There is no secret formula for this kind of work, but there is a secret formula to dealing with each situation - listen. Yes, listening is as important as the drugs we supply as comfort measures, the tender care we give to any and every little issue with the patient. By listening to the families - and to the patients - we can build a bridge to understanding. Not a bridge to acceptance; that comes much later.
This job will reactivate my grief, no doubt, but I want to use that energy to help others deal with their own private corner of hell.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
My love affair with Marcel Proust is only half over. Now that I have listened to all seven volumes of Á La Recherche du Temps Perdu, I have begun to read the words from the pages of those volumes. Highlighter in hand, I read slowly, often out loud, and mark the passages that I find the most beautiful.
No, Proust is not hard to read! Even his sentences which seem to go on forever are not tedious if you push the thought of their length and complexity from you mind. I just read the words as they come and relish them, devour them like little sweet candies.
And where is all this Proust taking me? I am certain that my own writing has been enriched by it. My poems, especially, are developing more depth and dimension. They are still hard to write, but I pursue them now in a different light. I believe my prose is richer as well. (Granted, I have been spending too much time bog hopping and not writing for myself, but that has come to a halt. I start to work on Monday).
Those of you who have read Proust know that he can be sappy and nebulous with ad nauseum, but the words with weight far overcome any tendency to put down the book because it is vague and abstract. Au contraire. The fuzzy stuff just serves as a background to showcase the brilliance of his ability to paint vivid pictures in one’s mind.
Here’s a quote from Swann’s Way:
“My body, still too heavy with sleep to move, would endeavor to construe from the pattern of its tiredness and the position of its limbs, in order to deduce therefrom the direction of the wall, the location of the furniture, to piece together and give a name to the house in which it lay.”
That wasn’t so bad, now was it?
“I went into the first of her two rooms and through the open door of the other saw my aunt lying on her side asleep; I could hear her snoring gently. I was about to slip away when the noise of my entry must have broken into her sleep and made it ‘change gear’ as they say of motor-cars, for the music of her snore stopped for a second and began again on a lower note; then she woke and half turned her face, which I could see for the first time; a kind of horror was imprinted on it; plainly she had just escaped from some terrifying dream.”
I won’t torture you any more. It is fair to say that Proust isn’t for everybody. Many fine writers have remarkable skills and great success without ever taking it up.
Why me? I haven’t a clue. I started this project 16 years after my dear, sweet friend, Elaine, instructed me to read Proust. Why did it take me so long to pick up the baton and run with it? There are dozens of answers, excuses and rationalizations, not one of which matters now. It is the now of my life that matters most.
Thursday, July 22, 2010
On Monday, I finally completed the pre-employment requirements for my new job. I have been so immunized that I am certain it is safe for me to travel anywhere in the developed world and some of the third world countries as well. I took the dreaded medications test, the one that had me in such a state of anxiety over the weekend that I finally decided that I would either pass it or not, and I made myself a drink, closed my books and put them away.
I suppose my lack of confidence about taking the test is the product of several things. I’m older. I’m still regaining my self confidence that died with Clint. I’m not 100% sure just who I am. This torturous journey in search of myself without Clint, though healthy and beginning to pay off, is draining, both emotionally and psychologically. Passing the test went a long way toward rebooting my self-confidence. (Yes, I aced it)! It was mostly math and common sense.
So, I am officially employed and start two days of orientation on Monday, July 26. Then I will be handed off to the Hospice division. Yea!!! My name tag will read:
Claudia Schlottman, RN
Hospice of Central Georgia
Since I did my preceptorship this spring, I have known I am right for the job. We’re a good fit, the Hospice team and I, and I am eager to get started.
62. That’s how old I am, 62 and embarking on a new career. I should be nervous as a whore in church, but I’m exhilarated and ready to jump in - the deep end.
Wednesday, July 21, 2010
The Thing About Beauty
The other day I was visiting “Hipstercrite," a blog I try to follow fairly frequently. Lauren, who is in her twenties, posted a piece called “Silver Foxettes.” I was intrigued from the moment I read the title.
The post is about beautiful older women, and Lauren published a list of her favorites, along with photos. Here’s a link to the post: Hipstercrite
Over the last couple of days, I thought in depth about physical beauty, no matter what one's age. I think I am more beautiful at 62 than I was at 40. Imperfect though I may be, is extremely important for me to look in the mirror and see a beautiful face and body, and I have learned to love the way I look. It gives me great strength and a sense of empowerment.
No, I don’t look like a movie star, and my body, well, is rather Rubinesque, but not in a bad way. I love myself, and I wish every woman alive could feel that way. I include teenagers in this statement, but I am realistic enough to understand that they are in a category all their own.
Since I was in my teens, girls have been held to a perfect standard of physical beauty, and have striven to meet impossible criteria of how their bodies should look - skin and bones. We “older” women, at least many of us, grew past that when we reached mid-life, though every day I see woman my age and older whose clothes look as though they came from their daughter’s closet. These woman are rail thin, nipped and tucked ad nauseum.
And in case you think of me as one of those anti-cosmetic surgery zealots, au contraire. I had my eyelids tightened up and a little fat sucked from under my chin. Plastic surgery only becomes the enemy when overdone, when its victims begin to look as though they might melt if they stand too close to the fire.
Please visit “Hipstercrite” and see these fantastic photos of women of great physical beauty. Being 62 myself, I was particularly interested. Like me, when you see these photos, you will begin to think of many others. What about Meryl Streep? Holly Hunter is 50 this year. What about Candace Bergen, Helen Mirren, and Lauren Hutton and Susan Sarandan? What about Dianne Feinstein? What about you and me? We are everywhere, ladies. We are all over the place.
I know this a subject that has been analysed, dissected and written about for years. But after all these years, nothing has changed. As a society, we still value physical beauty more than spiritual and emotional beauty.
It’s a real shame.
© cj Schlottman