Silence on a February Morning

Silence on a February Morning

On a cold February morningwoodpecker at suet cage
she sat in a lawn chair
on the snow-covered deck
she had cleared with her feet
and listened.

There were no sweet bird songs of spring yet,
no echoing notes or mournful cries
or the disharmony of a minor-key song.
Only the silent movement at the feeders.

The red head of the pileated woodpecker
with its velvety black and white patterned wings
moved against the suet cage,
one of many seeking survival
like she did every day.

Taking turns was the ritual of nature,
birds waiting for the squirrels,
squirrels waiting for the birds,
exquisite, fragile black, white, and gray chickadees
at the window feeder
followed by the sturdy brown nuthatch.
Harmony in the garden.

She had escaped the warmth inside
where angry, hurtful words hung tenaciously in the air
like the frozen icicles clinging to the roof eaves above her,
escaped to survive here
where silence reigned,
where there was a purpose.

Maybe this is how she would spend her last day, she thought,
here in a lawn chair on a cold wintry day,
surrounded by a peaceful harmony she no longer knew,
here on a snow-covered deck
watching the birds
in the garden
in the silence
of a February morning.


Deficient Health Care for the Elderly

On Sunday I left the nursing home with a feeling of optimism.  My mother was happy, talkative, and involved with activities there.  Her dementia was being controlled with Aricept and her delusions were under control with Seroquel, two drugs I fought off initially, but my mother’s increasing agitation, delusions, and aggressive tendencies gave me no choice.  I was glad I made the choice to have her put on these drugs.

Monday morning I got a call at 5:30 a.m. from the nurse at the nursing home.  My mother had a seizure and was being taken to the emergency department.  I made an immediate, panicky trip to the ER.  I got very little information from the emergency room doctor or the nursing home originally.  The doctor suggested her increasing back pain that was causing  her to scream and cry in the ER may have been due to the seizure, perhaps being put onto the floor or perhaps the aide had let her slip or fall in the process!  I went to the nursing home for more details.  I didn’t get much, but I was told she did not fall.  Her pain was so excruciating she was given morphine and later Percocet.  I wondered why the morphine didn’t kick in right away, so when I asked if she could be given more, the nurse discovered that actually she had never received the first dose!  The entire emergency room visit was a catastrophe.  No one knew for sure what had happened to her or why she had more back pain, except the x-rays showed two compression fractures most likely from her two previous falls although it could also have been a result of her treatment for uterine cancer.  I was never told about the compression fractures by the nursing home.  In fact, one of the nurses told me she was faking the pain to get my sympathy and actually told her to stop doing that.  Her pain was not adequately treated at the nursing home because they didn’t really believe she was in pain.   Because she may have had a cardiac event that precipitated the seizure, she was admitted to the hospital for observation.  She was put into a room with an elderly woman who had just had an operation for a broken hip.  The woman talked constantly, mostly gibberish punctuated with yells and screams, which upset my mother.  She became confused and disoriented, thinking the woman was her roommate at the nursing home and they were doing something to hurt her.  I stayed with her all day but the confusion increased.  The pain was excruciating.  She could not move in the bed without pain and more pain medication was given.  She did not eat or talk much.  I stayed until 5:30 when they brought her a dinner she did not touch.  The physician on the cardiac unit (a doctor I was all-too-familiar with from previous hospitalizations) indicated to me that because of my mother’s age, there was really nothing to be done.  He stated she was at the end stage of her life and he did not believe in helping her live longer.  He had stated the same thing previously right after after her diagnosis of uterine cancer, telling me to just let it go, that no treatment was available for her.  That turned out not to be true, she was treated with radiation, and even though her oncologist told me in August that she had at the most three months to live, she has outsmarted them all.  This, however, seemed to be a definite decline toward the end.

I got a call early the following morning.  My mother was screaming in anger that they were all lying to her.  She told me they said I was dead and then she thought I was the person in the next bed they were hurting, and it was hard to convince her that I was alive since I was speaking to her on the phone.  I told her I would come up.  A short time after that I got another call pleading with me to come up as soon as possible.  She was out of control.   An aide was sitting by her side when I got there assuring her she was not lying to her and I would be there shortly.  There was no calming her down, so it was decided that her strange surroundings were upsetting her and arrangements were made to return her to the nursing home.  She was given lunch but she didn’t eat it, and even though I was told she was dehydrated when she came into the emergency room, no IVs or liquids were given to her.

By 2:00 she was back in her room at the nursing home and seemed fine when I left.  A few hours later I got a call from the nurse telling me she had fallen again.  (She had two falls in two days a few weeks prior which apparently caused the fractures).  She was upset with her roommate for leaving the room without her.  She was sitting in her chair and suddenly decided to go after her and she fell.  Back to the emergency room for more tests and x-rays.  The only funny part was that what I assumed was dried blood all over her and the bed was actually chocolate.  She had apparently fallen on top of a chocolate donut.

After four hours in the ER, tests showed no major problems except a urinary tract infection which would explain the sudden change in her behavior, but the doctor decided not to treat it since she had similar problems before!  Again I felt that she was being treated as if her life did not matter because of her age.  I knew the nursing home doctor would order treatment, so finally at 8:30 p.m. she was returned to her room.  She had not eaten all day or had any liquids.

This morning when I called her, she did not know where she was.  She said she was all alone there, although she was not, and there was no convincing her otherwise.  Her anger at me and irrational thoughts are hard to deal with.  She is no longer the mother I once knew.  The mother I shopped with and talked with several times a day and went out to lunch with and shared my days with is gone.

I know that my generation will be filling nursing homes and dementia unit facilities in the decades to come.  I may soon find myself in the same condition as my mother.  It frightens me.

Clydesdale Memory


Clydesdale Memory

My sister’s favorite Superbowl ad was always the Budweiser ad featuring the Clydesdales.  The ad during yesterday’s Superbowl was an emotional one as always.  The connection between humans and animals is like that.

We bond with them easily (who could resist the cuteness of the puppies in the Puppy Bowl?), and they never cease to amaze us with their intelligence.  The Clydesdales often come to Saratoga Springs during the racing season, and my sister, who passed away in 2005 of metastatic breast cancer, never missed a chance to see them.  The year after her death, the Clydesdales paraded down Broadway in Saratoga Springs in all their beauty and majesty, and my sister was not there to see them.

My favorite ad yesterday was the Budweiser ad showing the love and attachment between a trainer and a Clydesdale from birth on.  Their parting was hard to watch, but the moment of their connection after their nearly missed reunion brought tears to my eyes.  I would think there aren’t many people who watched that ad who were not touched by it.

It’s funny how moments occur in our lives that are filled with so many emotions, we can’t separate them.  More than anything, I wanted to pick up the telephone and call my sister to cry together over the Budweiser ad.  The ad for us doesn’t sell beer; it sells love and the overwhelming attachment we form with animals.  I wonder if my sister could see the ad from wherever she is.  Can she still connect to things she loved while alive?  I don’t know.  What I know is I will never see an ad featuring Clydesdales or view the Clydesdales at the Saratoga Race Track without thinking of my sister and wishing she were by my side.  Memories are triggered at unexpected moments.  For me the memory of my sister’s love for Clydesdales occurred at the moment I first saw the young Clydesdale in the stable in yesterday’s ad and has lingered in the hours following that emotional reunion of the horse and trainer.  I am so grateful to my sister for giving me those moments when I feel close to her again no matter how far away from me she may be.

Paul Keleher

A Valentine’s Day Promise

“Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.”  —Aristotle

A Valentine’s Day Promise

February begins with a cold wind and icy roads, but then we remember that February is supposed to be a month of love with Valentine’s Day occurring in the middle of an otherwise dreary month.

The best lesson about love I ever learned was taught to me by my parents.  They were never overtly demonstrative in their love, but they didn’t have to be.  Love between them was clear in the way my mother cared for my father and the way my father gave to my mother every request he possibly could.  At the end of the work day my father would come into the kitchen where my mother was preparing dinner and sit in a chair near her.  She would pour him a drink, and they would talk about their day.  I never intruded into these moments, realizing without being told that these were their special moments.  My father loved my mother’s cooking and baking.  She loved his paintings.  They were a team.

I remember the one time I saw a physical demonstration of their love.  I walked unknowingly into the dining room where my parents were embracing during a quiet moment in their otherwise busy day.  I turned around quickly, hoping they did not see me there.  I don’t remember seeing them hug like this at any other time, but I knew those moments were always private ones.

Valentine’s Day was a time my father never forgot how much he loved my mother.  Every year he bought her roses and a box of candy.  The last February of my father’s life, my husband and I flew down to Florida where my parents lived to help bring my father home.  He had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and we wanted to help my mother take care of him.   Valentine’s Day occurred during the week we were there.   In the morning of that day, my father called me over to where he was lying in his recliner and handed me some money.

“Buy your mother a dozen red roses and a box of candy,” he whispered to me so she couldn’t hear.  He was unable to walk much at that point, and I knew he could not do it himself.

“I will,” I whispered back.

“And,” he added, “could you make sure she has flowers and candy every year on Valentine’s Day?”

“Yes,” I said, fighting back tears.  “I promise you.”

Every year since my father’s death, I have gone to my mother’s apartment with a bouquet of roses and a box of chocolates.  This is the first year I will be bringing her roses and candy in the nursing home.  I will tell her this year as I have every year that they are from Daddy.  This year she may not understand why I say this to her.  She has had dreams of him recently.  In one dream he is there with her but then walks out of the room without her.   In another dream she sees him but then can’t find him again.  I don’t know what that means.  I’d like to think that he is watching over her until it is time for her to join him and my sister.

I know my mother still loves my father and he still loves her.  Their love was so strong that nothing would ever end it, not even death.  I long for love like that, but I think it doesn’t come to everyone.  Maybe that is why it is so special.

At some point in the next few years, I will have to bury my mother in the cemetery plot next to my father.  Every year since my father died, my mother has gone with me to put flowers on his grave or plant petunias and geraniums in the urn near his stone.  She won’t be able to go with me anymore.  But I can still bring her roses and candy from my father this Valentine’s Day, and I can still think about love, their love, and what a gift to was to me to see love like theirs.  And I will always remember how they were in that moment in the dining room, that private moment that I witnessed, my mother and my father in a tight embrace that taught me so much about love.