Saturday, October 31, 2009


On a drive this evening, my wife mentioned that she'd noticed that when other people spoke of those who had died, particularly those close to them, they would say they passed on, whereas when she spoke of my mother, she'd say she died. She wondered what I thought about that. I told her that in my view it was not only reasonable to say it as she did, it was preferable. It put the event up front in black and white, and forced you to face it, to deal with it.

Of course, I added, after a moment, I can say my mother died without too much trouble, but I still stumble a bit over my mother is dead.


I mentioned to the guidance counselor about how difficult I find it to come up with even a skosh of an idea about how to motivate the mento, and she said that she had two sons in college who would say that they wished they'd known how important some things stressed in high school were, at the time they were there. To which I thought So you're telling me that a professional can't do it, either?

But the other thing was that when she asked the mento if he wanted a mentor again this year, he asked if it would be me, and when she said it would, he seemed actively delighted. I'm amazed.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Hallowe'en can be pretty disappointing if there aren't very many kids around.

When we moved to this area, there were a healthy number of families with young kids. Now, not so many. We had two families come by -- the people who live across the street, with a daughter who's about 5, and the people who live about five houses away, with three young kids ranging from 3 to 7. That's it. We know of two other families who have a child in the prime age for going door to door, but they didn't -- at least, they didn't come into our cul-de-sac. I always think that we're going to get twenty or thirty kids, and I'm always disappointed.

The very first year we lived in the house, we didn't know that the school, district mandates when Hallowe'en will be celebrated, and we were astonished when kids showed up. We didn't have a thing. The next year, we got some supplies, and ran out about halfway through the evening. I didn't realize that that was as tumultuous as it was going to get. One year, which, granted, was a year when a lot of kids were sick, we didn't get any. On average, last few years, we've gotten: five. I joke that it'd be easier just to give them each a buck and send them on their way.

Maybe next year.....

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


Today I met with the vice-president of a local health care operation regarding doing a bit of volunteering. It's the dominant health care operation in this area, but they're still pretty small. The VP, for example, has one part-time person as her staff.

The task would be to get a piece of software operational for them. It's not an install -- the software is resident on the vendor's system, and they already have access to it -- but its something like it. They want to transition from using a paper tracking system to this software, which means (probably) data entry out the wazoo (guess who gets to do that), and some learning/training on the software (which actually sounds like fun). So, I'm thinking: yeah, let's do this. Maybe it'll cure me of my tendency to say how hard could it be?

Proof of my Idiocy

I'm going to start spending two hours a Saturday, once every two-three weeks, in a library with my mento, going over his homework and what he's been studying.

I must be insane.


Some time ago, I mentioned in this blog that I was pretty down -- I'd done some dumb things, including smashing the side view mirror on the Prius. In retrospect, that was minor, but at the time..... I got two comments back that meant so much to me, I saved them in a file on my PC. I don't look at them often, but I have a link from the desktop so that I can.

I just did. Nothing's wrong, I just am a little crabby about school and my daughter/my mento, the election next week (I never feel ready), and some other things.

Reading both comments cheered me -- they said that about me? -- but the last line of one stuck with me:

"Without getting maudlin, I wish I had half your drive and determination."

My golly. And here I didn't feel like I had any drive or determination. Okay, granted, those are old comments, and I even still have one from a person who I used to consider a friend and only reluctantly realized that she was nothing of the sort -- so old comments do expire. But even if this one did, that someone once thought that about me --

Lifts your spirits right up.


My mother died the day before our anniversary. While cleaning up my mother's stuff, my wife found someting.

A beautiful 25th anniversary card.

It's as if she reached out and gave it to us. It's my mother, to a T. I really, really like it.


Another rainy day. Predicted to last till the end of the week.

Last night, my daughter made the tactical error of mentioning to me that she has 'a firm 83 in math'. That's a firm C. We're going to talk about that. I have nothing new to observe regarding all of this, butI'm giving up on the people at the school having any helpful insights. I'm ready for extreme measures, including mandating much more study time each night, being actively, involved in that study time, and possibly even hiring tutors.

Of course, just to give the finger to my gritted-teeth resolve for greater attention to academics, my daughter has color guard this weekend. On Friday. On Saturday. And on Sunday. She might, perhaps, squeeze in some studying. Possibly not. Eat that, math boy.

Monday, October 26, 2009


A very quiet evening -- the daughteroid and mother are off to a color guard event; they won't be home until about 11 or 11:30. I've been downstairs. Part of the time, I took a bath in that soaking bathtub, and part of it, I watched television and thought about HD big screen entertainment.

The tub: I don't think it was a good idea to get it. I'd wanted to go with a walk-in sit-down shower stall, but my mother really wanted the tub, so that's what we did. Now, having used it, I think: not as good as it could be. Part of it is that filling the tub essentially drains our hot water tank; at the end, there, when I'd have liked more hot water, it was running lukewarm, at best. It came up to about my navel, so it's not as if you're submerged, as in a full-length stretchout tub. Takes about 10 minutes to fill; about five minutes to drain. I brought a book, but once your hands are wet -- well. So, if there's no alternative, it'd work. But if I were to do it again -- walk-in shower.

The TV: I am not used to spending a lot of money all at once, and I'm not used to discarding something that works. We're spending a chunk of money for the Tivo (we're buying the DVR with their Lifetime deal) and for the replacement TV. We don't need Tivo, and the current TV works just fine. Okay, the color is sometimes a little off, but it works. Now we're getting the Tivo unit, and the HD service with about 5 times as many channels as we have now, and, almost certainly, the TV itself, bigger than what we have by about 150 percent. I know we'll like it. I just don't like spending the money. Here's the wierd part: except for the cost of the television, this is going to actually be cheaper than we have now.

comcast tv, internet.........106................verizon tv, internet.....133
verizon local phone............45...............verizon local phone......50
att long distance.................20...............verizon long distance.....0
..............................................................FIOS discount.............-53
...................................................... Tivo svc+dvr/36 months.....20

Twenty bucks a month less for a much better deal, and still, I'm apprehensive. Will it work, right out of the box -- Tivo this week with Comcast and the current TV and current router, probably; Verizon and the new TV, new router, and Tivo next week -- ah, not sure. Man. And to think I used to gleefully participate in major system upgrades without a qualm......course, then, it wasn't my money. Which is what it comes down to, for me. Are we spending our money wisely? Part of me says yes, you'll like it, it's worth it. Part of me says there's no such thing as it's time, you've earned it, or any of that, and wants to yell STOP!

Funny what you think about when you're all alone.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


Today, I'm making an Apple Gallette. Trying, anyway.

It always takes me at least two tries to get a recipe right. When I read through it -- and after a long time, I did learn to at least scan the damn thing -- I always miss little thing like slice the apples, THEN apply the lemon zest and DID buy a lemon, didn't you? That was today's misstep. I actually did buy a lemon, but where it is in the mass of food that's still in the refrigerator, is anyone's guess. But, heck, there's always bottled lemon juice. It came together pretty well. Though why the first step is heat the oven to 400, and then the next to last one is refrigerate the gallette before baking..... Personally, I think the power company's behind it.

In an hour, we'll see how things turn out. So far, looking good!


This morning, they mentioned at mass that the church youth group would be inviting anyone who ever had been in the military to join them at a mass in a gesture of recognition for their service. My daughter leaned over and asked "So, you going to go hang out with the geezers and talk about wars?" I told her that the older I get, the younger they get. But, as it turned out, on the way home, I had a geezer moment.

Five or six college girls were standing at the points of an intersection, collecting money for a charitable organization as part of an annual Penn State effort. Most were just standing there, but one with Asian features was actively dancing back and forth, bobbing up and down and shaking as she held out the basket. On the way out of the store, I thought about her, planning to put money in her basket. Just because I was impressed by those moves.

And then I thought: sixty years old. If I were younger, being attracted by her moves would be no big deal. But at sixty? And I shuddered. Sadly.


We were talking about the amount of food left from the memorial service and such. My wife told me that when her aunt had died, so much food was brought to the home that the family called the local grocers and told them not to accept any more orders. The compromise was that they did, but delivered them later, as needed. My daughter said that she thought that a good idea, and would do it when I died. No, I said, you'll say "My dad, he really liked anime, so just bring anime. Lots of it." She thought that plausible, but said that she'd probably say "My dad always wanted a big screen TV, so just bring that." How big does a screen have to be to be 'big screen', I wondered. Wall-size! she exclaimed. Dream on, I advised her.

Well, it's not going to be wall-size.....

Saturday, October 24, 2009


I like when my daughter and I can talk about something, as, for example, our discussion about the Gundam anime this evening.

Knowing that the discussion was part of her elaborate apology for her catastrophic meltdown and screaming fit (yeah, literally) this morning doesn't take away from the pleasure.


My golly. This looks scary.

Two Thirds

We are two thirds (or half, if we end up being lavish) of the way toward television nirvana.

a) We ordered a Tivo HD recorder and service. Should be here within a week. I hope we just plug it in, do some obvious things, and have it running with the current TV and standard service. A little skittish about having to connect it to the home LAN.

b) We ordered the Verizon HD service. Should be set up on November 3. I'll be out for the day doing election stuff; my wife will be here to make sure it works.

Some time between the two dates, we will buy the HDTV, bring it home, park it, and have it available to be plugged in when the HD service starts. Some time after, maybe, we'll get an AV receiver -- though I'm not at all sure we need it, the idea of the enhanced audio is attractive to me.

Thats the plan, anyway.

Pip Pip

One of the things that we were planning to do last week, before events intervened, was to buy an HDTV and the Verizon Fios HDTV service; part of the reason for that was that I wanted to upgrade the viewing experience, including getting the Picture In Picture function, which allows you to watch two channels simultaneously. Hurrah, no more lets get back to the first one to see if its back yet! Now I find that while some HDTVs do have it (LG, our first choice, doesn't), the PIP function doesn't just work -- you need two distinct video feeds -- either one from the cable/satellite, and one from a DVR or the like, or a split input from cable/satellite, each with its own tuner to feed the two images.

I am bummed. As things go, it's pretty minor, but still: bummed. Technology: FAIL.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

One More

The funeral went well. The homily wasn't bad, my wife's short eulogy was well received, I didn't lose it. Tomorrow's the interment.

It took me a while to be able to say 'my mother died', and another while to say 'my mother is dead' (I'm still not comfortable with that last one). So I can say 'interment', but I can't yet say 'burial'. Possibly by tomorrow.

Old Notes

While looking for things in my mother's bedroom (and I don't know how long we'll call it that, but I would bet 'for a good long time'), we found an autograph book that she'd had in high school, seventy years ago. It was an amazing document for us to read -- a tangible piece of her history that, up to now, I think I might have seen once before, when I was a kid, and my mother was decades from being a senior citizen.

I learned from it that corny humor is forever, because some of the comments in it were used when I went through high school. I learned that many people noted that they wanted to keep in touch, or not be forgotten -- and how many, I wondered, are even still alive? And if they are, remember my mother? Only, it turns out, they might not remember her as I do -- while most have her name, or her obvious nickname, as the salutation, two or three are addressed to 'Mac' -- which is the beginning of her maiden name. People knew my mother as Mac? Looking at her list of favorites -- favorite author, book, sport, teacher, subject -- I recognized only one. Who are these people, these things, I wondered.

And then, in the middle, in not-too-careful script, I came across this --

Ha Ha Ha Ha
It Makes Me Laugh
To Sign My Own

My mother wrote that? My mother was a giggling teenage girl? My mother???

Makes me wish I'd known her better.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


The viewing is over. It was okay. Better than okay, in fact. My mother looked good -- not real, like she looked, but how she'd have looked if she was trying to impersonate the Queen of England. But as I told people, that picture of her -- that was her, and seeing it made me happy. My family and friends had a good time, there was a lot of laughter, and every so often I'd go over just to talk to the woman who looked like my mother -- knowing that the person who was my mother, in the picture, could hear it.

I'm glad. And now we have people at the house, which is goodness, too.


This is exactly how CSI works. And NCIS. And whatever other alphabet soup agency does with the scientific stuff....


This funeral preparation is a much bigger deal to my mother in law and sister in law than it is to my wife or me. We're thinking okay, we should pick up a couple of the newspapers, maybe sweep a little. Put out some food - some lunch meats, some Ritz Crackers if we have any. They're more gotta get the food gotta clean the floors gotta get flowers gotta.... Every moment, it seems, there's a new as long as I'm doing this, I'm going to do that, too. Do we need more flowers?

My MIL brought a huge cake, and helped to arrange things. My SIL brought flowers that are strewn throughout the house, she vigorously cleaned the kitchen and other places, she placed some gourds in a decorative basket for the entryway, she even bought a new door mat for the front door. The house has never looked better. Oh, and we're having about 8, maybe 12 people come? She ordered food for 20 - 25. That's 20-25 hungry people.

It's not that we don't appreciate it -- we do. It's just a little ... overwhelming. My mother would be stunned.


My daughter had to install OneNote on her PC. It flat would not -- would not-- print to the networked printer. I worked for three hours this morning. I shall not say my experiences, other than to note that I hope that the developers burn in eternal hell.

I tend to think that complex software should have a simple/intermediate/complete mode. Simple gets you the very basic functions. Create. Save. Print. Intermediate gives you the ability to format, to save in different styles, to checkpoint. And Complete gives you the whole shooting match. But nooooooo.....

I realize that what I think ought to be included in Simple, you might think Complete; what you think it will of course do, I can't see how anyone would actually want. But this here's a ton of stuff, go wild approach -- leaves me seriously cold. I know this bothers Redmond very much.

Cargo Cult

Remember hearing about those natives in the South Pacific who, awed by the power and majesty of the airplanes that flew overhead, thought to invoke that same power and majesty for themselves by building a mockup of the airplane for their own use as a deity? Only to find that just having the form of a substance doesn't grant you the power of the original substance?

Microsoft products can be like that. The people who design (as distinct from develop) them were molested as children by Star Trek: The Next Generation. They saw the sleek design, the ability to touch one button and have hot tea appear/phasers fire repeatedly/set course for a distant destination, and they thought:Oooooohhh. I want that. So when they grew up, and became designers, that's what they designed. Only, like those fanatics who spend tens of thousands of dollars to make their home look just like the bridge of the Enterprise, they find to their dismay that simply having that magic button on the magic console in the magic bridge chamber that used to be my living room doesn't actually grant the power implicit in the original.

So, since they can't fix that, they do what they can. Add colors, and sounds, and themes. Jazz it up. Make it funky. They redefine what 'improve' means' to be 'we changed it, and now it's allllllll different'. Mo' bettah! That airplane is sleek! Beautiful! Got all kinds of bell and whistles! Way better than before!

It just doesn't fly.


Let's put it succinctly: Microsoft Sucks.

Okay, let's expand on a few minutes. Right now, I'm so pissed I would gladly plunge a knife in the Bill Gates heart. I 'd do Ballmer, too, but I don't think he has a heart. Droids rarely do.

Oh, and Vista? Microsoft OneNote? Best damn ads for a Mac I've ever seen. Actually, best damn ads for DOS I've ever seen.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


The 'viewing' is tomorrow. I'm not sure how I'll be, but I'm expecting some emotion. Then the funeral service the next day, which will likely have the same effect. And the burial the day after that, which will make it all too real.

Crap. I guess I'm still not ready for this.

Stray Thought

Occasionally, we have neighbors over for a get-together -- usually, some time after Christmas. After doing it a couple of times, we realized that my mother wouldn't come upstairs unless we explicitly invited her. She said that she just wasn't sure that it was OK. Even though we told her that it was a family gathering, and we considered her part of our family, we had to remember, each time, to tell her: hey, it's okay to come upstairs, really. She'd sit quietly in the corner, smiling at people, and possibly talking with one or two that she knew. After a while, she'd get tired, and go quietly back downstairs.

I have that picture of her as my PC wallpaper. I know, eventually, I'll change it, but for now? I like seeing it.

Reservations? No, Not Really

Today's our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary (last day for me to say that the marriage is a twenty-five-and-out arrangement), so we're squeezing in lunch at an area restaurant. They have an online reservation system, and I thought sure, why not. It uses a system called Open Table. Just before I clicked to do it, I noticed that it said I was agreeing to the terms of service for Open Table. Well, heck, how detailed could that be?

Answer: Many, many words and paragraphs. I think World War I was concluded with fewer terms. I said the hell with it, hit Cancel, and just called.

Monday, October 19, 2009

A Moment

Mother : I asked you which you prefered, and you said you didn't care.

Daughter: I say I don't care about a lot of things. That doesn't mean I don't care.

Some More

A picture that my daughter took not that long ago of her grandmother sitting at the table in her living room. That's where she ate, sometimes watched TV, and counted out her many pills.

Sometimes, when I would bake cookies, I'd bring a couple of still-warm ones down to her. She really liked them. I think it was as much that I was down there as that I came bearing cookies. Mothers can be like that.

Once, at a doctor visit, she asked where the doctor she'd seen the prior time was. The guy she was talking to didn't know which member of the practice she meant. " The tall one", she replied. " The colored man. " The guy got quite flustered.

My mother wasn't much of a cook. I grew up thinking that chewy and burned was how chocolate chip cookies were supposed to be. My wife asked her once why she'd never learned to cook as a kid, and she said that her mother would chase her out of the kitchen, telling her that it was faster for her to cook without her 'help', so she should go outside and play.

Two nights ago, she told my wife and I that she wanted us to ...and then she mumbled something. "Hold your hand?" my wife asked. My mother nodded vigorously, then lifted one hand and warbled I Want To Hold Your Hand. We were astonished. She started laughing.

I was never comfortable calling my mother 'Ma' or 'Mom'. I'm not sure why that was. I usually didn't call her anything at all. When I last saw her alive, though, and my daughter and wife had left us alone, I called her Mom. It felt right.

More Thoughts

My mother was very religious. She wasn't the classic "Irish Catholic", but she believed. Over the years, she wasn't quite so willing to adopt the attitude of "If a priest says so, then that's the way it should be", but more often than not, she'd nod when she heard about something that a priest said. I wouldn't exactly mock her adherence to the EWTN television network, but she knew I didn't think much of it. (I would call it the "All Sermons, All The Time" channel, but not in her presence.) That didn't bother her. She had the classic collection of statues of saints, pictures of popes and bishops, and religious-themed materials scattered around her rooms. They comforted her, I think, which was one of the reasons we wanted to bring her home and put the hospital bed in her living room -- so she could see all that stuff. I even checked her TV to make sure it was set to turn on to the EWTN channel. It was when I was sitting in her chair, doing that, that I glanced over to where her desk had been and had the reaction I mentioned earlier.

I'm not any more religious now than I was yesterday morning, but I do wish I had that sense of comfort and support that religion can give. My wife says that she occasionally gets that feeling. She's not as religious as my mother, but she believes, too. I wish I could. I see that there are times, when your health is failing, that the idea that there is Someone looking out for you, caring about you, that can be very comforting. I don't have that feeling, but there are times when I wish I did.

When she was still able to walk up the stairs from her rooms on the first floor, we would invite her to have dinner with us. After she couldn't make the climb, even with assistance, we'd occasionally pull out a table downstairs and eat there so that she could be with us. She always said good things about the food, and if she couldn't finish what she'd taken, as was sometimes the case, she made sure to tell my wife and I that she really liked it -- she just couldn't eat all of it. "My eyes were bigger than my stomach", she would say. We'd tell her that was okay, and, if she wanted, we'd package it for her to reheat in her microwave. Truth to tell, I think some of it she didn't really like, but - well, this was my mother. She didn't complain. And she appreciated that we made the effort.

Whenever she saw a doctor, she's almost always say that she was 'trying to get well' and, if some treatment had been started, she 'felt 100% better'.

One time, she said to me that she hoped she would be able to 'leave something' to us and our daughter for all we'd done for her. I don't think we actually did all that much -- one of the reasons we liked getting the bigger house was just so we could have her and my father come live with us (in fact, my wife mentioned to her mother, just the other day, that she's lived with her mother-in-law longer than she lived with her mother, and her mother replied "Well, we might be able to do something about that". My feeling is, fine with me), so having them here was just, in a way, doing what we wanted to do. I just couldn't see leaving them in New York, and I'm glad that we didn't have to do that. We had about ten years with my father, and about twenty-two with my mother. At times, that was enough, but most times - like now -- not nearly. Anyway, when she said that about leaving something, I thought it an odd phrase. She never had much money -- her stores roughly tripled when a mostly-unknown cousin in Connecticut died and left her an amount of cash, but it still wasn't a particularly large number -- but the way she said it, you would have thought she was leaving the stocks, bonds, and occasional jeweled tiaras. I thought it was funny, but I also was touched by it. She would have been perfectly right and reasonable to keep that money, but she didn't see it that way -- she wanted to make sure that it was available to be used for us. When I was in high school, I said I wanted to be in the band, but she had to pay a twenty dollar fee for me to be able to do that. I had the usual kid's assumption that of course parents have money. After a few weeks, she came up with it. It wasn't until much later, realizing how little they had, that I figured out how difficult it was for her to do that. Made me feel pretty shabby. I can be a generous person, but I don't think I could touch her.

Last night, sitting by her bed while she was sleeping, I held her hand. She'd actively wanted both of us to hold her hand while she was awake, so I thought that would be a good idea to do it while she was asleep. I doubt she felt it, but, you know? Couldn't hurt. Might help.


I was thinking about my mother.

She could be a pain at times. Not the classic whining, picky pain -- more like an inconvenience. Taking her to multiple medical appointments. Learning on the way back that she wanted to stop at the bank, or at the grocery store. Something would be wrong with her computer, and she'd call - weakly - for us to come down and look at it. And we always did, but there'd be this feeling of oh, damn, now what?

But she'd appreciate it. My mother was a very appreciative person. I think she expected so little, anything that people did, she appreciated. And, as I've said, she never wanted to be a bother, so if she didn't quite like what someone said or did, she'd not mention it. I knew she was mad about one thing when she actually mentioned it twice. That was atypical of her.

She liked going for drives. When my father was alive, they would drive around the area, getting to know it (they'd lived in New York City for decades). They both liked it, and my mother would frequently say how much more she liked living in Pennsylvania than New York. It's dirty and noisy, she'd say, but not here. She loved that there were so many trees, and when we planted two in our yard, she liked that, too. Sometimes I would ask her if she wanted to take a drive, or accompany me on an errand, and she'd usually say that she did. Sometimes, she'd say but I'm not dressed to go out, and I'd say that she could stay in the car while I ran in. She liked that. It became harder for her get into the van, sometimes, and to settle herself in the seat, but once there, she was glad. And she always said, upon returning to the house, that she appreciated the chance to get out. Sometimes, she'd repeat a phrase that I think she learned from her parents -- Home again in a wheelbarrow -- but she always said that she appreciated it. I would think of that appreciation when wondering Should I invite her?

I'm glad I did. I'll miss her.


My mother always liked to say that she didn't want to be a bother. Today, we were to meet with hospice staff, make arrangements for the delivery of a hospital bed, move the furniture in her living room to make space for it, all of that. But my mother doesn't like being a bother.

She died this morning at 7AM.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


My mother didn't die tonight. I really thought she would.

We were both there, and she was using phrases like 'Good bye' and 'I think I'm dying' and 'I'm ready'. As we left the floor to let them change dressings and the like, her day nurse told us that her blood pressure was down about 30 points (systolic), her heart rate had dropped a bit, and the color of her skin around her feet was changing, getting paler. She looked as if she were going to die, sometime soon. Cadaverous.

When we came back, half-sure we'd be intercepted on the way to her room, she was awake (kind of), looking around at us. She wasn't ever alert, and some of what she said didn't make much sense, but she was clearly still alive.

After a bit, the nurse gave her some Ativan, and she dropped off to sleep within thirty seconds. Like a rock. I watched her heart rate and O2 saturation for a while, and they were fine, so we left.

We think it's going to happen this week, but we'll take what we can get.


Just about the time that we think we've absorbed the news, more arrives. This morning, they informed us that my mother was having difficulty swallowing, and they wanted to know if they should insert a feeding tube should that seem permanent. My gut feeling was no, don't, but of course I almost immediately thought If you don't feed her, she'll die, and not in weeks-to-months, but this week. I'm aware that use of a feeding tube isn't consistant with the idea of palliative care, but, holy hell, we'd like to at least get her home.


Get Out!

One of the side effects of this hospice deal is that I may get into better shape. (Hey, round is a PERFECT shape!)

Reason being, I've been thinking for a while (who hasn't?) that I ought to get more exercise; now, I may find myself getting stressed more often, and having rocky sleep. Exercise might well help me with that. Just getting out of the house -- even given that there will be a home health aide here -- will be a good thing, we're thinking.

How Big Is That Goalpost?

An interesting article in Wired about perception says that your perception of an obstacle to performance -- the width of a goal post, for example, or the length of a circuit on a track -- may be affected by your prior performance in the task. The more often you make the kick successfully, the wider the posts appear; the more you miss, the narrower. So when a batter says, after striking out, that the pitcher's throwing aspirins, that may be exactly how it looks to him. Intruiging.


I almost wrote an email to one of the hospital staff, saying that I knew that the palliative care doc, and a hospitalist, both said that my mother is unlikely to live a long time, but could they find someone who thinks otherwise to give me the contrary view regarding treatment? If I could find someone who didn't think that hospice was a good idea, I'd listen. Then I wrote 'Of course I know there aren't any guarantees', and I stopped and looked at what I'd written. Guarantees are pretty much exactly what I want.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


This morning, I spent about three hours in the hospital room with my mother. For most of it, she was on a forced-air breathing mask, which she seriously did not like, and which made it almost impossible to understand her. After about two hours, she finally fell asleep (she'd not slept most of the previous night). Fifteen minutes later, the food crew showed up. ARE YOU HUNGRY???

We were collapsing the desk that my mother used where she would do crosswords on the PC. Making room for the hospital bed. I really, really didn't like doing that - so much so that sitting down afterwards, looking at the space where it had been, I started to cry. I couldn't stand to think of the change -- a month ago, my mother could sit there to do crossword puzzles -- we were so pleased, thinking this was helping her intellectual abilities keep from decaying. She could walk around, even if she did use a walker and get out of breath quickly. She could choose which room to be in, and do things there. This time, when she comes, she'll be confined to a hospital bed in one room. She'll see things she likes, but perhaps they'll just remind her of her lost abilities. It reminds me of visiting my friend who died of cancer a few years ago. She wasn't eating, and we asked an oncologist about it. He said, simply, that this was how cancer patients died. It wasn't easy for me to be that pragmatic with my friend, and it's even less so with my mother.

My wife said that it was like grieving twice -- first for the loss of my mother's mobility, and sometime in the future, for the loss of her life. I think she's right.

Rainy? Again?

My daughter was severely not happy about being woken up this morning to go take the PSATs. If, as had been the original plan, she'd have had to get up early on a rainy Saturday to go practice with color guard, well, of course, no problem. She'd have groused about it, but done it willingly. To do it just to take a test -- and not even a real test, but a practice test -- well, that was the height of child abuse. I told her that we were going to the hospital in her absence, and she groaned. "If you weren't making me take this stupid test, I could have gone!"

We're going to the hospital because a nurse called an hour ago, saying that my mother's vital signs are fine, but she's very lethargic. Then again, the nurse added, she was up all night talking with people as they went in, so it could be that she's really sleepy. Yeah, could be. Probably is.

Friday, October 16, 2009


This evening, we spoke for a while with my cousin who's a hospice nurse. She reiterated what we'd heard locally. Somehow, hearing it from someone we knew made it a bit more bearable and acceptable. I thought Others have done this. We can do it, too.

Some practicalities occur to us. For one, we need to come up with a way for my mother to signal us at night and on the weekend. Even if we're just down the hall, we might as well be a thousand miles away. Some kind of electronic device occurs to me -- a bike horn, or a wireless doorbell, something like that. It has to be something that's very, very easy to use, because she's pretty weak. We're also thinking about putting in a wireless baby monitor.

It occurs to me that for the first few nights, and possibly on an intermittant basis, we might want to have one of us sleep in my mother's bedroom, which is just across the hall from her living room, where the hospital bed will be. (Never thought of the 'living room' as 'the only room in which one is living'. )

One thing that my cousin suggested is that we routinely talk with others in this situation, or possibly write in a journal. I think that's a good idea.


I go hot and cold on this home hospice idea.

I think it's a good idea for somebody else's mother, someone who's old and frail and, you know, sick -- trouble breathing, problems with their heart, taking lots of meds. Then I think about how much of that description describes my mother, and I think yeah, well.... Because the truth is, I don't want to do it. Doing it acknowledges that she's going to die, most likely within the next year, and probably near-term at that. I don't want to admit that. Admitting it somehow feels like making it happen, and I don't want it to happen. I know, that's illogical. It's just how I feel. I think yeah, well, dialysis could keep her alive longer....but I know that that's not really true. If her kidneys were her only problem, if she were younger, then possibly yes, it would - but that's not the case. For an elderly person with multiple problems that aren't fixable, and will only get worse, then hospice makes sense. Hospice is for incurable diseases, illnesses that limit and end life, and thats what she's got, right?

Only....does she? Does she really? Do I know that?

Sometimes, I think yes. And sometimes, I don't.


Well, things are progressing. We spoke again with the Palliative Care people, and with the Hospice people. We're comfortable with the general idea -- that my mother can come home, and be with us and with the things she knows. We're setting up a home health aide to start coming to the house all day, five days a week, for as long as it takes.

I say comfortable; that's not entirely true. But we're getting used to it.


The weather is grey, gloomy, and rainy. Perfect for the thoughts we're having.

In a manifestation of nature's ability for irony, my mother in law, who had stayed overnight with us and visited my mother yesterday, learned this morning that her sister-in-law, who was in a hospice, died this morning.

We are working through our emotions about this. We have to keep pushing away the idea that all we want is for things to be as they were. Last night, I talked at length with my daughter, and she said exactly that. I did not make any trite observations -- at least, I hope I did not.

We learned this morning that it's possible to extend my mother's life by having her go to a facility where she would live -- they call it an extended care facility -- that could handle bringing her to and from dialysis treatments. At the conclusion of that, when it was felt to be no longer effective, she could still come home to us (assuming, of course, that she did not die in the interim). We like that because it keeps her alive longer, but we don't like it because it's not what she wants. When the palliative care doctor asked what she wanted, she said 'to get well', and 'to go home'. The doctor told her that it was not likely she could get much better, but that we could think about the second -- which is what we're doing.

We simultaneously want my mother to be with us for a good long time, and want this to be over quickly. More precisely, we want the cost and inconvenience to be over quickly. Feeling that way makes us feel quite shabby. Its true, we don't want her to suffer, either, but somehow choosing the shorter life/less suffering option seems ignoble to us. As I say, shabby.

I had said she has in the days to weeks range; that's incorrect. Weeks-to-months.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


We are going to look into having an at-home hospice arrangement. Not sure its possible, but we're going to try. It'd mean having my mother at home, which is very important to her, and comfortable, which is very important to me. It will also mean being here when she dies, which makes me sick to my stomach. I really, really hate that thought.

They estimate she has in the days-to-weeks range.


Old, but I like it.


Just In Case

Taking it slow, today. Breathing in, and out. Waiting for a call from the hospital to set up a meeting with the case manager nurse and the doctor - hopefullly, not the one who called us yesterday - to talk about prognosis, palliative care. And, getting used to the idea of getting the call. We hope we don't, anytime soon, but still. Made our own version of it yesterday, calling two relatives to warn them about what's happening. Just in case.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Denial, Bargaining...

I've never seen anyone die, but I may be seeing it now.

My mother was moved out of the ICU and back to a normal hospital room, which we'd normally take as a good thing. But she's pretty weak, and her deteriorated lungs are making it difficult for her to breathe. Nobody at the hospital has said 'make plans', and it feels a little ghoulish for me to be doing it -- but we are, just a little. Asking ourselves the kinds of questions that could be expected to come up, having the feelings that could be expected. Some that wouldn't -- my wife said she was okay with taking food from my mother's refrigerator if she was just using it to keep it from going bad, but when she contemplates that my mother might not be coming back, she's suddenly not willing to touch it.

For me, I find myself wondering: if I hadn't brought her to the pulmonary doctor, which indirectly led to her admission into the hospital, would she still be okay? Not great, certainly out of breath, but okay? The cardiologist seemed to think not, but I don't know. We wonder: if I hadn't, could she have had a stroke, or worse, at home? Something we couldn't handle, or get care for, in time? Certainly, the hospital sounded like a good idea. But -- we brought in an elderly woman with a fast heartbeat, frequently out of breath, who five days later was sitting up, talking, eating dinner, with a controlled heartbeat, not out of breath at all. Five days after that, she's in a bed, saying she finds it hard to breathe, and getting last rites from the hospital chaplain. And somewhere along the line, she picked up ringworm. What if I hadn't?

Its not that its tough to think about, or even painful. I just don't want to think about it, period. I know I didn't cause it, but I feel as if I facilitated it.


Doctors shouldn't call and briskly say Hey, your mother's not breathing too good, she says that she wants to be intubated, but, you know, she's near the end of her life, I think that intubation carries the risk of becoming ventilator-dependent, but we'll do what you want. So, what do you want to do?

Really shouldn't do that.


Dental is looking up.

The checkout for the implants was fine. They're all set. It's a weird feeling, having someone use a torque wrench in your mouth!

The gum surgery to remove scar tissue and what they called 'overgrowth' was successful. I told them that I was apprehensive about pain, and so they did the sedation in waves rather than all at once, which turned out to be a very good idea, since at one point I could still feel pain when he thought I was numb. There's still the possibility that when I go back for a checkup, he'll make that hmmm.... sound...but I'm not going to think about that!

So, not bad.

Going Viral

"Going Viral" is something that people who are promoting a product like, a lot. They seek to induce it. Formerly, if there was a video about the product, and something about it caught great numbers of people, the makers marveled at their good fortune. Now, they might create the video with that in mind, asking their creative types What's edgy? What's hot, these days? And then they work those concepts into a video -- or tune, or image -- that promotes their product. Sometimes, they seek to play with your mind, as with the advertising for a television series that started with what appeared to be a billboard-sized note from an aggrieved soon-to-be-divorced wife -- but wasn't. The concept behind the plot of a Michael Douglas film, years ago, was that there was a secret game, and if you were hip enough, you'd be invited to play -- but the game was so hip, it wasn't at all obvious that it was a game. That was much of the appeal: you were in on something that the noobs, the muggles, weren't.

Sometimes, going viral's not so great. A kid in Florida, a first-grader, was bagged for bringing a camping tool to class -- a combination knife, spoon, and fork. The knife contravened the school district's zero tolerance policy on weapons, and he was to be sent to a reform school -- they had a nicer name for it -- for forty five days to have this problem resolved. Several hundred people, hearing of this on the web, expressed their dismay, astonishment, and, of course, outrage over this, and the district backed down, limiting the punishment to three days of suspension.

Sometimes, going viral serves a good purpose, as when people connected with the political process, or became informed about health care. Sometimes, it doesn't. Any bets that this post will go viral? Me, neither.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mo' Health

Must admit, it's getting a little tedious, going to the ICU every day. Even learning some more trivia about how to read the monitors doesn't distract me from how my mother's doing -- which is, better than she was, but not nearly good enough. Without full mask oxygen, her oxygen saturation plummets to the low 80's. She coughs up lots of phlegm, some of it bloody. And she's getting dialysis. No surprise there.

I'm not pessimistic -- she's clearly getting better -- but I'm not optimistic, either. I think we're looking at another 10 days in the hospital, easily, and the strong possibility of oxygen at home. Good thing we're not smokers.

It seems selfish of me to be apprehensive about my minor dental surgery tomorrow, in this context, but I am. I want this part of dental stuff to be done, and I thought I was. Gah.

Interesting Daze

I didn't get to the hospital today, because I was bringing my daughter home after she visited the school nurse with a complaint of a minor headache and intermittantly fuzzy vision. We're thinking possible migraine -- they run in my wife's family -- but still, a little scary. I did call to see how my mother is, and so far, she's the same as yesterday. I'm amazed at how many people refer to her as a sweet old lady. I've never thought of her that way.

Tomorrow, I get to go to the oral surgeon so he can carve in my upper jaw -- he swears it'll be minor; my feeling is, no intersection of my personal body and a knife is minor. He'll also recheck all of the implants to see that they're firmly bonded with the bone. Damn well better be. And my wife gets to bring the daughteroid to an appointment with an optometrist. Amazed that once again, two appointments manage to fall within the same hour of the same day.

Monday, October 12, 2009


Doing some reading on the concept of 'mission effectiveness' and hospitals. Many, many use the phrase. A few suggest what they mean by it. None say how they measure it. Huh.

Columbus Day

A fairly good day for my mother -- she's gone two days without dialysis. Though she will unquestionably have more, and will almost certainly have it when she comes home, this is still goodness, because it means that her kidneys are doing some work -- in fact, one of the nurses who came in to check up on her made a point of showing me the urine collection container, which was an experience I could have done without. The combined effect of the sedatives and morphine meant that my mother really didn't remember why she was there, though, so I got to tell her the whole thing, ending with her current state and likely prognosis. She seemed gratified by that.

Doing some baking now. The idea was that these cookies would get divided -- some for us, some to give to people -- but this seems to be one of those recipes that doesn't double well - the cookies are coming out thinner than I like. I'm playing with just baking them for a shorter period, and that seems to be helping. And hey, if we have to eat these things ourselves -- well.

At The Tone.....

I don't believe this, but I do like it.


I've never before this morning heard of Jeremy Clarkson. But now, having read this, I am quite fond of him.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


This evening, we went for a walk - the three of us! And afterward, we watched a movie -- the three of us! It was most excellent. The threesome, that is.

I found myself wondering if one of the insulins I occasionally take was actually working, because it sure didn't seem to be. So, even though the bottle was half full, I pitched it and opened a new one, took the same amount from there. And, guess what -- even with a spaghetti dinner, the reading dropped from moderately high down to the feeling-shaky level. Which, okay, I'm not happy about, but still? Looks like a good call.

And, my mother did not have a dialysis session today. They said she didn't need one. I know this doesn't mean something -- but if it even suggests something, that would be nice.


It's probably a good thing that I'm not the President, because I don't have a clue about what we ought to do in Afghanistan. It's one of those situations where I think that we really ought to summon the adults, and let them fix it. My ideas tend to be either a) build a huge freakin' wall around the place, and have only one door in the wall, which we don't open, ever. (The door is actually just painted on the wall -- who would know?), or b) bomb the whole place until it's completely level, like Kansas, then roll in the graders and the painters and make it a parking lot for whatever country is right next door. I recognize that neither of those is a particularly good option.

I heard someone say the other day that Afghanistan is really good at uniting against invaders (ie, anyone who isn't from there), and really bad at uniting for the common good in the absence of that external threat. Somehow, they need to see their homegrown evils as an external threat. They need to be able to fight it without taking that as an opportunity to fight each other -- to avenge the theft of a cow two thousand years ago. For such a tribal, insular society, I don't see how they can do that. I don't even see how they can bring themselves to want to do that. Think global? I doubt they even think 'this five kilometer area'. Life's too tough for that. Let the others worry about it.

I don't know how you get them to care so much that they'll rise up against their native thugs. I'd like to believe that the option of speaking to people openly, treating them fairly and honestly, will bring them to your side, but that doesn't seem to be the way that the world works. Even though Barack's approach in the campaign of treating people fairly and honestly worked for him then, I don't think it'd work here, mostly because in the US, people won't come and kill you and your whole family if they disagree with your political leaning, and in Afghanistan, they will. On the other hand, the idea of just rolling in there with tens of thousands of soldiers won't work, I think, for proof of which we can just ask the Russians. But walking away and letting the festering cesspool get worse -- well, if it just affected their country, I could live with it (I know, not morally defensible, but I'm not talking morals). It wouldn't just affect their country, though. Sooner or later, it'd affect us, and when it did, the effort to wipe out the contagion would make Bush's ideas about that look relatively Carterish. So I think we need to be involved, and we need to make a sustained effort. But, the way we are, we need to see payback, we need to see that it's working, and fast. I doubt that would easily happen.

Sorry, Barack. This one, I can't help you with.

Obama, And So Forth

Here's the deal. I hate agreeing with someone who says something non-complimentary about Obama. Hate it. I know that while there are people who will say such things honestly, if I can put it that way, I believe that many of them say it because they don't like him, and if he saved a puppy from a burning house, they'd point out that he didn't save the puppy's favorite chew toy, thus dooming the puppy to a life of anguish and despair. I don't want to give any support to people like that. It's okay for me to quietly say that perhaps what he's doing is not great, but them? Not a chance they're being honest. Forget them.

So when I have to conclude that something they say is actually right, it sticks in my craw. As in the case of the Nobel Peace Prize. I don't think that Obama deserves it. Mighty as his labors have been, invigorating as his words are, he's not - yet - of the caliber to earn such an award. He hasn't changed the characteristics of mankind, hasn't eradicated poverty, hasn't .... I really don't like saying this. I've already said why.

Will he eventually be at a level of achievement that would warrant the Prize? Yes, I think so. But not yet. He's been great, but he's not yet Great. If he can turn the Prize down, I think he should.


I learned the other day that my mother will almost certainly have to have kidney dialysis for the rest of her life. I say 'almost' because I've noticed that doctors who specialize in one area tend to assume that you're going to do everything they say, and what they say is that you should do everything they think required to maintain health in their area. They're aware that people tend to accept less than optimum in health, but they don't think that way.

So when a nephrologist said that she'd need dialysis "three times a week for the rest of her life", I immediately thought "two or three times". The reason I thought that was simple: odds are very good that it's going to be me taking her to those sessions, and I don't want to do it. Not that I have a choice. It's going to be tedious -- just getting her to the car (has to be the car; she can't step high enough to get into the minivan) takes effort; I'm sure that getting her into the facility will be arduous, and will most likely involve scouting out a wheelchair on arrival, transfer to it, and only then actually getting into the facility. Then, three to four hours later, which is enough time to be an interruption but not enough time to do anything that can't be done quickly, the whole process, in reverse; only then, she's going to be very tired. There will probably be complaints during the trip about the process, too. I'm not going to like it, but there's no alternative. We don't have staff to foist this off on, and this is, after all, my mother.

What bothers me most about all of this, though, is that this is an indicator of what it can be like to grow old and feeble. There are damn few people who grow old and look like the people who populate the AARP ads, all bright smiles and firm bodies, well groomed, leaning on a golf putter or reading in an overstuffed leather chair. That's no more most people's old age than Donna Reed's vacuuming while wearing pearls and high heels was most people's home life. I don't recall ever thinking about it as a kid, but I guess I would have assumed that Reed's life was just different. In her life, pearls and heels were common. In mine, they weren't. Now, when I see those ubiquitous ads for AARP and aging, generally, I see the people who inhabit Reed's later years, but not mine. I don't ever expect to look like that. I don't even expect to look like my father, who was pretty active all of his life. Probably, my grandfather, who was content to sit, smoke a pipe, and watch television. That's fine with me.

But the idea that my life could devolve into bedpans and machinery cleaning my blood, having to impose on people to take me to scores of doctors offices, deal with medical facilities for whom I'm just one more sick old person: that scares the hell out of me.

Saturday, October 10, 2009


This isn't her first date -- she hasn't had that yet -- but it is her first staying out to go to a dance. I'm not nervous. Nope, not me.

Rainy Saturday

I guess, for anyone who reads this blog, I don't need to mention what I've been thinking a lot about, this week. It's been some serious thought, and the stress of contemplating it has (I think) had an effect on the blood sugar numbers, which have skyrocketed. All I can do is plan, and react. I suppose, in a way, thats all anyone can do, in any situation. Unless, they're Buddha advocates, in which case they'll sit quietly on a lotus leaf, becoming one with it all. Whick reminds me of that old joke about Buddha ordering at a fast food place.

This morning, though, I woke up thinking about artificial intelligence and robotics. I like to flagellate myself for being unable to come up with ways to use these disciplines to solve real-world problems. That, even if I had a perfect fit between tool and problem, it'd not matter, because I'm not in a position to make the merge happen, that doesn't bother me. Well, doesn't bother me a lot. I simply like to think about it. Since my thinking rarely comes up with a solution -- occasionally thinking a neural net could resolve this is the extent of it -- I've come to realize that probably the people who do make these linkages don't do it by looking for a way to 'use AI' or 'use robotics', and they probably don't go trawling through problems to see if there's a match - can I use AI to shave this morning? Can I use robotics to make my lunch? (Actually, as I write that, I think well, maybe they do.) But what I think is the genesis for the creation of a match between a problem and an AI or robotics solution is an ability to see the solution as a characteristic, something that extracts the nature of those solutions, and holds that awareness ready when a problem presents itself. You know the old paradigm about If all you have is a hammer, then all problems tend to look like nails. I suspect that in this case it is If all you have is a tool that (insert solution-unqiue characteristic here), then all problems tend to look as if they would respond to that characteristic. Sorry that I'm not able to put that better. Hey, is that an AI problem?

Of course, sometimes a match just happens -- as it did for these RFID-enabled pigs. It would appear to be a 'survival of the fittest' situation, and solution.

This morning, we may be going over to the hospital to see my mother -- quite possibly literally just see; as she may be sedated and asleep; even if she isn't, she'll have the respirator tube in her mouth and be unable to talk. That's got to be a terrifying feeling that I'd bet permeates you even if you're sedated. Then tonight, my daughter's going to the homecoming dance, which to me is a rite of passage. She's not going to the dance with a date; rather, she's going to a friend's house, getting dressed there, then all going to the house of a guy she's known for years, and they're all having dinner there, and proceeding to the dance. I told her that I'm assuming she will figure out how to get home, and will call me if she needs a ride. It took a certain leap of trust for me to do that, since we always nail these things down in advance. Will I be staying up until she gets home? Count on it.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Dual Column

I've been getting irritated by Google Search lately -- they took away the ability to permanently set a maximum results number; you have to do it each time, going into advanced search to set it -- but this almost makes up for it -- a Greasemonkey script to set the results into multiple columns. Very nice.

Course, this one, to set the number to 100 (or whatever you choose), is pretty cool, as well.


Things are -- well, they're not worse, and marginally better. In a nutshell, she's on a respirator because she just couldn't move enough air, and that's because of the fluid buildup in her lungs. They're doing the first dialysis now. Tomorrow morning, they'll try to get her off the respirator, and in the next couple of days, on or off the respirator, they'll evaluate the effectiveness of the dialysis.

This evening, I sat down and made a flowchart -- her current state, what could happen, and at what point/what conditions would we decide to terminate life support. We decided that it came down to a dual question - first, is she conscious and aware of what's happening, at which point we'd be guided by her wishes, and second, if not, if not conscious and aware, what's her quality of life, and, if poor, is it likely to get better, and when. After we were done, I turned to my wife and asked her if that was a cold-blooded way of doing it, and she said no, that you have to separate emotions from decisions. What scares me a bit is that I wasn't feeling emotional. It was just that I assumed we might have to make a decision at some point, and I wanted a sense of when that point might occur, and, if it did, what we'd make the decision based on.

Along the way, I learned a little bit about the physiology and practice of intubation. They've got my mother sedated and on oxygen, and her wrists are tied to the bed so that she doesn't try to pull the tube out -- the natural reaction of anyone who's waking up and finds this thing in their throat. That's got to be a delicate process, and I'm glad I don't have to see it. My daughter wants to visit with her tomorrow, but if she's still sedated, I'm not sure we will. We'll see.

Still Later

I saw my mother this morning, and my wife saw her this afternoon. She was apparently comfortable in the morning, though irritated by the oxygen mask, but by noon she was complaining about a sore throat, and about the prohibition against drinking anything. I'm guessing that the pure oxygen is having an effect on her throat. This afternoon, they called to ask if it was okay to start dialysis, and we said yes, then they called back to say that they would be inserting a catheter and then doing the dialysis tonight. Now they say that she is having trouble breathing again, apparently even with the mask, possibly because of the mask, or at least the oxygen, so they wanted permission to intubate her. We said yes, but then we looked up intubation. What we found made it sound like this really isn't something you do casually, and it could have serious aftereffects.

This is just getting better and better.

Later That Morning

Just got back from the hospital. My daughter urgently wanted to see her, and I did, as well. I was surprised to find that my mother was relatively alert -- sort of what you're like when you first come out of anesthesia. She was using an oxygen face mask, and that seemed to be making a major difference. No word on her other problems, or on the prognosis, but still: better than I'd hoped.

Update: We're talking dialysis. Three times a week. Which is a major bummer. On the other hand, it will address water retention and blood pressure, which will collectively address (though not resolve) her pulmonary problem. So, overall, a good thing. Even if I am the person who will likely have to take her, most times.

Update: Telling an elderly person that she'll have to go through a tedious procedure three times a week, and that this procedure will go a long ways toward keeping her alive, does not mean that the person will be cheerful at the prospect. Almost exactly the contrary.

Thursday, October 08, 2009


Well, it wasn't the call... but it wasn't good, either.

Things don't look particularly encouraging. This afternoon, they were talking about my mother's kidney function being slightly better, though still bad. Now, just a bit ago, a nurse called to say that she is being moved to an ICU because she was having trouble breathing. They think she has pneumonia. They're giving her intense oxygen, and antibiotics.

They're also talking dialysis, though, since that would presume she was alive, its not as distressing a thought as it was two days ago.

My daughter's crying in her room, thinking about the times that she didn't spend with my mother because she could be annoying. I told her that this didn't mean she was a bad person - that it was a common feeling of the young -- and the not-so-young -- to the elderly, and that she shouldn't beat herself up for it.

We're pulling her from school tomorrow to go over to the hospital, just in case. About a week ago, she wanted to do an oral history with my mother. Now she's afraid it may be too late. Me, too.
Update: About 1:30, a doc called from the ICU to tell us that she was sleeping soundly. She's on masked oxygen, and a PICC line, but she's doing fairly okay, all things considered. I believe the phrase they like to use is 'guarded'.


Any conversation which includes the phrases 'long term acute care' and 'advanced directive' is not a particularly pleasant one.


Wednesday, October 07, 2009


I just had an interesting conversation with a nurse from the cardiology service. It was interesting in that I'm interested in medical concepts; not so interesting when you realize that this was my mother we were talking about.

It appears that my mother has multiple problems. The elevated heart rate which had her out of breath and which brought her into the hospital has been addressed and is stable. She still gets out of breath due to two conditions: she's anemic, and her lungs are damaged. The first can be addressed; the second, mostly. What's of more concern now, though, is that her kidney function has 'elevated numbers'. I don't know specifically what that means. One of her drugs has the side effect of elevating whatever these numbes are, though, so they're not sure if that might not be the reason. If it is, then they should go back down - though possibly not down to normal - when the drug is removed. If not, we're looking at dialysis, though, possibly, not long term -- more of a supplement to kidney function rather than a replacement.

Fun stuff.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

These are times...

...well, perhaps 'try men's souls' is a little dramatic, but not entirely wrong, either. It's been a hectic day, starting with my daughter insisting at breakfast that nothing would do but that the registration for her attendance at the anime convention be made right away! Then the television table -- a solid piece of woodwork, weighing about 225 pounds -- arrived; the transport company had neglected to ship it on a liftgate-enabled truck. My, manhandling that off the truck and into the house was fun. The unit is quite nice, if somewhat, um, darker than I'd thought it would be. Oh, and when I was looking at their site to see if that truly was the color we ordered -- it was -- I noticed that they'd just dropped the price by 10%. My wife says she'll call and see about getting that money. I cooked a pizza tonight; the dough was good, but I could not for the life of me get it to have that tang that pizza needs to have. Back to the drawing board. And finally, this evening, my daughter informed me that since the girl who's coming with her has as a requirement from her mother that there be parental supervision the whole time, obviously that meant that we had to get a ticket for the convention for my wife, too. Which, I admit, made sense, but: holy hell, this is turning into an expensive proposition.

But on the bright side, I did some reading in artificial intelligence today, and I learned a little bit. Part was that the people who write up patent applications aren't required to speak gracefully, or even, on occasion, to speak English; the patent I was looking at kept saying 'conscience activities' when they clearly wanted to say 'conscious activities' . Still, the patent was generally interesting. I think the thing that grabbed me was that although it was badly written and worded, it still had some core of useful information. I always tend to assume that information is delivered predigested -- I suppose with that attitude, I should like Fox News -- so it was a bit of a surprise to find that I had to tease things out of the writeup, generate my own understanding of what was possible, and what was being proposed. I have to watch it, though: doing that leads me almost inevitably to thinking well, hell, I can do that! when the truth is, no, I can't. But I'd like to.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Hey, R2?

This must be a bad period for mothers; mine's in the hospital with atrial fibrillation (mostly treated, though she still gets irregular heartbeats); our neighbor's mother just had a stroke, and is in a rehabilitation hospital; and tomorrow afternoon I'm picking up the daughter of a friend so that her mother can go down to Virginia to visit with her mother, who's in a hospital down there.

On the way to the hospital tonight to visit my mother, we listened to an episode of WNYC's Radiolab series, this one on how society is handling -- or not -- the aging population in various countries. Some of it, I know, such as the use of robotics in Japan to assist in the heavy labor of taking care of the elderly, and some of the emotional labor, as well -- they spoke of one place that has what is, essentially, a robotic seal that's warm, reacts to touch, and makes noises; elderly people who spend the day lost in their thoughts will awaken from their daydreams and smile at it, treating it as we would the arrival of a friendly Labrador. Some, I didn't know. But overall, the idea of using technology to supplement the decreasing proportion of people who are willing and able to take care of the elderly was pretty interesting. I liked that our daughter was in the car, so that we could talk about it a little, too. It was fun.


Apparently, there are a LOT of sites dedicated to the practice of photography.


We told my daughter our conclusions regarding whether she can do what she wants to do -- anime convention, continuing in color guard, and so forth. She was on her best behavior, but -- she liked what she heard. I had my wife there to make sure I didn't wimp out. Fathers sometimes do that, I hear.


Last night, I saw part of the annual Tournament of the Bands, which is where area schools get together and each puts on their show with band and color guard. I don't tend to think these things are all that great, and I've said more than once that the idea of driving kids to perform at damn-near professional levels bothers me -- my daughter, for example, cares a lot more about making her color guard coach happy than any of her instructors. Yet I have to admit, two or three of them put on a glittering show -- lots of movement, lots of graceful segues. Even their music was good, and band music has to go far for me to think that.

My favorite was the school which was the only competitor for their division. They won every award for that division!

But the thing that stuck with me came after all of the performances, when the various high schools' representatives lined up on the field, waiting for the judge's ratings. And waited, and waited. Finally, in desperation for something to fill the time, the announcer started playing 'Cotton-Eyed Joe', and, as might be expected, many of the kids started to dance. Watching them, I was struck by the fact that even doing this simple, non-planned event, one school's representatives stood out. They were a delight to watch. Their movements were both graceful, and, dare I say it, elegant. It was most unexpected. I am a little reluctant to say this, because it sounds creepy, but: I'd have been willing to watch just those two color guard girls, dancing as the spirit moved them. They were that good.

It was pretty amazing.

Scam? Not....Exactly

My daughter got an invitation to participate in a People To People 'Student Ambassador' program. Like any parents, we were delighted, seeing this as an indication that someone sees in her what we do. But like any modern person, we did a little searching on the web, and what we found.... well, it doesn't exactly warm our hearts.

The good news is, they appear to do exactly what they say they do -- bring kids overseas, let them see and experience multiple different cultures, hang out with kids from other US places as well as meet ones overseas. The bad news is, they pitch it as a marvelous opportunity given only to a select few.... which appears to overstate the case. At the overview meeting, I told my wife that they were pitching so hard, I thought they'd start selling Amway products at any moment. The main promoter literally said you've only got a few days to get your reservation in, and it's first come, first served!

We know two kids who've done this. Both liked it a lot. Neither was bettered by it, though. One left an air-headed kid, and that's how she came back. One left a bright, focused kid, and that's how she came back. So its good, but its not a marvelous opportunity. At the overview, they had a dozen kids who'd done it, and their parents, there to stand up and say how great it was; the impression I got was that they liked it, too - but none of them was changed by it. In fact, one or two seemed reluctant to talk about the experience, which made me wonder why they were up there. Were they being offered an inducement?

And yet, we'll probably do it. Maybe.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Chill !

I don't have a 'bucket list' ( I do think that concept silly; what, you're going to delay death because you still have things to do? ), but if I did, I could now cross off one of the items that I would have had on there. I have attended a chili cookoff.

It wasn't as Small Town America as I expected, as it seemed to be more an event for people who'd traveled long distances to attend sprint car races, and needed something to do in the morning; non-sprint car aficionados could come, too. It was packed with bearded, pot-bellied, and hairy people playing country music and scootering around in little ATVs that we guessed they keep lashed to their gihugic RVs. ( Most of the vehicles in the lot were campers, or at most 'normal' RVs, but there were at least a dozen superbus vehicles, too. I recall one with a popout on one side that appeared to be a barbecue. Now, that's my idea of roughing it.) A fair number of very attractive women prowled the grounds in close proximity to glowering, muscular men wearing wrap-around shades, and lots of cute little kids, some with parental supervision, and others, not so much, darted back and forth. And dogs, lots of them.

As for the chili itself, none of it made me say Damn, that's good, let's go buy a quart, but most of it was tasty -- one, a little too hot for me, and one, too much pork, but the rest, very nice. I've wanted to be able to make a decent chili for a while, but as I think about it, what I make now might be as close as I can get without getting into the chili ethos. We have two recipes; a chocolate-based chili and a honey-based chili. Both are made with ground beef; one has beans. I know that some people believe you simply cannot make a decent chili with ground beef, or, at least, just ground beef - other meats are needed, too. And even a non-aficionado such as I know about The Great Beans Wars.

But that's all minor. We had a good time, and the price was right. We'll make a point to do it again.

The Law, You Say?

We received a pleasant little note from our credit card company saying that they were going to start instituting higher interest rates -- but, heck, if you pay more than you need to, they'll apply the payment to the part of the bill where the interest rate is the highest. It's worded as if they're granting us a boon. Look how nice we're being! Reading it, we started laughing. Do you people really think we don't know that you're being required to do this by the laws fought by the Republicans, and passed by the Democratic Congress?

Will there be efforts to paint this requirement as a bad thing? Heck, they've already started. Will there be fees that we don't pay now, and will have to, just to have the card? Yes. Is this requirement a damn good idea, anyway?

No doubt in my mind, whatsoever.


I was thinking, in a desultory way, about wealth, the other day. The motivator was an article on a blog which mentioned one person so wealthy that he had one large yacht from which he would hit golf balls, and a second from which his staff would judge the flight of the ball. The author mused over what he'd do with such virtually limitless amounts of money, and so I did, too.

I imagine that everyone has a version of the If I had lots of money daydream. Even Gandhi probably occasionally thought that it'd be nice to have a newer loincloth. When I was a kid, and would occasionally go to the main branch of the New York Public Library, which is a massive building, full of huge echoing halls of marble and vast cathedral-like ceilings, I'd pretend that this was my home, and all of those other people were simply staff for me, dedicated to my every whim. Lately, when the mood comes upon me, I think of the Robert Ludlum novel where he sketches out the palatial home of a very wealthy man, furnished with thick, intricately woven carpets, gleaming wood and glistening glass, comfortable libraries where tea is served in delicate china, and great displays of freshly-cut flowers throughout, all tended by an army of staff. Man, I'd think, that'd be the life.

A coworker once had a plaque which said Money Doesn't Buy Happiness, But It Does Help You Look For It In More Interesting Places, but we all know that wealth doesn't actually guarantee happiness. I recall reading about William Randolph Hearst and San Simeon, which was nothing to him but a bauble, with so many artifacts from around the world that he'd have to keep them stored in warehouses -- many to remain and decay there, unseen. I recall reading of a teenager in Britain who won about two million dollars in a lottery, and blew it all, ending up poor and pregnant a decade later - I just thought that if I bought things for people, they'd be happy . We've heard of others. We're always a bit surprised to hear of someone who comes into great wealth and isn't destroyed by it.

espite all that, I think that great wealth would be nice.

What I work to remember is that we are wealthy - and not just in the ethereal sense. We have our own home, bought and paid for two decades ago. We have a goodly number of assets. We're healthy -- well, pretty much, and where we aren't, it's under control. We're doing well. I have to remember that. Right now, I'm sitting in a pleasant room, with nicely done architectural details, sipping good coffee. That's wealth, too.

Though, you know -- the occasional echoing marble hall -- would that be so bad?


My daughter asked that her mother make a lunch for her to take to color guard today. Once again, having kept the kids out until way-late last night, they're kicking off relatively early today, and it'll be an all-day affair, stopping only for lunch and a short break before this evening. My wife was surprised that she asked. Well, perhaps not so much surprised that she asked as the manner in which she asked, to wit " Most gracious father, would you do me the great favor of requesting that my mother, she who bore me through travail and anguish, create my midday repast that I might dine with nutrition and elegance when given the opportunity this day? "

I don't know why she doubted that our daughter said that; it seems perfectly reasonable to me.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Later That Same Day

Much later, in fact. It's just after eleven, and we're still waiting for the kiddo to tell us that their bus is back. It was supposed to be here around 11. They will not, of course, alter the start time for practice, tomorrow, or the game. At least the game is at home. It's hours like this that harden me in my resolve to be hardnosed about whether the offspring can continue to participate in it. I wonder sometimes whether other parents have these thoughts.

We went to see my mother this afternoon; to my surprise, she was not doing at all well. Apparently, she had a most unsettling day, from having a heavy bleed from the point of insertion for an IV -- so much so, they had to change the sheets, and give her at least two bags of blood -- and her pulse rate, which was down in the 80s, is now up in the high nineties and low hundreds. I don't know how much cardizem she was taking yesterday; today it's a 5 mg drip (I guess that's per day; I don't really know). So she's a little agitated, and a little wasted. She tells us that they say she'll likely be in the hospital for a week. Gah. You know she's going to get a bill statement with at least four pages of incomprehensible information, and a five digit total.

We noticed that one of the nurse's stations had two terminals on the counter, facing out, so that they could be used by someone standing outside the station; each of them had a sign on them saying No One Sits Unless We All Sit. I thought it sounded like a labor slogan, so I asked one of the nurses there, who told me that it was a team-building slogan, along the lines of If One Person Is Working, We're All Available To Help. I asked her if the slogan works, and she said they'd just started.


This has been an interesting couple of days.

The oral surgeon says that my gum is fine, but that rubbing of the dental plate has created a mass of 'fibrous tissue' which can't stay there, and won't just go away. So, in two weeks, he'll cut it out. What's interesting is that fibrous tissue is actually normal there -- this is more like scarring. Whatever, it's irritating as all hell to have the process delayed. I think he's at fault, but there's no point in bringing that up.

My mother's doing well in the hospital -- the Cardizem dropped her heart rate from the 130 BPM range down to a normal 85. They're doing it with an IV, but will start her on pills soon. Our guess is that she'll be there another two or three days.

While she's in the hospital, her PC just up and died. It doesn't even known there's a hard drive in there any more. I know we're going up to my mother in laws's house soon to install her new PC, and I suspect we'll be trucking the old one down here for my mother to use -- almost entirely, as a crossword puzzle tool.

We ordered a table to support the television (the old one, for the moment). It arrives on Tuesday. Nice part is, it doesn't commit us to upgrading the TV, and it's an improvement in the way the room looks. I suspect that the coffee table will end up in the daughter's room.

We've decided how to handle my daughter's school problems. It's not onerous but its not going to be fun, either. The word that best describes it is 'probation'. Because she tried hard, she does get to go the anime convention in a month. Because she got decent grades in four of the five key subjects, she gets to continue in color guard for the remainder of this season (it ends in November). Because she tanked on the one key subject, she only gets to continue with it in the next season if she gets better at the one, and maintains the other. If she continues, it's subject to being stopped immediately if she slacks off.

For sure, we know how to have fun!

Thursday, October 01, 2009


Well, the kiddo got her grades.

The good news is, she did okay in what I consider to be the hardest courses. Not great, but not bad.

The bad news is, she tanked on English. Which I suppose, given the content, ought to be called Literature Analysis or something. I told my wife that while its not good, still, doing badly in a course aimed at analyzing literature -- well, it doesn't make me as unhappy as doing badly in one aimed at science. And I'm not even a science freak -- its just that science, I can see the point of, while analysing the meta-themes of some novel - well.

But I suppose we'll have to address it.
We're trying to be empathic without being patsies. On the one hand, she didn't acheive what we said she had to achieve. On the other, she tried very hard, and did better than expected in a difficult course. On the third hard, one extracurricular activity means a lot to her, and taking it completely away would hurt her without improving grades, which is, after all, the goal. On the fourth....

This is complicated, but we're working it out.

A Fib

For the last two months, my mother's been out of breath. Talked to various docs, nobody knows why. About a week ago, I said we need to do something, so I called the pulmonary office where she normally goes, got an appointment with one of the other docs, the one she normally sees not being around, and the other guy said Whoa, that is a very fast heartbeat. I think it's atrial fibrillation. What's the number of her cardiologist? So off we went to the cardio place, where they said Whoa, that is a fast heartbeat. How long have you been out of breath? And when we told him, he said two months!!! I'm admitting you to the hospital, today. This could lead to a stroke!

So right now, my mother's in the hospital, with wires and all that, and a little monitor screen showing all sorts of interesting numbers and graphs.
Update: Calcium channel blockers are amazing things.