Random Thoughts of a Disordered Mind


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The Christmas Tree Letter

Christmas 1975 was the first year my parents shopped for a Christmas tree without us children. My brother and I were both away in college, one a freshman and one a senior, at different schools hundreds of miles apart from each other and from our parents in Dallas.  They were on their own.

We had tree standards – always tall, live trees that were fat and aromatic.  They sat outside in buckets of water until closer to Christmas to keep them fresh as long as possible, or at least so the trees didn’t drop needles everywhere before Christmas even arrived. Mom put on the lights (because Dad never got it right), and together we’d put on ornaments collected over the years, with the unbreakable ones at the bottom by custom rather than real necessity since the cat barely batted them anymore.

When we were little, we added strands of shiny tinsel. My brother and I liked to just throw it at the tree but Mom insisted we “place” the strands so they would be untangled and shiny.  Since we reused old tinsel the next year, that made more sense to do, but it wasn’t as much fun. Our “tree skirt” was an old white sheet wrapped around the bottom. By the time we were in Texas, though, we’d graduated to using strings of gold balls instead of garland or tinsel, and the tree sported a skirt made by my mom.

But the first step was finding a tree and 1975 they did it without us. Dad memorialized this activity in what has become known in the family as “The Christmas Tree Letter.” His handwriting was terrible and the letter was written in black felt tip pen on yellow legal pad, but it’s pure Dad. And on this, my first Christmas without him, it’s a precious memory.


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52 Ancestors – #20 Medical Language

I had a plan for writing this week’s theme of Other Language. But then life intervened.

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-23,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-veMy 90 year old father fell on May 1st and hit his head on a low brick retaining wall. It was a bloody mess. We went to the ER and he got staples to close the wound, fluids, and a CT scan which was negative. No one mentioned concussion and the list of things to watch for was, in retrospect, woefully limited. After a few days he was sleeping more, eating less, and having more verbal confusion. When we brought him in to get his staples out, the doctor  decided a brain MRI was in order to see if there was something going on to explain the changes we were seeing.

Last Saturday, Dad was able to drive his golf cart and had dinner at the club with my brother. Sunday he wasn’t feeling well. Monday, the day of the MRI, he was unable to stand and dress himself. The MRI showed a subdural hematoma, bleeding or fluids on the brain, pressing on the areas that control speech and motor functions.

So now we entered a new world of neurology. Terms like “confusion” that mean one thing to lay people mean something else to doctors. The hospital is crowded, busy, and really loud, the worst possible environment for elderly neuro patients. Surgery to drill a hole in his head to drain the fluid was quickly deemed unrealistic for Dad, given his age and condition. When a neurosurgeon says “no surgery” when their job is to operate, that says a lot. Not operating brings its own risks, as we have no idea what happens next. We don’t know if the bleeding will continue or subside and reabsorb on its own. It will be 6-8 weeks from the fall to assess the full long-term changes.

We scrambled to find a care facility in a matter of 30 hours. Thankfully my brother was here and we could do it together. The first place, while certainly competent, dropped my heart and my head screamed, “No, no, not that for my Dad.”  The doctors mentioned skilled nursing hospice – another word that threw us for a loop. I know about hospice, of course, but almost always in the context of life-ending cancer. I know hospice care happens at home, in a care facility, or in their own facility. But did that mean Daddy was dying?  What were we planning for?  Why weren’t they being more precise or at least explain? And why weren’t they saying the same things when we asked?

All the places we looked at have their own vocabulary that conforms with Medicare terms. No matter what, we were basically told Dad would transfer in as a rehab patient because Medicare pays everything for the first 100 days. How did this relate to “skilled nursing hospice”?  I don’t know. I got more confused with almost every person we talked to.

SerenityPrayerDad is indeed in a rehab section of a facility that offers levels of care including rehab, skilled nursing, and memory care – and he doesn’t want to be there. We don’t know how he will respond to rehab but any recovery is dependent on working hard. He hates being in “one of those places” and my heart hurts to see him there, lost and confused. We may have him for a short time or for years.

In a heartbeat, my life changed. After two and a half years as live-in caregiver, I need to find a new normal, and learn to just let go what I cannot change, which is pretty much everything relating to Dad. My nephew reminded me of the Serenity Prayer and the power of accepting things we cannot change, even if we don’t like them.

Please say a prayer for my daddy, for comfort and strength and patience. I need some, too.