Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Quality of Life X 4

It might be more appropriate to entitle this "My Time to Whine" but I really don't want to do that. Whine, that is. I truly have little to whine about. I do feel grateful for life and where I'm at in it. Not rich. Not poor. Not unhealthy but not without problems either. I'm due to see my oncologist next week for my 3 month check up on the status of my MDS. I have a few aches and pains that are uncomfortable now and then but my layman's brain has diagnosed them as arthritis related and my occasional intake of Tylenol Arthritis pills seems to take the edge off of the discomfort. I've lived longer than my father, than his father, and both of their fathers so I'm grateful for that. Not that they didn't live longer but that I have managed to survive as long as I have and, bar drowning in dishwater or slipping in the shower, I think I might survive for another few days or so. Thus, all in all, I've really got it pretty good. I'm not depressed or at least if I am I don't recognize it as such. I have a fairly optimistic outlook for the future with the possible exception of the political rhetoric that is starting to brew and will boil over to interrupt my favorite TV programs as we approach the presidential elections next Fall. Overall, I would rate my quality of life at 9 on the Richter Scale. If I won the lotto it might increase to 10 but I'm not counting on it. If there is any stress in my life that will shorten my longevity it has more to do with the other three members of our household; wife, mother in law, or the dog.

Starting with the dog, Lucy. She has bone cancer. She's had a history of cancers that we've been able to combat with surgeries. But this one has started in her skull and appears to be moving into the nasal cavity. As a result, her left eye is starting to bulge, most likely because the growing tumor is pushing outward from behind the eye socket. No surgery is going to cure it. Chemotherapy would be a possible treatment to extend her life but nobody can say how much more time it might give her. We have surpassed $3000 in total veterinary costs for Lucy since we started caring for her this past summer. We don't feel it's in her best interest from this point on to do anything except protect her from pain and discomfort. It's really hard to tell when a dog is in pain. She doesn't cry. She still has a big appetite (per the vet mostly because of the steroids she's on) and loves treats, naps, walks, and cuddling. So as long as she's happy and appears to enjoy her quality of life, then we want to keep administering prescribed meds, feeding her "human" food along with her dog food (as recommended by the vet), and spoiling her rotten for as many days she might have left.

Now for mother in law. Eighty-nine years old and in pain. Constant pain. Worse than "aches & pains" an 89 year old person should have to endure. We've known for years she's had osteoporosis. After months of testing it finally appears that there are some small fractures in the sacral area where the vertebrae connect to the hip. She has fallen a few times over the past few years but since there was no out and out hip or pelvis breaks, I think most of her doctors have subscribed to the elderly aches & pains diagnosis. Now they're starting to catch on that the pain is real and the cause is cracked bones. She lives with us and the pain in our town home which means she has a set of stairs to go up and down at least once each day to utilize sleeping floor and living floor. There are still consultations scheduled to discuss the breaking (no pun intended) news and what to do about it. Just recently her doctor(s) have prescribed a wheel chair to minimize walking. And finally some real pain medicines more powerful than the first one they issued which was a duplicate of the pain pills we are giving Lucy! And that makes me wonder if Lucy is getting a raw deal. But we're talking about my wife's mother, now and where to go from here raises a lot of questions. If the stairs become impassible, what then? Block off a section of our living room/dining room for her to live in? With only a half bath on the first floor that would mean no showers. Do we install some kind of stair lift system so she can ride up or down? Could be a tad expnsesive.  Do we confine her to the second floor and bring her meals up to her? I think she'd go stir crazy if we did that. But she can't get into her tub anymore so we've made our shower in the master bedroom available to her so she can shower. She can't really prepare meals for herself anymore so my wife does that for her. But what has happened from all this is that my wife has become a nurse, 24/7. On the few occasions where we've been able to get away from the house for more than an hour or two we've been fortunate that our daughter has been able to look after her grandmother.  She's not senile but she's forgetful, not disoriented but has balance problems. Unlike Lucy, she does moan when she's in pain and it's pitiful to listen too. But if you ask her what's wrong or how can we help she just says her back hurts. She can't be left alone for extended periods of time, say more than two hours, or she might do something stupid. And dangerous. The other day my wife was on the phone with her mother's doctor office and her mother decided to come down the stairs without any assistance. She was half way down when we noticed and were able to intercept and assist her the rest of the way. But when she was asked if she knew she wasn't supposed to descend the stairs without help she said "she forgot." She's not stubborn. Not too much anyway. She just doesn't pay too much attention to rules, details, or what one foot is doing or the other.

My wife has become a nurse. She loves Lucy as much as I do and worries about her the same as me. She loves her mother deeply and wants to do everything she can to enable her to retain her dignity and live a comfortable life.  She feels putting her into a nursing home environment would be a betrayal of trust. Despite the fact that her mother tells her (when she's frustrated with something) to "just cart me off to the nursing home and be done with it" that she can't afford a nursing home so she's stuck with us. She's comfortable with us, we get along, all four of us. Mother in law loves to pet Lucy and Lucy loves to be petted so they form a good team. Out of the four of us I think the biggest strain is on my wife. Of all of us, her quality of life is the most in jeopardy. Lucy doesn't know she's dieing. Mother in law knows she's in pain a lot but has my wife to take care of her needs. I asked her what she wanted to do with herself when she didn't have Lucy or her mom to take care of anymore. At the same time I asked I hoped I wouldn't become her next patient. But she didn't have an answer. She basically thinks it's her duty to keep taking care of her mother and keep her out of a nursing home. I'm not sure that's the healthiest thing for the nurse. But it's her decision. I'll help however I can. But my gut tells me the quality of all of our lives would, at some point, be better served by the nursing home option. We'll see,

I won't be sharing this post on facebook.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

What I Think About When I'm Not Thinking About Much Of Anything

Haven't posted much lately. Maybe I'm growing senile but I just don't feel any great urgency to write much anymore.  Isn't that what happens to senile people when the dementia starts to kick in?  Like they lose interest in everything, even the things that were once important to them (like blogging) and just stop thinking about anything except where the next chocolate chip cookie is coming from?  Make that with nuts, please. Sometimes I do feel like a nut but although I may be precariously close to the edge, I haven't fallen into the abyss of catatonic schizophrenia with waxy flexibility. At least not yet.

 When I started this blog 4 years ago I thought writing was my future. Not a new career thing but sort of like a hobby. Something that I could do to release my creative juices but in a relaxing sort of way with no pressure, no deadlines, and no bosses questioning my work. And I had no compulsion to write the great American novel or anything either.  It was just that I had always enjoyed writing and figured with no career obligations competing for my time I could sit at the computer and type away to my heart's content. Of course if after some unspecified period of time a rogue publisher was impressed with my postings and offered to bundle them all together resulting in the great American gaggle of meaningless essays then I don't suppose I'd object too strenuously.  But, really, I just don't have the time anymore, at least not the time I anticipated my retirement years were going to afford me. One of the things that takes up time is maintaining good hygiene. Not that I spend more time on it than I did when I was working but the time table has changed because of my sleeping patterns. I used to get up around 5am, go for a jog, cool off in the pool, shave, shower, brush & floss my teeth, and anoint myself with a subtle but pleasant array of deodorant/aftershave balm/cologne fragrances, including swishing a cap full of Listerine for good breath and dental health. And then spitting it out of course. Not to be crude, but swallowing mouth wash was never my thing. And after those rituals I would drive to work.

Now that I've retired I still do the same routine in the morning except I don't get up at 5 o'clock anymore. And I don't go out to jog and come back for a few laps in the pool. I sleep until about 7am now, give or take a half hour or so. Why do I sleep so late?  Duh...let me think about that...oh yeah, It's because I don't have to go to work anymore!  Any more dumb questions?  But I still practice pretty much the same hygiene routines except I don't usually shower until after I return from my walk which is now an after breakfast event. I can jog for short periods of time but my 66 year old ankles object if I do too much of it. Usually I do a brisk walk for about three miles out and back. Once in awhile four or five, once in a great while just two if I'm feeling lazy or pushed for time. And once in awhile I'll skip shaving too, but not too often. It would be nice to be able to grow a MLB/NFL/NHL game day stubble and run (or in my case, walk)  in the tall grass with the big dogs but, alas, when I don't shave, my mostly gray whiskers protruding from my double chins makes me look like Yasser Arafat (when he was alive, I mean) without the turban. So I maintain these hygienic steps in order to hide the fact that I'm getting old. I may not be able to look like a younger man anymore but, by golly, I don't have to smell like an old man! And I still subscribe to the subtle fragrance fraternity. As Playboy magazine used to recommend (I let my subscription expire two decades ago so I'm not sure if their philosophy is still in vogue) the appropriate amount of fragrance on a gentleman should be at a level where when you enter a room the occupants will not smell you coming but when you leave they will detect a light pleasurable aroma. That's my fragrance mantra. Oh yeah, and I trim my fingernails weekly. Nothing telegraphs the message loud and clear that your hands are an old man's hands than having long fingernails.

That's enough about hygiene. I've only offered my morning routine to give a glimpse of what's on my mind at the beginning of each day. I don't think about much of anything unless I have some special task or an upcoming appointment to attend to that day. Hopefully I've set my alarm to wake up earlier than 7am if I'm going to be pressed for time. And hopefully, when the alarm goes off I can recall why I set it at all. If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are playing that day I have certain adaptations to my hygienic rituals that I feel obligated to honor. It's not kinky or wacky or anything, no wigs or face paint or voo doo ceremony. Just variations on my normal preparations to start the day.  I feel it's the least I can do to spur my Bucs on to victory. Superstitious? Yup. Does it work? Not in the least. Do I still feel obligated to maintain my self-imposed pre-game game-day rituals? You bet your ass I do. And before you think I'm a hopeless Buccaneer fanatic, take note. Mark this day on your calendar. This week I terminated my subscription to season tickets for the Bucs.  I've been a season ticket holder for twenty years. But not anymore. Oh, I'm still a fan. I still love watching football and I still like my Bucs. But neither my wife nor I really enjoy "the game day experience" anymore. I've had good seats and RayJay Stadium is a great football arena. And it doesn't matter too much that the Bucs pretty much suck lately and probably will continue in that fashion for awhile. But being there just doesn't have the same excitement anymore. Many of the people who sat in our vicinity in the North end zone have given up their season tickets in the last couple of years so a lot of the camaraderie is missing. And while I might enjoy a beer or two at the games I've always felt I was there to watch a game...not to get drunk and take my shirt off (which would be a scary sight). And I like to cheer for my team and comment with my fellow spectators (the sober ones) on remarkable plays, good and bad. And I'll stand to celebrate a touchdown or a goal line stand and share high-fives with anyone within arms length that feels the same. But I don't feel any compulsion to stand up during every freakin' play, for God's sake! And when the drunk and shirtless "fans" in front of us feel it's their obligation to turn around and pump up the rest of the crowd to stand up and cheer louder to bolster our team's spirits? Give me a break. Why can't the morons just turn around and watch what's happening on the field instead of worrying about the rest of us in the  crowd? And stay turned around, Bubba. I didn't come to the game to see you; I came to watch a football game, loser! I've paid for seats for my season tickets, I didn't pay for stands! Anyway, I'm feeling a little bit of guilt and maybe even withdrawal symptoms with the decision to discontinue season tickets. But I'll get over it.

Something else I'll eventually get over but nevertheless feel guilty about is our sweet and gentle Lucy, the American Bulldog we inherited from our daughter Cathie. Lucy has been with us since July because Cathie's apartment complex doesn't allow dogs her size (Lucy is 66 Lbs of canine love). Dogs and football have been of interest to me for a long time and I even stated so in the description of JD's Blahs right from the start. Lucy has bone cancer. She's had six cancers now in various locations and of various types but the latest biopsy of a lump on her forehead is classified as osteosarcoma. Neither surgery nor radiation treatments would be possible due to the location. Chemotherapy might extend her life but probably not by a whole lot and, I'm sad to say, very very expensive. It's tough to bring money into the equation about a family member we love, but after all is said and done, Lucy, our sweet sweet Lucy, is a dog. Extending her life would be for us, not for her. We have pain pills and steroids, and glaucoma eye drops that we will continue to administer to make sure she does not suffer for as long as she survives. But when the time comes we will have to say goodbye and let her go. In the meantime she continues to wag her tail like a whip (Lucy-Goosey shake that caboosey!), loves to take walks, sniff around in the grass, perk her ears up when she sees another dog, growl at cats, and manipulates her domestic staff (us) to give her treats.

There are other things I think about when I'm not thinking about much of anything but football and dogs are currently at the top of my "favorite subjects" chart, right along with genealogy and wondering when and where the next chocolate chip cookie with nuts is coming from. Pretty soon the Presidential election campaigns will start heating up so I'm sure that will start moving up the chart as well.  In the meantime, I'm trying not to think about much of anything except getting older and trying not to smell that way.