Thursday, October 29, 2015

A Cat's Eye View: In it for the Long Haul

Baxter here. I am Complaining because there are Too Many Republicans. Here at My House, we were Thinking of Maybe watching the Republican "Debate" but in the End could not Bear to do it. How can there be any Sense made out of ten people answering Stupid Questions for Two Hours. What kind of Substantive Conversation can be had?

The Worst Thing is, there isn't even One Candidate that would make a Good President out of the Bunch of them. I don't know What this Country is coming to. And I think those with No Support Whatsoever (I'm looking at YOU, Chris Christie!) should Drop Out and let the other Bozos get more Air Time so Everyone can see what Idiots they all are.

Then on the Democratic side, there is the whole Hillary vs. Bernie Problem. Hillary supporters say Bernie can't Win so people should be Rooting for Hillary. They say don't Waste Your Vote on Bernie because he Can't Win. Bernie supporters, on the Other Hand, say Hillary is as Bad as the Republicans and if you Vote for Her you are as Bad as a Republican too.

Neither of these Opinions are True, in My Own Not-so-Humble Opinion. Why not Wait and See who Wins the Primaries? If you really Agree with Bernie, vote for him in the Primary. If he doesn't Win and Hillary is the Nominee, then vote for her in the General Election. Isn't that Simple? Oh, you are one of Those who say Hillary is no Better than a Republican? Have you SEEN who the Republicans are? Do you KNOW what they Believe? Check out this link.

You will see their Views on Many Subjects are direct Opposites of Hillary's OR Bernie's, especially when it comes to Family Planning and a Woman's Right to Choose. Check out their Views on Energy and Oil and Alternative Energy Sources. Compare their Civil Rights records and their Views on Global Warming. If you are a Democrat, you will realize there IS a difference between the Parties and that Hillary's views are a Lot Closer to Bernie's than You May Realize.

Then Keep in Mind that there will No Doubt be Supreme Court Appointments to be made in the coming Presidential Term. If Hillary is the Democratic Nominee and you Stay Home or Write in a Candidate You Prefer, then if one of these Republican Candidates wins the Election, you will have Only Yourself to Blame if we get a Completely Right Wing Supreme Court as a result.

Me, I am in it for the Long Haul. First, let's see who Emerges among the Republican Crew as the Actual Nominee. Then let's see who the Democratic Nominee is. And then things will Get Interesting. Right now it's all a Big Show.

So... Carry On with the Debates. Maybe by Next Spring they might Mean Something. In the Meantime, I think I will enjoy some Catnip and Relax.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

In Memoriam: Farewell to Doris

Of course, I never called her Doris. I called her Mom - because she was the epitome of a good mother and I didn't feel the least bit odd about calling her that even though she was my mother-in-law, not my own mother. But once she was in the nursing home for a long time, a lot of the people who cared for her referred to her as Doris so I started to think of her that way too.

We first met in 1983 when my then-boyfriend, now husband, Ed, was admitted to the hospital with appendicitis - a perfect way to meet one's future in-laws without any pressure! I still remember my first sight of her and my future father-in-law in the waiting room at the hospital. It worked out well for me since I am the one who brought Ed to the hospital and made sure they took good care of him. I was in their good graces from Day One.

My mother-in-law was always kind, generous and loving. She never made me feel like an outsider. In fact, later on my father-in-law told me that she always considered me a real daughter, not a daughter-in-law. I feel honored that she felt that way. We were good friends and always found a lot to chat about. Sometimes Ed or his dad had to break in to our conversation in order to get a word in edgewise.

Mom was born in 1928 and grew up in South Amboy, New Jersey, the oldest of five. She went to Catholic school and graduated from St. Mary's High School in 1946, just after the war ended. She then worked as a secretary in a doctor's office for awhile. She met Ed's dad at a local dance - soon after he had returned from serving in the Army during World War II. How could she resist this dashing young man, who was still in uniform when they first met? From the pictures I found in an old photo album, they made quite a handsome couple as they were dating.

They married in 1948. She was 20, he was 22. Mom only worked until their son was born in 1952, and then became a homemaker. Dad, who had become an engineer, was the breadwinner.

During her last illness, Dad said over and over what a wonderful wife and mother she was... but he also revealed they were truly a product of that pre-women's liberation era.

He said when they got married, she had wanted to go to school, and he said she could -- but he told her she would not work afterward. He said he told her she was to stay home and take care of any children they had, take care of the house and have dinner on the table, and he would earn the money. So she did. "You know," he reminisced, "We never had an argument in all those years."

When Ed was older and in college - they only had the one child - she did work briefly as an administrative assistant in a doctor's office and as a secretary in the local high school. Ed said she loved it. But by the time I met them she was home again. As she once told me, "Dad wanted me home." He wanted to know he could call her any time of day and she'd be able to talk to him, or run an errand if need be.

Mom was kept busy with all of her homemaking duties. The house was always spotless; no speck of dust would dare appear on any surface. She was an excellent cook, able to make everything from roasts to fried fish that was light as a feather. She made a pumpkin pie that was everything a pumpkin pie should be. She made fabulous cakes. She was an expert seamstress and made a lot of clothes, including men's jackets, and drapes for the living room. She helped a friend's Girl Scout troop earn their sewing badge by teaching the little girls how to sew. She wrote a weekly social column in the local newspaper. And she was president of the Women's Club, the Garden Club and the PTO.

Every summer the whole family would go on a road trip, including four cross-country journeys where they toured the national parks and other sites of interest. A map still hanging on the wall of the family room marks with red pins the various spots they stopped along the way on each trip. They also took trips with Ed's grandparents, to Florida a few times, and once to the Bahamas.

Right before I met her, Ed had told me his mom had just gotten her real estate license. She later explained to me that Dad was getting close to retirement age and she thought it was something they could kind of do together - she could do the selling and he could help with the paperwork, which would keep him busy in retirement.

But it was not to be. Dad's whole division was laid off when he was 61 and he suddenly found himself retired a year earlier than he had planned. After the first shock wore off - which took only a weekend - he adjusted with lightning speed and immediately started planning all the trips they would take. And Mom never did sell a single house.

Don't feel sorry though... they had a grand time. They went to Hawaii for 4-6 weeks each year (several times with us); they drove up the coast of California repeatedly, and visited the Blue Ridge Mountains multiple times, as well as taking trips with us to Portugal and Italy. They went on a tour of China and walked on the Great Wall. They took a cruise that stopped at various ports of call in Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore. They skied every winter in the French Alps. When they were home they skied locally in the winter and spent time at the town pool each day in the summer.

It sounds as if they were rich, doing all this traveling, but they weren't. They were very frugal and saved their money.

They had moved from Perth Amboy, where they lived when they first married, to Holmdel, New Jersey, in 1958. The house they bought was part of a new development going in where an old apple orchard had once stood. Generous to a fault when giving gifts, they didn't splurge on material things for their home. Instead, they spent it on travel and family.

Dad still lives in the house today; they never "traded up" to something fancier. It's a modest split level home with 3 bedrooms, two of which are quite small. The house still has its original kitchen, and they had the same furniture and carpeting throughout most of their married life until Dad had to spend down some of their money to make Mom eligible for Medicaid in the nursing home, and he installed new carpeting and central air conditioning at that time. I think that was the only improvement that was made to the house, other than painting it, during most of their marriage.

Here are a few pictures of them from their early retirement years. The top left picture is from a cruise they were on, the group picture was taken on Maui, the one below is on the Asia cruise, and the bottom left photo is in our living room at Christmas one year.

Sadly, my mother-in-law's dementia began to gradually become noticeable in the early 2000s, when she was in her mid-to-late 70s. She started to forget things and ask the same questions over and over. Then she began to lose her vocabulary. She still went on trips to Hawaii and California as long as she was able to function, but on the last trip to the California coast, Dad realized she couldn't cope with traveling anymore. She was too confused.

He carried on, taking care of her at home, until he was struck with illness in early 2008. He ended up in the hospital and we ended up caring for Mom for a few days. It was then we realized how bad her condition had become. We were still working at the time, and couldn't keep taking days off to care for her, and Dad was going to be in the hospital for a couple of weeks after a severe intestinal bleed and surgery.

So we researched and found a nursing home, Laurel Bay in Keansburg, about 15 minutes from their home, that was able to take her on a temporary basis until Dad recovered and we figured out what to do. Mom at that time became easily agitated and we were very grateful to the wonderful staff who were able to care for her despite the difficulties. Once Dad was out of the hospital he agreed he couldn't care for Mom properly at home anymore. We looked at a few other nursing homes in the area but none were as cozy and homey as Laurel Bay. So that is where Mom stayed, and we are glad she did.

For almost 8 years, Dad went to Laurel Bay twice a day and helped Mom eat her lunch and supper (she had by this time lost the dexterity to feed herself). He knew everyone there and they knew him. Sometimes he drove them crazy because he always made sure his Doris got the best care of anyone there, and let them know if he felt they hadn't lived up to his expectations. But they all understood he did it out of love for her.

Sometimes he'd take a break and go shopping (usually to buy her something) and I would go down and help her eat her lunch. Even though at this point she could no longer speak much at all, she knew me and always gave me a big smile. She knew me right until the last few months, I think. I would chat with her as if she could answer back and let her know what was going on. I always wondered whether she was just trapped in her mind and couldn't speak but did understand. It must have been so frustrating for her.

She had a wonderful caregiver, Obai, who is originally from Haiti. She and Mom developed a very special relationship. They understood each other and Obai truly loved her. A former hairdresser in her native country, Obai loved to dress Mom up for the "elegant dining" events they had three or four times a year, and she'd always do something special to her hair.

Elegant dining was a really nice event; they had a singer there who would sing a range of songs from the old standards to more modern rock-and-roll from the 50s and early 60s, to accommodate the various age groups at the nursing home. The cooks would make a special dinner, complete with appetizers and desserts, and they served wine. Mom enjoyed these events a lot when she was first there. Later she was less responsive but I still think she liked the music and she always ate all her food.

Here are a few pictures where Mom is dressed up for these events. The black-and-white picture is her with Obai.

Dad did get away for some respite from caring for Mom. We had bought our cabin in the Adirondacks just after she went into the nursing home, so he started to come up for long weekends about once a month or so to relax. While he was away, he called the nursing home, without fail, at noontime, to make sure Doris had eaten her lunch and that she was doing well. For a long time she was.

In the past year or so, though, she began declining. She was having more trouble chewing and swallowing and they put her on thickened liquids and pureed food. I knew, from experience with my own father, who had had dementia in his later years, that this was the beginning of the end. But Ed's dad never looked at it that way. To him, anything that went wrong could be fixed, as long as he tried hard enough. And try he did. He blamed her problems on everything possible except the dementia. I don't think he ever admitted that it was a terminal disease.

Just before she truly could not swallow at all anymore, we had a discussion about whether he would choose to put in a feeding tube if she could no longer swallow her food. At that time he said no. But when the time came, about two weeks later, he couldn't let her go. There was even a piece of paper, in her own handwriting, that had been found among her belongings at home a couple of years ago, that said she did not want to be kept alive by artificial means. "Let me die in peace," she wrote, and signed and dated it, in the mid-1990s. She had seen her own mother die in a nursing home from dementia. She knew what awaited her if she got it too.

Dad didn't agree that a feeding tube was "artificial means." He said he "couldn't let her starve." So she got the feeding tube, and he got three more months with her. He was happy just holding her hand - he said she squeezed his hand so tightly he knew she knew he was there. I hope that was true and not just some reflex she had.

The end finally came despite the feeding tube, or maybe because of it. She got pneumonia, ended up in the hospital for yet another time (she had had pneumonia several times in the last year of her life due to her inability to swallow properly, which causes aspiration pneumonia, even when someone isn't being fed by mouth). She then began vomiting blood. The doctor, who was a very compassionate woman, said it was common for people with feeding tubes to get bleeding ulcers. She gently told Dad that "it is time to let her go." He finally agreed to sign a "do not resuscitate" order. Mom was put into a private room and Dad kept watch over her for three days, going home only to sleep. We were there as well for much of the time. She finally drifted peacefully away on October 20, 2015.

It was Dad that couldn't bear to let her go. And it is heartbreaking to see his grief. But the next morning when I woke up, I felt her presence around me, and a great sense of joy. I am not a big believer in an afterlife or religion, but I do think there is something out there after death. I do know I felt that she is finally free and able to express herself again and is happy, wherever she is. I am not sad for her, I am happy for her. I hope Dad will feel that way someday too. I know she would want him to.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Fighting the Rat of Death

It's been a rough year. First Baxter was sick and we weren't sure if he was going to make it - thankfully, as he explained in the last post, he is doing well.

Then my mother-in-law, who has dementia and has been in a nursing home for nearly 8 years, started declining rapidly, after being relatively stable for a long time. Looking back, we realized she had been declining all along, but so gradually we didn't really notice it until this year. By June she had forgotten how to swallow properly and had started getting recurrent cases of aspiration pneumonia. Finally, she wasn't able to eat at all. DH's father made the decision to have a feeding tube inserted to enable her to continue to eat. "I can't just starve her," he said.

DH and I had looked into this back in 2005 when my own father was in a nursing home with dementia and was no longer able to swallow. All of the literature we read online and elsewhere said that inserting a feeding tube when someone has dementia and has lost the ability to swallow does nothing to prolong life and just results in numerous, constant complications.

Unfortunately, after 67 years of marriage, in the end, DH's dad couldn't let her go. He wanted just a few more months with her. So, the feeding tube was inserted after a few days of angst and tears on all sides. (Except for my mother-in-law, who, thankfully, had no idea of the drama circling around her). She hasn't been able to speak, other than occasional grunts or simple yes or no answers, for years, and at this point she was hardly even doing that, and was sleeping most of the time.

Next came a problem with our 13 or 14-year-old dog Diva. We adopted her 10 years ago, but were never really sure how old she was at that time. Given her arthritis and very grey muzzle, we are thinking she may have been as old as 4 when we adopted her, making her 14 now.

We started to notice changes in her behavior over the summer. She gradually stopped coming upstairs to sleep on our bed, preferring to stay downstairs on her own bed nearby her adoptive "sister," Angel.

Then in September we realized she was getting very deaf, and more and more sensitive to odd noises. She had developed a fear of thunder and fireworks a few years ago, but now she became afraid of acorns falling on the tin roof at our cabin in the Adirondacks, nail guns, hammering, and any other abrupt noises. She started shaking whenever one of these objectionable sounds occurred.

Then we went to Cape Cod for a week and she acted nervous in the car going up, panting and restless; then at the cottage, a new one for us that we hadn't stayed at before, she started acting nervous and pacing around every evening.

We had gotten a prescription for Xanax from the vet for her since we had started noticing this nervousness before we left, and that calmed her down but didn't cure the problem. She decided the bathroom was the only safe place to sleep, so we put her bed in there. Not very convenient when we got up in the middle of the night to use the facilities, but at least Diva was happy. We were afraid she was developing doggie dementia and that it was a sign of age and it would only get worse...

Then, the day after we got home, we finally realized what might be part of the problem - she had a urinary tract infection! She started asking to go out and urinate every half hour and we realized there was blood in her urine. We rushed over to our local emergency veterinarian clinic and had her checked out and the vet gave us antibiotics and painkillers for her. After only a day on the antibiotics and painkillers, her behavior became much more normal. After two weeks she seems back to her old self; but she still won't sleep on our bed.

We were up at the cabin this past week while she was still getting better, and we were still worrying about her, as well as DH's mom, who was back in the hospital with yet another bout of pneumonia. She had also developed a C. difficile intestinal infection from the antibiotics she was being given for the pneumonia, and was not doing well at all. Based on my experience with my own mother, this infection could very well be what swept her away.

One night while we were at the cabin, DH had a terrible nightmare. I woke to find him pawing my shoulder and making odd noises. I finally shook him awake and said, "What's wrong?" He said, "A rat. A huge rat."

The next day he remembered the dream: He had been dreaming there was this huge, snarling rat attacking Diva, and he was trying to beat it with some kind of a stick and get it away from her. He had been calling for our other dog Angel to come kill it but she was nowhere around in the dream. He said it was one of those dreams where you can't do anything -- you can't hit the rat, you can't move fast enough, nothing works.

I told him it must have been that he was fighting the Rat of Death and trying to keep it from Diva, and that Diva might be representative of his mother as well, since he was so worried about both of them.

The next day one of the doctors taking care of his mother in the hospital in New Jersey called to tell us that his mom had taken a turn for the worse and it was really time to let her go; he said it was unfair to keep having her go back to the hospital for treatment over and over, and make her suffer further (which of course we did agree with).

We left the cabin earlier than we'd planned and returned home, arriving late in the evening The next day we received a morning call from the doctor overseeing my mother-in-law's care to tell us she'd had to entubate her after she had stopped breathing earlier that morning, because DH's dad had not made a decision to put her on palliative care. She said Mom had been moved to intensive care.

We met at the hospital along with DH's dad, and told them we would like her taken off the respirator, expecting her to pass away an hour or so later.

As it turned out, after the respirator was removed, she stabilized and has been holding her own ever since. She is being given morphine and is no longer receiving any curative measures. But she continues to fight against the Rat of Death a little longer.

My father-in-law asks, "Why? Why am I going through all this at this stage of my life?" I can't give him an answer.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

A Cat's Eye View - Baxter has returned just in time for the election season!

Well, here I am again. I expect Many of you have wondered where I have Been; I suppose a Few have also wondered about the Disappearance of my Female Human over the past Year or so. Of course, not as many as would have missed Me. That Goes without Saying.

On My part, I have had a Bad Year, health-wise. In Fact, I may have used up one of my Nine Lives this past Year. It all started Last Fall when I started Losing Weight. That Female Human who sticks needles into Me and pokes at Me in that Office we go to (my Humans call her a Veterinarian, whatever that is) suspected I had something wrong with an Organ I apparently have called a Thyroid. She decided my Humans would have to shove some little White thing down my throat at Periodic Intervals in order to Fix the Problem.

Well, Needless to Say, I tried my Best to trick them out of being able to do this. If I see one of them coming, I Hide under the Bed until all risk of having that Thing shoved down my Throat is over. If it’s at Night, I just wait till they go to Bed and turn out the Light and then I can come out. Sometimes they try to Trick Me into eating it in my Food but I am Too Smart for them.

Nonetheless, I eventually had enough of these things (I believe they call them Pills) shoved down my Throat that the Veterinarian thought I should be gaining back the Weight I had lost. But I wasn’t. She got worried there was Something Else Wrong. After Several Months they finally decided I needed something called an Ultrasound. I was Dropped Off ignominiously at 8 a.m. one day at the Veterinarian’s Office and left in a CAGE (the horror!) until the Procedure was done. As it turned Out, I have some kind of Thickening in my Guts somewhere that could either be Cancer or Inflammatory Bowel Disease. The Veterinarian and my Female Human agreed that at My Age it wasn’t worth doing a Biopsy to find out which it is; the Treatment would work on either, one more long-term than the Other. I think they called it Prednisilone.

So now – to my Horror – I have to have TWO of these Pill things shoved down my Throat twice a day. I had gotten Very Thin – down to 8-1/2 lbs. -- when I was once a Hearty 23 lbs.! My Humans said I looked like a walking Furry Cat Skeleton. Lo and Behold, after 6 weeks on these New Pills, I have gained back 4 lbs. and am looking much more like my Old Self! On top of That, I have enough Energy to jump up on the Bed again instead of using the Cat Steps my Humans had put there for my Use. How do you like my New Look?

Sure, I sometimes still Manage to avoid taking the Pills but I know underneath that they may be what is Doing Me Good. So I get enough of them to Do the Job. My Humans hope it is the IBD and not the Cancer. Seems to Me if it were the Latter, I wouldn’t be doing as Well as I am!

So, now that I am feeling Better, I thought it was About Time that I went back to Blogging, as one of my Fans suggested to my Female Human recently on Facebook.

And just in Time, too – the Presidential Election Season has Already Begun! Oh my, I can’t Believe the number of crazy Candidates there seem to be on the Republican Side! And the Leading Candidate so far is that Donald Trump person – what on Earth is going on when more Republicans think he would be a Good President than any of the others? I am only a Cat, but even I can see he has no Qualifications to be President.

Then there’s the Neurosurgeon, Ben Carson. Being a Neurosurgeon doesn’t mean you’re smart. It means you are a Good Mechanic. You can cut open someone’s Brain and make a lot of delicate changes that require Steady Hands and a Knowledge of what Nerves are located Where. That is something you Memorize. But when it comes to Knowing Things outside of Medicine, or even Thinking Right in general, there is no need for that in that career.  And obviously, this one lacks both of those types of Knowledge. I mean, he doesn’t believe in Evolution, for One Thing. How can you be a doctor and not believe in Evolution? Even I know that we Cats weren’t always in this form. We are related to Big Cats like Sabre Toothed Tigers! I am proud of my Tiger heritage! It is obvious we Cats of all sizes have Common Ancestors. How can it not be Obvious to these Evolution-Deniers? He actually said that the basic Tenets of Evolution are "fairy tales" and compared the Similarities between various Species to different models of General Motors cars! 

Secondly, he obviously doesn't believe in the Constitution. To think that he would Say Outright that he would not "advocate" that a Muslim be "put in charge of this nation"! He later amended that to say “a Muslim who believes in Shariah Law.” Either one is Reprehensible given the Constitution says there should be “no religious test” to be President. But even if you go by his Amended Statement, what about Christians who are Fundamentalists and believe the nation should be governed by the Rules in the Christian Bible, which they believe unconditionally? Shouldn’t they also be Barred from the Presidency under his principle?

Then there’s Carly Fiorina, failed CEO of Hewlett-Packard. Another one with No Political Experience.  For what other Job would people with NO experience in the Job be the leading Candidates to get the Job? None, I daresay!

If they all Fail then Ted Cruz may have a chance to Win. I can’t even Go There…

The even halfway-reasonable Candidates like Kasich and Jeb Bush (I can’t Believe I am Saying that) haven’t Got a Chance! The Republican voters are Out of Control! It is Scary.

Of course, the Democrats have to have their own Drama too. Hillary Clinton was supposed to be the shoo-in for the Nomination – but of course, being a Clinton, there has to be a Scandal that comes out. Is it her Fault the Republicans jump all over her for everything they can dig up? Well, yes and no. She had a private email System at her home that she used for emails during her Tenure as Secretary of State. Maybe it wasn’t Technically Not Allowed at the Time she had it but it Didn’t Look Good. It seems as if the Clintons are not very good at avoiding things that Don’t Look Good. Sure, it may all depend on what the definition of “is” is, but in the End, if you are Smart, you don’t do things that Don’t Look Good at all, and then you don’t have these Problems.

So Bernie Sanders saw a Weakness and realized he might have a Chance! Bernie is probably the Least Likely to Succeed Candidate the Democrats could come up with in the current Climate of a Country constantly edging to the Right… he’s not even a Democrat, he describes himself as a “Democratic Socialist.” And you know how the Right loves to call anyone to the Left of Barry Goldwater a “Socialist” as a Pejorative Term. This guy actually calls HIMSELF a Socialist. That can’t go well.

That said, he embodies the Beliefs of a Whole Bunch of my Female Human’s Facebook friends, and, in all honesty, hers as well. She took one of those Tests where you answer Questions about various issues and then it tells you which Politician you most agree with. What did she get? Yep, 98% Bernie Sanders. And apparently a lot of other People agree with Bernie too. He is going up in the polls vs. Hillary, which will present a Quandary for Many practical Democrats. Do you vote for who you believe in, or who you believe will win in 2016?

My Humans have me up at that place they call The Cabin in the Mountains somewhere this Week and we can’t get CNN so I wasn’t able to watch the Democratic Debate the other Night. However, I hear Hillary acquitted herself Nicely and it went well for her.

It’s Too Soon to Tell how this will all Play Out, because we don’t know which Crazy Republican will be running in 2016! It all hinges on that.

So Stay Tuned. It should be an interesting Year! I hope my Health will Hold Out and I will be able to See What Happens! In the meantime, I can only Hiss at the craziness that is the United States election process…