Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Zombie Squirrel Of Death

In celebration of this beloved day of haunts and ghouls, I leave you with the following true tale, as witnessed a couple of weeks ago by Marvelous Charles on the UW Madison campus.

Seems our hero was strolling to class one gorgeous fall day in late afternoon, when he noticed a fellow human looking with an expression of fascination and horror at something on the ground. As is only natural, he found his eyes swivelling to the object of her gaze and found himself with the following image seared upon his psyche for all time:

A large, fluffy gray squirrel, the sort that gambols around parks and playgrounds, sitting on the ground, by a tree, with a dead bird in its paws, wing sticking out askew, holding it as one would an ear of corn. Fluffy was tearing into the carcass with a gleam in his eye, clearly enjoying his gruesome meal.

It seems that squirrels are either carnivores or this particular squirrel was a zombie and was getting his daily allowance of rotting flesh. Or perhaps he was an experiment from the zoology program gone horribly, horribly awry, released upon an unsuspecting public. In any case, I'll never look at one the same way, again. Nor will I ever linger near one, at least not without a stout stick and a sack of carrion at the ready to distract and defend from possible squirrel attack.

You can't make this shit up.


Sunday, October 28, 2007

3rd Hurdle: Knocked Down

Well, finally! The first shoe dropped.

When we went in to visit yesterday, we found her looking like she'd been through the wars, and as she was a WWII teen aged refugee from Latvia, that is saying something.

She apparently developed atrial fibrillation in the night, resulting in her third night of no sleep and an amiodarone drip (a yucky drug with a slew of short and long term potential side effects but the best option for short term treatment of this heart arrhythmia). It's a common occurrence and usually doesn't result in any long term complications, so I'm not fussed, but to her it is just one more thing.

She also had another evacuation of the roommate. This one apparently was quite ill and had so much going on that they moved her to a private room so as not to disturb Lilian. (Now, of course, we are all thinking, "Um. How about if Lilian gets moved to the private room and be done with it?" but that would be crazy talk.) So, for those keeping track, she's had 4 roommates since she was rolled out of the ICU, only one of which was discharged (she with the bed-ramming husband). Last night, Charles and I were taking bets on the fate of her 5th roommate. I am betting it'll be a good old fashioned 'Discharge to God', which will be discovered a bit past midnight and result in the creepy bustle if activity that accompanies a hospital death, including the scrubbing down of the room by surly housekeeping staff, because who the hell wants to be mopping a floor at 3am?

This will, of course result in her 4th night of no-sleep. No wonder she looks and feels like she's been trampled by vast herds of bison.

So, for those keeping tabs:
  • Post op day # 3
  • 4th roommate removed in 48 hours
  • First post op complication (a. fib)
  • 3rd night without sleep
  • Spark gone. Last night she didn't even have the oomph to feed herself.

But, on the plus side, no meatloaf. Judgement restored.

They had been talking about sending her home with us on Monday (heh, yes, day after tomorrow), but I can't see how she'll manage that. We're pulling for a short stay in a nursing facility for some intensive rehab so she can come back home with us.

I'll keep you further posted on these General Hospital Days Of Our Lives, because what else have I to write about? At least Charles and I are getting lots of that car time together with our trips back and forth twice a day...


Saturday, October 27, 2007

2nd Hurdle: Crossed. (grudgingly)

For those still hanging in there with us, nothing bad has still not happened yet, unless you count the pinch-sized bruises on our arms that we keep giving each other to check our state of reality.

Yesterday, they rousted her out of bed for not one, but two 'walks' down the hall. I used the word "walk" as it is what you call human ambulation, but I suspect "totter under duress and possibly gunpoint" would be a better term. As one who is not used to illness, Lilian is like most of us and does not enjoy what having one's body fail entails.

In short, she does not enjoy ill health.

She has had her share of horrors the first 24 hours after leaving the ICU, including the really, REALLY cranky old man in a motorized scooter who repeatedly kept banging into her bed right after they moved her to the regular cardiac ward, despite our saying, "HEY! Please watch what you're doing." He was apparently married to her roommate, who was loud, but soon discharged. As he scooted past us, he glared his gloweriest at us, apparently for not allowing him to continue to ram the bed of a woman 16 hours post bypass surgery, bloody chest tube and multiple IV drips, not to mention various other catheters emerging from her bruised person.

May he have a long, miserable stay in the level of hell populated with all the others of his kind. They can all be horrifically rude to each other and at least deserve their glowers.

Then they gave her a new roommate, a 96-year-old lady, who, according to Lilian, "looked 96 years old," (her way of disparaging someone). She apparently was moved after a solid hour of screaming, yelling and hollering about this and that. I don't know if she was intentionally doing this or just really confused (imagine that in a scary hospital), but given her prior roommate, maybe Lilian is just unlucky in attracting the only horrible people in Wisconsin. (State motto: We're really cold but really nice.)

Then the meatloaf was horrible. (As a confirmed hater of meatloaf, I found this hardly surprising.)

Then they started having her get up and around by sitting in a chair and by the previously mentioned totters down the hall. She also spent time with the social worker and the physical therapist. No rest for the weary.

So that's where we are in all this. She looks beaten but she's got a glint in her eye that she didn't have in the days leading up to all this. She seems to be mentating better than she has for the past several weeks. She has the strength to resent what's happening to her and more power to her. No one should have to endure hospital meatloaf, even if of one's own choosing.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

1st Hurdle: Cleared

Damn! but I hope I'm made of such tough stuff when I'm 82.

Lilian came through her surgery beautifully, well, if being on a ventilator with tubes coming out of one's trachea, chest, bladder, and internal jugular vein is considered beautiful, that is. The lovely surgeon was able to bypass everything with only 3 vessels rather than the 4-5 he anticipated, which resulted in about an hour or more less time on the bypass machine and only 2 long scars on her extremities where the vessels were harvested from: One on her arm and one on her leg.

What bothered her most prior to going into surgery?

Having to remove the bobby pins from her hair. She had thought that as she would be wearing one of those surgical shower cap thingies she would be able to keep her hair up. "No, no, no," said the nurse and out they came, much to her chagrin. I think she may have tried to keep a few in place but the nurse made her comb her fingers through her hair twice to make sure they were all out. They are in a urine specimen cup (unused) awaiting her recovery.

When we saw her late yesterday afternoon, she was able to rise to consciousness enough to nod to questions, such as "Do you have pain?" ("Yes" and then "No", as the lovely morphine took effect.), and she wiggled all 4 extremities. From this, I can say that she had no catastrophic neurological event, and that's definitely something.

The next few days will show us what sort of path the return journey will take, but for now we are just extremely grateful that she has done so well.

As always, thank you for all the wonderful goodness you sent. (And, Cagey, your care package was waiting on the table when we straggled home all limp and wrung out from the day. The Choxies went far to revive our spirits. Sadly, Sara is now a junkie, as are the rest of us. She had to be told in no uncertain terms that they were not acceptable breakfast food. At least not acceptable for small-handed ones. I then had to turn away so she wouldn't catch a whiff of the hypocrite on my breath. Ahem. The stickers will entertain them later today, while I try to get some things done, so I bless you twice for your wonderfulness.)

Over and out.


Sunday, October 21, 2007


I can't tell you all how much your comments and support have meant.

Things have settled down a bit over the past few days. Thursday, Lilian and I spent 5 hours (including travel time) waiting for this and that related to her impending surgery, mostly at the cardiothoracic surgeon's office. It is fortunate that I'm not lacking in butt cushion as the chairs, as per health care regulations, were. Sitting in the overcrowded waiting room it struck me how waiting in a patient waiting room is just like waiting at the airport for your flight. Well, except for the lack of multiple food courts to pass the time. The endless sitting with full knowledge that the time you have been given for a departure from the waiting area is only a vague estimate, usually greatly delayed. Unless you choose to try to dash to the bathroom, and then your number is called.

Also, we found out how little the HIPAA privacy act does to actually protect the patient from the whole world knowing what is going on in your private life. For instance, as we sat in the holding cell, listening to one of those daytime court TV shows that I tried unsuccessfully to cancel out with my book (Teri Gross's All I Did Was Ask -- very good for such situations where you want to read but need to be able to close the book at a moment's notice), our presence was being noted by the driver of the monthly shuttle from Lilian's retirement apartments. He was there shuttling a passel of little old ladies to their own physician appointments. So all her doings were known all over the apartment complex within a matter of a couple of hours.

Now, of course, this wasn't really news to them as she receives multiple calls each day from the tell-a-friend network, but there you have it. Should you need to keep your visit to your physician truly private, best to wear a full gorilla costume in the waiting room. Otherwise, you are guaranteed to be spotted by the least discrete someone you know who knows all your nearest and dearest.

Don't say I never warned you.

So. We've now got a date for her surgery (4-5 vessel CABG, AKA: Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery): Wednesday morning at 0:dark-hundred. And then we can finally know what we are facing for the long haul. I quite liked her surgeon, a very neat, snappy dresser with a nice, patient bedside manner. (A CT surgeon SHOULD dress like he stepped out of a GQ Magazine advertisement. We all know what one makes a year and dressing otherwise is false modesty. Plus, how can you trust one who looks anything but fully pressed? Good God. He spends much of his days with both hands in people's chest cavities. Would you trust this to a slob?) He politely listened to her discourse on her recent trip to Latvia, despite being about an hour late, explained what she should expect from her recovery in thorough but not overwhelming terms and left her feeling that she was in good, competent hands. As did I. He was just what a CT surgeon should be. Her cardiologist also impressed me as did all of the nursing staff we encountered, the surgeon's own nurse even taking us the short cut through the back halls and back elevator to save us half the distance to the lab. Absolute angel.

Dad has graciously agreed to be here with us to watch the kids and berate the naughty dog (who ran into the street while she was supposed to be having a nice run around the property with him) and watch over Lilian upon her recovery when Charles and I are working. This means that the search for daycare can be put off for now. If Lilian pulls a miracle, we may not need to arrange it, if not, at least that's almost 3 months that Sara will have to adjust to all this, which can only be for the better.

My sanity is much restored, thanks to the above and Marvelous Charles, who has been a rock in all this, and all of you, the best friends in the computer anyone could ever have.

Wish us all well come Wednesday morning. We'll need every bit of it.


Sunday, October 14, 2007

What's Going On

OK. It's time to talk of many things: Of shoes and ships and sealing wax and cabbages and kings and why Diana is in such a distracted state and whether pigs have wings....

It's been a hell of a less-than-two-months, my dearest darlings. Some of you know some of this. Some of you know most of this but not all of it, as the last bit we just found out, so there's something for everyone. I needed time to see how things would sort out and get my head around all the life changing ramifications of What's Going On. Oh, and just to continue my cryptic, woman-of-mystery patina, some of the WGO will be just alluded to as this is not the place for it and it is not my tale to tell. Basically, this is all about me and how it affects me and all other self-centered bits and bobs.

Why did I take so long to clue you in? Because this little personal refuge of a blog is where I come for a break from what irritates and annoys, a place for the funny and bizarre that I encounter. It's rarely the place for the cold harsh face of reality.

That's not to say that I've not discussed things that made my heart rend, like this and this and let's not forget this. But mostly I like to keep this a sunny, cheery, cynical place where you can come in and put your feet on the furniture and have a glass of wine or a cookie (or both).

Sometimes, though, my need to make things all shiny and happy is outstripped by the need for some good-old-fashioned support from my friends and this is one of those times. Plus, sometimes you just need to get everything out and look at it outside of your head.

So, here goes:

About a week after we'd all finally crawled from our respective germ-coated couches and decided that we just might inflict ourselves on the world again, we headed off to run our Saturday morning errands, coming home at lunchtime to a slew of frantic messages on the machine. To sum up, my mother-in-law, Lilian, had fallen the day before and had severe back pain. Charles headed off to take her to the emergency room. The upshot was that she'd had a heart attack the day before, which caused the dizziness which led to the fall and the pain in the back that finally had her calling for help. It wasn't the first fall. It wasn't even the 41st fall, apparently, but she's one who loves to blame every thing on her medication and refused to tell her doctor about all these falls. (sheesh.)

So she's been living with us full-time while she slowly recovers from the fall and the fall-out of the fall. We've added walkers and bath benches and hand-held showers and many, many pills and appointments to our days. Home health nurses and physical therapists make visits. I can now give an enema and empty commodes with the best of them. Or at least on par with a first-year nursing student. Word to the wise: never underestimate the bowels in the grand scheme of things. Never.

In the course of events, the three of us traipsed up to Madison last Thursday so she could undergo a coronary angiogram with the hope that she'd be a candidate for coronary artery stenting and all would be well.

(Excuse me while I laugh at the beautiful naivete': Hah! HAHAHAHAHA!)

The bottom line is that every major vessel that supplies blood to her heart (left main, RCA, LAD, circumflex and diagonal) all have stenoses (blockages) of 95-99%. If it weren't so horrible it'd be miraculous. She's sustained minimal damage to her heart but the blood supply to the whole damn thing is hanging by the diameter of a hair. And everything is markedly calcified. Not just the coronary vessels but the aorta.

So. Multi-vessel bypass surgery it is. But wait, grasshopper. There's more. Remember the calcified vessels? The ones with the thick inner ceramic coating? Bypass surgery involves bypassing the blood supply to and from the heart so the body can keep on living while you halt the beating heart for a while so you can sew in all these new vessels to bypass the narrowed vessels. (Seems the term "bypass" is apt, yes?) To do this, you must clamp the aorta (main blood vessel that carries oxygenated blood from the heart) before it branches off to the rest of the body, like, oh, the BRAIN. The clamping will crush some of the calcium and make bits break off and go floating thither and yon.

Get the picture?

These bits will lodge in distal vessels and halt blood flow. Some of these bits are enough to kill significant tissue. Stroke is a huge risk. This is on top of the memory problems that often result from just being on bypass.

Right now, aside from the blood supply hanging by a literal hair, she's in great shape. Her brain works as well as it did when I met her 25 years ago. Probably the same as it did when she, herself, was 25. She's in absolutely no pain (aside from her still sore back). But if we do nothing, she's got 100% chance of dying in the not too distant future, either quickly from a massive heart attack or more slowly and miserably by congestive heart failure.

So between a dead cert and a small chance, she's taking the small chance of more good quality life. She's not ready to die, yet.

That's enough about non-me.

How does this affect me? You mean aside from losing the mother of my husband? The "Gram" of my children? Someone who's always been there for us (sometimes more than I'd like, but that's just me being poopy)? Well, to start with, she's been the one to care for Colin and Sara when we are at work. If a miracle happens and she sustains absolutely no devastating neurological or physical complications, the soonest I'd guess she'd be able to be there as primary non-parental caregiver, getting the kids on the bus and shepherding them after school, would be early January. That means that I've got to get them into daycare. I'm not worried about Colin. He'll adjust with minimal grief.

Sara is another story. She'll adjust but it'll be rough for her. She's very much a mommy's girl and in my absence, she's a gramma's girl. She trusts few strangers. She's shy. It's been hard for her adjusting to 4-year-old kindergarten. (It's been good for her, but it's been hard. She comes home in exhausted tears more than half the days. She needs morning class but we didn't win that lottery.) Add in daycare and she's going to have a very rough few months. It's breaking my heart. Had this just happened one year later, she'd be a year older and in full-day 5-year-old kindergarten. Going to daycare for an hour before school and a couple of hours after school wouldn't be that huge a deal.

Daycare will also mean that I have to have a change in my work hours. There's no other way. In some things Charles and I can share the childcare, but as a school principal, he can't adjust his hours. My work will balk but I don't think in the end they will refuse because they need me as much as I need them. Thank goodness, as (all together now) I love my work. It'd devastate me to have to leave it and find something else. I live almost an hour from work and most daycares will let you drop off your child by 7 am but pick-up must be by 6 pm (or earlier). The nature of my work is that I can't guarantee that I will be able to walk out the door by 5, so I'll need to be off by 4. (For instance, the last patient of the day with a complaint of "cough" will invariably turn out to need STAT blood work, an ECG, a chest x-ray, etc. Can't do that in 15 minutes.)

This means that my Wednesday afternoons that are devoted to things like working in the family planning clinic at the Health Department will have to go by the wayside. I should still be able to function as STD clinic director as it doesn't involve clinic hours, just chart review, which I can squeeze in, but I hate to give up the STD clinic, so we'll see what can be worked out on that front.

Charles and I won't be able to drive in to work together anymore, which is sad. That's good time we get just to ourselves to talk and listen to NPR and just be alone together. We'll survive and it wasn't likely that we'd be able to do it next year as it's time for Charles to be making the next career move, but we weren't looking for it to happen now.

And as long as I'm being selfish, those non-Health Department Wednesday afternoons off have been so handy for things like dentist appointments and haircuts and work-out time.

What else is Going On? Well, we've been blessed by visits just after all this happened, initially from my mom and step-dad and, following their departure, my dad (the Ole RFer) has come for a couple of months. His arrival was beyond a blessing, but the reason for it was heart-breaking. That tale is not for here but it has wrought it's own long-term devastation and life on that front will never be the same on many levels.

So that's why I've been in a first-class worry. Life has been horribly eventful but not funny. Even the day spent in the hospital last Thursday was without much in the way of funny.

So, life goes on. It is what it is and we must roll with things as best as we can, but it's all been a bit much all on top of each other. It's as though everything got thrown in a tumbler and shaken around and thrown back out with nothing facing the way it was.

I'm blessed with having a strong marriage and my kids are strong and healthy, but we're in for some boulders over the next few months. Thanks for letting me spew and pretty-please don't take it personally if I'm not regularly around. It's just that sometimes coming up with a post or even turning on the computer seem like more than I can take. Uncertainty is not something I do well with. After the surgery, we'll know more what to plan for but for now, I'm just trying to have as many safety nets in place as possible and cause my kids as little sudden upheaval as possible.


Monday, October 08, 2007


Pictures for you

Who doesn't love fall?

Pictures for you

The roses in the spring were lovely but the rosehips are fabulous.

Pictures for you

True, the garden is lying in the gutter with it's stockings torn and it's skirt over it's head,

but it's easier to get at it's goodies. (ahem)

Pictures for you

The monarchs are fueling up for their migration down to Mexico,

Pictures for you

And the box elder beetles are cannibalizing their weak and their dead

Pictures for you

to gather strength and numbers

Pictures for you

for their annual assault on my house.

Pictures for you

Marching over my floors and my walls.

Pictures for you

Mad-kitty initially tried to hunt them down but now ignores them as they apparently neither taste good nor provide good sport. Unlike the moths, who satisfy both urges. Frequently she can be found cleaning moth scales off of her pus. Yesterday, for a change, she decided to try slug, but found the texture wanting and had to take multiple breaks to clean the slug snot off her paws. She didn't want to give up, though, so tried bringing the slug into the house for further keeping, perhaps thinking that time would tenderize it, but Charles and I quickly vetoed this little plan and flung the slug from the balcony onto the ground below where some bird will reap the windfall.

Should you come to visit, please accept this advice: Don't kiss the kitty. She's a disgusting little thing.

Molly would like you to know that she'd never eat a slug and is safe to play frisbee with. As long as you don't look too hard at the frisbee.

Pictures for you

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