One year post-op, down to the basics

It has been about a year since Dad’s fall, broken hip and hip replacement surgery. While he has beaten the odds on surviving such a mishap at his age, both his physical and mental vigor have diminished severely. While it’s easy to blame his demise on him for not taking care of himself, it is what it is, as my brother would say. So, now we’re focused on getting him through another winter without him having to get out and drive much, if at all. And, if we’re focused on that topic, he’s obsessed with it. “I sure hope I can stay here this winter,” is his constant refrain. Not that he would take any steps toward achieving that end, other than be willing to wait for occasional visitors to accomplish small household chores and other tasks. “There’s nothing urgent about that,” is another favorite of his, whether he’s talking about feeding the birds, clearing moldy food out of the refrigerator, or getting a quarter-sized basal cell carcinoma removed from his cheek. Urgency really only comes into play if he’s running out of tobacco or gin.

He drives about 45 minutes up to the Indian reservation to buy pipe tobacco and cigarette tubes for his “cigarette factory,” where he spends several hours a week toiling away to support his habit and save about $7 per pack. We figure we can lay in enough tobacco and tubes to keep him supplied for the winter, but it takes a calculator. A pack and a half a day (30 cigarettes) x 30 days in a month equals 900 cigarettes per month, times four months (December-March) for a total of 3600 cigarette tubes. I think they come in packages of 1000, so four packages. The pipe tobacco is a lot cheaper than cigarette tobacco, as the “sin tax” on the latter is much greater. (I wondered whether or not Native American tribes have to pay taxes on tobacco at all, so I Googled the question, and here’s what I found out: Take that, you grasping, sanctimonious bastards in the federal government! Dad probably goes through two four-pound bags of tobacco a month; call it 16 bags for the winter. So, one of these days when I’m up there, I’ll drive him over to the Indian store and load up.

The gin is easily obtained at the grocery/liquor store.  Fleischmann’s Extra-dry Gin in the 1.75 liter jug. “It’s cheap, and it gets the job done.” One per week, roughly.  The dry vermouth lasts a long time, since he only uses a few drops at a time “for respectability,” so aa couple of bottles on hand for the winter will do it. Maybe three jars of stuffed olives in the pantry, and he’s all set.

“Eating is just a chore.” Without Mom there to cook for him, and virtually no physical activity to help him work up an appetite, he just eats to stay alive. Dinners from Meals on Wheels twice a week, or frozen T.V. dinners brought in by his once-a-week helper lady or us, or an occasional meal prepared by my brother or me. A year ago, he was doing a little cooking for himself and going out to eat with friends once a week, but he’s no longer doing much of that. It requires too much energy, mobility–and desire. The same goes for grocery shopping. Now he relies on his caregiver or us to bring him groceries. He eats a big breakfast of bacon and eggs when there’s someone there to cook it for him, otherwise just Raisin Bran, coffee, oj, grapefruit and toast. For lunch, he’s happy with Hershey’s chocolate nuggets and root beer. There’s usually a pile of cookies, donut holes, ice cream and other sweet stuff around slowly molding or growing stale. Dad must have a very well-evolved colony of gut bacteria, because I’m sure he eats stuff out of his refrigerator that should have been thrown away a long before. Can’t smell the rot. Doesn’t look for/can’t see mold or expiration dates. When I go to see him, I take my own food. And, I throw a lot of shit away.

Life has really gotten down to the basics for Dad. The food and shelter are covered. What I worry about more is the lack of human companionship, although his needs in that area seem to be modest as well. He enjoys his own company and short visits by others, when he has a minute. As he puts it, he’s awfully busy “winding [his] watch and running to the toilet.”  And, yet he reports his self-winding watch no longer winds itself due to lack of activity. So, we plan our visits so as not to interfere with reading the paper, nap time, the news on T.V. or The Wheel of Fortune. It’s okay to sit and shoot the bull with him while he’s making cigarettes. And, if you fill up the bird feeder while he’s there, that makes him and the birds happy.



You gotta know my dad

Maybe I need to stop talking about my dad at parties to people I don’t know very well. Because he’s had such a huge influence over me, and he’s the most fascinating person I know, I talk about him a lot. And, at a certain age when many of us are dealing with elderly and infirm parents, it’s a hot topic. Inevitably, my interlocutor says, “You should move your dad down by you,” or, “Have you thought about moving your dad into assisted living?” or, “Why don’t you get someone to come in once a day to help out?” My response is always, “You gotta know my dad. He’s not going anywhere, and he doesn’t want someone there everyday pestering him.” Then, if the person is really insistent, and proceeds to tell me what he/she did with his/her dad/mom once he/she could no longer live alone safely or with reasonably ease, I repeat, “You gotta know my dad.” And, we may get into the reasons: the cigarettes, the booze and the general irascibility, etc. But, it never really adequately explains how or why whatever anyone else did successfully with their aging and failing parent is not going to work with my dad.

Can he truly be unique? Everyone that knows him seems to think so, but is that really possible? Aren’t there other bright, sensitive, talented, introverted, narcissistic, agnostic eighty-five-year-olds out there that enjoy ribald humor and reading and just need a little help with daily living? Oh, and that smoke two packs a day and drink a large dose of gin every evening? Where do they live? How do they live? What do their families do with them? Do they pretty much leave them to their own devices and lurch from crisis to crisis, helping out as needed and tolerated by said parent? Is this the best we can do? I actually believe it is, and I believe it is in my dad’s best interest for us to let him live his life as he sees fit. Who wants to be treated as if they’re incapable when all they have to do to be reminded of their limitations is catch the walker on the door mat at the bank and almost fall, or spend four months trying to balance their checkbook to no avail, or have to wait until someone comes to visit to fill the bird feeder, cut their toenails, or change the sheets on their bed. Getting through each day is enough of a challenge without your family pestering you to quit doing what you’ve been doing for sixty-five years to go live with strangers, most of whom stare blankly at the TV all day, and be taken care of people that just barely made it through high school. At least at home he can swear at the TV when it gets too annoying, hit the Mute button and mix himself a martini at 5:00 to reward himself for holding off death for another day.

That’s really what his life amounts to at this point, isn’t it? Waiting for death. Hoping it comes in his sleep and that someone finds his body before the bottle flies do. And, every morning that he wakes up, gathering the strength and energy to get out of bed, get dressed, make coffee, reluctantly eat breakfast and do his few dishes so that he can resume the waiting game in his easy chair with yesterday’s newspapers, classical music, and whatever scant activity is occurring beyond the front window. On a good day, there will be a visit from my brother or me to look forward to, dinner out with an old friend, or the bi-weekly cleaning lady will have breaking local news to impart. He chose a quiet life for himself, but, as he puts it, “never in [his] wildest dreams did [he] think it would come to this.” In many ways, I see his current state as one that he has been engineering for himself his whole life, but I suppose he thinks that if Mom were there to take care of him as he had expected, or better yet, if he had died first, as he also expected, then the “this” wouldn’t be such a colossal disappointment and heavy burden. Meanwhile, we wrack our brains trying to lighten his burden a bit with only small, momentary successes.

Answering the bell

Last time I wrote my dad had broken his hip, underwent surgery, and was recovering pretty well five weeks post-op. We left him to his own devices with low expectations for his survival through the winter. And, here we are, on February 24, 2019, and the old man is still ticking, if not exactly thriving. And, it hasn’t been easy for him, so he gets points for tenacity, known as “answering the bell” in his vernacular.

My mom contracted pneumonia (“the old man’s friend”) and died in the hospital within a few days in mid-November. She went quite peacefully, with what seemed to me minimal suffering; nonetheless, it was a huge blow to Dad, who I think still expected to go first. He faced the myriad decisions and administrative details involved with death resolutely and efficiently, albeit in a bit of a fog and with a lot of help from us kids. He doesn’t remember seeing or receiving the condolences of many of the people that attended her memorial service, although he was enormously gratified by the large turnout. To make matters even worse, Dad’s old dog Paco had to be put down the day after Mom died. She must have had cancer, was skinny as a rail, not eating, shitting in the house almost every night, and yet, my dad had not been able to do the dirty deed. It fell to my brother to do the compassionate thing for good old Paco, and Dad agreed, even though he was incapable. Again, we thought his grief would derail his recovery and shorten his life. Again, we were wrong.

He now seems less sad and feisty as ever, sick of winter, but entertained by tracking all of the family’s travels on his antiquated maps, confusing, much to his chagrin, whether Hemingway died in Bozeman, MT or Ketchum, ID (“It scares me to think I might be losing it like Mom did”), preparing his taxes and unsuccessfully trying to balance his checkbook (another source of consternation over “losing it”), worrying about where the plow guy will put the next big dump of snow,  looking forward to spring, when we will visit more often, and there will be more activity on the lake and, possibly, even a new roof on his house. The swelling in his feet and lower legs is worse than ever, but after a brief battle with compression hose and an increased dose of diuretic (“all I do is run to the can”) he gave up trying to treat it, and chalks it up to “part of getting old.”

A big boost to Dad’s mood and enjoyment of daily life has been keeping my brother’s dog for him on several occasions this winter. I say “keeping” and not “taking care of” intentionally, as Dad doesn’t really take care of anything much. He and the dog are more like housemates, but, he likes having a dog around, (“Smiley’s a lot of company”) and doesn’t let a little barf or poop on the floor ruin his appreciation. In fact, Dad mentioned that the notion of getting another dog has crossed his mind. A friend of mine had wondered a while back if he might find joy in having a service dog, as the elder President Bush had. I’m waiting to see if the dog idea resurfaces in the spring, but if there’s a service dog out there that can empty ashtrays and mix a martini, I have the perfect master for him.

The Legend lives on

The past six weeks or so have not been the easiest for my favorite grumpy old man. In common parlance, he fell and broke his hip. What actually happened is he stood up from the bar stool where he was having dinner with his friend Rusty, and the next thing he knew he was on his ass on the floor and couldn’t get up. No warning, no dizziness, no staggering, no loss of balance–just boom! and down went McGinnis. Rusty wanted to call the ambulance right then and there, but at Dad’s insistence, he and another guy loaded Dad into his own truck and drove him home. They left him at home, reluctantly, after calling both my brother and me to let us know what was going on. An hour or two later, Dad realized that there was something much more seriously wrong with him than a bad bruise, so he called 9-1-1 himself. He had broken off the ball of the femur on his right leg. “So, why do they say you broke your hip, when you really broke your leg?” Who knows.  There ensued a very uncomfortable night and day in the hospital until they could perform a partial hip replacement, then a scant two days of smoke-free recovery before they sent him home.

Most patients his age would probably have gone to a rehab facility for the first couple of weeks for therapy and help with personal care, but for Dad that would have added insult to injury, been thoroughly disheartening, and might have actually killed him. Because of his smoking, staying in any kind of healthcare facility is just really not feasible for him. Not smoking makes him very anxious and cranky, nicotine patches notwithstanding. And, not drinking an extra-dry gin martini with an olive at 5:00 sharp adds to his misery. So, figuring that not indulging in his vices would kill him faster than continuing to indulge in them, my three siblings and I agreed to provide round-the-clock care in his home for a few weeks. Basically, each of us took a week, and then I took another week.

The post-surgical follow-up at home was intense and well-executed. Must give a shout-out to Aspirus Hospital in Antigo and Aspirus at Home. I brought him home on a Friday, and already on Saturday, a nurse came to check on him at home. From then on, he had two nursing visits per week, two physical therapy visits and would have had as many occupational therapy visits if he had been a more compliant patient. He and the occupational therapist came to an agreement after two visits that, if he wasn’t going to participate, there wasn’t much point in her continuing to come and pester him. As Dad put it, “I’ve been showering for 84 years. I’ll be goddamned if I need someone to tell me how to take a shower.” Mostly, he found all of this attention and help a huge annoyance that cut into his smoking, reading, and idle time in the easy chair. In his more agreeable moments, Dad would admit that the follow-up was good, the nurses and therapists were all decent sorts, physical therapy has its benefits (for most mere mortals, but not for him, as he had no intention of actually doing the exercises they taught him once the therapists had left), and that we kids were champs and he really appreciated all the help.

Much of the time, he just growled and railed against his fate. “I hate being this damned dependent. Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would come to this.” At which point I would think to myself, “What did you expect? You were just going to die in your sleep? Or, go out in a blaze of glory somehow? We all had pretty much figured it would come to this and were just waiting for the crisis.” Of course, I never said that to him. He was down in the mouth enough as it was. So, the crisis came, we rallied, we held our breath, we did what we could, and Dad did what he always does, which is ignore and disobey all rules, continue to live his life as it suits him, both charming and cursing those around him, and tilting at windmills the whole time. And, yet, yet…

Despite not following hip precautions, not allowing us to modify his chair or his bed to enable him to comply with hip precautions, (no more than a 90 degree bend at the hip), despite smoking at all hours of the day and night and not drinking enough fluids, (coffee and just enough orange juice to swallow his pills for breakfast, root beer at lunch and gin for dinner), despite having to back out of the bathroom with the walker because both bathrooms in his house are too small to turn a walker around in (this drove the physical therapists crazy at first), despite not having any appetite and grudgingly forcing himself to eat (in order to get us to stop cajoling and nagging him), despite  doing the PT exercises only when the therapist was present (or, again, to stop the nagging), despite never walking farther than from the chair to the bathroom and back, despite heart failure, COPD, kidney failure, nicotine addiction, alcohol dependence, unreliable bowels, edematous ankles and calves, social maladjustment and sheer bloody-mindedness (or maybe because of it), despite all that, his incision healed well, he started to regain function in his leg (not that he’s going to be wading any trout streams again), he figured out how to give himself a shower (once a week whether he needed it or not), and five and a half weeks post-op, he threw off the walker for a cane, got behind the wheel, took his car for a test drive with me as co-pilot (cautiously and using his left foot on the brake, but it turns out he was driving that way even before he fell), drove the 20 miles to visit Mom the next day, pronounced himself well-enough, and sent the nurses, therapists and his kids packing.  At this point, he’s been on his own for about a week, and, by his own assessment, is “farting through silk.” The legend lives on.


Ass You Like It

The word “ass” is so enormously versatile that it must drive English language learners crazy. And, so much of its meaning depends on the context and the tone of voice. “What an ass!” Is that a good thing or a bad thing? It depends. The word “ass” can turn a positive quality into something negative. Think, wiseass, smartass, fancy-ass. Or, as a friend of my brother once told our dad, “Everybody likes a little ass, but nobody likes a smartass.”  It can work as an intensifier. Being a “dumbass” is worse than just being “dumb.”

The way my dad has always used this word is pretty old school and straightforward, as you would expect. He never uses it in admiration. “That’s one big-ass truck!” or, “Lynn cooked me a kick-ass meal.”  It’s more often insulting and always mildly vulgar, (I give it a 5 out of 10) but also comical. Probably because it refers to the derriere, which for some reason, has always been kind of funny and naughty.

When I was growing up, corporal punishment was considered a mainstream parenting tool. Not that my parents were very strong devotees of corporal punishment, but we all received at least one good spanking that has stuck with us all these years. What was much more common were the threats of corporal punishment or the use of physical violence vernacular to express the parent’s displeasure. For example, if a teenager had the temerity or a right foot so clumsy on the gas pedal as to spray gravel from the driveway onto the lawn while driving away from the homestead to, say, go work at the local greasy spoon for $2.00/hour plus tips, and Dad witnessed the unfortunate lapse in judgment, there could be an “ass-kicking party” when said teenager got home later that night. If said teenager was so brain-dead as to do it again, Dad might threaten to “kick her ass to a point, and then kick the point off.” Mind you, none of us actually ever got kicked in the ass, but Dad’s deep voice and stern demeanor were enough to get our attention–in addition to the cowboy boots he wore. We just knew that if we did something wrong, and Dad found out about it, “our ass was grass, and he was the lawn mower.” And, if he’d had an assfull of our shenanigans, shilly-shallying, bickering or whining, we could find our asses out in the garden hoeing and weeding or picking gravel out of the lawn–after a good ass-chewing.

Stupidity, whether on the part of his children or others, has always gotten my dad’s goat. He does not, as they say, suffer fools gladly. Many of his most colorful insults involved the word that is the subject of this post. These were lavished on the likes of schoolteachers, social workers, civil servants of all kinds, certain neighbors, certain of his daughters’ boyfriends, basically anyone that did something Dad found stupid. He  “couldn’t find his ass with a ten-hand working party.” “He doesn’t know if his ass was punched or bored.” And, if a person was just an all-around dumbbell and full of himself to boot, he was deemed a “17-jeweled horse’s ass, with holes drilled for more.” Why is a horse’s ass and not a cow’s?

Here are some other examples of the versatility of this word:

Someone that is foolishly attempting the impossible might as well “grab both cheeks of his ass and try to lift himself up off the ground.”

“That’s tighter than a boar’s ass in fly season,” pronounced while grunting to loosen a piece of hardware such as a bolt or pipe.

“The black ass” is what you have when you’re really depressed and can’t shake it.

Disbelief at what someone tells you is succinctly expressed by growling, “Your ass!” Or, even more disdainfully, “Equality, my ass! If there’s such a thing as equality, then I’ll kiss your ass.”




Everyone’s got one

While watching The Open golf tournament this weekend, as always happens when anyone in the family watches a golf tournament on television, my husband and I began to parrot the now repetitive observations that my dad always makes. “Boy, the T.V. really flattens out the green. Those greens are not flat at all; there’s a helluva lot more break there than you realize… Anyone who doesn’t play this game has no idea how hard it really is… And, those aren’t any chickenshit country club courses either. You and I wouldn’t have any fun at all playing on those courses; they’re just too damn hard.” Whenever someone from the gallery yells out, as they inevitably do, “In the hole!” as Tiger Woods hits a drive, Dad presses the mute button and mutters, “Listen to those assholes. Thank God for the Mute button; it’s the greatest invention known to modern man.”

Anyone who has read this blog or knows my dad knows that he has seldom if ever been muted. His invective still rings out today at every opportunity. He calls it “educating someone (think, telemarketers) in our rich and pungent vernacular language.” Kind of sounds like manure to me, but I know what he means. My education started at an early age. And, “asshole” is just the beginning. There are “real assholes,” “supreme assholes,”  “14-karat assholes,” and plain old “stupid assholes.” Sometimes, one encounters a whole “bouquet of assholes,”  may the bleeding piles torment them. That bouquet is likely to exhibit a behavior or express an opinion that Dad disagrees with and finds idiotic. Opinions are just like assholes; everybody has one.

Approaching the not-so golden years

Well, I see that five people have viewed my blog today already, perhaps thinking I might post something on my birthday, and I thank those five loyal people, whoever you are, first, for giving me the benefit of the doubt, and secondly, for inspiring me to actually post something.

It is my birthday, and I am spending it in Colorado in the company of my son and his family, which includes a new grandchild, Timothy, only two-and-a-half weeks old and his big brother, two-year-old Willie. They are handsome, healthy, active little sleep-bandits, and I am delighted to be spending my birthday with them and their parents, sleep deprivation or no. Nothing beats the unrestrained hugs and kisses of a two-year-old, the foot races down the sidewalk, or nosing a newborn’s soft head and watching him surrender to sleep in your arms. These are the experiences whose remembrance I hope will sweeten my “golden” years, a subject that is often on my mind these days, especially after I have visited my parents. Because, frankly, based on my observations of them, the golden years appear to suck big-time.

Dad has yet to come to terms emotionally with the fact that Mom can’t live at home with him, let alone cook his meals, do his laundry and be the foil for his acerbic wit. This has made him even more morose and negative than usual. And, as he has always said about his own mother, “you can tell her [him] from a mile away, but you can’t tell her [him] much.” Every time I see my dad he tells me how much it breaks his heart when he visits Mom at the assisted-living home and sees that she can’t carry on a conversation or understand much of what he tells her. (“Poor Mom, she’s just kind of out in space. I told her about her brother dying, but that just bounced off of her.  It just tears me up. But, what are you going to do? At least she’s comfortable.”) She has been there for 15 months now, and she has dementia (a word Dad can hardly bring himself to pronounce). What does he expect? I gently suggest that accepting her reality and trying to meet her there could make it less painful for him. Yet, he continues to try to interact with her the way he always has and ask her to respond to questions that involve remembering (how she slept, what she ate, etc.) He also tells me how depressing the place is (it is quite cheery, actually) and how much he admires the ladies that work there (“that’s tough duty; I couldn’t do it–it would drive me nuts”). I point out that Mom is doing well there, she’s well taken care of, she’s content–that’s all we can hope for at this point. He agrees, and then tells me again how awful it makes him feel. He’s a broken record, and the needle has worn a groove so deep it can’t be jolted out. I’m afraid the only fix will come when the record player winds down completely, and he seems to be readying himself for that moment, if not courting it.

“There are worse things than dying,” Dad told my mom’s doctor the other day, after she suggested we might want to start getting Hospice involved with my mom’s care. Not sure if he was referring to his own agony, Mom’s impaired state, both, or the recent sad demise of friends and family members. Living long enough to witness the decline of and bury the people you love is certainly one of the least appealing aspects of aging.

On the other hand, my dad does take delight in his great-grandchildren and relishes receiving news and photos of them, although visits are few and far between, and he’s never even met the Colorado kids. My mom responds almost lucidly and coherently to photos of “those very cute little kids,” but has no idea who they are or who they belong to. Seeing their photos and hearing me talk about them (as if she understood) seems to relax her and release natural and appropriate verbal responses in her. I’m not at all sure she even knows who I am anymore (another notion that sends my dad into the depths of sadness and denial whenever I honestly answer his post-visit inquiry, “But, she knew who you were, didn’t she?”). But, she likes me, and happily rode in my car to her doctor’s appointment, chatting nonsensically the whole way. When I told her my name is Lynn, she perked up as if that name actually rang a bell somewhere in the recesses of her fractured memory. I take solace in that glimmer of recognition, while for Dad it’s just another reason to despair.

So, on my birthday, I’m thankful to turn 61 instead of 84 or 85 (Dad and Mom’s next respective birthdays) and still be able to cope with life’s vicissitudes fairly well and thoroughly enjoy its gifts in the form of dear friends, healthy grandchildren, loving and successful children, siblings that are also my best friends, a spouse that is still the love of my life and my rock, and (knock on wood) my own good health. The so-called golden years can take their sweet time, thank you very much.