Monday, May 30, 2005


Mother started talking crazy about a week ago. The folks at the assisted living facility said she was getting lost inside the building. She had forgotten how to use dining utensils. She was talking about her husband, dead and gone these many years as if he were still alive.

Not good. Not good at all.

My brother the nurse took her to her local treating physician on Monday. He ordered lab work and a CT scan. He was asked if her meds could causing this. After all, the psychiatrist had increased the dose of her anti-depressant just the week before all of this amusement started. He told my brother that while he had an open mind, he suspected that the Parkinson's Disease had finally caused her to lapse into dementia. A call to the neurologist offered the same opinion. Her psychiatrist was on vacation and unavailable for comment until Friday.

Mother has a pretty complicated medical situation. She is pushing 84. As if the Parkinson's was not sufficiently burdensome, she also suffers from anxiety and depression. She takes at least 8 or 9 pills a day. This is the main reason she is in assisted living as she was having trouble keeping track of all the damn pills she consumes on a daily basis. Somehow I wonder how the staff at her facility keeps up with it.

Mother's precarious mental status resulted in her needing a level of care beyond what assisted living is designed to do. So, Tuesday I got her eligible for home hospice care. I arranged for a home health care aide to "backfill" around hospice. I started signing her up for nursing homes in the local area. I actually had to catch up on my work Wednesday and Thursday. And Friday I called the Reynolds Center on Aging.

For a little jerkwater town, we in Little Rock are lucky to have two first class medical facilities in Arkansas Children's Hospital and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS). The Reynolds Center is on the south side of the UAMS campus. We take mother there twice a year for check-ups, mainly to keep a handle on the dementia. I called them on that Friday morning. A nurse promptly returned my call. I described what was going on and I informed that the tests run earlier in the week were all normal. She told me to bring her in that afternoon and she would be seen.

The Reynolds Center is a beautiful place. It has a light and airy feel to it. The walls are adorned by photographs and paintings-mostly depictions of rural scenes-created by Arkansas artists. God knows I am no decorator, but it seems to me that the spaces in the building are designed to impart feelings of peace and hope. As we waited for the doctor to enter the room, I thought back to our first visit there two or three years ago. As a matter of coincidence, a local lawyer friend here in town was there with her father on that day. They do not allow family members to go back on the initial evaluation. So we passed the time talking on our cell phones and poking at out PDAs. Meanwhile the respective members of "The Greatest Generation" that brought us into this life were back there in the clinic counting backwards from 100 and trying to remember the name of the President.

Eventually the doctor arrived in a swirl of white as they tend to do when they know someone has been waiting. She was an Asian woman, tiny and serious.

She took a history and examined the medical record from Mom's home.

" So, the blood work was normal?" she asked me.

" Yes, and CT was normal?"

" Yes."

" I see here some mention of her receiving injections from a son who is a nurse. Are you a nurse?"

"No. I'm a lawyer."


She turned to type on the computer keyboard.

" So she is lucid on the 11th when she sees the psychiatrist, he increases the Cymbalta and by the weekend she is talking crazy? Am I getting the picture?"

"Yeah. Pretty much."

She swivels and faces me. And then this serious, pretty little woman in a lab coat crossed her eyes and shrugged her shoulders as if to say " Durrrrrrrrr."

Which caused me to laugh out loud in spite of my anxiety.

She turned to Mother. "I'm going to call a friend one that knows all about these medicines. I will be right back."

She returned with a box of medicine and written orders for the folks at Mother's facility. "You are off the Cymbalta. Here is a 2 week supply of something else that I want you to take beginning Tuesday when the Cymbalta is out of your system."

She took Mother's hand again. " You are going to feel better soon. I want to see you in two weeks. And if you are not better by then we will try something else until we get this figured out."

No mention of Parkinson's related dementia or any other organic brain syndrome. No mention of anything but hope for a better day and continued assistance.

I got an e-mail from her brother last night. He said he had a good talk w/Mother. I talked to her sister the other day. Ditto. Charlsie said that she told Mother that she was lucky to have 4 good boys for sons. Mother said that she wrote our names down and put them in her purse so she wouldn't forget who we were.

I didn't have the heart to tell Aunt Charlsie that Mother has lost her purse!

Even though things are looking up, I am still going to explore nursing homes here in the area. We dodged a bullet this time. But that day will come when Mother's needs will exceed the additional help we can provide to keep her in assisted living. It's just a fact.

The Greatest Generation, the one that survived both the Depression and Hitler, is slipping away before our very eyes. I thank God for their sacrifice and for His lending me breath, as the old hymn so eloquently puts it.

And I thank God for the kind and thoughtful people at the Reynolds Center for providing care and comfort to The Greatest Generation as it inevitably recedes into history and eternity.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Patriot Act

Wally Hall, the inimitable "editor" of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's sports page, is given to occasionally overwrought, if not completely maudlin prose under the best conditions. However, it is when he summons his muse in the service of meditations upon subjects other than Razorback athletics or kissing up to Charles Cella that he really loses his bearings. A primo example of Wally at his most incoherent bathetic self is found in this Sunday's sports page wherein he waves the bloody shirt in attempt to honor the service of athletes who have served our country in her foreign wars. Here are today's gems.

Upon the lesson of history: " During World War II, 638 men who had played in the NFL served in the military, and 19 died. All of them were about the same thing as Pat Tillman, patriotism." How does Wally know that each and every one of them "were about the same thing, patriotism?" Also, before invoking their son's name, maybe he should have interviewed Pat Tillman's parents about how happy they are with the way the Army handled the news that their son was tragically killed by "friendly fire."

Upon the impact a two-year hitch Army hitch had on the career of Willie Mays: " Mays finished his career with 660 home runs, but if he had played those two years when he was in his prime and hit his career average of four-baggers, he would have had 720 and been second on the all time list, trailing only Hank Aaron." 720? No more? No less? This is the kind of extrapolating that got the wiseguys at Enron in so much hot water.

Upon making stuff up: " Yes, there were thousands more (athletes who served), and many of the former athletes who served were drafted, but remember, none of them went to Canada." None? Not a single discus thrower or wrestler said, "Screw this. I'm outta here?" Nobody? How the hell does he know? I don't know if any athletes went to Canada to avoid military service or not. And more importantly, neither does Wally. But I do know a rather prominent athlete in the Viet-Nam era who went to prison rather than serve in the military. His name was Cassius Clay who later became the fighter and icon known as Muhammed Ali. History is full of inconvenient facts like this. This is why it should be consulted before putting out blanket statements of "fact" in an attempt to justify a point.

Look, we at TMFW think it is a good thing to always honor those who served and continue to serve our country in harm's way. Two of my best friends just came back from Iraq. I am humbled and honored by their service and I thank God that they have been returned to their homes, families and friends. And the point is well made that the sacrifice that Tillman made was extraordinary in an era when basketball players can't be bothered to play in the Olympics and tennis players blow off Davis Cup.

A coherent and thought-provoking piece along these lines would have been ideal for Memorial Day. It's too bad that nobody that could actually write provided us with one.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Location, Location, Location

I was sitting in the waiting room at the doctor's office idly flipping through one of those local real estate flyers where all of the homes on the market around here are listed. For some reason my eye was drawn to an ad entitled "Foreclosures! Bank Owned Properties!" And there on that page was a red brick ranch style home set off from the street.

It was described thusly: " 5 bedroom, 2 bath home on 5 acres. Conveniently located across from an elementary school with room for everybody!"

Shit. I grew up in that house.

My boyhood home got took back by the bank!

I have no idea about the circumstances surrounding the fact that Mother's house is now on the auction block other than the obvious fact that the lady I sold it to didn't or couldn't keep up the payments for some reason. Mother would be horrified by this turn of events. But then again, she has always had a semi-morbid penchant for infusing excessive significance into places and things. As for me, I am able to look at this with the sense of bemused detachment with which I regard most events in life's rich pageantry. Bemused detachment works for me. It would also tend to explain my marital status.

But to be fair to Mother, she is not exactly the Lone Ranger in this regard. A friend of mine in the real estate game says that sometimes you can get "a house in your head." And to be completely unfair to the noble profession of realtoring, this is how they separate you from your money. But I digress.

Here is a True Story.

One day, I went out on the porch and discovered the man who sold me my house sitting on the swing that was formerly owned by him. It was around 2 in the afternoon. He was drunk. Being the intuitive sort of person that I am I immediately sensed that SOMETHING WAS WRONG. I sat in the rocking chair across from him.

" Is it ok if I sit here a minute?" he asked.

" Sure." I replied. "Ummm. What's up with you?"

" Well, things haven't gone too good for me in the last couple of years. Vicki and I bought that house in Leawood so her mother could move in with us. About halfway through remodeling, she decides she wants a divorce. And then the software firm I worked for went under and I lost my job. Took me almost a year to find work. And all I could find was a sales job for a business that sells rubber stamps. "

" God, Jimmy. That's awful. I don't know what to say."

" Ain't nothing you can say."

" Well, why are you here?"

" I'll tell you the truth. I come by here at night sometimes. I climb up on the fence in back and look in the backyard. Today, I was walking by and just thought I would sit here for a minute. I figured you wouldn't mind."

"Okaaaaaaaaay.......Why are you doing this?"

" Vicki and I lived in this house for 22 years. Now in a year's time I am out on my ass, she's getting remarried and I'm living in a goddamn apartment. I just wanted to come and spend a minute at the last place I was happy."

He began to cry.

"Sure." I said. "You sit there for as long as you want."

We both rocked in silence for about 15 minutes.

" Can I have a beer?" he asked.

"I don't believe you need anymore beer, Jimmy." I said.

" Then I guess I'll head out."

We shook hands and he walked away. I never saw him again.

Jimmy sold me the only house I have ever owned. I like where I live. I've sometimes thought about selling but where else would I go? I've thought about adding rooms but I'm the only one that lives here and that looks like it will never change. What would be the point?

I am on my front porch as I type this. It is a beautiful spring day. One of my neighbors is planting flowers in her yard with the alleged assistance of her daughter. I just got off the phone with a buddy that wants to play golf on the neighborhood goat track this afternoon. The breeze blowing in from the West is cool and inviting. A stunning redhead unfolds out of a convertible T-Bird to go into the antique store across the street. She waves and says " What a great day, huh?"

Note to self: Cultivate an interest in antiques.

Note# 2 to self: Forget first note to self. This is how the troubles always start.

Some day I will leave here. And I will always have happy memories of my time here. But unlike my mother or Jimmy I will never have a "house in my head." Change is inevitable. The trick is to not believe for one minute that your happiness is tied to places or things. Or other people for that matter. Because then you start taking it all for granted.

But it is a beautiful spring day. And I am on the front porch of a little house that I love.

And that is enough for now. That is enough for now.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Ain't Gonna Drown in the Gene Pool

If it is true that biology is destiny we are completely screwed, blued and tattooed. Our grandfather died at 56. Father died at 53. Both were the victims of massive coronaries. So, if a crude mathematical progression (or regression as it were) is any barometer of our lifespan we are scheduled to buy the farm at around 50. Which is annoys us considerably given the fact that we are are about 5 months from achieving that distinction.

We don't particularly dwell on the fact that we caught a lousy break in the genetics department. But it is evident that our internist does as our yearly physical-which we were forced to endure last week- becomes significantly more arduous the closer we get to the mid-century mark.

We spent the first thirty minutes in his office going over our history. Our doctor, an intense and owlish man, asked us exceedingly personal questions concerning our daily habits which we felt were none of his concern. We consider our use of the crack pipe to be quite moderate in its breadth and scope. And we did not feel led to confess the recreational sex we had with those hookers during our vacation to Zaire. When it comes to the doctor-patient relationship, we still believe in a zone of privacy.

We then moved on to the examination itself during which every square inch of anatomy was poked, pulled, thumped and listened to for approximately an hour. We were ordered to give urine samples in 2 different labs. And believe us, we were in the Doctor's building long enough to accomplish this feat. An EEG was administered. Possessing a manly chest is its own reward when it comes to applying and removing electrodes. 5-count 'em-5 vials of blood were extracted from our left arm. Finally, 2 x-rays were taken of said manly chest. 2 hours later, we were finally discharged into the Arkansas sunshine.

Again, we try not to dwell on these things. We don't much believe that we will punch our ticket at 50. We don't smoke cigarettes which was the drug of choice of our progenitors. We have managed to pretty much keep our girlish figure over the years through a fairly sensible diet and vigorous exercise. We probably enjoy our martinis more than we need to. But everybody needs a hobby. We don't have certain stressors that a lot of other people have. We don't have a bad marriage. Hell, we don't have any marriage. We have been blessed to be gainfully employed through out our adult life. We are under the medical supervision of a talented and caring physician who seems to have taken it as a personal challenge to drag us through the fifth decade of life. Finally, we are fortunate to have adequate insurance which gives us the means to do the preventive care that may keep us from having to cash the genetic check given to us by our forebears.

But sometimes, in the stillness of the morning, we wonder. It is said that we know not the day our the hour when our souls will be required of us. And we know that some day, maybe sooner than later, we will be told some news that we don't want to hear.

Still, so far so good. Everyday we wake up to a new sunrise. The heart in our chest is still banging away even though in the past couple of months it has seen way too much action (to steal a line from Joe Jackson). We have the best friends a man can possibly have. We are returning to Little League. Not to get all Paul Greenberg on you, but it is always, always, a good thing to be around little boys and baseball. Life, despite the pain and loss that occasionally attends it is, for the most part, exceedingly beautiful. And we are grateful beyond measure to be here.

And so, call us crazy if you will, we like our chances.

Still, you might want to check on us in 6 months or so. Just in case.

Monday, May 02, 2005

And so it went

We got to play Mr. Mom the other day. It was nothing that we particularly set out to do. But our neighbor across the street came over about 7:30 am with the frantic news that she was going to be stuck in a meeting after work and that she couldn't find anyone to pick up her first grader at the after school program over at the Methodist church and could we pleasepleaseplease pick up Caroline and keep her until around 7 or so?

It is our privilege to know many single Moms. The vast majority of them are resemble drill sergeants in that they are used to imposing structure upon their respective environments. Days are planned out to the most minute degree. Which is only natural when you consider that they have to work, make sure everybody gets to the soccer practice or violin lesson on time, provide meals, check homework, clean house-clothes-dishes only to start planning to do it all again for the next day. Come to think of it, the foregoing could pretty much describe all of the Moms we know, single or otherwise. The time demands are just a little more acute on the ones who don't have a helpmate-or alleged helpmate-around the house.

But even the best planners get thrown a curve every now and again. And we may not be the most intuitive person in this Zip Code but we knew from the exasperated expression on this particular Mom's stressed out face that this was not the time to drop the ball neighborwise even though we had not planned to spend our early evening with a 7 year old girl. After all, it was a measure of her desperation that she was applying to us. Petitions to terminate parental rights have been filed over less.

So,"sure" we said. "Be no problem."

"Thank you, thank you, thank you!" she said as she ran to her car. "I'll call the church to make sure that there's no problem."

Yeah. Like physical arrest or something.

On the way home from church Caroline, uncorked the first of the zillion questions that would park themselves in her little brain during the 2 hours that she was under my care and supervision.

"Mom says you are a lawyer. What did you do today?"

We looked in the rearview mirror. How does one explain the black art of lawyering to a child of tender years?

"Wrote some papers for the judge to read."

" And will he read them?"

" Maybe."

And so it went as we sat on the porch swing.

"Does ivy have eyes?"


" Then how does it know to climb?"

About that time AngelOne passed over en route to Children's Hospital.

" How can helicopters fly without wings? Even birds have wings."

" Do you know science? This is what I know about science. There are solids, liquids and gases. Is there more?"

By and by the unseasonable cool of the evening chased us indoors. Once inside she pointed at a picture of a young woman on the mantle.

" Who's that?"

"That's Audrey. She is our goddaughter." we explained, persistent in our use of the third party voice that many readers of these ramblings find highly irritating.

"What's a goddaughter?"

" Well, in the Catholic and Episcopal Church, a godparent promises to take care of the baby in case something happens to the parents."

"What's 'piscopal?"

And so it went, this call and response from one so very young to one who can no longer make that claim. And while we have never considered ourselves to be a natural in the area of pedagogy, we felt like our liberal arts education actually came in handy for once as we answered Caroline's questions fairly accurately, seeing as how they spanned from science to theology. Our afternoon with Caroline made us feel almost useful as it is a good thing to spend time with a child. It takes a village and all that.

And yet, for some kids, an afternoon spent on a porch swing going over the reading assignment is as likely to happen as spending the afternoon on Mars. Earlier last week we received an e-mail from a friend who teaches first grade at another school in Little Rock. It said:

" I should have been a doctor and not a teacher. There is a boy in my room-his dad was killed a few years ago. His uncle was shot and killed yesterday and his sister's daddy was shot in the leg. This was yesterday also. This is what I deal with. I need more peace in the workplace."

How can a child possibly be expected to learn and develop while surrounded by so much violence? Do we expect our teachers, underpaid and stressed out as they are, to work miracles? Some people lead far different lives than our different lives than our little Caroline. She gets to cool her jets at the neighbor's house until while her mom is through with her meeting. Across town some other kid's uncle and stepfather got plugged on the same day.

And so it went last week in elementary education in Little Rock.