Wednesday, December 19, 2012


This was written in early November but I forgot to post it!!

Beep...     Beep...     Beep...  ....  Annoying, isn't it? That's what I thought before I went to bed last night. I knew what it was - a smoke detector, but I didn't know where it was. I stood in the middle of the house, waiting for the next beep so I'd be able o locate it and hopefully take out the battery. Of course, it stopped beeping. I get into bed, get settled and ...beep. Bastard! But I was tired and I figured it would stop eventually. Guess what... it didn't.

4:15am: I hear the constant beep beep beeping of the alarm. It won't stop. Well, at least I'll be able to find it I think. I get up, four cats, thinking it's breakfast time, surround me. As soon as I step into the living room, I realize the beeping is coming from the front hall. I grab my rayovac LED flashlight that's been sitting on the couch since Hurricane Sandy threatened me last week. I head into the hall and the beeping is SO LOUD! You see, my front hall is huge. It's "open" all the way to the attic, three floors up. So the beeping is echoing, at least that's what I think.

I make my way through the hall and I find the culprit, it's stupid green eye blinking at me. The problem is, the ceilings are so high, there's no way I can reach this thing. Luckily, I have my cane with me. Steadying the flashlight in one hand and the cane in the other, I raise the cane high over my head and I can just reach the detector. I'm able to "smash" it just right to release the cover, but no matter how hard I try, I can't dislodge the battery. On the fourth try, I hear something else. Another beep beep beeping from higher up. The attic I think.

Well, now I'm a little worried. It's one thing to have one smoke detector go off because of a weak battery, but two? At the same time? A little too much of a coincidence for me. So I do the first thing any logical, rational person would do. I go to the bathroom. My thought process is that if I call 911 and they make me evacuate, I'll have to go SO bad that I'll be really uncomfortable while the house burns down, ya know? So yeah, I decided to "evacuate" on my own first.

That done, I do the next most important thing - I text my sister.  No response. Why the hell isn't SHE up at 4:45 in the morning?! Sheesh! So now I wait, debating on what to do. If I call 911 and there's nothing wrong not only will I feel stupid, but I wonder if they send you a bill? "One trip to determine batteries in detector are old = $4500". !  So I wait... beep... and wait... beep... and I think I pass out on the couch a little but then ...beepbeepbeep... and then my sister calls me back. I tell her what's going on and she asks if I want her to come over. I tell her I'd be glad if she were here but she doesn't have to come. That was the honest answer. I agree to call 911 then call her back when it's all over.

"Thisis911stateemergencythiscallisbeingrecordedwhatisyouremergency?" I explain the situation, that it may not be an emergency but I hear not one but two smoke alarms going off, though I smell no smoke (only cigarette smoke from some of the people that were in the hall/on the porch this afternoon, but I don't say that). I tell her that I'm not able to reach the alarm here or go up the stairs to look at the other one. She transfers me to my towns emergency system. "Thisis911emergencythiscallisbeingrecordedwhatisyouremergency?" And I tell this guy the same thing. So he transfers me to the town fire department. "FireDepartmentemergencythiscallisbeingrecordedwhatisyouremergency?" And for the third time I explain. The woman says they'll send an engine out.

By now it's about 5:15 and I'm exhausted, but I go back into the ...beepbeepbeep... hall, open the front door to the porch and wait for the engine. While I'm standing there waiting, I see a small car across the street - actually I hear it first. It's filled with 3 or 4 young guys, talking "shit". I can hear them "Y0-Yo-Yoing", cursing and laughing. And all I can think is, wtf are they doing up so early?.. or so late? Then I see blue flashing lights at the top of my street. And so do they. And the car that was rocking with noise 5 seconds ago is now completely still. Guilty conscience much? Ha!

So the police officer arrives first, comes up onto the porch and asks me what the problem is. Ummmm... can you not hear the ...BeepBeepBeep? You're standing right under it! Is what I think but I don't say that. Contrary to popular belief, I do sometimes have a filter! I explain what's going on and he climbs a few stairs to reach the smoke alarm. As he's doing this, I see my sisters car pull up out front. God love her. She's always there for me.

Right behind her is the ladder engine and the fire chiefs car. I can hear the boys in the car talking now but with a lot less spirit and bravado. I want to point them out to the police officer just in case they were up to no good, but I figure that might be some kind "profiling" - you know - picking on young loud boys in cars or something - so I don't say anything. But I do explain to the new arrivals about the alarms going off simultaneously and this time, I DO mention that people were smoking in the hallway the afternoon before. Just in case there's a smoldering ash somewhere.

So all the guys (no women on the early morning shift I guess!) head upstairs to the attic, or so I think. With my sister being there, I take the opportunity to retreat back into the warmth of my living room and sit my ass down on the couch, as I'm about ready to keel over from standing too long. I hear the men doing their manly thing, talking their official jargon, using their walkies to report their position to the station etc.

The original policeman comes to the house door now and says that the smoke detector in the hall and the one in the second floor apartment were both going off but it's just the batteries. You know - those stupid 9 volts whose only use as far as I know is those damned detectors. Why don't they run on double A's like everything else, anyway?... He says he can smell paint in the apartment and maybe the fumes set it off, but most likely the batteries need to be replaced. I ask him if he doesn't think it's strange that the batteries would "expire" at the same time. I know you're supposed to replace them every time it's daylight savings  but to have them both beep at the same time? Coincidence? You be the judge!

So everyone leaves and I finally have some peace and quiet. Even the guys in the car are gone. My bed is calling me so I shut the lights off and crawl under the covers to try and get a few hours sleep. I get comfortable, All the cats take their positions  and we settle in. Ahhh... bed....   BEEPBEEPBEEP!!!  WTF?!?!?!?!? THEY DIDN'T TAKE THE BATTERY OUT OF THE ALARM IN THE HALLWAY!!!??? Are you kidding me?!?! And that's my last thought as I pass out from exhaustion. When I wake up... beepbeepbeep... I text my sister and tell her and she laughs. So I take back the nice things I just said about her. I text Shelley, the woman moving in upstairs and she says she will take care of it. And she does. And now I can relax. I sit on the couch and I hear BEEPBEEPBEEP from the back hall. A concerted effort by the smoke alarms to drive me into insanity. But HA! I showed them! It's still beeping, so there!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Little Deathly Humor - part 2

My brother was admitted to the TCU (Transitional Care Unit [aka a rehab unit]) at Academy Manor on or around June 20th. He was put into a room right near the nurses station and we went about the business of getting him settled in. No easy task with Rick.

In his mind, he was there to get stronger and go home. So he refused when they asked if he wanted the television or the newspaper. After all, why pay for those things if he was going to be going home. Now really, can you imagine sitting or lying in bed with nothing to read and nothing to watch? Nothing to distract you from the monotony of your illness? But nope. He was adamant. We were frustrated. I don't know if he thought he'd be in the rehab gym for hours on end and then be napping or what, but he wanted no part of any "entertainment". All he wanted was a phone in case he needed to make a call. Of course, the phone in that room wasn't set up. Now, you may be saying to yourself, "Well, that's ok, he can just use his cell, right"? Ha! joke's on you! He doesn't HAVE a cell phone. For years, my sister and I had been bugging him to get one but he resisted every step of the way. He didn't need one. He had no reason for one. He couldn't use it at work anyway. Well, he needed one now, didn't he?!

The next day, he had some requests for us. He needed some things from home; socks and important paperwork so he could go over it with me. He needed Jeannie to go buy him some new tshirts in size 3x. He was NOT a size 3x, but his midsection was so swollen and tender from his liver that he didn't want anything, clothes included, to touch him. We also brought him his clock radio (yes, I did say clock radio - hello 1978), and we bought him a cell phone and 120 minutes for it.

When we brought all the stuff in, he was pleased but you could tell he was tired. I don't mean tired like "I need a nap"... I mean tired like "I can't take this much longer". His eyes had a bit of a "wild" look to them and he was saying that there was "something going on at this place" but he wouldn't elaborate. I showed him how to use the phone but he was having a really hard time focusing/concentrating. He couldn't really master the whole green button, dial, send thing. Then he asked me how to call 911, just in case. I told him not to call 911 but call for the nurse in an emergency. He looked at me like I had 2 heads. Apparently, it was because of the nurses that he felt he might have to call 911! As best we could figure out, because he was so close to the nurses station, he could hear a lot of what was going on. Add in the fact that he had nothing to distract him (ahem.. tv? Newspaper?), he might nod off. So he might have been hearing things out of context and getting worried. He was really concerned that something "not right" was going on. After some discussion with the powers that be, we had his room moved and calling 911 wasn't mentioned again.

By about day 4 or 5 of his stay, he was refusing rehab. They were coming in and asking him to participate but he was just too tired. And frustrated. When he saw me that afternoon, he said "Do me a favor? Tell them I don't want anything. I don't want them to come in here to exercise, and don't come in to ask me to come play bingo. I just want to be left alone". Now, some of you may be reading this and thinking how sad this is, but with my brother, it's exactly the way he was. He would NEVER be interested in any group activities like bingo or a birthday party and if he told the guy from rehab no once, he would expect the guy not to come back, not realizing it's their job to keep trying. So off I went again to explain to the nurses that he didn't want rehab anymore and to pass the word to activities not to even ask. But although this was very much in character for him, we knew, and I think he knew, time was winding down. He even told me to tell them that he was ready and whatever they could do to speed up the process was fine with him! And I'm thinking, "What, Rick? You want them to come in with a nice big pillow for you?" lol. So yeah, we all knew what was coming.

Having been through this with our mother, we knew that it could take a long time for my brother to die. He was in a LOT of pain and after a particularly scary night where he finally admitted his pain was at it's highest ever, we got the morphine on board to try to control it. But we were starting from behind it because he was so damn stubborn. We tried to explain to him how important it was to stay ahead of the pain. There was no prize at the end for who tolerated the pain the most. SAY something! If you're pain is a 9, don't say it's a 6 (on that 1-10 scale). I can hear him now saying "It's about a 6, but it's ok" when really it was at least an 8. But at least with the morphine, comfort started to ease in.

The Dr came to see him and we were all there. Rick was sleeping a lot at this point and I guess you could say that Jeannie and I had officially started "the death watch". He briefly examined my brother and I asked the Dr about increasing the morphine. Rick lay there, eyes closed, listening but not 100% aware of what was happening I think.

Now, you should know that after watching my Dad suffer with his diseases and have both legs amputated, only to die 6 days after coming home from rehab; then watching my Mom deteriorate fast but hang on for days until "waiting" to pass on Christmas day (as did her own father) I had no qualms talking to the Dr about increasing the drug that would eventually make him comfortable enough to pass away. Neither Jeannie nor I had any desire to sit and watch him get weaker and weaker, slipping into unconsciousness, and taking days and days to die. And Rick himself, throughout the past three years, expressed his desire to not lay in bed and take forever to die.

So the Dr explains to me that if he increased the morphine there would be side effects. And I'm thinking "What, like dizziness? Upset stomach?" HELLO?? He's DYING! Who cares about the side effects!!??" But I didn't say that.. I said "Like what?" and he answered, "well... he would become more drowsy (Um, doc? He's already sleeping 23 hours a day, thinking there's not much room for drowsiness) and his respirations would become slower (not a bad thing Doc cuz I see where you're going with this) and eventually, he would stop breathing. And without warning, my brother raises his hand and says "That one. That's the one I want." I laughed and said to him, "He's not offering that as an option Rick" and my brother replied "But that's what I want". This is the point where I would challenge anyone, friend or foe, to say that euthanasia is wrong.

The Dr conferred with the nurses and I believe the morphine was increased a small amount. And we sat. We watched. My brother stopped waking up and only slept but I guess it was actually unconsciousness. By early evening, my sister, my friend Lianne, who happens to be a nurse on another unit at the Manor, and I sat in the room and talked, just passing time. Mary, Rick's nurse, came in to check on him often, giving him pain medicine when his breathing turned to slight moaning. A few of my co-workers and my bosses stopped by to check in, see how we and he were doing. Although it was a sad time, it was peaceful in the room. Not like I imagine it would be in a hospital, with noises and beeping machines and strangers in and out.

Around 6pm, my sisters boss and a co-worker stopped by. I was introduced to them and they chatted with my sister. These women had never met my brother. I was surprised that both had french (Canadian) accents. My sister never mentioned it. My brother had embraced the french side of our heritage and I think if he had been able to work it out, he would have moved to Montreal in a heartbeat. Anyway, these women seemed pleasant and I thought it was nice of them to stop by. Oh, and when they came into the room, I looked up and saw the cutest little brown bunny in the grass outside my brothers window. I watched it eat a few blades of grass, then hop off out of sight.

After chatting with Jeannie for awhile, Lianne sitting quietly holding my brothers hand and me sitting deep in thought, they asked my sister if they might say the rosary for my brother. Jeannie looked at me as if to ask if that was okay and as I shrug yes, I'm thinking - if they want to go to church this weekend and say the rosary for him, go for it. Ha! They meant here and now! They take out their rosary beads, stand on either side of him and start praying. Do you have ANY idea how LONG the rosary is? Being the lapsed Catholic that I am, I was thinking they'd say an Our father, a Hail Mary and give it an Amen and that was that. But Noooo... not only did they say, out loud, together, EVERY hail Mary and Our Father, they stopped and read each station of the cross. (I think that's what they were - Sister Pauline forgive me!).

Now this struck me as very funny. These women saying the rosary over my brother. Maybe not the actual act of it, but the length of it. I kept catching my sisters eye and rolling mine, smirking to stifle a laugh. I certainly wasn't laughing at them or the earnestness in their voices, but more about how they sort of took over the darkening room with their prayers and we had no idea when it would end. I swear it was the longest rosary in the history of the world! When they were done, we all "Amened" and I thought, ok, that's over with - whew! But then one of them asked if she could sing a little song. Ok really?! You've just spent about five days saying the rosary and now you want to sing? My sister says oh yes, that would be nice. I try to stop them but my eyes roll anyway (I should get that looked at). My brother is breathing/moaning, we think somewhat uncomfortably so Lianne gets Mary to come in with a little more pain med. Then Jeanette, the singer and Pat move closer to my brother and Jeanette starts to sing. She has a lovely soothing voice and when she starts over in french I know my brother would like it. When she's done singing, we all remain quiet, letting the last notes of the song settle into the room.

After a few minutes, Pat asks my sister if my brother speaks or understands french. We both say that he understands it pretty well, yes. She asks if we mind if she speaks to him in french. Of course, we say no, we don't mind. But at this point, I'm thinking, don't you guys have anything better to do on a Tuesday night than hang around in a dying man's room? The whole thing was just really strange. Not in a bad way, but just...odd. So Pat goes over and sits on Ricks right and holds his hand. My sister now moves to his left side and holds his hand. I've moved over to the other bed in the room and Lianne is sitting in one of the chairs at the end of the bed.

Ricks breathing has gotten noisy again and my sister looks at me with a face that tells me she's about to lose it and sure enough... she suddenly bursts into tears and starts... well, the only word that describes it is wailing... she starts wailing "It's ok Rick, you can go. We're going to be alright. Go. You can go. GO!  GO!!" Of course, I start quietly laughing. Not at Jeannie for crying or being emotional but because she's trying to yell him to death. You can't yell at someone and make them pass away. That's not how it works! If it did, imagine how many people would be in jail for murder?! Her outburst only lasts half a minute, then she's quiet again. I give her tissues and a smile and she smiles back and laughs a little too.

And then Pat starts talking to Rick. In French. I understand a few words here and there but mostly I understand what she's doing. She's trying to calm him. She's rubbing his hand as she talks, her voice lilting but steady. Sometimes she gets louder, sometimes she talks softly, and as she does this for about five minutes, something strange happens. Ricks breathing starts to soften. The moaning has stopped. I notice that as Pat continues to talk, his breathing gets slower and slower. Then suddenly, without warning, she looks up to Lianne and says "I think we need a nurse here". Pat moves so Lianne can go to where she was sitting. Lianne takes my brothers hand and ever so slightly, I see her feel for a pulse. She nods to Pat, then me, and says "I'll go get Mary". In less than a minute, Mary comes in, brings her stethoscope to my brothers chest, feels his wrist for a pulse. Everything is silent in the room. Like we're all holding our breath. Mary looks over at Lianne and nods. I look at Lianne and she nods to me and I'm thinking "What? That's it? Yes he's gone or yes he's still hanging on"? My sister lets out a big sob and I look up... and I see the bunny outside the window again. He's there just long enough for me to see him and say, "Look, the bunny." And we all watch him hop off into the woods.

Then it's a tear fest. Tears of sadness, relief and shock for what just happened. My sister works with the French Angels of Death! They came, they saw, they prayed, sang and talked my brother into dying. It was awesome! He could have gone on for another few days like that but no, the FAoD brought their magic rabbit with them and took my brother out! If he were here watching, he would have really gotten a kick out of all this!

So we sit around sniffing and crying a little, talking about Rick. Pat says she just told him that Jeannie and I would be okay. that it was time for him to go. That my parents were waiting for him and that his guardian angel was here waiting for him to go. As I write this, JUST NOW, it occurs to  me that the RABBIT was maybe an incarnation of his guardian angel! Duh! Well, if you believe that kind of thing... which I'm not sure I do - I'll have to think on that awhile.

The priest shows up to administer last rites. We figured it couldn't hurt, right? He's having a hard time reading from his book because it's dark though, so as Lianne reaches to turn the overhead light on, I have to bite my lip to keep from gasping "That's not my brother" when the room lights up. Gallows humor, you know?...

It's been four months now and I miss my brother. My sister still cries sometimes - I tell her it's because she knew him longer and she swears at me. It's just me and her now in a race to the finish. Neither one of us wants to be the 'last man standing". Maybe some day we'll Thelma & Louise ourselves... me, her, 7 cats and a dog - how funny would THAT be?! lol

Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Little Deathly Humor - Part 1

I come from a family of wiseasses. My Dad was a real ballbuster. My Mom, the quiet one, played Dad's straight man but her own sense of humor, if you listened carefully, was witty and wise. My brother took after my father, but with a little more finesse. Dad was the loud, animated "look at me" type, whereas my brother was exactly the opposite, blending in, being quiet and making others laugh with words that cut like a knife. My sister is the comeback kid. She's got a mouth like a truck driver and a look that could knock you into next week. But she can also be silly and kid-like. You never know what she's going to do next, like try to order pancakes at McDonald's at 2pm in silly voice just to amuse the kid in the backseat or blow mini-marshmallows out her nose. Me? Well, maybe I'm a little bit of all of them, I don't know.... But the point is, there was always laughter in the house growing up and I don't remember ANYTHING that was off limits, including death. In fact, one of my moms favorite jokes went something like this:

An elderly woman answers the door and a man tells her she has a telegram. 
Is it a singing telegram?
No Ma'am
Ohhh... I've never had a singing telegram
Sorry Ma'am, if you could just sign here
Can't you please sing it to me?
I'd rather not Ma'am
Oh please? Please make it a singing telegram???
Are you sure Ma'am?
Yes! I'd love it!
He open the telegram, clears his voice and starts to sing...
"Your sister Rose is dead... She died in her bed... she was 98 and feeling great...."

So you see, death can be funny...

Back in the fall 2009, my brother was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer. From the beginning, he knew his chances of a full recovery were slim. It had already spread to his liver and there was a suspicious spot on his lung. When he came downstairs to tell me about his diagnosis, he sat across from me and said "I got the results back from my colonoscopy and I have cancer". My first words were "Welcome to the club!" (I had cancer a long time ago). I didn't cry and neither did he. We talked about the plan, which was surgery then chemo. We talked about time lines and work schedules. All very matter of fact. I teared up a few times, but didn't.

Over the next two and a half years, my brother battled cancer. To look at him, you never would have known. He continued to be his usual self. He NEVER complained. He NEVER missed a day of work by calling in sick, having arranged his schedule so that he would be off on his chemo days. In the spring of this year though, it caught up to him. The chemo stopped working, so they stopped giving it to him. He was a great candidate for some trials out of Dana-Farber but they couldn't seem to get his side effects and trial start dates in sync. A few months went by and he missed a few opportunities for different studies. Eventually, he was no longer a candidate as he passed that "invisible" marker where you're too sick to be a guinea pig.

From the beginning, my brother was clear that he wanted no life saving measures. He drew up a health care proxy, a living will, a regular will (Dead will?). He wanted NO heroics and he said that when the time came, he was ready to die. He was so adamant about it, I offered to kill him right there and then! He laughed and said no, thanks anyway.

So the beginning of June 2012 he was feeling pretty bad and per his usual self, called a cab for a ride to the hospital. That in itself is funny to me. He had 2 sisters that drive and would have been more than willing to drop everything and bring him, friends that repeatedly told him to call, and even neighbors that would have brought him. And of course, this thing called 911. But no, not Rick, "It was faster this way" he said. He was admitted and diagnosed with ascities or something like that and we all pretty much saw the writing on the wall at this point. He thought that he'd still be able to go home and spend his last days there though, and we went along with that, encouraging him to think positively, but with the shape he was in, pain wise, we didn't truly believe it.

Eventually, there was nothing the hospital could do and it was suggested he be admitted to a rehab facility to try to regain enough strength to go home. Now his only experience with "rehab" was from going there to exercise and regain the use of his hands after a particularly bad chemo reaction. So he thinks they are going to send him to Northeast Rehab to exercise and he can't even walk. He called me in a panic, the first time I really heard "weakness" in his voice and I was so glad I was able to talk him down and explain about the different kinds of rehab. I told him that Academy Manor, where I work, has a rehab unit and if he were admitted there, they would work with him just to increase his strength, not to make him run a marathon. And with the help of my awesome co-workers, we got him admitted to the Manor in just a few days.

Up next, the humor of my brothers death...