Archive for month: November, 2012

Giving A Cat a Reason to Live

23 Nov
November 23, 2012

 



It is 1 am.  I am holding the plastic IV needle firmly, but gently.. She receives the fluid without looking, as if she doesn’t want to know her frailty.

I love her, but this is some place I don’t want to be.  I never wanted to be here again.  Never wanted to be responsible for someones last moments, days, months.

Never wanted to be holding this needle again. But here I am.  I have seen inside her heart and she wants to live. So I hold the needle steady.

Though this time is different, it is eerily the same.  When the patient was my mom, it was 2010.  We were on vigil, I was on the night shift.  Our mom would die “any moment” the medical professionals had said, and we didn’t want her to be alone. Yet six months later, there she was, watching the the Thanksgiving Day Parade.  “I am not afraid” she said.  Then on December 5, our mom was gone.  On her own terms.

Having been denied much medical treatment, so she could “die peacefully” the doctors said, she fought on. And so did I.

I wanted my moms vitality respected.  She did too.  She sent away many a medical care professional who did not understand.

Every time she rallied, they would recoil, not rejoice “Look, I actually think she is tracking my movements with her eyes.” and
“Did she say something? No, it must have been a sound from outside.”

And this Thanksgiving week, the situation was the same. Only it was a microcosm in fur.
After a sleepless week of begging for the doctors in the ICU to respect the vitality of our 18 year old family cat, Angel, she had been sent home to die.
Every scene was all too familiar.  Rushing to the hospital, experiencing the slow motion, inexplicable ignorance of medical professionals in the”failure to thrive” mode thrust benignly upon older patients, begging for the simplest things: getting her medical history reviewed, food, water, her much needed medications.
Five hours passed before they put Angel on IV fluids, though she came in extremely dehydrated and needed them at once.  The parallels between my mom and Angels peril didn’t end there.

We were fine with letting her go, if we had done everything possible.
But every change of shift at the hospital required renewed resolve, on fragments of sleep.  I had to be alert.
Each shift change issued forth conflicting, disconnected updates.
Some doctors never read her record and made unneeded tests and some overemphasized it
“Well, she has a LOT of issues, so it may not be worth testing her, just let her go,” blaming her age for much of her issues.
They forgot to give her her regular medications, like her thyroid and heart medications, which put her in unnecessary danger.

After being assured that Angel finally had received her heart medications, a scene in the suburban hospital with my mom floated up in my head, disturbing me.  “Let her go.” they insisted. She is in a fatal heart rhythm.  I phoned her cardiologist.  She discovered that they had misread her record and hadn’t given mom her much needed heart medications. “It is her time.” They said, and set my sister and I up with two tissue boxes, and two snack boxes and two chairs facing mom.  A firebrand herself, mom sang and recited poetry all night. Though they refused, I made sure she got her heart pills anyway. It was not her time that night and not for a while.

My resolve was strengthened by memory. So the other night, when the vet told us to put Angel to sleep, “We don’t know why these things happen suddenly, they just do.  Don’t let her suffer.”

We took her home.

We have given her IV fluids, and herbal remedies and protein for her anemia and
most importantly, a reason to live.

Angel is cat who is much more comfortable conversing with humans.  Perking her head up, she spends her days strolling out to the adjacent walk path to talk to every passerby.  She hasn’t done that in a while, perhaps feeling mortal, and weak.  But today, we gave thanks and sat on the grass with Angel as she ate a plate of turkey and greeted Thanksgiving families strolling in the unusually warm November day.  By the afternoon, she had the strength to walk back inside by herself.
When the day ended, she looked different.  Her face filled out.  Like a new suit of clothes.

Gleefully, for the first time in a while, Angel drank a long drink from her water bowl before going to sleep in such a peace as I have not seen in weeks.
Bliss it seems is in our friends. New and old.

The first time my mom was sent home to die, twelve long years ago, and she couldn’t/wouldn’t eat.  She was scared from the hospital, frightened of their certainty that she would die. I had hydrated her, but I was unable to help her to let go of her fears.  Then, came the package from Tim Russert’s office and the personal letter he sent from his home on the Cape.  They had met only once but had bonded so magically, that, as she lay there dying, I called his office, hoping for a photo.  Tim sent so much more. After several days of wearing her “Meet the Press” hat and reading his words to her, over and over, .mom let one single strand of spaghetti pass her lips, and then she ate more and got strong, and had a reason to do physically therapy. She was later able to get out of bed, and live many more years.

Truly.  One ripple can make a glorious current.  Your eyes, Martin, meet a man, then your hand, then your heart.  You truly see him and what happens next  is as difficult as it is beautiful.
Elements do not leave, they only rearrange. So the current you created together, by joining hearts with William, will last forever.

I have helped my mom, and Angel and others by hearing their hearts too.  Tenacity and tenderness is what makes us unique.
We are the carvers of a gentle path by which fragile souls can flow freely and joyously, for as long as they can on this earth, and beyond.

And in creating this path for others, we create a path for ourselves as well.
As I create light based on my knowledge of and frustration with the darkness, I am lighter.
I get closer to the sky.

And when I am there, I know that you are there too.
Then the sky is not such a big place anymore.

Hugs and many Thanks for friendship,
Joan

 

 

 

 

Incremental Victories

18 Nov
November 18, 2012

The first time I saw William, two years ago, he was sitting alone in the dining room. Tall, gaunt and haunting, he reminded me of pictures I’d seen of men at Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen and Dachau. His eyes, sunken and non-expressive, looked straight ahead and he stooped slightly when he walked – something one would expect after 95 years of gravity pulling against the spine. Yet his most prominent feature was neither physical or even emotional, but  existential, as if the forces of darkness and light waged a continuous firefight inside him.  And although no bars or cells restrained him, he was isolated and imprisoned just the same. In the months that followed I would learn his isolation was self-imposed,  born of anger, resentment and frustration, but I have my own demons to wrestle, and there are only so many hours in a day.

Until just four weeks ago, I never saw him smile or engage another resident in conversation. His modus operandi - like  most assisted living residents – varied little from day to day, and over time he had devolved into a group of organs, connective tissue and cell clusters — his only real bridge to his fellow human beings were the three times each day meals were served in the dining room. Yet even then, he would always eat in silence, by himself. Always by himself. After eating he would typically return to his room. Sometimes he would sit in the lobby and read the newspaper or merely sit quietly staring off into space, but always with a sadness he wore like a dark and heavy cloak.

Even his clothes reflected his apparent contempt for himself and the world around him. Every day, William wore the same tattered pants and shirt with a light blue cardigan sweater as colorless as he was.

And for years, that’s how William lived — a sad and broken man who carried loneliness on his back like a heavy sack of stones.

Then, one day, he had an awakening – a miraculous series of events that brought peace and joy into his life like an explosion of wild flowers in the spring – a miracle that began with a simple act of kindness from another resident – and like all miracles, an expression of love.

It all began roughly six months ago when I  approached William in the hallway on his way to lunch. I angled my wheelchair to intercept him as he entered the dining room.

“Hi.” I said, not knowing what to expect. He  ignored  me as an elephant would a tiny insect and continued to stare straight ahead without saying a word. This continued for the better part of five months.

Then, one summer morning, as we made our way to the dining room, and I steered my wheelchair toward William, he suddenly stopped walking, turned to face me and whispered, “Hello.”

At that moment, as I’d practiced it a hundred times. I raised my hand, and to my utter astonishment, he  accepted it and smiled as we shook repeatedly.

Too excited to eat, I went back to my room, grabbed my video camera and returned to the dining room. I waited until most of the residents had finished their meals and left, then approached William.

“As you may know,” I said, “I’m building a video biography of all the residents. If you don’t mind, I’d like to ask you a few questions. It will only take 10 minutes.”

“OK, was all he said, and within seconds I had the camera recording his every word.

“What was the proudest moment of your life?” I asked, and he chocked back tears and said, “The day I married my wife, Elma. She’s gone now and I miss her terribly”

“Children?” I asked, and with a raspy, strained voice he nodded, “two boys – Ronald and Charles”

“Get a chance to see your sons very often?” I said.

He looked into my eyes, and without a single word, I understood the depth of his sorrow.

He then recounted the time spent during the war on an aircraft carrier, manning an anti-aircraft gun, and before I knew it, I had used up my 600 seconds.

It was probably the first time in a half-century he talked with anyone so openly, and as the digital components recorded the event, you could almost feel a catharsis building. It was as if William was sitting on layers of tectonic plates deep within his psyche. And as they began to shift, the structural pylons of a great dam gave way, and rushing torrents cascaded down long spillways.

When I turned the camera off , William asked for tissues as the tears ran down his face.

Today, William is a changed man.  He sports a new set of clothes and his smile is as authentic as it is infectious.  Now, at the end of every meal,  I walk to William’s table to shake his hand. a tradition that has become as important as the food itself.

And we have bonded like father and son.

It has truly been one of the most remarkable experiences of my 62 years on this planet.

Yesterday, there was  a visitor who joined William for lunch. “Isn’t that’s great,” I said to the women I share a table with.

“Not necessarily,” one of them said, “His visitor is a hospice nurse.”

I managed to make it back to my room before the swell of tears blurred my vision.

I know how this story ends:  I’ve been in this place too many times; seen far too much pain and watched too many people as they are lowered into the ground.

Now, I can only wait, knowing that when William dies he will take part of me with him.

And I will take what’s left, stuff my grief  in a place inside I no longer talk about — or search the hallways for someone else to say “Hello” to.

-Martin Bayne-

Saturday November 10 2012

10 Nov
November 10, 2012

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, we survived Sandy. (a hurricane is like litmus paper for human beings and their emotions. Do you want to find out what the person is really like –  just take away their electricity for about five or six days. That’ll do it.)  Our communitywent without electricity for nearly a week. We have a generator, but it only provides light for the hallways. Which means all the 80 and 90-year-old residents who wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, take their life in their hands trying to navigate in the pitch darkness.  I was very lucky. I live on the 1st floor, within 10 feet of an emergency generator outlet. Thus, the lift chair that I sleep in and my CPAP machine that I use for my sleep apnea, were both powered during our power outage.On the whole, I’d give the staff and administrators a 9.0(out of 10) on the manner in which they dealt with the storm. (I suggested ALL residents be issued a flashlight with rechargeable batteries.) We’ve had a number of new resident arrivals in the last 10 days. Ironically, J and W, both 97, are the sharpest  of the lot. The other new residents I met seem to all have dementia to some degree.   The population ‘mix’  has changed dramatically in just the three years that I’ve lived in this facility.  there is much higher level of dementia and Alzheimer’s in the current population. Also, the percentage of men as residents has increased dramatically from about 15% when I first arrived to somewhere around 25% currently.

I was speaking on the phone this morning with Joy Loverde.   Joy and I have been friends for about 20 years  and she continues to be one of the most inspirational and authentic human beings I’ve ever known. I don’t envy her schedule – she’s on the road about 200 days/year,  yet she continues to be amazingly efficient and very productive.

I’m still waiting to see the first copy of my book, Martin Bayne on Turning the Stream of Compassion Within. 

Later . . .

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cognitive Narration

09 Nov
November 9, 2012

 

 

Nelson Mandela, in his 1994 Inaugural Speech, said:

 “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light, not our darkness, that frightens us.  We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous ?

Actually, who are you not to be ? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world.

There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you . . .”

Many of us – although completely unaware of our actions – sabotage our opportunities for love, friendship, prosperity – even good health.

     Why would we  sabotage ourselves? This is a question that sociologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, spiritual teachers, and religious leaders have been asking for centuries – with a vast array of conclusions.

There is a principle, however, that most experts and observers of human nature would agree upon; I call this principle cognitive narrationand here’s what it states:

      We are the sum total of what we tell ourselves we are. And this “telling ourselves” is done through the use of narratives – short stories that, consciously or subconsciously, determine our behavior, decisions, expectations      and conclusions.

 The Buddha stated this phenomenon succinctly: “We are the result of our thoughts.

Thus, cognitive narration is the ‘self’ telling ‘itself’ – or narrating – hundreds of little stories each day. When awake, we call these stories, ‘living in the real world’; when asleep, ‘dreams.’

And here’s another observation most mental health professionals agree on: people who suffer from anxiety, depression and a variety of other psychological conditions, usually play and replay their narratives with  predictable story lines of  failure, incompetence, shame, scarcity and terror.

 In my 40- year search for a way to turn the stream of compassion within, I recently stumbled on the following idea:

 

What if you had the opportunity to literally write your own, personal narration  . . .

with language that reflects a new and powerful storyline . . .

free of self-sabotage, guilt and recriminations . . .

a narrative of love, success, compassion, gratitude, prosperity and peace?

And here’s the most powerful part:

What if you could subsequently publish that narrative on the Internet – an  

opportunity to publicly share your new ‘story’ or narration with others?

Like a marriage ceremony, where a couple publicly share their new covenant, you, too, could also share your narration with just friends and family — or thousands of online visitors, if you so desire.

Keep your eyes and ears open for a future Internet application.

 

Copyright © 2012 Martin Bayne

© 2012 Copyright - The Voice of Aging Boomers