Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Had a Bad Day

Twenty-four pounds of love takes a hard hit once in a while and for my Big Guy, that hit came yesterday. On his last couple of unhappy vet visits the doc mentioned that Hakeem had a tooth that needed to come out, but that he probably wouldn't show signs of it because animals are stoic when it comes to pain. But I couldn't wait any longer, so worried was I that Hakeem was suffering but not revealing his pain, that I scheduled an appointment to have his tooth extracted. While they had him under the spell of anesthesia, I requested that they also do his semi-annual blood work for his bad thyroid and, my favorite thing, his anal gland expression! How do you express your anal glands? I have to laugh about this hideous subject or I'll cry.

Speaking of crying, I was close to it when I dropped him off yesterday morning on my way to work. I just couldn't stop worrying about how miserable he would be in that smelly office full of barking dogs and hissing cats. He's the sweetest creature you could ever imagine at home, but put him in a vet's office and he turns evil, and he doesn't want to but he has to protect himself, you know. After a full day of worrying about him, I called the vet at the end of the work day and they told me they'd need to keep him a few more hours. By the time I picked him up, he was waking up from the anesthesia and none too pleased that I had dumped him there. The vet tech explained to me that they ended up having to take three of his teeth (!) because they were in bad shape, and told me they had given him a Fentanyl patch for pain that he would keep on his back leg for the week. He looked like an old, matted teddy bear with sad, red-rimmed eyes. Just to make it as awful as possible, they had humiliated him by shaving an entire band around his front leg that gave it the appearance of that of a well-groomed poodle, the foot still fluffy but the leg bald. In addition to the part of his face they shaved as well as his back leg, it was almost too much.

I got him home where he made a beeline for his food even though the vet thought he probably wouldn't be hungry. I know my boy better than the vet does. Hakeem's chin fur was matted with blood from his tooth extractions and he was fighting the feeling of the anesthesia by walking around over and over when he should have been relaxing. A visit from his grandparents yesterday and today plus a lunch time visit from me today have proven that he is progressing well. He's not back to normal, that will take a few days, but he's better. In a few days I will have to remove his Fentanyl patch, an operation that doesn't feel like anyone's going to enjoy it, and I've been instructed by the doc not to touch it with bare hands. It's a controlled substance and I'm told that if I touch it with my skin I will become nauseous. Not so sure that's true, seems to me they're just trying to avoid turning me into a Fentanyl junkie like Hakeem, but I will abide by the rules. Anything for my little buddy.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

They're Baaaack...

I was awakened in the early hours of the morning today from a sound sleep by the sadly familiar scritch-scratching from inside of my home's walls. It's invasion time again. I shall not lose this battle and am willing to fight to the death.

d-CON, are you ready? Dad? Dave? Get your fatigues and combat boots ready, it's time.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Time Lapse Life

It's only been a week since I last saw Lorraine, but in that half fortnight it looked as though she aged fifty years. That's no easy feat when she already looked well into her eighties. For the first time she was in a wheelchair tonight instead of just a chair with an alarm pad that would go off if she tried to stand up without assistance. It's strange to almost be able to physically watch a person age, like viewing a piece of fruit rotting using the magic of time lapse photography. I asked Kollie about Lorraine and he said she definitely isn't feeling well. It makes you wonder if she's close to death or, worse yet, not close at all.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Lucinda Getting Married

First Avenue, the former bus terminal turned iconic rock venue best known for being the backdrop of Prince's movie Purple Rain, became a whole new place Friday night when Lucinda Williams performed some of her oldest hits and then got married on stage.

My cousin and I bought tickets to her show, something we do for all her local appearances, many weeks ago and only recently got wind that Lucinda had decided to marry her man onstage, just like her idol Hank Williams had married a million years ago. Imagine our surprise when the somewhat dirty club was spiffed up with small vases of roses everywhere, staff wearing formal outfits (rather than filthy First Ave t-shirts adorned with words like "SLAVE" on the backs), and perhaps the biggest shock, a bathroom attendant passing out real cloth towels! This was not the same First Ave I was once, long ago, carried out of after one too many Jagermeister shots.

Lucinda started early for her, she's usually fashionably late, so we missed the first couple of songs. The place was packed with well-dressed people, some of whom had access to a corner of the upstairs where only wedding guests could go. We were definitely not on that list. I couldn't even hazard a guess as to how many times I've seen Lucinda perform live, but in some ways this was the best show yet. She was dressed all in black, including a tight, knee-length skirt, and left her usual straw cowboy hat at home for the night. She looked really pretty and sang all of her old stuff that made me fall in love with her in 1990 when I was living briefly in New York City and never went anywhere without my Sony Walkman and Lucinda's Passionate Kisses cassette tape playing in my ears.

After her regular set, unusually well-dressed staff members asked the audience to kindly pipe down as the vows were going to begin. Lucinda's father is famous poet Miller Williams, though I would be lying if I said I've ever heard of him outside of his relationship to her. Mr. Williams came out and did a reading and then several folks, the wedding party, came up onstage along with the couple of the hour. A religious figure of some sort in white flowing robes (sorry, not sure what denomination he was) came up last and the short ceremony commenced. We couldn't hear much of what was going on, but we were pretty certain when they were pronounced husband and wife because the whole place erupted in an unexpected flurry of confetti and streamers from the ceiling. Lucinda then performed her encore and it was all over except the late night Buffalo wings and beers down the street at Runyon's. It's exactly the celebration Lucinda would want us to have for her.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Last Finger Wave

Two weeks ago at the care center I noticed that Albert wasn't around to wave at me using just his little index finger, but I didn't give it too much thought because it's not unusual for someone to miss a meal due to illness. When he wasn't there again last week I started to worry, but couldn't get any information because the two regular nurses were on vacation and their replacements not only didn't know Albert, they didn't know anyone. By default I became leader of the pack, directing portable dinners to their proper owners because the replacement nurses didn't know who was who and would have taken forever trying to read each resident's name on their ID bracelets to make sure each got the proper meal. So I pointed to Gerhard and motioned toward Eileen and cautioned that Mary couldn't have coffee with her meal. I was too busy trying to make sure everyone got fed to really take note of Albert's absence.

Tonight when I arrived for dinner duty, Kollie the nurse was back. I was relieved to see him, knowing that everything would go much more smoothly with him on the job. He was sitting and chatting (as much as anyone can) with Gudrun, waiting for the meal delivery from the kitchen. We reconnected and I told him about last week when I was in charge by virtue of nobody else being able to do it. Kollie was pretty impressed and I was happy about that. Then I meekly looked over at the spot at the table where Albert usually sits and asked quietly, "Where's Albert?" Kollie replied in a low, forlorn voice, "Oh, Albert died. Yeah, he died." I asked how old he was but Kollie could only hazard a guess that he had been in his 70s or 80s. I felt sad for Albert, knowing I would miss his messy bed head and large eyes spaced far apart on his ruddy face, giving him the appearance of a really cute alien. I could tell he had once, long ago, been very handsome, and he had retained that sparkle in his blue eyes that many of the residents relinquished long ago. He was always just a little angry that his meal hadn't arrived yet and liked to call other folks sons-of-bitches and to use other mild profanity. It only made me like him even more. Standing there looking at his empty chair today, I felt sad that Albert was gone and that I would never wave at him from my table and receive his piercing look and tiny finger wave back, but I couldn't help but believe he's in a better spot now. Earth is no place for people suffering the awful fate of dementia. Hopefully, wherever Albert is right now, somewhere beyond, he's swearing up a storm and waving at cute girls with just his little index finger.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Scaredy Gato

A Sunday morning walk to Nicollet Island yielded a nerve challenge not planned as I exited my home yesterday. I just thought I'd take my camera out for a little traipse around the neighborhood to see what caught my eye. I love Nicollet Island, an historic little bubble of quaint homes and gorgeous bridges just a few blocks away from my place. One of the bridges there is an old train bridge, pictured above, that is absolutely open for anyone to walk on. I'm always surprised by this because in America it seems every single place that could pose even the remotest of hazard is cordoned off like a crime scene, unreachable by all but the most lawless of types. It makes me think of the pyramids of Teotihuacan in Mexico City, huge and imposing, with steps that were not originally designed to be steps so are all different sizes and lengths. They are dangerous and challenging, and in America the pyramids would be available for viewing only. However, in Mexico, children and oldsters alike climb their frightening facades without giving it a thought. Mexican women in impossibly high heeled shoes slowly walk up the silly steps and teens scramble around outside of the designated areas. But here at home even a set of stairs with a split piece of wood is closed until completely repaired.

All bets are off on Nicollet Island, though, where this old train bridge spans a small offshoot of the Mississippi River and is completely open for all to traverse. It has no handrails, no "cross at your own risk" signs, nobody to stop you from drunkenly rolling off its wooden rails right into the drink below. With my camera in hand I was thinking there might be a photo op if I walked out onto it, a view of the river I couldn't otherwise get. Turns out I'm a bit of a wuss, because as I stepped up onto the old train slats, I noticed when I looked down between them that I could see all the way to the ground, a considerable distance. I could see discarded beer cans and food containers and the mighty river. I'm a pretty brave person, but I couldn't bring myself to walk very far onto that bridge. There was just nothing to catch me if I were to stumble on one of the uneven old wood posts or if I inadvertently tripped over a large metal spike. I kept telling myself I wasn't scared to be on the bridge, I was just scared to drop my beloved camera into the dank waters below. That may be true, but I'm not sure I wasn't just scared in general. Of course, if a Mexican woman had been there, she would've sprinted across it in a pair of cheap heels and carrying a child on her back, leaving me squarely in her dust.

Saturday, September 12, 2009


Almost everyone who visits the Minnesota State Fair stops in at the Swine Barn, either to pick up paper pig ears for their children at the Oink Booth or, more importantly, to check out the state's largest boar. The giant pig never fails to delight, always laying there in his sawdust, grunting and snoring for everyone's amusement. This year the big guy was more monstrous than ever at over 1300 pounds and sporting a chic black and pink pelt. Deano, this year's winning pig, had a huge head, gigantic feet, a longer than average tail, and two more things that grow to ginormous proportions on a freakishly large male pig, if you know what I'm saying. My mom apparently knows what I'm saying, as here she's snapped looking transfixed by them during her visit this year. Looks like Jude knows what she likes when she sees it.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Easy Tomatoes

Not unlike the times when, as a teenager, I promised my parents I would mow the lawn that night and didn't, now as an adult I have shirked my responsibilities again. At the beginning of this summer I suggested that perhaps my parents should plant a vegetable garden since I live in a place where I cannot. They were reluctant but finally conceded when I promised to help care for it.

Fast forward to tonight when I stopped by my parents' house, one of the few times this summer that has occurred, and didn't water the garden. Again. I must admit, I didn't water it once this summer. And yet they magnanimously shared with me their fine bounty of tomatoes and basil, which I took home and turned into this mouthwatering caprese salad for dinner. While they do enjoy giving me plenty of guff for my summer disappearing act, in the end they still pass along the fruits of their labor. Just like when I was a teenager, as long as they'll keep letting me, I'll keep trying to get away with stuff.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Sunshine and Ginger

For me, the perfect Saturday morning would always include huevos rancheros and super ginger-y ginger limeade and a table outside nestled in the center of the busy city landscape. Breakfast at Moose & Sadie's in the Warehouse District isn't the best breakfast I've ever eaten, but sunshine and ginger have a way of making up for the minor shortcomings of almost anything.

Monday, September 7, 2009

That'll Do, Pig

It's the end of yet another Great Minnesota Get Together and while I don't suffer from the "end of summer" blues that parents do this time of year, it is always a little sad when it's all over. The only time of year when most people can watch a fine pig being judged in the ring surrounded by a rapt audience is over. There will be no more art made from local seeds on display, no more shark teeth jewelry to buy, no more Ginsu knife demonstrations and no more creepy pro-life booth housed right next to the dating service booth at the State Fair Grandstand. No more deep fried cream cheese pickles and cherry shaved ice. No more deep fried turkey sandwiches and Australian battered potatoes. It's all just a fond memory now. Sigh.

Friday, September 4, 2009


Everything seemed so calm on Wednesday at the nursing home, little did I know it would just be a facade. I arrived a short time before dinner did, which always means I have a few minutes to "work the room." It's taken me some time to become comfortable enough to walk around from person to person, asking each how they're doing, giving them a little shoulder squeeze. Even now I don't feel completely natural doing it, but I just worry that the only people these folks see regularly are nurses and that maybe they can use some outside interaction.

When the food finally arrived I sat between Angie and Mary, as usual, and proceeded to alternate feeding them pureed taco salads and apple sauce. They both had pretty good appetites and Angie smiled a lot and pointed to her only teeth - the six or eight on the bottom - business as usual. When Inez's food arrived, she was fidgety and, also as usual, pushed her tray away and refused to eat. This is pretty much par for the course for Inez so I just gently pushed the tray back and encouraged her to eat. Since she is deaf and mute, I'm not sure what she's getting out of my commentary, but it's all I know to do. Inez continued to push her tray away, which then hit other trays on the crowded table, which agitated the girls. Mattie, my Tina Turner look-a-like, even attempted to feed Inez, which freaked me out. Here was a woman with dementia feeding another woman with dementia as if only one of them suffered from it. Still Inez refused and, before I knew what was going on, she pulled off her cheap, black suede shoe and sent it flying across the Muzak-filled room. It sailed through the air for what seemed like a full minute of hang time until it landed squarely on Ruthie's shoulder and fell to the floor. Ruthie was simply sitting there, waiting patiently for her meal like she does every day, when this flying shoe came out of nowhere and almost conked her on the head, and she didn't even flinch. It was like it never happened. I got up and picked up the shoe and handed it back to Inez, trying to demonstrate with my hands that the shoe goes back on her foot, not into the air. It worked, but Inez never settled down and pretty soon one of the nurses had to remove her from the dining room. Inez was slapping herself and rapping on the table top and disturbing everyone. She seemed happy to leave, and so did everyone remaining at the dinner table.

After I had helped clear trays and told the ladies to be good till next week, which usually makes them smile, I walked down the hall to leave. Out of the corner of my eye I saw skinny Bernice sitting in her wheelchair with her head poking out of the door to her room. Since I didn't see her at dinner and she's always good for a chuckle, I thought I'd stop and say hello before I left. When I reached her, she looked like she was trying to roll out of her room, so I asked if she needed any help. She said she needed help getting into bed. Even though tiny Bernice can't weigh more than ninety pounds, I am not trained to assist a person from a wheelchair to a bed, so I told her I'd go get the nurse. Suddenly, without warning, Bernice started to cry. "What's wrong, Bernice?" I asked gently. "The nurses won't help me, they don't like me," she sobbed. I couldn't believe what I was hearing, I'd never seen Bernice sad before and it broke my heart. I tried to convince her that not only did the nurses not dislike her, they really loved her quite a lot, that they thought she was funny and sweet, but Bernice wouldn't hear it. She continued bawling until her eyes were beet red and her face was soaked with a combination of hot tears and snot.

Since it would take a few minutes for a nurse to come as they were busy finishing up the dinner service, I thought I would try to diffuse Bernice's sadness by distracting her. I walked into her room, expecting to see lots of personal effects I could comment on, things like Hummel figurines and fake flowers and framed photos of cute children. But there was almost nothing in the room except for a television, a green teddy bear and a framed head shot of a chubby woman obviously taken many years ago. As Bernice sat agonizing in her wheelchair about how the staff hates her, I asked her about the woman in the framed photo. She told me it was a picture of her from high school. The woman in the photo was probably Bernice, with several more pounds and many fewer years than now, but I highly doubt it went as far back as high school. Nonetheless I told her she looked really pretty as she blew her nose and then, when it was clear she wasn't going to stop crying and out of complete desperation, I complimented her little flat screen television. Through her sobs she managed to squeak out, "It cost $300," which made me smile a little on the inside, if not the outside. I didn't know what else I could say to Bernice to make her stop crying, I'd pretty much surveyed her entire life in less than sixty seconds and had nothing else to comment on in the room. If you think that little piece of information won't stick with an outsider like me for a long time, think again. Finally I told Bernice that a nurse would be happy to help her into bed and I walked down the hall to get one. The nurse shook his head when I told him what Bernice said and told me that of course he likes her. I told him I knew that, but at the moment Bernice didn't. The female nurse put down the meal trays and followed me back to Bernice's room and, once she saw her distraught state, went to get a washcloth that she wetted with warm water and used to wash away Bernice's endless tears.

Once the nurse was there to help, Bernice seemed to let go of her sadness and allowed the nurse to assist her into bed. I told Bernice I'd see her next week and I walked to the elevator, glad that she could forget her sudden sadness so quickly and wishing with all my might that I could do the same.