Tag Archives: Memory Loss

An Unexpected Call

We still have a home phone but like many other people both smartphones and Bluetooth are conveniences I just can’t imagine living without any longer.  Not a day, probably not an hour, goes by that I don’t use my phone to take a call, answer a text, add to my grocery list, search for directions, check email, find an address, update my calendar or, during baseball season, to follow my Washington Nationals.  So, while my phone may be used for many things my actual cell number is provided only to people who need it so I try to answer each call as it rings even if it is not a recognized name that shows up on my caller ID.

I was driving with two dear friends on our way to dinner the other night when our casual talk and Christmas music was interfered with an incoming call.   I paused briefly not recognizing the number, threw etiquette out of the window and with a flick of my thumb on the steering wheel I answered the call with a cheery hello.  I was not prepared to hear the response, “Hello Sandy, this is Annette, a Hospice social worker from Mary Washington Hospital, are you able to talk?”  I calmly said no, I will call you back in the morning, and we cordially ended the call, but my mind started wandering.  I drove several miles before I said that was unexpected and tried (somewhat ineffectively) to put it out of my mind until the next day.

Papa during my visit yesterday, “Look at this Christmas card with my Great-granddaughters.”

I have only had limited experience with hospice or palliative care but know another friend whose father is currently near the end of his days.  Thinking about them I called Annette back at 8:00 the next morning, but even with a night of thinking about the odd call regarding Hospice care it didn’t make much sense to me. Papa does not have a terminal disease, why would they be calling me.  Papa is in a wonderful environment with caring and compassionate staff looking after his every need, what could a Hospice program do for him?  I was wrong, it makes perfect sense, but even after the call I really didn’t understand the importance until I had checked in on Papa later that morning and then compared it to Doug’s visit today.  I am happy to report Papa was bright and alert for my visit yesterday morning!

My first misconception was thinking that once a person is referred to Hospice they have days or weeks or possibly up to six months to live.  Hospice is for the end of a person’s life, and as much as I don’t want to think about it Papa truly is nearing his end of his life. Palliative care is to help improve the quality of care for patient and their family for the time they do have left, even though there is not a number attached to Papa’s time.

Secondly I did not consider Papa’s memory loss or debilitating neuropathy as a terminal prognosis, but in actuality his weight loss and malnutrition are.   The nurses and staff at Greenfield caringly help to feed Papa but that does not mean his body is absorbing the nutrients as it should be.  Papa’s body is starting to fail him just as his mind is not always working in the present time.  Sadly, Papa’s memory was not as sharp today while Doug visited and he had a hard time recalling people and places, even to the point of asking when they brought all of the tables into the dining room he has eaten every meal in for the past year.

Papa is not living in a traditional home environment any longer, how do we fit in the Hospice picture?  The misunderstanding that Hospice is solely for patients and their primary caregivers based in their home is also wrong.  Hospice concentrates on the comfort of a person and their family, not the cure of a disease, but this care can happen anywhere.

It is a blessing to know Papa will have another team of people looking out for his best interests.  Sadly, many people do not receive hospice care until the final days or weeks of their life and miss out on helpful support and quality time with their loved ones. I am thankful that others care about Papa let us know that perhaps the time for is now.  Hospice is a community, another resource we can all use to assure that Papa is happy and comfortable on both his good times or more troubled periods for all of the days, months or even years he has left.

This video was taken during Doug’s visit today.





Pi Day

I am not sure if Pi Day, 3.14, a pseudo holiday with a cult like following, is more relevant to math geeks or bakers but I definitely fall into the later group. Pi day is just one reason (not that I need a specific motivation) to start digging through cookbooks looking for a new pie recipe. This is one of the silent agreements Papa and I have worked out, I bake pies and Papa eats them.   Period.  Papa has never turned down one of my pies.

Several months ago my brother sent me The Taste of Tradition, IMG_7726a small 24-page cookbook that Borden and None Such put out in the early 1980’s devoted entirely to apples, raisins, currents and spices, aka mincemeat.  I had no idea that None Such Mincemeat had been manufactured for 100 years prior to the the printing of this small cookbook, and decided as I was looking through it for a new pie recipe for Papa that I would try one of the time-tested and traditional recipes from another century.  Apple Streusel Mince Berry Pie.

Papa doesn’t understand π and will be the first to say, I wasn’t too good at math.  He doesn’t know what the circumference of a circle is or why someone would ever have the need to figure that out.  But he can look at a round pie and will tell you that the bigger the pie is the bigger the circumference must be.  And the bigger the circumference is the more it is filled with whatever he likes, chocolate and mincemeat being his all time favorites.  I knew Papa would not be disappointed in our Pi Day flavor, however I neglected to reason that by making small pies, they have a smaller circumference and what appears to be less actual pie for Papa to eat.  We all laughed noting that his Papa math was spot on, his individual pie looked smaller than a full size slice, even though it wasn’t.

Apple Streusel Mince Berry Pie
Apple Streusel Mince Berry Pie

As a baker before a math major, I made the decision that providing a fresh pie on 3.13 was more important than a “day old” pie on 3.14.  The decision turned out for the best that Papa had his Pi Day pie a day early, today has been a long day for him sadly without any opportunity to eat.  Unfortunately, Papa was rushed back to the hospital during the early morning hours  and has spent all of today, all of March 14, all of his Pi Day being transferred between two hospitals with another pulmonary embolism.

Papa has settled in his new hospital room, is stable and in good spirits and we are hoping he will be back to his regular routine in a few short days.  Before he settled into his bed, he able to pick whatever sounded most appetizing for dinner and chose his favorite standby, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and, unless they are able to find a slice of pie in the cafeteria, some chocolate pudding for dessert.




Yesterday afternoon I went to visit Papa and was welcomed to a group of fifteen seniors watching and singing oldies on youtube.   They were fascinated that they could mention the name of any musician to the activity director and she would have a video clip playing on the large screen TV in just seconds.  The group was singing and twisting along to Chubby Checker performing The Twist, or Frank Sinatra singing My Way.  They were tapping their feet as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers were dancing Never Gonna Dance from the movie Swing Time and rocking along to Judy Garland in The Trolley Song from Meet me in St. Louis.

Papa was released from the hospital this week and transferred back to the rehab facility he has been in for the past month.   An hour after arriving and settling in, Papa wanted Doug to push him out to the activity room but unfortunately by the time he was processed and dressed the other residents had already retired into their rooms for the night.  It was too late, everyone was asleep so he had someone push him back to his room and went to bed.  I can only imagine Papa woke up the next morning ready to be in the midst of a group.  Maybe now it makes sense that while he was in the hospital he kept wanting to get up and out of bed.  He kept asking who was in the hall way standing around the nurse’s station.  Did he think he was still in rehab? Who is out there?  Isn’t that one of the Fish girls? Why are we here? Who is in the hospital? Shouldn’t I be out there?  He was confused about where he was and didn’t want to miss anything.

Wayne and Frank, 1994
Wayne and Frank, 1994

Papa and one other elderly gentlemen were in the midst of a circle of women singing, they were enjoying pushing their memory to recall music and movies they saw fifty, sixty or even seventy years ago.  I walked behind the director and mentioned she should look up Papa’s older brother.  The next song on the TV was Frank Marocco playing After You Have Gone on the TV.  That is Frank, that is my brother! He has played the accordion since he was six.  It was fun to step back and listen to the comments all of the women were making.  “He is handsome”, “He’s good”, “I like the accordion”, “Do you play?”, “You sure look like him”.  It was the first time I saw Papa open up and talk, telling the group his brother played with Les Brown and toured with Bob Hope.  In this moment his mind and his memories were strong and clear.  The activity director jotted down Frank’s name and promised to look up more videos for their next impromptu concert.  Then one lady, whose social filter has become as worn as Papa’s, blurted out, “there is no singing in this, can’t we find something to sing along to?”  Allison will be happy to hear they ended with Be My Baby by the Ronettes.

Papa is still confused, twice he offered to give up his wheelchair if I wanted to sit down, and when I put on my jacket to leave he asked me where I was going.  He just looked up at me when I said I was going home.  But isn’t this your house?  I don’t understand how a mind can be so clear about some events and so foggy on others.  How can he ask me if we are home and not wonder who all of the other people living there are?  How can he not remember he doesn’t have the strength to stand or walk or know where he is eating his dinner.  How can he have such an inability to perceive social cues but remember every word to Somewhere Over the Rainbow even if it is sung by IZ (Israel Kamakawiwo’ole) and not Judy Garland.  Papa was not the only one who stopped singing long enough during that video to say, man that guy is big!  How can a mind pay such horrible tricks on a person?  Hopefully a few nights of sleep will bring back just a bit of the clarity he seems to have quickly lost during his hospitalization.  But even if his mind doesn’t clear, I hope that he never forgets the lyrics to Over the Rainbow and that he believes that the dreams that he dares to dream, both day and night, really will come true.

A private family concert, Twentynine Palms, CA, 1994
A private family concert, Twentynine Palms, CA, 1994

Frank Marocco:    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RrVidWn75RQ



I’ll be Home for Christmas

Papa came home on Christmas.  Between the hospital and the rehab facility he has been away from home for over a month.  He was excited to come home to see two of his granddaughters, enjoy a home cooked turkey dinner with all the fixings and watch some of his favorite TV.  He apologized profusely for not going shopping for us, as if he couldn’t fit it into his schedule, but of course we were just thrilled to have him spend the day at home with us.   We already miss the routines we have built over the past couple of years.

I am not sure who was more naïve on the transport.  Papa thought he was coming home to stay for a while, sadly he was not.  We thought it would be easy bringing him home but unfortunately it wasn’t.  It was not just the logistics of picking him up and transporting him, knowing it would take at least two people, it was the reality of knowing this will not get any easier.   Papa’s neuropathy and lack of physical activity has left him unable to walk… too weak to pull himself up, too unstable to stand or move at all unassisted. But the hardest part for all of us was realizing Papa honestly forgets he cannot move on his own.  He has fallen in the rehab facility many times over the past three weeks however we thought that was the proud Italian in him not wanting to ask for help.  The moment Doug and Christina pulled into the driveway Papa unbuckled his seatbelt and started opening the door ready to walk in the house like he has almost every day for the past two years.  He just forgot.

Christmas 2015With a little ingenuity using three people and a desk chair we were able to get Papa into the family room where he made it to the closest possible seat on the couch and sat.  There he sat.  All day.  He smiled, he laughed, he told stories about different homes he has lived in and he opened his Christmas gifts.  He chatted with his family on the phone, who hopefully didn’t believe him when he said I’m getting around pretty good.  He wanted to try going up to the dining room but we decided on a cozy dinner in front of the Christmas tree and a football game was probably our safest bet for his first outing.  It was a great day.

Sadly, just a couple of days after Christmas I received a call that Papa was being brought to our local hospital for pain and swelling in his leg.  I assumed he had fallen and rushed to meet him in the Emergency Room.  We were not there long before they transferred us via ambulance, during DC rush hour traffic, to INOVA Fairfax Heart and Vascular Institute.  Papa was diagnosed with severe, multiple deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolisms and unfortunately his head injury last month complicated matters by not allowing the most aggressive anticoagulants.  We spent the next several hours in the ER quietly watching as a team of 8 doctors debated on the best course of treatment for Papa before they finally brought him up to the CVICU.

In the past month Papa has been in the hospital twice now totaling over two weeks, and at a rehab facility for several more weeks, however seeing him today was the hardest on me. We know Papa forgets, we can remind him.  We know Papa likes to be comfortable and is not afraid of telling people if he is not so we do our best to make him feel relaxed.  We know Papa is a bit confused about the many different rooms and hospitals he has been in, and doesn’t quite understand when he will be able to move to a permanent location so we assure him we will be there for him no matter where he is.  And we know Papa likes to look good and even when he is in pain.  In fact, once he was settled in his latest room and I asked him if he wanted me to bring him anything and all he wanted a comb and his Vo5 (he does have great hair).   But today was different.  I have never seen Papa as incoherent as he was today.  He has been poked and prodded hourly for several days and the ICU psychosis has set in.  Papa is sleep deprived, uncomfortable and in a strange environment. It broke my heart when he could not answer the most basic of questions, even though he tried his best to cover.  What is your name?  Wayne.  Where are you? In a bed.  Where is the bed?  In a room.  Where is the room?  In a church.  Maybe thinking you are in a church isn’t such a bad place to be.

Merry Christmas!
Papa has a shaky hand with the selfie stick!

Yes, Papa came home for Christmas and in trying to engage him to talk to me today I showed him some of the photos we took while he was home.  He looked at them and asked, where’s Ma?  This is the first time he has asked that question and it occurred to me that maybe he really didn’t come home for Christmas after all.

Autumn is here but we are not ready for Fall

Leesylvania State Park, 2015
Leesylvania State Park, 2015

On our way to Papa’s physical therapy appointment this afternoon he stumbled and slowly, almost gracefully, fell down in our driveway.  I ran around the car and was able to get him up on his knees next to the car but could not lift him to his feet.  I told Papa to hang tight and I would get Jim.  Ya, Will’s Dad can lift me.  Frantically knocking next door I realized Jim was not home.  Seeing another neighbor’s orange car, I ran across the street hoping Juliette’s daughter was visiting, but she was not home either.  As the light drizzle was turning back into rain I hurried back across the street hoping to get us inside before it started pouring.  I took a deep breath, rolled down the car window, turned Papa around and told him he was going to have to pull with me.   This is ridiculous I don’t know why I am so weak.  Neither do we Papa.  We counted and pulled for several minutes before I was able to get him up to a standing position.  Papa looked at me with sad eyes and diligently started getting back into the car for PT.  I laughed and told him no way, we were going inside.  The poor man was covered in mud but I told him our 15 minutes of pushing and pulling was enough PT for the day.  I might have imagined a little bit of a skip in his step as he made his way back inside, but I know that was not really the case.

I weigh a lot, I didn’t mess you up did I?  No, Papa, I am ok.  I forgot, you got two packages today, one looks pretty big.   Thanks, they are your new shower seat.  WOW, that was quick.  Papa also fell twice this past weekend.  He stumbled once near our front door and the second time he slipped in the shower.   Doug was home both times to help him get up and fortunately other than a bit of wounded pride he was not hurt.  Papa really does defy gravity and goes down slowly if he loses his balance.  What worries us is that these are the several times we know about.  What happens while we are not in the same room with him?  What happens during the day while we are at work?  What happens if in his next fall he goes down harder?

We have seen a significant and steady decline in Papa’s stability for the past two months, and have done everything we can to find out what is going on. Since mid-August in addition to twice a week physical therapy we have taken him to his:

  • Primary care doctor. This was after we witnessed his first fall which produced two black eyes.   He had a complete set of labs, an ultrasound on legs to check for any clots, an MRI to head, an x-ray to shoulder, and a referral to his neurologist.
  •  Audiologist.  His hearing aid was not working properly because his filter was put in backwards.  Huh, I wonder how that happened?
  •  Neurologist.  MRI to his back to make sure no impingements, a referral for PT, and a referral for nerve testing.
  • Ophthalmologist.  A regular scheduled glaucoma follow-up.
  • Neurologist.  Additional labs and nerve testing to show how severe his neuropathy truly is.
  • Primary care doctor. A follow-up to go over the labs showing nothing significant and a cardiologist referral.
  • Audiologist.  I can’t hear the TV, can you?  This time a speaker needed to be replaced.
  • Cardiologist.  EKG, ultrasound to carotid artery, a 24 hour Holter monitor, and a referral for a tilt test next week.
  • Primary care doctor. No one believes me, I am dizzy.  It is difficult for Papa to explain if he is dizzy or if he is unbalanced.  I am not stable, I just don’t feel steady.  The room is not moving; I just can’t stand still.  This time his doctor discontinued several of his medications to see if that could possibly help.  Unfortunately, the first meds that are removed are medications to improve urination meaning he now has to get up more frequently to go to the bathroom.
  • Audiologist.  My hearing aid won’t stay in.   Papa loves Dr. Goodwine and Kelly, he would go in weekly if we took him, she changed the seal this time and promised to make a new mold if that didn’t help.

While It is extremely worrisome for us it is very confusing for Papa; What is wrong with me?  Why can’t they just fix it?  Can’t I take another pill?   He doesn’t want to hear it could be weakness from inactivity, or that he needs to continue to eat a balanced diet to keep all of his strength.  Maybe it is from my accident 40 years ago.   Maybe it’s my medications.  He doesn’t believe it probably won’t get any better.  He doesn’t always want to go to physical therapy but after 6 weeks he knows we aren’t going to back down so he despondently gets up when he knows he has an appointment.  Hopefully next week will be better.

Tonight after dinner I reminded him that a year ago we all went on a hot air balloon to see the shades of autumn, and showed him photos to jog his memory.  This past weekend we went for a drive to a state park several miles away to view the same colors.  Papa smiled, then looked outside and asked, what will I do next year?   I couldn’t answer, I have a feeling there will be many more falls between now and then.IMG_6906

I Shouldn’t Have Looked

I often have to remind myself not to second guess Papa’s actions, not to try to figure out why he says certain things or most importantly not to take something Papa might say or do personally.   Papa returned home from his five weeks of summer travels considerably aged.  He has been cold, tired, not eating well and having a difficult time walking, he is completely unmotivated.  His walking and balance have deteriorated to the point he cannot walk down the hallway without holding on, and walking outside on a sidewalk has become downright dangerous without holding on to something or someone.  Papa is not in any pain but says his feet feel mushy or unstable.  He worries what people will think when they see him shuffling down the street alongside me and repeats several times as we walk our loop around the block that the neighbors probably think I’m drunk.  His daily ½ – 1 mile walks have resorted to me insisting he moves it before he loses it.   

FullSizeRenderVersion 2We noticed something was wrong shortly after we picked him up in Chicago and he stumbled down a couple of stairs.  The next day he fell in the shower and ended up with a goose egg on his forehead and one day later looked like he had been in the ring for a couple of rounds with Rocky.  In a week and a half we have taken him to  see his primary care doctor, in for x-rays, an MRI and labs even though he had a complete physical just days before he left for vacation.  We have taken him to the neurologist who will continue with another battery of nerve testing tomorrow and he will begin physical therapy later this week.  Throw in an eye appointment, a trip to the dentist, several baseball games and a walk around the Iwo Jima Memorial and Papa has not had much time to sit and home and watch his westerns or nap.Version 3

Papa showers or says he bathes before church or his various doctor appointments, and he mumbles his dissatisfaction when we have several appointments scheduled in a given week, such as this week.  We hear the water turn on and run for a few minutes but do not hear any movement in the bathroom during the “shower”.  No sliding of the curtain, stepping into the tub, or dropping the bar of soap, and what easily gives his ploy away is there are no wet towels after his shower.  Does Papa think he is fooling us?   His balance is off; can he even step into the tub now?  Is he worried about falling in the shower like he did a couple of weeks ago?  Or is he just being lazy and it is easier to put on sweat pants and say I ain’t dirty, I don’t sweat.  We need to remind him we have a walk in shower off of the master bath if that would make things easier for him, but will that be letting him know we are in on his ruse? IMG_6447 (1)

Yesterday I surprised Papa and was home by the early afternoon.  I smiled when I pulled into the driveway and saw him sitting on the porch.  YEA, he was outside on his own!  There was no prodding to get him out of his brown recliner.  No bribes.  I sat in the wicker chair next to him and asked him about his day.  What time did you get up?  7:30, I always get up at 7:30.  This is funny to us, because on days I work from home or on the weekends he will easily stay in bed until 9 or 10 o’clock.  To me it is backwards, why doesn’t he sleep on the days we are at work?   Papa’s morning routine might be confusing but it is consistent. We know we have to wake him up for early morning appointments or church but I can guarantee when I get home this afternoon and ask him when he got up I will hear 7:30, I always get up at 7:30.  Does he really get up then?  Does he know his schedule doesn’t make any sense?

I moved on to ask Papa what he had eaten that day even though I knew this answer, or thought I did.  We make sure he has options laid out before we leave every morning.  A banana and some prunes are always on the counter next to his coffee, giving him something to eat before he takes his morning medications.  We have cold cereal, oatmeal, or bagels ready for him to choose for his breakfast and his lunch is always prepared and in the refrigerator.  Of course we remind him, if anything else looks good eat it, and some days we come home and he tells us he had peanut butter and jelly or we see PowerBar or ice cream wrappers tucked in the trash and know he filled up on something else.  We know he isn’t going hungry, or shouldn’t be.  I had a BIG bowl of cereal for breakfast. We chatted a bit more on the upcoming Nat’s game against the Cardinals, the beautiful summer weather and the neighborhood kids first day of school before I proceeded in to the kitchen to unload the dishwasher and start dinner.  I didn’t see his bowl in the sink, or his lunch dish so I peeked out the door and asked him where they were.   I put it in the dishwasher.  I don’t see it, what color it is?  Yellow.  I still don’t see it, the dishes were clean come show me so I can put the rest away.  Papa ambled inside slowly running his fingers along the wall and across the counter top before he reached down and pulled out a very small green bowl.  I laughed.  Papa you ate cereal in that,  I don’t think that bowl will hold a half of a cup.  Oh, I just had a couple of prunes.  I shook my head,  What about your lunch?  I wasn’t hungry, I don’t eat like I used to….  Papa didn’t dig himself in any deeper, he was not happy but he looked at me and knew what I was about to say.  He  sat down to eat his chicken pita sandwich while I finished unloading the dishwasher and lecture him on the importance of eating several small meals throughout the day.   I walked upstairs to answer the phone and he still had more than half of his sandwich left but by the time I was back in the kitchen, less than 2 minutes later, he was loading an empty plate in the dishwasher.  WOW!  Did you finish your sandwich?  Yes, I ate it all.  Jokingly I asked him if he threw it away, knowing I had only been gone a short time.  No, I didn’t throw it away, I eat fast. 

I gave Papa the choice of running errands with me and pushing a cart in the store or walking around the block.  I can’t walk.  Papa doesn’t know Uncle Leo from Seinfeld, but he sure sounds like him.  I am an old man.  I’ll walk tomorrow.  I need a break.  I can’t.  It’ll take me thirty minutes to change clothes. Papa knew I was not going to give in and slid his hand along the wall as he staggered up to change clothes.  I took pity on him and this once I gave him the day off. 

Before I left to run errands I did the unthinkable.  I looked in the trash and sure enough wrapped in a napkin was the second half of his sandwich.  I knew I would find it just like an unused  big yellow cereal bowl sitting in the cupboard , or a dry towel in the bathroom after his shower.   I knew he wasn’t telling me the truth.   Why can’t he tell me he can’t eat all of his meal right now, or just say I don’t like chicken, or I took a nap and forgot to eat?   Why can’t he say he doesn’t want to shower or it is too hard to step over the tub?  Has he lost some of his confidence to take a shower?  Does he not care about his hygiene and is holding on to his last sense of control?  Is he choosing not to eat or is he truly not hungry?  If he is hungry is it just too much work to walk up from the family room to warm up his breakfast or lunch?   I know that Papa doesn’t want to let us down.  He doesn’t want to be a burden to anyone.  Every night as we say goodnight he says, I don’t know what I would do without you kids. 

I can rationally say I shouldn’t take his words or actions personally, but sometimes I do.  I want him to be happy and healthy and active without us constantly pushing him.  I want him to spend time with each of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  I want him to call people to say HI or have the confidence he used to have and not be so quick to tell us he can’t or he is old and tired.  He is not letting us down, but today I think I let myself down, I should have kept playing the game, I shouldn’t have looked in the trash.

Packing for Camp

A couple of times each year Papa travels alone from the East Coast to the West Coast to be able to spend time with all of his family. Papa doesn’t like flying, but he needs to travel by air to be able see his children and grandchildren. We book nonstop flights with wheelchair assistance from DC to LA or San Diego and while he won’t admit to being nervous we can see in his behaviors that he is relatively anxious to fly alone. He even starts nervously scratching and will then blame the itch on the rain, or the sun or one of his medications. We try to make everything as easy as we can and this week created a checklist to help reassure Papa that he is healthy and cleared to travel along with making sure he is well packed and prepared for his adventure. Getting him ready reminds me of helping our kids to get ready for swimming or baseball camps, without quite so many doctor visits. Nana used to do all of the coordination and packing so even though Papa assisted us the last time it is not something that is engrained in his mind.

shoppingShopping: Although he has lost a few pounds and he often says, I am watching my figure some of Papa’s clothes just don’t fit like they used to. We took him shopping not only for several new shirts and shorts but a fresh supply of undershirts, shorty pajamas (boxer shorts), and socks for his trip. Papa typically does not like shopping but hat 3on this trip he was picking up things off the racks and asking us what we thought and didn’t once mention he wanted to sit down. It was a very successful shopping trip, even if he decided against a new hat. Check.

ultrasoundDoctor: Papa had a pulmonary embolism on a previous long distance flight and is now concerned he will get another one. He had a small amount of swelling in his feet last week so we scheduled an appointment to reassure Papa he is good to go. He also had a pre-emptive ultrasound done to make sure his legs are clear. He is clot free. Check.

ENT: While Papa was at his primary doctor he mentioned he was dizzy which led to an Ear, Nose and Throat referral. Papa has mentioned I can’t do that, I am dizzy for years; in fact he has had sporadic bouts of dizziness for the past 40 year since he was in a car accident and had a major head trauma. I notice that he seems to mention it if he is worried or anxious, or if he doesn’t want to go for our daily walk. Interestingly enough I still make him walk and as soon as we change topic his vertigo seems to resolve itself. But we took him in for this appointment just to make sure it was nothing new. It wasn’t, he is clear. Check.

Dentist: The dentist happened to have an opening for a cleaning this week so we were able to get him in before he travels. This created an Endodontics referral, but we let him know we have scheduled this follow-up for after his return. As long as he has clean teeth and is in no pain he is good for the trip. Check.

Subway: Papa said he was hungry and asked Doug if they could make a quick stop at Subway after they left the dentist. Doug wondered why he hadn’t eaten his lunch at home before they left.   What, you can’t eat before going to the dentist. Doug laughed at that and said it isn’t like swimming, Dad; it is ok to eat before you get your teeth cleaned. Huh was all Papa said before he ordered his turkey sub.

Foot Soak: Papa likes to periodically have a pedicure and his nails trimmed. He calls it his foot soak and was happy to have this done yesterday so he would not have to worry about asking someone else to take him while he was on vacation. Now if we could just figure out an easy way to put on his compression socks… Check.

FullSizeRenderHaircut: The barber shop is located next to the nail salon. Papa not only had a quick cut, he also had his eyebrows trimmed; it was truly a “Pamper Papa” day! He cleans up great! Check.

VO5: Papa says he has been using VO5 since the mid 1950’s, and because this is the part of his memory that is the strongest I believe it. Is it just us or is VO5 hard to find? After looking at several stores without success Papa’s granddaughter Christina took him shopping today and they were able to find it at their third stop. Perhaps we should go back and get a few extra boxes. Check.

Medications: All of Papa’s medications come through a mail order pharmacy, except for his eye drops which we pick up locally at our Target Pharmacy. I had ordered ahead and prepared weeks’ worth of his meds for the trip, however the eye drops can only be picked up every 30 days. Even though Papa has a 30 day supply he does not understand why he cannot pick the next bottle up early if the doctor has already sent in a prescription. I went to the pharmacy with him on Monday and we picked up one of the drop prescriptions and explained that for insurance he has to wait to pick up the other one. He asked Doug to take him in on Tuesday and this time the pharmacist explained he had to wait until at least Friday to pick up the prescription (Papa leaves Thursday) but he can go to any Target Pharmacy after that for pickup. Today he was running errands with Christina and had her swing by Target to check once again and hopefully the third time is a charm and he remembers he has enough drops for several weeks and can pick that last bottle up in California. Check.

Audiologist: Papa got new hearing aids months ago and this week we noticed he was saying Huh or What quite frequently. We asked him if his hearing aids seem to be working ok. I think the treble is out. He also says this when he is stressed, but to be on the safe side we wanted to make sure his hearing aids were correctly calibrated for his trip so we schedule a quick visit to the audiologist for an adjustment. Dr. Winehouse also supplied him with several months’ worth of batteries and filters for his hearing aids. Check. Check.

packingSuitcase: I don’t know what I need, Papa said in frustration. Doug and I pulled out what we thought he might want to bring for the trip and placed it on his bed and hung what we thought would be comfortable for the plane ride and asked him to check. After exchanging one pair of jean shorts for another he decided everything looked pretty good, except for shoes; we had one pair of shoes and one pair of sandals and his slippers. What do you think, should I wear my white shoes? These shoes are his most comfortable only because he has worn them the most and they are conformed to his feet. They are 1 ½ years old and even though he convinced his sister on the last trip they were at least 10 years old and he needed new shoes he always chooses this pair first. We have since been back to New Balance to get several additional pair of 11 ½ EEE shoes in both black and tan so he has shoes in various colors and for all occasions. We told him to wear whatever is most comfortable. Shouldn’t I bring more shoes? Sure, what do you want to bring Papa? What do you think? Can’t I just put more in my suitcase? He doesn’t have a magic bag like Mary Poppins but we fit the tan shoes in his bag along with the sandals and slippers. Check.

shopping 2Snacks: Papa has an early flight but we want to make sure he has some snacks for the plane. We packed a bagel, a sandwich and a piece of fruit, he always carries a PowerBar or two with him, and of course something chocolate flavored for dessert. Chances are he won’t eat this apple but he will have some Chips Ahoy or Brownie Crisp crumbles on his shirt when he lands. He won’t go hungry. Check.

Bank: We provided Papa with a summary of his accounts and their balances for his wallet so he knows what is where and his response was the usual what do you want me to do with that? He went into the bank today and withdrew cash for the trip and then proceeded to spend some of it on his VO5 and other items he picked up while shopping almost as if that money was going to catch flame and burn a hole in his pocket. Christina diplomatically reminded him that he might want to save his cash for the trip and use his debit card for his last minute local purchases. But he has cash ready and tonight we will make sure he has a couple of smaller bills to tip the wheelchair driver at the airport. Check.

ROMEO: Papa was able to fit in a Retired Old Men Eating Out (ROMEO) breakfast with his church pals this morning before he flies. There is nothing like fellowship and a big breakfast at Bob Evans to curb the nerves. Check.

It has been a busy week. We have fit all of this in along with a couple of trips to Nat’s Park. Papa is exhausted from all of the preparations and he isn’t even there yet.   Doug and Christina will take Papa to the airport bright and early tomorrow morning for his flight to San Diego but I have the feeling it is going to take him a couple of days to settle in and get used to another house, another bed and different channels on the TV.   After that, he will have a great trip, and packing to come home should be much easier.


It isn’t just doing something that creates a memory; it is reinforcing an event to make sure it stays with you.   Watching baseball almost every night for six or seven months each year is one of the best reinforcements we have.   Papa knows the entire Nationals team, who is playing, who is injured and how they are hitting, or as Papa recently said, they don’t need any bats today, no one is hitting.  He has a framed schedule and reminds us what time a game starts and makes sure he has the TV warmed up and tuned in ready for the game if  it is a day we are not sitting in the stadium.  Sometimes he even watches the same game the following day if it is retelevised, after all, there is nothing like watching Bryce Harper hit his twentieth home run of the season for a second time!

Even though he has changed teams, Papa just might be a bigger fan of baseball than Doug or I ever understood.  In addition to frequently reminding us that our manager Matt Williams both played and coached for the Arizona Diamondbacks, Papa on a number of occasions has mentioned that other players from rivaling teams used to play on the Diamondbacks.  Because the Braves are in our division, Justin Upton was one of the first players he recalled as having played in Arizona.  Now that he is with the Padres Papa wonders how just many teams Upton is going to play for.  Papa might not recall vacationing in Hawaii or a photo of his own backyard so recognizing a player wearing another team’s jersey is a pretty big deal.  In the past week Papa has mentioned twice that he knows a player from an opposing team.  Sitting in Nats Park watching the Cubs over this past weekend he stated that Mug Mon-tee-air-o (Miguel Montero) used to play for Arizona.  It has been several years since he and Nana watched the D-Backs baseball, but he remembered the name.  Nana was an avid Diamondbacks fan and was often on the phone with her sister chatting the highs and lows of that day’s match so we never really understood how much Papa was paying attention to the game.  Tonight watching the Yankees I heard Papa talking to himself, Steven Drew, Steven Drew, yes, that’s him, Steven Drew, he played for the Diamondbacks.  I quickly looked Drew up and sure enough Papa was correct.

Spring Training
Spring Training

This year we decided to start early to extend our baseball season with Papa by heading down to Viera, Florida to watch our Nationals spring training and see a few early games.  Now that the baseball season is well underway we can relive our whirlwind few days in Florida with gentle reminders reinforcing exactly who and what we saw, and along with memories of the sweet stories he told us about his boys for the umpteenth time.

Our first night in the hotel Papa looked at Doug and I and said this is where we stayed last time isn’t it?  Doug and I looked at him and asked what he meant.  Last time we came to Florida, we stayed here, right?  Sorry, Papa we have never been here.  It is funny how a mind can play illusions on people, it might make you forget something you have done in the past or trick you into thinking you have been somewhere you have never been.  Our only explanation is that we have been building up this trip since our baseball season ended last October so in his foggy mind it was something we night have already done.

IMG_5266Just a few short hours after landing in Orlando we were sitting right in the middle of four practice fields watching our players’ jog from one drill to another.  The repetitions of watching these professional athletes quietly moving between the fields opened the door for Papa to reminisce about watching his boys in the past.  When Papa’s recalls an episode he is not just stating a chronological fact as it occurred, he explicitly remembers the feelings he felt, and continues to share those emotions in his stories. Papa has told and retold some stories for many years, reinforcing the same words, the same emphasis, the same hand movements, and the same emotions.  Lately we have really noticed that Papa’s first response is often I don’t remember, so we truly enjoy the times Papa talks on his own without prompting, even if it is a story we have hears dozens of time.  He very clearly brought up several events while Doug and Daryl played ball as if it were yesterday.  They might be ones we have heard before, but they are worth repeating.

Coach Taylor, Coach Creekmore, Coach Marocco
Coach Taylor, Coach Creekmore, Coach Marocco

Papa mentioned coaching both Doug and Daryl’s teams until his boys were out of little league.  He was always there for both of his boys, but his memories are a bit different than Doug’s during the time he was an assistant coach on Daryl’s Pinto team with Coach Taylor and Coach Creekmore.  Papa didn’t know the ins and outs of baseball, he never watched or competitively played any sports, he didn’t train the young pitchers or teach the proper swing of a bat.  Papa was pulled onto the field for several seasons because he was a supportive dad who had a good rapport with the kids on the team.  He was a positive influence in the dugout that could keep the kids batting order in line and, if needed, on several occasions he might have been called in as the first base coach. His interest in baseball both then and now was because his kids were interested in baseball.  He has always been a loving dad, is there any better coach than that?

They boys learned fast, they knew how to play before they even got into the sport.  Well, Doug’s first year playing he stood in the outfield and picked flowers during the games but after that he was tops.  Everything seemed to come easier for Doug, but Daryl worked just as hard.  I will never forget a coach telling me what a smart player Daryl was.  I said what to you mean?  The coach told me Daryl could read the other players, to anticipate them; he knew what they were going to do before anyone else.  He knew where they would throw the ball.  That coach knew Daryl.  

Papa went on to tell us how hard it was that some parents placed such high expectations on their children. They expect so much. They didn’t want their kids to listen to what we said.  They thought they knew better.  We had to be fair to everybody.  The kids were just doing what we told them to do.    They’re just kidsThen he flipped the tone of his recollection and said, but the parents never really gave me too much trouble.  One time a dad was really getting on his son for the play he made and I was trying to explain why the boy did it.  The boy told his dad that I knew more about baseball than he did and his dad should just listen.  I was worried thinking that boy was really going to catch heck when he got home. Sadly, I don’t think parental pressure has changed over the years, but we kept that to ourselves as we let Papa continue talking.

I remember Doug umpiring little league when he was in high school.  One of the parents had a smart comment at every call Doug made.  Every call.  I was mad.  I wanted to say something but I knew Doug had it under control.  Doug finally called the boy’s father down from the stands and said “here”.  Papa held out his hands showing how Doug had attempted to hand over his mask and pads.  What? What do you want me to do with that? the boy’s father asked. Papa went on to say that Doug told the boy’s father, you must be able to see things better from the stands than I can behind the plate; maybe you should be out here.  I was proud of Doug; he never let anyone change his mind.  He knew what he was doing.  That boy’s father didn’t say anything after that.

Pausing for a moment Papa mentioned, Doug could have made it in baseballHe didn’t look any different playing than those guys on the field right now.  He could have done it.  A failing memory offers the ability to see familiar things as something new.  Perhaps that is why Papa is able to hold interest to a TV show he has seen over and over again or to picture his own son as a teenager on any field full of baseball players.  Going to Florida this spring was not just making new memories, although we did.  It wasn’t just reinforcing what team Papa was going to support this year, although it did.  It wasn’t seeing the same team in a different light thinking it was something new, even though it was.  This trip also allowed Papa another atmosphere to replay happy memories of a past he is trying very hard to hold on to.  It allowed him a visual to relive seeing his adult children as boys again.

Papa has already mentioned going to Florida next year and this season isn’t even over yet.  Is it too early to start planning?

A Cup of Joe

Papa has his own schedule during the week; he can sleep in if he chooses, change from pajamas into sweats (otherwise known to him as lounging clothes) and drink his morning coffee while tuning into Walker or Gun Smoke. He is not on anyone’s schedule and can be as fast or as slow as he wants to be. While we may not know the exact time he starts his day, he leaves many signs along the way for us to track his movement around the house. He leaves a crumpled towel on the bathroom counter if he chose to shower that morning. We see a coffee mug in the sink along with a bowl full of water if he prepared the oatmeal we left out for him OR crumbs on both the cutting board and counter by the toaster if he decided he was in the mood for a bagel. We see a green plastic water cup sitting beside the sink with a Tupperware container next to it if he ate the lunch we prepared. If we don’t see an empty container we know he probably made himself a peanut butter sandwich at noon, leaving more crumbs on the counter and a knife in the soaking oatmeal bowl.  I don’t need to dirty a plate; I will just hold my food in my hand. A few times we have not seen any dishes in the sink or crumbs on the counter and had to ask him what he ate that day. He smirks and says, I don’t remember, not thinking he left an empty PowerBar wrapper (or two) on top of his banana peel in the trash. He sets the mail on the kitchen table and lets us know as soon as we walk in the door if there is anything addressed to us, expecting us to check it immediately not realizing that most of goes right into the shred bin.   And lastly every day we notice several new drops of coffee that have been splattered on the carpet or walls as he carries his morning cup of Joe downstairs to the family room.

Sundays routines are different, we are up and trying to get out of the house by 9:00 to make it to church on time. It never works; we typically slide into our pew as the congregation is midway through the opening hymn. It does not matter if we wake Papa up at 7:30 or 8:15 he heads down to the kitchen at precisely 8:55 and asks, how do I look? After confirming he looks great, he says, I am not really hungry and grabs a banana knowing we will remind him to eat something with his morning meds. He peels the entire banana and throws the peel in the trash before taking the first bite then lays the open banana on the counter. Papa walks three steps to the left and turns on the Keurig, opens the cabinet above the coffee maker and pulls out both a fresh green plastic cup and a coffee mug and starts violently shaking his small packet of Vietnamese Coffee before tearing it open and pouring it into his the mug. He fills the water cup by the sink and walks back to his banana. I always look at him and smile at this point and he defensively mentions, the water on the refrigerator takes to long, I don’t mind tap. While I think he does this to save from walking across the kitchen, I assure him he can drink whatever water he prefers. He goes on to take another bite of the banana before he pulls out his daily pill container and dumps his morning medications onto the counter next to his banana. He licks his finger and sorts the pills on the counter by size before he starts swallowing them.   By this time it is 9:05 and he is finally ready to push brew on the coffee maker. More often than not Doug is waiting in the car as Papa and I both watch the water fill his mug and then proceed to stir the coffee no less than 20 times (I have counted), he takes a sip and loudly sighs, WHEW! He looks at me and asks, where is Doug? I pull out an insulated travel mug, pour his coffee into it and cheerfully say, “in the car, let’s go!”

This morning was different. Doug ran a neighborhood 5K and not wanting to be late I knew there was a good possibility we would be driving two cars to church today.   Papa asked, where is Doug? and I reminded him Doug was racing and he would drive separately today. Will he meet us at the church? I handed him a new insulated travel mug with his Vietnamese Coffee and assured him that Doug will meet us before communion and we started walking to the car.

I glanced at the stained carpet at the foot of the stairs as we were walking outside and had a brainstorm, the perfect solution to our daily drips of coffee dilemma.   If Papa used one of the insulated travel mugs every day he wouldn’t spill any coffee walking down the stairs! Why hadn’t we thought of that sooner? I smiled to myself thinking this is great; sometimes the answers are so simple and right in front of you the whole time.

Halfway to church I realized Papa had not had a sip of his coffee yet, so I reminded him it was warm and ready. He picked up the new mug, looked at it and twisted it in his hands. He pushed the locked button with his thumb on his chin and attempted to drink from it using the vent hole. I realized my genius idea of having him use a travel mug every morning will only work if he knows how to use the travel mug. Fortunately there was a red light where I could quickly show him that the lock button faces away from him and he can hold it down with your fingers as he drinks out of the larger hole. Papa took a sip. Huh! This is pretty sharp! I never saw anything like this before.

Papa's new cup
Papa’s new cup

Tomorrow we will leave a bowl on the counter with two packets of instant oatmeal in it, along with his white board with a note saying there is either a ham sandwich or tortellini on the second shelf for the refrigerator, but we will also leave a travel coffee mug. And hopefully when I get home from work I will see the empty mug in the sink along with his oatmeal bowl. Now, if we can just find a way for him to use a plate so there are fewer crumbs on all of the counters…..

Merry Christmas!

Papa loves mail, he checks the mailbox daily for any letters and one of the first things we hear when we get home from work is, here is your mail.  He is a bit disappointed in our reaction at times as we glance through a pile of junk mail without showing the same enthusiasm he displayed when he carried it in. I won a prize! No, Dad, that says you are eligible to win a prize, they want you to order something from them. Well that doesn’t make any sense, I never heard of that. Fortunately between Papa’s birthday earlier in the month and Christmas the good mail has overshadowed the junk mail over the past few weeks. Hooray for greeting cards!

Papa is drawn to Hallmark holidays and enjoys picking out a variety of greeting cards for people. This past January Papa and I worked on a large calendar listing each month’s birthdays, anniversaries or other milestones for his close family. After the important dates were filled in on his calendar we went shopping where he ever so carefully picked out cards for his two boys and their wives; nine grandchildren; one great-granddaughter; and three anniversaries. It takes time to pick out the right card. Trust me, when Papa says it takes time he means it! He reads and rereads countless cards looking for an absolute match for each relative and then starts over with the next person. Papa will sneer if you make any suggestions, is drawn to cards with cats or dogs on them, and will never buys a card that plays music. Papa even gets annoyed if other shoppers leaf through music cards while he is perusing cards in the same aisle. A card is not supposed to make noise. Whew, why don’t they have chairs in here?   He proudly found 17 perfect cards and boasted that he had not duplicated one. He was exhausted, but it was a day well spent.  Success!

Papa keeps his calendar hanging on the back of his door and monitors the upcoming events. As a birthday or special occasion draws near he typically pulls out one of his greeting cards and places it on the kitchen table for a couple of days as he thinks about how he will sign it. Sometimes he carries the card down to his side table and thinks about it some more as he watches TV. After several days he will more than likely he need a bit of prompting to make sure he finishes up in time to mail his letter.  Yes, I will get to it today, I am thinking… While Papa has every intention of writing a longer note to each person the words often get lost between what he wants to say and the piece of paper so he eventually writes the same thing Papa loves you and asks me to help him with the address.  It is endearing to watch him knowing that just saying Papa loves you truly is special and means the world to each recipient.

Papa is hard at work addressing Birthday Cards
Papa is hard at work addressing Christmas Cards

This is the first year Papa has had to think about Christmas Cards and he was excited to give them to each of his kids and grandkids. We discussed Christmas gifts and he had eagerly picked out a box of cards for his 14 immediate family members long before Thanksgiving with the intention of completing several cards each day and have them all signed before heading to the bank to pick up a crisp bill to enclose in each card. I heard his old standby quite a few times this month Yes, I will get to it today, I am thinking… As I mentioned, Papa loves mail and was not expecting to receive the number of birthday and Holiday cards addressed to him over the past couple of weeks so yesterday he decided he would like to mail Christmas cards to other special people in his life also. Back to Target we went to get another box of Christmas cards.

Somehow the time got away from Papa during all of his “thinking” and today as I was working on addressing our holiday cards Papa wandered upstairs and realized he better get busy too. He quickly pounded out his grandchildren’s cards when he understood he would not have to address the envelopes. As we moved on to his sibling’s cards he smirked and said, I need a secretary. I laughed and told him I’m the closest thing he’s got right now, and we got busy. Papa signed each card and I read off the addresses for him to address the envelopes. With a bit of sighing as we neared the end of his list he mentioned, Christmas is a lot of work, now do you have any stamps to put on these. I could not resist asking, Papa, how much do you think a stamp costs today? They go for $0.25, right?   Ya, if only it were 1988 again…

Merry Christmas!
Merry Christmas!