I'm trying to quit cake. Cold Turkey. Haven't had a bite since February 15th. I tell myself, if I can go three weeks without it- without a crumb crossing my lips, without looking at a new recipe or perusing pictures on Pinterest, I'll be in the clear. That's just two more days away. Everyone knows if you do something for three straight weeks it becomes a habit, right? I know this. It's a mantra I repeat every morning in the mirror and every night as I switch out the lights in the kitchen and head up the stairs to bed..."Three weeks," I whisper. "I can do anything for three weeks."
Then yesterday I read an article in the Huffington Post that said the Three Week Habit rule is nothing more than a myth.
I haven't stopped thinking about cake since.
Posted by Nancy at 3/06/2014 06:23:00 PM
Tuesdays are not good for self-pity. I can feel like the loneliest woman on the planet at 10 a.m and utterly ashamed of myself by two in the afternoon. That's how it was last week. I came dragging into the home, miserable and I left, well, I left more miserable...but somehow more grounded.
My last patient of the day was new and I did the intake sitting on a stiff-backed chair between him and the bed where his wife lay dying.
I knew her...Well, had known her a year or so before- back when she was angry at the disease trapping her inside her uncooperative body. She was angry at her husband, too, for bringing her to the nursing home against her will and insisting they both live out the rest of their days there.
Now she was almost free. Wasted away to a bony skeleton of her former self, her mouth stretched open in a round O as she breathed in deep, irregular, crescendos of sound that are the hallmark of active dying. Periodically, she would stop and every time I would silently pray that this wouldn't be her last breath. Not just yet. Not while her husband sat quietly crying by her side and telling me the story of their 63 year marriage.
"She had a way of making her will known," he said at one point, chuckling softly. "It wasn't always easy being married to Doris, but we made it work."
When I asked if the hospice nurse had been helpful, he nodded. "Oh, she's an angel," he said. "She's been so good to us. But she's brutal. I told her I was praying Doris could get healed and the nurse just looked at me and said Doris had less than 48 hours left to live." A tear spilled over onto his cheek and he wiped it away with a shaking hand. "She tells it like it is and that's good. At a time like this, you need to hear the truth."
I nodded and sat quietly listening to Doris breathe.
I suppose we all need to hear the truth spoken when it's time to say goodbye- we need to soak it in until our minds can make sense of it. We need to let it echo in us until it resounds in our hearts, until finally, the pain of our goodbye is overshadowed by the peace of memory.
Posted by Nancy at 3/03/2014 05:13:00 PM
When I stop by his room, Freddy's up in a Gerry chair- a sort of rolling lounge chair for people who can't sit up in a wheelchair. It's the first time in months, since his double, below-the-knee amputation, that I've seen him out of bed. He's got his new upper plates in. His hair's been cut and he's been to physical therapy and had lunch in the dining room. A big day, surely, but Freddy looks glum. He stares down at the watch on his wrist, the one he bought from the Avon catalog during happier times at the retirement "hotel," and sighs.
"Are you feeling down?" I ask.
"What?" His face wrinkles like maybe he didn't hear me, something he's taken to doing since his return from the hospital.
"Depressed," I say. "Are you depressed?"
He just stares at me through thick-rimmed, black glasses and shrugs. "Well, sure. Wouldn't you be?"
There's no other accessible chair in the room, so I sit down on the hard linoleum floor beside him, so we're closer to eye level with each other.
"What's got you down?" I ask this like I don't know the answer because it's what you do when you're the social worker. You don't assume. But really I ask because what the hell else is there to say? And he answers with exactly what I knew he'd say.
"Oh, I don't know. My condition. Being in here. Where I used to be. Who I used to be. The loneliness. Missing my wife. Christmas. I guess that's about enough."
I nod and wait for some wonderful piece of solace to fall out of my mouth, only it doesn't. Instead I feel myself sinking right down with him because really, what can you say to that? So, what do I finally say in all my therapeutic wisdom?
He glances at the Avon watch, then at me. "Deep subject," he says.
I sigh softly. "I wish I had a magic wand," I tell him.
"Oh, you do do you?" His eyes twinkle a bit and he half-smiles. "What would you do with that?"
"I'd start off by waving it over you."
He smiles, taking pity on me probably and we sit in silence for a few moments. "Well," he says.
"Deep subject," I answer.
This dance with Freddy reminds me of being in church, I think. The priest says a line- then the congregation gives their rote response. And all most of us ever seem to hope for is a tiny bubble of faith to surround and protect us- just long enough to carry us safely through from one moment into the next.
Posted by Nancy at 12/17/2013 07:29:00 PM
I love my new home. I love my new neighborhood but perhaps I failed to truly appreciate how wonderful it really is. Today I came home and was standing outside with the dogs when I caught a glimpse of someone moving toward me, someone who sparkled in the late afternoon sunshine.
I was fiddling with a solar light when he rounded the corner. When I saw the boy, dressed in a little, black, sequined cocktail dress, black men's dress socks and little, if anything, else, I looked away, pretending to focus all my attention on the glass jar in my hands. I used the moment to adjust my expression, to assimilate the information streaming into my consciousness and as quickly, let it go. I looked up, met his level gaze, returned his slight smile and said "Hey."
"Hey," he said, his smile mirroring my own as he walked by, strolling casually down the street.
I know what I did next was wrong. I leaned out into the street, fumbled with my cell phone and snapped this picture. And in the moments that followed I thought of all the things I should've, could've said...
"You totally rock that dress!"
Too much perhaps.
"Aren't you cold? If you'd hold on a minute, I believe I have a jacket that would fit you."
"What size shoes do you wear? I have boys. They left some snow boots here. I know they don't go with what you're wearing, but you must be cold."
"Are you okay? Can I give you a ride somewhere?"
This wouldn't have been the effect he was looking for perhaps. He wasn't searching for a mom. I don't know what he was looking for but it wasn't a mom.
Posted by Nancy at 11/14/2013 10:14:00 PM
Last week he arrived alone for the first time. Pushing the throttle on his electric wheelchair and advancing toward me I thought he seemed somehow smaller. I followed him down the hallway and into my office, took a seat and waited for him to speak. Marriage counseling is at best a risky proposition. Couples usually wait to seek help until they are one breath away from divorce, out of options and seeing my office as the last depot stop before court. But when a couple has been married for 67 years, as Bill and Louise have been, the task seems even more daunting. What possible help or advice could I have to offer?
They had been squabbling, they said, and this wasn't their way. But in the past few months, as the day wore on, Louise would, without fail, begin to snipe at Bill. Bill would react by retreating into his office. Once there, he'd sit staring at his stacks of file folders, all meticulously organized to contain the facts and figures of their lives- past, present and future.
"She says she wants to move back to our old house. She doesn't like the apartment. She doesn't like the woman they send in to help her get dressed in the morning. Even worse, she wants to get her driver's license again." Bill would smile ruefully and shake his head. "She's not being logical. She's not thinking about her own safety, let alone that of the other drivers out on the road. Her memory's slipping. Since the stroke, she can barely use her right leg. I ask her how she's going to be able to manage getting in and out of the car or working the gas and brake pedals and she just tells me to mind my own business!"
Louise, when given her turn, would rail against the rules imposed upon her in their "Catered Living" facility. She talked about having raised four children while Bill worked long hours and how he just didn't seem to realize she was a strong, competent person and didn't need him or anybody else telling her what to do.
"I miss the intimacy," Bill sighed. "It's hard to hold your wife when you're both in wheelchairs or hospital beds. You probably think I'm a foolish old man but I still have feelings. I miss being touched but I don't think she misses that part of our relationship at all."
We worked for months, tweaking, adjusting, reframing, explaining and finally we arrived at a happier day-to-day atmosphere between the two of them. Shortly afterward Louise got sick and nearly died.
When she came back to their upscale retirement community, she was put into the skilled care facility and Bill was stuck going to visit her two and three times a day.
"They won't let me take my electric wheelchair in, so I have to transfer to a regular wheelchair and try and push myself down the hallways to get to her room." He smiled wistfully and pointed to the boot on his left foot. "It's kind of hard to propel yourself with a broken foot and one arm that won't work. It takes me a while to get to her but she really counts on seeing me."
I sighed inwardly and thought about the foolish regulations facilities make and rigidly maintain. I looked at Bill, seeing tears spring to his eyes as he talked about missing his wife. It was as if the years had fallen away and the 88 year old man sitting in front of me was suddenly a small, lonely boy, grief-stricken and afraid.
"Are you sleeping?" I asked eventually, feeling inadequate and knowing there were no words adequate enough to soothe a pain 67 years in the making.
Bill shrugged and gave me his fleeting, familiar half-smile. "Oh, I sleep alright...as long as I turn my face to the wall and don't look back at the empty bed across the room."
Posted by Nancy at 10/28/2013 06:32:00 PM
They say you'll never find true love if you go looking for it and I'll confess, I wasn't looking. In fact, it was almost the last thing on my mind. What I needed, I thought, was a new car battery but what I found in the Auto Department of the Kernersville Walmart, was true love.
I entered the store through the grimy Customer's Entrance of the Auto Department, prepared to do battle because this is what women do when they're on unfamiliar and allegedly unfriendly turf. I was prepared to be oversold and lied to, even though this was only a battery and somewhat straightforward. I had researched the brand, the model and the price and no grease monkey type was going to con me.
The man behind the desk was a few inches shorter than me, with a three-day old stubble of white facial hair, glasses and a friendly smile. He listened politely as I told him which battery I wanted, checked his computer, walked over to the stocked shelf and returned to declare they were all out of that kind but had it's slightly less well-rated cousin.
"That's the kind I put in the car my wife drives," he said, as if knowing this would sell me. "I always make sure she drives the best car because well...because she's my wife." He shrugged and smiled at his computer screen. "She drives a Toyota now too. Took me the longest time to get her to take it too." He shook his head and chuckled. "See, she's short and we couldn't figure how to get the seat up high enough for her to see over the steering wheel. Buddy of mine showed me." He shook his head. "You know, there's a..."
"Lever on the side," I finished, because I have a bad habit of finishing other people's sentences despite my best intentions not to. I nodded wisely. "How long've you been married?"
"Gonna be 51 years next week. We got engaged on April 1st, can you believe it? April 1st!" He chuckled and shook his head.
"Did she think you were kidding?" I asked, forgetting all about the stupid battery.
"Oh, no. She says 'The joke's on you 'cause I said yes!" He smiles like he's the happiest guy on Earth. "We still get along, you know? We talk and do stuff together. We still like each other. Got 4 kids. That part, well, if I was to do it all over again, I'd just have a cat, but we're happy."
"You look like you're happy," I say, smiling at him.
"I met her on March the 17th and proposed on April 1st. See, I was in the Service and I wanted to make sure...So we wrote letters until I got back and we got married. People thought I was crazy, you know, getting engaged after just two weeks. My pals said, 'What're you doing? Are you crazy? You don't even know her good!' But I just said, 'Tell me somethin', you open up a bag a marbles and there's a diamond sitting in the middle of them. How long does it take you to figure out you want that diamond?"
He smiles up at me. "That shut 'em up and we've been happily married over 50 years."
Posted by Nancy at 10/21/2013 10:30:00 PM
This morning a patient I'd been seeing for the past 15 or so years didn't show up for his appointment. I can only remember one other time when he hadn't shown and it was within the past few months. He'd been struggling with poor health for several years, so I wondered if he was sick again and had forgotten. After 15 years, you tend to know someone fairly well, especially in my business, so I just knew something was wrong. I remembered how frail he'd seemed in our last session and how I'd thought of the Indian saying about fragile people's souls being light to the ground.
I didn't want to bother him if he was sick, so I sent a brief text asking if he'd forgotten me. When his daughter from South Carolina called back a few hours later, sounding like she had a cold and asking me to call her as soon as possible, I just knew.
Tom didn't believe in God. Didn't believe in an afterlife. "When you die, that's it, Nance. You're just dust." He said this when his father died, said his father believed the same thing. Yet a few months later, when he'd gone out for a pre-dawn walk, he'd seen his father standing at the end of the walk. "Maybe it was just a guy who looked a lot like him." But the man vanished as Tom approached and while he wouldn't admit he'd seen his father, I could tell he'd wondered.
Tom was hovering between here and there his daughter said. She said they didn't know why he was dying, only that he was. The doctors couldn't understand what was causing him not to respond to their treatment or what had caused such a buildup of fluid. "But they know he won't come back," she said. "He's going."
She sounded so matter of fact, so composed and I listened, remembering the trials and tribulations of her adolescence, how aggravated and frightened he'd been and how proud he'd been of the woman she'd become. I felt oddly detached, as calm and removed as the voice on the other end of the phone, as if none of this were truly real and happening.
I told Tom's daughter I'd come to the hospital as soon as I could, by six at the latest. Then I hung up and returned to listening to a book by the Long Island Medium- not because I'm a fan but because I wanted to hear what a woman from Long Island who channeled dead people, sometimes in Bath and Body Works store or in Nordstroms sounded like. I thought I could use a character like her in a story...because that's just what writer's do- we steal people.
The Medium talked about how people sometimes send symbols or appear as a symbol. She told a story about a cardinal appearing to a woman who'd lost her husband. And while I may believe this is possible or even true, something about her brash, confident manner was off-putting. Like she knew for a dead certain fact what happened and how everything worked on the other side. Like Marissa Tomei in "My Cousin Vinny," only without as much heart.
At 4:30 I saw my last patient at the house and as we spoke, Tom died.
At 5:30, as she was leaving, the woman stopped on the porch and pointed to a corner of the screen. "Oh look," she said. "There's a bird trapped on your porch. How'd he get in here?" She looked around. "The door was closed and there aren't any holes anywhere. That's weird." She shrugged. "Oh, well. See you next week."
I propped the screen door open, closed the door into the house and gently shooed the little bird out and on its way.
"There you go, Birdie," I said, watching him soar off toward the trees. "Fly on home."
Posted by Nancy at 10/15/2013 06:32:00 PM