Saturday, November 19, 2011

News from the South - November 19th

Out of everything bad, some thing good happens. So here's the main event: My best friend, Eunice, had joined me in Guatemala City a couple of days prior to our medical mission in Santa Maria de Jesus. While walking in the historical district, and after using the ATM a few blocks back, Eunice's earrings were lifted right off from her from behind. I had been slightly ahead of her, heard her muffled cry, and  turned to see a young man behind her with his hands over her ears, pulling her head backwards as he was pilfering her earrings. I felt like I was m-m-o-o-v-v-i-i-n-n-g-g so very slowly in delayed reaction. Eunice, bless her heart, was able to grab back an earring, obviously the perp wasn't expecting any kind of fight. And in a twinkle of his eye (he looked back with a somewhat bemused smirk), he loped off towards the street entrance of a little indoor mall that I know well. A younger teenaged boy came up, and wanted us to go with him, he knew where  this young man had gone. And in a city where every storefront seems to be inhabited by men with rifles and handguns, or police, I couldn't find a one. Nada. A little, well dressed Guatemalan man came up, heard my statement about the lack of cops this time out, and said they don't do anything anyway. Remember this part too, there's a story about him later. So now you have the background to all things good. And no, we didn't follow the kid either, we figured it was a set up for more.
1. Bagged Out, Part 1. The previous day had seen Eunice and I on tour with my guide Poiio. We went to the market town of Chichicastenengo, as well as to some ruins just outside of the town, where we were covert witnesses to a short Mayan ceremony prior to the Day of the Dead. Once back in the city, we went out for dinner with Poiio and the driver. I never carry a purse, I usually have my wallet in my back pocket, but this time I decided to carry it in my little purple Ameribag, which I detached from its somewhat hidden position on my backpack. Didn't realize it was missing until after we had been dropped back at the Posada we were staying at. Didn't have Poiio's phone number, but he is a Facebook friend. So you know, Facebook isn't all that bad. I messaged Poiio. On the Friday, the day the earrings were lifted, and before we were to leave to join the other mission folks, Angel Poiio biked over from the university and delivered my bag to the Posada while we were out.
Ruins near Chichi.
2. Bagged Out, Part 2. I love the luxury Central American buses!  They have attendants, and movies and food and drinks (no alcohol) and snacks, all included with your ticket purchase. Pillows and blankies too, and not blow up pillows either as offered by some really cheap airlines. Flying should be so comfortable. Oh, and the seats recline with footrests, and have cup holders and over seat trays to rest your snacks on. The trays I could do without, except for I would be wearing my food. The trays clip on both sides of the seat, and feel like they are resting at the top of your chest. If I wasn't wearing a good support bra, the tray would have done the trick. Just saying...
But I digress. We returned from El Salvador one Friday evening, and were getting off at a different spot closer to the Posada than the original station we had embarked on our El Salvadorean odyssey from. My friend, Florida Tom had my baggage tags, the guy back in San Salvador had handed them to him. The drop off was not a station per se, although it is advertised as one, but the street front of the large Biltmore Hotel in the happening Zona 10 section of town. Which is to say it, it is usually a very busy section of town. Took the bus half an hour to progress the few blocks down the street to get to the hotel. It was also college party night, there were formals and informals going on. We disembarked into the throngs of people, and the bus attendant squished himself into the luggage hold of the bus and proceeded to pass bags out as luggage tags were handed to him. I watched my bag come out into Florida Tom's hands. Eventually we made our way to a clear section of sidewalk, and I bartered with the taxi drivers to take us back to the Posada. ($10.00? No way, I've been here 5 times and it shouldn't cost more than $7.00!!! Got it for $8.00, and Francesca the Posada owner informed me they usually charge $15.00!). And of course, I didn't realize until after we had returned to the Posada that my purple duffle hadn't arrived with us. Poor Francesca, another one of my Guatemalan family and my friend, called to the hotel. The person at the other end of the line spoke English, so I asked him to please send someone outside just to look up the road and see if my bag was still sitting there. Nope, call this number (the main bus station) in the morning at 0530, and see if they had it. The office by this point was closed. Francesca, Rafael (one of my Posada Boys) and I went back to the Biltmore, miraculously found our taxi drivers, and were politely allowed to check the interiors of the trunks as it was had been quite dark outside, but nothing. I was going for a volcano hike the following morning, so being up early was not a problem for the phone call to the bus company. I gave the number to my other Posada Boy, or rather Angel, Nilo. At first he couldn't get through. By this point, I had written off my bag, which had all of my personal clothing in it. I still had the important stuff - the mission clothes had been left at the Posada for laundering between missions, and my hair product had been in the other bag that made it with me. Out the blow dryer, though, but I borrowed one at the Posada so I could look my best huffing and puffing up the volcano. And lo and behold, a knock at the bedroom door, can't remember which one of my angels delivered me the good news, but the bus company had my bag, had discovered it still sitting lonely next to the bus, tags intact. So they just heaved it back on and held onto it until the forgetful owner showed up. I swear I had rolled it with us, but evidently not. And once again, Poiio kindly stopped with me to pick it up on the way to the volcano. 
I was feeling like a dumb cluck after all my losses.

3. What's In Your Wallet? I think for me, should be what's in your head, because brains didn't seem to be taking up much space. I left Guatemala for Cancun on the Sunday. We were a little less than halfway to the airport, cab driver Raul, Nilo from the Posada, and me, when the Posada called Raul and informed him I had left my computer adapter back at the Posada. Graciously Raul returned, Rafael handed me the adapter,and we were once again on our way to the airport. I pulled out a few more quetzales from my wallet for Raul's extra trouble. Proceeded to the American Airlines counter. And realized I had no wallet. No money. No way to get it on time to make my flight. American wouldn't call the Posada for me, they pointed me to the pay phones. I had no change. I was in front of the shoe shine stand, I scrounged an American dollar from the little purple bag, gave it to one of the guys for  a 1 quetzal bill, and .75 quetzales in change. Just so you know, there's about 7.5 quetzales in $1 USD. I tried calling. Unable to get through. Tried again, unable to get through. Tried again, this time the change portion wasn't returned when I couldn't get through. Begged one of the shoe shiners to call for me on his cell. Unable to get through. Tried the phone again. Lost the last of my change, and still unable to get through. I turned around, and just said aloud, "I think I'm going to cry." Perched on the upper tier of the shoe shine station, receiving a spit and a polish, was Guapo Guy. My new super hero. He asked what was wrong, his shoe shine guy explained it all to him in Spanish. Guapo Guy pulled out his wallet and gave me what I needed to get to Mexico with. He is Guatemalan by birth, but now is a fellow Canuck, calling Montreal home. Elated, I thanked him profusely and paid the baggage fee, and was on my way to my flight. I already had my plans in mind how I was going to manage in Mexico. I had a bunch of pesos with me from July's trip, my passport had never been lost, so I would have the Posada, once I got a hold of them, courier my wallet home, and I would hit up my daughter for a Western Union moneygram. Ahead of me at security was Guapo Guy, and he walked with me to the boarding gate, he was on his way home to Canada via the same Miami bound flight as me. He got out his cell, and was able to contact Rafael at the Posada. Rafael was going to contact Mr. Raul and see if my wallet was still in the cab. I  harboured fears of the wallet having fallen off my lap while getting out of the cab, lost forever. In the meantime, Guapo Guy was hungry, and offered to buy me lunch, which I declined, he had been so generous already. He told me he was at least going to buy me a coffee, and went away. About 15 minutes later, just before the pre-boarding announcement, I heard my name on the overhead. I honestly thought for a second, this is not the time for an upgrade. And there they had it. My wallet. Mr. Raul and Nilo got the wallet to the airport, and American got it to me. And Guapo Guy was making his way back. With my coffee, and pizza to share with me. 
4. What's In Your Wallet Now? Not the American Express card, when I left it at Nathan's in Miami when I picked up a sauerkraut hotdog on the way to my Cancun flight. I heard the clipping of little tiny heels, and a little tiny voice behind me as I was racing to the already boarding flight, "Excuse me! Excuse me!" I turned around to a little tiny lady, who told me I had left my credit card back at the counter. Dashed back for the rescue, and I was on my way to Cancun.
5. Now Really, What Is In Your Wallet? Not the Visa card. As communicated to me by Florida Tom via e-mail, once I had made it to my hotel in Playa Del Carmen. After the volcano hike, Poiio and I had gone back to the same Mexican restaurant for dinner that we had eaten at the week before. And look who should be there but Florida Tom and Texas Ron, our (Eunice and me) travel buddies in El Salvador. I paid with my credit card, and left it there. In Central America, they bring you the bill to sign without your credit card, I guess to compare signatures, unlike here in North America, where your card is returned at the same time as you sign your bill. The night I left for Cancun, Florida Tom and Texas Ron returned to Los Cebollines, the  Angel Waiter recognized them, gave them my card and my bill. Yesterday, my card arrived by mail, sent by Angel Tom.
There is nothing so bad that a cerveza with friends
cannot fix..
6. It's a Small World. Guatemala City I believe has about 2.5 million inhabitants. And so imagine my surprise when I thought I recognized the little, well dressed Guatemalan man when Eunice had her earrings lifted. The ATMs I was familiar with in previous years had been moved to the pedestrian mall prior to my visit to Guate last year. I met up with a little, well dressed Guatemalan man who took me to the relocated ATM I was looking for, and eventually took me to couple of sites I hadn't seen near the historical district. He was in the city for a dental appointment in the afternoon, but the bus had dropped him off in the morning, he was from out of town. He walked me back to the Posada, and of course hit me up for some cash so he could buy a meal. I gave it to him, figuring I might have been a little bit had. But, his company had been enjoyable, and I had seen a couple of things I hadn't in previous visits. The next day on my morning walk, we came upon each other again, apparently the appointment had been canceled,  blah blah, blah. I gave him more quetzales, laughing, and told him if I saw him the next day I wasn't giving him anything more. We went for a cerveza, and that was the last I saw of him, my Teacher Mario.
Once I told Eunice that story after her earrings had been taken, I was pretty sure that the little, well dressed Guatemalan man was the same person, we had a little chuckle over it, because the man and I had both eye balled each other, and not said a thing as I guess we both had dusty hamster wheels turning in our heads.
The morning of the day I left Guate, I went to Mass, and Florida Tom and Texas Ron went out to the Central Square market. We met back at the Posada for a farewell cerveza. Florida Tom had come back early, leaving Texas Ron to his own devices. He met up with a little, well dressed Guatemalan man, who took him a couple of places, and whom Texas Ron bought coffee for. And once Ron told him my name during the course of their conversation, he told Texas Ron to tell me that Teacher Mario said "Hello."
And that is why I have Angels on my shoulders, and horseshoes where the sun doesn't shine.

Friday, October 14, 2011

News from the North - October 14th

Today I am cooking for my brother. He and my Sister -in-law plus the Bean, the Computer Geek and the Humvee are coming to the Broom Closet for dinner tomorrow. I am trying to pay a small homage to my Ma by cooking some of our favourites. Already I can hear her voice. First off was the chocolate cake, one that she described as doable with her hands tied behind her back, which was likely very true. The problem with my Ma's written recipes is that she always tweaked them herself, and somehow would always forget to tell me about them, and of course, never wrote anything down. How proud I was of myself for remembering the "tweak" in the cake - if something didn't call for salt, especially in baking, she would always add a dash. And so I did, merrily put the cake in the oven, then remembered the other tweak for the recipe, the capful of vanilla extract - never the phony stuff, has to be real. The buttercream icing I will make from scratch, there is no recipe, just a bunch of butter (never margarine!), a lot of icing sugar and cocoa, and the capful of real vanilla, and a few grains of salt. A spoonful of strong coffee if I have it. All done with the dip and taste methodology to perfection.
Next is the pirohy, perogies to the non Ukes in the bunch. I remember last making them about twenty years ago, and do you know what her complaint was then? I used Yukon Gold potatoes instead of plain white. Nothing about the taste, just that the potatoes were wrong. This time I bought white because they were on sale, they are happily boiling on the stove right now, very important to salt the cooking water correctly as they just don't taste the same if you have to salt them after cooking, although a little correction is fine. But I am still going to make them yellower than usual because I use Omega eggs that sport a rich yellow colour. And how difficult was it to find the  full fat dry curd cottage cheese for this? Four major stores later, that's how. For a once in a 20 year feat, you cannot use 0.5% fat dry pressed cottage cheese. My Ma would be turning over in her grave if I even considered making this a low fat option. And the idea is that she rest in peace. Now the dough recipe comes from a little sort of contest in small town Saskatchewan, where my Father was born. At every church function, dozens of different pirohy would show up, some were good, some were like eating bullets. So one night they all cooked and presented their pirohy, and when the best dough was determined, everyone had to use that recipe to make consistently good pirohy. I have that recipe. I can't make pie crust to save me arse, but one compliment my Ma gave me is that I made the best pirohy dough, even though she used the same recipe. We'll just see if I can repeat that today. I have her bread board, I don't have her rolling pin. I bought one last night, intending to buy a simple (read: cheap) marble one for $9.99 at Walmart. Came home with the Oxo cadillac at $39.99 plus HST from Home Outfitters. I'm still shaking my head. But, it's non-stick, ergonomic, and you don't scrape your knuckles on the counter as the handles always stay right side up. Uh huh. Technology these days. Oh, and a hole in one of the handles so you can "conveniently" hang it up. I think under the bed is better, more of an element of surprise to any inturders.
The last is the borscht, and even my Ma succumbed to convenience on this one. After bunches of beets that wouldn't boil up regardless of how little or how big, or how old or how young, my Ma turned to canned beets, and they certainly make for a quicker soup. Again I last made this many years ago, following her recipe, which is basically a list of ingredients, and all I got was "it's okay." When I asked what was wrong with it, she just simply said "Well, you know, you did your best." And to this day, I don't know of any tweaks except may be the love she put into it, and how can I replicate that? I had thought it was pretty good. And of course, it still to this day requires the addition of full fat sour cream, low fat doesn't cut it in a vegetable soup. What might have her turning to her side in her grave is the fact that I will use vegetable stock for the vegetarian in the Bean, and not a good homemade chicken stock. Bought to boot, organic and low sodium. That I will tweak as well. And you know what happens when you tweak things, you never make it the same way twice.
And that is my little world today. On Wednesday I am off to my beloved Guatemala for a medical mission, El Salvador for a beer break, and Mexico for another mission.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Slice of Life: News From the North, and a Little From the South - September 5th

It has been awhile again. Why? I have had computer access that actually works in the poorest of nations that I have visited, including Sierra Leone which was billed as the second poorest country in the world at that time. And here in northern Canada? Not much for almost a month. To qualify that a bit, and to give the powers that be their due, the first two weeks or so of this rotation were spent in the high school gym because of encroaching forest fires. I think the station actually had some minor damage. We were still allowed to sleep at the clinic residence when not on call. So no computer in either place. Until our phones at the gym pooped out. Then we got a couple of  Roger's cell phones. I love pressing buttons,  so I pressed enough oddball icons (I'm a somewhat disgruntled Telus customer) until I figured out I could access my e-mail from the phone. I at least was able to check my e-mail, but my thumbs are primed for iPhones, not whatever brand of the day we had. So I didn't send much off.
So there's my excuse.
I was on a medical mission, in Mexico, prior to this stint. The Chiapas region has some of the most beautiful land in the world I have ever seen. When you drive into the mountains, you become one with the clouds. It is breathtaking. When you drive on the switch back roads, it is breathtaking as well, as in "Holy s***! Look at the size of that boulder in the middle of the road! That wasn't there yesterday!!!" Gut wrenching at times too, as in "STOP THE CAR!!! I'M GONNA HURL!" Not me, but a few of my amigos. Gravol was king of the road.
Our accommodations were top notch for the little town we were in. We had a room air conditioner, thankfully, because it was so very hot in the evening, and the only window out was about 180 feet off the floor and just big enough for a canary to see out from, if we had one. An interior window opened to the equally hot hallway. I have roughed it in a few places, and this place wasn't  horrible, except, this is Mexico. So quite a few folks fell prey to Montezuma's Revenge. And the bathrooms in the rooms sported only shower curtains for doors, so you couldn't even pretend that no one knew what you were doing in there 4 or 5 times a night.
The last evening in Copainala found a few of us missing the post mission cervezas, so we went on a mission of our own to find a spot near the town square to toast our accomplishments. So we could walk home. The little spot with the cute patio overlooking the happenings? Dry. The only nice place was a cab ride away. We were then directed to a little cantina about a hundred yards down a dark road. The patio proprietors assured us it wasn't very nice, but we went anyway. We just wanted a beer.. How bad could it be???
Omar, my partner in crime.
 The bar was an open air little place, with a palapa-style roof. We were greeted by a drunk holding a jug, if I am not mistaken, and speaking a Spanish slurry. There were less than ten people, all locals, and only one kind of cerveza, one litre bottles of Sol. There was entertainment, a guy with one of those one man band keyboards, and he wasn't all that bad. The chairs were your cheap plastic patio chairs, and we found a table with three of them. Before we could sit down, a very obviously drunk woman came over and tried to take my chair, which I grabbed back, and parked my behind in. That should have been clue number one. That she grabbed a chair elsewhere and parked herself beside me should have been clue number two. In fact I had many clues, and as the senior missionary on this little jaunt with a couple of medical students as my escorts, I should have recognized them. But there I was, oblivious for quite the while. Like when she told me I was "guapa", pretty, in Spanish. Even though I was with two young male medical students, one who is from Mexico. Then she poked me on the arm a couple of times. One of the students, Mark, asked my other student, Omar, who is from Mexico, to ask her if she liked girls. Now folks, that should have really clued me in to what was going on, but all I thought was, why would he want to ask him to ask her that? We had ordered 1 cerveza for our little toast, with three glasses of course, then the senorita grabbed Omar's glass, well, plastic cup, and was going to swig out of that. I grabbed it back and set it back to Omar. In Spanish, she said that there were no more good looking girls in Chiapas, and I received a few more shoulder strokes and an invitation back to her ranch for drinks. If I had moved any closer to Omar, I would have been on the other side of him. My brain finally hooked up its wires properly. In my pitiful Spanish, I old her the guys were my boyfriends, that I liked MEN, including the younger ones. That didn't stop her. In the meantime, some other happy patron tried to pick a fight with Mark, who was innocuously drinking his beer. Another patron intervened. Omar, ever the gentleman, informed the senorita that we were Catholic medical missionaries, you know how the truth will always set you free. Right. It didn't. Mark's amigo tried again to pick a fight, the other patron intervened again, physically (no punches, I swear!), the senorita was getting upset because we had been laughing, then grabbed our lonely bottle of cerveza and starting drinking from it. She calmed down, we quickly finished what was in our glasses, and left, but not before the senorita tried to buy another round. She reached into her ample cleavage to retrieve her money, giving me a show that is unfortunately burned into my memory. And the inebriated soul was still outside with a cup this time. And that is why they don't let us loose.
The absolute impossible happened on my way out to work this time. I missed my flight. In 50 something years of travel, I have never missed a flight. I had the 0640 flight to Winterpeg, the alarm was set for 0300. In a flash of organizational productivity, I had totally packed my suitcase the night before. All I had to do was pack my cooler in the morning. The alarm went off. Actually, two of them, the one from the Ridiculously Expensive Alarm Clock Known as the iPhone, and the most annoying buzz in the world from my home alarm. Both got turned off for the extra five minutes of sleep. I woke up at 0540. No food packing, no shower, nada. I made it to the airport by six, and just missed the cut off for catching my flight. A few f-sharps and $150 later, I had secured a seat on the next flight, which would still get me to Winnipeg on time for the puddle jumper out here. And as I sat down to a breakfast of grease at Coyote Jack's, I watched as the last folks boarded my original flight. That the puddle jumper folks almost didn't let me on the flight to St. Theresa's had me fit to be tied. They said I was late, even though they had two flights scheduled to go at the same time. Graciously, they gave me a seat on the second flight. My fellow nurses were on the first one, and left promptly, non stop, at the scheduled time. My flight boarded 20 minutes later. And I arrived here before they did. I don't get it. It's the north.
I was pleased to find some of the office staff had taken up golf while working at the gym. That was for but a brief moment, until I realized they were trying to get the mouse. It ran behind the photocopier.
The gym was interesting to work in. The walls around the two stretchers were velcro-ed gym mats. One stretcher had no brakes. One night we ran out of oxygen in the big portable tank, while bagging a little girl who wasn't breathing. The spare was at the other end, and somehow the dolly to help transport it was MIA. A rather looming kind of man, a relative, just bear-hugged the new one, and with Superman-like strength and speed, picked the thing up like it was a toothpick and brought it to us. The child was shipped out, and is back home now, laughing and skipping and jumping around. Wonders never cease in this job.
We are now in the new residence, spiffy-do, it is. I'm still looking for the fan in the bathroom, in a place where mould is the most common form of wildlife. I went to use the microwave, and it wouldn't work. It is in a little box type open shelf at face height. I knew if I got the thing out and down that I would never get it back up. And so with moves that could grace a Cirque du Soleil performance, I managed to teeter the thing on my shoulder, and inadvertently, my head, while using two fingers to unwind the damned twist tie that held the tightly coiled cord on the back of the stupid microwave, and then clawed my way to the outlet behind it, without electrocuting myself.
Can anyone explain the "Dream Machine" alarm clock? It's got time zones! Some bright person, likely a man, threw out the instructions, and there are six of us nurses in the building, and no one can figure the dang thing out. Dream? Dream on, it's a bloody nightmare, that's what it is. Thank goodness for the Ridiculously Overpriced Alarm Clock Known as the iPhone. Provided you get up when it goes off.
And that is my world for now.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

July 31st

It's been awhile, so I am behind on my musings. For now, two blonde moments from the Great White North (GWN) prior to my mission.
I had an ankle to xray, a strapping young lad at that. I did the films, which have to be manually developed. Away I went. The door to the darkroom was difficult to close, requiring a fair amount of force. But I did it. Fed the exposed films into the machine, refilled the cassettes, then realized that I had locked myself in the darkroom. The door would not open. Let me tell you, how the F-sharps were flying as I hurled myself against the door with my uninjured shoulder, each one a little louder than the last. On my last attempt, the door opened in just as I was throwing my last bit of energy towards it. I had been trying to open the door... out. And it was my poor patient, with a huge grin, who rescued me.
My departure day. No check in required, I was flying the bush plane, the airport was just a formality. As my driver and I were waiting for the plane to land (where's Tattoo?), I sipped my tea from my non-drip cup, and dripped tea all over my white shirt. After a quick glance around, I zipped to my duffel in the back of the pick up. Picked out a relatively clean shirt. Then opened the doors of the front and the back of the cab so that the other waiting locals wouldn't see much as I changed shirts. The driver, if he wished, would see quite a bit. And that's when he said, "Um, there's a washroom inside, you can change there." The airport was open. I don't think I will be forgotten there soon.
My friends on Facebook, pardon for the repeat. For the rest of you, to laugh at yourself is to enjoy life to the fullest.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Slice of Life: Happy Birthday Helen - March 26th

My Mom turned 87 on the 19th of March, still in the hospital, creeping ever so slowly towards death. We decided to have a small celebration, considering that we thought she wasn't going be here by this point. My Mom was a great cook before she decided to hang up those apron strings, "I'm too old", but her cakes were second to none. In light of many bedside conversations about the "old" days when she baked cakes for church functions and her lady prayer partners, she spoke of her Springtime Chiffon Cake as being one of her favourite cakes, and it certainly is one of mine. So I dragged out my handy dandy Kitchen Aid stand mixer, and made her the cake, a light, 3-tiered lemony concoction, filled with lemon curd and frosted with an ethereal mixture of whipped cream and some more lemon curd, and a blanket of shredded coconut. It is a divine cake. My first mistake was in the choice of baking pans. It needs to be baked in an ungreased angel pan, which I didn't have. I have a non-stick pan, which if you grease, then flour, gives the eggy batter something to cling to. However, try to invert that after baking so that you keep the height, and you will have a disaster. So I cooled the thing in the pan, which resulted in a flattened cake with a waist line where it collapsed. Undaunted, I made the lemon curd, and of course for whatever reason, I could not find the instructions. I remembered the "decrease" by 1/2" pertaining to water, so that's what I did, decreased the water from 2 cups to 1 cup, and after it was cool and congealed, found the recipe, which said to decrease the water by 1/2 cup. Out with the boiling water, and the hand blender, but then I had a runnier curd that wouldn't firm up the same way as if I had added the correct amount of water in the first place. When I folded the required amount into the whipped cream, it was a bit soft, but no matter. I filled, frosted, and coconut-ed the cake, and other than being a a bit vertically challenged, it looked beautiful. The cream icing sagged a wee bit, but it nicely settled into the waist, where the cake would settle on me. I took it and a bottle of the wine my Mom has been drinking for years, unopened, from her fridge, to the hospital. I figured we really needed to celebrate. We even had an extra guest, the lady in the bed next door, on the other side of the curtain. She was no bother, really. She was dead.
After a swig of the Banrock Station non-oaked Chardonnay, my Mom decided it wasn't her wine. I showed her the bottle, of course partook of it myself, but, "I don't care what it says on the bottle, it's not my wine." Okay. Then for the cake. "This isn't like my cake." Well, anything of hers that I have ever tried to make is never 100% like hers. For one thing, she frequently tweaked recipes, and would neglect, not on purpose, to tell me about the tweaks. However, being a veteran cake baker, I knew her changes to this one. So, wanting to hear what I hadn't done, I asked.
"It's not chocolate."
And so the Hurricane blows on, sometimes a Category 5, other times just a tropical storm. Bless her little 87 year old heart.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

January 18th

Dying sucks. Try dying with dementia of any type, deafness and cancer. Try being one of those looking after said person. For all involved, it isn't pretty.
God has reversed my Mom's train, and trust me, I don't wish her dead. I think He and I might just be involved in a bit of a shoving match, and hey, it's God, you have to let Him win.
In the meantime, I have been forbidden to:
a) Bring in a pillow from home. Her pillow. After she complained of neck pain - she has osteoporosis. I gave her one of those u-shaped neck pillows, but that combined with plastic pillows makes her feel too hot. Hence the suggestion of bringing her one of her pillows, met with a "They won't like it!" - who's they? and "DON'T YOU DARE!!!!"  Apparently I have been forcing her to be, oh, comfortable, and that doesn't seem to sit well, as if being uncomfortable will make her die faster as is her wish. So of course I ignored her wish after a week, brought in her feather pillow from when she got married in 1955, and she exclaimed "It is sooo soft!"
And now she cradles it around her neck. All the time.
b) Order TV for her. "DON'T YOU DARE!!!"Well, this one I've heeded, but when her few friends and neighbours come in and admonish her for not having it, it makes you feel badly. But she would notice a TV if I brought it in, unlike the pillow, even if I gave her headphones to go with it. So at the moment, the seemingly neglectful family is heeding that wish. But there is only so much of the Young and the Restless you can discuss without her actually watching it. As she proclaimed to the Bean, the storylines are "S-H-*-T".
c)Ask for a walker for her. I haven't totally lost on that one as I have resources, like her doctor, although I have been forbidden to "PUT THE BUG IN THEIR EAR." Make no mistake, the cancer is going to get her, or the heart or something else. She is not dying fast enough to be on the palliative floor, and she is losing condition. Because she is palliative, no one makes her do anything, but such has been our dance and relationship through the beginnings of dementia. I am now the bad cop, making her do what she can even though she doesn't want to do it. Anyhow, an e-mail to her doctor will start the ball rolling.
d) Take concerns to the nurses. "DON'T YOU DARE!" Yeah, well she loses big time on this, because you can't out nurse me. I will never stand for sloppy nursing. And it doesn't matter her wishes here. I'm paving the way for when we are old and decrepit. I have reminded them that we will be her age sometime, with the fallen bladders, the funky bowels, brains that seem to be on the Enterprise, far, far away, and the ears that seem to ignore all. That's why you treat the elders well, because that is how you you want to be respected. Someday.
On the other hand, she knows I am going insane being here for so long. I love my Credit Valley friends, I don't love my Credit Valley work, so now I have her blessing to go back to work that I love.
In the meantime, I will take her to the bathroom, flush the toilet, get her ice, put the garbage can up, put the rails up, put the oxygen back on, take the ears out, put the pillow on the feet, and turn the lights out. One day, forever....

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Slice of Life: New Year's Edition - January 3rd

My musings for the end of this year, not to be repeated in subsequent years, the bad stuff, por favor.
1. Prayers, answered. Mom much better. Patience, tested. I don't mean this in a bad way. It just means my Mom is as close to back to normal as she is going to get, which means she is driving me crazy. She looks much better than in the preceding months before her hospitalization, and except for the oxygen tubes in her nose, and her telling you, you would never know she is sick.
My first major clue occurred during a bathroom run. Ever the helpful daughter, I assisted her to the pot. While waiting outside the door, I heard her crackly voice: "I NEED A DRINK OF WATER!" To which I replied, "WHEN I GET YOU BACK TO BED, I'LL GET YOU SOME WATER."
"I NEED IT NOW!" Now, I looked up in the mirror there, and noticed that the waitress hat was not on, in fact, I was sporting a jaunty set of reindeer antlers. So I repeated : "WHEN I GET YOU BACK TO BED!" "BUT I'M DYING!" "NOT RIGHT NOW YOU AREN'T! WHEN YOU ARE FINISHED.""I'M FINISHED THEN." And so we toddled back to bed, she had her water and a gentle lecture from me as can only be done when someone wasn't wearing her hearing aids: "I WILL DO ANYTHING FOR YOU, BUT BREAKFAST AND DRINKS IN THE LOO IS NOT ONE OF THEM." Conversations need to be kept short and to the point during a scream fest.
Fast forward to the day after Boxing Day. I hadn't been over since Christmas Eve, due to the dreaded Christmas cold, so imagine my surprise over the past two days to find a new steadiness to her gait. She's taking purposeful steps now to the bathroom, nary a shuffle in site, no bouncing off the walls and door jambs, no swaying at a whisper. In fact, I think if she could guarantee she would use a walker, she might even be able to go alone. Shaking my head, I remember her ward room days when she was assisted by me and a walker, she would zoom the walker into the middle of the room on the way back, and stagger to her bed. And of course, I remember her deluxe rollator that sits on the opposite side of her 12 foot living room, where she can't reach it.
So I rearranged her back in bed, and she told me "The volunteer fed me." Her ears were in, she wasn't yelling quite so loudly.
"And what do you mean the volunteer fed you?" I had visions of them opening up her tray, setting her up.
"She fed me with a spoon."
"She did what?"
"She fed me with a spoon."
Holy jaw breaking because it hit the floor! I was speechless, and apparently trolling for flies. For most old folks that I've dealt with, eating independently is one of the last things they want to give up. They shake, rattle and roll, miss their mouths sometimes, but feeding oneself is a basic need for most of them. You can assist with the occasional mouthful to make sure some of it actually gets in. My Mom? No shaking, no weakness, nada.
And I said nothing.
The next conversation had to do with comfort. Because of her osteoporosis, she has a hard time getting comfortable in bed. I bought her one of those u-shaped airline neck pillows, which she finds is comfortable, but it gets hot. No surprise with the plastic pillows propping her up. So I asked her if I could bring in one of her pillows from home. I figured a breathing cloth pillow behind her might cool things off a bit. She said she didn't think the hospital would like it if I brought in things like that from home. No amount of explanations would convince her otherwise, so I said I would ask the doctor, because apparently I am just a nurse, and then I was forbidden to ask the doctor. The end. She is definitely much better. God has reversed the train.
2. Babies make everything better. I was told by the Queen Mum that the Humvee was not to visit her in the hospital, in case she had something contagious. Like cancer is. So ignoring her as usual, just because it was Christmas, or slightly after due to our illnesses and not hers, the Bean and the Humvee and I went to visit. And my Mom positively lit up. The Humvee cooed and smiled and laughed, the Bean declared whoever owned this baby must surely want him back. It was a bonus day, proving again there is a Santa.
3. In keeping with my Mom's tour, I help her to the bathroom every visit I make. She declares that the nurses don't come fast enough, and then are too fast in dealing with her once they do come. So I take my time getting her off the pot, helping her pull her bloomers up, wash her hands and pad on back to bed. The one thing she always does is pull the call bell in the bathroom when she is done even if I am there. I don't discourage it because it is easier just to have her yank it all the time than for her to hit and miss when I am not there. So she pulls the bell, and I am there helping her when her day nurse comes in, saying she would help my Mom. Normally the Old Girl prefers me, but this time, she actually pushed me forcefully out of the bathroom, announcing that she'd rather this nurse help her as she was more efficient than me. Apparently I must have been wearing the Nurse Ratched hat.
In other news:
1. Granola bars with Nyquil chasers make a fine Christmas dinner indeed. And like the 24 pound turkey, there is enough to go on for days.
2. In keeping with the festivities of the season, Nyquil comes in red and green, pretty much the only Christmas decorating I did around here.
3. The warm, weather has turned the out house into a do it yourself bidet, stated one of my best friend's nephews. Thank you very much for that visual.
4. Euchre, gin, the card game! - wine and friends make a great New Year's night. If only I could remember it. Or how I got soot under the arm of my Tilley shirt. Or the bruise on my arm. Or where I put my toothbrush. Or...
5. New Year's revolutions, or, next on my Bucket List: My travel plans are a bit on hold for now, other than for work. In the desire to screw up my knee worse than it is, and only because it is feeling a bit better, I think I am going to try skiing. Once. This all Canadian polar girl has never downhill skied in her life. I will only ever go up in that chair lift once, and down the bunny hill, upright, I hope, once. Right up there with the zip line - never ever to be done, ever again. Yup. We'll see.
And that's all for now. I wish everyone a Happy New Year, filled with wild and wonderful things, and above all, filled with joy in the midst of anything bad. I refuse anything less for myself.