2 Years Older, Not So Much Wiser

So, it has been 2 years that I have been blogging. It has been fun, and I hope you have enjoyed the read. I hope I have enlightened you on the feline perspective of some things, and certainly hope you have had a chuckle or two. I hope you didn’t notice that I hoped for 3 things in the last 2 sentences. I could sharpen up my writing.

If you have been following me, you will know that I blog about what happens in my home with Mike, Judy, and our 3 other cats; what goes on in our neighborhood, Happy Meadows; and about the goings on in the world around us. I express an occasional opinion as well. From day to day, not much seems to happen, but over a 2 year span a lot can change. Surprisingly, the families on both sides of our house have moved, and new people have moved in. The same thing for the house across the street from us. It must be the loud parties we throw. Not really. The whole street has undergone a change, mostly new families with small children having moved in as the original residents have  downsized, moved to assisted living, moved to be nearer to their adult children and grandchildren, or have passed on. I enjoy the smaller children, and, of course, they like me.

The new people across the street have a nice little dog who invited me in to play recently. The family is a young couple with a baby about 4 months old. They are the Matthews family, Mark, Heather, baby Abigail Sue, and dog Peppy. While I was keeping them all company more people came over. It was the young woman’s parents and grandfather. The grandfather had something wrong with him. He had a tremor and he didn’t get around that easily. In fact, he required some assistance in such things as taking off his coat, walking, and taking a seat. He didn’t have much facial expression and didn’t say much. He did sprout a big smile when Heather sat down next to him holding Abigail Sue for him to see.

I have heard Mike talk about his father who had Parkinson’s disease. From the description it sounded very much like the same condition that  our new neighbor’s grandfather was afflicted with. Mike’s father began to be tremulous when he was around 60 years of age. This was when Mike was in what he describes as his “Black Hole” period in his life, and his parents were very concerned. I might tell you more about the Black Hole that Mike fell into some other time. Anyway, for the first couple of years the shaking was attributed to worry about Mike until a friend told Mike’s mother that she thought Grandpa Moe had Parkinson’s disease. So, Grandma Bernice called his doctor who told her that he had Parkinson’s disease written all over Grandpa Moe’s chart. I don’t know why he kept this a secret from them. Maybe he thought there was no point since he didn’t have effective treatment to offer them. The whole scene is symptomatic of the prevailing “Don’t Tell” principle that was practiced in Mike’s family. Whenever something came up that was noteworthy, the first discussion was not about what should be done about it. The first discussion was about who shouldn’t be told. There were two main reasons to not tell. One is that if certain people knew about something they could cause trouble for the family, possibly by telling other people who shouldn’t be told; or be problematic by offering opinions or opposing actions planned to be taken by the family, once that discussion was held and decisions were made. The other main reason to not tell was to prevent people from worrying.

There was a prevailing belief that people in general, and certain people in particular were weak and couldn’t face difficult realities in life. Grandpa Moe was imagined to be in the latter category. Never mind that he had earned a PhD in Chemical engineering and had retired from the Army reserves with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. But if he was told he had Parkinson’s disease he would worry. God forbid! Mike remembers the agonizing drama that went on around the time he was in high school when a cousin of his mother’s had cancer. His family was bound and determined that Harold wouldn’t be told that he had cancer. It was pretty intense. Mike’s brother was identified as a person who shouldn’t be told because he might not agree to keep it a secret, or so it was believed. The cousin had colon cancer that spread to his liver, and was in the hospital where he was told that he had hepatitis and was getting radioactive cobalt treatments. Cobalt treatments caused severe burning and led to hideous scarring. (This type of radiation therapy, by the way, was part of a typical treatment for breast cancer following removal of the affected breast and lymph nodes in a procedure called a radical mastectomy. This surgery was the standard of care for years, and was developed at Johns Hopkins University Hospital by Doctor William Stewart Halsted, a famous pioneering surgeon who lived and practiced about 100 years or more ago. Doctor Halsted worked in an era when scientists tried new drugs out on themselves first before they put a new treatment into medical practice. This approach would never get past an Institutional Review Board today. One of the new drugs he was interested in was cocaine as a local anesthetic. Unfortunately, he became addicted to the stuff. He subsequently also became addicted to morphine and never did kick the morphine habit.)

But I digress. I was talking about not telling, Cousin Harold in this case. Before that I was talking about not telling Grandpa Moe. Mike was also victimized by this insane practice. He was away at the University when Grandpa Moe’s father, Sam Gordon, died. Mike was not told about it until he came home for spring break. The reason given was that they didn’t want his studies to be interrupted. Another incident was when Mike found out from a friend at school that Grandma Bernice had had a hysterectomy. This tendency was so deeply ingrained in the family that Mike says his first impulse is still to keep things to himself so Judy or Michelle won’t worry. But he does not let it control him. He once came to the erroneous conclusion that he had an aneurysm and told Judy. It was a profound experience for her, and she still won’t go back to the DeKalb Farmer’s Market, which is where they were when he told her. But still, he didn’t keep it to himself, and she survived. Mike remembers when his late wife, Gena, was first diagnosed with breast cancer. They told Michelle who was eleven years old at the time. Mike says that Michelle became extremely assertive about wanting to know what was going on, and demanded that there were to be “No Secrets.”

Mike’s parents moved to Minnesota a few years after Grandpa Moe was diagnosed. At that time Grandma Bernice’s father was 88, and she didn’t want him to live alone any longer. So the 3 of them got a place together. As time went on Grandpa Moe was increasingly immobilized. One of the disabilities associated with Parkinson’s patients is great difficulty initiating motor activity. Rigidity is a problem as well, and with Grandpa Moe these both became severe.

Mike came from out of town to visit the 3 of them once and was appalled at how difficult life had become for them. Grandpa Carl had been pressed into service to help Grandma Bernice. Grandpa Moe could do nothing for himself any longer. He couldn’t bathe, get dressed, get into the bed, get out of the bed, turn over, get food to eat, or use the toilet without considerable assistance. Mostly it took 2 people to help him. Before Mike went home that weekend he told his mother that he would support whatever decision she made, but that if she decided to put Grandpa Moe in a nursing care facility he would be completely supportive. The next day Grandpa Moe fell out of his chair, and Grandpa Carl and Grandma Bernice together couldn’t get him up. She called for help, and he was transported to the hospital where he was treated for a few days. He either had pneumonia or a urinary tract infection. From there he went to a nursing facility where he spent the last 5 or so years of his life. Grandma went to visit every day. She got there before lunch and stayed until after dinner.  Even though it was a nice place, Grandma watched the care like a hawk. Some of the staff resented her. Grandpa Moe told Mike that one of the attendants had said to him that she was an a**hole. This was when he could still complete a sentence.

Communication became increasingly difficult, and complicated by the dementia that often accompanies Parkinson’s disease. Because of his rigidity, Grandpa Moe could only take very shallow breaths. So he would run out of air before he could complete a sentence. Because of the difficulty in initiating motor activity he had trouble starting a sentence. He would say something like “Why don’t we…” and run out of air. He would try again and again. Then he would give up, whether out of disgust or because he couldn’t remember what he was going to say. He was trapped inside of his own body. At the end it is hard to imagine how frail he had become. One day they sent him to the ER with a fever. He had another urinary tract infection but they also found an enlarged lymph node in his neck. The doctor told Grandma Bernice it was lymphoma, and that he was too weak to even have it biopsied, let alone undergo treatment. Twelve days later he passed on. The subsequent events around the funeral were memorable, but I will save the story for another day.

So, after 2 years life keeps on happening, and I still seem to have things to say. I hope you will continue to enjoy hearing about all the news from Happy Meadows. I know Chanukah is already past this year, and our pagan friends have just commemorated the winter solstice. Christmas is almost upon us, as is Kwanzaa. Whatever your tradition and however you celebrate, be well, be safe, and remember as the Fab Four proclaimed, “All You Need Is Love.” Sholom, y’all!