So, there doesn’t seem to be much new to report on Mike’s health. At this point he is waiting for his specialty pharmacy to send him his new chemo drugs so he can resume chemotherapy. It will probably be another week or two. He seems to me to be doing fine, though.
A few weeks ago I shared some anecdotes about Mike’s mother, Bernice, (“Nothing Strange Here”, January 12, 2020) who has been described by Cousin Barbie as being “charmingly goofy.” Here are some more Bernice stories to lighten your mood.
Mike says he had a frustrating conversation with her about 55 years ago when he was in medical school. He doesn’t recall how or why the conversation began, but the topic of small African-American children came up. Back then they were little Negro children. Bernice referred to them in the conversation as “little chocolate drops.”
Mike recalls saying, “Mother, they are not little chocolate drops, they are little Negro children.”
His mother replied, “little chocolate drops.”
Mike tried again. “Mother can’t you say Negro children?”
“Little chocolate drops,” was her response.
Mike returned with, “Mother, I don’t understand why you can’t even say ‘little Negro children’.”
Bernice replied, “little chocolate drops.”
Mike was stricken with the absurdity of the conversation that he was engaged in, including his half of it. Mike’s mother was from the Cowl family, some of the most notoriously stubborn people to have ever walked the earth. Mike’s brother was as stubborn as Bernice. Neither Mike nor his father ever saw the point in trying to win an argument with either one of them. Moe Gordon was famous for saying, “Yes dear. Anything you say dear.” So, Mike dropped the conversation at that time. but the last laugh was on Bernice. Several years later Mike married Penny, a lovely African-American woman, and 9 months later they had Michelle, yes, a little chocolate drop.
Another peculiarity of Bernice’s was her fear of appliances. She lived at her condo for close to 30 years without ever getting up the nerve to run the dishwasher or the garbage disposal. And she wouldn’t let anyone else run them either. I’m sure I told you once before that many times when Mike went to visit them in Minneapolis he stayed with them and slept on the living room floor. His mother always insisted that he take a bath instead of a shower. She was afraid the water vapor from the shower would peel off her wall paper in the bathroom. The biggest problem about that was that it would have required someone to come in, clean up, and paint. Bernice didn’t want anyone coming into her place and making a mess. She was a neat-freak from the word go.
As Bernice was getting advanced in years and somewhat demented, Mike tried to get her to stop driving. For one thing, she was a menace on the roads, and for another, she had let her driver’s license and car tags expire. As far as the tags, her response was “They won’t arrest an old lady.” She had a better excuse for her driver’s license. Mike and Judy had taken her to the bank to straighten something out, and she offered to show her (expired) driver’s license to the banker for ID. He said he didn’t need to see it. Ever after that Mike heard that “The man at the bank said I don’t need a driver’s license.”
With considerable effort Mike got Bernice to go to her primary care doctor’s office for a check-up, and hopefully to have him tell her to stop driving. At that appointment the doctor told her that she has the beginnings of Alzheimer’s Disease, and rather than tell her to stop driving he said she needed to be evaluated by a driving instructor. Mike told her next time he came to town they would go to get her license renewed so she could take a driving test. He came back about 6 weeks later and by some miracle, got her to the DMV where she failed the vision test. So, the next time he came to town he was able, by another miracle, to get her to her eye doctor. Mike sat in on the eye test which Bernice confabulated 100%. She had no idea of what she was looking at. The doctor came in, examined her eyes, and told her that she does not see well enough to drive. He said he would step out for a few minutes and let her discuss this with Mike. Mike asked her if she understood what the doctor had said. She said yes. Then he asked her if she was going to stop driving, and it was clear from her answer that she would not. They discussed it again with the doctor, and went back to the condo. A couple of days later Mike had to return home, and told his mother that he was taking her car keys, which he did. He thought about leaving a key in case of emergency with the resident manager, but decided against it.
The following Friday Mike came home from work mid-afternoon. He was very tired, and went up to take a nap. Around that time Bernice took a notion to go to the store and get a few things. She couldn’t find her car keys, and then remembered that Mike said he had taken them. She went to the resident manager and asked her if she had a key to her car, which fortunately, she did not. She went back upstairs to her condo to call Mike. Judy answered the phone.
“Hello,” she said.
“Judy, this is Bernice. Is Michael at home?” she said.
“He’s asleep,” Judy answered.
Bernice replied with an emphatic “Wake him up!”
Judy brought the phone upstairs, woke Mike up, and said, “It’s your mother, and she’s not happy.”
So, they had a conversation in which Mike calmly held his ground. Bernice threatened to get a locksmith to come and make her a new key, but never followed through. From that point on things with her went downhill. She both refused to ask anyone to go to the store for her or to take her to the store. She had a social worker from Jewish Family Services, but refused to let her come over. She had Meals on Wheels already set up to bring her a meal every day, and tried (unsuccessfully) to cancel the service. Mike tried to have a Life-alert installed, but she wouldn’t let the technician in to install it. She said she would call her cousin Helen if she had an emergency, a totally unworkable plan. It was clear that she was getting more paranoid. Mike didn’t see much alternative but to either try to get guardianship and have her committed, or to let her crash and burn. He suspected that the guardianship alternative would stir up a great deal of animosity, and also fail. Meanwhile, she was losing weight and getting weaker. One night she got up to go to the bathroom, and was too weak to get off the toilet. She was stuck there all night and into the next morning. Around eleven the Meals on Wheels guy came. When Bernice didn’t answer her door he got the resident manager who opened the apartment and found Bernice hollering for help, perched on the toilet.She called for an ambulance and called the social worker, who called Mike. Bernice never went back, but wound up living happily for a few years at Sholom Home in St. Louis Park where she had been a volunteer previously. It’s a shame that things deteriorated the way they did, but it is a cautionary tale about stubbornness. Determination is a good thing, but too much of any good thing is a bad thing.
So, our world is rapidly adjusting to such things as “social distancing,” “sheltering in place,” and transacting business on-line. The other cats in the house don’t notice much difference, because Mike has been home most of the time for about 6 months, except for the 2 weeks that he and I were at the hospital. I hope all of you are making a tolerable adjustment to the conditions, and that you don’t suffer too much anxiety over getting sick, your relatives and friends getting sick, or of running out of money and being homeless. I can tell you what I’m sure what you already know, that homelessness suits cats much better than people. Let’s all remember to pray for the world and everyone in it. And until next time, so long from Happy Meadows.