Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Hard Day at Featherstone

It’s been a hard day, with feelings of dejá vu written all over it. As I came into the building at Featherstone today, the aide in charge asked if I had been called out this morning. I told her I had not.

“Well, let me tell you the story then.” She said. 

Early in the morning they found Carolyn coughing up food from her mouth - lots of food that wouldn’t stop coming up for a while. Not vomiting violently, just flowing out. She was non responsive, and they found her blood oxygen level at 74%. 

All week she has been eating well, and you begin to think that she has come through the episodes of respiratory seizures that made her pass out and hit the floor while walking months ago. 

It’s back, similar to last year. Except this year she can’t stand or walk.

There may have been some aspiration of food into her breathing passages, too. The aide said she did all kinds of things to bring her back around, including holding her upside down to clear her airway. All that training kicks in without a thought.

She told me she said, “ Not today, Satan, not today!” I can live with that kind of religion all day. 

Some day it’s going to happen, but not today. Not if she can help it!

She spent some time cleaning out the food from her mouth with swabs, and put her on the oxygen concentrator, and increased the flow up to the max. In a few minutes the oxygen level came up to 88% and they knew she was out of the woods for the time being.

Later in the day, after more hard coughing, the oxygen level climbed back into the high nineties where it should be.

At noon I took her to the dining room and tried to feed her. They were serving beans and cornbread with fried okra on the side, one of her favorite meals. She took in about four spoonfuls of beans, one small piece of cornbread, and a piece of okra. Then she started coughing, because her mouth was full. She couldn’t swallow anything. I tried to give her a drink of tea to help her swallow, and it just ran back out.

I gave up trying to feed her and rolled her back to her room. She looked a little pale to me, so I hooked up the oxygen machine again. The same aide who rescued her this morning came in to give her a breathing treatment with Albuteral in a nebulizer. She got some more swabs and spent several minutes cleaning out the food that was filling her mouth. 

We left her on the machine the rest of the day. At times during the afternoon her mouth would gape open, and I would move the cannula from her nose to her mouth to ensure that the oxygen was being inhaled. 

I didn’t even bother to take her to the dining hall for dinner. They brought her a small bowl of applesauce, and I put one spoonful in her mouth. It just sat there. She still can’t swallow anything. 

I opened a bottle of Ensure strawberry shake and put a straw in it. She could not draw it out with the straw. So I got a teaspoon and tried to spoon it in, hoping that it would flow down her throat and be swallowed. On the third spoonful she got choked and started coughing again.

Nothing frustrates an old mechanic more than finding something that he just can’t fix. I told her that, with tears in my eyes.

I took her to the bathroom, changed her into dry, clean clothes for the night, and laid her down to sleep in her bed. When she looked like she was comfortable, I shut the window shades, turned out the light, kissed her goodnight, and went outside to tell the aide on duty to keep an eye on Carolyn, as I was going home for the night.

Then I drove home, went to my room, shut the door and cried. 

Friday, June 22, 2018

Noodles and tire pumps

Sometimes I hold off on writing, because I keep thinking that the story should follow a plot line or pathway to somewhere. Either she is getting better, (not likely with Alzheimer’s) or she is getting worse every day. But she’s not. 

Everyday is a new day, and events don’t follow the expected progression. Or regression. 

A month ago we thought she was near death. Then she came back. For a while she was sleeping most of the day, and losing lots of weight because she was too sleepy to eat. She couldn’t even open her mouth to let us feed her.

We decided to cut the daytime dose of Haldol to see if that would help. Also, because her left hand is swollen and hard, similar to arthritis, they put her on a Medrol pack. I might not have the spelling right, but it is a quick heavy dose of steroid to reduce inflammation.

She’s awake now. Yesterday when I was feeding her some noodles with spinach, carefully cut into little tiny pieces and put in her mouth on the end of the fork, she got impatient and reached around with her right hand and grabbed a handful of noodles and stuffed them in her mouth. 

I laughed and told her, “You go, girl! We’ll wash that hand and your face later.” She ate several strawberries and pineapple chunks for dessert, too.

This morning a thunderstorm came through, so I took her outside under the entrance, and we just sat and listened to the noise, marveled at the flashes of lightning, and enjoyed the cool breeze. 

Since my birthday is approaching, my son Wesley sent a gift card for Roma’s Italian Restaurant here in Durant. The card was enough for myself, daughter Darlene, and nephew Joe. We all gorged ourselves on great Italian food.

After the meal, Darlene had to pick up a prescription, so we drove to the drugstore, and then we drove toward her apartment. As we drove past Featherstone Assisted Living Home where we had just put Carolyn to bed an hour or so earlier, we saw an ambulance pull in the driveway with all the lights flashing.

Fearing the worst, I swung into the driveway and drove to the back door to check to see if Carolyn was OK. My heart sank, as her room was empty - the covers pulled back on the bed.

I swiftly went to the front where the ambulance was parked, and was relieved to see Carolyn sitting in her wheelchair, quietly crying. I went up and hugged her, told her who I was, (I always do that now) and reassured her it was going to be alright. The resident on the gurney going out the door has COPD and was having breathing difficulty.

I asked the aide on duty why Carolyn was not in bed, and they told me they found her out of bed crawling across the floor. There seems to be no happy medium between zonked out asleep all day and so restless and agitated she can’t stay in bed. 

She can’t stand, she can’t walk, she has severe difficulty talking, and one hand is useless, but she won’t stay down. At least with the changes to her room with the low bed, tumbling mats, etc. she is no longer hurting herself or risking broken bones. We only have to treat the sores and blisters on her knees and toes now and then.

I rode my mountain bike to Calera and back last week, about 12 miles total, and it would have been uneventful except I ran over a nail coming back into town and had a flat tire.

I always ride prepared when riding cross country, so I flipped the bike over, took out the back wheel and removed the tube from inside the tire. I inserted the new tube I was carrying and tried to pump it full of air with a small tire pump I keep attached to the frame above the pedals. However, the silly little rubber ring that is supposed to hold onto the tube kept slipping off, and I couldn’t get any air in the tire at all. It was leaking out faster than I was pumping it in.

Looking around, I found myself right in front of a auto body shop. Whoa! They got to have an air compressor. So I went in the open door and asked the young man sitting behind the front desk if they had any compressed air, and could I get some.

He laughed and said, “We sure do, and we’ve been watching you for ten minutes, wondering when you would give up and come in here!” He took me into the shop, handed me the air chuck, and we had the tire filled in seconds. He wouldn’t let me pay him, and we discussed where I had ridden that day, how long it took and my age. I think he was impressed.

The next day I drove down to Sherman, Texas, to the bicycle shop there and asked about a new tire pump. He didn’t have any hand pumps with a threaded connector, which I was holding out for, but he showed me a little device that looks like an asthma inhaler. You screw it on the tube, screw in a little CO2 cartridge and the tire inflates immediately, with no pumping. 

I bought it on the spot!

I also browsed over his collection of racing bikes, the ones with tall gears and skinny tires, and was amazed at the engineering improvements since I last looked at one. I had trouble even finding the shift levers. They are part of the brake calipers now. I am now considering buying one, especially since they cost half what I assumed they would cost.

Twelve years ago my Trek cost $1200. These Giant racing bikes are selling for $620. I’ve got a birthday coming up soon. I think I mentioned that before. I just might treat myself.

I got home and spent a couple of hours building a spreadsheet with the formulas for calculating my gear tooth ratios in all 24 gears, how far the bicycle travels with one turn of the pedals, and how fast I am moving at one pedal turn per second. The most important number was the top speed in gear 24, which turned out to be 17.7 miles per hour.

Yeah, I know. I’m a nerd. You bet!

So I need to find the ratios on the racing bike and see what the top speed is in the highest gear. My mountain bike has lots of low gears for climbing slopes, but this is pretty flat country. The racing bike has only 16 gears, but they are taller gears for going fast on the level. 

Inquiring minds want to know—how fast can I go?

I keep thinking about the Magnolia Days Bike Tour.

I couldda been a contender

Saturday, June 2, 2018

A Day at the Races

Today was the much anticipated day of the races. Officially the Magnolia Bike Tour. This is the twenty second year of the event, and I was curious how big it was going to be, since this was my first one here.

I had decided to limit my distance to the 42 mile loop, rather than try for the whole 67 mile loop up through Milburn. I had ridden this route just two days ago, and was pretty sure I could do it again.

The day dawned still and already muggy with high humidity. The Oklahoma  heat had not come yet at 6:00 AM when my alarm went off, but there was no doubt it was coming. They even warned us of the possibility of scattered rain storms through the day.

I arrived at the Durant High School at 7:00 AM and there were already lots of cars and bicycles there at the starting place. Everybody was tuning bikes and airing up tires in preparation for the start at 8:00 o’clock.

I had aired up my tires at the house before I left. I took them right up to 50 lbs. They both hold pressure well, as Oklahoma doesn’t have nearly the amount of puncture vines as Nevada does (they call them goat heads here) and the tires stay up for weeks at a time. That never happened in Nevada, even if I put “Green Slime” in the tubes to seal them.

I slowly pedaled around the parking area, mainly to see if I was the only guy riding a mountain bike in the tour. I only found one other young guy riding his mountain bike. His name was Jordan, and he admitted that he came in last the previous year, which was his first ride. I hoped we would be able to ride together part of the way, since we were similarly handicapped by our bikes.

Otherwise, the range of road racing bikes was spectacular. I saw machines I had never seen before, such as two recumbent streamliners from Dallas, Texas, with bodies made from carbon, I assume, and tricycle disc wheels that tilted the machines into the curve as they steered.

There were several bikes with carbon frames and large semi disc wheels that only had about half enough spokes to reduce weight, I’m sure. Some of them must have been right at the physical stress limit riding on Oklahoma “pavement”.

I even saw one couple riding a tandem bike (bicycle built for two) and they had matching Spandex suits. I felt a pang of deja vu, as Carolyn and I rode a tandem now and then, back when that was possible for her. We first rented one on Catalina Island on a vacation trip, and cycled over every paved road on the island. 

All together there were over one hundred cyclists participating in the tour. My local friends think I’m crazy for riding as many miles as I do. They should have come out this morning. If I’m crazy, it must have been weekend pass day at the Oklahoma State Hospital for the Mentally Irregular. I am trying really hard to be politically correct here. 

They had three police cars with all the red and blue light flashing to guide all the bicycles out onto the highway and hold traffic back as the huge mass of pedalers churned out onto the course. I started about halfway back, since I intended to ride the middle course of 42 miles.

The cluster of bikes quickly strung out as we headed north on North First St. out of town. When we all came to the side road to Armstrong, everybody peeled off in that direction, but my understanding was that the main course stayed on Hwy 78, so I assumed that they were all doing the short 24 mile course to Caddo and back.

So I broke away and went straight up the highway to the junction turning west to Cobb and Brown. As I got lined up going west, I glanced back to see that I was all alone. Well, I was the loner, anyway. I was the only one wearing Levis. Everybody else seemed to have bare legs with Spandex shorts. 

What can I say? I come from Nevada, where iconoclasm is a virtue, and curmudgeons get a lot of respect. Besides, I have terrible psoriasis all over both legs, and I don’t like to show them off. My elbows are bad enough.

So as I pedaled west, my mind went to the story of “Wrongway Corrigan”. I had figured out by now that they must have reversed the route from the earlier map I copied, which meant that I should beat them all to Nida, since I am going the wrong way. At Nida, I had the choice of turning around and following some of the bikers back to Durant. That would reduce the miles to only 34, but hey, I just came for the tee shirt anyway. 

My bike is not in the same league as all these racing bikes. Four or five years ago I came in first in class in a race in Paradise Valley, Nevada, and got a beautiful belt buckle at the finish, but there will be no trophies for me today. With the heat rising the way it was, I will have accomplished something if I ride in still pedaling and not in the back of a pickup.

I stopped at Nida, drank a Gator Ade and ate a banana. When some of the bicyclists finally got there coming from the other direction, I followed them back toward Durant. I am using the term “following” loosely. They ran off and left me, of course, and the only nice thing about it all, is when they went by me, the draft from their speed helped break the head wind for me.

I stopped and chatted with a guy at the Brown Baptist Church, where they had a rest stop with water, Gator Ade and protein bars. They also had several jars of dill pickles, which seemed to be very popular with the hottest riders. Seems I learn something every day. I didn’t try it, though.

The rest of the trip back was uneventful. As soon as we turned back east at Brown, we got a tailwind that scooted us right along. I ran out of gears high enough on my bike, so I got to coast long stretches when I couldn’t pedal fast enough. 

When I got back to the Finish line at Durant High School they had tables set up with all the drinks you wanted and hot dogs on the grill. Lots of benches and chairs, too. A couple of young riders were doing slow circles out in the parking area and I asked them if they had started late, joking of course. No, they were just cooling down, they said. I noticed that on the side of the circle with the wind at your back, you got hotter.

I figured a better cool down tactic was to sit down and have another Gator Ade. 

Well, this describes the morning pretty well. I left the High School and drove back to the house, showered off the sweat and put on my new tee shirt. Then I went to Featherstone to relieve Darlene, who was staying with Carolyn while I went out biking. She is still in that awareness mode, and cried several times today. We just hold her hand and reassure her that we will take care of her always.

I left her just after supper in the front lobby watching a movie and eating popcorn. I normally put her to bed, but the aides said they would be glad do it. 

For some reason I was extra tired this evening.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Wonderful Day

It really has been a wonderful day today. I got up at 6:30 AM, checked the weather and found it was going to be a sunny day today in Durant. I looked at the moving map and saw that there were storm clouds just to the north where I was wanting to ride, but they were moving east quite rapidly.

According to my theory of Oklahoma weather, those storms to the north mark the division between the cool, dry Canadian air from the north, and the warm, moist Cuban air from the south. Every day there is a battle between those two air masses to see which one owns Oklahoma for the day. If Cuba wins, it will be hot and muggy with drizzling rain showers on the warm front. If Canada wins, there will be thunder and lightning, with possible hail and high winds up to and including tornados on the cold front.

Canada was just barely winning this morning as the storms moved on by. I knew that even though the sky above was cloudy, chances were good that the clouds would burn off in an hour or two. So I coated my face and arms with 50+ sunscreen and was on the road by 7:30.

There was a light tailwind as I rode north and west. I rode through Cobb, Brown, and got to Nida, 17 miles, by 9:00. My bottle of Mt. Dew was gone at Kenefic, so I stopped at the little gas station there and got another bottle. I was feeling good, with no muscle pain or tiredness at all. 

I continued east on Hwy 22, where the only trouble was those damn gravel trucks kept running me off the road. There is no shoulder there, but usually there is no traffic either. Today for some reason at least a dozen trucks, large semis hauling gravel, came up from behind me, and every time there was a vehicle approaching from the front, leaving no room on the pavement for a bicycle. So I went mountain biking down the steep shoulder slope. Several times. 

In spite of that, I made it to Caddo by 10:30, so I stopped at the Dairy Queen for lunch. I felt really hungry, so I ordered a foot long chili dog with onions. Boy, was that a mistake! There are no public bathrooms from Caddo to Durant, 12 miles, and I feel really lucky to have made it home on time.

I left Caddo at 11:10, and I was still feeling good, even though the sun was getting hot. I now had a head wind, which felt good, even though it slowed me down some.

Halfway to Armstrong I heard music coming from somewhere, and I was baffled until a guy went whizzing past me on a touring bike with narrow tires and saddle bags. He hollered “Hi!” and I hollered back “Hey!” and then he was moving away. I tried to keep up, but he had the best bike for the road, and he was obviously in shape. 

I burned off a little too much energy in that burst of speed, so I pulled over to the side and stopped, just leaning on the handlebars cooling off for a second or two. 

I was surprised as a female voice asked if I was OK. She had pulled up beside me and stopped. She had a bike to match the one who just passed me, and she was about the same age - somewhere in their twenties - I would guess. 

I told her I was just catching my breath, and she offered me water, if I needed any. I pointed to the Mt. Dew bottle on my bike, but thanked her for the offer. She said, “See ya!” and off she went. I didn’t try to catch her, but I kept her visible in the distance, until I saw her pull off behind the guy who passed me earlier. He had stopped for a rest, too.

I geared down as I approached them, and stopped to see where they were going. We introduced ourselves, and I told them I was training for a tour on Saturday, and was nearly finished on the 42 mile loop. They said they were also headed for Durant, but they had left McAlester, OK that morning and were riding cross country. 

They asked if I was from Oklahoma, and I told them I moved here a couple of years ago to be close to my wife’s family after she started showing symptoms of Alzheimer’s. I explained I was originally from California, and they noticed the Yosemite tee shirt I was wearing. They said they were from San Francisco, and I was the only other bicycle rider they had seen in Oklahoma.

I smiled as they said I represented Oklahoma well, and asked how far it was to Durant. I told them we were about 5 miles out, with two long steep hills on the old Armstrong road, or there was another option of crossing the freeway in Armstrong and riding south on Hwy 48, the way I rode out of town this morning.

They thanked me, wished me luck on the tour, and then they were off to the races again. If I am going to live in this country for much longer, maybe I should trade my mountain bike in for a road bike.

I arrived back at the house at exactly 1:00 PM, and came alive again as I turned up the cold water in the shower. I got to Featherstone to see Carolyn and Darlene just after 2:00 and found that Carolyn was more alert than I had seen her in many weeks. The swelling on her neck disappeared in two days after her lemon juice treatment, and she was feeding herself at lunch and talking and laughing when I came in the room.

They were serving root beer floats out front, so I wheeled her out to the lobby and got a couple for us. I thought I would have to feed her, but she took the cup out of my hand, grabbed the plastic spoon, and ate the ice cream and spooned in the root beer without spilling a drop.

After we threw the empty cups in the trash, we just sat and held hands, and I tried to make sense out of the broken, random words she was using. Then she pulled my hand hard enough to roll the wheelchair up close and leaned over and clearly said, “I - - - -love - - - you!” I looked her in the eye and said, “I love you, too!” I don’t know who started crying first, but we both lost it there for awhile. 

I became obvious that she was having one of her cognitive awareness breakthroughs, and she suddenly knew where she was and what was wrong. All I could do was promise to always be there and never leave her.

She got it under control enough to feed herself dinner at 5:00, and then Darlene and I got her ready for bed, kissed her goodnight, and promised to be back in the morning, as usual.

When I had gotten home and put supper in the oven, I got a call from my brother John, saying he was in Durant, and after he found a room, needed directions to my house. After a bunch of missed turns, wrong way turns, and turns up a one way street, he found the house and we had a good long talk, catching up on a year’s worth of family and friends.

Tomorrow we are having breakfast together at the Choctaw Casino, so I better close this story for now. I need a good night’s sleep and I think I got one coming.

It’s truly been a wonderful day!

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Feeling Blue

I’m feeling kind of low tonight. I feel as if I missed something important and let my wife down.

I got to Featherstone in time to help feed Carolyn lunch. She ate all the spinach, a little of the beef, one bite of potato, and all the little mandarin orange slices. Also, she drank a lot of tea, a tall glass full, and then another half.

I had spent the morning trying to fix the plumbing on the washing machine at the house. There is a block somewhere way under the house, and whoever put the pipes in forgot to put any cleanouts or vents in the system. The first trap was clean as a whistle, so I put in a couple of sweep ells to move the drain over behind the washer. It has been directly above the 220 volt dryer plug, so when it leaks water, the dryer trips. The dryer receptacle is upside down, too, so that the cord acts like a funnel to guide the water into the outlet.

Pretty obvious that there was no inspection when these hookups were added to the house.

Anyway, when I arrived, another resident was feeding Carolyn, as she is not able to feed herself most days now. I thanked her and took over. Once again there was only one staff person in the lunchroom on this weekend day. There are two other ladies that usually sit at the same table as Carolyn, and one of them was complaining that I wouldn’t feed her like I was feeding Carolyn.

I explained that I could only feed one person at a time, and Carolyn is my wife. The other lady was constantly trying to get up out of her wheelchair, so I helped her sit back down a few times. One man came in with a pair of scissors asking the staff person to trim his toenails. She convinced him to wait until after lunch was over. Another man wanted her to get him his medications, and she got right on that. 

She also found time to see that Carolyn got another glass of tea, after she exhausted the first one. I’m not sure where the rest of the staff was, maybe they were helping individual residents eat in their rooms, but they didn’t show up until the lunch was over. Then they arrived to clean up the tables.

But I’m not here to criticize others - it’s me that I’m disappointed in today.

Carolyn was restless to the point of agitated all afternoon. I laid her down for a nap because she looked tired, but she did not sleep at all. She lie there with eyes wide open, talking in undecipherable sounds, and trying to get back up.

At about two o’clock I decided to change her, because I saw the pad in her wheelchair showed a wet spot. I changed her to a new pull up, dry pants, and laid her down again. I cleaned her up with a couple of wet wipes, but I didn’t really check too closely. I should have.

At dinner time I took her in and fed her again. She didn’t eat much of the food on the plate, so I took her back to the room and let her have some Ensure with a straw. 

She stopped breathing for a moment, then exploded into a coughing spell I thought was never going to quit. Sometimes her throat just won’t function right and she aspirates what she intended to swallow. A lot of the Ensure came back up, flowing out of her mouth - not vomiting, but just flowing as she coughed. I cleaned it up with napkins, and when the coughing would not stop, I picked her up out of her chair and laid her on the floor on her side.

I scooted the footrest over next to her, and draped her over it, face down, hoping to let gravity assist in clearing her lungs. It worked in just a few seconds, and she stopped coughing and got her breath back. 

When I put her back in her wheelchair, I thought she would be relieved, but she started crying and tugging at her pants. Finally, the light dawned in my head. That signal was a hard one to miss.

I took her back to the bathroom, put her on the toilet, and let her urinate. When she finished, I rinsed her with the bidet, and then I spread her legs and looked at all the bright red skin where it should have been pink. I got tears in my eyes, too.

I spread one of the large overnight diapers on the wheelchair seat, with the back tilted back level, and readied the footrests so I could raise her feet. I lifted her up, turned her around and sat her on the wheelchair. I raised her feet and lowered her back until she was laying down flat.

Luckily for me, the chief Guardian hospice nurse had left a tube of water barrier lotion in the bathroom just for this purpose, so after wiping her down with wet wipes and washcloths, I put on some rubber gloves and coated her bottom with a lot of the lotion.  

I had prepped the diaper before I put it in the chair, so all I had to do was fold it together between her legs and spread it in front, pull up the sides and stick the tapes down. These big diapers are just the ticket!

I put her pajama pants on and took her to her bed, where I laid her down and made her comfortable. When I left her she had closed her eyes and was not making any noise for the first time all day. I hope she sleeps well all night long.

One item that should have made me more suspicious, was her adamant refusal to let the Guardian nurses bathe her Friday. She was unusually eloquent and forceful that she didn’t want anybody messing with her that day. So we all just shrugged our shoulders, talked a while, and then they went on to their next patient. 

From now on, that will be my signal to pay close attention and keep her clean and dry all day. 

In other news, Friday morning I rode from Durant to Caddo, then east to Robinson Road, turned south to the little town of Blue, then came back to Durant on Hwy 70, for a total distance of 32 miles.

I stopped about a mile east of Caddo to pick up a turtle who was slowly and dangerously trying to cross the highway. I moved him across to the side he was headed for and put him in the grass.

South of Robinson Baptist Church I found a small creek with a long, long hill to climb up out of. Good training, I’m sure. But that wasn’t the worst part of the ride.

As I turned west to ride back to Durant, I could see a band of black storm clouds moving toward Durant. I put on some extra speed to try to get there first, but no such luck. I could see the wedge on the front of the black cloud, and I knew for sure I was going to get wet. As I approached town, I got a little sprinkle, but my fears were more toward the lightning and thunder rumbling away in front of me. I was riding under tall power poles on both sides of the road, so I convinced myself that the lightning would probably take the short route to ground by hitting a power pole and not me. Of course, I could die of a heart attack if one got that close.

The rain drove me off the road at Miller’s Short Stop, where I got inside and ordered a Jalapeño Corn Dog with a big Mt. Dew and watched the rain wash the world away for a half hour or so.

The weatherman had forecast “mostly sunny” but he was mightily mistaken that morning. Even though I got inside while the rain was at its worst, I still managed to get soaked riding that last mile back to the house.

My mountain bike has no fenders, and I had to ford two or three inches of “mostly sunny” streaming across every crossroad into town. That hot shower made it all worthwhile.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Not much time left.

I have lots of stories, some sad, some inspiring, some desperately depressing. All in the last week or so. 

Yesterday I rode to Caddo and back for a distance of 24 miles in two hours. That is a good time for a mountain bike. I am able to ride up all the hills on the route using only the high range #3 sprocket on the front. The first time I had to get off and push the bike up those hills. So my training is working well for power and speed. Now I need to lengthen my course each day to increase my endurance. I am still a long way from the 47 mile course I want to tackle on tour day. 

Today I went to the Guardian Hospice Annual Butterfly release party in Sherman, Texas. Last year I took Carolyn and we both enjoyed watching the butterflies flit away as the little envelopes were opened on cue. The meaning was left purposefully vague, I thought, and was inspiring no matter what your religious beliefs.

They could symbolize souls leaving for heaven, or a change in life’s path like metamorphosis, or just a relief from the boundaries we all live with in this life. The language was mostly Christian, but the butterfly release was a wonderful representation of the end of life that is the purpose of the whole hospice concept. 

I don’t know how I would have survived the past couple of years without the help and love shown us by Guardian Hospice. The physical equipment (hospital bed, wheelchair, etc.) was indispensable, but the personal attention and love is the best part. This has proven to be a long, lonely pathway, and the professional counselors, nurses, aides, and therapists are the real core of what hospice is all about.

This year Carolyn could not be there. I had hoped to take her in her wheelchair, but she is too frail now to consider it. Just the bother of taking her to parties in the front lobby wears her out in a few minutes, and she wants to go back to her room.

She has eaten almost no solid food for days. Friday we were delighted when she ate half a strawberry. She is losing weight rapidly, and most of her pants now fall off if I stand her up, even though I bought them with elastic waistbands. Today she drank about half a small Dixie cup of water, with lots of coughing and choking because her throat muscles are no longer synchronized properly by her deteriorating neurological system.

My bicycle training will be on hold for a few days. I know she will be gone soon, and I want to be there if possible. The conflict between wanting her suffering to stop, and fearing the loss when she leaves has me just about crazy. 

Our daughter Darlene has been a huge help to me, but she is feeling the stress, also. She has had to deal with a bipolar disorder, and she tells me she needs to see a psychiatrist soon. I will call around to see what is available in the area. Maybe Guardian Hospice knows of one? I’ll call Monday and check it out.

I have been meaning to go make arrangements at the funeral home, but I can’t quite get off my duff and get it done. I dread the thought of trying to talk and not break down. When I cry I get choked up and no sound comes out. Maybe that’s why I write instead.

Maybe they will have a menu, and I can just point and nod my head.


Wednesday, May 9, 2018

In it for the long haul.

This last week our daughter Darlene has been a life saver. She volunteered to stay with her mother so I could get out and take a break now and then. 

She came and stayed with Carolyn Monday while I started training for a bicycle tour on June 2. The weather hasn’t been cooperating, but it is beginning to look like summer has arrived, finally. 

Monday morning I rode 12.1 miles from my house to Carl Albert Park, then past the Durant High School then on to Armstrong, OK. From there I turned south on Sawmill road. It is the perfect road for bicycle shift training. It is a series of hills just steep enough to take you clear down to #1 gear going up and then shifting up to #24 gear on the downslopes.

The cable stretched to the front shifter so it wouldn’t quite shift into the top gear wheel on the crank, so I had to complete that shift by pulling on the cable where it comes across the transverse bar between my legs. I am going to have to adjust that one before the big tour.

I had no pain or trouble on that run Monday. My legs felt just fine, I had no pain in heart or lungs, although I was breathing hard and sweating like crazy. I actually felt good after I got back to take a hot shower, and change into some dry clothes.

Today I took a longer route, hoping to build up to the tour June 2, which has a 67 mile loop as well as several shorter ones. They have changed the routes since I signed up several weeks ago, and I found out why today. Originally the loops all went north on Hwy. 78 and came back south on Hwy. 48. The new loops dodge all but the first few miles of Hwy. 48, where there is a wide shoulder.

The rest of Hwy. 48 is built on a levee like a railroad, with no shoulder at all, and a 45º slope off both sides into a deep ditch. Also, there is a gravel pit north of Kenefic and there is a steady string of huge semi trucks hauling gravel to construction sites south of Durant. When one of these trucks comes by, the only safe thing to do is veer off the road down the slope toward the ditch. 

Luckily for me, I am riding a mountain bike, so I had the option of cutting down the slope, turning halfway down and stopping on the side slope. The maddening part is if I didn’t have time to get downshifted, I had to push the bike back up to the road, then hold up the back wheel and get shifted down to a lower gear so I could get going again.  

My route today was north to Kenefic, east to Caddo, then southwest back to Armstrong and Durant. Total distance was 30 miles. That was about ten miles too far. I started fading just before Armstrong. I pulled over under a big shade tree on Main Street and drank the last of my water. Then I rode up the hill to the cutoff to Old Armstrong Road. It is also a series of hills, and my legs had turned to rubber.

I gave up trying to pedal up the hills and just got off and walked, leaning a little too heavily on my bicycle. I was getting pretty wobbly. On the downhills I crawled onto the bike and coasted to the bottom, finally enjoying the wind in my face, as it had been since Caddo ten miles back.

I turned left at North First Street and alternately rode and walked to University Drive, where I decided to turn right and walk up the sidewalk. I was feeling a little faint, and was worried I might actually fall over and hurt myself. I found some concrete steps up into a building on the Southeastern Oklahoma University campus and parked my bike and sat on the steps in the shade for a few minutes.

I had been planning to push the bike to 6th Ave, which is one way with one lane for bicycles and is steeply downhill all the way to my house, but the lady in my Garmin GPS recommended I turn on 4th Ave instead. (The house is on 5th Ave, but it’s one way the wrong way). I found 4th is level for the couple of blocks down to Plum, so I soon was sitting in front of a fan, drinking water and eating about four little Halo oranges for energy.

Even after a hot shower and dry clothes I feel wiped out. A little of that may be due to inadequate sunscreen protection. My arms look pretty red this evening. Gotta get that SPF number pushed up higher, I guess.

The moral of this story is an old cliché - I bit off more than I could chew. I’m going to take a couple of days off to regrow some more leg muscle, and then try to find a shorter training route for the next training run.

I got back to Featherstone to see Carolyn and Darlene about 3:00 PM and found Carolyn in bed. Darlene said she ate about half her lunch and then asked to lie down. She woke up around 4:30 hungry, so Darlene helped me change her - much easier with two people - and we wheeled her into the dining room for dinner. 

We left to see if she could feed herself - some days yes, some days no - and about 5:30 we went to see if she needed any help. Well no, she had eaten most of what she wanted, and had invented a new concoction, sweet tea float. They had ice cream for dessert, and she had poured some of her sweet tea into the bowl and stirred it around and was tipping up the bowl and sipping it. She has not lost her creativity, or her sense of humor. When I asked what she had, she just looked at me and giggled.

It’s been a good day overall. Some look at me quizzically when I tell them how far I rode my bicycle today. I’ve been thinking about it, and I came up with a new rule.

At this age, almost 75, I have two choices. I can sit down in an easy chair, stop moving and wait for the doctor to declare me dead. Or I can get up, move as fast and far as I can, and try to keep ahead of that dang doctor.