Friday, January 24, 2014

Recovery Road: Part #2 of Post-Op Adventures With Mom

Well, my mom's recovery after open-heart surgery has been a rocky road, filled with pot-holes. Of course, most of those pot-holes have been chunked out by my mother's own shovel-full of negativity. But she's had a road-crew along the way.

Several days after my mom's operation, the hospital wanted her gone. Job done, pay the bill, thanks, don't look back. I know that's how hospitals operate these days. But she wasn't ready. The nurse seemed to take it personally. Imagine "Jane Hathaway" from The Beverly Hillbillies, dressed in scrubs, hollering at you, "she needs to go and she needs to go now!"

With one day left to find a "rehab facilitation," my brother--firebrand, that he is--yelled at people. Sometimes this method nets results; other times it fosters a combative attitude and negligence on the staff's behalf. But there are times when yelling must be done. We won the remaining day, lost the war. The nursing staff pretty much forgot about her after the battle. Nurse Hathaway held a toothy grudge.

My brother was successful at securing a "next-step" facility. The next morning, as I rolled Mom out of the hospital, the overseeing nurse dropped a bombshell. "We lost a nurse yesterday to the flu." Yow. Now...when she said "lost," I automatically assumed she meant a nurse died. Maybe, maybe not. But it certainly didn't inspire us to hang out. Time to leave, no need for Big Business to give us a boot.

A "rehab center (and for God's sake, don't you dare call it a "nursing home!")" wasn't our first choice. Between my brother, myself and our wives, we had intended to take shifts, caring for Mom at home. But I missed the fireworks. The surgeon told my brother we were out of our minds.

So, we checked her into "Pleasant Dreams (not the real name, but close enough)." Papers were signed, rules were laid down, funny odors were inhaled. An endless parade of people entered our lives, never to be seen again. Still, the place had a great reputation, particularly for physical therapy.

My mom refused to work with "Mr. Fun." "Mr. Fun" is a plastic contraption she's supposed to breathe into every hour. It helps expand her lung (which they collapsed during the procedure). I don't know what it's really called, hence, the nickname, "Mr. Fun." It stuck. Mom hates "Mr. Fun." Thinks it doesn't work. It does, but there's no convincing her while she's hurtling down that highway to depression. Soon enough, she became breathless and they had to reapply oxygen.

The next day she developed a blood clot in her leg due to inactivity. "A major set-back," she called it. She was convinced her newly implanted cow aorta had blown, pretty much resigning herself to inevitable heart failure.

But the cow's organ is still pumping. (Thank you, by the way, valiant cow! I do hope someone ate the remainder of you, spreading goodwill everywhere. Regardless, Bessie, I gong a cow-bell in your memory.)

For two days, my mom lay in her bed, no one looking in on her. A much bally-hewed ultra-sound on her clotted leg never materialized. Time to call in the big guns. My brother yelled. Results! Finally, the sonogram happened, confirming the blood-clot results.  Wasn't peachy, though. The technician ran to the bathroom every five minutes to blow his nose. He sniffled, coughed and hacked during the rest of the procedure. Huh.

Then it was time for daily meds. The kindly nurse warned my mom the shot-glass full of glop tasted terrible. But chock-full of protein. Mom knocked it back the first time. She steadfastly refused to take it again. I pleaded with her, then resorted to chastising her.

Funny how things turn around sometimes. Seems like not too long ago my mom forced me to eat liver, saying how good it was for me (of course we know what they say about liver these days, right? It's the bottom-feeder of organs, the strainer of toxins. Why would anyone want to eat that?). But she wouldn't take her own damn medicine. Each pill given to her, she examined carefully. If she didn't recognize the color, she refused to take it.


It's funny how time changes everything. I never imagined I'd be dressing my mom. Or lecturing her about taking her medicine. Or feeding her meals.

It's exhausting. But I'm doing it. In for the long haul.

She's Mom. And I love her.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Mothers and Mortality

My mom just had open-heart surgery. I'm sure she was more terrified than I was. But I felt like I was on that operating table alongside her.

Months before, my mom waffled about having the operation. Went back and forth. Her aorta was closing. Fast. Had to happen. But she said, "Maybe it's best to leave it in God's hands and let me live the rest of my life as is." 

I'm not shameless to say I pulled the "grandkid card."

"Your grandchildren are counting on you," I told her. Yeah, I went there.

Something worked. Mom decided to have the procedure. I told my beloved winter-bound Florida "snow-bird" she needed to get her dancing heels ready 'cause it'll go great.

Yesterday the family gathered. Three sons and family. Cold, sterile waiting room. Bad coffee. Lots and lots of reminisces. Embarrassing ones. And more bad coffee. Then searching for solitary bathrooms after too much bad coffee. Doesn't matter.

The operation went well. So well the surgeon pronounced the procedure as "boring."  "Boring's" good in this case.

Hours after the operation, my wife and I visited Mom in Intensive Care.

And I totally lost it.

I wasn't prepared.

My mother, dear blessed mother. I didn't recognize her.

She uttered disembodied, agonized "oh's" every few seconds. Rhythmic, sad and far away.  I wanted to hold her, afraid I'd break her. She looked like she'd lost twenty pounds in ten hours. I couldn't kiss her because of the mask.

There was no way of letting her know how much I loved her.

This morning I visited again.

I couldn't believe the difference. She sat up in a chair, welcomed me upon arrival. I gladly helped feed her breakfast, administer her medicine, scratch her neck. When she started griping about things, I thought (wanted to vocalize actually, but thought it might be crass), "Yes! My warrior mother's back!"

All past grievances, annoyances, racial and political differences jettisoned the hell out of the room.

My Mom. The angel who raised me, formed me, talked me through things. Protected me from monsters under the bed and monsters in the White House (an early fear I'd be drafted to fight in a war I didn't understand).

I cradled her head as gently as I could, said, "Mom, I love you. I'll do anything I ever can for you."

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Ahoy! Shivering Me Timbers With Beverly Stowe McClure

Today I’m hosting my pal, Beverly Stowe McClure, who has written a paranormal book for middle-graders, A Pirate, a Blockade Runner, and a Cat. Okay, let me preface this interview by saying I’m not the target market reading audience for such a venture. But, I gotta tell you, Ms. McClure’s book charmed (you hear me, I say, CHARMED) me. And I don’t toss that word around often. Why, if my friends heard me using it, they’d revoke my Man Card privileges. Or something. But enough about me. Let’s meet Beverly.

*Hi Beverly! Okay, first of all, what in the world inspired you to write such a book?

Charmed are you? Haha! I won’t tell. My inspiration for A Pirate, a Blockade Runner, and a Cat occurred one morning while visiting my son and daughter-in-law in South Carolina. We went to Folly Beach to watch the sun rise over the water. The Morris Island Lighthouse stands across the inlet. Boy, did images appear to me that morning. A lighthouse must have a ghost, right? Who was he? Why was he a ghost? And who did that ghost ship with the pirate flag that I imagined cruising in the water belong to? Ah-ha! My story was born.

*I really enjoyed the characters of Star and Stormy, the strange twins our protagonist, Eric, hangs out with. Now, I’m sure you didn’t set out to write them this way, but I got sort of a creepy vibe—a “Village Of The Damned” sorta’ thing—from these kids. Care to elaborate?

All I can say about the twins is that they created themselves, like they had always existed, only I didn‘t know it. The only power Star has is her amazing ability to read other folks’ minds. She tries not to be nosey, but what’s a girl to do when the cute new kid has interesting thoughts about her? And Stormy is part genius, part boy, but good at heart. Perhaps the adults should “Beware the Children” as the movie suggests.

*Your middle-grade kids are playful, yet realistic; poised on the cusp of teenaged trauma years. You know them well and capture a distinctive voice. Are they based on anyone you know?
No, they just introduced themselves to me, and Star said she could read my mind dreams. Erik is going through what

many children experience, a split family, and doesn’t know how to deal with it, so he might loosely be based on kids I know. You see a lot of those when you‘re a teacher and also in your own family sometimes.

*(Um, Beverly, your characters seem to talk to you a lot. I think there's medicine for that.) I hope I’m not giving away any spoilers here, but Blackbeard’s ghost (a spooky sequence, by the way) shows up as well as another of my favorite characters, Bonnet. We know Blackbeard was real. How about Bonnet?

Major Stede Bonnet was a real pirate. They called him the “Gentleman” pirate, because he was a wealthy land owner in Barbados, had four children, and, for reasons no one knows, decided to leave home and become a pirate. He made a terrible pirate. He bought his ship, where most pirates stole theirs. He also had no knowledge of sailing or pirating. He got seasick, the story goes. He met Blackbeard who took charge of his ship. Finally Bonnet was hanged, like many of the pirates, and buried at White Points Garden, in Charleston.

*Along these lines, how much research did you do into pirate lore? The pirate dialect seems genuine. Did you drive your family crazy while writing this by walking around saying things like, “Arrr, me maties, dinner be ready once the wind blows fair?”

The Internet makes research very easy. Pirates are a popular subject and there is a lot of information online. I also borrowed books from the library and bought a couple too. I didn’t go around using pirate talk though. Oh, maybe an occasional “Ahoy there, cats.”

*After a project I’m working on now, I think I’m going to keep all of my books in the here and now. Research can be very tiring! I loved the setting (of course I do! Living in Kansas doesn’t give me much ocean-side time). Did (or do) you live there? You paint a very vivid portrait.

The part of Texas where I live barely has any lakes, much less the ocean, sort of like Kansas. My oldest son and his wife live in Charleston, SC. The ocean. Palm trees. Lots of history. I love visiting with them. They take me to all the beautiful spots. This is the second ghost story I’ve set in that area, cause they have lots of ghosts.

*This is not intended as an insult, but in many ways the book brought me back to many years ago when I read Hardy Boys mysteries and the like. Your book almost seemed like a nostalgic throwback to innocent years spent reading such books. But with one huge difference…these kids face modern problems. All three of the tween leads come from broken families. I betcha’ Mr. and Mrs. Hardy are STILL together. Anyway, I thought it was a great combination of themes and style. Intentional? Or am I reading too much into it?

Gracious. I’d have to say it’s an accident. I never thought about the Hardy Boys or books like that. Just lucked out, I guess. Thanks for telling me. The kids let me follow along in their adventures.

*Okay, the major ghost story? Um…seems like it’s sorta’ not quite resolved. Belated Spoiler Alert! Does this mean a sequel is in the works?

I’m not sure. Originally I hadn’t planned to write a sequel, but lately some thoughts have been bouncing around in my head. So I’ll say “maybe” but not positively.

*Anything else in your head or on your computer?

Well, my computer has a lot of information on it, my head not so much. I am on the last reading of a contemporary ya novel. Hope to submit it early next year. A notebook contains several possible stories. Another mg story is due out in January, just waiting for art work. (It doesn’t have ghosts.) And a mg historical fiction story will come out sometimes next year.

*Finally, I found it painfully honest and refreshing you’ve stated how you hated reading and writing until recently. None of that bogus writerly full-of-oneself crap from Beverly! Yay! Please explain…

I’m really not sure why I didn’t enjoy reading as a child. I

don’t recall books in our home, but my younger sister brought tons of books home from the school library. I wasn’t interested. I loved music and played clarinet in the junior high and senior high bands, along with being a majorette. Maybe I couldn’t sit still long enough to read. I don’t know. In eighth grade, my teacher sent my poem “Stars” to a high school anthology and it was published in Young America Sings. I only wrote the thing to keep from failing the class. Book reports were a nightmare. Thank heavens for the jacket flap info., as if the teachers couldn’t tell. In spite of my rocky relationship with books I graduated from high school and ten years later attended the university and became … yep … a teacher. What was I thinking? Reading Newbery winners with my students and my sons helped me discover what I’d been missing. Now, I have I think 39 books in the closet waiting to be read. This isn’t counting the ones on my iPad.

*Beverly, I can’t imagine any young boy (or girl, for that matter) not enjoying your book. What with ghosts (even a cat ghost), pirates, problems kids can relate to, a psychic love interest, and all sorts of other stuff going on, I imagine kids will eat it up.

Thank you, Stuart. I hope you’re right. Yes, I had to include the cat. My pets insisted. Thanks for letting me share my story and life with you and your fans today.

You guys go and get Beverly’s book. It’s a winner. Just a few finger clicks away…





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