A few weeks back, my wife’s grandfather turned 92 years old and in honor of that rather impressive achievement, we took the baby with us to pay him a visit in the nursing home. This is where I need to be completely up front and honest – I don’t do well with nursing homes. Hospitals are not up there on my favorite list either, but nursing homes have a way of just sending me into an orbit of fear and depression.
I don’t care how much of a fact of life it is, I don’t want to get old. I know, I know. It happens to all of us. I’m not talking about getting older though. I mean getting old. So old that you can no longer care for yourself.
Just as we arrived at the Nursing Home, we took an elevator to the floor where her grandfather is currently staying. As the elevator doors shut, I caught sight of a group of elderly people, some in chairs, some in wheelchairs, their heads sagging down to their chest, expressionless, sitting around in a semi-circle in front of a large television, while the Today Show with Hoda and Kathie Lee played on. Obviously rounded up by the staff for some ‘entertainment,’ these people were sitting there, those images of the TV flashing before them and a look of lifelessness on their faces.
“This is going to be tough,” I thought.
When we got to her grandfather’s room, he was not there yet. He was still down the hall with her mom. When he made his way down via walker, he plopped himself into a chair and his face lit up at the sight of the baby. Hey, who can resist the smiling laughs of a one year old. To see him laughing, playing peekaboo, and dancing in his chair just to entertain our little guy – my heart melted. Our little man was actually making this man’s day.
As Meg, her mom and her grandfather all talked and the baby laughed, I looked around the room. Photos of family and friends – some long gone, others relegated to an occasional visit. A stack of books on top of a cart that sat next to a motorized bed. At the bottom of the cart sat boxes upon boxes of denture hygiene products.
The smell in the air was funny – I can’t put my finger on it, but if you’ve ever been in a nursing home, you know what I mean.
Another man, several years older – late 90s, I believe – wheeled himself in at some point. Talking rather loudly (he can’t hear well, we’re told), he wheeled himself up to her grandfather’s face to ask why he wasn’t at the dinner table. Then, the conversation veered off about their pills and the man then wheeled off, saying he’d look for him at the next meal. The fellow was concerned about him, which was nice to see. This is what friendship is when in a home, I thought.
As we left, wishing her grandfather a Happy Birthday, he asked if he could have a bath for it. And my heart broke.
Here is a man of the Greatest Generation. A man who fought at Iwo Jima, now unable to move without a walker, wearing sweatpants, talking about pills and asking if he could bathe for his birthday.
I wanted to cry.
I know this is life, but it’s not fair. How can people so strong, so full of pep and leadership, pillars of our society, become so weak, so dependent? Why must they lose control of their own bodies and need to wear diapers, be cleaned by others, wait for someone to change or clean their own bed sheets?! Argh! It just…it frustrates me so much that this happens in life and yet, it happens to so many.
We have one neighbor who is 91 and another who is 95. Just within the past few weeks, the 95 year old took a fall that brought ambulances, police and firefighters to his home. His family doesn’t think he can live on his own anymore and when I see the lights of his home dark while they bring him from family member to family member, deciding what to do next, my heart sinks again.
So many people say they want to live forever. Not me. I don’t ever want to reach that point. When I can’t take care of myself, when I, a person who pretty much has to take a shower every day or it mentally haunts me, can’t keep myself clean, I want to call it a day.
It just leads my mind down a path that becomes too overwhelming to handle or comprehend. It means that one day my own parents are going to get old, a thought I suppress whenever it hits and just have trouble handling. One day I will be old, as will my wife. Will we be old together? Will I be around when she gets there? Where will our little guy be in life when it happens? What kind of a relationship will we have? Will he still be my buddy? Will he be on good terms with his parents? The relationship between my father and his parents fell apart decades ago and never ever recovered, to the point of non-speaking. It’s very easy to say ‘this is different,’ ‘we’re not them,’ but let’s face reality – we all carry with us the traits of our parents, grandparents, ancestors, etc, whether we like it or not. We also ALL have the potential to love or hurt those around us, be they family or friends. How does that factor into equation as life continues? Would my little monkey, all grown up, even want to take care of us, or is our future that of the weird smell in the air, the shouting about pills and just wanting to have your dignity back?
I know it sounds horrible, but for all their sakes (my wife, my son, any other children we may have between now and then), I hope it never comes to that. I don’t mind getting older, but when all dignity is gone, I have a hard time envisioning a life that’s being lived.
Yes, this post was filled with fear, dread, some slight paranoia, and some ranting. I know. Sorry about that.
I don’t think Meg or I have ever had moments as terrifying as the ones we experienced last week. I don’t know how more bluntly I could put it other than, we thought our little man had left us.
For me, it was Friday night and I had left work. Meg was picking up the little guy that day so that I could head roughly 40 minutes out of town to a convention where I was set to spend most of the weekend promoting my comic book series. I got about halfway to my destination when I got a phone call from my mom.
“Get to the ER now,” she said.
My son had a seizure when Meg was picking him up.
I turned the car around and raced to the ER as fast as I could, behind every slow vehicle you could imagine, turning seconds into agonizing hours. When I arrived, I raced through the ER, the sense of fear eating away at me in those moments being absolutely inexplicable.
I was crippled the moment I walked into the ER and saw Meg holding our little man in her arms, unresponsive, his eyes rolled back, IVs and breathing tubes hooked up to him. Things seemed utterly bleak.
I looked into Meg’s red, crying eyes and knew we both were thinking the same thing – we thought we had lost him.
Before I had arrived but while in the hospital, he had a second seizure. The first time, he had a fever, they determined, the second time he had not, thus causing some questions and confusion amid the doctors. All sorts of tests were performed – bloodwork, urine, spinal tap (for meningitis) and a cat-scan.
Fortunately, all came back clear.
Then, at some point in the night, after test and test, tears and tears, and every terrible thought running through my head, it happened. When he came to and started responding, looking at us and for the first time he smiled again, well, you could’ve cut off all my limbs and I would have still been smiling to the heavens. He was awake.
The doctor decided to admit him and Meg and I spent the night alongside our little man in the hospital. Late into the night, he started showing signs of eye contact again, causing us to finally breathe once more. When he was spunky enough to start pulling the oxygen tube out of his nose because it obviously annoyed him, we were hopeful that our little monkey was coming back to us.
Throughout the night, the hospital staff checked in, even as he slept, monitoring his temperature, making sure he was getting what he needed in the IV, etc. The next morning, he was up and after a little bit of breakfast, was playing and giggling again, even if his fever was still bouncing up and down a bit and providing some concern.
What the doctors think happened is that he caught a virus. The virus caused the fever to hit quickly and to suddenly spike that afternoon, causing the first seizure.
I made a trip home in the night and returned with some familiar friends for our guy – Gerald the Elephant, and Pigeon, hoping that having a familiar face might help him feel more comfortable. In the morning, Gerald and Pigeon made a new friend – Grover, who joined us from the hospital gift shop on my trip down there for something of comfort, and to find Meg a magazine to read. My parents showed up at one point, bringing with them a talking Daniel Tiger doll that once he was awake, the little guy played with again and again in the cage-like crib set up in the hospital room. It’s set up so that they can’t get out in the night, but looks as though they’re an animal in the zoo.
We’ve always called him our little Superboy, and when he started feeling like himself again, that super-strength was in full force. They had that IV strapped into his arm but good, with an almost cast-like casing on his arm to keep it in. That didn’t stop him, though. When he was uncomfortable, he just reached and ripped that thing clear out of his arm the next day, causing a few nurses and attendants to come running to stop the bleeding he caused. Him? He was just so darn proud of himself. Me? I had to laugh. Our guy was on the mend, that much was clear.
When the hospital pediatrician came around the following morning, he said that we could go home. However, as I’m sure anyone who’s been in a hospital knows, discharge never happens right away. So in the hours between when the doctor said we could go home and when it came time to actually go, the fever had gone back up again. This then led to a myriad of paranoid thoughts about what to do. The doctor had already signed off on the discharge, so while we were told we could stay if we want, the insurance company may not cover it because he signed off on the discharge earlier in the day. The hospital said to call the insurance company, which, wouldn’t you know, was not open on weekends and said to leave a message for them to get back to us on the next business day.
After a lot of back and forth, we decided we would just go home. We felt that if he was acting normal again, we could at least be there with him 24/7, be able to administer his medicine without the need of waiting for a nurse or attendant or doctor to come in amid other rounds they need to make. And he just might feel more comfortable back at home.
Environment may very well play a role in how our minds work when it comes to health, because it seemed as though he perked right up when he got around his familiar environment, his kitties, and his toys again. The fever was still there, but they prescribed medicine for that. Ah, there was the rub, though. A quick trip by me to get the medications led to me going to three pharmacies, all closed by 7:30 on a Saturday night. Hannaford, closed. Rite Aid, closed. Even Wal-Mart (despite my not liking Wal-Mart…I was desperate at that point), all closed. I was at my wits’ end. I called Walgreens. There was one 20-25 minutes away, but I’d make the drive. Closed. I told them we had just gotten out of the hospital and I needed this medicine for my child, asking if they could please recommend SOMEPLACE to get it.
Fortunately, there was a local pharmacy that was open, and open until 10 p.m. I put my foot to the pedal and drove 25 minutes to that pharmacy and got it filled, along with some other items needed – including A+D Cream for the poor little guy’s heiney. All that temperature taking left him very, very sore. I also bought an ear thermometer so we could hopefully give his little bum a rest.
Luckily for us, Meg’s sister came by and lent a hand while I was out on this hour and a half long journey for medicine.
In the end, it turned out I ran myself ragged for nothing. That prescription the hospital pediatrician gave us? Turned out if was for child’s ibuprofen to treat the fever. All that time, I could have just picked it up over the counter.
My mind was in an utter fog, so I’m not surprised that these little things alluded me in the midst of panic.
That night, we slept in the little guy’s room, alongside his crib. We broke out a sleeping bag and laid it out, threw a few blankets down and set the alarm so we would make sure to get up at the right times and give him his medicine for the fever and monitor his temperature (something made a lot easier in the middle of the night with that ear thermometer). We did this two nights in a row, and saw his pediatrician the following Monday, who said it all appeared to be viral.
After the first few days home from work to monitor the little guy, my wife has now caught the virus and is fighting it off herself. We’re pounding the vitamin C (orange juice as well as powdered C inside water), and some Elderberry (great for the immune system) on top of the usual soup and tea.
It’s hard to be a week out and not think back to the horrors of seven days ago. I could sit here and worry about a million and one things. Yes, I know that I’ve always been slightly paranoid and a worry-wart before this. I know that I’m going to be very much airing on the side of caution even more than normal because of this. And yes, my mind keeps bouncing back to the words of the doctor telling us that now that this has happened once, he’s at high-risk for it happening again until he’s about five years old.
But I’ll try very hard not to. I know we all will. His fever has since subsided, and with the exception of a croupy-like bark that we’re working on, similar to what he had last February, he is playing and laughing and smiling and just being our little guy again.
And it’s absolutely wonderful.
I don’t care what superstitions anyone has about Friday the 13th. It was the day he was born and as of last week, it was the day he came back to us. It’s the luckiest day in the world to us.
We all want to know what’s going on inside the minds of our little ones, I’m sure.
Lately, though, I have been especially curious when it comes to the look on our little guy’s face as he flips through books. I know I write a lot about (perhaps ad nauseam) how important our nightly routine of story time is, but I think it must have had some kind of effect, because now the little one year old monkey will spend time during the day, just pulling books off the shelf in his room, or out of his play basket in the living room.
Sometimes he sits and flips through the pages himself (much better than the ripping of pages we found early on), or other times he will launch his arm out, as straight as can be, literature in hand, insisting that I or Meg read it to him (character voices and all).
When he is sitting there on his own, though, I can’t help but be fascinated by what is going on throughout his face. As he turns each page, his eyes moving about the imagery, from left to write, sometimes with a high-pitched ‘ooo!‘ it just makes me so full of joy to see him engaged and entertained. I cold stare at him all day doing that – if he were willing to sit there and do that all day, which just is not in his energetic nature at this stage.
What an experience, though, to see the thought process unfold in his eyes, as you see his mind working upon every page, every picture. It’s a sight to behold and is one of those things that many of us do every day and have long since taken for granted. In this little developing mind, though, each page, each book is just another new intake, a new adventure in his early journey of life.
Man, what a ball I’m having being along for the ride.
A lot has been going on lately and life has been a bit in flux.
Last Friday, after more than seven years in the journalism business, most of those in broadcasting but print before that, I left the news business. As of this week, I am jumping into a brand new career in the realm of public relations.
It’s a move that I am incredibly excited about after years of just ‘feeding the beast’ to get news programs on the air with whatever content was possible amid shrinking staffs and constantly-breaking, outdated machinery (our TV station is one of the few in the country that is still editing on videotape and has yet go non-linear).
At first I was a bit scared of making a leap into another career. This was the longest I had been in any job and it was all I had known for awhile. What about all those familiar faces that I would no longer see day in and day out?
Then I realized that I was doing what we often do when we look back on something – idealizing. I wasn’t taking a look around me, but rather trying to make all that I had dealt with, put up with, and been frustrated by in my business and turn it into a footnote, while putting the good times at the front of my mind.
A very bad idea.
Sometimes, we lose ourselves in what we do. For me, it became very easy. Between the long days, often taking texts or phone calls at home, or doing work online in the evenings after I left work or on the weekends, I got caught up in it. When it’s the medium of television, that goes even further, because you’re not only taking on the identity of your work for yourself, but to the public as well. So many people would stop us in the grocery store and want to talk about who they didn’t like at the station, or why they didn’t like a particular story. It didn’t matter if the person they were complaining about was a friend or colleague, or if I had anything to do with the story they didn’t like. I worked there, thus, I was their chance to vent.
One of the biggest reasons I left was that I was just plain burnt-out on news. In the position I had, I was looked to for many problems for many shows. So, although I walked in at 8 to start getting things together for the noon news, by 10:30 or 11, the evening producer would be looking for what people were doing for the 5. There were many times we were still scrambling to get the Noon on the air and I was running around, frustrated, trying to figure out the 5, the 6, then soon after, the 10 and the 11, etc. It was a never ending cycle. In many jobs, when you finish something, you can take a sigh of relief. “Phew. I finished.” In news, there’s no such thing. You run yourself into the ground for one show and then you better be ready to do it all over again for another show in just a few short hours.
It may have been exciting and new in my twenties, but now, with years gone by and the little guy growing like a weed, it just wasn’t for me anymore.
I was coming home with chest pains, going to work each day, anxiety-ridden about what was coming and I knew that I was coming home as a person I didn’t want my son growing up with. I knew, deep down, that if I stayed on the path I was on, I would be dead before age 50, keeled over my desk. I wasn’t what I wanted my little guy seeing as an example of how to be, or how life should be.
Yes, you can say ‘well, it’s a job’ but you can rationalize and glorify anything when you want to. There is an allure for many to be ‘in the TV business’ or to have people know who you are. In the end, though, what matters is how you balance that, and what you trade off for your own happiness.
So I started looking outward, and when this opportunity in public affairs at a college campus presented itself, looking for someone with a background in journalism, I couldn’t leap fast enough. A new set of challenges, an exciting new start, great hours, holidays off, more time for my family. Time on the weekends and nights to spend with them or work on my passions, be it this blog, my comic series, or get back into some fiction writing. How could I say no?
I know a lot of people these days measure success in different ways. I’m not one to measure it by how many people know me, how much time my face was on television, or how many Facebook friends or followers I had. For me, it’s about the quality of the life you choose to lead. Moving to a job that may not have the ‘glamour’ of my previous job may seem like a downward step to some, especially those who don’t know me. For me, though, it’s the chance to have my own life again, to carve out a future with my family and spend time with the passions that fuel me but have had to be put on the back burner for years as work became more and more consuming.
It was a bittersweet goodbye. I got choked up thinking of the people who I like at work who I’ll miss seeing everyday. Then, I think of the folks who made it miserable to work there, be they certain colleagues or management.
I could have left on a bitter note, given the challenges placed before me by corporate higher-ups during my transition. However, I decided I was going to leave the better person and just finish out the time, a full six weeks. I gave too much of myself over the years to have it all end badly. Besides, I was allowed the opportunity to say my proper goodbyes to the audience and my friends and colleagues, a day which I will remember fondly.
I’ll miss many of the people, but I honestly won’t miss the stressful drudgery or the lack of compassion or common sense that ran rampant there.
The day that I left my news job, Meg found this cartoon online. While not the exact same situation, it pretty much summed up everything about how I was feeling as of late when it comes to having the life drained out of you by work and not living your life: