Apr 29, 2009

Better Reading Material

If I had known that a full blown pandemic was imminent I would have chosen a different book to read. I am currently reading "Wastelands" a collection of post-apocolyptic short stories. More than a few of the authors chose fast spreading viruses to kill off the human race. WHO announcing that we are now in Phase 5 on the pandemic scale is frightening, especially when their spokesperson announces that this "poses a threat to all of humanity".... yikes.

Everybody knows that the media blows things way out of proportion. But this is the World Health Organization. That is some serious shit. I plan on stocking up on tissues, antiseptic hand gel and some orange juice (I think OJ has mystical virus combatting properties.) Please don't take it personally if I see you and don't shake your hand. It's one of the few things I can do to protect myself, other than holing up in a cabin in the mountains with a long range rifle to keep the infected away from me and mine.... (you just know there are people already doing that.)

Apr 27, 2009

At least I got a blog post out of it.

Hello, ATT Customer Service, my name is Brian. How can I help you?

(Based on your accent, I don't think your name is Brian but OK. I understand it's meant to make the xenophobic American feel more comfortable with your advice so we can go with Brian.) My mother can't remember the password for her email or the answers to her security questions so we are now locked out of her email account.

First, let me say I'm sorry you're having trouble but I can help you with that.

(Sure you can <---- this is in my most sarcastic mental voice.)

{Identity verification activity commences.}

Now can you open up a browser.


Now enter att.net in the address box.


I mean enter att.yahoo.net.

OK, well when I do that it defaults me to att.my.yahoo.net

OK that's fine. Now do you see a log in box?

No, but I see an envelope icon to open her mail. (Do I need to explain to you that this means the computer is automatically logging into her internet account?)

Hmmm, OK click on the email icon.

OK, I get a prompt for her email password which is the problem I'm calling about. (I'm sensing impatience on Brian's part.)

Hmmm, do you mind if I gain remote control of the computer.

Not at all, be my guest.

{Remote accessing of computer commences}

OK, now I have control of your computer so I will attempt to fix the problem remotely.

OK, I'll just sit back and watch, you let me know if you need anything from me.

{Brian opens att.my.yahoo.net} Well that's why you don't get a log in box, you're automatically logging in.

(Really? Apparently I did need to explain to you that the computer was automatically logging into the account.)

Let me try opening email. Can you please input your password for me?

Well, if you remember, we can't remember the password. That's why we're calling you.

I know, just put any password in.

{I input bingo99 because it's as likely to be correct as any other password I use since we are LOCKED OUT OF THE ACCOUNT.} OK done.

Well that's not the correct one. {Brian wrests control of my mother's computer back from me and clicks the forgot password option and a screen explaining that we are locked out of our account opens up.} I'm sorry but I can't help you with this because you are locked out of your account. I will need to refer you to the account verification team.

Apr 25, 2009

Welcome Home

My son came home after completing his first year of college yesterday. We are all very happy to have him back. He was ready to come home. A person can only take so much independence (read: partying and eating pizza for dinner five nights out of seven). After much soul searching and testing the waters in different collegiate disciplines, he has decided to study biology and anthropology. An interesting mix that doesn't seem to lead directly into any sort of occupation. But that's Ok. He will be just fine no matter what road he chooses to follow (with, hopefully, only minimal course correcting from us.)

Speaking of sons making their way in the world.... did you know that Sir Isaac Newton's mother took him out of school so that he could follow in his father's footsteps as a farmer? After a failed year at managing the family farm, Isaac's uncle took matters into his own hands, getting Isaac admitted to Trinity College. Isaac had always been a handful up to this point but the threat of having to return to the farm was just what he needed to take his studies more seriously. Although my missing astronomy and physics gene prohibits me from fully understanding everything Isaac contributed, I do understand the importance of gravity, and not just in the practical sense.

Newton was a colossus without parallel in the history of science. His theory will never be outmoded. Designed to predict the motions of heavenly bodies, it does its job with unbelievable accuracy — better than one part in a hundred million for the motion of the earth round the sun. It remains in daily use to predict the orbits of moons and planets, comets and spacecraft
Stephen Hawking. Lucasian Professor, Cambridge.

Is my son the next Isaac Newton? No, probably not, but he does have something unique and special to offer the world. You never know where life will lead you. You just have to try to do your best, find something you love and enjoy the ride along the way.

Bonus pics - Dorm Room Life - The Aftermath

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Apr 22, 2009

An open letter to Annapolis Hospital and Dr. Wolcott

This week my mother was brought to your hospital by ambulance because she was having a difficult time breathing. She has gone through a lot over the last month and a half, having recently been sent home from U of M hospital after a failed attempt to repair a leaking mitral valve. My mother fought to have the ambulance return her to U of M but the rescue unit policy is “closest hospital”.

My sister, who lives very close to your hospital was in the ER within minutes of my mother’s arrival. She received Dr. Wolcott’s permission to stay with my mother. Understandably, my mother was quite agitated and afraid. My sister says that she was working with the staff to get my mother calm enough to use the oxygen mask. An ER nurse, whose name I never got, ordered my sister out of the ER because she said “you’re in the way here”. This was delivered in a very dismissive and mean tone of voice.

We then spent nearly two hours trying to get information and permission to go back and see my mother. I’ll refrain from speculating on the nurse’s motivations but from my side of conversations with her I could tell that she was not happy with us demanding information. I think she purposely took her time getting back to us as some sort of punishment. Don’t you have techs that could have relayed a message to us? It would have put our minds at ease to hear anything.

The ER nurse finally led us back to see my mother. What we found was my mother completely knocked out and hooked up to a ventilator. We were very upset and concerned and asked to speak to the doctor. Perhaps our reputation as trouble makers had already spread because when Dr. Wolcott finally came to talk to us he was very brusque and seemed irritated by our questions and requests for further explanations.

We spent 10 hours in the ER room before she was transferred to intensive care, which was now a necessity since she had a breathing tube. It took three days to get her out of intensive care because removing a breathing tube is no small feat. It stands to reason then that one would only insert one when absolutely necessary.

Our theory is that the breathing tube was not necessary. My mother’s anxiety and agitation was not acceptable to the ER staff. The doctor’s solution was to knock her out and stick a breathing tube down her throat. I have no absolute proof but I offer the following as support of our assertion:

One minute my mother is raising her voice and is very agitated (seems as if that would take some ability to breathe on your own) and the next she is on a ventilator. Dr. Wolcott’s report to us never included information about how she stopped breathing or even that she came close to it.

The respiratory therapist made an off hand comment that they were running out of ventilators in the ER. Does this imply some sort of overuse of this equipment at your hospital?

The U of M intensive care nurse, upon her admission there, without any prompting or discussion with us about her condition, said, “A breathing tube seems drastic. I can’t figure out why they put it in her. She doesn’t seem to be that bad.” Again, we had not said a word about our suspicions.

My mother’s vital signs were stable and strong throughout this ordeal, at least as far as I could see once I was allowed to be with her. The oxygen level on her ventilator was able to be lowered almost immediately. If she truly had been near death’s door wouldn’t you expect there to be some struggle to return to normal vital signs?

My expectations for medical professionals and institutions are that they show an appropriate level of concern, compassion and competency. I don’t expect infallibility but I do expect that the patient’s well being takes precedence over expediency and convenience.

To end this on a positive note, our family would like to personally thank the ICU nurse by the name of Anyssa. She was personally responsible for helping us get my mother transferred to U of M hospital. After nearly 24 hours of asking for it to happen with no action by the doctors, she made it her personal mission. She didn’t make it obvious that she was behind it either. She just wanted to help us do what was best for my mother. My advice to you is to make her the benchmark you use when hiring staff.

Apr 19, 2009

I'm gonna give you a smack upside the head.

Everybody is saying "It is what it is". Do I hate that phrase for the pure and simple reason that it conveys no information? Of course it is what it is. What else could it possibly be? Unless we went to sleep last night and woke up in a world where things are what they aren't. That would be a very confusing world indeed. Then it would make sense to declare "The banana is an orange" just to make sure we are all on the same page.

I think I hate that phrase because it implies that the speaker is helpless. A victim of circumstances beyond their control that leaves them incapable of doing anything about it. I know people feel despair and I know they feel helpless. But I guarantee you that people who lose their homes or are battling a life threatening illness don't shrug their shoulders and say "It is what it is."

Stop babbling useless catch phrases in an attempt to sound philosophical. The fact that you let that drivel roll off your tongue convinces me that there probably is something you can do about your situation. Let me give you some alternatives so I don't have to listen to this nonsense anymore. "I'm tired of talking about this." "Let's just see what happens." "I don't want to do anything about this."

Apr 16, 2009

Hey, that might be worth something!

The sign on the coin box at work clearly states “US COINS ONLY”. But just look at the haul of non-US coinage and other various coin shaped objects people are using to purchase their beverages.

Canadian coins are understandable since Detroit is right across the river from Canada. US and Canadian coins were used interchangeably until very recently when exchange rates started fluctuating wildly. Not so surprising to find Japanese yen either, given our ratio of Japanese expats to local hires. But why is somebody carrying around English pence and Mexican pesos?

It’s the other items I find interesting. All these items can’t have been mistaken for legal coinage. Our employees are either trying to amuse us or are protesting the recently instituted coffee charge of 15 cents.

The Benjamin Franklin souvenir coin is so hefty and authentic looking that I thought we had lucked into getting a rare coin. That would fund our coffee for the next few decades. No such luck. I am assuming the battery is dead. The Toronto subway token may come in handy since I occasionally visit there. Most worrisome for me is that one of our employees needs to be careful of walking under ladders or across the path of a black cat because they don’t have their lucky angel coin to counteract the bad luck.

Apr 14, 2009

Playing Favorites

Because we got an awesome deal on a used test car from my work, we decided to replace the truck my son has been driving. The truck was a hand me down from his sister. Like all siblings they watch closely to see what the other one gets and then measure it against some sort of “fairness” scale. I mentioned to my sister that I was worried my daughter was upset about us getting him the car. She said “Who cares? He needs it to be about him once in awhile.” I realized she gave this advice as a second born child, just like my son. I decided to take her advice and get over it. (I can just imagine the face my daughter is making as she reads this. I bet she read the above and thought “It’s always about him.”)

Birth order plays a big role in how you see the world. I read “The Birth Order Book” years ago and was fascinated by how big an influence it has. My poor son is a second born in a house full of firstborns. It’s like somebody sticking a baby chick in a hawk’s nest. The hawks see some sort of resemblance, feathers, beaks, wings but there is something very different about this creature. He doesn’t seem to care about things quite as much as we do.

The firstborns in the house (husband, daughter and me) spend all our time trying to be on top. Who is the funniest? Who is smarter? Who cleaned more rooms in the house on “house cleaning weekend”? Who cooks better? Who is spanking @ss at Trivial Pursuit (me of course)? Who drives better? The list of things we compete over is endless. All the time my son just sits back, not only not participating but mysteriously not caring at all. He is content to go about his own business, just doing what makes him happy.

Our birth order affects how we parent as well. While we were out and about one day my sister got a phone call from her first born. My niece was complaining that her younger sister was not listening to her. I fully expected my sister to get her younger daughter on the phone and tell her to straighten up and do what her sister told her to do. Instead she told the oldest to quit bossing her younger sister around. What? You left her in charge, didn’t you? She’s supposed to boss her around.

Then it dawned on me that of course my “younger” sister would empathize with the younger daughter. In the same fashion, I totally understood where the oldest was coming from. I remember as a teenager being given marching orders about cleaning the house or cooking dinner and instead of my sister cooperating by doing what she was told to do, she plopped her butt down on bottom stair and told me she wouldn’t do ANYTHING I told her to do.

So I will accept that my daughter will always think my son has it too easy and my son will always think we pay way too much attention to our over-achieving daughter. It's unavoidable. I'll just shake my head, knowing that they are both special in their own way and appreciated for who they are, even though they are very different people.

Apr 12, 2009

My mother's hands.

I have held my mother's hand more in the last 72 hours than I have since I was a child. The procedure they attempted to repair the hole in her mitral valve did not work. She will have to undergo open heart surgery again. The procedure lasted for 9 hours as they tried over and over again to position their instrument in the proper location in her heart but they couldn't do it.

She had a very difficult time coming out of the anesthesia, which is not unusual for older people but still very scary. She reverted to her native German and the recovery team needed us back there to be with her and comfort her. She called out for all three of us. The first night was very rough. She was disoriented and scared. My father stayed with her that night.

She is afraid to be alone because she is having bad dreams. My sister and I tag teamed last night. I held her hand for 7 hours as she fell in and out of sleep. It brought me to tears several times. You see, I had forgotten about my mother's hands. Over the past few decades we have given each other the occasional hand squeeze but I haven't really held her hand in a long, long time.

My mother's hands are beautiful. She has long slender fingers and beautiful strong fingernails that she used to keep polished, usually red. I remember rubbing my thumb over her nails feeling the smoothness and wondering at the strength of her nails. Everybody used to say that her hands were so beautiful she should have been a hand model, if there even is such a thing.

Those who know her better got the chance to feel her touch. Her hands are always warm and soft, incredibly soft. She has just the right amount of padding in her palm. My hand always fit perfectly into hers.

My sister and I are the lucky ones. We got to be mothered by those hands. Strong hands that were always working and getting things done. Not only taking care of what needed to be done but teaching us how to do them too. Caring hands, whether she was washing our hair over the kitchen sink, being careful to keep the soap out of your eyes, or whether she was combing our hair. She loved cooking dinner for us every night with those hands. I remember her comforting hands pressed against my forehead when I was sick and rubbing my back affectionately. When I was very young I hated how she would lick her finger, or a tissue to wipe a smudge off my cheek but now appreciate the strength and capability of those hands, even in that.

After this is all over and done with, and she is fully recovered, I have made myself many promises. To appreciate my mother more, to get her to do things she has never done before, to try harder for a better relationship with her. But above all that is the simple promise to hold her hand more often.

Apr 9, 2009

Now celebrating a quarter of a century of wedded bliss

We will be celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary in less than a month. We are planning a little trip to DC to tour museums and monuments to our hearts' content. Then we will walk around some local neighborhoods and try to find some hole in the wall place to have a beer (or two) and some good food. Heaven, for both of us. Though many of our day to day pursuits are on opposite ends of the spectrum, there are some things we agree on and enjoy together. Museum lurking is one of them. Personal mission while in DC is to get a library card from the Library of Congress.

How did we make it 25 years? It was touch and go a few times but the bottom line is neither one of us is a quitter and neither one of us came into this with silly notions that happily married means every single moment of the day. You have to be willing to take some bad along with the good. If you want to cut and run at the first sign of trouble then marriage is not for you. Here is my humble advice on what it takes to make a lasting marriage.

* Let little things go.

* Be willing to give up on big things once in a while too.

* There will be a laundry list of things that he does that will drive you crazy. Get over it. You won't change them.

* Accept that your relationship will change over time and be willing to discover what that change means.

* Admit when you were wrong.

* Never start a sentence with "You always.....".

* Don't expect the other person to be responsible for your feelings, happiness and self-esteem. That's your job.

* Little things you do for the other one "just because" go a long way.

I don't always take my own advice. Sometimes I get so caught up in the moment I want to win the argument at all costs. It's ironic that the person you care about most in the world is also the same person who can make you the angriest. But, eventually I come to my senses, calm down and let it go. I hope the next twenty five years is as wonderful and exciting as the last. I do wish it would slow down a little though.

Apr 6, 2009

Sugar Overload

Eating too many jelly beans can make you sick. Ask my sister, she knows. It's a lesson she learned the hard way. The sad thing is that awful experience forever ruined jelly beans for her. Ah well, it just meant more for me. Didn't even have to trade her anything for them. She gave them up willingly. I like the following jelly beans, in order from most favorite to just OK.... black, purple, pink, green, yellow, orange. Don't really like the white ones or the red ones so they were always the last ones in my basket. They would get eaten but only after all other alternatives were exhausted.

There should be a law against hollow chocolate bunnies. There is nothing more disappointing as a child than biting into that rabbit and discovering that it is hollow. What kind of a ripoff is this? Please! You won't accept me hiding my dirty clothes under the blankets on my bed or sweeping the dirt into the closet and yet you get away with giving me a hollow Easter Bunny. Next time save us all the grief and just get me a Snickers bar, cheaper for you and a lot more chocolate for me. I never, ever got my kids a hollow Easter Bunny. (OK, maybe once but it was only because I had to run out to the store late at night the Saturday before Easter Sunday and there were no solid bunnies to be found in the Metro Detroit area.)

The hiding of the colored eggs is my husband's department. He thinks he is so clever with his hiding places. There have been a few times I was sure we would have to wait for the rotten egg smell to lead us to that last egg because even he couldn't even remember it was hidden. But the kids always managed to find them all. The year we hid coins in plastic eggs went over big with the kids but the adults didn't like it too much. It got a little too competitive.

I do baskets up right. Just ask my kids. They always get a movie and a game of some sort. Little knick knacky things I find throughout the year. My motto is better to have too much candy than too little. My husband thinks the kids are too old for Easter baskets this year. You're never too old for an Easter basket. Would you turn one down? They will get one this year and every year until they produce some grandchildren. If my husband thinks I spoil the kids wait until he sees what I have up my sleeve for the grandkids.

Apr 4, 2009

The heart is more than a muscle.

I'm mostly in a big blue funk right now. No answers yet about Mom's surgery despite the fact that she has been in the hospital for a week waiting to find out ..... WHAT THE FU** YOU PEOPLE INTEND TO DO IN ORDER TO FIX HER. Seems as if they think the valve replacement is too risky so they want to try some new non-invasive method to fix her mitral valve. Non-invasive? How exactly do you fix the heart in a non-invasive way? A heating pad? Everything is on hold while we all wait for some specialist to return from a seminar to explain it all and determine whether my mother is a good candidate for this procedure. This procedure is supposed to be all cutting edge. Doesn't this specialist know that my Mom and the rest of us are waiting anxiously to find out what the hell is going on.

Every day the doctors breeze in and out with some tidbit of news and information. None of it adds up to a plan though. I've been exposed to hospitals and medical people my entire life because of my mom's health. I have seen many doctors who walk around acting like they're miracle workers, and admittedly they often are. The down side of this God complex is that when they don't have the answer they get uncomfortable. I can accept uncertainty but I can't accept this non-communication. Is this specialist truly the only person who can explain this procedure to us. Why must I be forced to search the internet for information? Isn't that part of your job?

Oh, by the way, thanks for convincing my mother that if you end up doing the surgery it means a death sentence.... way to go. She is making small speeches to us about how she has no regrets and she's happy she had two good daughters. She even has Dad saying things about not wanting to lose her. I don't want to lose her either and frankly, I'm a little bit scared.

Apr 2, 2009

Going Gray

I’m trying to decide whether to let my hair just go gray. There are two reasons to do it. It would be much more convenient and it would satisfy my curiosity. I’m tired of the hassle of getting it colored. I am such a procrastinator that I inevitably end up calling my hairdresser begging her to squeeze me in somehow. Right now I have an appointment for a color and then have to go back three days later for the cut because she doesn’t have a block of time big enough to do both. If it were gray it would be so much easier. I’ll have to take the plunge someday. Who wants to be one of those really old ladies with jet black hair?

I’ve been dying it for so long I have no idea what it would look like all grown out. Based on the roots I see peeking out (OK, I admit it, they’re not peeking out, I am sporting a full blown skunk stripe), I would have a complete head of gray hair. Would it be horrible looking? How old would I look? Would people treat me differently, more politely even, if they think I’m an older woman? Also, would my thin fine hair be more manageable? Gray hair seems to be more coarse.

I’ll have to ask my hairdresser about how we would do it. You can’t just let it grow out. You’d have to use some sort of temporary color that washes out over time until the gray grew out and then just let the temporary dye fade and voila, gray hair.