Wednesday, December 23, 2009

It's a Bandarful Life!

Thanks to my pal Alan for the title to this post. slc

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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Sylishly stepping out

Today at PF Chang's in Beachwood, with daughter Sarah in the background, Bandar sports my gorra, a Guatemalan wool cap.

Much like my beloved, late grandmother, Elsie Janes Cadwell, Bandar lives for family. There's nothing more important. She's in her glory these last few days, with a house full of Murads.

Friday, December 18, 2009

One small step for Bandar...

Bandar has taken some giant leaps this year, measured over months. And she continues her progress, a day at a time. Today, she worked on climbing up and down steps at rehab, one of a host of new, advanced physical therapies she's undertaking. (She tried Wii tennis last month.)

Her outlook is upbeat. She says things, like, "You know, I feel better after exercise," and, "I'm not in as much pain today." Miracle statements, as it were.

Here it is, Friday evening, and she's been up holding court all day with her daughter (my sister-in-law) Sarah, who's visiting this weekend from Virginia Beach, Va.

"I love having my daughters here," she says, smiling as she listens to her girls updating each other on the latest of life's happenings.

Life is good today for Bandar and her family. Happy times.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Maybe she's no Einstein, but she's relatively smart

Thank God, Bandar has a sense of humor. Sometimes anyway. Just for fun, I mashed together a couple of photos -- Bandar's head on top of the body of Albert Einstein, the latter of which came from a fairly well-known photo.

"Is that me?" she asked? "I ride the bicycle at therapy?"

No, this wasn't a picture from Metro's therapy room, where she has used a stationery bike for exercise. I explained what I had done. She laughed, thankfully.

Bandar was last on a real bicycle in her 20s, she told me. I'll see if I can get her to expand on that a bit.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Happy days at Metro and at home

"She's on fire today," Roberta said as she handed off Bandar to Deanna. It's been that kind of week. In a good way.

Bandar had just completed her hour of occupational therapy and was about to begin her hour with physical therapy.

How do we measure progress?

Bandar's more alert throughout the day. She's gaining confidence: she can get to and from the bathroom on her own, and occasionally she even gets up to walk on her own just to exercise. She's in less pain.

And her twice-a-week therapy sessions are motivating as well as showing results.

"You know, I feel better now after I exercise," she told me Wednesday on the way home from OT and PT.

Music to my ears.
Bandar works with Deanna, left, and poses with Roberta, above.
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Saturday, November 28, 2009

Giving thanks

"My ankles hurt in my hands," Bandar said in the car on the way home from Thanksgiving dinner at cousin Connie's. I wasn't familiar with this new expression but quickly inferred her meaning: she was in pain due to the osteoarthritis in her wrists. Other than this and one other complaint ("that stuffing give me heartbur-r-r-r-r-n"), Bandar and we, her family, had a fine day.

A belated Happy Thanksgiving to Friends of Bandar everywhere!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Wii bit of tennis

"We're going to do something different today," Roberta said as I wheeled Bandar into the occupational therapy room this afternoon. "Can you play tennis?"

"I can't do it," came the quick and familiar reply.

Add tennis to the long list of activities Bandar has never experienced. Along with badminton, horseshoes, archery, skeet-shooting, shuffle board. Square dancing. The hokey-pokey.

Two minutes later, Bandar was playing faux tennis. Or whatever the geniuses at Wii call it.

A little stretch to serve here. A big stretch of a backhand over there.

She was really terrible. (Bowling, which she tried later, was worse.)

But Roberta got Bandar moving.

And that's what it's all about.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Dates at Nate's

Bandar lit up when she realized I was parallel parking in front of her favorite restaurant, on West 25th Street. I hadn't told her where we were going. Only that I wanted to take her to lunch after her physical and occupational therapy. True to form she wasn't excited, at first. This was yesterday.

"I eat at home," she had said. "I in too much pain. You bring me food, make me lunch Better for me that way."
Have I mentioned how many times a day I say the Serenity Prayer?
Back on West 25th Street she saw something she wanted.

"Oh, you take me here? Oh, my. Oh, my," she gushed.

We were in front of Nate's Deli and Restaurant, a mecca for moderately priced Mediterranean cuisine, next to Cleveland's famous West Side Market.

But Bandar had never been to Nate's, at least not that she could remember. Her unbridled enthusiasm wasn't for Nate's. She saw the sign for the restaurant next door, Phnom Penh, a Cambodian and Vietnamese lunch and dinner spot where, until Bandar's spinal injury, Sophie and I visited with Bandar at least monthly.

As I got Bandar out of the car and into her transport chair and began to negotiate our way to the restaurant entrance, I thought the Arabic writing on Nate's window might be a giveaway that we were going someplace different. Not so.

The restaurant was packed with a lunchtime crowd and we found the last two-top in sight. Once seated, I explained to Bandar where we were, at Nate's, a place that serves Lebanese food -- and some of the best that could be found in Cleveland.

"Dates?" Bandar asked.

"No, we're at a place called Nate's. You can get anything you want here. It's food you like. Food you're familiar with. Lebanese food. Do you understand?"

"Yes," Bandar said, now smiling ear to ear. "I want the soup."

I don't know if Nate's serves soup. But I knew what Bandar meant.

Her favorite dish at Phnom Penh, the restaurant next door, is Khmer style soup with rice, chicken and fish. She devours it every time we visit the restaurant next door.

"No, no, no... that's the place next door..."

And so it went for another few minutes until Bandar got her bearings, and a new enthusiasm took hold.

"This not the Chinese restaurant?" she asked, referring to Phnom Penh. (We stopped trying to explain Cambodian Vietnamese cuisine versus Chinese cuisine years ago). "You take me to get Lebanese food? Oh, my."

I ordered for the two of us: a combination plate and a side of fattoush. A few minutes later, our feast arrived. In addition to the Levantine salad, we were served stuffed grape leaves, humus, baba ghanoush, tabouli, kibbe, syrian bread (what Bandar calls pita) and a side of zeitoun (what Bandar calls olives).

I've seen kids at Christmas look as happy as this little Lebanese lady.

As much as Bandar enjoyed her old familiar foods and flavors, she kept her gaze on me the entire time we ate. And she just smiled.

"I can't believe you know how to eat my people's food," she said after lunch. "You open the bread, you put the tabouli inside, you put the humus inside, you put the baba inside and you put the zeitoun inside and you eat it. Just like we do! How you know?"

Bandar worked up an appetite before lunch at physical therapy and occupational therapy. Deanna helps Bandar with the walker. Roberta shares a moment during a brief Bandar break before showing her how to work a peg board.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Full disclosure

Awhile back I mentioned an article about the stress and pain associated with providing care for an elderly loved one, every day. Not just Saturday with grandma at the nursing home or even Tuesdays with Morrie in Boston. Daily care, from the first stretch in the morning to the last bathroom break before bed. Not to mention nighttime calls to answer an anxious cry, deliver pain medicine or just wonder what the hell is going on and why are we up at X in the morning.

Every day with Bandar represents a creative outlet for me to deal with an unexpected turn of events: My mother-in-law moved in with my wife and me. I can hardly believe that's the case as I type the words. I take Bandar to therapy and to doctor's visits, make her appointments, put on her shoes, help her walk, feed her and clean up after her. And without going into detail, I help Bandar get to and from the bathroom. Don't try to imagine.

It's not all fun and games around here, despite my best efforts to accept reality and go with the flow... to take a day at a time... live life on life's terms... surrender to God's will, that he has a plan for me. For us. (If I can find a helpful phrase or suggestion, damn it, I use it!)

Sometimes, every day with Bandar is more than just challenging, for me. For Sophie. For Sophie's siblings and nieces and nephews. And for Bandar. Stress rears itself in many ways.

You know those funny traits and characteristics about Bandar?
Her quirks can be annoying beyond words. If I let them. And I could post every day on my complaints and inconveniences, frustrations and even anger. With Bandar. How easily I could fill the pages of my blog...
This is my better or worse?
I didn't sign up for Bandar-duty when I got married... Other families just put their older relatives in nursing homes and do what Americans do best -- love them from afar... I had to marry a certain-ethnic girl from a certain-ethnic culture that doesn't put people out of sight so they can be out of mind... Is this fair? Is it right? Why me?
And, I'm not in this Bandar business alone. I could expand endlessly and project my own negative thoughts and feelings upon Bandar's entire family.

But then, who would read, "Bitter With Bandar?" Or, "Bitching about Bandar?" Would I care if my readership feel to zero? As much as I appreciate and love readers here, I write this blog for me. For my own sanity. So if bitterness and bitching helped, I'd give it a go.

Thank God, somehow I recognized early on the futility of acting on self-pity. The creation of this blog helped me with that. By writing about the unexpected and very authentic love and joy that I and we experience every day with Bandar, I shift my world view. Day by day. Moment by moment.

Still, I'm no saint. I have my other moments. You're just not going to read about them here.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Will shred for therapy

After 11 years of accumulating shared bank statements, bills, tax and other financial records, Sophie and I finally sorted through the mounds of paper, filed the stuff we need to keep for the long term and created two big piles for the stuff we should get rid of. Anything without any identifying information could be bagged and readied to go straight to the recycling center at the Nature Center at Shaker Lakes or one of the other nonprofits we support. (These nonprofits are paid a small fee by a recycling firm called Abitibi to store drop-off recycling bins for supporters to donate their newspapers, junk mail, magazines, etc., for collection. The firm pays the nonprofits by the ton, totaling, perhaps, $100 a month or so.) Stuff with confidential information would have to go through the shredder, before going into bags for the Abitibi "paper retrievers." Only one question remained.

Who would shred?

"I can't do it," came the familiar response when I asked Bandar if she could try something a little new and different. With a little coaxing, she agreed to give it a try and soon enough had put a full year's worth of paper through our little machine, jamming it every 10th insert or so.

I wasn't looking for efficiency by enlisting Bandar for this assignment. Rather, the simple and repetitive motion of leaning forward, picking up a piece of paper, twisting slightly and feeding the paper into the machine is a perfect mimic of some of the other exercises assigned by Bandar's occupational therapist. Every little bit helps.

After 10 minutes or so, Bandar was exhausted and asked me if she could "go laying down." She was actually pleased for her contribution.

Just 10 days from now, I expect Bandar to complete the task.

More good times.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Sophie's choice

"Dogs killed a snake?" Bandar asked, upset and nervous. "I want to go to bed."

"No, mom! They've got a skunk -- a skunk, it's a SKUNK -- and they have it by its neck right now and it's a big mess and Cindy next door is coming over to help and I'm trying to call Steve because he's at a meeting and the dogs are still in the backyard with the skunk and I'm not sure what to do!" Sophie shouted.
"Put me to bed," Bandar ordered, unfazed.

So began the drama last night at around 9 o'clock.

In the backyard, Siegfried From KAOS, our 5-year-old Jack Russell terrier, had a skunk in a death grip by the neck, shaking it violently. Sheba, his 3-year-old half-sister, looked on and barked, ran up to the skunk and barked, ran back to our house and barked and ran back to the skunk. And barked.

All the while, Sophie ran down to Siegfried and his quarry yelling for him to get away, ran back to the house with Sheba to try to get her away, ran back to Siegfried and yelled, and ran back to the house to get the phone to try to call her husband and the next-door neighbor for help and ran back to Siegfried. And yelled.

And Bandar lay on the couch in the parlor, wanting desperately to go to bed.

Since Sophie never reached me by phone, I arrived home to see Cindy and Sophie in the garage with both dogs tied up, one receiving a bath while the other howled in discomfort. The skunk had met its end. Cindy and Keith had helped to lure Siegfried away from his kill.

My coming home was Sophie's cue that she could go into the house and get her mom ready for bed. Bandar slept through the night.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A journey of a thousand miles...

Yesterday at physical therapy, Deana introduced a new training aid, which helps Bandar practice lifting her feet higher with each step while increasing the length of her stride.

Deana didn't like my training aid suggestion.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Slow and steady: not a race

Caregivers and care-takers tend to see themselves living in one of two worlds: the land of optimism, hope and continual improvement; or the land of fear, dread and perpetual decline. Would that it were so simple, so consistent, so definable.

More often, progress is difficult to measure in the short term. Most days are spent stepping in and out of both worlds, gingerly, tentatively, never knowing for sure which course the patient is following, toward which world.

On the same day Bandar walks a good distance and manages to get in and out of the car with little assistance, she may have terrible pain in her back and legs or trouble sleeping and difficulty breathing when exerting herself. To the caregiver who tries to make sense of every little sign, these data points baffle us, confuse us. Is she getting better or worse? we want to know. Now. How can we fix this? Make it better?

And then. When we calm ourselves and step back, we may realize the wisdom of the ages. We can only do so much. The rest is up to a power greater than ourselves. We have to yield control and recognize our own limitations, despite the tremendous responsibility we have assumed.

Recognizing our own limitations and working within them, we can celebrate victories when they come. We can smile, encourage and congratulate. We can observe, assess and consult with doctors and therapists. We can pray for guidance, patience and acceptance.

We need to follow up on medical issues and consult professionals. We have to take care of ourselves and our fellow caregivers. We have to keep expectations in check.

Living one day at a time, we look to completing this day, every day, to live moment to moment. And to do what we can, whatever may be the next right thing.
Bandar is gaining upper body strength and recovering her core muscles. Both her Occupational Therapist, Roberta, and she agree she is stronger, more flexible and has more endurance. She barely wears her rigid back brace, which she had grown dependent on. She can twist and turn her back in ways we couldn't have imagined just three or four weeks ago. Above, she cranks an exercise machine during her Sept. 28 visit to rehab with Roberta, at Metrohealth Hospital.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Choosing sides

Every night with Bandar around 9 o'clock bedtime, Sophie takes mama through her evening rituals of cleaning and toileting. This happens in the first-floor master bedroom and bathroom I used to call my own.

Once teeth are out and face is washed, Bandar ambles with her walker to the right side of the bed, which I used to call my own, and plops her bottom down so she can get her pajamas on and position herself for her night's rest.

Always the right side of the bed. It has to be this side and never the left. Except when it was the left.

When Bandar came home in August from Jennings Center for Older Adults, she announced on her first night in my former bedroom that she could only get in the bed from the left side -- not the right -- and this, despite her having gone to bed from the right side 54 nights in a row while living in the short-term rehab unit.

We tried to reason with her and explain the error of her thinking. To no avail.

"I can't do it," she said, employing one of her most-used expressions. She could only get in bed on the left side, and that's how she did it always, she repeated, incorrectly.

This phenomenon was strange. But it was no stranger than most of her many other oddities and habits. We shrugged and obliged her for a few nights, bringing her to the left side even though it's much more difficult for us to navigate and assist her because of its close proximity to a dresser.

And we continued to try to convince her, without success. Didn't she remember how she got into bed while at Jennings? Always from the right.

"Oh, no," she said, "I can't do it. I always get in the bed from this side," meaning the left side.

And so it went.

I marveled. How or why couldn't she discern her left from her right? And why did it make such a big difference to her which side she got in from -- when clearly and empirically it didn't matter in the slightest, other than in her head?

With a little time and tough love, we managed over the course of a few more nights to get her reacquainted with the right side. She insisted it was the wrong way to do it, but after a few days' resistance, she accepted the change. And now, she would swear she never got in bed from the left side, nor could she ever.

Then came Friday night. On the way home from a rare night out (thanks to Morris for taking another turn at Bandar-sitting) Sophie presented me with an idea: Let's see if we can put her mom to bed from the left side again. What would Bandar do?

Okay, it's not a purely evil idea, and that's good. But it is mischievous, and just enough so to have some fun to test how well we know Sophie's mom. Mostly harmless, too, in the great scheme of things. So long as we were kind in our execution.

As we continued home, considering how things might go, we both laughed, knowing the highly probable outcome of this experiment. And we agreed to undertake the test. At once.

When we arrived home, thanked and relieved Morris and got Bandar wheeled into my former bedroom, I feigned needing to find something from the magazine basket, which sits to the right of the nightstand that sits to the right of the bed. I pulled the basket out onto the floor just next to the bed, pretending to search for a certain magazine while mama watched intently.

"Ma, you'll have to get in bed on the other side tonight," Sophie said, referring to the left side. "Steve is looking for something."

"Oh, no! I can't do it," Bandar said. "I can't do it. I have to get in the bed from this side."

Not wanting to distress the woman, I picked up the basket quickly and agreed to sacrifice whatever I was doing for Bandar's benefit. Satisfied, she got into bed from her "normal" side. We kissed and said our goodnights.

We can never underestimate the importance of ritual and consistency in our lives, particularly as we grow older. Even when those rituals lack obvious sense or meaning to others, they may represent something very important to us for reasons only we may know, and quite possibly for reasons even we don't understand.

Sometimes living in the familiar just brings us comfort, helping us to make sense of a moment in time when so many other things in life fail to explain themselves adequately.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.
The image above is from a performance-art-dance we saw during our night on the town Friday, Sept. 25. We attended the Bridge Project, on the second level of the Detroit Superior Bridge.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

24/7 With Bandar

Every day with Bandar, I experience moments of gratitude and love. No exceptions.

My journey thus has been good for my soul. Every day.

At the same time there's a very different reality at work.

To the surprise of no one, care-taking for an elderly loved one is not all flowers and sunshine and fun and happiness leading to a steady stream of precious life-changing epiphanies.
It looks more like this.
Every day with Bandar means stopping what I'm doing to adjust Bandar's feet, which rest on her special foot pillow, because "they feel like fire"; to make a meal, fill a cup, exercise with her or help her onto or off of the toilet.

It's occasional trips to the ER or more routine visits with any of seven doctors or with her dentist or physical or occupational therapists. It's repeating myself (repeatedly) because she cannot understand my English or hear well enough (because she resists using her hearing aid). It's refereeing Sophie's family members during animated strategy discussions or scheduling family members for turns at Bandar-sitting. It's reminding myself that I shouldn't expect thanks or gratitude in return for my sacrifices and services -- that any benefit I receive as the result of my efforts will disappear the moment I build up such expectations. It's balancing current reality with wishes for recovery, expectations, hopes, fears and faith.

Much of this was put in perspective for me after reading a short essay by freelance writer Melissa Musick Nussbaum, who is charged with caring for her 89-year-old, live-in mother. Writing for Celebration magazine, Nussbaum suggests that being responsible around the clock is a very different prospect than portrayed in Mitch Albom's Tuesday's With Morrie, the story that inspired me in part to start this blog.

"Albom spent Tuesdays with Morrie. And not even Tuesday nights. Just Tuesdays. During the day. Working hours. I can stand anyone for one day a week during business hours. I want to read 24-7 With Morrie. And the sequel: I Killed Morrie and No Jury in America Would Convict Me.

"...I want to read about the daily-ness of old age, the daily-ness of sickness, the daily-ness of death, the daily-ness of care. I don’t want to read about visitors. I want to read about keepers. For, as any housekeeper knows, it is daily work. It is the same work, done better or worse, over and over again.

"...And as it is with the work of housekeeping, so I hope it is with the work of love. Just as sweeping is an act, and not a thought, so love is an act, and not a feeling. My work is to open the Tylenol bottle, to speak up and speak slowly, to offer my arm, to help her in and out of the car, to listen. Just that, song in my heart or not. And, task by task, day by day, I become my mother’s keeper."
Our work as caregivers is to do the work, if only for the sake of love and service. Through that work may we find the gift of God's love and may we be blessed in turn with the experience of joy and happiness.
Melissa Musick Nussbaum's "My Mother's Keeper" appeared in the June issue of Celebration magazine, a sister publication of the National Catholic Reporter, where the story was reprinted July 13. Thanks to our good friend and neighbor John Shields for thinking of Sophie and me when he read Nussbaum's piece and made sure to get us a copy.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Learning new tricks

Deceptively simple, this exercise helps Bandar develop her core every time she extends her arms to hit the ball. She enjoyed this, perhaps a bit too much.

Bandar's not asking for or wearing her back brace as frequently now. Like the patient who leaves behind and walks without his or her cane after an injury, this is a good sign indicating less pain and increasing endurance.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

You can leave your hat on. Or not.

"Where's your hat," Bandar barked, abruptly.

Strange. Bandar hates hats. The last time we three went to the hospital for her physical therapy, she admonished her son for wearing his baseball cap, which he pretty much wears everywhere.

Out of respect to his mother, Morris had gone hatless today. We both wondered for a moment if she was serious.

She did not like Morris' "long" hair, she explained, half in English half in Arabic, and wanted it covered. "Put on your hat," she implored.

Ever eager to please, Morris, 52, swallowed hard, borrowed my car keys and walked to the parking garage, returning a few minutes later with a nondescript, red baseball cap on his head.

"I don't like that hat," Bandar frowned. "Take it off."

Morris smiled.

"When she yells at me, I know she's feeling better," he said. "This is normal for her."

I know what he means.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Ebbs and flows

Brother-in-law Morris is taking the day off from his job tomorrow to lend an assist. He'll get here early to watch his mother, allowing Sophie to get to work and me off to an early morning job interview. Morris and I take Bandar at noon to back-to-back sessions with her physical therapist and occupational therapist. After this trip to the Metrohealth Hospital rehab unit, Morris' second, he'll be able to take Bandar to many of her remaining sessions. We're grateful for his help!

At 10 days since my last post, it's still hard to pinpoint exactly where Bandar is on the road to recovery. She's had setbacks: adjusting to meds (with side effects ranging from pretty severe GI distress to anxiousness and insomnolence), new routines, new exercises, new pains and aches. Some days she can barely stand or move her legs, let alone walk with her walker. Others she does pretty well. Even on her best days, we still have to help her every day to get up in the morning and clean up, change clothes, feed, go to the bathroom, shower and so on. And yes, if Sophie's not home, I help Bandar get on and off the pot -- another one of the infinite possibilities contained in the "for better or worse" clause that I never contemplated before I asked Sophie to marry me.

The best sign of progress is that Bandar is not requesting to wear her back brace as much. She's sitting for longer periods without it, indicating she might be building back her core muscles. She's also getting into and out of the car a little easier, and she's sleeping through the night more frequently without waking up with "fire" in her legs -- her way of describing her painful neuropathy.

Every day with Bandar continues to be an exercise in patience, requiring Sophie and me to remind ourselves to take our lives a day at a time.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Yeah, I know...

The Murad family today celebrated the 8th birthday of Bandar's great-granddaughter, Jackie. And the matriarch came to par-tay. Bandar hadn't been out of the house lately for much of anything other than an appointment with one of her many doctors or therapists or an unscheduled trip to one of the local emergency rooms.

Here, she's holding court in her son's spacious three-car garage, which Morris built and set up in his unique style for occasions such as this -- and more often for parties for his extensive network of friends. Today's affair had plenty of balloons, birthday banners, food, cake and ice cream.

Bandar soaked it all in, being lavished with attention and hugs and treated to a visual feast of activity and action. She did her best to keep up with the conversations, frequently responding to questions and statements with her familiar phrase, "Yeah, I know," or the alternate, "I know what you mean."

Because she refuses to wear her hearing aid when she's out for fear of anyone seeing it, she often misunderstands or doesn't even hear parts of conversations. And because she doesn't want to call attention to herself, she often fakes it with those throwaway phrases. I am amazed how often and how well her strategy works.

Example: "Sito [Arabic for grandmother], your hair looks really nice!" Bandar's response: "Yeah, I know." No one raises an eyebrow, because that's exactly what she would say had she understood the question.


On one occasion a few years ago, our friends Tim and Norma sat Bandar and Norma's Mexican-born mother together at a gathering at their house. We left the two 80ish women together as they smiled and attempted to exchange small talk about the most important things in life: family, food and grandchildren. When we checked on them 20 minutes later, they were talking more comfortably, occasionally laughing with and nodding knowingly at the other.

They had given up any pretense of speaking English, broken or otherwise. They had slipped into a foreign dialect, but I wasn't sure what it was until I recognized a few words Bandar said.

Me: "I didn't know your mom speaks Arabic, Norma."

Tim: "She doesn't speak Arabic... I thought Bandar was speaking Spanish!"

We all had a chuckle as we discovered what they were doing, each communicating in her native tongue and not knowing what the hell the other was talking about. But there they were, having the time of their lives speaking but not understanding. Or so I thought.

As we walked to our car to head home, Sophie and I asked Bandar why she and her new friend bothered talking if they couldn't decipher what the other was saying. She smiled almost like a shy schoolgirl and said, "I don't know." Did Bandar enjoy herself? "Oh, yes, very much. She a nice lady," she said.

I don't know how many words or facts either heard or learned from the other. But somehow, these two connected in a way I would have never predicted.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

When innovation works too well

We plugged in our baby monitor and went to bed. Clever us. Another challenge met. Handled.

With this simple aid, Bandar could alert us just by speaking, if she needed help to get up to use the toilet during the night. No more jarring "clang, clang, clang, clang, clang" of spoon against cooking pot.

Neighbors John and Pat were first to appear the other day at our door to offer us their monitoring system after reading about my post last week. (We had two other offers to borrow baby monitors as well! Thanks, Facebook, Twitter, Friendfeed and blog friends.)

Conclusion: nice idea. Not a solution. The monitor picks up all ambient noises, including heavy breathing and snoring. While I can sleep through just about anything, Sophie cannot. And she's already dealing with my nighttime noises. Stereo snoring was too much.

I suspect that tonight the baby monitor will remain unplugged; we'll be back to the low-tech solution. Pot and spoon are already back on Bandar's bed.
Since the first day of the Occupation, Aug. 22, someone's been sleeping in my bed. Apparently, it's just right -- for Bandar. Sophie and I are upstairs in the guest bedroom while Bandar is on the main floor, so she won't have to climb any stairs.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The long view

Today is day 7 of the Bandar Occupation. No casualties to date. We three are settling into a routine, a little more slowly than surely. I am mindful to celebrate progress over perfection. Note the victories no matter their size. And keep going after experiencing setbacks, neither dwelling on nor ignoring them. We always move forward.

One of Bandar's favorite activities used to be sitting in the backyard garden, under "the zebra," as she calls our gazebo in her broken English. Today was pleasant enough to position her at the back door, where she had a clear view of our backyard wildlife-habitat, albeit from a different angle. She had that familiar look of contentment in her eyes, simply soaking in the scene and watching her youngest daughter pulling weeds.

Every day with Bandar has given me the gift of a new appreciation for my own relative freedom and mobility, to work in the garden or run errands, to get out and meet with colleagues, clients and friends. Sophie and I have to plan more and further in advance, making sure that one of us, a close friend or family member can hang with Bandar during her ongoing recovery. But we can't really compare our level of inconvenience to Bandar's house arrest.

Thanks to my brother-in-law Morris, Sophie and I will get out for an anniversary dinner and celebration tomorrow. We married Aug. 29, 1998.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Slice of life

Me: "Mom, how do you like the tomato? It's fresh from our garden!"

Bandar: "You cut it too thin."

I don't speak Yiddish, but I know the only correct response to this. Oy, gevalt!

The pot clangs for thee

I didn't hear the clanging. Our house guest -- laying on her back in my bed down on the first floor -- held an aluminum pot in one hand and a steel serving spoon in the other, striking rhythmically one against the other in bursts of about four to seven clangs followed by a half-minute-or-so pause, then a round of another burst and another pause, another round, and another... The loud clanging is Sophie's low-tech solution to our not having purchased or borrowed a baby monitor, yet.

A few minutes later, Sophie appeared before her to see what her mama wanted. Bandar's blanket was kicked down around her feet, but all else appeared okay.

Did Bandar need help getting up to use the toilet? Was she in worse-than-usual pain?

"Put the peat moss in the bucket," Bandar said sleepily. It was 5:30 this morning.

This wasn't the weirdest thing Sophie ever heard from her mother, barely awake or fully alert. So, not seeing any point in arguing, Sophie said, "Okay, mom," and asked her if she needed anything else. Told no, she tried to make her comfortable, adjusting her mother's legs so that her feet rested upon a pillow, which Bandar uses to allow gravity to prevent fluids from swelling around her lower legs. She carefully placed the blanket back over her mother, exactly three-quarters of the way up her chest, fluffed it over her feet just so until her mother told her it was okay. This is the Bandar way, and our lives are much easier if we follow along as ordered. As Sophie left her, she asked her mother to go back to sleep.

"She had a weird dream," Sophie told me, now joining me in the guest bedroom, where I was just waking in this pre-dawn hour. Sophie gave me a just-the-facts version of what happened. We both chuckled and reminded ourselves to take everything a day at a time, to keep asking for help and remain faithful that all happens for a reason and will work out for the best. (I admit, this rosy-outlook business all starts to sound a little "bla, bla, bla" after awhile. We can't be positively peppy all the time! But we do try.)

A couple hours later, I asked Bandar if she remembered the peat moss dream. "No, I don't dream," she replied.

"I wake up and my feet off the pillow," she said. "I ask Sophie to put my feet up on the pillow."

"Not 'peat moss in the bucket'?" I asked.

"No! My feet not on the pillow. I can't do it. I ask for help. That's all."

Thus begins another day in Bandar-Land. Not too different from any of the others so far.
Today is Day 4 of this version of the Bandar Occupation, with no end in sight.

If you have a baby monitor you can part with, let us know! The clanging works well enough, but we want to give the monitor a try.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Wait and see

Bandar has stretched both Sophie and me well beyond our comfort level -- and she hasn't been here a full day yet. While my partner and I are committed to adjusting to these new circumstances one day at a time, we both have caught ourselves projecting and worrying about concerns over which we don't have much control, at least not now.

There's lots of planning. Installing grab bars, setting up appointments, discussing personal care options and outpatient rehab, schedules. And its almost impossible not to attach lots of questions to those issues. What if she doesn't do well in rehab or doesn't like it? What if we hire an incompetent or uncaring care giver? What kind of care will we need when I start a new career assignment? What if Bandar's anemia returns?

We can address any issue if or when it happens. But we can't do a damn thing about most of our concerns. And if we give too much weight to the things we're powerless over, they make all the other decisions and details we have to deal with today all the heavier and difficult to manage.

Fortunately, we now have a sage under our roof. We would do well to practice one of my favorite Bandarisms: "Wait and see." It's her response for situations born of doubt, uncertainty, confusion and skepticism.

Keeping it simple, we accept the things we cannot change, change the things we can and pray for guidance to know the difference. For those things that haven't happened yet, we remind ourselves that they're in the future, we do what we can to prepare and we ask for patience and faith so that we may concentrate on doing the next right thing, now. In Bandar speak, we wait and see.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

We're gonna need a bigger village

Sophie and I scurried about today so we could pick up Bandar at Jennings by 3. Today is mama-in-law's day to graduate from rehab, after spending the last 54 days there. Both mama and Sophie are especially excited.

Bandar's excitement turned to full-blown anxiety when we hadn't arrived by mid-morning. Someone on staff had mistakenly told her we would be there at about 10, and Bandar counted the mounting minutes for more than four hours until we finally arrived. One of the aides tipped us off on our way in: "You're in trouble!" Thankfully, after a few minutes of snarls and lecture, Bandar was so excited to leave that she quickly forgave us and made her round of goodbyes with her good friends on the staff.

The aides, nurses and therapists took such good care of her, without exception tolerating her eccentricities and peculiarities (but after an adjustment period). Everyone exchanged hugs, more laughs and I-love-you's.

We managed to get her home and quickly into the house -- I zipped Bandar in her transport chair right up our portable 12-foot ramp, made available for loan from Steve Barille, a fellow Mayfielder who has been following this blog for awhile and offered us the use of any of his several ramps. Thanks, Steve!

We were joking with the staff at Jennings about the workout Bandar gave the nurses yesterday at "Mary Mountain" Hospital. Oh, how the Jennings aides appreciated that!

We're all laughing and joking, and I'm saying, "It takes a village" to care for Bandar Murad. Milla, one of the aides, laughs and keeps telling Sophie in a sing-song voice, "She's your mother!"

Getting Bandar home and inside was relatively easy. Then reality started to reveal itself over the next few hours as we took Bandar's back brace off and got her situated on the couch, back brace back on and Bandar back up to walk to the great room chair, her back brace off and Bandar up and over to the bathroom, back-brace back on, back to the chair for dinner, back brace off again, up to the bathroom to get washed up and finally to bed. Very suddenly, "The Village" now has a population of 2.

Thankfully, Sophie and I are blessed to welcome our occasional village visitors and helpers, in the form of kind people like Steve Barille, our neighbors and members of our families and friends.

Thank you for your prayers, words of encouragement and good deeds.
Bandar's Jennings village: Milla, Smiley and Debbie, top right; another Debbie and Smiley, lower left

Friday, August 21, 2009

Down from "Mary Mountain" - back in the garden

Returning to "Mary Mountain" Hospital after lunch, I stopped at the 6th floor nurses station to ask how things were going. As I approached the desk, I recounted to myself that this was my sixth visit to a hospital this week.

"She kicked our ass," one of the four nurses offered before I could say anything. While the other three heads nodded in agreement, she continued: "Your mother-in-law is very sweet, but boy did she work us today." Bless their hearts.

And welcome to my world, I thought. Our world, actually. As per usual, Bandar was a hit with another professional staff, even as they appeared a little dazed and, no doubt, looked forward to their respite from the little Lebanese tornado.

Back in the Garden Rehabilitation unit at Jennings, Bandar's having her last supper with her friends. A portable CD player blares Montovani-like melodies. I'm sitting in Bandar's lair, out of the way but close enough so I can watch and listen... Everyone will miss her, her smile and good cheer. And she'll miss everyone. Everyone sees the color in her face and tells her so. There are lots of God-bless-yous back and forth. And laughter. Bandar's of good cheer, thank God. What a difference a little human blood can make.

I'm heading home to get ready for our long-term house guest, arriving tomorrow afternoon. Sophie will soon join me at home after her visit to Mama on her way from work. We're going to need to lean on each other.
Pictured: Bandar with Nurse Amber after her fill-up

First, blood

Busy week with hospitals, rehab, doctors and blood counts. It's Friday morning, and I'm sitting at the foot of Bandar's bed at Marymount Hospital (or in Bandar-speak, "Mary Mountain"), a Catholic hospital in the Cleveland Clinic Foundation system. She was delivered here this morning to get a transfusion, two units of packed red blood cells to bring up her hemoglobin and hematocrit levels, thus enabling her own blood to carry more oxygen more efficiently throughout her body. Her anemia helps to explain why she's been tired the last 10 days or more. This process will take about three hours per bag with another hour in between. I'm going to take a lunch break and pop back in this afternoon to see how she's doing.

We didn't tell Sophie's mom she was headed for hospital this morning. It would have made her nervous and sleepless last night. She had a total of five blood draws this week including three "stat cbc's" (a hurried, four-hour, complete blood count). All but one, at Metro, came back suggesting she has anemia.

The Jennings staff woke her at 6 this morning and had her dressed and delivered to Marymount by 7, when I got here. She was pissed!

For the first 45 minutes, she alternated and repeated a series of questions: "For sure I have to get blood?" and "When they going to give me blood?" and "How they going to give me blood?" With her broken accent, her slight pallor and her singular fixation, I could not help but compare her in my mind to Dracula. Unfortunately, she does not understand the cultural reference, and even if she did it's not a good day to tease.

Nurse Amber got the IV in with no troubles -- Bandar is a "hard stick," and it's not always so easy. She had to wait 90 minutes to get typed and tested so they could ensure a proper blood match. Someone goofed by not thinking of this in advance and delivering this information with Bandar this a.m.

Bandar's in a better mood now, at 10:45 a.m. She's laying flat on her back with the gravity feeding her veins with the dark, red liquid that will make her feel better in a day or two. "Why it go so slow?" she has asked half a dozen times.

Like every other day with Bandar, I do my best to answer her questions and make her feel as comfortable as possible. Today and this week have required a little more effort than usual, but it's really just been more of the same. There's never any point in asking why or complaining about it (although I occasionally give in to those temptations). I just keep reminding myself that my life works better when I try to keep it simple, try to do the next right thing and not make everything about me.

I'll check back in this afternoon for an update.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Rehab after rehab

Shhhhh... I'm picking up a couple trays of baklava this morning from Aladdins (Independence location) to bring to the staffs in physical and occupational therapy and in the rehab unit at Jennings. The dessert pastry is a surprise gift, a sweet treat from the Middle East to say thanks from Bandar's family for treating her -- and us -- so well during her rehab assignment. The staffs work so hard day to day, doing God's work, and for patients who on occasion can be anything but sweet. God bless them all!

Bandar and I hope to visit the Euclid Rehab facility early this afternoon to assess a possible fit for her after-care. (This is rehab after her rehab... or re-re-hab? Is there such a thing as just hab? But I digress.) We've heard great things about the place, and we happen to have reacquainted ourselves with an old friend from my high school, a psychologist on their staff who specializes in geriatric care. Looks promising.

Bandar will see a physiatrist this afternoon at Metro Health Hospital. He will assess my mother-in-law's physical therapy program and progress and perhaps prescribe additional treatments or techniques.
Bandar's last day of physical therapy at Jennings is tomorrow, Aug. 21. Her discharge is Saturday. Our lives will never be the same. But then, they haven't been for some time! God is love :- )
Delicious looking baklava image is from

Monday, August 17, 2009

ER drama

As I arrived today at a business lunch, Sophie called with news... her mom was headed via ambulance from Jennings Center for Older Adults to the emergency room at MetroHealth Hospital... Bandar had anemia, and it was pretty bad... the doc at Jennings was concerned over the results of Bandar's blood work from last week: dangerously low levels of hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that transports and delivers oxygen throughout the body... she needed prompt medical care, possibly including a red blood cell transfusion.

Sophie asked me to go ahead with my lunch and then meet her at the hospital. Today being the start of the work week, Sophie expected a long wait at a busy ER -- it seems many folks who put off seeking medical care during the weekend have a difficult time getting back into Monday work mode and head to the ER instead.

When I arrived at about 2:30, the ER was hopping with people and activity, just as Sophie predicted. (Since Bandar's a frequent flyer at the ER and I'm the guy who gets to take her there, I had a good base for comparison.) I headed back to intake room 44 and found my girls, Sophie sitting by her mama's side, Bandar laying under sheets and blankets pulled up to her chin. Nothing to do now but wait. Diamonds Are Forever was playing on TNT.

Poor Bandar hadn't taken kindly to the idea of being sent to the hospital. "I'm not gonna go!" She had a few choice words for the staff at Jennings and gave one of her favorite aides the "evil eye" as she was being wheeled out en route to Metro. When Sophie arrived, she had calmed a bit, and by the time I got there, she struggled to stay awake.

The ER doc showed up an hour after I arrived and reported the good news. Bandar's hemoglobin level was fine, about the same as it was a month ago when the hospital last evaluated her blood. No cause for concern. Go back to Jennings. Have a nice day.

What happened? Some kind of error during the first test artificially deflated the level. No way, the doctor said, could the level increase as much as it did as quickly as it did.

Rather than worry about it or try to figure it out, we determined to just be grateful it wasn't more serious. We had reason enough to celebrate. And so we did. While we awaited Bandar's discharge, Sophie sent me to the hospital cafeteria so I could get her mom some celebratory french fries, one of her favorite American foods. Without saying thanks, Bandar ate them with a slight frown on her face. Things were returning to normal.

Late in the afternoon Bandar arrived back at Jennings, as if a conquering hero, receiving the affection of the staff. While she left with a scowl and a snarl, she returned thankful to be back among her new friends and maybe a little happy for all the attention and concern. There will be no more evil eye for her favorite aide.
Here's the news: Bandar completes her physical- and occupational-therapy this week and comes to Casa CadMur Saturday. We're in process of preparing the house for her arrival.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Making friends

With a light now at the end of the tunnel, we look forward to Bandar completing her rehab assignment and coming to live with Sophie and me, indefinitely. We think she'll be joining us Saturday, Aug. 22.

Along the way in rehab, Bandar, Sophie and I have met some interesting and extraordinary people, including other patients and their families and the wonderful Jennings staff. Here are a couple of our faves.

Clarence, who comes to Jennings several times a week to visit his 90-year-old mom, likes to greet Bandar with a fist-bump and then repeat on his way home. He had seen me do same and got a kick out of it. Bandar doesn't like Clarence's hat.

Walter was living in the rehab unit after suffering a fall. Last week he got the green light to move back upstairs to his assisted living room. Bandar likes Walter -- but "as a friend."
The spoken goal has always been to rehabilitate Bandar well enough so that she may return to her home in Brooklyn, Ohio, where she lived by herself before her fall from her porch. However, the reality is that she will always need some assistance in accomplishing some tasks that she cannot perform herself and that she will not be able to live on her own again. So her children, Sophie, Sarah and Morris, and their immediate families will do what we can to provide the best quality of life we can.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Bandar can do hard

Sophie and I popped in at Jennings Center for Older Adults this afternoon, finding Bandar in the TV area sitting in her wheelchair in a little corner we call her lair. Here, she's tucked away, able to see who's watching television in front of her, who's walking, rolling or shuffling by and who's coming for a visit. If she needs something, she's close enough to the nurse's station to summon someone. The Queen of Routine, she has to be in one exact spot, angled in a specific direction for maximum viewing and minimum flow from the air conditioning vents that are positioned above her on the ceiling.

Despite her being very tired, she allowed us to coach her through a little physical therapy -- right there in her lair. She stood in front of her chair, with the aid of her walker, for as long as she could muster. She managed an impressive eight and a half minutes, all the while saying, "I can't do it... I'm not going to do it... No, I not gonna do it." She did it. This little exercise is vital to Bandar's improving her endurance. Unimpressed with her own performance, she agreed to allow us to join her at the dinner table, with her friend Walter, a likable fellow two years Bandar's senior. She and Walter were served ham, mashed potatoes and baked beans and corn bread. She passed on the spuds and handed off the bread to me.

As is our custom, we went for a short stroll after dinner, Sophie and me walking while I push Bandar in her wheelchair. We always hit the religious statues inside the facility. There are at least a half dozen Marys. I stop at each one and Bandar crosses herself, folds hands in prayer and pleads aloud for the Virgin Mother to help her. Bandar sort of waved at each one tonight, a form of prayer shorthand I suppose. She wanted to get back downstairs.

Aside from a little grumpiness today, Bandar continues her slow and steady march toward recovery. She works diligently and occasionally gets discouraged to the point of tears. "It's too hard," she says, often while she's doing the very thing she says she cannot do.

"You can do hard," I reply, quoting a favorite expression I learned from my friend Ro Eugene, shortly before she died this year. Ro left me with that treasure, among others. "You've worked hard all your life," I continued. "You can keep it up." These words seemed to do the trick, at least for today. She replied, "Yeah, I know."
Bandar is certified to continue with occupational therapy until Aug. 18 and with physical therapy until Aug. 25. If all continues to go well, she will leave Jennings Center for Older Adults Aug. 26 and join Sophie and me at our home, CadMur Manor, for how long is anyone's guess.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Machghara Memories

I finally learned the name of the little town from which Bandar Arraj hails. Machghara is about 80 km (50 miles) southeast of Beirut. It has a hilly, rocky terrain and sits at an elevation of about 3,500 feet. Its chief industries are agriculture and tanning. From some pictures I was able to find online, it doesn't look as if it's changed much since 1955, when Bandar had her arranged whirlwind-romance with Lebanese-American David Murad, married in the town church and emigrated to the United States, all in about a three-week span.

Visiting Bandar at Jennings yesterday, I brought along my laptop and tapped into the Center's wireless signal. Within minutes I had dozens of pictures on my screen to show Bandar. I started with the town church I had found, hopeful that this might have been the place she married David. No, she said. It was another church. I skipped along to other shots of trees and orchards, houses and streets and a large man-made lake, which didn't exist until four years after Bandar left Lebanon.

Bandar looked appreciatively at my impromptu show, but I didn't know if anything was registering. (At one point, she looked at a field and said, "Is that a roof?") I was hoping she might recognize some familiar places or at least familiar topography and architecture. I may as well have been showing her pictures of my last vacation, I thought.

Occasionally Bandar asked, "How you get those pictures in your computer?" I did my best to explain. As we went on Bandar's look transformed. She was smiling now. And nodding her head slightly. In recognition of something familiar? Did something click? I went on. I read the names of some of the places in the captions, doing my best to guess at the Arabic pronunciation (which means adopting a feigned accent and speaking loudly). "Nabi? Harf? Bayader?" I'd ask. Once in awhile Bandar would say, "Oh, Nabi. I remember that place." We were getting somewhere.

We looked at pictures of a rocky mountainside, old buildings and even older trees, cyprus, oak and olive being among those I recognized. "Al-Sahl? Markaba? Ain-Aldaiaa?" I went on.

"Ain-Aldaiaa?" Bandar replied. "Oh, my. Let me see it again. Oh, my. Show me again." She was genuinely excited now.

The words Ain-Aldaiaa appeared over pictures of the same church I had showed her early on. The one she didn't recognize. But now, with the aid of the name, it came back to her. This was the church in which she married Dave, 54 years ago.

She just marveled. "Oh, my. How you do that, Steve? Oh, my. That's the church. Oh, my."
Bandar continues to progress, slowly. I took her to the dentist Monday and noticed great improvement in her ability to get in and out of the car and endure the bumps both in the car and in her transport chair, since two weeks ago when she had her last visit there. Her feet are still numb, almost as if they are "asleep." But her walking with a walker is getting better. Her endurance standing and sitting is improving. She continues to gain strength. She certified for another four weeks of physical therapy about a week ago. So we take it a day at a time, in stride.