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.