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.