Sunday, 30 January 2011

Three bad nights

We have had three bad nights.

In the evenings Dr Ph was not able to get to his feet. Getting him upright, upstairs and into bed was very difficult.

Perhaps his last fall caused some deep muscle bruising. Although during the day he was able to stand, in the evenings it was too painful.

The first night somehow we managed, but he was distressed, confused and irrational, and kept wanting to take painkillers. He has no memory of what he has taken, did not understand that it takes time for the drugs to work, and altogether was very difficult.

It was sufficiently alarming for me to ring our medical practice next morning to ask for a home visit. It did not seem possible that I could get Dr P up the steps to the garage, and to the surgery. That evening one of the general practitioners, the doctor I usually see, made a house call. She made some recommendations about when and what medicine he should take, and we decided to simplify toilet arrangements, to minimise the amount of walking needed. It was again very difficult to get him to bed, but eventually we managed it.

On Friday night he could not get up from his chair from the dining table. I kept trying different things, like tilting his chair forwards, but he was in too much pain to get to his feet.

After about 45 minutes I decided to use his panic button - a service we have subscribed to since his spinal surgery in 2005. It has been used only a couple of times. After waiting a little longer to see whether his painkillers would enable him to get to his feet, I pressed the panic button and asked them to send an ambulance. Two hefty blokes were what we needed, In my view.

The ambulance arrived, without any hefty males. Both paramedics were female, nice young women. I should not have been surprised, as one of my nieces is a paramedic. They managed to get Dr P to his feet, pursed their lips at the difficulties our house presents to the infirm, and helped get him upstairs, and settled into bed. Having checked him over, they realised that the physical weakness was the major problem. In their view it would have been sensible to take him to hospital, but what would have happened, most likely, is that he would have been kept there overnight, and then sent home next day. I decided to keep him home but that if further problems arose during the night I would get the ambulance back and he could go into hospital.

Friday night, or indeed the whole weekend, is not the best time to need to go to hospital, as the emergency services are in all probability overloaded with drunks, people injured in fights, or accident victims. And it would have been uncertain whether he could have been admitted to a place for respite care, as naturally the administrative staff are not on duty at weekends.

By the time I went to bed I was so fraught I could not sleep, so wrote instead. When I got up, I let Dr P sleep, and a friend came to be watch over Dr P while I walked up the the surgery - which is just around the corner,  and asked for further advice and help. I was really upset, and used up quite a few of their tissues.

Another doctor rang some time later, and gave me further advice.

Last night it was difficult to get Dr P to bed but eventually we managed it. I have asked for Dr P's regular GP, who has been on holiday, to make a house visit, and I will talk to Sandra, the service provider, to try and arrange respite care, and probably permanent care too. She has already organised for a carer to come on Wednesday evenings so I can go to choir, and we had planned to discuss respite care. Of course, it is uncertain whether any will be available. We are not the only ones who need it.

Dr P's rate of deterioration seems to be accelerating. The stress on me, both physical and mental,  is also increasing, and I don't think we can keep going like this for very much longer.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Crocheting and crotchetyness

After some years of making cot blankets with granny squares, for sundry grandchildren, nieces and nephews, their babies, and those of the children of close friends, I have recently turned my hook to making a garment. The excellent wool shop in the city had a sale and I managed to get to it, while the visiting stepdaughters used the opportunity afforded (!) by my absence. Perhaps they would reimburse me the cost of the wool? Obviously a bargain.

Having bought quite a lot of wool, the next question was what to use it for. At these sales you have to buy the wool by the packet. In all probability there is more, or less than would be needed for any one item, but the scraps can always be made into yet another collection of granny squares.

It is unfortunately true, given that I cannot knit, that the patterns for crocheted garments are often really and truly daggy. There are lovely shawl patterns, but I have plenty of shawls now, and made a rather lovely one last year from a variegated mohair of purples and pinks. It was necessary to revisit my extensive collection of crochet patterns accumulated over the years - that is, from the last time crocheted items were actually fashionable. (This was when my children were really very very young.) Finally I decided on a pattern for a jumper/sweater using shell patterns. I started on it.  My  tension seems to be incorrect, and thus whether it will actually fit me, or any other possible recipient, is a moot point.

It has been many years since I made anything substantial which actually used a pattern. My pattern reading skills have atrophied. Much puzzling, many mistakes, and much unravelling ensued. The instructions for decreasing for the sleeves were most perplexing. Having decreased, which row was I to do next?

On the way to my physiotherapy appointment last week I dashed into the wool  shop, which also runs classes and clinics, to seek help. That was given and gratefully received. Finally I have reached  the stage where the shoulders must be shaped. This brought me to a halt. Possibly after six or eight attempts, I might work it out. In the meantime I have started on the front, which I can get to the same stage.

When I first began crocheting,  I had help from a colleague, who was most expert and obliging. Now I do not know anyone who crochets. At choir there are some ardent knitters, who get through a few rows while the other voice parts are being given particular attention. One soprano organises the knitters to do bed socks for the elderly, and there are other projects on the go. But there is not a crocheter in sight, other than myself. I am hoping that I might be able to get to one of the crochet clinics at the shop, which start in a week or so. It might happen, if a friend can come and Dr P-sit. Crochet pattern reading may be an activity which impedes the disintegration of brain cells, and thus worth persevering with, (even if I have just ended a sentence with a preposition).

I made crocheted dresses for my daughters, ponchos, many shawls, jackets and odds and sods. The dresses were very pretty, I thought. Much time was devoted in the days when my first husband worked for one of the Federal ministers, and thus was absent from dawn to midnight. It felt good to be making something, and to be using my hands. Wool shops abounded, with many gorgeous yarns. I bought patterns, specialist magazines such as Mon Tricot, and any crochet book that I happened to find. Then all of sudden crochet fell right out of fashion, wool shops closed, people stopped knitting and life as we knew it changed. Just like that! It got to the stage where finding a complete range of colours for the granny squares rugs became a feat for the crocheting Hercules.

 Much of the wool is still in my cupboards, mothballs and all, waiting for inspiration to strike. I have a a lovely book by Sylvia Cosh, from which I made a most ornate and multi-coloured jacket, (but unfortunately made it rather too long, and these days it does not go all the way around my body). It is made of mohair, which is rather too warm a yarn for this climate, but I fantasise about making another (larger and shorter) version. I used to take the crochet to work. In those relaxed days we had morning tea, and could get a bit done there, and it was not frowned upon to take handiwork to meetings. Those were the days, eh!

Vixen visited this morning. We had the usual conversational pattern. Boring. Identical to that of the last visit.  I  fetched the crochet and worked on it, perhaps sending out the subliminal message about the essential tedium of the discourse, that the crochet pattern is much more interesting, and far more intellectually challenging than the conversation. Miaow.

And while watching the tennis (the Australian Open is on and getting very exciting) I can get quite a lot done. This shells pattern advances quickly, despite all the unravelling.

I wish I could as easily unravel parts of my life, and finally get the pattern right.

Monday, 24 January 2011


On Friday the co-ordinator of our service provider took me to inspect an aged care place. It was very good, a pleasant ambience, but had no vacancies for short term respite care, and only one possible vacancy for a permanent place, with extra services. Apart from the daily charge, a bond of $400,000 would be required.

Had Dr P's rapacious breed not cleaned out the 90 per cent of his cash assets, this would not have been a problem. It would still be possible, but with a lot more trouble. I don't mean here to cry poor. The fact that they have taken assets which should have been preserved to meet his needs complicates the situation. It feels quite complicated  enough, just dealing with the daily doings. There is no time to think, or to work through anything systematically.

In the co-ordinator's opinion, Dr P will need to go into care this year, and probably sooner rather than later. His geriatric assessment is not until late March. She will take me to look at another place next Friday. It is early days, and there are many other places to look at. It does seem that short term residential respite care will be very difficult to get, or to plan for.

We have four hours subsidised respite care a week, and anything extra is charged at commercial rates. I have decided to get such additional care so I can go back to choir and to at least one of my classes.  Singing is very good for the spirits.

On Saturday night  Dr P tried to get to the toilet by himself, telling me that he thought he could manage it. But he fell, very heavily. His falls are very scary. I did succeed in getting him to his feet, having learned to work out the best technique. He had to move backwards, get himself into an almost sitting position, edge towards the steps between the two rooms, and then lift his bottom onto the lower step. From there he was able to grasp the hand rail and I helped lift him from his left side, so that on the count of three we got him to his feet. He was, of course, very shaken, and very sore. I expect he will come out in some livid bruises. When he falls he seems unable to think through the moves necessary to get to his feet. Actually, generally he has lost the capacity to think through moves and sequences of actions.

When I got him upstairs, I made him use a walking frame, that has been supplied by our service provider. They are not totally satisfactory, as they make the user lean forward instead of being able to stay upright, and they have to be moved forward after a couple of steps. However, I think they will be better than the combined use of his walking stick and his hanging on to my arm. We will, I think, need a second frame, so that we have one of each level. He needs to sleep on the other side of the bed, which is closer to the bathroom.

It is not safe to leave him alone in the house, unless he is asleep, in which case I can make brief trips to the local shops.

Dr P keeps telling me how good I am to him, and in one way this is true. I am good: I do what is required, what is necessary, I try to think ahead and to plan. I feel very sorry for him, and in most ways he is remarkably uncomplaining. His back is painful, and he takes a lot of paracetamol. He forgets what he has taken within minutes. He has no real comprehension of what it is like for me.

My heart is sore and bitter, at the lack of past appreciation, the lack of sympathy from him about his daughters, and at the fact that they carry none of the burden and will inherit all his estate. Oftentimes I feel begrudging, and that the love and affection is evaporating. I have the heavy load, all the work, all the decision making and planning, the worry, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, week after week. It never lifts. It feels like thick and stifling fog, with a pressure beating down on me. I am so tired and stressed. And I am much too sorry for myself, and must struggle to overcome this.

Essentially I have lost the person he used to be. I must not lose myself as well.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Pedestrian matters

Now that my food shopping time has become so limited, the things that cause delays are much more apparent. And they matter more. No longer is it possible to do the shopping in a leisurely and considered manner, let alone have a little browse or to indulge in some temptation. Traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, the time taken to park the car, the order of the shops visited, the length of the queues at the supermarkets: all these things add to the duration of the shopping expedition.  There is also the issue of the pedestrian traffic.

Today while one of the carers looked after Dr P, I rushed off to do the food shopping. As I also wanted to look for a few new garments for Dr P, I went to the centre which sells cheap unfashionable men's clothing. Dr P has never managed to look very well dressed, partly because he is a very large and overweight man, and partly because it must be acknowledged that he has little or no aesthetic sensibilities. I have totally abandoned any efforts to make him look good. What he needs now are easy clothes - easy to put on and off, and easy to wash and care for. So he wears shorts and T-shirts. The shorts all have elasticised waists, and the T-shirts are the plain cotton basic sorts.

I came home laden with sundry new garments, but I think the shorts may be a size too large, and will have to be changed. This is what comes of being in too much of a hurry: obviously it rots your memory for the measurements of the best beloved. It gives you a horrid migraine too.

What with the extra shopping to be done, my time was even more limited than usual. I had to be back before the carer's time expired, and in time for my hairdresser's home visit. I went through the supermarket as quickly as possible. You cannot get through supermarkets with the speed of light, alas. They are designed to slow you down and to confront you with temptation for unnecessary purchases. There is always someone to dodge, or in whose way you find yourself, however innocently and inadvertently. Then there is the checkout queue. Which queue to join?  It is difficult to get the shortest and fastest queue.

Off to the the fruit, vegetable and delicatessen shop.  Half way through I changed my mind and wound up purchasing only two items. That was a bit of a wasted effort. Then to the fishmonger and then the butcher. The butcher took a bit longer as they had to cut up into nice thick chunks (at least I hope he have done so) the cut of beef I wanted, so I can make a nice Sri Lankan curry. It is quite a good butcher's, run by Chinese, who address all the female shoppers as 'Signora'.

In between all this I wended and weaved my trolley around the complex. I got stuck behind a couple of women who ambled in a wavering line right in front of me and who caused quite a pedestrian traffic jam. No one could get past them. The reason for the wavering line, apart from sheer inattention and imperviousness to their surroundings, was that one of the women was wearing very high heels, and thus was teetering along extremely unsteadily. It is bad enough pushing a trolley (with these specially designed wheels which go in completely opposite directions) laden with all the heavy stuff, such as orange juice, mineral water, milk, and detergent, downhill and around corners, without these people in the way. When I had finished, I had to push the increasingly recalcitrant trolley up a long ramp with a steep incline to get to the car park.

Let's face it, Woman is a beast of burden.

I am reminded of all the images of primitive tribes, where the men stroll along carrying only their spears, while the women lug along everything else, children included, and probably having to balance things on their heads too. The natural order of things?

But I do wonder why it is that so many people do not look where they are going, or take some care not to get in the way of other people. There used to be a simple rule - keep to the left. Not any more, it seems.

Tomorrow is Dr P's 87th birthday. I will bake him a cake.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Floods and reflections

Sometimes the world is not a very happy place. Australia has been subject to severe floods - I'd say devastating except that  now seems to be an overused word.The personal, social, and economic effects are, and will continue to be immense. There have been deaths, personal tragedies, loss of all possessions, houses, means of transport, infrastructure, jobs etcetera which are simply dreadful. People are working together to help, to rescue and to rebuild. There is so much that is admirable and extraordinary, from ordinary people, police, emergency services, the defence forces, the public service, transport workers, the medical profession, passers-by, friends, relatives, strangers. They deserve our praise and our support.

 However I feel as though I have an axe to grind and and some spleen to vent.

It is mostly about journalists, who evidently cannot help themselves from exuding their personal and political prejudices, while ventilating their extensive packages of cliches and platitudes, and deep emotional responses. There have been nasty criticisms of the Prime Minister Julia Gillard, for not being a mirror image of the Premier of Queensland, Anna Bligh. In my opinion both leaders have performed very well, and have given full information to the people, local and national. Both are seeing people, seeing and assessing the damage, working extremely hard (as one would expect) to ensure that whatever is necessary and possible is being done. A little respect is in order. Invidious and untrue comparisons are odious. We should not allow our personal political opinions and/or prejudices to overcome a rational and proper assessment of the situation. Oh yes, it is such fun to be negative about politicians.  However, they are out there, doing their public duty. They too could be included in the collective self-satisfaction and praise about how wonderful we all are, how well we pull together and how we are obviously the best nation in the world.

And I read of the appalling damage caused by floods and mudslides in Brazil where about 450 people have died. Let us remember these unfortunate people too.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Dark woods

It has been such a miserable, angry and anxious time that I feel desperate to think of something funny. Where are wit and good humour when you need them? Lurking way beneath the seething and boiling emotions, and keeping well out of the way, they are, not to be scattered on the wastelands of life. My mind is full of darkness.

One of my Italian classes has been studying Dante’s L'Inferno, which is not exactly the easiest of works to come to grips with. Apparently Dante is still a fundamental part of Italian education, which makes me admire the Italians even more, for the value they place on their cultural history. Most of us in the class use a dual Italian/English text, lavishly furnished with lovely erudite notes, and explanations of the symbolism, the classical sources, the mythology and the history. I also use the Dorothy L Sayers translation. How I admire Sayers’ erudition and linguistic ability, and the sheer brilliance of her writing.  I also use another Italian edition which is useful, as it gives the modern Italian words for many of the archaic words. Using several translations rather than one provides me with greater understanding, especially in the very complex parts.

Actually after a while you start to get the hang of the language, how the words used to be, and the verb forms, and it gets easier. Not easy, though, just not as difficult. While I am something of a compulsive researcher, I also tend to do it at the last minute and by the seat of my pants. Others conscientiously translate every line and have worked out the entire meaning, but I tend to read and translate it, and then during the class I work out which part I will be required to comment on, and make it up as I go along. Fortunately, I have a couple of (possibly unfair) advantages: I grew up Catholic, know a lot of the theology, and have a good knowledge of the history. We are up to Canto 23 of L’Inferno, and I find it amazing just how many horrors Dante has imagined: truly dreadful and appalling punishments. I keep thinking it can’t get any worse, but of course it can, and does.

Possibly in this day and age, Dante might not have worried about creating great literature and would have gone straight into the creation and realisation of horror movies. (Imagine the Harry Potter films with significant contributions from Dante!) Except that obviously he did care enormously, passionately, hugely about the sins, the wrongs of his time, which he categorised in minute detail: the sinfulness, corruption and evil, particularly those appertaining to the Church, the Papacy, the rulers and the contenders for power of the city states, particularly in Florence, from which he was banished, never to return.

It is such an enormous contrast to the moral relativism, uncertainties and secularism of present western society. I'd rather be alive now than in Dante's time. But while we have gained much, there are also losses. One such loss is that the knowledge and understanding of the past and the accretions of western civilisation have in many respects been diminished.

Our class has a long way to go, as we do only half a canto at each class. But there are lines which never fail to bring tears to my eyes.

Canto 1: the opening lines: (Dorothy L Sayers)

   Midway this way of life we’re bound upon
   I woke to find myself in a dark wood,
   Where the right road was wholly lost and gone.

   Ay me! How hard to speak of it – that rude
   And rough and stubborn forest! The mere breath
   Of memory stirs the old fear in the blood:

   It is so bitter it goes nigh to death:

And then the closing line of L’Inferno:

   E quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle.

   Now we came out and once more saw the stars.

I wait in hope for the sight of those stars.