Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Flip has a new roommate! Her name is Shekiya, formerly Mario. She is a transgendered person with darling sandals. It struck me as inappropriate that a person who considers herself female and is referred to as "she" by the nursing home staff should share a room with a male, so I expressed my view to the social worker who took me to see the director. Also present was the new patient's doctor, who was displeased that I dared to challenge their authority.

I explained that I am not prejudiced against transgendered people and in fact, I also support same-sex marriage. (They are different issues, but rights organizations always lump them together as LGBT {Lesbian,Gay,Bisexual and Transsexual} people.) Nor do I object to the patient him/herself. My objection is based not on biology but on personality, and Shekiya believes that she is female. If a person who was born female but was transitioning to a male identity like Chaz Bono were to become Flip's roommate, I would be fine with it because that person would identify as male, like Flip.

The doctor, who strongly resembled a rhinoceros and will henceforth be referred to as Dr. Rhino, made me repeat everything I said. I explained that since I cannot see the patient's genitalia and do not want to, and since everyone refers to said patient as "she," I felt that she should be rooming with another she. Dr. Rhino repeated exactly what I had just said but added a question mark at the end. For clarification. I was losing patience and prefaced my repetition with "As I said."

The director shared that it is the first time they have faced this issue, and they expected problems from the family of whoever they placed her with. But since Flip was a musician and therefore more likely to be liberal, as well as from San Francisco and not very aware of his surroundings anyway, it was the best place for Shekiya. She was missing the point. It was not about being politically liberal but about the fact that I did not believe Flip should be sharing a room with a female. Stephen, the social worker, assured me that there was in fact a male/female pairing in one of the rooms. I know who they are -- a husband and wife, which is not the same thing at all. Apparently, nursing home policy is based on genitalia and therefore Shekiya must be placed with another man. I asked what she was there for, but they insisted they were not at liberty to tell me.

The director agreed to move Shekiya as soon as they could arrange for another room, which might take "awhile." I went back to Flip's and Shekiya's room to feed Flip his lunch, and it occurred to me that it really doesn't make any difference. In fact, although Shekiya seems to complain a lot about everything, Flip could do worse for a roommate. I am still struggling with the fact that my husband has dementia and lives in a nursing home, so I was probably more likely to be thrown by the new development than I would have been otherwise. There is also the consideration that a person who believes she was born into the wrong gender has almost certainly suffered a great deal of rejection already, and I don't want to add to it.

This is new ground for everyone but if I claim to support transgendered rights, how can I fairly object? This is my chance to actually practice what I preach, even though I don't see this as a transgendered rights issue. So I went back to the director and told her that I was withdrawing my objection, and would accept the new arrangement. My only regret is that I can't share this with Flip, who would get a huge kick out of it.

Besides, if I play my cards right, maybe Shekiya will let me borrow those adorable sandals.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Gullible 'Til the Cows Come Home

This afternoon, I went to a gazing. I had no idea what to expect but since I had never been to one before, it seemed like a good idea.

A friend had sent me an email about Braco, a Croatian man who heals with his gaze, although he does not call himself a healer. He travels the world gazing over rooms full of people who are encouraged to open their hearts and gaze back into his eyes. There was a long line of pilgrims in expensive designer hippie clothing, angel tees, glittery shoes and even a white woman in traditional African garb, many of them snacking from greasy paper bags while hoisting soda cans. There was the obligatory woman on crutches and others pushed in wheelchairs. I was jostled rudely by two men who didn't apologize while cutting the line.

Many people were there for all the sessions, running all day and evening, but I went for only one because I can't sit still that long, do not have a groupie mentality and have never wanted to join a cult. But I am curious. The session consisted of a lot of cheerleading, testimonials both in person and on a movie screen, a great deal of hype and instructions to be open to whatever came and to gaze back at Braco during his 7-8 minutes before us. When he finally made his appearance, he stood on a platform but since everyone in the room was standing and I am 5'1", I only briefly glimpsed his eyes. If there was anything genuine going on, I'm sure the energy reached me anyway.

Braco looks like a peaceable man. His hair is long like Jesus, and his face, which never changed expression, seemed kind. I thought of holy icon paintings with eyes that follow you around the room. The website had recommended that we bring photos of those for whom we seek help as the power of Braco’s gaze can reach people through photos, and the same level of healing and transformation occurs as if they were there in person. I held my loved ones' photos over my heart as directed so they could receive the blessings I silently asked for them.

His website says, "Some call Braco a healer. Some call Braco a Conduit of Divine Energy. Some call Braco a Gazer, a Lightworker, a Miracle Master, or even a Vibrational Healing Artist who is somehow able to silently and instantly heal or peacefully massage the consciousness of tens of thousands around the world for years into feeling better or embracing more joy. We just call Braco a beautiful man ... with an extraordinary gift to share." Also available are Braco DVDs, books and jewelry. He has a worldwide following so you would think there is something real happening.

The peppy hostess asked that pregnant women past their first trimester and children under the age of eighteen leave the room as the energy is too powerful for them. They are allowed to stand outside the door, though. The website claims that Braco does not accept any payment for his work, and the charge per session is only $8.00. However, thousands of people attend his sessions every day, many of them for the entire day at $8.00 a pop, so he is not hurting. He also offers a line of Sunce (sun) jewelry that displays a symbolic golden sun with 13 rays. The price of the jewelry ranges from $190 for a pair of earrings to $2395 for a diamond pendant. Testimonials claim these talismans bring good luck to the wearer.

A woman sitting next to me, giggling incessantly, said that she had been to many Braco sessions and could hear his voice inside her head as if it were originating there. It was impossible to tell if she was euphoric or merely neurotic. Another woman claimed that she had heard his voice saying "Hello, Yes!" to her and knew that he was taking care of her creative difficulties and dispelling negativity. We were told to be YES by the handlers, who suggested that we would feel heat, tingling or other healing sensations or find ourselves laughing or crying as the energy reached us. New Age music played while members of his team roamed the audience with microphones to take testimonials. We were assured that we would experience the deepest love we had ever known. We were also told that healing changes might not occur instantly, but would definitely occur. It seemed that he was taking credit for anything good that might befall us for the rest of our lives while officially claiming not to be a healer.

I would like to believe. I sent him my kindest thoughts while he was in the room and thanked him for any help he could give. I want to think I am not so cynical that such things are lost on me, so unspiritual that I cannot open my heart enough, and yet I would also like not to be thrilled by the Emperor's beautiful robes if he is really naked. We will see. The physical pains from which I seek relief have taken a long time to develop - it's unlikely that they can be vanquished in seven minutes. I'll be paying attention.

Afterward, while passing a restaurant on the bus, I heard a woman say, "Five dollars and you can eat roast beef until the cows come home." Lady, if those cows are already roast beef, they are not coming home. I had opted for public transportation to avoid parking hassles, but that may have been the highlight of my day.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Asked and Answered

I have become friendly with a woman who visits her mother, Mary, a lovely 93-year old woman from Senegal, at the nursing home. Ethel, the daughter, was named for her grandmother, but the name is colossally misleading. Ethel resembles Lena Horne, one of the most beautiful women of all time, and should not have a name we associate with Lucy Ricardo's sidekick, Ethel Mertz. Or gasoline. "Fill 'er up with Ethyl." I always stop in Mary's room to talk to both women when I am there to see Flip.

Today, Ethel stopped me in my tracks. "Do you date?" she asked. Brain freeze. "What?" She repeated herself. "Do you date?" "You mean, like men?" I said. "Yes," she said, smiling. I scrambled to compose my face because this was not a question I have even asked myself in over twenty years. "Uh, no." I stammered. "Because you're married?" she said. I started to laugh. It seemed obvious, but Ethel was serious. "You're so pretty," she continued, "and I have a friend."

I said, "Have you been listening to Pat Robertson?" She took a step back. I wasn't sure how to interpret that, but she didn't know who he was. I explained that he is a televangelist who recently remarked that it was okay to divorce a spouse with Alzheimer's and go on with ones life, and that this was getting a lot of airplay. I said that while I wouldn't judge a person who did that, it wouldn't work for me. She agreed that everyone is different. I told her that I always welcome new friends and have both male and female friends, but I still feel married to Flip.

Driving home, I thought about what my marriage means to me now. "In sickness and in health" is obvious, of course, along with "for better or for worse." Flip is the love of my life, and we've had twenty beautiful years together. It has never occurred to me that I "deserve" the trappings of marriage despite his present inability to participate in it. Sex without love has never appealed to me, even when I was young and had more demanding hormones, and I can enjoy good conversations with men or women without hoping that they will lead to someone's bedroom. I wonder if this means that I am over some mythical hill and have become a lesser being than I was. Perhaps it does, but frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.

I am still grieving the disaster which has taken Flip from me, and from himself. It's strange to mourn someone who is still alive. Perhaps on some illogical level, I am waiting for him to "get better" and return to his former self, although I know that won't happen. Alzheimer's is for keeps. It takes no prisoners. Elvis has left the building. And yet, he still knows who I am, and he trusts me. I am not offended by Ethel's question because she meant well. She hoped to put two lonely people together so they wouldn't be lonely any longer. She doubtless even believes we would get along. But the equation is far more complicated than 1+1=2.

I have three grown children who mean the world to me, so I am not alone. I really don't want or need another partner. I think it may be time for me to fall in love with myself a little, to explore some of my own interests and learn skills I have put on a back burner for so long. I'd like to become more fluent in French, Spanish and Italian, and to learn Japanese and Mandarin. I'd enjoy classes in painting, French pastry making, sewing, photography, advanced knitting, as well as traveling. This independence is a gift from Flip, who believed that I could accomplish anything. He praised and celebrated my mind, my talents, even my cooking, and always made me feel special. The best way I can honor him is to become as fine a person as he is and my own capabilities will allow, and I'm not sure I could do that if I were part of another couple.

In the past I have flirted with the idea of becoming a Buddhist nun, but the required discipline would frustrate and bore me. Freedom appeals to me, the kind of spontaneous freedom to go where I please without accounting to anyone, to stay up all night reading (or writing) without disturbing someone, to skip dinner if I'm not hungry or to eat a box of cookies if I like. I will always miss Flip by my side because he was the best friend I've ever had as well as my ideal romantic partner. But if we are not destined to walk into the sunset together, I'd rather go by myself. And I'm going to retire his number because no one could ever take his place.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Goddess of Swimming

I think I'm in love with Diana Nyad. Even her name is beautiful, and she is an amazing woman. The 62 year old long distance swimmer is currently making her third attempt to swim the Florida Straits from Cuba to Florida, a journey of 112 miles, after aborting her last attempt in August because of an 11-hour asthma attack and an intensely painful shoulder injury. Her first attempt was in 1978 at age 28, but she claims to be in the best shape of her life now.

The swim was made successfully by Australian Susan Maroney at age 22 in 1997. However, she did it in a protective shark cage while Diana Nyad is trying to become the first person to make the swim without one. Instead, she is relying on special equipment that surrounds her with an electric current imperceptible to humans but strong enough to keep most sharks at bay. Kayakers are also paddling alongside to gently prod away any that make it through. There are also hundreds of jellyfish species in those waters, some of which have already stung Ms. Nyad early in her swim.

She blamed the asthma attack on an allergic reaction to pain medication she took for the shoulder injury, but she is confident she can achieve the record which has been her lifelong goal. She said the asthma had her flailing through the water "like a dying, floundering fish."

"The asthma took me down, but ironically enough, that 29-hour swim was like a very, very expensive training swim," she said.

This time, her 30-person team has injections for asthma just in case. Nyad was subdued but determined as she greased up ahead of the swim.

"Not that I was ever cocky, but having been through this now and been so deeply and emotionally disappointed, I don't want to take anything for granted," she said.

In an interview several weeks after the August attempt, she told CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta she was still strong, and was not ruling out another attempt.

"I am capable of swimming from Cuba to Florida, and I will give it up, if I just can't make it," she said, "but I didn't prove that to myself in this particular swim."

To attempt this swim again, Nyad said she would need good weather, calm waves and warm water, though she was willing to swim in less optimal conditions than she once thought she needed.

"I used to have almost a paranoia of waiting for the (ocean) surface to be (completely) flat," she told Gupta. "(During the August attempt) we were out in some slappy waves, and it wasn't fun, and you can't glide across the surface, but I can make it."

She will not be allowed to touch the boat for the length of the crossing if the record is to count, nor can her team physically aid her other than to pass her food, medicine, a new swimsuit and so on. She will try to sustain her energy by eating peanut butter sandwiches and pasta, and she sings Beatles, Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin songs in her head to keep her mind occupied, especially during nighttime.

"I never ever — it's the cardinal rule — I never look up because it's very depressing to see the horizon with no lights, no nothing. And I never ask my trainer here in the boat what time it is or, 'Are we almost there yet?'" Nyad said. "They're going to tell me when we're about 10 hours away."

If she succeeds, the Los Angeles woman would set a new record for open-water swimming without a shark cage. She already holds the previous record for a 102.5-mile (165-kilometer) swim from the Bahamas to Florida in 1979.

Diana Nyad touches my heart because she is not just a superior athlete trying to set a record. She hopes to be an inspiration to others that they can still achieve their dreams at any age. She also wants to help end the bitterness between the United States and Cuba which has persisted for over 50 years. I hope she makes it. I am cheering her on in my heart and hoping that her particular Red Sea parts for her, all the way to her goal. But I also believe that when anyone attempts to do a difficult thing, no matter what the outcome, that person has already succeeded. Diana Nyad proves that the tyranny of age is only in our own minds and that if we overcome massive negative cultural conditioning, we really can accomplish our dreams. She gives me hope, and that is no small thing.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

It Makes Me Fighting Mad

A video of two eight-year old British boys cage fighting has gone viral. The children were not wearing protective padding or head gear as they grappled in front of a large adult audience. Cage fighting, or mixed martial arts (MMA,) is the fastest growing adult sport in the world.

Former presidential candidate John McCain famously called such events "human cockfighting." I agree.

Wikipedia describes MMA as "a full contact combat sport that allows the use of both striking and grappling techniques, both standing and on the ground, including boxing, wrestling, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai, Kickboxing, Karate, Judo and other styles."

Children as young as four are being encouraged to participate by parents whose credentials for parenthood should be revoked, in my opinion.

The British culture minister, Jeremy Hunt, condemned the match as "barbaric," but Nick Hartley, the father of one of the boys, insisted that his son was not in any danger. "He loves the sport. It's not one bit dangerous, it's a controlled sport. He likes to do it, he's never forced to do it, he wants to do it, so leave him to do it," Hartley told the BBC. "Until he gets a bit older and he starts doing physical contact, kicking and punching, then maybe, but at his age it's wrestling, like grappling." Lancashire police said it had "looked into this matter fully and there are no issues for us to pursue"

Chris Cloke, head of child protection awareness at children's charity NSPCC, said: "We would strongly discourage parents from letting their children take part in this kind of fighting. It's quite disturbing that some of those involved in the bouts were as young as eight, an age when they are still developing, physically and mentally. The organisers of these activities should think very carefully before allowing children to be involved when they are egged on to inflict violence."

The sport's violence has provoked controversy everywhere. It's illegal in New York and Connecticut but in Tennessee, where it is popular, boys fight boys, girls fight girls, and sometimes boys fight girls while their moms cheer them on. Christie Hawkersmith, the wife of a fighting gym's owner in Winchester, Tennessee, insists there are strict safety precautions for kids in mixed martial arts bouts.

"Under 18, they cannot punch to the face, it's not an all-out brawl. They learn skills and they try to master those skills," she said. Her husband added that the kids learn discipline and self-esteem, and that people who think mixed martial arts too violent for youngsters are ill informed."It's a proven fact that football has more injuries, and more severe injuries, than [mixed martial arts] by far," said owner Bunny Hawkersmith.

Four-year-old twins Danika and Nyomi Arellano are already seasoned competitors. When they are not in the cage at Bunny's gym, they like to take part in beauty pageants. It's a split decision on which type of event they prefer.

"Pageant," said Danika.

"MMA," said Nyomi.

And what is their mother's view of the controversial sport? Rita Arellano admits she has mixed emotions when she sees her daughters fight. "Deep inside yeah, it's like, Uhhh! It's hard to see your kid. You want them to win, but you don't want to see them get hurt."

One of the top three movies this past weekend was the mixed martial arts film Warrior, starring Tom Hardy and Nick Nolte. Is the moribund economy causing a general increase in violence, or have we devolved into a society that really doesn't care about others? We still have states endorsing and even celebrating the death penalty, and in a presidential debate last week, the audience cheered loudly for those without medical insurance to be allowed to die.

What manner of self esteem is instilled by training young children to maim other young children? Is this really the kind of world we want our children to inhabit? Really?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

We'll Always Have Chocolate

I realized today, really realized in my gut, that I can't save Flip. My husband is gone, and there was no precise moment in time when I could say goodbye and gain closure. His expression is mostly blank, he seems unaware when his diaper needs changing, and he walks in a half crouch like a giant praying mantis. I can still visit him every day and take him small comforts and treats, but I cannot hold back the force of this disease which is destroying him.

The occupational therapist told me that his is "a very complicated case." His symptoms don't fit the parameters of any specific disease so it is unclear at this point whether he has Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, Lewy Body Dementia or some bizarre combination of these with perhaps other components as well. My own body aches with mostly unshed tears. I think I'm afraid that if I start crying, I won't be able to stop.

It's horrifying to think that he may have been misdiagnosed all these years, and that he could have been helped before it reached this point. His neurologist of the last four years specializes in Alzheimer's, so perhaps she sees Alzheimer's in all her patients, as when you're pregnant and suddenly the world is full of pregnant women. You drive a red car, and every car on the road is red. The newest research confirms a genetic link to Parkinson's, and since Flip's father and sister had it, it seems likely, especially considering how early it manifested in him. To be fair, I took him to several neurologists before we settled on her, and all concurred in the diagnosis. Of course, he hadn't yet begun to exhibit the symptoms which suggest Parkinson's. Even the best of doctors can't diagnose what they don't see. I hold them all blameless.

He has an appointment with another neurologist, his 6th or 7th, in October. I don't think anything can change the course of his illness now, but all knowledge is helpful to some degree. Flip said "Susy" very clearly today, but the rest of his sentence was lost in translation. He deserves a Medal of Honor for not exploding with frustration at his inability to express himself. I couldn't do it.

It is time to take myself in hand. Most people eat too much when they are stressed but I am the opposite, a compulsive starver. I only have an appetite when all the signs are right. When I was a child, I read a book called "The Story of 100 Operas" and thought the Aida story the most romantic of all. At the end, when her lover is in a tomb with the walls closing in on him, crushing him to death, Aida jumps in to die with him. Many of my previous relationships reflected that view, sadly. Flip would not want this for me, and as it turns out, neither do I. So I am going to do the most life-affirming thing I can think of, short of buying shoes. I am going to hunt down a piece of chocolate cake with mocha buttercream icing and eat every crumb. If it's the last thing I do.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Let the Good Times Roll

Disclaimer: Vulgar language abounds in this post. Only adults with strong stomachs need apply.

The nasty nursing home crone was stationed in the hall today, lurking in wait. As I took Flip for a walk to keep his blood moving, she yelled, "You have a lovely husband." Surprised, I said, "Thank you. He is lovely." I thought that maybe yesterday was an off-day, that she is really a nice old woman.

"You're a witch," she added.

"I'm glad we cleared that up," I said and tried to pull Flip away by his hand, but he was stalled in place.

"Too bad you're an ugly fucking bitch," she screeched. "You're a fucking piece of shit slut and everybody hates you. I hate you." (I could use coy asterisks, but what's the point?) Usually, people have to know me before they hate me. She was jumping the gun.

I pulled harder on Flip's hand and he decided he didn't want to be moved. Who could blame him? All the action in the place was right there. Everyone else was dozing in wheelchairs.

"Fucking slut asshole!" she yelled. "Eat shit and fuck you." She reprised all her insults, including some I've forgotten, cackling like the green broomstick witch in The Wizard of Oz. She could have been her understudy - she really had the laugh down. She kept on shrieking with hateful laughter as I dragged Flip down the hall, not nearly fast enough.

Latifa, one of the nurses' aids, sidled up to me, "Just give her the finger," she said. "She told me I was FAT. I told her 'You're much fatter than I am.'" She flounced off muttering "FAT."

"Fat and ugly. Fucking ugly!" screamed the old woman behind me. "Your husband hates you, too!"

I learned that her name is Roberta. It figures. Roberta is my middle name, which I've never liked. I dislike feminizations of male names in general, but I dislike it mostly because it sounds ugly unless you're Spanish, which I'm not. When my older daughter was a child, I once threatened her with writing a story about her and calling her character "Roberta" if she didn't stop whatever she was doing. It was effective. It's an icky name.

Latifa told the director of nursing that Roberta needed to be out of the way somewhere, preferably in the locked psych ward, and she was removed from her post in the hallway. Dementia has not been kind to her. Of course, dementia is not kind, ever, to anyone, but it's possible she was a lovely lady before. It's hard to imagine because she is so utterly hateful now. There is probably a cautionary tale here, but since we have no control over what happens to our minds as we age, I know of no way to ensure that we will not turn into Robertas. And that is a very chilling thought.

I snapped a picture of her today but my new iMac is running a different version of iPhoto than I've been using, and I can't figure out how to get it onto my desktop. But know that even in my moment of despair, my last thoughts were of my awesome blog friends.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Hell on Wheels

I would like to reward those of you who have stuck with me through these depressing blog posts with one that is all fluffy and hilarious. But that is not going to be this one. Flip was discharged from the third hospital this afternoon and transported to the third nursing home, one I had visited a couple weeks ago and disliked because it's bleak and smelly. It was the only one in the Bay area which would accept him, but I am holding my breath as he lasted only three nights in the first and two in the second. I am braced for The Phone Call which tells me that he has been taken back to the hospital again. With an armed guard.

If that happens, they will quickly discharge him and absent another nursing home, I will have to bring him back to our home which at this point is not safe for either of us. There is also the fact that if he comes home, MediCal will revoke his approval and refuse to pay for anything, nor will he be allowed to reapply. Much as it pains me to say this, our life will not be tenable at all with me caregiving 24-7 in our small apartment as I did for so long. The disease is advancing at a shocking rate.

The first thing I was asked upon arrival was whether I had selected a mortuary. So much for sensitivity. Since the answer was no, Marlene, the admissions woman, asked if she could write in the name of a local one because the form required something on that line. I shrugged, and she assured me that she could change it when I found one I liked. Question: Does anyone like mortuaries? Auditioning funeral directors is not high on my to-do list. I said that Flip and I had discussed burial and cremation over the years and we both leaned toward cremation. (But that doesn't mean I ever expected to do either of those things. It was just a philosophical discussion, that's all.)

There was an Inspirational Hour going on in the main gathering room. A man was standing on a table loudly hawking Jesus while other residents mostly snoozed in their wheelchairs. "Oh, Jesus," I muttered. Sometimes I wonder how enduring tasteless and predatory behavior in his name all these centuries compares with the agonies of crucifixion. The answer could surprise us.

As I sat in Flip's new room with him, a harridan in a wheelchair rolled up and began to scream at me. The old biddy knew every word for female genitalia and wasn't afraid to use them, so I shut the door. She slammed it open and I shut it again. Open. Shut. Open. Shut. All accompanied by a stream of invective that would have made a sailor's parrot blush. Finally, I leaned myself against the door to hold it shut and she rammed it with her wheelchair. I was definitely in the wrong weight class. Nobody came. Flip looked unbelievably weary, and I knew he was sure he was either in a nuthouse or in Hell. I yelled down the hall, "Can I get some help here?" and about ten minutes later, Marlene returned with more forms for me to sign. All business, that one. The old hag began to curse her out, too, demanding that Marlene take off her dress because it was really hers, stolen this morning. I closed the door again and told Marlene that I was concerned the woman would give Flip a rough time when he is already going through so many changes, including another new place. "Oh, she hates females," she said. So comforting.

And that was our welcoming committee. They really went all out and the entertainment was phenomenal, but there wasn't any cake. There should have been cake.