Monday, March 01, 2021

Update And Resilience

Update: My father is getting better - slowly.

He has continued to at least look stronger every day that we see him.  His memory seems to be coming a bit more in focus as well - for example, he remembered a hat I was wearing was his and told me I should just take it.  On the other hand, he cannot remember the last month:  he cannot remember my mother moving into a Memory Care location, he cannot remember moving into the assisted living facility (although he was only there a short 14 hours), and he cannot really remember being in the hospital for 10 days.

So we wait for a call from the case manager to find out where we are in the process and how much improvement we might be able to expect before we reach the new reality.  With luck, we can reach something that may not be quite what was there before, but close enough to it.

Resilience:  So The Great Polar Vortex of 2021 (Otherwise known in previous times as "A Hard Winter Storm") has retreated to the history books, leaving behind a wake of death and burst pipes and upcoming insurance increases for everyone in a wide swath of states.  A rather large state - Texas - was without power and water for much of its population during this period and the hippest city in the United States, Austin, which heretofore had been getting all kinds of press as an up and coming great place to be, suffered from rather pointed comparisons to the Third World.  Finger pointing and blame and plans to winterize everything, including probably cattle at this point, abound.

No-one is asking the correct question.

The point of today's exercise is not to parse out blame - after all, blame in the current environment is 110% a function of political based thinking, the us and them of seeking go gain power.

The real question is this:  why is no-one talking about resiliency?

Resilient:  "Capable of withstanding shock without permanent deformation or rupture; tending to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change".    As opposed to Fragile:  "Easily broken or destroyed; tenuous; slight".

Yes (to use this example), resiliency is having winterized windmills and gas equipment to withstanding freezing temperatures.  But it is also having multiple inputs of power so that if one system goes down, another one is in line to take over.

Two examples, both recent for me:

Here at The Ranch, we are largely electrical.   The heat  and water heater are supplied by propane.  However, my dad (within the last year) also bought a bang up generator to manage through the electrical outages.  And of course, we have a wood stove with a stone top that will heat water for tea, coffee, and oatmeal just fine.   (I suppose if we truly wanted to have more resilience, we would move the stove to propane as well and have some level of solar or even wind here. Oh well, there is always a little more to do that than you have time for).

Or another example:  my parents and their planning.  Beyond their reliance on government retirement, they provided for their own.  And also bought long term care in the event that they had medical issues (like they do now).  And hadsavings.  And created a trust years ago to help manage the whole thing through probate and through their own final wishes.

In both of these (admittedly personal and limited) examples, there is a back-up to the system such that if one thing fails, something else can take over.  Perhaps not as effectively, but certainly not the same as loosing something completely and going back to zero.

One of my biggest complaints about the modern world in general and cities in particular (and to a lesser extent, the ex-urbs around them) is that they are nothing but fragile resource sinks that cannot supply their own food, water, or energy, and cannot deal with their own outgoing products of refuse and waste.  Any natural environment that exhibited this behavior would be called "unsustainable".  We call it "normal" and continue to pack people in at an alarming rate, and then suddenly feel like we need to call for "sustainability", which really is just another word for someone's planning vision of the future.

(Yes yes, I know:  "Physician, heal thyself".  I too live in a city/ex-urb).  But I am doing my darndest to get out of it at this point.)

Extend this to almost anything needed to live - food, toilet paper, sewers, lighting - and as recent events demonstrated, most folks are one really bad event away from having food, water, lighting, or the ability to dispose of their waste.

Why are we not coming out of this screaming at the top of our lungs "This fragility has to change!"?

Governments, of course, hate this sort of thinking.  It is the kind of thing that chips away at their power and their reason for existing.  Governments like independence like most people like tequila:  in small shots, properly administered with salt and lime.  It also strikes at the chord that there is usually only one "acceptable" solution, that which the government endorses.

It is up to the individuals then.  The question is, will the individuals do it - not only ask the questions about their own personally resilience and take action, but ask the not unreasonable question "Why would we live somewhere that can pretty quickly turn into an effective death trap?"

On the whole, knowing my audience, I suspect I am largely preaching to the choir here.  And yes, I more than understand that there are limitation that we all have.  For example, for us a woodstove in New Home is a remote possibility.  A generator - before a month ago - was a possibility; who knows when supplies may return to normal.  But there are other things that we have done in the past and can do in terms of short to mid-term power supplies and possibly things other things we could do (provided we stay that long).  But my point is that we can all do something to put us in a better position than before.

The reality is we have spent the last 100 years building up a technologically advanced but fragile civilization based on the concept that resources, power, and water will always be available.  To paraphrase an old Mafia term, "Nice civilization you have there.  Be a shame if something happened to it..."

Sunday, February 28, 2021

A Sort of Hammerfall: Post Script

 As you may recall, one year ago my life changed rather drastically.

One year ago today was A Sort Of Hammerfall - Not the complete Hammer Fall of 2009 where I was laid off, but a change of position:  after almost 18 years in one line of work I was in, I was transferred to a new area.  After almost the same amount of time climbing the corporate ladder, I was being reassigned to an individual contributor position.

The change was jarring, and completely unexpected - although not unmerited; as I related at the time, it is something I personally should have broached much earlier.  But done, as they say, is done.

The adjustment over the course of the year was both gradual and jarring:  gradual in the sense that responsibilities slowly rolled off my plate and onto the current holder of the office, jarring in the sense that going from being involved in everything, getting 100-200 e-mails a day, and having your opinion needed to being involved in a narrow slice of activities, seeing your e-mails drop by 80% (not a bad thing, that) and moving from presenting opinions to merely facilitating others making them.

Over the year, of course, personnel have changed.  Individuals I was involved in the hiring of have moved on and others have come.  My imprint is fraying; as with most things, I expect within another year anyone remembering I performed my old task will be few and far between.

All of this said, there remained one outstanding issues, one of incredible import to me:  my salary.

The agreement simply said that my salary would continue as is until the regularly scheduled review period.  My ability to be eligible for a bonus no longer existed (any more, at all, forever, from the way I lead the letter).  And so, throughout the year, I have been waiting for the letter that would tell me that a readjustment was happening. 

I had readied myself for it. I had written up budgets to address it.

And so, that season finally came.  And my boss called me, wanting to have a "mechanical discussion" - which, knowing him, meant my salary.

He is a very kind individual, and so his introduction to the issue was soft.   He said that he was in a bit of an interesting situation with me.  He had received letters of salary increases and bonuses for his other employees.  He had received none for me.  When he asked, he was told I had a "separate agreement".  And they would not tell him what that agreement was.

This is unheard of, at least in his - and my - experience.  Managers always know their reports make.

He asked me (in a very kind and roundabout way) if he wanted me to press the issue.  No need, I responded.  I explained where things had been left in principle.  And, I told him, to raise the issue now would be violate one of the first rules of work in my world, which is never draw attention to yourself.

In so very many ways, A Sort Of Hammerfall worked out for the best - without it, my ability to travel to The Ranch starting in Summer would not have happened at all.  I would not have been able to be here when my parents needed me to be here. And I truly believe another year with the stresses of the previous year would have caused me some serious issues, both physically and mentally.

Nothing is a given, of course.  Anything can easily be rewritten at the stroke of a pen.  And this still means that in the event of need, I am a very low hanging fruit to be removed.  It also means - I suspect - that I will essentially be frozen in place until such time as I leave the company, by choice or by fiat.

But I can live with the ambiguity.  Even if I lose that extra "punch" of cash in February, we now know - precisely - how much we will have coming in for the next 1-4 years.  And knowing means we can plan all the better.

This is not the place I would have imagined myself when I was called in on a Friday afternoon at 4:00 PM for my review.  But having seen it to the other side, I now cannot imagine it any other way. 

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Life In A New Kind Of Normal

So for the past two weeks (and it will be a full three weeks by the time I get back), I have been living a new kind of normal.

It is different in a lot of ways.  

The biggest difference is simply how alone I am so much of time.  I go down to visit my mother and father and see my sister and occasionally friends and the man that keeps cattle here, but for the most part I am living very much isolated from everyone.  It does not seem that way of course: with online meetings during the day and the InterWeb available, it hardly seems like I am alone at all.  Yet realistically I am alone in a way I have not been since perhaps 2009, when I moved ahead of everyone else to New Home (and even then, I was going in to the office).

Much of the day - or as much as it as I can manage - is spent with as little use of electricity and utilities as possible.  I heat with the woodstove during the day and eschew the gas furnace (it is set at a level to avoid freezing, but it has not yet engaged).  Mornings and evenings are spent by the light of the fire and a single lamp.

One surprising thing to me is how little free time I seem to have - yes, I am working, but I had anticipated I would have more time to do things like catch up on reading.  That happens a lot less than I expected - with driving to see one parent or the other, practicing Iai, working out alternate days, blogging, catching up on the blog roll, and taking a walk, my days seem completely full (it appears to accomplish more, I would need to "work" less).

Meals are simple affairs, mostly put in place to ensure I get fed nutritious food in a short a time as I can manage.  As a result, there is not a lot of cooking involved - microwaving chicken or a turkey patty is the extent of it (if not meeting someone for dinner).

If you were to ask me if this was different from what I had expected, I would be forced to tell you yes.  And no.  Yes in that the time elements (or lack there of) surprise me; no in that I am perfectly happy with what has come to be very limited human contact.

It is not a bad life.  And certainly a life which, if I had my druthers, I could very easily adapt to.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Update And A Request

Update:  I went to see both my mother and my father today.

Seeing my mother has come to be a relatively easy task.  She no longer asks about when she is going home.  Speaking with my sister, she may have even made a friend with another woman who came in about the same time she did.  She still does not seem to remember many activities (I know she is playing bingo), but she is doing them.  When I came to see her today, she had just finished dinner and was having dessert (lemon cake with glaze icing).  She tried to offer it to through the window screen - Thanks Mom, it looks good but I cannot have some right now.  Soon.

My father was more difficult.

They had taken his wristbands off and the elbow pads too, which appeared to covered the scratches from his fall (they were rather alarming, even in their healing).  The first thing he mentioned to me was the fact he did not have any money - in his words, he was "flat a$$ed broke" and could I bring him some?  I pointed out that he did not really need money, but he was insistent that he did (fortunately, my sister was bringing him some clothes later.  He had told her the same thing.  She had five $1 bills in the bag of clothes and let the nurse know why they were in there and to make sure he got them).

His conversation is still very disjointed. I tried to get him to tell me about what he did today but because either he could not hear me over the phone or did not understand the question, I got no sense of of it.  He started to tell me something which I thought might be related to what he did, but then it seemed to veer off as it did yesterday:  he knew of whom and where he was speaking but I had no idea  After about 20 minutes, the nurse came in with dinner.  She looked as me as if to ask if I needed more time but I motioned her in.  I told my father I loved him and to be sure he ate everything.

Physically, he looked a little bit stronger.  Mentally and spiritually, he seems a long way from himself.  It breaks me heart - as I tried to explain to someone, it is as if someone had broken his spirit in two.  I wonder if - or when - he will recover it.

Request:  So we have hit our first insurance issue.

The insurance company sent a letter to my sister saying that they would only cover 25%, not 100%, of my mother's stay.  Why?  Because the place she is staying does not have an RN on staff 24 hours a day.

This is more than a little frustrating because she had called - prior to committing to moving my mother in - and told them the location to find out if it was acceptable per the terms of the policy.  They did not return the call, so my sister assumed it was approved and moved forward.  Now this.

We can move my mother if we have to, but obviously it would be better if we did not.  I think that doing this twice in a short period of time would be detrimental to her well being.

My sister received a phone message this evening. Apparently the matter has been submitted for a appeal.  Not sure why.

So this is my request.  It is a pretty specific one.  If you are a praying person, could you specifically pray that a waiver is granted and my mother can stay where she is with 100% coverage?  If you are good-thought-thinking person, could you do the same?

I seldom pray for very specific items but this one is kind of special.  I will certainly relate what happens.

Post Script:  I have been overwhelmed by the support I have received throughout this.  People that post here, and in some cases people that have contacted me on the side (in both cases, people whose attention I never would think I merit).  From the bottom of my heart, thank you.  

People have asked me how I am managing all this with what seems like a relatively pleasant demeanor.  God, I tell them.  And writing.  And the support I find here.  Thank you.

Your Obedient Servant, Toirdhealbheach Beucail

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Visiting TB The Elder

 The sign on the door at the Nursing Facility read "No entry whatsoever".   I sigh, knowing this was the case and also knowing I had failed to bring the phone number I needed to call.  I look for the phone number on one of the many pieces of paper on the outer windows - There it was, hidden away on a sheet between the "No Entry", "Beware of Covid", and "Our Staff Rocks".

I lucked out calling the nursing station - someone immediately picked up.  I let them know I was there to see TB the Elder but did not know the room.  He let me know the room number, that the numbers were on the room windows, and to just keep walking down the left side of the building.  They would get him ready.

To be honest, I am a little nervous walking down there.  I have not seen my father in over a week nor talked to him; I knew what he was like the last time we had talked - was it a lifetime ago or only nine days? - and was fearing something equal to or worse than I had left.

By the time I get to the window the young CNA was there, trying to open the window.  He keeps struggling mightily, until I point out the window lock at the bottom. He nods his thanks, unscrews the lock,  opens the window, and wheels my father forward.

Wheels.  My father is in a wheelchair.  That I know of, I have never seen him in a wheelchair.

Sitting in a wheelchair almost makes him appear more frail - or maybe it is that he is more frail, and I just refuse to accept it.  He looks about the same as I remember him last Saturday - thinner than he has been in earlier years, his arms covered with age spots and scars and some scabs, his elbows encompassed by two white pads with the date on them for reasons I do not know.  He has beard stubble of at least 10 days, but his hair is combed.

He is wearing different wristbands, like a seven year old girl that discovers how to make friendship bracelets.  His medical admission with his information.  A bright yellow one that seems to indicate he is prone to falls. On another bracelet - one I cannot read - it has a pink dot with "DNR" on it.  

I know this is the way of it.  It just shocks me to see it there, so blatant, a now constant reminder of the fragility of the future.

We start to talk.  He seems to remember who I am, happily.  Taking  a lesson from advice given on this blog (thanks everyone!) I already have a list of things to talk about:  That mom is doing well.  A list of the well wishers that send him love and greetings (I mentioned everyone here as well - thank you again!).  That the Ranch is fine, that my sister is fine and my brother in law is handling the money.  That we have enough wood to burn.  That I am sure glad to see him up and moving around and how important it is to follow the advice of the nursing staff to help him getting better.

He asks me if I want to come down to the end of the hall and meet him.  No dad, I tell him, we cannot do that right now. 

His conversation is on and off focus.  At one point he thinks that my mother is dead (I quickly correct that).  He asks about my family and how they are doing.  He complains that the hospital is feeding him okay but is also trying to kill him with the amount they want him to eat (Note:  This is probably the actual amount of food someone should eat, not what he has been eating).  I nod benevolently, and say I suspect that is not really the case.

At one point he goes off into a ramble which I do not quite understand, something about replacing a "something" - a box, by the shape he is making, at the nursing facility.  We keep talking about it and I finally understand he is talking about a propane tank - we replaced the one at his place in August (I was there, so this is the only way I can follow the thread).  I still do not have the link between the two in my head.

He tells he was hoping to move back into The Cabin below the house, that that would be okay.  I nod, not saying anything other reminding him that it was really important to do all the nurses and therapists asked to help him get better so that maybe that could happen.  I say it half desiring it, but knowing in my heart it will never come.

He stands up as we continue to talk and moves to the edge of the bed.  I worry as soon as I see this - I trying to convince him to sit back down but he says he is fine.  After a few minutes of this, he tells me he has to go to the bathroom - "They will not let me go" he tells me, which surprises me (I think this is also not true, like the apparent food poisoning attempts).  He starts towards the bathroom, stepping on some kind of floor mat on the ground - and stumbles.  My heart is in my throat as I see him start to go down and I instantly question in my mind the structural strength of a window screen and how quickly I can get through.  My calculations are not tested today:  he rights himself and moves to the bathroom.

While he is busy about his business, I think it time to leave - the wind is blowing cold, and I want to make sure the window is closed before I go.  I call one of the desk numbers and get a nurse, who by the tone of her voice seems concerned - bothered? - that the window is open.  She says she will get someone down there.

My dad comes back.  The door to the hallway has blown shut.  We wait a bit, and he asks what I am doing.  Just waiting for someone to come close the door, I tell him.  We make conversation for a few more minutes.  I call again.  And again.  And again.  No answer.   It has been 10 minutes since I first called.

He tells me it is okay to go.  

I will not leave my post until the window is closed.

Finally, my dad tells me goodbye and that he hopes to see me again soon, grabs the two handles of the wheelchair, and starts to shuffle off to the door.  He pulls it open, goes out into the hall, and starts to turn to go a direction.  I have no idea where is off too.

He is grabbed by a CNA, who has brought him dinner.  She gets him back into his wheelchair and brings him back into the room.  I make sure she is shutting the window, thank her profusely, and turn to leave.

I was not ready for this visit.

I was ready to see my father.  What I was not quite ready for was to see my father looking so relatively frail, so confused, so not himself.  To see the man that all my life was a powerful embodiment of living in a wheelchair, shuffling and then stumbling; to hear a voice that now is wavering and somewhat always off kilter; to converse with him and to wander in and out of a past I cannot really see - this, I was not ready for.

But in my heart, I have to steel myself for this, just as I did for my mother.  This is the way of things now.  I can listen, I can empathize, I can nod and console and agree.  But what I can never do - at least in my own heart - is somehow pretend that things are going back to the way they were.  In a meaningful and real way, my father has gone somewhere where I can no longer find him.  All I can do is cling to the parts that remain and hope that somehow, some of what we talk about makes its way to that inner core that I knew.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Update: Moving Out

My father was released from the hospital yesterday.

The whole thing seems like a bit of a comedy of errors now.

My sister had spoken with the discharge person from the hospital last week and they let her know the process:  they would provide a listing of skilled nursing facilities in the area and check for availability of beds.  They would call her back and let her know options and perhaps some recommendations.  I had assumed (foolish me) that at that point we would have figured out where we would like to have him moved.

I actually found out about it talking with his assigned nurse today,  who mentioned in passing at the end of the conversation that he was being transferred.  The actual words did not register with me until I had hung up.

I gave my sister a call - no, she had heard nothing either.  She called - and while she was speaking with the other person, the discharge people called.  I was in the pre-know by 15 minutes.

They were not planning on moving him until later in the day and given that disruptions are probably not the greatest thing in the world right now, I am waiting to hear from my sister what visitation is possible.  

This is longest period I have not spoken with father - outside of training in Japan - that I can remember.

This is now another learning curve.  I imagine there is some level of physical therapy and recovery that will happen here.  How much?  How quickly?  What does recovery really mean.

I feel as if every new development which seems to be good news also brings with it a new set of concerns as well.

But my father is out of the hospital.  Today, we will take the victory and thank God.

Post Script:  I spoke with  my sister tonight.  She did talk to my father tonight on the phone.  He was somewhat confused but was responsive.  I will try to go talk to him tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Stacking Wood

One of the tasks I had undertaken when I started visiting my parents was restocking their wood pile by the house.  They had plenty available (it seems it was one of my father's few hobbies that stayed with him the longest), but he would only get enough to fill the back of his Gator and bring it to the house.  So I would take 40 minutes or so and load up the back of the house - "I am not working out and need the exercise" I would always tell him so he could not object.

They are not here now, of course.  But I keep stacking the wood regardless, perhaps a way to keep the reality of things at bay.

This wheelbarrow predates me.  I remember it from being very young, helping my father mix up cement to build the retaining walls at the house I grew up in.  The hands are a lot more worn, the wheel has been replaced, and one of the four bolts holding the body to the handles is now held by a non-original screw - but it still works fine.

This is the wood pile I have been pulling from most of the year.  The wood is not in great condition, but it still burns.  I have completely unloaded three ricks between October and now; I expect I pull down one more before our fire season is done.

This is the other woodshed with the well seasoned oak.  I almost loathe burning it now - even the remaining ones by the house - because I know it will be some long years before we see this kind of wood - and the fact that it will all have to come from me at this point.

These are the piles of wood ready to split - they were ready to be split in Spring of last year, but my father had started to slow down because of shoulder issues even then.  And this does not account for the trees fallen by the local power company to protect the lines which are still around the property.  I think I could easily collect enough wood for the next 10 years - if I had more places to store it and I have the time to cut it.

I have some vacation coming.  Maybe I will split wood.

 This was the end result - Not a lot of wood, but enough for me over the next two weeks.  

There is something satisfying about stacking wood - even when, in this case, the main reason for stacking it is gone.