Friday, May 29, 2020

Day #74 Writing Through COVID-19: Surprises in the Sameness

"The Ballad of Father Gilligan" by William Butler Yeats was a much-improved poem choice this morning. I summarized the plot before I read it (an overworked priest falls asleep and fails to care for a dying parishioner; when he wakes and dashes to the man's house, he discovers God had sent an angel in his likeness). I think that helped my mom track through the storyline.

The poem includes this line:

“Mavrone, mavrone! the man has died,
While I slept on the chair.”

The word "mavrone" drove us into another dictionary dive, where we learned the interjection is an Irish cry of anguish or dismay, meaning "my grief." 

My mother then wanted to figure out if "Maverick" is pronounced with two or three syllables. We learned the word is eponymous: Samual A. Maverick was a Texas rancher who didn't brand his cattle. Of course we then looked up "eponym."

All of this dictionary tripping looped into a conversation about the alphabet; soon we were singing "A, You're Adorable" horribly off-key. 

"That was terrible!" my mother laughed. And it was!

COVID-19 has blurred my days; a sameness blankets the hours. This is even more so for my parents, who no longer have their Bridge group or shopping trips to break up their week. Zoom Sunday School and church is the only thing on their calendar. So when my sister called last night to schedule an evening of shared movie-watching with her family and my parents (everyone watching from their own homes), I was happy to tell my parents they have an event scheduled. They'll watch "Pocketful of Miracles" Saturday at 5 p.m.

Last night I offered my mom a frozen lime fruit bar for dessert, which she accepted with delight. "I've never had one before!"

Life still holds surprises.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Day #73 Writing Through COVID-19: The Wrong Poem

This is the 68th morning I have brought my mother a poem with her morning meds.

Some days I wake up with a poem in mind; some days I get sucked into or where I lose all track of time, reading dozens of poems to find one that fits both my mood and my mother's disposition.

This morning I wandered into poems about childbirth, at last settling on "Delivery Rhyme" by Dora Malech. It uses delightful internal rhyme but is not bound to a rhythm pattern. It is obscure in places, but also contains the amazing metaphor and wordplay of a newborn baby girl "unfold(ing) all those origami limbs to test the inevitable debutante bawl."

I thought it was worth a try.

My mistake (in addition to poem selection) was not measuring my mother's confidence and cognizance before reading the poem aloud. I glance up after the first stanzas and saw her scowl, darkening as I plodded to the finish.

"That one is beyond me," she said, lips pursed.

"There are lines I don't understand," I coaxed, "but I like how she expresses the cell division as the baby grows:
'the subcommittees met:
made merry in duplicate, triplicate
and so on, much of themselves, divided
and defined and concurred.'"

She shrugged, stood up, and said, "I'll get a spoon," then returned to the table with--inexplicably--a spoon, two bowls, and a plate.

My most successful poem selections are ones my mom has read before, snippets of which are tucked into her once steely-sharp mind. When I read "Annabell Lee" or "Ballad of the Harpweaver," she chimes in, reminded of the time in her life when her brain was her favorite part of herself.

Today's poem did the opposite. It reminded her that her mind no longer allows her to juggle new sounds and images with dexterity and satisfaction.

We somehow extricated ourselves from the failed poetry moment and moved on to discussing last night's movie: "Escape from Alcatraz." My dad said he'd liked it and retold what he found to be the most exciting scenes.

My mother did not seem to remember watching the film. She sat silently, eating her Corn Chex from her bowl without milk, without a spoon.

Stay well.


Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Day #71 Writing Through COVID-19: Bridge!

My dad has had a love affair with Bridge for the past 65 years. Recently he told me how he learned the game. In med school, over his lunch hours, he and his classmates would eat in 15 minutes to then play Bridge for 45. "When we were playing Bridge, it was totally consuming. We didn't have to think about our studies or anything else."

My mother eventually learned enough of the game to play in couples' Bridge, but on a scale of 1-10, her enthusiasm for the game never surged past 6, while my dad's is at 11 even at his worst days. 

At Friendship Haven, my dad organized the twice-monthly duplicate Bridge tournament that drew 8 tables, entertaining 32 players from the care center and community. In this leadership role, he shared his passion for the game, notified players of their results, and reminded them of the upcoming gatherings. 
If you ever meet my dad, he will likely bring up Bridge within the first 15 minutes. My siblings and I roll our eyes at this obsession. None of us glommed onto his love of the game. Still, he never tires of talking about it.
Since my parents have been in my basement (67 days), they've played a few hands of a two-man game they call Honeymoon Bridge. I don't think my mom has the short-term memory to be much of a competitor anymore. I knew my dad was missing the game, and I thought if I could bring it back into his life, it might be a small way to help his displacement feel less lonely. 
So a couple of weeks ago I got online and found FunBridge, which offered 50 free deals. I figured if he played one hand a day, he could get to August before we'd have to pay anything.
What I didn't figure was how much I'd enjoy the game.
I sat next to my dad as the computer dealt the first hand. I had to stay nearby to help him use the touch-pad to maneuver the mouse, orient him at the "table," show him where to click to make a bid, how to see the last trick. 
FunBridge is set up to teach you how to play, so it provides explanations of moves and terminology. While sitting by my dad's side, I was learning more than I expected to.
When we finished our first game, we could see how we'd performed against other players: 78th out of 100. Not great. But we could also click on other players' games and review their bids and how each trick was played.
This was Duplicate Bridge at its finest. My dad loved it. He grew animated as he explained various choices players had made. I asked a lot of questions, and my dad did a lot of explaining. The ridiculous overflowing terminology has provided ongoing vocabulary lessons. 
Each day when I bring down my laptop (the old desktop computer I set up for his email can't handle FunBridge graphics), my dad and I pull up to the table for his deal. The next thing I know, I'm asking him to explain his bid, or I'm arguing for a different bid. I am his headstrong student. He is my patient teacher.
I did not plan to learn Bridge at age 60. I have no one to play with if I ever do achieve a passable degree of competence over "vulnerability," "finesse," "courtesy bids," and "double" (and to emphasize how hard all of this, I will post a definition): 
DOUBLE.  A call that increases the scoring value of odd tricks or undertricks of an opponent’s bid. A double can be made only over the opponent’s last bid with only passes intervening. Double has many meanings in today’s modern bidding beyond penalty.
I told my sister how much fun I was having learning/playing the game with Dad.  "Great," she said. "I just don't want to hear about Bridge in every conversation."





Stay well.

Day #70 Writing Through COVID-19: What Does the Dog Say?

Yesterday's morning conversation:

Good morning, Mom. What are you reading?
The dictionary! I'm a terrible speller!
What word are you looking up?
"Die" like we're all going to die, or "dye" like dye your hair?


I brought you a poem about fairies by William Shakespeare.
(We read the Fairy's song from "Midsummer Night's Dream.")
I didn't know Shakespeare wrote poems. (She used to.)
Yep. Mostly sonnets. Here's one of my favorites.
(Sonnet 130, "My Mistress's Eyes Are Nothing Like the Sun.)
(Laughing) She looked terrible!
(We next read a poem/passage from The Tempest that includes these lines:)

Hark, hark!
              The watch-dogs bark.
              Hark, hark! I hear
              The strain of strutting chanticleer
              Cry, Cock-a-diddle-dow.

A dog's bark doesn't sound like bow-wow.

(I perform some very dog-like bow-wows. My mother laughs. She's such an easy audience.)
Ducks don't really say "quack" either.
(I'm quacking now, and the barnyard sounds wake my dad who ambles out of the bedroom, ghostlike in white longjohns. My mother is back to musing on the question we've all been pondering since babyhood: What DOES the dog say?)
I think a dog says "Grr!"
Let's see if that's in the dictionary.
(I return to the American Heritage, open to "die" on the sofa. "Grrr" is not listed, but I wonder aloud about who decides which words are accompanied by illustrations and which ones aren't.)
The nouns get pictures!
(My eye lands on a sketch of a thin pioneer, standing by a tree.)
Who was Johnathon Chapman? (My parents love a good trivia question.)
(From deep within my mother's brain)
Of Johnathon Chapman

two things are known
that he loved apples 
And he lived alone!
(I look up Jonny Appleseed Ballad and read it aloud. My mother chimes in on the final stanza.)
Consider, consider,

Think well upon
The marvelous story
Of Appleseed John!


Be well.


Sunday, May 24, 2020

Day #68 Writing Through COVID-19: Foggy Mornings

My mother is more disoriented on foggy mornings than sunny ones. My sister reminded me that this is also true in the dark of night. I think sunshine and daylight help keep us clearheaded.

Today I delivered my parents' breakfast after early-morning thunderstorms. The gray seeped in through the windows.

"We have blood tests this morning, so we can't eat breakfast yet," my mom announced as I set her morning tray on the table.

"As I understand it, your doctors say we don't need to worry about tests for now," I said, guiding her back toward the here and now. "Staying put is the most health-conscious thing you can do during the pandemic."

Just then my dad came out of the bedroom, so she turned to him. "We have lab tests today," she said.

My dad deals with my mom's confusion more than I do. He's usually patient, but this morning he was blunt: "We don't have blood tests today.  We're in Atlantic. With Alli."

"But I told you they called," my mom argued, "and you said all right."

"I was sleeping," he said.

Within a few minutes, they were seated at their table, and my dad sipped coffee and ate his banana. I thought I had coddled them over the rocky start to their day. But my mother had not yet lifted her spoon. "If we eat this now," she said, "who will eat the breakfast they bring after our tests?"

I assured her we could handle any difficulty that comes our way. "If anyone brings you breakfast," I said, "They'll have to come in through the front door, in which case I'LL answer the door, and I'LL eat the breakfast!"

My mother laughed and picked up her spoon.

Twenty minutes later I adjusted the laptop and logged onto Zoom so my parents could participate in Sunday School class with their Ft. Dodge friends. We've done this weekly, and we've also used Zoom for a couple of family events. I didn't realize I needed to re-explain the program's synchronous nature.

"Good morning," their teacher Jim said.

"Good morning," my dad answered.

"Jim has blood on his ear!" my mother said cheerfully--and loudly.

She was right. He did have blood on his ear. Maybe he nicked himself while shaving.

I reached over and hit the mute button. I didn't want to embarrass her, but I also needed to prevent my mom from saying things while thinking others couldn't hear.

"When I turn on this button," I said, "Everyone on the screen will be able to hear what you say."

My parents nodded blithely, so I hit "unmute" then dashed upstairs so I wouldn't have to hear what happened next.

Stay well.


Thursday, May 21, 2020

Day #65 Writing Through COVID-19: Randy Is Home!

If you have been reading my blog, you know that my 65-year-old brother-in-law, a nurse in Davenport, contracted COVID-19 in early April. He spent more than two weeks in an induced coma on a ventilator before his doctors gave him serum with antibodies from a recovered COVID patient. Shortly thereafter, his oxygen levels began to improve. At last the ventilator was removed.

When he awoke, he could not speak or swallow. He could barely move. He was disoriented. After another week in the hospital, he was released to a COVID floor of the same care center that employs him, where he spent another two weeks in intensive physical therapy.

Yesterday he was released to return home. When my sister pulled up to the facility, the nuns and the nurses lined Randy's route from the door to the car and cheered him as he headed out.

My sister, who is a retired physician, explained (I hope I'm translating this accurately) that although Randy is still testing positive for the virus, they do not think he is contagious; rather, bits of the virus in a broken-down form in his body cause him to test positive, even if he is no longer in an active virulent condition. I continue to be boggled by how little is known about this illness.

Today I needed to work at school. I used the side door, plenty of hand-sanitizer, and avoided coming face-to-face with anyone.

But Farmer Dan also asked me to pick up parts while I was in town, which I thought I could do while still distancing. When I pulled up, I saw their front door was propped open--which I took as a positive indication they were aware of recommended safety measures.

I stood six feet away from the counter, wearing my mask, and said I'd come to pick up Dan's order. The un-masked parts man picked up the box and headed my way.

I expected him to put the box down and back away, but instead, he brought it right to me, breaking into my 6-foot bubble.

I don't want to be histrionic. And I do believe the parts man was trying to be courteous. Still, I cannot, knowing what I do from Randy's experience, let my guard down.

Many people are behaving as if we all just pretend the virus isn't here, it won't be. Because I live in a rural section of the state, we hunkered down for two months with virtually no cases.

Cass County did not report its first COVID case until April 12, a full month after we had closed our schools. The second case was not logged until May 12.

But four days later, on May 16, we saw case #3, then two days later, #4. Today Cass County announced two more positive tests, bringing the total to six.

Should I graph that?


I know that Randy's experience affects how I perceive the virus. I also know that housing my parents in my basement and tending my 91-year-old mother-in-law down the road magnifies my virus awareness when I go out in public. But I do not want to bring it home to Eagle Avenue.

Meanwhile, today Governor Reynolds announced more openings: bars and swimming pools, school summer sports, movie theaters and wedding reception venues. Cheers.

Be well.


Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Day #64 Writing Through COVID-19: Wrong Words

On Saturday I greeted my parents with a breakfast tray and the announcement that they'd been living with me for eight weeks.

I thought this was a milestone to celebrate. We've had eight weeks of health and (dare I say) happiness.

Two months ago, when I delivered their first meals with extraordinary care (all the food groups, color variety, pretty dishes, special treats) I wondered if my enthusiasm for meal presentation would wane. But it really hasn't. My parents are the perfect patrons: they praise each meal; they wash their own dishes.

We have had daily poetry readings; reflective, honest conversations; much generous laughter; many shared movie nights.

We have not fought. We have irritated each other only minorly. None of us has been unkind, short-tempered, or impatient with each other. This is remarkable in that during my final three years in my parents' house I was perpetually unkind, and we were all impatient and short-tempered.

So when I announced our 8-week success, I did so happily.

But my dad misunderstood my message. Later that day he contacted two of my siblings, concerned that he and my mother had overstayed their welcome, wondering when they could return to Ft. Dodge.

I was floored. I couldn't figure out why my dad was trying to arrange to go back when my perception was that we were thriving.

So I asked him.

Yes, he admitted he'd thought my "eight weeks" comment was to say their visit had gone on too long. He thought I hadn't bargained on them staying into the summer.

When he told me this, I teared up. While I understand that my "Can you believe you've been here eight weeks!?" might have been interpreted as "too long," hadn't my daily actions and words assured my parents of their welcome?

As we talked, I believe I was able to patch over my morning's mistake. He agreed he preferred to stay here as long as Friendship Haven is still restricting residents to their rooms for health safety.

Communication can be treacherous. My blithe words (Eight weeks!) had missed their mark. But it was a trust in communication that allowed us to reset, and in fact, come to a clearer understanding of each other's hopes and fears.

Be well.