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Of ambulances, old-age homes, and dying in bed

So late last night, somewhere around midnight, I hear sirens--the soft whoop-whoop-whoop kind that make you think a cop's pulling someone over nearby and doesn't want to wake the neighborhood. After a minute or two, I looked out my back window to see if I could see what was going on, because I'm just as curious as the next person as long as there isn't blood involved. There were ambulances and emergency vehicles at the nursing home behind my apartment. I found myself wondering if it was one of those "Grandma didn't make it" situations, and trying to decide to wish the person would make it or not make it. Sometimes, death is a blessing.

My father didn't want to die in a nursing home. He was diagnosed with ALS in February of 1999. At that time, I hadn't been speaking to him for three years. We had a fight that culminated in my telling him to go fuck off and slamming the door behind me. That was after he threatened to disown me if I left after I told him I didn't want to stay and fight with him. So then for the next three years, every few months, I'd call Dad up and this would be the conversation:

Me: Do you want to talk?
Dad: Are you going to apologize?
Me: I have nothing to apologize for.
Dad: Then I have nothing to say to you.

Then we'd both hang up.

So one day a little over two years ago, my brother calls me at work to tell me that my father is going to be calling me soon. He tells me further that Dad's been diagnosed with ALS. Which is one hell of a thing to throw at someone while she's trying to work. So I wound up leaving early because it was just too much to absorb--my father's going to reestablish contact, but only because he's dying.

So, yeah, I was a good daughter. I became part of my father's life, and helped my brothers figure out how to take care of him. I was astonished to find that the only part of our fight he remembered was my stalking out of the apartment and swearing. I did ultimately tell him the entire story from my point of view, wherein he did admit remembering it, and even said, "I must've been some kind of jerkoff or something," which, for him, was basically an admission of guilt and translated means, "I wish I hadn't been so stupid as to bar you from my life for the last three years."

Yeah, well.

So. At first, Dad decided he would only go to a veteran's hospital. Well, Dad's a WWII vet, but he didn't stay in the service, so it would have cost us $800 a day to keep him in one of those. We passed. Then he decided he could live at Daughters of Israel, the nursing home where his brother spent the last years of his life after suffering a stroke, and where my grandfather spent his last year. So we pulled some strings there and got Dad fast-tracked to be admitted for about $800 a week, a huge improvement over the previous hospital. But then Dad decided he wanted to die in his own bed.

By this time, it was the end of April and I was laid off from my job at Lucent. Now that I had all that free time on my hands, I got to be the point woman to find healthcare for Dad. We'd already hired a home healthcare worker to stay with him during the day, and my brothers were taking turns staying overnight. Dad's ALS got progressively worse incredibly fast, because while we were researching all the various ways to keep dad alive longer, he'd already decided that he "didn't want to live life a cripple". And a bout of food poisoning or the flu changed him literally overnight from being fairly independent to needing round-the-clock care.

So we finally found a live-in healthcare aide sometime in May. He lasted less than two weeks, as his version of taking care of my father was not to do the things we asked him to do and treat the whole thing like some kind of vacation where he had to cook food for some old guy three times a day and help him walk to the bathroom. We dumped him and got a woman who had to be made to understand that it didn't matter how good a vitamin shake was for him, my father was going to eat Oreo cookies for breakfast and potato chips for lunch if he felt like it. The first few days, I admit I took a guilty pleasure in knowing that my father, the ultimate control freak, was under the control of a Polish woman whose last patient thrived under her intense (and intrusive) ministrations, including body massage. Then after Dad started complaining too much, I sat her down and explained to her that if he wanted ice cream for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, she was to give it to him. That he didn't like to be touched. That he didn't like to be spoken to like he was a child or a pet. I made her realize that not only was he dying, but that he did not want to live, and therefore wasn't going to eat healthfully to prolong his life. And finally, when I was sure things were going all right, I headed down to Richmond, Virginia for the weekend and for a job interview on the following Tuesday.

Tuesday morning, as I was getting ready to go to the interview, I got a call from my younger brother. Dad had become unmanageable in the middle of the night and began hallucinating. He thought his nurse was trying to kill him. She called my older brother, who got there in time to hear Dad's paranoid assertions that the doctors and nurses were all in league to steal his money, and who managed to convince Dad to stop trying to kill our helper. The reason all this was happening was that Dad's lungs were failing, and the lack of oxygen was causing him to hallucinate. He ultimately fell into a coma and died later that night.

Sad. His last hours on earth were filled with paranoid delusions that people were trying to steal his money. Dad was born in 1923, and he remembers having no money and little food during the Great Depression. It affected him for the rest of his life. He hoarded his money and almost never bought expensive items--store-brand toilet paper was a staple that my brothers and I complained about for years. Dad lent so much importance to money that it took precedence over a lot of things--including helping his children. And it made his death that much more horrible.

But he died in his own bed.

Which bring us full circle, and makes me realize why I even started thinking about all of this. Almost exactly two years ago, I was laid off from my job at Lucent. The more things change...

I wonder if the person who needed the ambulance made it through the night?--MAY



Cultural relativism is the refuge of moral cowards

I've felt this way for a long time, but now I simply have no tolerance whatsoever for cultural relativists.

First let me explain the term. A cultural relativist is one who says that one culture (e.g., the U.S.) has no right dictating their values to another culture (e.g., African nations that practice female circumcision) because what one culture "believes" is wrong is not necessarily wrong, since that other culture believes it is right.

To all cultural relativists, I have the definitive response: Bullshit.

In the last three weeks I've read more about Islamic fundamentalism than I ever cared to, and learned more about the plight of women and men under the iron fists--and unpredictable whims--of the Taliban. I watched films of women and men executed for such minor offenses as criticizing the Taliban. And it made me realize that cultural relativism is the last refuge of the coward, to paraphrase an adage. Because if you say that everything is cultural and we have no right pronouncing judgment on another culture, then you relieve yourself of having to take a side in a morally difficult decision.

Like whether it's all right to see nations subjugate fifty percent of their population because that fifty percent happened to have been born with a uterus.

Like whether it's okay to watch nations imprison, torture, and execute people for the crime of preaching--or practicing--a religion different from the majority population.

Like whether it's acceptable to let young girls be mutilated, made sterile, or even killed by female circumcision, to which they are brought forcibly, screaming, all in the name of cultural relativism.

This is one of the arguments we see time and again used in Third World nations: Don't criticize us, this is our culture, you Americans are too stupid to understand.

It isn't we that don't understand. It is they.

Two hundred and twenty-five years ago, our forefathers brought forth on this continent a new concept: That all men are created equal. In this century, of course, the concept also applies to women.

That they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.

That among these are Life--the freedom simply to live--

Liberty--freedom itself--

and the Pursuit of Happiness.

If you accept these rights as set out in the Declaration of Independence, which prefaces these basic human rights with the phrase "We hold these truths to be self-evident"--in other words, they are so basic as to be obvious to every thinking person--then you cannot, should not, MUST NOT be a cultural relativist.

If you still think we have no right dictating "our" cultural values to the rest of the world, let me remind you of a few cultural phenomena in recent history that ended up in the enslavement and death of millions of people on several continents: Slavery. Hitler's "final solution". "Ethnic cleansing" in Bosnia.

But that was all their problem, wasn't it? We needn't have gotten involved. And slavery--well, that was the South's "peculiar institution"--no need for the North to bother about it--until, of course, brother fought brother in the Civil War.

A little foresight would have helped, but even more an absence of cultural relativism would have saved millions of lives. Which is why I say the cultural relativists ought to make up their minds: Whose side are you really on? Think carefully. Your answer will affect millions of lives.--MAY permalink



Safety first

I found this on the AP news site. It's tips on what to do in case of a terrorist attack. I think it needs to be deconstructed.

Pick two places to meet family in an emergency -- one near the home and the other at a more distant location if the area is evacuated.

I have a problem with this. The problem is that I live alone, and so do, according to our last census, something like one third of Americans. Now, those of us who are schizophrenic enough can still pick two, or three, or however many necessary for the number of personalities--places to meet. But those of us with just one personality--hey, what about us? Who do we meet, and where? Hmph.

Put together a kit with a three-day supply of water and food that won't spoil, changes of clothing, first aid items, prescription medications, battery-powered radio, flashlight, extra batteries, spare car keys, tools, bedding, matches, backup eyeglasses, sanitation supplies, important family documents, non-electric can opener.

Okay. Three days' worth of chips and dip and a sixpack of my favorite beverage (which would be Coca-cola here). The rest? Too much trouble. Fuhgeddaboudit.

The average person needs two quarts of water a day to drink and should have two quarts for sanitation. Nonperishable food choices include dried fruits and nuts, canned goods, peanut butter and crackers.

Are you trying to tell me there won't be flush toilets in the bomb shelter?

If evacuation is necessary, use travel routes specified by local authorities, not shortcuts because some areas could be impassable or dangerous. Wear sturdy shoes, long-sleeved shirts, long pants. Listen for instructions on the radio. Lock your home.

Yes, lock those doors, because in case of nuclear attack, you want to make sure that the radiation has to break down the door in order to get inside and steal your stereo.

Take note of emergency exits when inside buildings, subways, stadiums. Be aware of heavy or breakable objects that could move, fall or break in an explosion. If trapped in debris, use a flashlight and don't kick up dust. Cover your mouth with a handkerchief or clothing. Tap on a pipe or wall to alert rescuers.

Show of hands, those of you who can make it through seven innings of a Yankees game and still pass a DWI checkpoint! Okay, you're the ones who get to yell "DUCK!" when you see a pillar falling. Oh, and if you bring your survival kit along with you from step 2, you can probably tap on the pipe with that non-electric can opener.

If a chemical attack occurs, authorities would likely instruct residents either to evacuate immediately or seek shelter where they are and seal the premises. Leaving the shelter to help victims can be a deadly decision. Chemical agents, which can be odorless and hard to detect, can kill or incapacitate people, destroy livestock or ravage crops.

You mean like, oh, anthrax in Post Offices?

Similar instructions might follow a biological threat. Biological agents, such as contagious smallpox or non-contagious anthrax might be dispersed as airborne particles and be used to contaminate food or water. Anyone exposed should see a doctor as soon as possible.

You mean, like, oh, Postal employees?

Beware of mail that is unexpected or comes from an unfamiliar sender, is addressed to someone who no longer lives or works at the address, has no return address or a return address different from the postmark, is of unusual weight, given its size, or is lopsided or oddly shaped. Also of concern: mail marked "Personal" or "Confidential" or mail with protruding wires, strange odors or stains. Such mail shouldn't be opened or agitated: Call police.

Has anyone yet copped to the idea that all junk mail is unexpected, most is addressed to "Your Name or Current Resident", and half is of unusual weight, size, and is oddly shaped? Man, if Our Buddy Bin really wanted to slaughter Americans, all he'd need to do is bulk mail anthrax and title the envelope "YOU HAVE WON ONE MILLION DOLLARS!"

If told to stay inside your home, lock all windows and exterior doors. Turn off fans, heating and air conditioning systems. Close the fireplace damper. Get to an interior room without windows that's above ground level. An aboveground location is better because some chemicals are heavier than air and may seep into basements even if windows are closed. Use tape to seal cracks around the door and vents into the room. Listen to radios or TVs for news and instructions.

An interior room without windows that's above ground level? Hm. In some houses, that would be the bathroom. In most apartments, that would be a closet. Okay, everybody pile into the closet!

Sources: American Red Cross, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Justice Department and the U.S. Postal Service.

Hoo-boy. We're in trouble now.--MAY permalink



That was no lady, that was just me

At work today, one of the guys who came to take our old computers called my boss "Sir," wherein he said, "I hate it when you call me Sir, it makes me feel older than I am." Which reminded me of the various titles I've been given from the customer service sector. Miss. Ma'am. Lady. Ms.

At least no one's calling me "Old Woman" yet.

But here's the thing: At what age do you go from being a Miss to being a Ma'am? When do you start getting called Lady? I've looked all over for a rulebook, and I can't find one. And it isn't consistent: I've been called Miss by teenagers in one story and Lady by teens in another. I'm a Ma'am to nearly all telemarketers, except for the few who call me Mr. (my voice is not that deep, and believe you me, I have never purchased anything from any idiot who has called me Mr.). I'm apparently Ma'am to women who are near my age or older. And nearly all children who don't know me call me Lady. I hate that the most. It makes me feel ancient. It makes me feel like being a mean old lady to the kids. Well, not really. But it is a bit aggravating.

One of the things I've learned as I've gotten older is that teenagers have no concept of age, so anytime I want to get a free compliment, I'll ask a teenaged girl how old she thinks I am. She's usually off by at least a decade. This has also led me to a complete understanding of the phrase "fishing for compliments." And here's a free bit of advice to all you guys out there: If a woman ever asks you "How old do you think I am?" you must always, always subtract five years from what you were going to say. Subtracting ten is all right depending on how old she really is; never under any circumstances attempt to guess correctly a woman's age.

I have never looked old, but I've finally realized why women lie about their age. It's not vanity. It's much simpler than that: We just don't want to be that old. Which is why my favorite age-related phrase is "You're only as old as you look." Yes, I know, I changed the popular phrase. Why? Because I don't look my age.

And yet, I am called "Lady" by ten-year-olds.--MAY permalink



Immortality through pets

Science Diet's marketing mavens have come up with a unique marketing ploy. They want to make sure you keep using their brand, so they have a zillion different kinds now--light, adult, senior, hairball remedy, sensitive stomach, I-only-eat-on-tables, you name it, they've got it. I feed my cats adult, light, hairball remedy, by which you can tell they're not kittens, they're fat, and at least one of them coughs up hairballs on a regular basis. (Wow, this is neat enough to go on the GRE's logic portion.)

Anyway. Instead of my usual dollar-off coupon, inside the newest bag of cat food is a chart titled "Do you know how old your pet really is?" with four bar graphs, one for cats, three for different kinds of dogs. But I don't care about dogs, so forget those other three bars. The way the bars work is they have pet years on the y axis and human years on the x axis. Or is it the other way around? I never can remember which one is x and which one is y, even though I was a typesetter and the x-y coordinates were all we had to plot by in those days. Um. I'm digressing again, aren't I?

Okay. Here's the thing. They have dots on 7 pet years, which apparently translates to 45 human years for cats. My cats are about four and a half years old, which makes them the equivalent of 35. (Stay with me, the numbers don't go up evenly, they have a weird exponent.) Okay, no problem, I can deal with that. But in four years I will ABSOLUTELY NOT be 50, and in about four years, they'll turn the equivalent of 50, at which point they become older than I. Which is a neat trick, actually, as one year they're younger, the next they're shopping on Wednesdays and going to the Early Bird dinner at the Ramada Inn.

And I get younger still--as they hit their 60s, I will be a decade behind them, and then the age difference increases exponentially--they're in their 70s while I'm still in my 50s. And by the time I'll be searching for an assisted-living home for my cats, I'll still be far too young to retire with Social Security benefits (assuming it still exists then).

So, in effect, if you keep on having pets, and especially if you time it so that you get a new one every few years (I'm sure a mathematician could figure out a formula), you can achieve immortality through your cats. And since they have the lowest graph on the chart, lower even than Small Dog Breeds (up to 25 lbs.), I recommend you not use dogs for this attempt to never grow old. Just get a cat every few years, and watch it grow older than you. It's almost like having your own picture of Dorian Gray, except you don't have to keep it in the attic, although you do have to feed it and clean the litterbox.

Just another way of helping you all think outside the box. You're welcome.--MAY permalink



Hidden messages

You know, I completely forgot to mention this. Actually, I didn't, but you probably forgot since I mentioned it a week or so ago. When last we left our intrepid writer, she had just discovered the TITLE attribute to the HREF property, thereby ensuring that hidden messages can be cleverly placed throughout her blogs, including one or two in this very paragraph! (Note to Netscape 4.x users--it does not support the TITLE attribute, and you're missing out on a lot. Upgrade to a browser that has full HTML 4.0 support. And my AOL users need to tell me if their version shows these links, as I've just made one especially for them.)

Mind you, one of us is going to get tired of doing this first: Me or you. I'm betting it's going to be you. I never grow tired of some kinds of childish humor. Elephant jokes, for instance. I can listen to them forever, especially since I generally forget the punchlines and so can be amused by my each succeeding generation of children to discover them. Here's one for you: Did you know peanuts are fattening?

Sure. Have you ever seen a skinny elephant? --MAY permalink


Welcome, furriners

I was just checking out the website stats and noticed that I'm getting a few more international visitors, and it occurs to me that I should try to make them feel welcome here. One of the things I could do, I suppose, would be to welcome them in their own language, but I forget--do the Swiss speak French and German, or just one or the other? Bienvenu? Is that how you spell it?

Anyway, I figured I'd do it this way. For those of you who are reading this from another country and have a little trouble with English, I'm going to speak to you the way Americans have been speaking to non-English speakers for generations:


Anyone who didn't see that coming hasn't been reading this site often enough.--MAY permalink


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