Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween Critters!

This darling kitten, who's named Black Bart, lives with Dad and Fran's down-the-hall neighbor, Bill, who adopted him from the Humane Society. Bill likes to take Bart for walks, and Gary and I have met them several times before, but always in the building. Today, they were outside; Bart was on a leash that Bill had secured to a tree, so the kitten could explore a bit without getting away. It took some doing to get this photo, as Bart's camera-shy. Bill hasn't been able to get good pix of the cat, so I e-mailed him this one. Very fitting for the day, isn't it?

Earlier, I had an even more special treat. During my walk, I saw two gorgeous coyotes trot across the road right in front of me. They ran up a hill and stayed there for a moment -- poised, alert, sniffing the air -- and then, with a glance at one another, took off again in unision. I headed in the direction they'd gone to see if I could get a look at them again (and maybe get a photo), but although I heard yips in the brush, I never saw them. They were wild and alien, magical, and thus as fitting to Halloween as Bart was, although in a different way.

In more pedestrian news, today I got Dad's banking straightened out, paid his November rent (I'm listed on his account, so I can write checks for him), went by my local yarn shop to get a snarled project fixed (successfully!), and had a very nice visit with Dad, who'd had an equally nice visit with my friend Bonnie from church, who'd very kindly stopped by to see him.

I also spent a little time with one of Dad's neighbors in the nursing home, who'd been cruising the hallways in her wheelchair, announcing plaintively to anyone who looked at her, "I'm dying!" She pretty clearly has Alzheimer's, but she was just as clearly frightened, lonely, and desperate to tell a story no one was listening to, at least at that particular moment. So I went into chaplain mode, and listened long enough to extract a coherent narrative: she's afraid to die alone, and she wants to see her daughter, who lives several hundred miles away and is too busy with other family to visit. She'd like her daughter to be with her when she dies.

She liked holding my hand; she repeatedly reached for it, and then squeezed it. Sometimes she stroked my shoulder. She kept saying, "I know you're a good person," and, "I know you're busy," and, "thank you."

I ran all this past an uninterested nurse, who confirmed that there's a daughter in the specified town several hundred miles away, and told me that said daughter understands her mother's condition but is too busy with personal family matters -- "I can't tell you what they are, because of the privacy laws" -- to visit the nursing home.

I can imagine a lot of legitimate situations that could keep someone from visiting, but I also found myself wondering how much of the problem was inability to face a disintegrating parent. I've seen a lot of elderly people suffering from Alzheimer's simply abandoned at the hospital -- dumped in the ER by a spouse or grown child who then vanished -- because their families couldn't cope any more. I'm not sure I'd be able to cope in that situation either, but I hope this patient hasn't been abandoned that way. Either way, the situation's heartbreaking, and I'll try to talk to her for a few minutes every time I visit Dad.

Dad's hoping to get home by Wednesday. The nurses seem a bit skeptical, but I think it's great that he's so motivated. And I'm intensely grateful that he's mentally intact. I read him New York Times headlines from my Blackberry because he was starved for news. No Alzheimer's there, thank God!

Stomach bug update: Dad's better. Gary's mostly better, but weak. Fran's weak with periodic relapses. I am, so far, healthy.

Knock wood.

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween, everybody. It's gray, cloudy and windy here, very fitting for the holiday.

Gary is out of bed and feeling better. I woke up with a horrible headache this morning, but it's subsided with coffee and Tylenol, and so far (knock wood) I don't have any other symptoms. I'm going to go for a walk in a little while, and then try to get some schoolwork done.

Fran's movers arrive Monday -- early in the morning, we hope, since I have to teach in the afternoon -- and will be delivering her stuff directly to the storage unit, which, with any luck, will hold it all.

I just spoke to a sympathetic woman at the VA who says that there's no way to establish Dad's benefits any sooner than his new-patient appointment (currently scheduled for 11/20, and unlikely to be moved because of the pressure of service-connected needs), but that once he's established, the VA will at least look at the $909 ambulance bill. She couldn't promise they would pay any of it, but at least there's a chance that they might. At any rate, I'm satisfied that I've now done everything I can.

Yesterday I tried, unsuccessfully, to reconcile my father's checkbook. I'm horrible at dealing with my own finances, so handling his has unnerved me. My sister suggested, sensibly, that I go to the bank to get a statement or two. That should help!

The pressure of all this caregiving has really hit me hard, although various people have told me that's completely normal. A nurse friend said, "Okay, so they just got here, and it's been nothing but a string of emergencies, and you're probably wondering, 'Is it always going to be like this?'"

I said, "Yes! Yes, exactly! You read my mind!"

I've realized -- no great insight here, but it's still important -- that I can't count on ever having a calm day, so I need to set my priorities for each day as soon as I get up. Exercise and getting some of my own work done are right up there. These are the things I can't afford to defer, since if I do, I might not have another opening for them that day. I have to take every chance I can to catch my breath and attend to business-as-usual.

As much as I hate the idea, I'm wondering if I should take a sabbatical from volunteering at the hospital. But it probably makes more sense to volunteer when I can. I'm afraid that if I gave it up completely, I might never get to go back.

Next week I see my psychiatrist for my periodic meds-management appointment. I'm going to ask if I can start therapy with her, or with someone else in her office, because if I ever needed someone to talk to every week or two, it's now! Friends have been supportive and helpful, but this is still a lonely, scary business.

Everyone (including my father, who's genuinely concerned about my stress level) keeps telling me that I'm doing a great job. That's good to hear, although I'm not sure "great" is the operative term. I'm doing as well as I can; right now, I'll settle for "good enough"!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Battening Down

On Monday, Dad's movers called to say that they'd arrive at the apartment at 8:30 Tuesday morning. The plan was for Fran to let them in, and for Gary and me to arrive later, after they'd left, to start unpacking.

But at 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday, the phone woke me from a sound sleep. It was Fran. "Susan, help me! I'm so sick I can't even get out of bed!" She'd been up all night with one of those gruesome, spouting-at-both-ends stomach bugs.

I went over and let in the movers. Then I went home and got Gary, and we returned to the apartment and did some unpacking. He also cleaned up various bodily fluids.

That evening, I went to the nursing home. Dad was coming down with the same thing. A friend of mine who works at the hospital says this bug is Going Around, and hitting the elderly especially hard.

Yesterday morning, Fran and Dad were both feeling much better, but by the evening, they were both feeling worse again. And last night, Gary got it: he's thoroughly miserable and hasn't yet gotten to the point where he can keep anything down, or in.

I'm doomed.

This thing is your classic 24-hour bug (at least in otherwise healthy people), so at least it doesn't last long. But at this point, I figure it's a matter of when, not if. I'm thinking norovirus, which I had last May after WisCon, but unfortunately, that doesn't mean I'm immune: there are about 80,000 strains, and getting one of them only renders you immune to that one, and only for a little while. And I think I had some early warning symptoms yesterday (the same type I had at Wiscon a day or two before the beastie hit in earnest).

So I've set up my study as a sickroom: made the bed, put out the tissues and barf bowl, arranged knitting, reading and grading close by. I went to the supermarket and stocked up on Gatorade, and also got some frozen lemonade pops for Gary, since he asked for them. I made sure we have bananas, tea, and applesauce, three elements of the classic BRAT diet. We always have rice. I'm staying home today, because I figure that I'm probably shedding virus, and I don't want to reinfect Dad or Fran or infect anyone at the pool. (I'd already canceled my hospital shift, just because I'm so exhausted from everything that's happened since Dad and Fran got here.) The incubation period of this puppy appears to be one to two days, so if I'm going to get it, it will probably hit between today and Saturday.

If I do get sick, I'll be as prepared as possible. It feels like preparing for a hurricane or a blizzard. And if I'm prepared, maybe I won't get it, right?

In the meantime, I'm trying to take care of Gary even half as well as he takes care of me when I'm sick!

Reno Dawn

We had some very dramatic clouds this morning. The photo doesn't really do them justice, of course!

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Good Stuff, But

1. Dad's bleeding has stopped, so he's definitely going to the skilled-nursing place tomorrow (but he has a nasty cough, which worries me).

2. I swam for an hour this afternoon! It was wonderful! And for most of the time, I had the entire pool to myself! (but exercise looks tight for the rest of the week, which will be a challenge).

3. I got some grading done (but not enoough).

Friday, October 24, 2008


Well, things mostly worked out today. The package arrived, and we got the extra keys we needed, and Dad made it through the second, exploratory procedure. One of his nurses told me that they removed "three or four golfball-sized blood clots" (yes, that's an exact quotation) and cauterized the arteries they'd come from. Some veins were still oozing, and the nurse says those can't be cauterized -- although she doesn't know why -- but with luck, the bleeding will stop now, so Dad can be transferred to the skilled-nursing place on Sunday. The new facility is much farther away than the one where they'd originally planned to send him, but it's also in an exceptionally pretty part of town. Dad likes nice views, and he has a lovely one from his hospital bed, so I'm hoping he'll have a nice one at the other place, too.

I punted on my second meeting at work, but went to the first, in a fashion. I was meeting with a med student who's studying narrative medicine, and I'm afraid I spent too much time talking about Dad, but she was very patient and understanding (hey! I was giving her a chance to practice NM!). She gave me a stern little lecture about protecting my own boundaries. That really is important; I haven't been sleeping very well this week, although I've eaten well, thanks to Gary. I haven't exercised, though, and I keep forgetting to take meds -- including, at least once, my antidepressant -- and my classic depression chest-pain symptoms have come back. So tomorrow, my first priority is to get back to the pool!

Today I got a lovely e-mail from one of our parish priests, asking for an update on Dad. I called her this evening and we had a nice talk. She's visited people in the place Dad will be going, and says it's pretty nice (although she prefers the original place), and that the staff there have always been exceptionally kind. She's going to try to visit Dad in the hospital this weekend, just to give him someone new to talk to: he thrives on social interaction, and I'm anxious to use that to keep him from any cognitive deterioration. Right now, he's sharp as the proverbial tack, but institutional settings take their toll, especially on the elderly, and Fran and I run out of things to say after a while.

Everyone at work has been great: colleagues have given me hugs, offered tea and sympathy and class coverage (which I hope I won't have to use), and affirmed that this is anything but a business-as-usual situation.

Speaking of which, I have no idea how I'm going to get all my grading done this weekend . . . but my students would probably be understanding too, if it came to that.

Stay tuned.

Are We Having Fun Yet?

8:30 a.m. Ambulance company calls to ask about Dad's insurance. Medicare doesn't apply; therefore, the bill will be $900+.

8:45 a.m. Hospital social worker calls. Dad's being sent to a nursing home for rehab today. Here's a list of covered nursing homes: which do I want? I have to decide now. Flustered and upset, I pick the only one I've heard of. The good news is that the nursing home will handle transport, also covered.

9:00 a.m. I pick up Fran to take her to her doctor's appointment, and drop off Gary so he can wait for a package Dad's expecting.

9:30 a.m. Fran and I manage to find the doctor's office, located in a bewildering, miles-long maze of industrial park.

9:35 a.m. We discover that Fran does not now have, and has never had, a Medicaid card. (She does have a Medicare card.) We also discover that she never got the packet of mandatory new-patient paperwork.

9:45 a.m. I finish filling out the paperwork for Fran, asking questions very loudly so she can hear me -- "DO YOU HAVE ANY DIGESTIVE PROBLEMS?" -- as everyone in the waiting room pretends to ignore us. So much for HIPAA.

9:50 a.m. I start knitting to relax.

10:20 a.m. Fran's finally called into the doctor's office.

10:45 a.m. My cell rings. It's the social worker again. Dad's wound is still oozing, so at noon he'll have the pacemaker rechecked, and possibly replaced. His transfer to the nursing home is now scheduled for Sunday, but the original nursing home doesn't transport patients on weekends, so here's the name of another one that does that's supposed to be good. Is that okay with me? "Sure," I say weakly, just hoping Dad will be ready to go anywhere on Sunday.

11:35 a.m. I'm still waiting for Fran to finish her appointment, and I have meetings starting in two hours, so I don't think I'll be able to get to the hospital until much later this afternoon. (I can probably get out of my later meeting, but not the earlier one.)

To be continued. . . .

NM in the NYT

Many thanks to alert reader hhw, who sent me a link to this article about narrative medicine in the Times.

The article's by Pauline Chen, a fine practitioner of the discipline in her own right. I highly recommend her book Final Exam: A Surgeon's Reflections on Mortality.

Happy reading!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Got Lists?

Today's Discoveries:

1. Being in the ED as a chaplain is much, much more pleasant than being there as a family member, especially during a relatively calm shift.

2. If one hasn't knit in almost a week and goes to the hospital gift shop to find something for one's father, and sees on a shelf a cutesy little scarf-knitting kit with actually fairly attractive yarn, one will experience acute knitting withdrawal, characterized by painfully itching fingers and an overwhelming desire to count stitches.

3. Knitting at one's father's bedside while watching TV with him (after going home, eating dinner, and fetching one of several current knitting projects) is much, much more pleasant than going through knitting withdrawal.

Tomorrow's Plans:

1. As early as possible, contact hospital to learn plans for Dad. These most probably consist, at this point, either of keeping him where he is (because his blasted wound is still oozing, even after the epinephrine) or sending him to a rehab unit (since he's very weak, and it took three nurses to get him on his feet today).

2. At nine a.m. or thereabouts, drop Gary at Fran and Dad's apartment so he can wait for FedEx package containing Dad's precious Bose radio while Susan drives Fran to the eye-doctor for a 10:00 appointment estimated to last several hours.

3. After dropping Fran back at the apartment and driving Gary back home, attend meetings at work from 1:45 to 5:00.

4. If there's any spare time between #2 and #3, a) have copies of apartment keys made so Fran, Dad, and Gary&Susan can all have a set, and b) try to get some grading done.

I think I'm forgetting something in there. I'd love to be able to add a swim to this list, but that seems very unlikely. I have to swim on Saturday, since my back's started whining. I haven't been swimming since last Saturday, before we drove to Sacramento to pick Dad up, although I did manage to get a walk in yesterday morning.

I really hope things settle down soon (ha! ha!), because -- among many other reasons -- I'm beginning to get a mite cranky, although a nice swim will probably fix that.

And for your viewing amusement, here's a photo of one of two matching sculptures in the baggage-claim area of the Sacramento Airport (which Gary called "a whimsical yet understaffed airport," because we both loved the sculptures but were annoyed by the fact that no personnel from Dad's airline were available to give me a gate pass).

This sculpture seems like a fitting metaphor for my life at the moment! And yes, I know, things could be much worse. I'll be less whiny when I've had some sleep.

And on that note, good night!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Logic? What Logic?

Dad's discharge has been delayed until Friday; his wound is oozing a little, evidently since he moved around too much yesterday, so he's currently pinned to his bed by a giant ice pack with orders not to move unless he's eating. If ice and pressure don't work, the doctor will give him an epinephrine injection. I never knew that stopped bleeding; I thought it just made people hyper. I hope he'll be able to move after he gets the shot, or else he'll really be antsy!

He's not enjoying this process. I wouldn't either.

Meanwhile, we're having tons of fun with health coverage. Dad has routinely gotten his care from the VA, but also has Medicare A. He dropped Medicare B (which is essentially outpatient stuff) years ago because the VA was providing those services.

However, since he just arrived in town, he can't receive any services from our local VA until he's gotten established with a primary-care doc, which means that he needs a new-patient appointment, which is currently scheduled for November 20. That's the earliest opening. I'm calling over there every day or two to see if there are any cancellations so he can get in sooner, but I fully understand how swamped they are.

This means that, for at least a month, we'll have to pay out-of-pocket for expenses Medicare B would ordinarily cover. Dad will need home oxygen and home health care after he's discharged. The social worker on his floor was pretty sure that A would cover oxygen, but not home health, which made sense to me. Breathing's more basic than having somebody come over to check your vitals, since if you can't breathe, there won't be any more vitals to check. (Dad quickly desats to 80% on room air, which is truly alarming.)

The social worker called this morning, after doing some research, and told me it's the exact opposite. The home health visits will be covered by Medicare A, but oxygen won't be.

Huh? Are they considering oxygen a prescription drug? I mean, it is, but does that mean that, say, insulin isn't covered by Medicare A either? I thought Medicare A might be just in-hospital stuff, but in that case, home health wouldn't be covered either. The social worker seemed as puzzled by all this as I was.

It's all very confusing. But the good news is that he'll be receiving both services, and that the oxygen (the price for which the social worker gave me) won't break the bank.

Have I mentioned lately that I love social workers? This woman's cheerfully willing to make all kinds of phone calls to make arrangements, whereas entirely too many of the other people we've been dealing with have a "don't ask me to step outside my own carefully circumscribed little box" attitude.

Yay, social workers!

The Latest

Dad's pacemaker implantation went well yesterday, thank goodness, although he already seems annoyed and impatient with the fact that he can't move his left arm while he heals (and won't be able to lift it over his head for a month).

Meanwhile, his doctor now thinks he needs a valve replacement, which would entail open-heart surgery -- ugh! -- and I'm still leaving lots of phone messages at the VA to try to get him in to see a doc for followup care.

Gary and I, along with assorted wonderful friends -- thank you! thank you! -- got the temporary furniture moved into the new apartment yesterday morning, so Fran's staying there now instead of at our house. She likes it a lot, even minimally furnished. The nicest thing in the whole place right now is the daybed some friends of us gave her, which is where she's sleeping. (We also have a double bed for Dad.)

As of yesterday, Dad and his nurse both believed he'd be coming home today. Fran and I are slightly skeptical, simply given his age. On the other hand, I know that hospitals try to move elderly people out especially quickly, because of the danger of hospital-acquired infections. I've told his nurse that he'll need both home oxygen and home healthcare, but I'm fully expecting to be told that I need to call the VA about that stuff, too.

Fran took us out for both lunch and dinner yesterday, which was awfully nice of her, given her terribly limited budget.

Stay tuned for more exciting developments!

Oh, the guy who lives down the hall from the new apartment has an adorable black kitten who likes to roam the hallways, and over whom Gary and I cooed and burbled several times yesterday. Everything's better with kittens.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Busy Busy Busy

What I did today:

9:00 Go with Fran to management office of new apartment. While Fran's signing three-inch stack of papers that also have to be signed by Dad -- this is as bad as buying a house -- get phone call from hospital social worker, who needs to talk to me about payment arrangements. Become alarmed.

10:00 While Dad is signing three-inch stack of papers (as tech who's arrived to do echocardiogram waits patiently because I've told her the papers have to be signed now), talk to social worker, who informs me that Medicare will, thank God, cover hospitalization and pacemaker, but won't cover outpatient visits. This means we need to get Dad established at VA, which we already knew. Social worker gives me phone number for VA.

10:30 Take three-inch stack of papers back to management office and accompany Fran and office manager on apartment inspection. Fran likes apartment. Yay!

11:00 Drop Fran back home, since if I took her to hospital she'd have to stay there until I finish teaching at 7:00. (It will only occur to me later that she could have taken a cab home.) Pick up lunch Gary's made me. Go to hospital to eat lunch with Dad, who hasn't gotten lunch yet but seems bothered neither by my eating in front of him nor by prospect of tomorrow's procedure.

11:30 Interrogate nurses about tomorrow's procedure, which will evidently take place in a cath lab, not an operating room, and last about an hour. Ask nurses if I should cancel moving plans to be at the hospital. They say no.

12:00 Run into friend from church who's working as a nurse on this floor, but who doesn't have time to visit Dad. Maybe tomorrow.

12:15 Leave for work. Run into colleague and fill her in on events of weekend. Watch her eyes widen. "That's enough for a whole year!" she says.

12:30 Try to organize self for today's teaching. Teaching? What's that?

1:00 Produce credible imitation of teaching in fiction workshop.

2:15 Return to office after class. Answer e-mail from two medical students who want to talk to me about the summer Narrative Medicine elective. Invite them to office to discuss it. Also call U-Haul place and rent van for tomorrow morning. Also call VA and, after talking to two different people, manage to leave message for new patient scheduler to call me for a post-procedure appointment for Dad. (The good news is that they already have his new address on file.)

2:30 Do some paperwork from 1:00 class.

2:45 The two med students, who turn out to be a couple, arrive with adorable dog. Coo over adorable dog. Talk about narrative medicine. Coo over dog some more. Show med students various books they should read. Rub dog's belly. Discuss summer schedule. Scratch dog's ears. Talk to students about stress of medical school; tell them dogs are good anti-stress medicine.

3:15 Medical students and dog leave. Office and self now covered in dog hair. Finish paperwork from 1:00 class. Answer e-mail.

3:45 Realize self required at committee meeting in fifteen minutes. Dash down hall to buy bottled water, use restroom. Run into colleague in restroom. Fill her in on weekend. Get hug.

4:00 Covered in dog hair, attempt to look alert and professional in committee meeting. Quietly compete with across-the-table-colleague to see who can eat the most chocolate (bowl of chocolate goodies provided by committee chair, who knows that chocolate makes people look alert and professional).

5:00 Meeting adjourned, return to office to get ready for 5:30 class in another building. Use restroom again. Realize that right lower arm is covered with smeared chocolate. So much for professional. Attempt unsuccessfully to divest self of several pounds of dog hair.

5:30 Teach class.

7:00 Class adjourned, return home. Call Dad to wish him luck with procedure tomorrow. Eat yummy dinner with Gary and Fran.

8:00 Return call from church friend who called house today to find out how Dad was. Receive call from church friend who'll help with move tomorrow, wondering what time and where to meet us.

8:15 Wish Fran good night as she goes to bed. Go with Gary to PetSmart to buy catfood. Coo over adorable cats for adoption. Can't get covered in cat hair, as cats separated from self by glass windows.

8:30 Go to supermarket to pick up last-minute items for apartment: ground coffee, dish drain, bucket, can opener.

9:00 At home, pick out extra towels and sheets to lend to Dad and Fran while they wait for movers.

9:30 Blog about busy day.

10:30 Good night!

Long Story Short

Dad arrived safely in Sacramento, and we got him safely home, but he fell in our garage trying to get into the house and is now in the hospital, awaiting a pacemaker (and in need of home oxygen, since his sats consistently drop to 82 without it).

Fran arrived safely yesterday, in the middle of Dad's ER admission. This morning, she and I will go to the new apartment and talk to the manager about how he can sign the lease (can I bring it to him in the hospital? can I drive the manager to the hospital so she can watch him sign it? etc. HUD has incomprehensible regulations).

There's much more I could say, but Fran just woke up, so I need to go get her coffee. All prayers welcome! (Dad's in good spirits; I'm somewhat less so.)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Cat Tent

It's kinda like a pup tent, only different.

I took this photo before we left this morning. We're in Sacramento now, waiting for my father's plane.

Tough Old Bird!

My sister called a little while ago to say that Dad left the hospital this morning -- AMA because he hadn't seen his doctors yet, but the nurses were joking around with him and brought him his wheelchair -- and was eating a good breakfast.

He says he feels pretty good, although he didn't get much sleep. He's probably in better shape than my sister is, at this point.

So as of right now, he's still planning to fly to Sacramento this evening. I hope I have his stamina when I'm 86!

Friday, October 17, 2008


Dad moved out of his apartment this morning, and is staying with my sister tonight before flying to Sacramento tomorrow. But my sister just called me from her car to say that he's on his way to the hospital because he had a choking fit and may have stopped breathing. He came around when the paramedics gave him oxygen, and seems like himself, but it's still alarming.

And I have no idea what the chances are of his making his flight tomorrow.



Well, he was determined to leave the hospital tonight, but a very persuasive ER doctor talked him into staying overnight for observation. He was unconscious for a little too long, and they don't know what caused it; the ER doc said that if it happens while he's in the hospital, they can fix it, but if he left, he might not wake up tomorrow morning.

So he's determined to leave tomorrow morning, instead. He's nothing if not stubborn!


While cleaning my study, I decided to use a box for miscellaneous-papers-to-be-sorted-later. But, of course, a furry marauder jumped in and claimed it as his own. All boxes rightfully belong to cats. What was I thinking?

Figaro the Elegant

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Knitting Philosophy

My friend Marin, who's a philosopher, sent me a link to the special knitting issue of the American Philosophical Association's Feminism & Philosophy Newsletter.

Too cool!

Driving/Moving Help

I just posted this to our church e-mail list, and also sent it out at work, but I'm posting it here too, in case any Reno readers can help out.


Hi, all! As some of you are aware, my elderly disabled dad and his girlfriend (also elderly and not in great shape) are moving here this weekend. On Tuesday 10/21, Gary and I plan to move them into their new apartment with minimal furnishings, as their moving vans won't have arrived yet. We have a bed and some tables and chairs for them, and I'm going to rent a U-Haul van to move the stuff, which won't fit in my car.

Here's the hitch: I'm the only driver in this group (Dad's friend still drives, but I'm not sure I want her driving my car, especially since she needs double cataract surgery). If I leave my car at the U-Haul place, I'll have no way to transport three other adults to the new digs without making multiple trips. So I'd like to ask if anyone can come with me to the U-Haul place, drive my car back to my house when I drive the U-Haul back, and then drive two other people to the new apartment in my car.

At that point, your work should be done, since another friend will be showing up with his truck (hauling a daybed for the new place) and can help us unload.

This should take two or three hours, tops, and we'll be indebted to you for life. (Other payment or bribes of Gary's homecooked food may also be possible.) We'd like to do this in the morning, but can be flexible depending on your schedule.

If anyone's available, please let me know. I know the timing's tricky, since it's a workday.



Mea Culpa

Yes, I know: I've been terrible!

On Saturday we drive to Sacramento to pick up my father, and on Sunday Fran arrives in Reno. So I've been busy getting ready for that -- and I'm not ready yet, since my study's still a disaster! -- and I've also had a perfect storm of school stuff: I just finished grading my first batch of Women & Lit papers, in addition to 63 papers from the first-year medical-school class (this is on top of my ordinary weekly grading), and on Tuesday I did a short presentation at the med school, pushing our summer Narrative Medicine elective, and then facilitated a Literature & Medicine discussion group at one of the local hospitals.

It's all very satisfying, but I've been busy. Not only haven't I blogged for days, but I haven't knit for days! So you know it's serious!

I'll try to be better from now on, honest. And I hope everyone's well!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Meet Myrtle the Turtle!


Heeeeere's Myrtle! That's Janet's foot keeping her from wandering into the shrubberies, and also Janet's voice commenting on her care and feeding.

Turtles aren't slow. Don't believe anyone who tells you they are!

There were various moments when Myrtle, hilariously, came nose-to-nose with assorted dogs (a situation she handled much more calmly than the kitten did), but I didn't manage to get photos or video of any of those. Oh well!

Baby Kitty


This isn't the greatest video in the world, but I hope it will give you some sense of how cute the kitten was. She was in a carrying case to protect her from overcurious dogs.

The Blessing of the Animals

Here's my friend Deb with Emily, her bearded dragon lizard, at the Blessing of the Animals last Sunday. Only five people from our parish came (attendance at morning services had been sparse, too), but we had over twenty people total, and far more animals than that. We'd put an announcement in the paper, and the people who came told me how grateful they were for the service. One man had clipped the notice from the paper and saved it for weeks!

Our church courtyard was a mass of barking, wagging, joyous chaos. I didn't get pictures of all the animals, and many of the ones I did take didn't come out well, but here's another unusual critter: Myrtle the Turtle, one of the turtle tribe proudly maintained by our friends Ned and Janet. I also took a funny video of Myrtle, which I'll post shortly.

Another out-of-the-ordinary critter was this lovely parrot; her person brought another bird as well, along with a dog. None of our parish clergy were available to do the blessing, but the Rev. Jim Edwards, a priest at another parish, kindly stepped in. He did a great job. I was following along behind him, giving out St. Francis collar medals, and he really took time to admire and compliment each animal. He maintained a steady sense of the sacred in the midst of pandemonium, which is what good priests do!

Of course, we also had less unusual animals, like Ned and Janet's sweet, beloved Arnie. (Gary and I catsit for Ned and Janet sometimes, and they return the favor, so we know each other's felines well!)

I've always read that people and their pets grow to look alike, and the maxim's charmingly borne out in this photo. What wonderful hair, all around! I wouldn't mind looking like any of our cats, so I hope the principle's true!

As promised, a representative from the Nevada Humane Society, a terrific woman named Adrienne, attended the service; she brought two volunteers and two adoptable dogs wearing these cute vests, and also a very sweet kitten of whom, unfortunately, I didn't get any good pictures. I took a video of the baby kitty, and I'm not sure how well that turned out, either, but I'll try posting it a little later. Anyhow, the Humane Society rep and volunteers really seemed to enjoy the event. We'd collected $125 in donations for them at church; a number of people wanted to give me money "for your church" to thank us for the service, but I asked them to give the money to the Humane Society, instead.

The HS folks especially loved the St. Francis medals, and promised that when they took the dogs and the kitten back to the shelter, the medals would be pinned next to their cages. "I bet they'll be the next animals to be adopted," Adrienne told me. And sure enough, a few hours after the service, she called me to report jubilantly that Chloe, one of the dogs, had been adopted by a family as soon as they got back to the shelter. Hurrah for the Humane Society! And thanks be to God for Chloe's new family!

I loved the service, as I always do. Throughout the event, I was smiling so much my face hurt; I'm rarely happier than when I'm around animals and their people. At one point, I commented to a church friend who'd brought his two dogs, "This is so much fun!"

He laughed and said, "And it's so you!"

It's so lots of us, apparently. I hope everyone else enjoyed it as much as I did!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Paying the Rent

Here's today's homily. The Gospel is Matthew 21:33-46.


I’ve talked here before about my meandering conversion process, which took decades. My decision to start attending church, though, was made much more quickly, and I made it for one very specific reason: my husband and I had just bought a house.

I’d spent my life entirely in rented apartments, first my parents’ and then my own. As a renter, I was always very aware that the property didn’t belong to me. Renting apartments also brought me into regular contact with neighbors, connecting me --however tenuously at times -- to a community. And the apartments I’d lived in were small.

At 1,700 square feet, our house is small, by Reno standards. But it was far more living space than I’d ever had before, and it sat on a third of an acre. I’d watched people who’d bought houses become defensive and protective of “their property.” Friends who’d once championed civil rights instead started worrying about falling property values, anxious about sharing their schools or neighborhoods with certain other families. I listened to acquaintances talking about “deserving” big, beautiful houses because they worked so hard. All of this troubled me.

Even as I reveled in our newly acquired 1,700 square feet, I also knew that house ownership represented distinct dangers. I didn’t want to forget that I was living with one other adult and three cats in a space that could shelter entire third-world villages. I didn’t want my status as a homeowner to make me afraid of other people, and I didn’t want to forget that no matter how hard I work, there are many people in the world who work much, much harder than I ever will, and who still have to live in substandard housing.

In short, I didn’t want to become complacent. So I started attending church, where, among other things, I learned that Jesus advises us to sell all that we have and give it to the poor. As a new, anxious Christian, I fretted about this over dinner with my husband. “Susan,” he said, “we aren’t going to sell our house and give away the money.”

“But it’s what Jesus would do,” I said, still worried.

It’s also what Saint Francis would do, and we’re observing his feast day today. Francis was born during the late twelfth century to a prosperous cloth merchant, but later renounced his family’s wealth, and even the clothing his father had given him, to embrace voluntary poverty. He delighted so much in the natural world that he is known as the patron saint of animals and the environment. At 3:00 today we’ll be blessing companion animals in his name, and our loose offering this morning will be donated to the Nevada Humane Society.

I love animals, as most of you know, but I’m very, very far from being St. Francis. I give small sums to various charities, but I haven’t sold my house to feed the poor. Nor, frankly, do I plan ever to do so, for which I have to hope that God will forgive me.

The tenants in today’s Gospel, though, are even farther than I am from the Franciscan ideal. The parable we heard this morning is a cautionary tale about greed, entitlement, and complacency. God has granted humans stewardship of his creation, a glorious vineyard full of all good things. We have been entrusted with the responsibility of caring for this creation, for “paying our rent” by ensuring that land, water and sky remain healthy and productive.

Some of us have managed to remember that we don’t, in fact, own the planet, that it isn’t ours to do with as we please. Others, though, have become greedy and complacent. Possession is nine-tenths of the law, you can hear them argue, and if the landlord’s agents only show up once a year and do none of the work, why should they receive any of the yield? Why should the tenants share the results of their own hard work with anyone else?

In the parable, the landowner’s slaves are clearly the prophets who have warned God’s people to follow God’s law, and the landowner’s son is clearly Jesus, stoned and crucified. The lesson here isn’t at all subtle: unless we both care responsibly for God’s creation and give back to God what is due Him, we will, much sooner than we’d like, be evicted.

This may be a painful analogy to use at a time of widespread foreclosures, when so many families are losing homes. The current grim economy illustrates, among other things, that various institutions and individuals have not done a good job of managing their resources, of stewarding the treasure with which they’ve been entrusted. Embracing involuntary poverty isn’t a saintly act: it’s a symptom of social injustice. Neither Jesus nor St. Francis would approve.

How do we keep from being bad tenants, from taking God’s creation for granted? How do we keep from becoming complacent? How do we remind ourselves to pay the rent? The first step, I think, is to remember that we do not have an absentee landlord. Our faith calls us to see the face of Christ in everyone around us, even those whose presence in our neighborhood makes us nervous. Our faith also calls us to remember that nothing we claim to “own” is truly ours. Everything we have comes from God. We have done nothing to “deserve” the grace of God’s love, mercy, and generosity, to deserve the earth we stand upon, the water we drink, or the air we breathe. We obey God’s commandments not to earn God’s love, but to thank him for the love we have already received. And God commands us to love our neighbors.

If we’re looking for examples of loving our neighbors, we could do worse than to watch the animals St. Francis loved. My friend Mary loves to tell the story of her favorite dog, a collie named Blaze. Mary lived on a farm in Massachusetts, surrounded by other farms. Every day at 4:00 PM, Blaze left the house, returning promptly at 5:00. Her neighbors told her that he made the rounds of neighboring farms, stopping briefly at each one to make sure that everything was all right. One day, Blaze started coming home at 5:15. Curious, Mary called the other farms on the route to find out what was going on. “Our dog just died,” one of her neighbors said, “and our little boy is devastated. Blaze has been playing with him for fifteen minutes every day.”

A few weeks later, Blaze started coming home at 5:00 again, and Mary called her neighbor. “We just got a new puppy,” the other woman said, “so Blaze knows he doesn’t have to spend time here anymore.”

My friend’s dog didn’t limit his love and loyalty to his own household: he expanded his definition of “home” to include everyone he knew. He acted as a conscientious steward, both taking care of someone who needed him and knowing when his attentions were no longer necessary. Rather than avoiding a farm where another dog had died, he stepped in to help.

My friend’s collie took care of a little boy who temporarily had no dog of his own. The Humane Society takes care of animals who, we hope temporarily, have no people of their own. By donating to the Humane Society, we will help them care for these beloved creatures until other humans claim them. But let us remember that the Feast of St. Francis isn’t just about the domesticated animals so many of us love. Francis reminds us to renew our care and commitment to all of God’s creation: to all plants and animals, to air and water and earth, sky and sea and land. Francis reminds us to praise and bless the Creator who has given us these gifts, and -- even if we do not plan to sell our houses or give away our clothing -- to ask always how much we really need ourselves, and how much we can give to others.


Saturday, October 04, 2008

Chair Share

The cats can't say we don't accommodate them!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Zombies and Politics

John Joseph Adams has posted the entire text of my story Beautiful Stuff. Just in time for the election, too.

Funny, that.

Thursday, October 02, 2008


As of today:

I've knit every day but one for the past year. (The one day I didn't knit was a day when I was so busy that I realized only as I was falling asleep that I hadn't knit that day. There were other days, although not many, when I didn't feel like knitting -- usually because I was sick -- but on those days, I made myself knit at least one row.)

I've volunteered 700 hours, spread over four years, at the hospital. Ironically, this week I got my 500-hour pin, given out at an awards luncheon last month I was unable to attend. After 500 hours, you don't get another pin until 1,000 hours. There are people who've served over 7,000 hours, and who've been volunteering for over thirty years. Wow!

My own modest milestones aren't heroic achievements, but they make me happy. Also, this morning I tracked down some medical care Fran will need when she gets here and made an appointment for her. When I called her to let her know about the appointment, she said, laughing, "If you ever need a kidney, I'm your gal."

I certainly hope it won't come to that!

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Autumn Gold

Happy October, everybody! This is my favorite month.