Saturday, January 10, 2009

Got Lumber

Today wasn't one of my better days, although it started off well. I swam for an hour, which made me feel extremely virtuous. Back home, I called Dad to apologize for the fact that we hadn't gotten around to having him and Fran over for dinner: he hasn't been inside our house since he moved here! He said, "Yeah, I'd noticed that," so I decided to have him and Fran over tonight, if I could get Gary -- the chef, after all! -- to agree.

I left Gary a note to call me (he was at an opera simulcast, from which he planned to walk home, and I knew he wouldn't have his cellphone on, if he even had it with him) and headed off to run errands. That's when things started heading south. I couldn't find the replacement cartridge for Dad's razor (it may be obsolete), and I couldn't check my course book orders because the UNR bookstore isn't open on weekends during intersession (duh!), and when I heard from Gary, he sounded exasperated about the short notice. We had no food in the house, and we still didn't have a wheelchair ramp in the garage. I told him that I'd go shopping and that Dad had sworn he could handle the two steps into the house (these are the ones where he fell October 19, so they make us nervous).

Then I called Dad to find out what he wanted. Fish and baked potatoes. We don't usually cook fish -- we both like it, but it's just not on our regular meal roster -- but I headed to the fish counter of our local supermarket and called Dad to describe the choices (I love salmon, but I skipped that, since Gary isn't fond of it). He chose mahi mahi, and I asked what kind of sauce we should have with it. Dad didn't know; he asked Fran and she wasn't sure; the fish clerk was talking in my other ear giving me suggestions and pushing bottles and packets of premade sauce at me. One of them was a lemon dill butter sauce, so I called Gary to see if he could make that himself, since he's a cooking purist and curls his lip at prepared stuff. He said he could, but I'd have to get lemons and fresh dill, and oh, could I pick up some coffee and bread?

I couldn't find fresh dill, so I bought packaged dill. I lugged everything home. Gary was okay with the packaged dill, but pointed out in annoyance both that I'd bought ground coffee, not beans (as purists, we grind our own coffee), and that I hadn't bought enough mahi-mahi. I'd asked the clerk for a pound and three-quarters, but she'd misheard me and had only given me a pound. And we still didn't have a wheelchair ramp! "I can't do it by myself," Gary said crossly. We'd been planning to go to Home Depot for a piece of plywood, but even if he could walk there, he couldn't carry the wood home, and I'm the driver.

I said I'd go back to the supermarket for more fish and the right kind of coffee. On my way, I decided on the spur of the moment to go to Home Depot to buy ramp materials. I thought I remembered how wide the doorway was. I bought a thick piece of plywood (one and 1/8 inch, which is what the lumber expert suggested), and some two-by-fours I thought we could cut down to support the ramp.

For a wonder, a Home Depot clerk managed to get an 8'x36" ramp, decorated with a red warning flag, loaded into the back of my little Ford Escort. I drove carefully home with my hazards on. Gary raised his eyebrows at the miscellaneous lumber, unloaded it, and told me that the ramp was too wide for the doorway (only 30 inches) and that if I'd just measured again before I left, I could have had it cut to the right size. What were we going to do with it now?

I'd call a friend who's a carpenter, I promised miserably. I wanted to crawl under a rock. Home Depot had taken so long that I hadn't had time to go to the supermarket for the extra fish and coffee, and I still hadn't picked up Dad's razor part, but it was now 5:00, and I just wanted to go get Dad and Fran and come back for dinner.

At Dad's apartment, I told him and Fran that I'd been screwing up all day, and he said, "Sit down, little daughter, and tell me all about it." So I did, and he and Fran told me funny stories about people they'd known who'd made stupid mistakes. I think it made him feel like a father again -- the one giving help, rather than the one receiving it -- so that was a good moment.

Then we got him loaded into the wheelchair and hooked up to an oxygen tank (I'd lugged four more down to the car, because I'm so paranoid about his running out of air), and we all trouped downstairs, and I got him and Fran into the car and wrestled the wheelchair into the trunk, and we drove home, where Gary had realized that instead of cutting the entire piece of wood down to thirty inches, he just had to cut off a corner so it would fit around the door. We had a wheelchair ramp!

We tested it in both directions first with me as a passenger, and that went fine, and it worked fine for Dad, too, although there's a bump at the beginning of the ramp -- the lip of the wood -- that we need to get flush with the floor if we can, since getting the wheelchair over the initial bump is difficult.

We had enough fish (and it was very good!), and long-suffering Gary allowed as how we can use ground coffee if we absolutely must. So dinner went well, and I felt at least somewhat forgiven.

After dinner, we made coffee -- from the remaining beans, natch -- and sat in the living room in front of the DVD fireplace. It was very peaceful and pleasant, although it didn't last long, because Dad got tired and wanted to go home. But we talked a little about music, and I discovered that Dad and I have very similar tastes; I knew we both loved folk music, but I wasn't aware that Williams' "Lark Ascending" is one of his favorite pieces of classical music, as it is mine, and that we share Brahms and Dvorak as favorite composers.

He also thanked me and Gary very movingly for all the support we've given him; he said it means more to him than we can possibly know. So after all my klutziness earlier on, the day was a keeper after all.

When Fran and I were in the kitchen, though, she told me that Dad's memory is getting worse. The other night he pulled the fire alarm in the apartment, thinking it was a light switch. Ouch. I have to talk to the home health people about this and see what they recommend. I sure hope he's not developing Alzheimer's, which I fear (for myself and others) far more than cancer or heart attack. But he seemed perfectly coherent and oriented when I was with him, or talking to him, today.

On Monday I have to start nagging his doctors and home oxygen company to get us a portable concentrator before we leave for Palo Alto, since that would make the trip much less nerve-wracking than having to load the car with tanks and stop to change them periodically. Gary and I are also looking into buying an oximeter so we can check his oxygen level during the trip (especially over the mountains).

With any luck, I'll be more competent at those tasks than I was at the simpler ones I attempted today, like buying coffee!


  1. Susan, we've all had days when our competence decided to take a break. After all you've been through I think you're more than entitled to one. What delighted me was that even in the midst of all this running here and there, you found time to be with your dad and have a good moment. This will get better. And Gary has been great helping you with all of this. Hope you two can find some special time together if only for an evening. Prayers for all things necessary.


  2. Your life certainly isn't easy at present! Wish I had more time to comment more regularly, but I'm reading and still thinking about you and your family.

    Best wishes from Liverpool, where we watched the fireworks at the end of Capital of Culture Year from an upstairs window - and very good they were too! At first we thought it was distant thunder!

  3. You are doing a wonderful job with your dad. I would be proud of have a child who cared so much about me.

    All the more reason for you to allow YOURSELF a bad day every once in a while.


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