Jump Shift 1

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Jump-Shift. That’s the term Dave and I use when we have a conversational change of topic.  It lets the other know that the next thing said probably has nothing to do with what was just said. Today I have spastic thoughts doing jump-shifts in my mind.

The animals… I awoke to typical cat behavior — urping on the carpet. Not a good way to start the day. I so love our dog, Lucky, and two cats, Trouble and Sniff. In fact, they are entertaining, icebreakers and just darn cute. But I am so tired of pooper scooping and litter changing it isn’t funny.  Now, with Spring shedding here there is one more layer of hair to deal with. Nonetheless, I guess they are worth the work. I can’t imagine being without them.

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Quick hospice volunteer story* (Strangely, I miss my volunteer work in the midst of taking care of Dave. I’m not taking assignments right now) Last year I accepted a project need for a woman who happened to live in my neighborhood. She was the first patient that I really related to in terms of age, gender and “this could be me” or any one of my friends. Kay had cervical cancer. She had been fighting it for years and now she was on hospice with a short time left. Kay had a beloved cat, her Beau. She wanted to make sure he had a home when she died, as none of her family would  be taking him. My job was to create a flyer for her to get the word out. I interviewed her about what would be the ideal home, took some photos of Beau, and printed dozens of flyers. Over the next few weeks I’d check in with Kay.  No response, yes, the flyers were distributed, could I print a few more? Of course.

Most people who seek an animal want to take it home right away. Kay was trying to find someone who would visit Beau, an older cat, in order to get to know him. He was to remain with Kay and then the new owner would give him a home after her death, in who-knows-when time frame. I reminded her that it only takes one call, one person to say yes. There were few calls. And even less interest. But, oh, if I didn’t have my houseful of critters, I would have a difficult time saying no. In the meantime, I was able to get to know Kay a little better. I even spent some time helping her cook a huge pot of Cajan gumbo she made for her extended family (and yes she insisted I take some home too, yum.) and helped tidy up her home. Although she was up and about as I knew her, her strength waned and she clearly experienced significant pain at times. Throughout these months, her Beau was near.

Finally, Kay called one day to tell me she had a home for Beau. He would be going to the home of a kind woman who helped her distribute flyers. What peace it provided Kay. What excitement, relief and so much gratitude in her voice when she called to let me know.  It was not long afterwards that Kay died, secure in the knowledge that Beau was with her to the end and would have a fine home to go to be loved again.

I think of Kay often as I drive by her home, but this story in particular became poignant when I discovered a program that helps support hospice patients to keep their family pets. As healthcare costs soar, some people are forced to make choices and give up their faithful companion. It can never be underestimated how important are the animals in our lives –   even when they urp up, have to go in and out the door a dozen times a day and leave a trail of fur (usually on black pants). Indeed, for many, their pets are as treasured as children and cause as much grief at their loss.

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Why oh why can’t these so called superstore, one-stop-shopping have everything I need in stock on the same day?

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Our hospice nurse visit was yesterday. This is the mile marker of symptoms each week. Better, worse, holding steady? Dave had definitely been sleeping more. His muscles are weaker. He often fights his own body to move around. One of the more subtle changes is his lack of focus. (Maybe it’s not so subtle!)

I was thinking this morning about how what I see and feel is not what others coming to visit see and feel. As a lecturer, Dave is “on” whenever other people are around. Sometimes I wish he’d be more “on” for me. I was reminded of what every parent observes about their child at some time in their life – I hope you don’t act that way in public! It could be about table manners or a host of other behaviors, but it is a recognition that the home is the safest place to be. (Chances are that the outside world rarely glimpse these transgressions parents are privy to.)

Sometimes, at home, we don’t need to be on our best. Family already knows all of one’s warts. So I get the Dave that is not hiding or masking his pain and lack of focus; I don’t get the Dave that is performing his best.  Just like the child’s behavior, it is not a conscious decision; it is that he is safe to be himself always around me, even when this self is not really the self I saw a few months back. He is disturbed about the inside differences he feels, yet he cannot quite articulate what is happening. I, too, am disturbed. However, if saving his energy to present his loving, intelligent side to the outside world, then I am giving him the quality of life he so deserves. I am happy to do so, for that is the gift of hospice.

There’s more on my mind. Jump Shift will continue tomorrow…

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* Names, initials, age and other details may be changed in order to respect and protect hospice patients and their family’s privacy.
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