Prairie View

Monday, December 29, 2008

Bird Sighting

For the first time, on Saturday I saw a pair of Eurasian Collared Doves. They were at our backyard bird feeder. Grant noticed them first and called me to come look. I saw right away that they were larger and lighter than the typical mourning doves we usually see, and the black line across the back of the neck (the collar) was distinctive. In flight, the underside of the tail spread into a white-band-tipped fan.

I called to see if Bryant or Andrew could tell me what I was seeing, but they were outside, probably pursuing birds of their own choosing. I thought of them when I remembered them announcing one summer that a strange bird call we heard at their place was a "Ring-necked Dove." I couldn't find anything called that in the bird field guide, so I wondered if they could explain.

As usual in such cases, I checked online, and finally figured out the identity of our visitors. I learned that they are not particularly rare in some places, and their range is expanding. They are an introduced species, in the US probably descended from captive-bird escapees. They arrived in the Bahamas in 1975.

Apparently Eurasian Collared Doves occupy a feeding and habitat niche between the city pigeon and the country mourning dove. The now-extinct Passenger pigeons may have occupied a similar niche in bygone days since this "intruder" apparently is not threatening to displace any of the native dove populations as introduced species sometimes do.

If there are other birdwatchers among my readers, I wonder if this bird is common where you live.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Not Giving Up

For nearly a week, my mother has battled nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, and has been able to eat or drink very little. She has steadily lost weight and is losing color and strength. She has sores around her mouth that the nurse believes are related to nutritional deficiency.

She is taking a powerful antibiotic to counteract an infection. It's hard to know, but the digestive upset may be partly a side effect of the antibiotic.

Today the nurse who visits her through Home Health Care recommended that we ask for a feeding tube to be implanted in her abdomen, noting that she is beginning to dehydrate. Doing this is an outpatient procedure, and nutrients can then be given at home by non-professional caregivers.

She noted that sometimes people feel that it's their time to go, and they don't want this kind of intervention. She asked Mom directly, "Are you ready to give up?"

We're all relieved that she answered with a definite "No."

All Mom's vital signs are good. Her heart, lungs, and kidneys seem to be functioning well. But her stomach needs a lot of help. Usually appetite returns, and normal eating becomes possible again under circumstances like this. Then the tube can be removed. We certainly hope for such an outcome. Even while the tube is present, any normal eating that can happen is an option.

The nurse who visited today was very affirming of the care Mom is receiving. She assured Dad, Linda, and Lois, who were there, that they're doing all that anyone could do, and that what they've already done has gone above and beyond the call of duty.

In what has been happening with Mom, we see the need for both diligence in trying to improve things, and peace about that which can't be changed. This takes a lot of talking to God, and listening to Him and to each other.

I suspect this holiday season will henceforth forever be referred to in our family as The Year of Mom's Surgery.

All over the world, private or public dramas play out every year. This year has been a year of traumatic events for others besides us. On this anniversary of the Asian tsunami, it's especially appropriate to remember that trials are common to man.

The marvel is that so much of our lives is free of them. And even in this worried time, we celebrate with good food and family times.

We look to the future. That Easter weekend wedding in the family will be there to look forward to after the holidays are past. And after that, there will be other good things to anticipate.

Trials and triumph are all of a piece when it comes to living well.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Letter 2008

Dear Friends,

This letter is a means of re-establishing connections that are important to us. It is, as well, an excuse to reflect on the major events of the past year. Since this letter goes to a variety of people, we always run the risk of repeating things you already know, or skipping important things that you wish to know. We settle for doing what is possible here–not what would be most ideal.

In February Joel returned from having spent five months in Bangladesh working for the same company he has worked for for many years. He also got in some travel time to other parts of Bangladesh and India. After he got home he crammed for taking the first level (of three) of the Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) exam in KC in June. It’s usually done as post-graduate work, and is a rigorous test that many people do not pass on the first attempt. Joel’s fears of failing turned out to be unfounded. This year he has also begun serving on the board for Mennonite Manor, a retirement community that our church helps sponsor. Recently he has been asked to serve as administrator for a financial organization that our church is putting together to provide investment opportunities and loans for members. Hilda Yoder has been an important part of his life and time commitments for more than a year now. She is a teacher, dividing her time between our church high school and grade school. Later: They’re engaged, and hope to marry on April 11!

Shane was married to Dorcas Kuepfer on his 22nd birthday, August 9. The wedding was a memorable, worshipful, and fun day and we love having Dorcas in the family. They live in the house that Shane had bought and prepared in Abbyville. He bought it after it had been improved with three entirely new rooms, new heating, plumbing, and wiring throughout, new windows, and new “skin” inside and out. He finished the job almost entirely on his own, except for the help of a few friends, and cleanup help from the youth group. The landscaping was the final task, involving lots of dirt work, tree removal, and grass and tree planting. Soon after New Year, Shane and Dorcas plan to move temporarily to Canon City, CO to work for 18 months as volunteers for Choice Books. When they move out, Joel plans to move into their house. The mixed quartet that Shane sings with is in the process of producing a recording before he leaves.

Grant has two three-days-a-week jobs. One employer is a landscaper, and the other has a vehicle dealership. So far it’s worked well except that he doesn’t have much time at all off work. Working at the dealership offers more variety than such a job typically does. In the past year, he’s helped design and install an underground irrigation system, worked on the farm, and helped with remodeling and construction. He enjoys the variety, and, at this stage in life, we’re happy that he has the opportunity to explore various options. Right now he’s deer hunting in the mornings and evenings and keeping at bay the varmints that raid the cat dish . Last year he got a big doe and processed it for the freezer. Grant’s friends stop by often for help with fine-tuning their guns. He knows how to do that for bows too. Grant turns 20 tomorrow. Later: He got his deer, a little 8-point buck.

Hiromi and I took a fun train trip together to Chicago in September. Soon after that we exhibited at a Health and Wellness Expo at the state fairgrounds in Hutchinson–a new experience and way to share information on Mannatech products. His manufacturing job continues to provide nicely for our financial needs, and if he continues to enjoy good health as he does now, he will likely continue to work past retirement at age 66–2 ½ years away. Another variable we need to take into account is the health of the company’s finances. Yesterday a notice on the bulletin board at work informed everyone that there would be a reduction either in the work force or the number of hours of work. The company makes components for agricultural and industrial equipment, so any economic downturn eventually filters down to this company also. Hiromi has worked at the same job for approximately fifteen years, and he gets along very well with the new Japanese president of the company, but we are mindful that financial security can be very tenuous, and all income is a gift from God.

I have taken a one-year Sabbatical from teaching–something I had planned to do when I first started teaching again six years ago–if I lasted that long, that is. I did, and have been grateful many times that this time off is possible. I have slowly begun to add back into my life things that I took pleasure in earlier and have had to forego for the past few years–things like baking bread, attending the monthly sewing, reading for pleasure and information, teaching Sunday School, and being part of a women’s Bible study. Next summer I hope to garden again as I love to do. I am trying to adjust to having a smaller household. With Shane leaving in August, and Victor (who had lived with us for 15 months) leaving at the end of September, and Joel leaving in January, we will have gone from six to three people in about six months. I miss the boys when they’re away, but I am trying not to be a clingy, whiney Mom. I miss my students too and rejoice in every success I observe or hear about. They have good teachers this year, and school seems to have gone well.

The past month has been a trying one for my parents. Four weeks ago yesterday my mother was admitted to the hospital and underwent open heart surgery about a week and a half later. One valve was replaced and one artery was bypassed. Yesterday she went back to the hospital again, after having been at home for only four days. She is 80 years old, and recovery is going slowly. There were several major crises during her first hospital stay, and the biggest concern right now is that her blood thinner has overdone what it was supposed to do, and put her in danger. The decision to have surgery was not easy to make, but seemed the only responsible choice, given the options. Her quality of life was very poor immediately preceding that, and very little improvement could have been expected without remedying the problem of severely restricted blood flow to and through her heart. My parents have asked very little of their children and this is the first time that they have needed a lot of help. We’re grateful to be able to offer it. Later: Mom is home again and doing much better.

The descendants of my Miller grandparents met for several days over the July 4 holiday. This was a wonderful reunion, and precious, with all twelve of my grandparents’ children able to attend–something that surely can’t last much longer, with all of them between the ages of 71 and 86 (now almost 72 and 87).

During the past year, our sister congregation built a new meeting place near Arlington. It was dedicated within the past month. With that project completed, attention is turning again to building a school at a new location. The space constraints at the grade school are the biggest issue. Numbers are up at our church too. Even without visitors, our attendance often spills over into the overflow seating areas. This is a good kind of problem, of course.

At this time last year we were several days into a power outage that lasted ten days. For some, it lasted two weeks. It was due to a massive ice storm that butchered trees and power lines and poles with seemingly reckless abandon. The electric grid has recovered but many of the trees have not. With only the biggest branches left on many trees, new growth appeared in bottle-brush-like protrusions along those big branches, leaving the tree silhouettes looking very odd.

While the past year has had its challenges, we have experienced God’s goodness too, and had time to reflect on it. Especially now we are grateful for the gift of Jesus, Who gives meaning to life in the middle of experiencing the good, the bad, and the ordinary. May God bless you.

Sincerely, Miriam

To-Die-For-Good Taffy

I have cooked more bad taffy than most people, but, now that I've managed to cook some good taffy, I'd like to share what I've learned. (I have never understood--or maybe just never liked--the motivation for having secret recipes.)

In my opinion, taffy made like this is the best candy ever, and pulling it adds a social dimension that is missing in most candy making. I got this recipe from my mother, who, ironically, didn't cook taffy very often. I think the recipe was commonly known at one time.

Valley Taffy

1 pint cream
1 pint white corn syrup
2 lbs. or 4 cups white cane sugar (C & H makes a good quality cane sugar.)
Paraffin, the size of a walnut, or 1/2 inch cut from the end of a bar
2 t. cold water
1 t. vanilla
1 T. unflavored gelatin
Butter (no margarine), for greasing cooling pans

Measure the sugar into a six or eight quart pan and then add the gelatin.  Stir well until all gelatin is evenly distributed throughout the sugar.  Add cream and stir again, to incorporate liquid thoroughly into the sugar and gelatin mixture.  Add corn syrup and heat the mixture, stirring till all the sugar is dissolved.  Add paraffin and vanilla and continue cooking. Set up candy thermometer to track taffy temperature till it's finished.

Cook the taffy to the firm ball stage, which is 245-248 degrees. Pour the taffy into four, five, or six pie pans to cool (depending on how many taffy pulling teams you have), making a layer of taffy about 1/4 inch thick. As the taffy cools, with a scraper, fold the edges in toward the center.

When it's cool enough to handle, begin pulling it with buttered hands. Pull until it's white, then form it into a rope about 3/4 inch in diameter and twist it. Lay it on waxed paper and then snip it into pieces about an inch long.

Any taffy that survives the sampling process should be stored in a cool place in single layers on waxed paper in an air-tight container, or individually wrapped in waxed paper cut into 3-4-inch squares.

Yield: Enough taffy for 4-6 taffy-pulling teams--8-12 people.  When divided into six portions for pulling, the resulting taffy yields enough for each person to have about a sandwich-sized bag of wrapped taffy pieces.

Special Supplies: candy thermometer, kitchen shears, pie pans, waxed paper, small zipper bags

Additional Notes:

--It's important to test your thermometer for accuracy before you begin cooking taffy. My thermometer is about 7 degrees off--enough to make the difference between perfect taffy and too-hard taffy. Check the temperature at which water boils on your thermometer, and note the variation from 212 degrees. Adjust the firm-ball temperature you're aiming for accordingly. My taffy is done when the thermometer reads 238 degrees. Figuring this out was the single biggest factor in my being able to cook good taffy.

--Start making taffy 1 1/2 to 2 hours ahead of the time you want to start pulling it. The heat can be adjusted between medium and high to vary the cooking time as necessary. Cooling at room temperature might take about 30 minutes, but it can be done faster if it's taken to a cold place.

--If you're cooking several batches of taffy, it's better to cook in separate kettles than in one big one. Stagger the starting times a bit so that you don't have to put it all out at once, and so that you can use the same thermometer for the final minutes of each batch.

--Use the time while the taffy is cooking (It does not need constant stirring.) to grease the cooling pans. I do this by unwrapping the end of a stick of butter and rubbing it generously over the bottom of the pan and slightly up the sides.

--Always use real butter for greasing the pans. Margarine contains liquid, which "cooks off" in the cooling pans in the spot where you pour the hot taffy. Then the taffy always sticks in that spot.

--Use a heat-proof (Pampered Chef brand or silicone) scraper for taffy. It's very hot, and could melt some scrapers.

--Make sure everyone washes hands well and rinses well before pulling taffy. Also, banish all traces of hand lotion.

--To pull taffy, first make a fat rope and form a loop at each end of it. Insert the upturned fingers of your left hand into the loop. Then, with your other hand (fingers down), grab the taffy "rope" at a point about 2/3 of the distance to the other person's hand. Pull the taffy toward you and release it behind your upturned fingers. This allows the taffy to flow around your fingers and back into the rope repeatedly. Your partner will be doing the same things at the same time, and you'll soon have a rhythmic pattern going.

--The purpose of pulling taffy is to incorporate air into it, making it more chewable and less hard and sticky. It becomes lighter in color as more air is incorporated. When it's done, it will have no darker streaks in it, and will be very light in color.

--A too-hard batch of taffy can sometimes be pulled if it's softened first by putting it into the microwave for about 10 seconds. Put it on a heat-proof pie pan or plate to heat it. This may need to be done repeatedly. (This really complicates taffy pulling, and can be avoided by cooking to the right temperature.) If it's too soft, pull it in a cold room to stiffen it up.

--If having taffy gluten-free is important, make sure the vanilla does not contain caramel color. All the other ingredients are OK.

--Soak all taffy dishes in hot soapy water as soon as possible after cooking to ease cleanup.

--Use a sturdy kitchen shears for cutting taffy into pieces. If the texture is just right, craft scissors can be used safely also.

--If you cook taffy for a big group, it's nice to provide zippered bags for people to use for taking taffy home. If it's worth the time and trouble, each piece can be wrapped in a small square of waxed paper to keep it from sticking to other pieces.

--Popcorn is a good accompaniment to taffy. Water or other unsweetened hot or cold drinks are good additions.

--Count the number of people who will be helping pull taffy, and divide by two to figure out how many batches of taffy to cook and how many pans you will need to pour it into.

--Children as young as four years old can enjoy pulling taffy if they work with a partner who shows them how.

--Pulling taffy is a really good group activity and makes possible a very comfortable level of interaction between people who may or may not know each other well.

--If you're splitting the cost for taffy, $1.00 per person (2008 prices) compensates the purchaser adequately if you're buying everything at grocery store prices. Sugar, cream, corn syrup, butter, waxed paper, and zipper bags are the main consumable expenses.

Note added in 2014:  I made some changes to the procedures published here earlier, mainly involving the gelatin.  I often ended up with tiny lumps of burnt gelatin in the taffy.  Adding it after the process was underway seemed to require a great deal of stirring to avoid having it settle on the bottom and begin to scorch.  I'm going to try mixing the gelatin with the dry sugar right at the start, as suggested in another recipe I read.

The other change I made to the recipe is to increase the amount of sugar.  The earlier amount in cups was far less than 2 lbs. of sugar, and 4 cups sugar is far more nearly equivalent to 2 lbs.  I almost never increase the amount of sugar in a recipe, but I decided to try it this year, and the taffy turned out very well.

One other thing I realized this year is that I can very nearly tell when the taffy is cooked just right by noting the color.  It should be caramel-colored at the firm-ball stage.  If you think about the texture of caramel candy, you'll realize that it's a lot like the texture of "unpulled" taffy.  Therefore, the color similarity is explained as well.  The visual clue, along with the thermometer readings, gives added assurance that cooking taffy "right" can be managed even if it's attempted in a variety of geographic areas.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Quote for the Day 12/24/2008

Paul O. (yesterday, while driving to Kansas on icy roads) : Pray hard. We're going to have a bad accident.

He had just seen an out-of-control vehicle come across the median into oncoming traffic. Five vehicles were involved in the pile-up, but the praying people's vehicle and the second vehicle in their caravan were spared.

This is the first time I've ever heard of anyone actually having time to make such a speech before a traffic accident.


Thinking about traveling at this time of year always brings back miserable memories of the year (probably about 1974) I traveled from Ohio to Kansas with Paul and Wilma, and Erma Y. as far as Iowa.--most of the way on snow-packed, icy roads. Nearly every mile of that way between Columbus and St. Louis had multiple vehicles in the ditch. We crept along till the wee hours of the morning when we got to Terre Haute, IN and decided to stop to sleep. No hotels had vacancies by that time, but we were directed to a school gymnasium. Erma and I shared the one small pillow we had, and lay down to sleep on the bare hardwood floor. Scores of other people were doing the same thing--some with pets and babies in tow. I remember the surreal feeling of picking my way around sleeping bodies in the semi-dark to find a vacant spot to lie down.

If we had only known. . . .we could have traveled north to Interstate 80 that year and had clear sailing all the way west. Now, multiple sources of information could tell us that, but things were different in 1974, and we didn't know.

Then, as now, however, it is always God Who keeps us safe--not our own clever choice of routes or traveling time.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


As Joel put it in an email to the extended family, "The lovely Hilda Yoder is now my fiancee! We're tentatively planning for a wedding on April 11, the Saturday before Easter." Hilda's father announced the engagement today in church.

To insure the proper level of pageantry and romance in arranging for and announcing the engagement, Joel had purchased a decorative crystal slipper with Hilda's present first name and future last name etched on it. After Hilda claimed the slipper, they drove together to the homes of their local immediate family members to show the slipper and make the announcement. (Hilda's brother in Sudan didn't get a personal visit.)

About 40 years ago Hilda's mother, Susanna, became one of my best friends. She lived in Indiana and I in Kansas, so it was mostly a long-distance friendship until she married David, who was my age and who had grown up in this community. Our families have been lifelong friends. David and Susanna lived in El Salvador and Indiana during part of Hilda's early childhood, but they have lived in Kansas for many years since then. This idea of Hilda and Joel making a marriage team was not obvious during all of their growing up years. Now it seems so obvious that we feel like we must have been extraordinarily dense not to think of it a long time ago.

Joel's aunts (by marriage), Rhoda and Judy, get credit for having the earliest, keenest sense of the obvious. Rhoda told me on the day we celebrated Joel and Angelo's (Hilda's brother) graduation from college in a collaborative event, that she has a new prayer--that Joel and Hilda would get together. Judy, who was Hilda's summer Sunday School teacher, had floated the idea to Rhoda earlier and so they plotted together before the conspiracy came to my ears. I told them I approved of the prayer but I didn't tell anyone about it except Hiromi. Hiromi was all in favor of making the suggestion to Joel immediately. I advised against it and recommended prayer instead. Hiromi complied.

No suggestions from us were needed, as it turned out. Joel came up with the idea "all on his own" only several weeks later, and was astounded to learn that he wasn't the first to think of it. Shortly after their first date, Joel headed off to Bangladesh and Hilda went back to Faith Builders, so they didn't see each other at all for more than six months, and only rarely then, till last summer.

I had noticed in the process of preparing for the graduation party that Hilda had become a really pleasant and capable young lady--some of which had escaped me mostly because she had been gone much of the time in recent years. First she had gone to Faith Mission Home for a term of service. Then she had taught school in Copeland, Kansas for one year. After that she worked at Faith Builders for a year and attended later as a student until she graduated earlier this year. This school year she has worked half time at the high school where I have been teaching, and half time at the grade school. Some time during the past number of years she had spent several months working in a mission in Belgium and had also worked as a secretary for a local business. I'm probably missing a few things, but that adds up to a lot of ways to learn and serve.

Next June Joel plans to take the Level 2 CFA exam. Getting married just ahead of that seemed unwise, given the intense preparation necessary, and waiting till afterward seemed far away and unwise too. So, spring break for Hilda and others who may want to attend, seemed like a good wedding date to plan for. She will probably need to ask for some time off from teaching, and Joel will need to take vacation time before and after the event.

This upcoming wedding is one more good reason for having taken a Sabbatical this year. I don't plan to extend it though until Grant gets married. Maybe the next Sabbatical will be timed right for that wedding.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A New Woman and Other Good Things

The other night when Steve P. visited Mom in the hospital, he told her, "Mary, you will get better. Today is my Mom's 78th birthday. When I talked to her on the phone earlier and she told me what all she's been doing, it made me tired." Steve's Mom had the same valve and artery replaced as my Mom did. Her surgery was in September.

Steve was right about Mom getting better. When Dad told her doctor yesterday that a lot of people are taking an interest in how things are going, Dr. B. said, "Tell everyone she's a new woman." He said this after announcing that all the numbers looked good on her blood work, mentioning her hemoglobin specifically. He listened to her heart and said it sounds very good. Ditto the lungs. He said she has good kidney function. He sympathized with her earlier digestive problems by saying he knows that even if some things are getting better you can't really feel good if your stomach is upset. We had just told him that, for the first time in many weeks, Mom is enjoying the taste of her food. "Look at her walk," he said delightedly, when she returned from the bathroom to the bed. "She's getting good at steering that walker." He told us he plans to release her today (Friday).

I spent Wed. afternoon till Thurs. afternoon in the hospital with Mom and noted many evidences of her improved health. She wanted to read the paper, walk to the window to look out at the weather, and walk to the waiting room to listen to Obama introduce his financial team and take questions at a press conference. She announced that she's walking all the way to the end of the hall and did so. She prompted me to give her the gizmo that measures her lung capacity when she does her breathing exercises.

On Wednesday evening at bedtime her only meds were two potassium pills. The next morning there were only three small pills, at least one of them a baby aspirin. The connection between the absence of pills and the presence of appetitie seems obvious to me.

Yesterday in the hall I met someone who asked about my mother. She must have talked to one of my sisters because I didn't remember ever seeing her before. She told me that her father had been dismissed the same day my mother had, and returned again to the hospital on the same day Mom did. He went home yesterday afternoon. We went our separate ways then, and I didn't ask her more about her father's health, but I wonder if she feels, as I do, that, even though the time at home didn't last long, it was good for the patient emotionally. I think it gave Mom hope that the hospital stay would not last forever. But the time at home was so far from a return to normalcy in many ways, that I think she was more open to returning to the hospital when it became necessary than she would have been otherwise. This time I think it won't be long before she putters around in the kitchen again and things will feel normal much more quickly.

Hans picked me up at the hospital and we went to the airport together to meet Benji, who was returning from Thailand. It was foggy and miserable outdoors and we heard announcements of flights cancelled because of the weather while we were still at the airport. But Benji arrived safely, only a little behind schedule.

My nephews were hurrying home to get ready in time for the annual Christmas banquet for the youth group, so I got in on some interesting chatter, especially with Benji trying to guess the identity of the person he was having a blind date with that evening. Hans always caught himself before he let it slip, so I was in the dark along with Benji. I also heard tales of motorcycle escapades in Thailand. I don't think Benji's mother would have been as thrilled with all the drama as Hans and Benji were.

They also compared notes on what they expected or experienced of culture shock with the return home. "What culture?" one of them asked in the course of agreeing that it was no big deal, although Benji acknowledged that he was in some ways a different person than he was earlier, so it was likely that he would not experience everything in exactly the same way he did before. Benji also noted the presence of many cars and the absence of bicycles in the airport.

Amid all the shrieks and glad welcomes at their house when we got there, I quietly took my overnight case and tromped through the soggy snow in their backyard, over to Mom and Dad's house where my vehicle was parked.

I stuck my head inside the house briefly to check if Linda was there. She wasn't, and the house was empty, so I drove home and greeted my family and Lowell, who was just finishing up here with installing a new front door--a much-needed and providential improvement. The opening was four inches shorter and narrower than standard, and he found a custom-made door at Home Depot that was the right size. It had been returned because it swung the wrong way and was offered at a clearance price.

Health and home improvements and glad reunions are wonderful things, and yesterday I witnessed all three. What a pleasure.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Fib

Until Mom was in the hospital, I thought "A Fib" was naughty, not nice. Now I know it's a medical problem, not a moral issue--if you're using it as an abbreviation for atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat), that is. It is actually written afib or AF, apparently, if the site I saw did it right.

Mom has had it for weeks, but today she didn't. Since the medication they were giving for that was the main culprit suspected with her nausea and difficulty with eating, this is very welcome news. She has actually not been given Amiodarone for almost a week, but the drug stays in a person's system for quite some time. Having reached this milestone makes possible taking her off Coumadin also. That blood-thinning medication was the one that was dangerously high when Mom needed to go back to the hospital.

Giving Vitamin K helps thicken blood, so they gave Mom a shot of that soon after she got to the hospital. They told her the entire amount would have to be given in several small doses to make sure it didn't form a clot that would lodge in some critical spot. That one shot proved to be all she needed to counteract the Coumadin "overdose." They had apparently also given her a very small initial dose of Coumadin, but, as we have thought all along, she seems to respond fairly dramatically to even small doses of medication.

Carol urged us to ask specifically that Mom be given the very smallest doses of medication that might do what is necessary. I wasn't there, but I think Lois did that. At any rate, she overheard an animated conversation in the hall between Dr. B's nurse (who has the skills and authority of a PA) and the doctor on duty for the weekend. The nurse was arguing that "This woman is over-medicated." Later she came back into the room and went down the list of medications and said about three times "We'll cut this in half. . . "

Mom gets to have salt on her food now, even though nothing arrives from the hospital kitchen with salt. It comes in packets from the nurse's station. That should help Mom get some food down. Can you imagine eating cooled-off scrambled eggs with no salt? Mom couldn't either.

Mom is really trying to eat--just in time. I was beginning to wonder if it was time to enforce with her the eating rules she used to enforce with us while we were growing up:

1. Eat some of everything.
2. If you spit it out, I stuff it back in. (This was during feeding-baby-with-a-spoon days.)
3. No dessert unless you've eaten good portions of nutritious food first.
4. No special orders accommodated.
5. No whining.
6. You don't have to like it; you just have to eat it. (See rule #1.)

As my sister-in-law Kara pointed out, this probably had a better chance of working with healthy children than ill adults. It does reiterate, however, the dilemma many caregivers experience when a patient is also a parent.

We note with amusement how Ella handles Mom. She is one of Mom's favorite nurses, partly because she has my mother's mother's name (Grandma Beachy). The other day Ella came in and brightly asked Mom, "Are you ready to walk?"

"No," Mom said.

"OK, let's get you up, and get started," Ella said, exactly as if Mom had said "Yes" instead of "No." Silly us, for thinking Mom means "No" when she says "No." Good for Ella.

Linda stayed with Mom on both Saturday and Monday night and noticed a huge difference in how well Mom was able to sleep. The first night Mom needed to have help almost every hour to change her sleeping position. Last night they agreed that Mom would call the nurse if she needed help to change positions, and Linda would be available if the nurse needed help or if it took too long for her to arrive. Mom never called either Linda or the nurse. The nurse reported that Mom was sleeping every time she checked on her, and she had changed her position on her own at least once.

Tonight our former neighbor boy, Steve, who lives in Wichita now, stopped in to see Mom. That was a pleasant surprise for her and Carol, who was there at the time.

Mom's doctor is talking about her staying at the hospital for several more days.

Last night and this morning we had 4 or 5 inches of powdery snow and it's still very cold. But in the next few days the weather is to moderate somewhat, so maybe Mom's homecoming can happen in that window of time before the next Arctic air mass moves in over the upcoming weekend.

My sister, Carol, who lives in the KC area, is here for the week. Her husband, Roberto, dropped her off on his way to OKC where he is conducting a week-long seminar. He'll stop by on his way home to pick her up again. This is fortuitous timing, since my sister Lois, and my two sisters-in-law, Rhoda and Judy, are all taking their turn with having the flu--not just taking care of children with the flu, although Judy is getting a turn at that too.

Sounds like we're a sickly bunch, doesn't it? Has anyone noticed that we haven't been sick at our house? I claim, probably obnoxiously, at every opportunity, that it must be due to the fact that we're taking some good food supplements faithfully. And that is not a fib.

How to Have a Birthday Party for Grant

Grant turned 20 on Sunday. For various reasons we decided to have a birthday celebration yesterday, on Monday rather than Sunday.

In hindsight I can report on what is involved.

1. Invite six of Grant's friends, two of whom you've never met. Note the absence of some of Grant's friends who are very sane and quite sensible.

2. Clean the main rooms of the house--all of which have been neglected since Mom went to the hospital. Close doors to other rooms. Leave light off in sewing room where you can't close the door. Pray that no mouse chooses party time to scuttle across the floor. Make note of need to clean the bathroom. Thank Hiromi profusely for cleaning it before he disappears into the tub.

3. Put the Christmas Poinsettia tablecloth on the dining room table. Cover it with a clear plastic tablecloth.

4. Cut up $25.00 worth of roast beef into cubes for a curry topping. Stir-fry it till begins to brown. Melt a stick of butter and add 3 diced onions and three cloves of minced garlic. Cook till soft. Peel potatoes and carrots and bring to a boil in water. Combine everything and add salt and pepper and two whole packages of curry flavoring paste. Fill a seven-quart cock pot and a three-quart slow cooker. Begin simmering at noon.

5. Send grocery list to town with Grant. Include ingredients for Ida Y.'s cranberry salad and taffy ingredients. Mention casually that, now that we have a proper front porch, it would be nice to have icicle lights to adorn the perimeter.

6. Answer the phone innumerable times throughout the day--all related to Mom and/or people going to or staying at the hospital or seeing to things at home, etc. Send out one email to siblings to brainstorm about how to get Mom to eat. Recall Mom's eating rules for us and consider enforcing them with her.

7. Cook two 7-cup batches of rice in the electric rice cookers. Fix a tossed salad, consider the options and then decide to offer only the traditional seasoned rice vinegar dressing for the salad. Good chance for them to learn to apply the "When in Rome, do as the Romans do" adage. Set the table with the company dishes and Dorcas' help. (One person reports during the meal that he's not a vinegar kind of guy. Another asks if he has to put vinegar dressing on his salad. He eats it without dressing. Another gives the vinegar dressing lavish praise and uses it generously.)

8. Reconsider the plan for cooking taffy for the after supper activity. Decide that you would prefer to override Grant's protests (I don't really think this is a taffy-type crowd.) and go ahead with the taffy, given the possible alternatives they might think up. Past experience tells me that explosives and firearms hold a lot of fascination for this crowd.

9. Grant returns from town with a fresh haircut and a string of lights which he proceeds to hang from the beams around the edge of the porch. Hiromi notes Grant's freshly-shorn hair and says, "Why did you get a haircut in the winter? I like to let my fur grow longer in the winter." (????)
Grant replies that when his hair started falling into his eyes, he decided this is it.

10. Let Grant and his crowd have the dining room table to themselves. Hiromi, Joel, Shane and Dorcas, and I fix plates and eat in the living room. I start cooking the taffy and do not stir it as well as I should till everything is dissolved. I eat rice and curry instead.

11. The boys take small servings on the first round, except for Grant, who has a two-inch-deep pile of rice and curry covering most of his plate. I wonder if they always eat such modest amounts, then decide they're probably wary of an unfamiliar food. Turns out I was right. The big bowls of the main dish are cleaned out by the end of the meal, and we end up with a very small amount of leftovers. I tell them there's dessert, but they'll have to work for it first. Joel tells me that there's roughness on the bottom of the taffy kettle when he stirs it on one of his trips to the kitchen for refills. This is not good.

12. Dorcas helps me with the last steps in the taffy process and, when it's cool enough, I bring butter (for greasing hands), and the taffy pans to the dining room. I tell everyone that Grant wasn't sure if this was a good idea, so if they agree with him, don't blame him. (I should have said if they thought it was a good idea, be sure and tell him.) I also note that the little black flecks are due to "operator error" and assure them that taffy almost always tastes good even when it doesn't look great. Then I say everyone needs clean hands (at which point several of them look at their hands and announce that they look clean.). But everyone eventually trails off to wash their hands, (Grant reminds them to rinse well too. No soap taste in the taffy.) and begins getting buttered up.

13. I can't believe how fast every batch of taffy turns into the perfect shade of white. These guys have lots of muscle and energy, and very little need to fuss with warming it in the microwave for ten seconds or step outside to cool it a bit. J.T. has a knack for making the ropes just the right thickness and getting just the right twist. He busily snips the ropes into short pieces and everyone chows down to their heart's content. I pop popcorn to go with it. Something is wrong with the popcorn. It refuses to pop nicely. Gotta add some moisture to the jar and leave it set for a few days. I bring small zipper-bags for the guys to fill with taffy to take home. Only JT sits still long enough to catch on and do something about it.

14. The conversation of the evening seems to have a recurring theme. It has to do with a digestive issue that can be relieved by eating lots of fiber and drinking lots of water and getting lots of exercise. Only they mention things like taffy and concrete pumping truck grease in connection with it. Right in our dining room.

15. Justin heads to the living room and stretches out on the couch. He turns onto his stomach with a small groan and explains that he ate a lot of supper and he ate a lot after supper. He soon goes to sleep and stays asleep while the others plot where they might be able to go in his truck before he wakes up. One person notes that the truck tank has lots of gas in it. While everyone watches, one sadistic soul pours a small amount of ice water onto Justin's back. He rouses while everyone heads out the door at a high rate of speed, Justin hard on the trail in his stocking feet, water glass in hand--single-digit temps notwithstanding.

16. They filter back in one by one to retrieve their shoes and coats and say thanks for the meal. Then they disappear to Kenny's house to help him put a heater somewhere so his pipes don't freeze, and I think I do not want to know what else they may plan on doing.

17. Hiromi and I work on cleaning up.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Back to the Hospital

Late this afternoon, Mom's heart doctor called and asked that Mom be brought back to the hospital in Wichita. She has a PT count in the 70s (11 to 13.5 is normal, according to one online source) with an INR over 8, with 5 being at the upper threshold of acceptablility. This means that her blood has a very slow clotting time--critically thin, her doctor called it. Apparently, at the upper extremes, the count is not really considered accurate anymore, so the above number is probably not as informative as it might be.

As soon as this problem was discovered several days ago she was taken off Coumadin, the blood thinner she was getting, but the situation did not change satisfactorily since then. The doctor says she could start bleeding any time, and needs to be where she can be monitored. Her blood oxygen levels are also low while she is exerting (85% while walking), and she needs more nourishment.

Each day since Wednesday, the Home Health nurse has been taking blood samples to have tested according to the doctor's orders.

Today the nurse also checked her oxygen levels. Mom really liked what the supplemental oxygen did for her in the hospital and mentioned several times since she's home that she wished she had oxygen. It turns out that it wasn't all in her head.

Today's developments are disappointing, of course. I find it helpful to concentrate on our good fortune in having helping hands and knowledgeable decision makers involved in her care--more directly there than here. Knowing that she is never beyond the Father's care is comforting too.


One of the things I did in preparation for Mom's coming home was move the bird feeder from the spot outside the bedroom window to a place outside the living room window where Mom could see it from her "day" bed. To get feeding birds into visible range I dragged a patio table over to the window and heaved the tray-on-a-stump feeder onto the table--a detached stump, obviously. All of us have been waiting this week for the birds to discover the feeder--something we knew could take some time.

I'll admit it looks tacky from the outside, but, from inside the living room, the feeder looks just fine.

Yesterday I spent several hours with Mom while Dad was gone and Linda needed a break. I kept an eye on the feeder, and, sure enough, I saw something. It was Mittens, the neighbors' mostly black cat, preening and probably purring in the bird feeder tray.

This looks like attracting birds will take even longer than I'd hoped.

The cat's true home was discovered one day last summer when the family that owns Mittens biked past Linda's house and saw Mittens relaxing on her porch. "That's our cat, Mittens," the children called out. Linda assured them that she wasn't trying to claim the cat, despite it having taken up residence in her yard.

Mittens seems to spend as much time in the Miller family neighborhood as with her owners. Last summer she even gave birth to kittens in Marvin's detached garage. Then she moved them elsewhere and disappeared for a time, but she came back later, probably when she decided to wean the kittens.

Marvins and Dads both feed birds and don't welcome the cat's interference with the efforts. Lois has taken to keeping a spray bottle handy, and the cat is smart enough now to run off any time she sees Lois with anything at all in her hand.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Tonight's Thoughts

I really enjoyed tonight's high school music program, but I felt a little sad at the thought of all those wonderfully familiar faces that will not be there next year when I expect to return to teaching. Not only will everyone in the large senior class be missing, all the freshmen and sophomores will be students I have not taught before.

The songs in tonight's program included a section of Taize' songs. Wikipedia says:

The Taizé Community is an ecumenical, monastic community in southern France. It is comprised of a little over 100 brothers who come from both Catholic and Protestant traditions. Over 100,000 young people from around the world make pilgrimages to Taizé each year for prayer, Bible study, and shared communal work.

The audience helped sing these songs, which are written in a simple, prayerful, and meditative style. One of them was a four-part round. Song sheets had been distributed before the service.

On "Dide ta Deo" all the former students in the audience who had helped sing this song in past school programs joined the current students at the front to help sing. It was glorious. Wendell started a good thing when he taught the students that song about six years ago.

I liked seeing familiar names among the song writers: Lyle Stutzman (the director), and Kenneth Shenk, Tryphena Schrock, and Jared Shetler, who are Music II students.

Andrea and her Spanish class students sang three lovely songs, with two of them ("Soplo del Cielo," and "Oh, Santisimo, Felicisimo!") sounding familiar. The last one is one of the most lilting and joyful Christmas tunes I know.


Tomorrow evening the nutrition class will carry off the banquet they have been planning for their parents, fellow students, and staff members. It sounds like they're having fun getting ready, along with the usual planning pains.

When I helped plan the last banquet, I asked the students in the class to write down which was their first choice for a planning committee on which to serve--food, decorations, entertainment. This turned out well, with three fairly evenly divided groups. This year, Norma did the same thing, but the groups turned out very lopsided till she tweaked them appropriately.

A favorite memory I have from the last banquet is how much Mahlon (one of our elderly guests) enjoyed it. His mind had begun to fail by then, and he spoke very little, and seemed only partly aware of what went on around him. But that night he laughed and laughed when Andrew (Mr. S.) and a group of students conducted chemistry experiments for the audience's benefit. They had many misfortunes and made many mistakes in the process, and the whole session ended with a loud bang in the kitchen where they had gone to finish the experiment.


During the announcements at the end of the service, David Y. gave a report on Conrad Yoder's surgery to remove a tumor that had grown inside his skull. It was discovered when it began to press on his optic nerve and affect his vision. The surgery was done arthroscopically in Texas on Monday. After the surgery, his family learned that the surgeon feared that Conrad's vision might have been destroyed during the surgery because the tumor had penetrated the lining of the optic nerve. It could not be removed without invading the nerve area. As soon as he heard that Conrad was awake after the anesthesia wore off, he hurried to his bed and asked, "Can you see?"

He did apologize though for the fact that Conrad would have no sense of smell since he had to sever the olfactory nerve. As David put it, Conrad's brain seems to have ignored what the surgeon had done, because he can smell coffee brewing for the first time in a long while, and he even detected the roasting coffee smell on David's clothes after he had visited a coffee processing plant and then returned to the hospital, although he mistook it for the smell of burning brush. At least he asked David if that's what he had been doing.

Some concern remains since the tumor had grown into the bone and calcified to the point that it could not all be removed. Because of this there's a possibility that it would grow back eventually. However, it was not malignant, to my knowledge, and it was slow-growing--both
in his favor.

People have been praying, and tonight we could all rejoice that things seem to be going well.


Grant, yesterday (to Steven): Steven, you'd just as well admit it. You're a redneck.

Steven: Well, that's good, in some ways.

Grant is also a self-professed redneck. ("You know, I just figured something out. I'm a redneck.") I don't know for sure what he means by that. From what I can observe, I think it means:

1. You like guns and hunting.

2. You say ain't.

3. You drive a truck.

4. You listen to country music and play it on a guitar.

5. You wear either a cowboy hat or bill cap.

6. You wear boots.

7. You don't read for pleasure or go to concerts or plays.

8. You have a motorcycle.

9. You wear your hair long or short or shave it all off.

10. You love to lampoon PETA.

How did I raise a redneck? Is pleading innocent allowed?

I'm pinning my hopes on year number 25, which I'm told is when people's brains mature fully.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Home Again

The "Final Hospital Saga" turned out to have been a premature announcement. My mother came home from the hospital yesterday (Monday) instead of Saturday, as planned earlier. The delay was not due to a deterioration in her condition, but rather because the Home Health assistance we felt we needed had not been arranged in time. There was a misunderstanding about our wishes in the matter. When the doctors found out what we wanted, they told us that the arrangements must be made before discharge from the hospital. Since it had not happened on Friday, and the people who do that were not in till Monday, we needed to wait.

I think those of us who should have worked things out were either suffering from caregiver's fatigue, a frantic schedule, or just plain cluelessness. I had told Dad on Friday what I thought we needed, but did not follow up with making the necessary phone calls, etc. and when I asked the family for volunteers to do so, no one volunteered. Not a proud moment.

On the bright side, everyone adapted easily to the new plan, and we had a little more time to get the place ready for Mom than we would have had otherwise, and she had a little more time under careful medical monitoring. She came home on a day of unseasonably warm temperatures, with a high around 70. Today is very cold, windy, and snowy. Tonight the temperature is predicted to go down to 13 degrees. We're all glad no one is needing to make any more treks to and from Wichita in this weather.

I wish I could say that Mom got a shot of energy as soon as she was in her own home again, but that has not been the case. She smiled when she walked in, but she seems very weak and still looks pale because of her anemia. Last night and today she was nauseated and threw up several times. A call to the hospital produced instructions to skip one of her meds till tomorrow. She seems to feel really comfortable and relaxed, however, for the most part, and I think she will soak up the feeling of peace for a long time.

The drug account I gave in an earlier blog post also turns out to be wildly inaccurate. I was deceived by not seeing all the pills she was being given, and I knew that her IV meds had been discontinued. The list of medications on her discharge sheet was at least 3 single-spaced vertical inches long. Lois filled a bag full of prescriptions at the pharmacy on her way home, and racked up a bill of $60.00, which included only a $4.00 copayment for each drug--hundreds of dollars worth otherwise. Mom has hardly ever taken prescription medications till now, except for one that helps control her blood sugar, which had been started in recent months.

Three people are scheduled to come in to Mom's home, each of them several times a week: a nurse, a physical therapist, and an occupational therapist. We made this choice because, in some cases, we know what needs doing and are not very good at giving Mom orders, and our persuasive powers fall short. In other cases, we are truly ignorant of all the small steps in accomplishing what needs to happen. This became obvious to me in the hospital when I watched the professionals tell Mom just where to put her hands and where to grab hold when she was getting in or out of bed. They had instructions for her too when she was using her walker that I would never have thought to say: "Keep your chin up. Keep your back nice and straight. Don't let the walker get out too far in front." "You have good balance" they also told her, "and you walk at a good pace."

About ten years ago, Mom and Dad planned ahead wisely when they bought an eight year old house for a retirement home. This house is wheel chair accessible all around--one level, wide doorways, and open floor plan. The south wall of the living room is a wall of windows, all the way to the peak of the cathedral ceiling. The house is super-insulated, with two 2 x 4 stud walls all around the exterior, with a three-inch air space between the two walls. All together, the walls are about nine inches thick, with three sides of the house earth sheltered about halfway to the eaves. It could hardly be more safe and cozy during adverse weather.

Dietrich is well again and Kristi was going to be in school again today I believe. She has missed three weeks of school, with only a few days respite between the flu and chicken pox. She was well enough yesterday to help me create a "Welcome Home" banner when I took my supplies to their house and we worked at their dining room table, making use of some of their supplies too.

My sisters, Lois and Linda, both live next door to Mom and Dad, and Linda is staying at their house for the time being. Lois helps care for Mom as her family responsibilities allow.

It's good to see how the Lord has provided for this time, putting pieces together long before any of us knew exactly what the current circumstances would call for.

I kept thinking today of the nursery rhyme line: "Home again, home again, jiggety jog." The "jiggety jog" doesn't describe my mom's movements at all, but it's fun to say. When I think of how she pushes her walker along, it seems like "slippety slog" is more nearly right, and the rhythm works. At any rate, by any means, having her here and moving about in her own home is worth a cheerful nursery rhyme chant, and a prayer of thanksgiving.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Rescue Mission Rules

Last night, for the first time, I overheard instructions being given to the crowd of people who spent the night at a rescue mission in Wichita. The mandatory attendance at a service conducted by our church had just ended, and the men were poised for dismissal to file out for the evening meal. The man who spoke moved forward and back in the center aisle, microphone in hand. He spoke in a low, even voice. The crowd was very quiet. This guy had all the trump cards and everyone knew it. It was a chilly night outside.

1. Don't stuff food into your backpacks or your pockets. It'll get you put out.

2. Take a shower every day.

3. Leave the premises to wait for a bus. No loitering on the property.

4. Don't use electronic devices during the night. Others nearby need their sleep. Some of these guys have to get up early to go to work.

5. Don't reach across the counters. (?)

6. Be nice to your brother. He's just like you--trying to get through a hard time. When this season is over, you'll realize that the reason it's especially hard right now is because a lot of you are working through memories of what happened in the past at this time of year.

He also said something about the year's supply of hygiene packets having been used up in six months, about the TV time allowed--not in the daytime except for Sunday football, wanting to talk to the guy whose cell phone went off during the service, who was in trouble, as was someone else whose offense I can't recall (You know who you are, the speaker said.)

As we left the chapel, the men began to stack the chairs at the back, and a heavily laden cart appeared, with mats and blankets and pillows threatening to spill out. The chapel was about to become a dormitory. The building used to be a nursing home, so some individual rooms are available, but not nearly enough for everyone, apparently. I have seen mats on the floor in the hallways at other times.

This crowd of men became something more than a nameless mass of people when one nice-looking muscular young man stepped out and introduced himself as being from Partridge. When he said his name, I knew instantly that he was the son of my high school classmate. His grandparents are my neighbors. He was friendly and open and told us he works at the mission. "It doesn't pay much," he added ruefully.

I think he's the guy, among many others, that has suffered after-effects from his time serving in the military during Desert Storm. (Very recently the US government has begun to take an additional degree of responsibility for these cases, acknowledging that Gulf War Illness was likely caused largely by two chemicals the US administered--one given to protect against nerve gas, and the other a pesticide to control insects where soldiers lived. Other chemicals may also have caused problems.) His dad told my dad what his son was experiencing after his discharge. Some time I'd like to hear more of his story. I certainly hope he finds the help he's entitled to. For now, I'm glad to know he's in a safe place and finding a way to be productive.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Final Hospital Saga

It's been a long three weeks, but this hospital saga is finally coming to an end, barring some unforeseen development between now and tomorrow. Mom plans to come home then. Yesterday, however, her surgeon was still saying "If something comes up that makes sending her home seem unwise, I'll deny I ever suggested that she go home." He added that he would not dream of sending her home now if he did not know that she has a very strong support system to return to.

Today he came into Mom's room announcing that he's coming in with his bull whip today. "I used to be pretty good with the bullwhip. I had just a little one--about ten feet long. I liked to kill the flies on the side of the barn by flicking them with the whip." Then he looked at Mom, called her sweetheart, and said he wants her to walk all the way to the double doors near the hospital entrance. "None of this business of walking to the nurse's desk." The nurse told us later that he specified 300 yards walking distance.

"Have you taken a walk yet?" he asked at 10:30, just after she had gotten back into bed to rest up from having been "up" about 3 hours. "No? It's 10:30. If you're gonna walk three times today, you'd better get started."

Mom gave him a baleful look and said "I heard you." Then she got up again and pushed herself and her walker down past the first waiting room--about halfway to the double doors. She had lots of help with every step of the process, including one of the people at the nurse's station pushing her own desk chair into the hall for Mom to sit down on to rest for a bit. (The nurse had apparently not heard about the bullwhip.)

This reminded me of something Shane reported about Grandma when he and Dorcas stopped to see her on Black Friday. He noticed how much better Mom looked than she had the Wed. before when Shane and Dorcas had spent the night in the hospital while she was in ICU. "Her color was so much better, and she was eating well. But it was so funny when Murat [the PA] came in. He asked her if she's been coughing. She said no."

Handing her the heart-shaped red cushion she had been given to hold against her chest when she had to cough, Murat said, "I want you to cough for me."

As Shane said, "She gave him the hairy eyeball, thought about it a bit, then coughed one little cough." There were four or five other people in the room witnessing this little exchange.

Then Murat said, "Are you done with the pillow?"

"That depends."

"On what?"

"On what else you're going to make me do."

Murat assured her that he was done tormenting her and it was safe to give back the pillow.

We got very good news yesterday regarding Mom's staph infection. She doesn't have it after all! Here's the explanation for the false report. Last Saturday they had taken blood from her PICC line and from a site on the opposite arm. Then they cultured both samples, and the arm sample grew staph bacteria. The other one didn't. They said early on that this mixed result suggested that the one sample had surface contamination, and it might actually not be a systemic infection. However, her high white blood cell count suggested that it was systemic, so they treated it accordingly. They kept doing similar sampling and culturing each day, and none of the other samples ever produced any staph bacteria growth. So yesterday they stopped giving her antibiotics, concluding it had in fact been a surface contamination. The high white blood cell count is apparently not too uncommon after surgery, and they concluded that she was not in as much trouble as they thought.

Her blood sugar numbers are stabilizing nicely, and, with help, she is walking now to the bathroom. Today she is completely off oxygen. She is still getting Amiodoron, the arythmia medication, but I think all the other druggy-sounding things have been discontinued. She is mercifully not tethered to any lines. I haven't heard about the PICC line though. I presume that will come out before she leaves the hospital. It has saved her from lots of needle sticks, and been a very good thing overall.

Lowell and others picked up one of the electrically- adjustable hospital beds from Cedar Crest today and set it up in the living room where the sofa usually is. They rearranged the other furniture to allow Mom a place to rest in the bright, sunny area of the house, where she can be part of a conversation with visitors if she happens to be resting when they arrive. I think she will want to spend nights in her very own bed, but the bedroom is quite small and dark, and I think it could soon feel claustrophobic.

Linda arranged to have all the carpets and upholstered furniture professionally cleaned while Mom was gone (They look great!), and Marvin and Lois gave Mom an early Christmas present by having Bontrager Cabinets install pulls on all the kitchen cabinets (They had been installed without pulls when the house was new in the '90s.), plus putting pull-out shelves in the lower double-door cupboards, removing the center "post" to make the pullout shelves a possibility. These are changes Mom had wished for for years, but they had never worked their way to the top of the priority list for anyone till now. She probably didn't dream that anyone knew how to make that center post a non-issue. All it took was removing it and fastening it to the left-hand cupboard door so that it swings out with the door. Clever.

Marcus has been doing lots of cleaning and Linda has been sorting papers--the latter task being one we decided on Thanksgiving Day is the universal family nemesis. It's a good thing we have some unafflicted in-laws to help us out here. Is it because every piece of available reading material was so precious in our growing-up years? I don't know.

During some of the worst moments when Mom was in the hospital I wondered if she would live to see and enjoy the preparations we had made for her homecoming. I could not bear the thought for long, although it was clear to me even then that what I was thinking about was almost shamefully "nadihlich" (earthly) when compared to the eternal realities that are to be reckoned with in the face of death.

This time it looks like Mom is being spared, but some day she and we will die. The experience of the past few weeks has given us all a chance to come to terms with that certainty--not perfectly or completely to be sure, but it is a mercy from God to be able to work at this task one small step at a time.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Hospital Saga--6

"Wonderfully boring" is one way of describing this stage of Mom's recovery in the hospital after open heart surgery. No immediate crises are present as far as we know, but things are not racing toward recovery either.

Her infection is a staph infection. It is responding to antibiotics, with the white blood cell count having fallen from 20,000 to 15,000. This response suggests that it is not MRSA, the kind that Bill says everyone is most scared of because of its resistance to antibiotics, but I have not heard a specific identification for the infective bacteria.

Mom is anemic, which affects her energy levels and her complexion. In some cases, anemia (low iron in the blood) is addressed with a blood transfusion, but that is apparently not appropriate in Mom's case because of how easily it could throw off the fluid balance in her system, making congestive heart failure a danger again. No internal bleeding is obvious, which is sometimes the cause of anemia, and with us is at least a niggling concern.

Her blood sugar is wildly erratic, ranging from 49 to 350, with just under 100 being a good number. At the extremes, they always address it promptly with either insulin or high-glucose inputs. Mom has monitored her blood sugar at home for the past number of years and kept it under good control with diet and exercise alone. But her diet is too nearly nonexistent, and her infection, lack of exercise, and probably many other factors make this a problem right now.

When anyone asks Mom if she has any pain, she usually says no, unless she is too tired at the moment of being in one position too long. I'm looking for her to come up with a "bottom line" joke one of these days to describe this phenomenon.

Her coming home from the hospital before (or during, or after) this weekend is a possibility, but everyone makes clear that they are making no promises. While some people in a similar situation are dismissed to a nursing home, we are all wanting her at home instead, with support from a Home Health service if necessary to make this arrangement acceptable.

Our neighbor, Virginia, recently had surgery almost identical to Mom's. I think she is just a bit younger than Mom, and stayed in the hospital only 5 days altogether. (Tomorrow it will be three weeks since Mom was admitted.) Virginia is recently widowed, so she presumably went home afterward to an empty house, although she has family and friends nearby who are careful about seeing that she is well taken care of. Her good recovery suggests that, compared to Mom, Virginia must have been in a far less compromised state of health before her surgery. I'm sure though that she has worked hard at recovery. Her daughter confesses to having schemed a bit to get her out of the house before she would have done so on her own initiative, but she now goes to Hutchinson regularly for rehab sessions.

On Tuesday, the 58-year old "comatose" patient (former Galichia employee) that had thanked Dad after he prayed for her is still surviving, and the doctors have now told her family that perhaps a little hope is warranted. On Tuesday, they had "no choice" but to remove her from one of the life support machines she was on. The doctors and the family were agreed on this, and the family told Dad before they did so that either her heart would stop beating or continue on its own at that point. It kept on. We're praying for her and her family.

In the extended family, the story on medical matters continues with good news and bad. My sister Carol's chest pain is thought now to have been an inflammation of the pericardium (the lining around her heart). While further testing is being done, that diagnosis was less worrisome than many of the alternatives that seemed possible. Her pain had diminished somewhat before she saw the doctor.

My niece, Kristi, who had chicken pox last week and the flu the week before that, now has moved on to something more troubling. Her pox are nearly all healed but she is not, and has a variety of symptoms worse than she had during her bout with the classical chicken pox symptoms. She saw the doctor yesterday, and will see her again today, after the doctor has consulted with an infectious disease specialist from Wichita. A scroll through the online information on complications of chicken pox was not particularly reassuring, but I've stuffed the data into the back of my mind while more capable minds are addressing the needs.

Kristi's brother Dietrich was diagnosed yesterday with strep throat--his particular brand of an encore to the flu he had earlier. Kristi and Dietrich's mother Lois is obviously less available to Mom because of this need for nursing care in her own household.

It's easy to focus unduly on the needs in our own small corner of life, but that is still the most logical place to begin in meeting needs--whether they are those of our family, our neighbors, or the people we meet away from home. Prayer is the universally appropriate response to these needs, and, while it is often not the only necessary response, it is the most assuredly effective one.

Thank you to all who have been praying. And tell us what your needs are, so that we can pray about them and participate with you as you have participated with us in seeking God's will and blessing.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Quotes for the Day 12/1/2008

From the person ahead of me ordering food in the hospital cafeteria:

Family Member: I'd like the shrimp [deep-fat fried] and French Fries. (Turning to me) See how this goes? My mother's in here today for three by-passes.

Inaudible comment from another family member--

First Family Member: I eat my vegetables. I had a salad the other day.


Contemplating how to dispatch the skunk that keeps appearing at the cat dish in the open garage right next to the house--

Grant: Do they spray if you shoot 'em in the head?

Joel: This [skunk] adds a layer of complication, doesn't it?

Grant: Yeah. They fight back.


I had my every-six-months dental check-up and teeth cleaning today. I explained briefly to my hygienist what necessitated my postponing the appointment two weeks ago--the day of Mom's heart catheterization. I mentioned that her surgeon was happy to know that she has dentures, to minimize the possibility of infection traveling from infected teeth to her heart.

Young Hygienist: My brother had to have a heart valve replaced. It was defective and then got infected from his teeth.

This is one good reason to keep dental needs taken care of. (It's a little hard to feel good about this on the day when I was told I have decay under an old cracked filling. The tooth needs a crown that costs more than a thousand dollars, about half of it covered through Hiromi's employee insurance.)

Mom's surgeon said he sometimes has to wait to operate until a patient has been to the dentist.


Gray-haired woman to raven-haired woman facing away from me at the receptionist's desk: Mother, would that be all right?

(When I saw both of their faces, I could tell that the gray-haired woman was obviously younger.)


At a framing shop--

Me: I'd like to know how much it would cost to have this batik piece framed. I want the fabric stretched over a frame and stapled underneath.

Frame Shop Employee: $58.80.

Me: Thank you. I'll need to think about that some more.

I went to another part of the store and found some wood pieces to make my own frame. They cost a little over $6.00.

Mom and Dad bought the "painting" from a street vendor in Kenya a number of years ago. I found it behind the chest of drawers when we cleaned their bedroom recently. It was beautiful, but sagged sadly on the cardboard it was taped to.

I learned how to do batik when I took an art class in college, and I have a lot of appreciation for the skill of the person who did the zebras, grass, and trees in Mom and Dad's picture.

Painting involves applying colors with a brush. With batik, the colors are applied by dipping the whole fabric piece into a dye bath. The design appears on the fabric by applying wax with a brush, always over any dye color that is to be preserved in the final design. Every new color calls for dipping into a different dye bath. It takes careful planning to do the dye bath dipping and wax brushing in the right sequence.


Joel: Did you see the planets right next to the moon?

Me: No.

Joel: Come look. You can see a little earth shine too.

Me: It's beautiful. . . . What planets are they?

Joel: Jupiter and Venus.

Me: When I did my student teaching, Hiromi always picked me up at school after he finished work at the hospital. We'd drive home in the dark, west on 50 and west on Clark Road, and Venus was always bright in the western sky. It was this time of year--the last eight weeks before Christmas.


Later, coming in from outdoors with his 22, after having shot at a skunk, and then not having been able to find it dead where he thought it would be--

Grant: If I had known he'd stink anyway, I'd have shot him with the shotgun. They're so black it's hard to tell where the head is. What you want to do is shoot it through the lungs. Then they don't spray. They just die.

(The house is permeated with a rich aroma. . . .)

Grant: I like possums. They're slow and stupid and they die when you shoot 'em. Skunks have artillery. . . .