Saturday, February 27, 2016

Inch One Hundred Six: Common Ground

I did not recognize the number registering on my cell phone, but I took the call all the same.

"Ms. Nelson? This is Mike from [non-profit organization] and I'm returning your call."

Ah. I had left this group a voicemail earlier in the day regarding a notification of a $35.00 pledge made over the phone by my Aunt Ginger. In my message, I had said I did not accuse them of  doing anything wrong, but be aware that my aunt has dementia and has little awareness of the frequency of times she donates by phone or mail. I asked them to cancel the pledge and remove her contact information from the group's fundraising banks.

Mike was quick to say that the organization would remove my aunt's information from their donor data base.

Thank you.

That should have been the end of the conversation, but Mike wanted to keep talking. Not about his organization, but about dementia and the harsh toll it extracts. He related two stories involving elderly friends with dementia.

You could hear a palpable sadness in Mike's voice.

"It's a terrible thing, dementia," he said, finally winding down. He reiterated that he would make sure the organization would remove my aunt's information, thanked me for contacting the group, and thanked me for listening.

When I finished the call, Warren said, "What was that all about?"

What was that all about? On the surface, it was a non-profit that took a pledge from a sweet, elderly lady who forgot the call and the promise within a minute or two of hanging up the phone. Kudos to Mike and his group for recognizing that and righting the situation.

At a deeper level, it was a thread of sameness between Mike and me. We stood on common ground, the ground of dementia and what should have been a routine call became a chance to empathize and connect with someone who knew that ground.

Watching dementia make inroads on Aunt Ginger is sad and wearing. She continues to be self-sufficient in personal matters (hygiene, housekeeping, attending church); both her doctor and I keep tabs to make sure she is not losing those areas of capacity. But other details, especially of money and time, are increasingly too complex. She is frustrated with the growing memory gaps and losses. As of late, I have watched and listened as her sharpest memories, those of her youth, grow soft and worn around the edges. Bit by bit, the dementia is erasing who she was and recreating almost daily who she is now.

That is the reality of dementia.

In the end, it was just a phone call from a non-profit organization recognizing it had to undo a pledge. in the end, it was just a guy sitting out in California, doing his job.

In the end, it was just Mike, performing his job, then taking a deep breath and saying, "I know how hard it is with dementia."

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Inch One Hundred Five: Small Notes

I was in Rochester, Minnesota, or in transit to and from the same, for much of last week. This week I have been dazed from the travel, dazed from the intensity of work (it is the heart of the truancy season and I am mediating attendance issues in schools throughout the county, usually several a day), and dazed from just the rush of things: oncology, legal clinic, work, home, truancies.

So this will be neither a long nor a complex post. Simple accomplishments, once I stagger home from work or from the infusion center, are about all I am capable of. Today, that meant getting laundry done, doing a very, very light grocery shopping, and tending to a handful of tiny tasks. I have letters to answer and other work to do, but it all has to wait. When it becomes too much, I retreat to a book.

One thing we ("we" meaning Warren and I) did do today was attend the annual Delaware Lions Club pancake breakfast. We took along Aunt Ginger, and had Warren's son David meet us there. Ginger loves outings like these and she loves pancakes. She ate with enthusiasm and pleasure. Because of her advancing dementia, she would look at someone walk by, then turn towards me and say "That person looks familiar. Who is it?" After about the tenth inquiry, I laughed, hugged her, and said "Ginger, everyone looks familiar to you."

I just finished reading the collected letter of Ursula Nordstrom, the children's literature editor at Harper for a huge chunk of the 20th century and a woman who broke through the male-only world of publishing and rose into the upper echelons of the business. The book is called Dear Genius and I loved it so much I found a used copy on Amazon and bought it just so I could return to it time and time again. Nordstrom edited E. B. White, Maurice Sendak, and Mary Stolz, among others. As my friend Margo pointed out (and thank you, Margo, for telling me about the book), one of the few major children's writers of the mid-twentieth century Nordstrom did not edit was Beverly Cleary.

Right now, though, I am reading In The Slender Margin by Eve Joseph. Subtitled The Intimate Strangeness of Death and Dying, it is holding me spellbound.

As I said, a short post. A simple post. More later.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Inch One Hundred Four: Dunderhead Moment

It was the phone call from Sandy at my dentist's office that tipped me off. Delaware County, my employer, had recently switched dental insurance carriers. My dentist was in the process of updating the records of all county employees. When Sandy tried to pull me up in the new carrier's system, she had no luck. She left me a voicemail to tell me of the problem.

Her voicemail triggered an email to the insurance specialist in the county's HR office. Had I missed an enrollment notice? Was there a blunder at the insurance carrier's end? If I had goofed, was there any chance of my picking it up now?

About ten minutes later, Cindi in HR called back. When she said she wanted to talk to me over the phone and not put it in an email, I knew what was coming. Sure enough, I had blown through the end of the year emails alerting us to a change in carrier and the need to enroll anew. And, no, there was no opportunity to enroll again until open enrollment next December.

"I sent out several emails on this," she said. "I'm sorry."

I assured Cindi it was not her fault. I remember the emails. I remember not reading far enough into the emails to realize I had to submit a new enrollment. Oh, trust me, I knew where the error was, and it wasn't on Cindi. Or the insurance carrier.

It was on me. What a dunderhead moment that was.

After I hung up, I sent Cindi an email thanking her for her quick response. Her enthusiastic "Thank you!" in immediate response tells me she doesn't get too many employees thanking her for dismal news.  I next emailed Warren and broke the news to him. His response was "ugh."

I'll say.

I then called and broke the news to Sandy. "I goofed," I said. "I'll be uninsured this year."

You could hear Sandy wince. She gingerly asked if I intended to keep my appointment for my semi-annual teeth cleaning in March.

Absolutely. I have a long, complicated dental history, courtesy of an incompetent dentist in my youth and exacerbated by eleven years of myeloma. Trust me, I will keep my regular appointments, even though I have to shell out of pocket for them.

Warren assured me when I got home that night that it was not the end of the world. He's right. When I put it into perspective, it is truly a first-world-grateful-I-can-afford-dental-care problem. And in light of what I wrote about just recently, my tendency to fixate on financial issues as a response to a Mayo trip, I have to laugh. I think the Universe was telling me to keep up the extra frugal meals for another ten and a half months.

I can hear the leftovers calling as I type.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Inch One Hundred Three: Small Moments

This has been a week of small moments of great reward. Here are two of them.

One of the jobs I do at court is help facilitate a class for juveniles called "Victims Awareness." The class is a five week long program to help young offenders learn skills in making better choices, accepting responsibility for their actions, and developing empathy for others.

Earlier this week was the fifth and final class of the current group of youth. I made brownies and brought a plate of them to the class. One of our students, a young man who has had a rougher way to go than many, lit up.

"Brownies? For us?"

It was a very small class. Everyone, including the adults, took a brownie or two. The plate ended back up by the young man.

"May I have another?"


A few minutes later:

"May I have another?"


By the end of the class, checking with everyone else to make sure no one else wanted any, he had emptied the plate. He grinned and said, "Those were great!" before bolting out the door.

It was just a plate of brownies, and made from a box to boot. But judging by his reaction, you'd have thought that plate had held the world.

The second small moment was the kind of moment you have in small, tightly knit, downtown communities. Margo and I were sitting in a coffee shop, talking fast in the very limited time we had, when the young woman who works there came up to us.

"Does this belong to one of you?"

She held up a caramel colored knit scarf, fringed, with a decorative button.

I lit up.

"My scarf! Thank you!"

The scarf was a present from Warren two Christmases ago. A few weeks ago, on a bitterly cold day, I had worn it to my office, then wore it when I left the building for a mediation at a middle school. It wasn't until later that night that I realized I no longer had the scarf. I could remember wearing it to the school, but not after that.

The next day, after checking my office, I emailed the principal with whom I had met, asking her if I had left behind a scarf.

No, she responded. She said she'd keep an eye out for it in the lost and found.

Great. The lost and found piles at middle schools are massive monuments to the inability of young pubescent minds to keep track of their personal belongings. And knowing I would be back at that particular school in a few weeks, I resigned myself to pawing through mountains of abandoned and neglected items.

Instead, here was Gina, holding out my scarf, remembering us from that same day, and asking us if it belonged to one of us. "When I saw you two there, I remembered seeing this scarf with you."

She could have handed me the world and I would not have been more pleased. When I left, I stopped at the counter.

"You have no idea how happy you made me," I said. "You just made my day!"

Gina beamed. I beamed. My scarf was back and all was right.

I felt just like our juvenile earlier with the brownies.

Thank you! Thank you!