September 24, 2016

Update on Paul

It’s been a while and a lot has happened with Paul.  Unfortunately, nothing good. He has gotten progressively worse since January battling pneumonia, bladder problems, blood issues, a hospital stay - I could go on. He has lost about 25 pounds and all of his meals now have to be pureed. The most serious issue is his ability to swallow. It’s quickly disappearing. This accounts for the mushed meals and weight loss. Not a great scene truth be told. Apparently it’s due to the degenerative brain injury and the damage to his throat 26 years ago.

Feeding him now is no fun – not that feeding an adult man, your brother at that, ever was - but now it’s particularly difficult. He’s prone to aggressive outbursts and shouting – something unlike anything he has ever done. I’ve gotten a few smacks to the head (some likely deserved) just like the old days when brothers fought like brothers should. You share a bedroom with someone for 15 years and the odd racket is bound to happen. He was a good scrapper too who could handle himself back in the day. Tough as nails. Christ, that seems like forever ago.

Visits in general are getting more difficult too. Thursday was especially hard. He kept shouting, asking for Mom who’s been gone almost seven years now. Sometimes he knows this; most times he doesn’t. Music is rarely played anymore, a mainstay of our visits. That is likely the most difficult part of this. Music was so important to our relationship – the bind that helped me get through this shit - and now it’s gone. Jesus.

And the outlook isn’t promising, to be honest. It never really was I suppose, but now there’s an underlying sense of urgency. Things are deteriorating rapidly and they aren’t going to get better. When doctors and staff talk of feeding tubes and comfort care, you know tougher times lie ahead. I’m going to have to make some difficult decisions about his care.  I’m hoping later than sooner. For both of our sakes.

May 28, 2016

No More Donuts

To say blog posts have been sparse is an understatement. I’m shocked that I didn’t pull the plug a long time ago. Yet, it still exists and it still gets hits. A lot less now then back in the day when I posted on a regular basis. I’ve connected with a lot of good people through it – some of whom I’ve actually met. ;) To be honest, the only reason it’s still here is Paul. The urge to post - to write really - is a fleeting one at best, but one that is sometimes, somehow cathartic. A feeling difficult to explain. Creative outlet? Hardly. Venting? Maybe. Cathartic? Definitely.

Truth be told, anyone who posts does so for a reason. Political blogs are a good example. They are what they are. If you agree or enjoy the writing, you’ll tune in. If not, you’ll drop out. No harm, no foul. My blog has morphed from a random assortment of nothingness to an occasional I-don’t-give-a-shit anymore. This is how I feel – warts and all – and if you don’t like it, don’t let the virtual door hit you in the virtual ass on the way out.
As I said, the only reason the blog still exists is Paul. Plain and simple. He’s my brother and this is a way to deal with this shit. He’s well now - as well as a traumatic brain injury will allow I suppose - after six months of being sick with pneumonia, type A influenza and bladder problems. The no more blood in his urine is a bonus. But he’s losing his ability to swallow involuntarily - a big area of concern. He’s good for now but two weeks ago there was talk of tubes, comfort care, and comfort palliative care. WTF? But after further assessments, he’s good. No plans for tubes anytime soon. I won’t allow it until absolutely necessary. Once they go in, they don’t come out. But due to his inability to swallow, his meals are now pureed. So no more donuts. I miss that. I feed him yogurt or pudding when I visit. Yay.
And the music has died too - at least for now. We can’t listen to Clapton, Zeppelin or Stevie Ray and he starts crying. Fuck. I’m hoping this passes. For both of our sakes.
So there it is. Warts and all.

March 8, 2015

Customer Service? Sometimes It's Pointless.

This is an update to a post I did several years ago. But, as they say, the more things change; the more things stay the same.

This past week I had an ugly customer service experience with a local propane supplier. I won’t mention any names, save to say its name rhymes with Hirving. Being told, by the customer service rep no less, that it was “pointless to call me” about customer service is not a great selling point. But what do I know.

I do empathize with service staff workers especially waiters, waitresses and sales people who bear the brunt of an increasingly impatient I-want-it-yesterday group of people. You know ‘em, always in a hurry with the attention span of flea. (Assuming fleas have short attention spans). Now what was I sayin….? Oh yeah, the hurry up crowd that - I must admit - includes me. There’s no excuse for rude customers. Lord knows we’re not always right.

But for the love of Jesus, why can’t I get a real person when I dial a 1-800 number? Seriously, is that too much to ask? And banks have to be the worst – right behind (insert any cell phone provider here). Those smug voices. You know ‘em. The ones that can’t understand a Newfoundland accent and put you on hold, making you press numbers until your fingers go numb. So we talk with accents. Bite us.

And if I hear “if you know the extension of the person you’re calling enter it now” one more time, I’ll go through the phone. If I knew the extension, I’d call him. Aaaargh!

But back to the banks - those precious jewels of human indignity. What’s more galling than their shitty service is the fact that we have to pay to be treated like shit. "You're richer than you think" my ass. No thanks to you.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention those “customer service representatives” who:

a) talk incessantly with a co-worker about last night downtown making us wait for our double doubles

b) point to the back of the Wal-Mart when you ask where they keep the golf tees

c) laugh out loud when you ask if it will be delivered by Friday

d) stare at you blankly when you ask if they have another size in stock

Ah, yes. The epitome of the incompetent. The embodiment of the ineffective. The personification of the powerless.

And the reason why so many of us are pissed off. Especially at banks.

And propane suppliers.

October 25, 2014

Paul's new digs...and getting it right

Sometimes, governments get it right. A cynical view perhaps, but when the electorate seemingly continues to get the short end of the stick – or worse yet, get poked in the eye with that stick – it’s hard not to be a cynic. Or angry.  Years of broken promises, corruption, endless self-serving photo ops – I could go on - tend to do that.
But as I stated, sometimes the right things are done. Specifically, the construction of the new state-of-the-art long-term care facility in the east end of St. John’s. It recently opened to replace the aging and overcrowded Hoyles-Escasoni complex. Somewhere along the way, someone got this right. And it was likely championed by a nameless mid-level public servant who recognized the need and put this on someone’s agenda.  It was long overdue. At this point, just which government decided to build the facility, Tory or Grit, is inconsequential. I don't know and I don't care. But taking credit in an era of self-praising press releases is the new norm. However, moral responsibility should trump political opportunism.

There is no question that our population is aging and the number of people requiring long term care is increasing. Governments have to be prepared for this. My suggestion would be to level the old Hoyles-Escasoni complex and build another facility like the one just opened. We’re going to need it.
And just as the population of senior citizens is increasing, so too, is the need to help those suffering from mental illness. Great strides have been made to make services available but the waitlist for those seeking help is far too long. As the brother of a long time Hoyles home resident – “resident” - Jesus, when you say it like that it sounds as if he lived in a high end retirement villa. But it wasn’t of course; far from it. He suffered brain damage as the result of a suicide attempt over 20 years ago and requires constant care. The residents on his floor have conditions of varying severity and - for a lot of reasons - it’s a tough place to visit. I can’t imagine the dementia ward.

But no long-term care facility, no hospital, no hospice has a suicide ward. There are no prosthetics to help those suffering from mental illness. Recent high profile accounts of deaths by suicide has brought the need for improved mental health treatment to the forefront. It’s our job to keep it there. The courage of those affected to step forward and speak openly about the loss of a loved one by suicide should be embraced. I don’t think this discussion would have occurred 10 or 15 years ago. At least not publically.
Mental illness is no longer a taboo topic left for gossip bags to whisper about in some corner. “The Launch”, a concert held recently to raise awareness of mental health issues, and news of a 24 hour mental health crisis team are positive steps.  The momentum to break the stigma and increase access to mental health treatment has never been greater. Although we have a ways to go, the ball is firmly rolling in the right direction. Governments can build on this and again, has a chance to get it right.

May 8, 2014


Last Saturday, with Timmie’s in hand - 5 small coffees and 40 timbits ($14.03 Vicki Kaminski, if you’re reading this) - I dropped in to see Paul for my weekly visit.  I normally drop by on Thursday’s but had to wait until the weekend. I’m glad I did.

Saturday at Hoyles-Escasoni is a day when more families come to visit loved ones and there were plenty of visitors there last weekend. Some I had met before; others for the first time. It was good putting a family with a face, so to speak. Many knew who I was which was kind of nice. “Oh, you’re Paul’s brother. The guy with the timbits.” Guilty as charged.
The atmosphere was light and most of the residents and staff seemed to be in a good mood. The ladies for whom I brought coffee were tinkled pink. (Truth be told, I’m not sure if I do it more for them or for me.) As usual, Paul and I played and sang tunes from my phone. Clapton is always first.
“Who do you want to hear?”
“Eric Clapton!"
“No shit.”
It’s usually followed by some Zeppelin and Tull. Lately I’ve been playing songs and asking Paul who it is. He’s normally gets it right and even knows the lyrics. Pretty cool actually now that I think about it.

But this visit I brought my harmonica. Now, to say I “play” is a stretch. It makes noise. Some actually discernable, but mostly hit and miss. This explains the random blues riffs and trains I do. Always trains. When I mess up, which is always, I do something bluesy or a train which always seem to work. Like I know what I’m doing. Riiiiight. Let’s go with that. Needless to say, Neil Young is not shitting his pants.

Anyway, the ladies with said coffee hear this and come over – all giddy and pumped on caffeine.
“Play Harry Hibbs. Do you know Harry Hibbs?”
“Not personally, no.”
Paul chimes in, “Play some f%#@ing Harry Hibbs!”
Le sigh.
There’s not a chance in hell I’m doing Between Two Trees (or anything thing Harry Hibbs) on harmonica. But as luck would have it, depending on your point of view, I know the chorus and some verses of Black Velvet Band. Mom used to sing it when we were young – usually on Sundays when she was overcooking the pot roast.  We used to call it the rubber roast. “Is it really supposed to bounce when you drop it Jean?”
Anyway, I tell them I can’t play Harry Hibbs but I can sing one of his songs. All this time, some guy, who’s visiting a relative, is giving me this are-you-really-going-to-do-this kind of look. He can barely keep from laughing. To hell with it and I started in: ”Her eyes they shone like the diamonds…”

Thank-you. Thank-you very much. I’ll be here next week. Don’t forget to tip the staff and don’t try the specials.

Turns out the girls knew the song and Paul started singing too. When we got stuck, we just repeated the verses over again. We mangled a few more songs, mostly Irish-Newfoundland stuff, but it was a blast.  And YouTube is your friend here people. Trust me on this one.

When I was leaving one of the nurses said I now had a fan club. Fan club? You mean groupies.  I suppose they’re not technically groupies if you have to bribe them with food and drink. But I can always dream….and I am starting guitar lessons soon. Regardless, it was a great day.