Archive for January, 2009


What is kindness?

A while back I wrote a post, “What is cruelty”, about my step-father and his condition. At the time, I didn’t know what we were doing. He seemed so miserable, and frankly, I didn’t know if he would make it through the holidays. Later, (as noted in another post) we moved him into hospice care. Today, my mother told me that the facility had asked her to write a statement or letter about her experience and she asked me to help. I roughed out a few things for her to start with and realized just how amazing an experience it has been.

I cannot emphasize enough exactly how dire I felt my step-dad’s condition was when arrived at the facility. They wheeled him in on a stretcher and could not do anything on his own. He couldn’t sit, stand or walk. He couldn’t even adjust his position once he had been helped into a sitting position. Simply moving his hand to his head was a monumental occasion. He was being fed through a feeding tube and we were told he would never eat by mouth again. He couldn’t talk to where we could understand him most of the time. He was simply helpless.

It has been about six weeks and the transformation has been absolutely amazing. What began as pleasure feeding led to them trying “pureed” meals in the dining room with the other residents. Now, while they still cut up much of his food into very small pieces, he is eating three meals a day. Where once he would have to ask for someone to help his sit up or move in his chair, he now sits in his wheelchair and shuffles it around with his feet. He has even been up and walking with his walker on occasion. The most amazing thing to me is that I can understand him when he talks. Sure, some of the things he says might not always be historically accurate or make complete sense, but I can hear him! On top of that is that he talks. He has always been a very, very quiet man. Now, we can hardly get him to shut up! He engages the other residents and tries to get another gentleman that is often confused to talk to him. The turnaround is simply amazing. He still has Parkinson’s. He still has dementia and still battles the Sundowner’s, but… Wow!

Where all the care in the world he was given in the hospital never seemed to help him improve, the care he has been given at this facility has made a world of difference. All the nurses and doctors at the hospital was kind and nice to him – but he was a patient, someone or something to deal with and work on. In the new facility he is a resident. More than that. The nurses and staff treat him as a person and treat the all the residents as a family. Their kindness and caring have made all the difference. They encourage him to get stronger and better. When he first was able to shift his body on his own using his upper body strength, they cheered and went on and on about how strong he was. When he began to use the walker, they lined the hall and cheered all the time as he walked down and back a short distance. In addition to the nurses and staff, there is the atmosphere. The facility is set up like a home and that is conducive to everyone being together and not in their rooms. They also strongly encourage the families to be involved. They invite family to have dinner there whenever they want and the doors are always open. They also have an outing once a month for family members to get together. Not only is this a support group, but it invests everyone in all the residents. So, when you go to see your mom, you might also say hello to my step-dad and vice versa.

The idea that we pay more for healthcare than anywhere else in the world and don’t have the best care seems counter intuitive. But, my family and (thankfully) insurance spent a fortune on all the measures taken in the hospital. It stabilized my step-dad’s condition to allow him to go to a facility that takes none of those measures and tries to reduce medication instead of constantly adding more. The improvement came with the later. The improvement came with care and kindness. Drastic measures are necessary and critical, but I got to wonder if there is not a way to integrate the two to make a more effective system.


I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth

I’ve always loved this Who lyric. What a great way to say “not a child of privilege. Not silver, plastic. Clever.

The song popped into my head yesterday and I realized that the meaning really doesn’t hold any longer. I went to the kitchen at work to heat my lunch in my reusable container. When I got there a co-worker was opening and shutting every door and cabinet looking for a plastic spoon. “Are we out?” I didn’t know, but told him there were real spoons in the drawer. He didn’t want that. He scrounged some more as I heated my lunch and finally decided he would rather eat whatever it was with a fork as opposed to eat on a real spoon and have to bring it back to the kitchen. Never mind that he had spent considerable time looking for the plastic spoon, time that could have been spent returning the real one after his lunch. We have a cleaning crew. We have a dishwasher. All he had to do was walk down the hall and put it in the sink. That’s it! I know I have a tendency to scold so I bit my tongue.

After my lunch, I went back to rinse my dish. Another co-worker was opening and closing the drawers looking for a plastic spoon. Same conversation ensued. I explained there were plenty of real spoons. Before he could decide his course of action, another co-worker came in and told him where the silverware packets were. In other words, that co-worker and now this one would open a plastic bag with a plastic knife, a plastic fork and a plastic spoon in order to use a plastic spoon. All of that then goes into the trash. All that because walking down the hall takes too much time?

No, being born with a plastic spoon in your mouth no longer means a person of humble means. It means total decadence. Ok, I know it is just a spoon! But, where does it go? That spoon goes into the landfill where it will sit and never biodegrade. More will be made and go into the landfill. All because it is more convenient. It is simply a waste of resources.

With disposable chopsticks, it is easier to see the impact. 25 million trees are cut every year to supply one-time-use chopsticks to the Chinese market. That simply is not sustainable. So, they’ve put a tax on them to encourage the use of reusable chopsticks. No one is cutting down our forest to make plastic spoons, but they are a petroleum product. There are alternatives – potato and corn based plastics. That’s better. They biodegrade and are plant based. Still, why not just walk to the kitchen when it is possible?


Give me some truth

Team Obama is already on the job. They have so much on their plate and everyone has an idea of what they need to do first. But, if they were to ask my advice, there is one thing that I’m not sure they have on their to do list that I think should be. I think they have to deal with the past eight years. Yes, yes. I know we want to move forward. God! I want to move forward and pretend the debacle never happened. But, we can’t. When Ford pardoned Nixon, he allowed the country to move forward and I understand his reasoning. However, it didn’t allow us to fully learn the lessons of the mistakes. Nixon did have consequences for his actions – having to resign and the general state of his reputation – but could there have been better closure?

Nixon was not even in the same league as the Bush Administration, though. There are myriad things that I feel he and Cheney could have been impeached for, certainly they did more damage to the country than staining a blue dress did. But, that is past. Some have called for criminal charges to be brought, but that will only mire us in all the partisan politics that we are trying to get away from. Still, should there not be some kind of accountability? There should. If the Bush Administration gets a complete pass, our entire system is corrupted. Future administrations can act with impunity based on the precedent.

How do you possibly look back and learn without derailing the move forward? Let Team Obama and congress move forward and create a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to look back. Let members of the past administration, CIA, and military explain what really happened in exchange for immunity. Not only would this allow us to correct past errors, it would also allow for better relations abroad showing that things will not continue as they have been.

Scott Horton lays out a great argument for it in his Harper’s story “Justice After Bush”.



hang loose

I’ve been happy all day long.  Oddly, though, the thing that made me cry was seeing Obama watch his high school band and give a hang loose hand sign.  For some reason, that is what made it all real to me.


It’s over; it’s begun

A friend called me. He asked if I wanted him to bring the champagne to my lobby or if I wanted to come over to watch the inaugural. This is a friend who in 2004 told me Obama would be the next president. Fortunately half the office is out at a meeting and I could. I went over and we cheered the moving truck at the white house and toasted Biden taking the oath and toasted Obama taking the oath and then called all tearful during the speech. I don’t know if it is true or not, but my friend tells me that Obama’s staff is heading to the White House as soon as he says “So help me God.” Great. Let’s get to work.

The long night is over, let the healing begin.


Just a few more hours

Last night my friend called me. She is like my second mom and is a lifelong Republican. But, she called me just to tell me she was so excited for Obama to be nominated that she could hardly stand it. She had been watching coverage all day long and had her DVR set to record everything today. She told me she and her husband had voted for Obama. I was floored. She hadn’t voted in years and thought politics in general were a joke. “He is my president.” “I’ve never been this excited or hopeful.” These are things I never expected to hear my friend say.

This is what is so unique and special about Obama. He has managed to bring so many people together from such a wide swath of the populace.

I have been excited for so long that my emotion today is mostly just relief. I cannot wait to the reigns are officially handed over. Things are so bad in so many ways but I have never felt more comfortable in who will be dealing with the challenges we face. And a big part of that confidence is that he is asking everyone to be a part of it. I have never been asked to help, to stand up and be a part the process in this way. Even in our most desperate hour, we were told to go shopping. We have been so long alienated from the government that is supposed to be ours, it is exciting and empowering to be asked to do our part.

I am at work now. I am removing all my 1-20-09 paraphernalia from my bookcase. My hat that says “Bush’s Last Day”. My Bush stress doll. The several tins of mints – “National Embarrassmints” “Indictmints” “Impeachmints”. The little magnet that says “Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?” The one that says “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me you can’t get fooled again.” The hat that says “I love my country, it’s the government I’m afraid of” no longer is true. I love my country. I am part of the government now. All these things will go in a box, kept so I will never forget exactly how bad it can be when we don’t take the responsibility that is ours.


Best of clint

Just got home from seeing Gran Torino.  Hands down my favorite Clint Eastwood movie.  Go see it.  

We went to the theater up the street which has recently changed over half of the screens to Bollywood films.  We sat in a theater with a wide spectrum of people and not one of us didn’t have our race or nationality insulted during the movie.  But, that’s not a bad thing.  The movie is not about race or immigration or a changing neighborhood.  It is about how we can let superficial things divide us or we can let substantive things unit us.

January 2009
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