November 2007

Life24 Nov 2007 09:29 pm

My mother died today, after a fairly long life full of many happy occasions as well as some pretty tough times.

She died after a long (very long, nearly 30 year) fight with Parkinson disease. The last ten years in particular were difficult. Her health declined steadily, and as I described earlier, near the end she had trouble feeding herself and seemed mentally there only part of the time. At times we questioned among ourselves how good her quality of life really was recently, but Mom kept soldiering on. Until today, anyway.

The problems started on Thanksgiving day (a day that already has special significance for me, which I’ll describe in a future post). Mom started Thursday relatively well, according to the nursing home staff. But by the afternoon, when my sister went to pick her up for dinner, Mom was running a fever and seemed unusually unresponsive. Everyone decided she shouldn’t go out. By the time my sister arrived home half an hour later (without Mom), the nursing home staff had called to say that they were sending her to the ER.

Thursday night things looked pretty bad. Mom’s body clearly had several things going wrong at once. Later in the night she was moved to the ICU.

By Friday morning, after hours of intense treatment, she was somewhat responsive. My sister and I spent much of the day with her, doing our best (between tears) to talk about some of the ‘good old days’, our fond memories of childhood, and Mom’s life with her grandchildren. I’m very happy we had that time together. Mom could not talk at all with the ventilation tube down her throat, and her eyes never completely opened, but she clearly wanted to communicate. She nodded her head “Yes” or shook it “No” to questions. Several times I’m pretty sure she was crying.

We also got a chance to ask her some questions about treatment options. She clearly nodded “No” to any surgery, as well as to dialysis. In the end she never recovered enough for these to be options anyway, but we get some sense of closure knowing that Mom seemed to be ready to leave.

Mom’s health rapidly declined through Friday night. By this morning, she was completely unresponsive, and looked significantly worse than just 12 hours before. Her doctor said that all signs pointed to her body failing on multiple fronts at once, and he thought there was essentially zero chance for a positive outcome. She was clearly going to die, and the question was how we could best help her do it. We decided we didn’t want to wait any longer than necessary. The doctor called in a palliative care doctor and nurse, who walked us through the best way to get Mom off of the life sustaining drugs and ventilation, while providing the right things to ensure that — if she were still aware — she would go comfortably.

The doctors expected Mom to die pretty quickly once all of the resuscitative support was removed, and she did. Happily, Alex and our kids and my sister were in the hospital this morning, so we all got to be with Mom as she left us. It was a tremendously sad experience, but I’m so grateful that we could all be there to let Mom know how much she was loved, and to support each other. I cannot imagine going through something like this alone.

I’m also grateful that in the end, Mom went pretty quickly, and didn’t appear to be in any pain. And I’m grateful for the staff at her nursing home, who helped her through the last several years. And for the hospital staff, who were totally supportive and understanding in Mom’s last few days.

And I’m grateful that Mom’s long struggle is finally over.

We love you.

Creationism15 Nov 2007 11:58 pm

God called today. He was really pissed.

He has created this amazing, “completely lifelike world” (His words) for His believers to live in, but many of them are completely dismissive of His Magnificent Creation. Me: “No?!… What do you mean, ‘dismissive’?”

Well to make a long story short, God has apparently seen a bunch of His so-called “believers” ignore the evidence He has planted firmly in front of them. Abundant evidence that evolution is the Work of God. “Evolution is Real, dammit all! What more do I have to do to convince them?” (again, His words). I won’t repeat His entire tirade verbatim, but at one point He did specifically mention the Creation Museum

Yeah, God called today, and He was clearly torqued. For a solid fifteen minutes I tried to talk Him down to a calmer place, but He wasn’t having it. Eventually (as God is wont to do) he boiled over: “You know what?” He said, “these people don’t deserve to go to Heaven.”

“Sorry”, I implored, “I don’t want to sound disrespectful, but maybe that judgment is just a wee bit harsh?” I argued that maybe these people were not really qualified to evaluate His evidence, or maybe they were confused by the, umm, plentiful ambiguity in His scriptures. Or hey, maybe it’s even the case that these people are idiots… but do they really deserve to go to Hell just because they don’t believe in all of His signs testifying to the veracity of evolution??

God was definitely in a hardball mood. “F@#$ ‘EM“, He thundered. “If these piss-ants don’t believe My Word when it smacks them upside the head then I’m sending ‘em to Hell. DISCUSSION OVER.” Click.

Ouchers… Sorry, folks, but I guess I have my marching orders.

All creationists please raise your hand.

Animal Rights and Life and Vegetarianism11 Nov 2007 09:25 pm

I’ve been vegetarian since I was a kid. People are often interested in where a lifestyle like this comes from. In my case, it was not directly related to my parents or my friends or others around me, but seemingly out of the blue (although there were probably other factors at play). I literally went veg in a minute.

It was one of those things that sticks with you forever. It was the summer I turned 12. I was sitting alone in our kitchen eating a burger, when I bit into something unexpected. On examination it was hard and white. “Ugh, what’s this?”

After a moment of thought, it dawned on me. “Holy cow, this is part of a … cow!” The thought of gnawing on a bit of carcass was suddenly disgusting. The follow-on thought of someone having killed a cow so I could eat its carcass was so revolting, and so wrong, that I decided right then that I wouldn’t be eating any more animals. I announced this to my mother when she got back from work a few hours later.

It proved to be an interesting next several days. Keep in mind that this was back in the ’70s, when vegetarianism wasn’t nearly so accepted or commonplace as it is today. My mother thought for a while that I might be setting myself up for a slow death. “What am I going to feed you? How are you going to get protein??” My father (who didn’t live with us at the time) was a bit more accepting, but also fairly clueless as to what I’d be eating.

Over the course of the next few weeks I tried to find out as much as I could about vegetarianism, if only to convince my mother (and maybe myself, too) that I would in fact be able to survive without meat. Back in those (pre-Internet) days, this sort of research happened at a thing called a library (a place dedicated to housing and loaning out physical books), and took a bit more effort than it does now.

In retrospect this seems pretty silly, but you’d be amazed how different things were back then. At the time, we ignorant Americans had no idea that much of the world’s population has thrived on a vegetarian diet for thousands of years. Fortunately, things have changed. Nowadays I can go to any restaurant and, if they don’t already have a veg section on the menu, will surely have something I can easily adapt. Nowadays I can go into the grocery store (not only upscale ones, but just about any store) and find all sorts of veg-friendly dishes, meat “substitutes”, etc. And everyone is familiar with the terminology.

Over the next several months I learned more about different foods I could eat, and at the end of the process found that my diet was more varied and a good bit better for me than when I started. This seems paradoxical to some people — “I removed something from my diet, but now it is more varied and healthy than before…” — but I found the same thing happened when I went vegan (18 years later).

I daresay that being vegan nowadays is easier (both culturally and from a food availability point of view) than being veg back in the ’70s.

And now my wife and I have four kids, and they’ve all been vegetarian (and pretty close to vegan) their whole, healthy lives. I can’t imagine it any other way :-)

Family Life and Life07 Nov 2007 09:47 pm

My mother is now largely confined to a wheelchair, since standing up without help is just an accident waiting to happen. Her balance is poor, Parkinson’s disease affects her ability to step more than a few inches at a time, and she has lost a lot of her vision to glaucoma. Her condition seems to be declining quickly in the last year or so. In the last several months she’s started to have trouble lifting her hands to her mouth, so now she is mostly fed by the nursing home staff. She often has trouble speaking at more than a whisper (another symptom of Parkinson’s disease) and can be very difficult to understand.

Mentally she comes and goes. Very recently she has trouble staying with a conversation for more than a few minutes. One minute she’ll ask who I am, and complain about the people gathering in the corner of the room (“No one’s there, Mom — that’s just a cabinet…”). A few minutes later, in a fleeting window of complete lucidity, she’ll express frustration at the fact that she seems to be confused about what is real and what is not. It is painful and sad to watch.

I often think fondly of a picture I took of her when I was twelve and she was, well, about my age now. Wow, life is short.

Mom, around ‘76

Last weekend she was pretty out of it. At the end of our visit I wheeled her into the dining area for lunch while Alex and the kids headed down to the car. It was only then that Mom started tuning in. After trading a few coherent sentences I realized everyone would be waiting for me downstairs. I got up to go.

“We’re heading out now. See you next week.”

She looked up at me. She said, more clearly than usual: “So I’m taking the kids?”

That caught me a bit by surprise, and I chuckled, wincing at the same time.

“Oh, no, you don’t need to worry about that, Mom. We’ll take the kids with us. You just stay here… and we love you.”


Some more pics.

Iraq War02 Nov 2007 09:36 pm

Brilliant… This is a bit dated, but still totally relevant: