Friday, March 23, 2007

I like the java jive and it likes me.

Popi-Da had his first brain tumor removed when he was 47 years old. It's hard to comprehend the devastating ripples from that one drop of information into the pool of our life. He was my Father, he was also one of my best friends. 35 years ago a diagnosis of brain tumor was pretty much a death sentence. You don't have a lot of choices left to you when you hear those words. It reduces you to a secret, primal place where you grasp at anything to hold onto. Anything solid will do, even if it's the floor after you've sat down hard.
We all turned to him to lead us through this maze. Somehow an upspoken decision was made to use one of his greatest strengths to our advantage. His sense of humor kept him alive years beyond what the doctor's anticipated. In fact, he outlived several of them! More surgeries were to follow along with cobalt (radiation) treatments. It was like his entire body was in revolt against itself. He grew weird things on his skin. His gall bladder died and turned gangrenous. I think I butchered the spelling on that one. He lost a saliva gland and another one behind his knee. I wish we had kept a journal or something to guide us down memory lane.
Tumors, skin growths, weird changes internally aside what finally felled him was a surprise. He had a hole in his heart that had gone undetected his whole life. It announced itself by throwing clots into his brain and finally into his lungs. The journey down was slow and uneasy for everyone. But this isn't about the sorrow, it's about the joy.
After one fairly spectacular stroke he was placed in a rehabilitation center for recovery and retraining. Alice would stay with him during the day then leave in the evening to go to work. I would work days then drive 45 minutes to spend the evenings with him. Rehab centers end up being an extended family for those who stay more than a month. Most people who find themselves in one, do stay much more than a month. So I got to know everyone's name and followed their progress with their families. Success is hard fought here, milimeters at a time. There is rarely any kind of huge breakthrough with brain injury. Learning to raise a spoon to your mouth is cause for celebration.
Because I was there every evening I quickly became a part of the normal meal time routine. I helped seat patients, tied on bibs, cut up meat, told rotten jokes, wiped up spills, I fed the ones who couldn't feed themselves and gently helped those who were trying to eat by themselves. Often times putting the same green bean on the fork over and over until it actually got into a mouth.
One evening I was met by an exhausted staff who had 2 new patients, one of which hooted the words "help me" every ten seconds. Dinner was late and the volunteer's didn't show up and would I mind making the coffee?
I told them I don't drink coffee and have no idea how to make it. The nurse said the instructions are inside the lid of the coffee can and to use the biggest coffee pot they have. Well I can follow instructions so off I went to the dining room to make the coffee. The note inside the lid said to add 8 cups of coffee to the largest pot, filling it to the top line. Plug it in and wait for it to do it's thing.
It seemed a bit extreme to me and I had trouble fitting 8 cups of coffee into that little tray and filter but once it got wet it tamped down and I could get more in. Coffee made I went about setting the table's, Popi-Da helping me pull chairs around for those who could still walk. With the two of us working as a team, the place was looking good by the time the other patients started arriving.
I got them seated, collected their trays, opened butter packets, and what idiot sends milk in a cardboard carton to a brain damaged person who can't make his hands work? I poured the coffee and we all started eating. I noticed a few startled looks from the folks, but thought it might be in response to my new Hawaiian shirt with the hula dancers I had worn for fun. Mrs Bass, a lovely lovely woman started foaming at the mouth a bit. That alarmed me as she is normally so serene and beautiful. looking around I saw all the coffee drinkers acting odd. Then it hit me, 8 cups couldn't be right. I went back to the coffee pot and checked under the lid and sure enough, it said 8 small cups of coffee.
Popi-Da tasted the evil brew and almost gagged on it. He fished around in the coffee can and brought out a perfect little scoop and pantomined scooping coffee with it. Lord help us all, I had dug through the cabinets until I found a one cup measure. I thought 8 small cups meant level, not heaping.
An injured brain can't always tell you what's wrong, nor can it accurately taste. A good deal of the 20 or so patients had faithfully drank enough to create havoc with their systems. I got a nurse and showed her what the problem is and she wasn't especially comforting about it. You'd have thought I did it on purpose by her reaction.
I was told the next day that the night shift was ready to hang, draw, and quarter me. The normally placid patients were up all night out in the halls, talking when possible, getting into stuff and creating chaos in their wake. The new patient had stopped hooting "help me" after drinking his cup so there was at least some salvation at hand. Needless to say it was the last time anyone asked me to make coffee. Can't say as I blame them.
Popi-Da slept through it. His roomie's wife was called in though as her hubby was hollering for her. I'm just like my Dad, I can sleep through just about anything. Sometimes that's a blessing.

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