Trying to Remember Connections

Fun activities

Lynne called.  “I’ve got COVID.”

Fun activities

“I’m sorry,” I said, startled. “But you’re healthy, good lung capacity….  Hey, wait a minute.  Nobody’s called me. Someone would have called me.  I’m going to hang up and call you back.”

The concierge confirmed no residents tested positive and they’ll test again in a week. Following those results over time they could  remove restridtions.  I gave Lynne the good news. She was happy with that. We chatted a while. She said, “I can’t stop crying.”

Her camera wasn’t on so I couldn’t see her. She kept fumbling with it until she turned it on. She was pleased with herself. The chair was not in front of the Facebook Portal so I couldn’t see  her.  She started crying. “This COVID thing,…..”

“Of course you cry.  You’re in a lockdown.”

“I feel like a baby.”

 “It’s healthy to cry. You’ve got music.  You can tell Alexa to play music.”

“Oh, yea.”

“What music do you want?”

“Lyle Lovett.”

“Tell her.”

“Alexa, play Lyle Lovett.”

Alexa did.  Lynne stood up and danced.  I saw half of her dance.  She sang the lyrics and danced to her bed.  And  she cried again and sat down.

“Lynne, I can’t see you.” 

She moved the chair over. She told Alexa to stop. She saw my face. “What happened to your nose?”

How did she spot that, I wondered.? I had a bandaid because my sleep machine rubbed my the paper-thin skin on my nose and caused it to bleed until it scabbed over.  When I saw it in the morning I was  too sleepy to know what it was until I picked it off. It beld because I take blood thinner so I taped it tight to stop the bleeding.  She doesn’t miss a thing.

We chatted. The TV wasn’t on and it was time to go, so we hung up.  

She woke me up at 10:15 pm with a staff caregiver because Lynne was sad.  I tld him the Alexa was off because I couldn’t drop in on her. It was unplugged. I told him tennis was on TV so he looked for the remote and to find the channel manually. I turned on my TV.  She and I watched tennis like Karen and I used to do. We talked about Serena’s hair. I said it looked like a mop on top of her head. She said, “Its’s beautiful. It’s purple.”

It was purple.  We shared memories when she played doubles tennis in high school and won fifth in the state championshp. I couldn’t remember her partner’s name.  “Sophit. She came over here to play tennis.” 

“You have a better long term memory than I do.”

She laughed. “Dad…”

We talked until we were past tired and decided to go to bed. Nothing had worked quite right: thinking she has COVID, forgetting she could  turn on music, unpluging echo, tutning off the video camera,  crying, calling me after I went to sleep, wanting to go to bed but unable to without caregiver help and afraid to go out the door to ask.

I told her I’d call the concierge. We hung up. The concierge said  she’d go right up and get her in  bed.  

I tell myself to remember we chatted, we laughed, we cried, we danced, we watched tennis, we shared memories and we persisted.  

Recovery Plan for Bad Days

Fun activities,

This could become a regular lavender ritual

I’d dropped in on Lynne three times yesterday on her echo dot and she thought she’d done something wrong because she couldn’t go downstairs to see the concierge. Frustrated, I emailed her assistant director, Wanda (not her real name), to please see if one her people could cheer her up. I gave her some ideas: TV with her favorites on Amazon Prime and Netflix, a foot bath, calling me for a video chat, searching for her daily bag of trail mix attached to a photo of her sons and nieces eating ice cream. I thought she’d remember that photo.

Wanda delivered, and I thanked her for a nice video chat with Lynne last night. She called with help from a caregiver. Lynne sat with feet in the tub basin filled with lavender Epsom’s salts and a big grin on her face. They were laughing. Lynne said it felt decadent. She lifted up her foot in front of the Facebook Portal to show a wet, ruddy, healthy foot. We chatted until she stood up and wandered toward her door to ask for help getting ready for bed. We had a good night.

Wanda responded. “That was me. I had come in and out a couple times. I’m so glad it set your mind at ease. The lavender is a huge hit, this is a great night time ritual for her. We put the crickets ( her favorite) on the sound machine before I tucked her in, she seemed very happy indeed. I will make sure care staff know to make this a part of her nightly routine!”

I appreciated Wanda testing the idea and planning a regular routine. I asked if a caregiver could talk into her echo dot, “ Alexa, Drop in on Dad.” We could talk through the echoes because Lynne fiddles with the Portal during video chats: turns it off, turns sound off, and moves away from the camera. Maybe we’ll get video chats to work better again.

In the meantime I’m grateful we have staff who can give us new routines that make for healthy self-indulgence.

Leslie and Lynne’s Music Lists

Fun Activities

Lynne dancing to Footloose on the Alexa playlist she and Dad created over a Facebook Portal video chat.

A caregiver in Lynne’s memory care at Aegis was infected with COVID-19, halting face-to-face conversations through plexi-glass in their “Outdoor Living Room.” We are restricted to video chats, again.
Friends from high school to today have remembered she loves music and gets energized to dance. In 2017 co-workers from the self-labeled Microsoft Talent Posse remembered an outdoor Lyle Lovett concert, so they checked his schedule. He was coming in a few weeks and they went as a group. Leslie, from high school, said girl friends revved up pop hits to dance on the furniture and shout the lyrics. She saved her playlist and promised to send it to Lynne.
At our last outdoor chat, I read titles from Leslie’s interview to Lynne. She giggled at that memory. I noted ones that made her smile, or say, “Oh, yeah.” Footloose was her favorite. I created a playlist of popular rock songs from her teenage years through college.
I couldn’t play songs with her on my phone after the lockdown. It’s hard for me to make her laugh by being a funny comedian or an energizing caregiver like hero Dad’s are supposed to be. It’s a long, lonely feeling of failure when everything I say is met with a slack face and respectful silence, or statements like, “I’d better get back.” Besides, I like music too.
Alexa had to help me. Could I use my Alexa echo to create a playlist on Lynne’s echo dot? I didn’t find any way. Lynne would have to give Alexa the commands. They’re easy commands, but I doubted she could repeat them accurately. I rehearsed how to coach her and waited for her call – my calls rarely find her in her room – she busy socializing somewhere.
She called last night and leaned forward so I saw the top of her head. I fumbled through my rehearsed lines but finally got it. I said, “Tell Alexa to create a Lynne music playlist.” Lynne frowned while Alexa next to her said she’d create a playlist. I whispered to Lynne, “Say Alexa, play Night Fever.” She couldn’t remember all the words. I said it louder. Alexa played it. Lynne sat up and tilted her head, puzzled by the sudden music. I said, “Alexa add this song to Lynne Music playlist. Alexa obeyed.
Next I played Staying Alive. Lynne began singing lyrics with a smile. We added it to her playlist.
Lynne chuckled, “We’re going to get in trouble.”
I said, “I’ll bet you won’t be able to sit still at the next one, Alexa, play Footloose.” Lynne stood up and danced. I took a picture.
We played a few others. She told me I always make her laugh, and she loved me, and we’re going to get in trouble. Finally she decided it was time to return to her people and slowly walked out of her room.
I said, “Alexa, turn off.”
We had fun. But I went to sleep wondering if there was some way I could do more to fire her imagination. I miss listening to her talk and laugh. I miss her energy. She’s slipping away.

We wait to celebrate

Fun Activities. Corona-virus. Covid-19

Happy Birthday Dad

Ten minutes before an afternoon business conference call yesterday, I phoned Lynne’s Portal. She answered in her fuzzy sky-blue cotton sweater. She picked it out at Aritzia before Christmas when we shopped at University Plaza for her surprise Christmas present. “Tell me about your day.”
“It was fun. I like it here. I feel like I’m one of the crowd.”
Some of the people were still a stitch, though. I asked if she ever says, “Alexa, play music.”
She said, “Alexa, play music.”
Alexa filled her apartment with a hit from her high school days. She laughed. She was overjoyed. On impulse I told her my birthday was tomorrow.
“It is? We’ll have to do something.”
She had to go to the bathroom. I had to hang up.
I called the concierge and asked if someone could help Lynne give me a birthday present. He liked that idea and would work on it. I scheduled a video chat when a caregiver could make sure Lynne was there. On her floor they only schedule two per day at 11:00 and 11:30 am. 11:00 am was available.
I didn’t tell him my son and his family are arriving after lunch. Maybe I can add them to my video chat with Lynne while they are driving.
Late that afternoon the medical director phoned about my email regarding Covid-19 testing. They had a professional team test every resident and caregiver in the 124 apartments on six floors. She observed every test. They hoped for results in 24 hours or so.
We wait. To celebrate.

Breakthrough Video Chatting

Fun activities

Lynne talking to Dad on the Facebook Portal

We added technology to simplify communication between Lynne and family and friends. The movers set up Alexa so Lynne would say, “Alexa, call Dad.” My phone rang and we talked. She liked It. Several times a day she liked it. So did I. She filled in my empty social calendar.
Juan, the Life’s Neighborhood technically skilled activities director, insisted we could do better with a device called Portal, sold by Facebook. Lynne could say, “Portal, call Dad.” She could call every one of her friends on Facebook by using their name. Every one of her Facebook friends could call her on Facebook’s Messenger and it should ring her Portal rooted in her room, compared to her wandering phone. They could Facebook video chat on the portal’s 5” wide screen. I ordered one that seemed to arrive by the time I got down to my mailbox.
Juan installed it and we discovered a nice surprise. The Portal screen has a camera that follows her movement as she roams around the room. That’s an improvement because she disappears from her phone screen during chats.
Wow, did it work on Father’s Day with my son’s family on their patio in Bellingham. Lynne’s sons, Henrik and Simon, joined us. Lynne video chatted with us as the boys walked around to face everyone with their cell phone.
Lynne is video chatting with others. Monday a friend didn’t connect with her on a planned call but Lynne called back on Tuesday via video and they had a wonderful talk. Her friend thinks Lynne saw the call on the Portal screen and pressed her profile face to dial her back. Lynne told me her friend stopped by. Perfect! That is how we hoped it would work.
Nevertheless, Lynne told me Tuesday it doesn’t work. I do not know why. She rarely answers when I call during her active social calendar in the new neighborhood. Eventually I call the concierge to ask a care giver to connect us. They call on Lynne’s phone and I call back on Messenger+. I usually meet an unfamiliar caregiver who is unfamiliar with the Portal. I explain it to the best of my limited knowledge.
I contacted Juan who said he is thinking about different ideas to help Lynne. He agrees the simplest way is call the concierge and ask for help.
Nevertheless, we persist.

Hopes and Fears in Moving Out of Isolation

Short Story 3086 words

Lynne waving from her new apartment

Two days after nothing could go wrong about moving Lynne to Life’s Neighborhood, Skylar, a caregiver on the night shift, called me at 9:00 pm because Schmitty the Kitty was out of cat food. She said, “Kim had noticed it a few days ago. Luna was going to call you, but I guess she forgot. I’ll go get some food.”

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This is Hard

Short-short story

Midnight. My two sleeps in my apartment were challenged last night. A beep-beep-beep sound penetrated my first sleep at a way-to-early time, first raising awareness and next  understanding – it was a warning beep. For what? My heart? My bi-pap sleep machine? I hit the bi-pap stop button. Pulled off my sleep mask to find the source of the beep. The beep had stopped. When did it stop? I checked my bi-pap screen. No warning lights. My heart monitor  screen on the floor? Green glow means OK. My radio alarm? No alarm lights on. My phone? No alarm going off. What? Silence. Sleepy. What?  Check them again. Walk out my bedroom into my kitchen. Nothing on the microwave. The oven. What? Was it a truck backing up on the street below my open fifth-story window? The beep was too loud for that. 

I was alone with questions. If Karen was alive she would help me figure it out. Or ask why my alarm went off. At least I avoided that question. 

What to do now? I had too many options for my sleepy fog.  

I could go back to sleep. I tried it. Didn’t work. Got up. Frustrated. Pasted comments from friends on Lynne’s Facebook page so I’d have a written file in case I ever figured out what to do with them. I made notes for a to do list. Ate breakfast and climbed back into bed for my second sleep of the night. Frustrated. This is hard. 

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6:00 am:  I was asleep so this is based on what I’ve gleaned about Lynne’s normal wake-up routine.

Lynne woke up in her assisted living apartment to the white noise of rushing water in her sound machine. Good sleep. Turned off her machine. She sorted through her options in her cognitive fog. She never goes back to sleep. Dawn rose through her 3rd-story window with a view over the rooftops of Seattle’s Madrona neighborhood. Occasional cars drove by, fewer with the Covid-19 lockdown that squashed the early bustle of commerce at the corner of Madison and 23rd St. Silence prevailed. Way too early. Too early for a caregiver to knock on her door and say “Good morning, time to get dressed.” No one to comb her hair, put on makeup. No one with breakfast. No one with medications.

She got out of bed. She saw a blue and white sweater on the floor and pulled it on over her pajama top. She did not see her glasses. She ignored the books on her bedside table. She went to the bathroom. She came out to the living room.. What to do?

She saw books in the chair. The Lacuna. She didn’t like that book. She saw magazines. Sojourner, Dad’s magazine. Journey, Dad’s magazine. Astoria was on the table. She liked that book. She opened it and started reading. She read for a while. She got tired of reading it. She went into her bedroom and laid down on her bed. She saw The Seamstress on the table by her bed. She opened it and started reading. Then she did not want to read books. And no one had knocked on the door. She wanted to leave her room, but she could not go outside without a caregiver. She was hungry. She had to wait until they brought her breakfast. She could not sit with her friends for breakfast. She had to stay. Alone. This is hard. She walked into her living room. She saw her phone. She was surprised. Where did that come from?  She picked it up. She called Dad. 

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7:30 am A gentle jingle-jingle-jingle penetrated my second sleep, first into my awareness and second into my understanding. My phone was ringing for a video chat. At 7:30 am? Too early. Rushed over and picked up the phone. Lynne calling.

Her face popped up on my screen. She did not have her glasses on. She had bags under her eyes, or maybe yesterday’s mascara wasted after a night-on-the-face. A blue and white sweater covered her pajama top. Her mouth drooped. Her voice cracked.

“This is hard,” she said.  

Somehow, she had found her phone. I realized it was left in her room after yesterday’s video chat with her boys.  Everyone had fun on that chat. Her voice jumped with excitement as each boy joined the chat. The phones were full of laughter. The boys created hi jinks in the Messenger app with a feature that super-imposes silly images and masks on participant’s faces. Dad clicked on with huge framed glasses and clenched a rose between his teeth that kept falling out when he talked. She had belly laughs. “Oh, I needed this,” she said.

That call ended last night as always. Lynne and I slid into sadness as one boy at a time vanished. One had to go to work. Another had homework to do. The youngest had already left to finish his paper due the next day. I was last. “I’ve got to go too,” I forced myself to say. I could tell it was hard for her to lose the last face. I promised to connect tomorrow. I clicked her face off. Silence. It was hard.     

Now Lynne and I were on the phone before breakfast. Like old times before we took her phone away. She called Karen time and again at odd hours when she could find it. We reprogrammed it to make it easy to call my phone and left it at the concierge desk to know where it was and keep it charged. She usually needs a caregiver to start the call.

She was apologizing for calling, for being early, for interrupting, for not having an appointment. But it was hard.

We chatted about the day and the fun we had with the boys. Too soon it was time to click off again. It was hard.

Feeling Honest Instead of Entertaining

I’ve prepared for video chats with Lynne to entertain her. It feels artificial to be honest. Yesterday I shared what was going on with my life, such visiting my cardiologist because my A-Fib returned in February 2020 a year after an ablation cured it. I’m disappointed. I’ve limited my exercise. He’s scheduled an echogram and a cardioversion to see if we can get improvements.

We made plans for the boys, friends and family to video chat to replace our Sunday night dinners together. She remembered her cousin promised to send her a picture of her son in his costume cast as a worm, but Lynne hadn’t received it. She tasked me to get it. I need to change her profile on Facebook, but I need her password. Mom had it in her Wunderlist app.  I need to find it.

I shared other information about me joining her for a walk the next day, writing, investments, family concerns, posting on her Facebook and my Facebooks, etc. And I shared jokes and what her friends were doing.

I shared like she was Karen. When we were done I had a list of things to do. She said, “Well, that was productive. You’ve got a lot to do.”

We promised not to cry when we hung up.    

Video Chat with a Checklist

undefinedMy daily routine with Lynne includes a greeting card note I write every morning and put in an envelope with six dark chocolate covered almonds that I refer to as her daily medications. I deliver it every morning and schedule a time for a video chat when a caregiver could assist her. They are so swamped they can only arrange a call about every other day and almost never at the appointed time so I have to be ready to chat instantly.

All day long I jot down ideas on a checklist to discuss with Lynne. It gives me an agenda to keep the conversation going no matter when she calls. It gives me a way to keep in touch with her all day long. It gives me a place to jot sudden ideas she might like to know before I forget them. It gives me a way to review what she enjoyed talking about and what did not interest her. And I ask if she got her card and liked the notes I stuck inside.

We had an 11:30 am appointment and she called at 2:50 pm. I went through my list of Covid-19 jokes and she and her caregiver laughed at most of them. I asked her about the BrainFitness Computer exercises she took yesterday with the activities director. I had read reviews by users on the website who said the exercises were entertaining and possibly helpful at improving memory. She was not enthusiastic, “Yea, but I didn’t do well.” I gave her several fun news stories, the best of which was learning that the best six countries controlling the Covid-19 virus all had leaders who were women: (Belgium, Germany, New Zealand, Finland, Iceland and Denmark). She hadn’t opened the note yet, so she did that and discovered the page of Calvin & Hobbes comic strips. She loves them as much as I do. Finally, she likes her new book, The Seamstress.

In all that’s a good day. I can’t do much more at this stage.

Chatting on the Phone

Lynne is connecting with her phone to reach beyond the quarantine at her assisted living facility after I figured out how to know where it is, keep it charged, eliminate information, simplify password problems and have staff help her with it. Staff plugged it in her apartment behind the sofa, as nearly as I can figure to keep it hidden. She found it and called me, a special surprise. I had to guide her to sit and face the camera so we could see each other. We chatted quite a while. It reduces her loneliness and my worrying about it.

Her sons are calling regularly to video chat. What a thrill that is for her and for me and others. There so skilled they take a video picture of the conversation and share it with us. Her brother and sister are chatting at scheduled times when staff help and even making direct calls. Her friends have called at scheduled times. They also call when I let them now she’s answering her phone. The more the merrier for her and equally for me. Knowing she’s confined is a load for a single caregiver like me. It’s exciting to know a network of love and care is chipping in to chat with her.