Quality of Life

A number of people responded to my blog about my Uncle Stan.  My friend, Darcy, has been caring for her mom who lives in the same place as Stan.  Her mom has dementia and has a small studio in the Assisted Living side of the Retirement Community.  She wrote this in response to another of her friend’s whose mother is just entering the dementia stage: “that you don’t know who you are when you are taking care of your mom. This made my whole world make sense, finally. Those simple words I don’t know who I am brought everything into perspective for me. Not that I understand all the emotions I went through here in Princeton and all of the emotions I continue to feel now that I have left. This will take years. But coming back, returning to Stonebridge, threw me into the old feelings of emotional chaos and I didn’t expect this. I was quite floored by it all. I felt guilty not spending more time with my mom and yet my body simply gave out on Friday. All I wanted to do was sleep.

I think it’s impossible to know who I am when I’m taking care of her because there are so many different people involved. Internally, there is my little girl, my childhood, adulthood. I am my mother’s daughter, friend, care taker. Added to this is the great unknown, the day to day step to step into aging, the uncertainties that come with this. How will my mother be today? How and where will her mind be? When will she fall again? This alone creates a myriad of emotions. Then throw in siblings and all of their emotions, their uncertainties, the family dynamic surfacing over and over again making us all crazy at times because there isn’t one truth yet we must be looking for that one stability. But it doesn’t exist because we never know what is coming next. The same way we don’t know what our siblings will do next. It’s a constant confrontation of the complexities of the past, present and whatever may be in the future.

It’s not like when we were growing up and we had parental guidelines already established for us. Friendships had their own boundaries, too, ones we navigated on our own. When it came to those friends and the twists and turns in life, we felt we knew what mattered most, even if only at that moment in time. Now there are no guidelines, only the heart. I wonder if peoples’ best and worst qualities come out when caring for an elderly parent.”

Darcy also recommended I read a book which another friend had already suggested I read.  BEING MORTAL by Atul Gawande. Gawande is a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, a staff writer for The New Yorker and teaches at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health.  In his free time!! he writes books.  Gawande poses a question that I’ve never heard said by a doctor–“Do we try to do too much?  Are we just trying to fix the next thing or are we thinking about the ill person in what may be their last years and asking them what they want?”  He calls these the Hard Questions or the Hard Talk.  It is a very provocative and thoughtful book.  He even gives the example of his own father who developed a cancer in his spine.  It is a book all of us should read, to prepare ourselves for the future and to help our elders get what they really want–which may contradict what a specialist doctor wants for them.  We are all going to die but we have choices, up to a point,  where that will be and how it will happen.

I’ve thought of Stan ever since I returned to Paris.  He did not want to be in that bed up on the Skilled Nursing floor.  He didn’t want to be poked and prodded all day long having his blood drawn, helping him sit up or lie down.  What he wanted was to be sitting in front of his computer and doing whatever he enjoys doing.  He doesn’t have to walk to do that.  He has now got an aid 24/7 to help him get his breakfast, shower etc.  But I don’t know if he is back in his apartment or still up in Skilled Nursing.  Being Mortal has given me a whole new way to think about what happens next, what to ask Stan and then to listen.  It’s allowed me to be really honest and say that this fall is probably the beginning of the end.  Gawande says that if he can live the way he’d like to live, in his apartment, surrounded by photos of Enid and all his Princeton Basketball paraphernalia, the end may be further away.  But the Stan that is up in Skilled Nursing doesn’t want to live the way he is living up there.  Neither would I.  A specimen under the light of nurses and doctors and aides none of whom knew him until about 2 1/2 weeks ago.

I recommend this book.  Darcy calls it The bible for caregivers.  Yup, it is the only one I know of that has the questions that we should be addressing now.

And in Paris….Life is cold but at the same time full of activities.  I’m feeling grateful to be here right now, with good friends and activities I love.  Christmas Parties bringing a lot of people all together in the same room maybe the only time all year!!  And the lights!!!! The Champs Elysees is lit up and the Ave Montaigne looks absolutely elegant with lights in all the trees and little tiny blue sparkly lights flashing on and off inside the the white lights.  It’s a wonder to behold.

A bientôt,

Sara

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My Uncle Stan

I just finished writing a blow by blow description of my Uncle Stan, age 94, falling in his apartment and breaking his left hip.  I hate what I wrote.  I don’t have the writing ability to keep your attention while describing all the running around I was doing accompanied by intense wildly vacillating emotions.  Some writers can grab you and put you in their shoes so that you feel the sadness, the anger, the helplessness of being the caretaker of someone who has been vital and in charge his entire life.  I had hoped the writing would push me to sort through a lot of my questions of American versus French medical systems as I’m at the age where I’m asking myself “Where do I want to grow old?”

I’m writing all this from my little desk in Paris.  I returned here over the weekend feeling no small amount of guilt for leaving Stan in the hands of Skilled Nursing. These are the things that have stuck to me and won’t let go.                                                                                                                                       Stan was so miserable, so uncomfortable, so humiliated by his powerlessness that he sank into depression and confessed that he wanted to die.  I couldn’t find any fault with that thinking.  The surgeons couldn’t do a hip surgery on him, he was too old.  They opted for two one-inch incisions at his left hip and placing small rods in to hold the hip together.  Then it was up to him to do Physical Therapy to strengthen himself enough to be able to walk again.  What I saw in front of me was an old man who was so thin, so small that he looked like a little boy lost in his twin size bed.  A man whose lack of any fat on him caused him to slip far down in his wheel chair until he became so unbearably uncomfortable that I’d go looking for aides to help pull him up again.  His hearing is so bad that even with his hearing aids, we had to almost yell to explain to him what was happening.  Due to another syndrome, his hands and feet got little circulation and he was cold most of the time.  I would wrap his Princeton stadium blanket around him as if he was a baby in a casket.  It wasn’t difficult at all to step into his slippers and think “I don’t want to live like this.”  He was completely helpless, dependent on me and the nursing staff.  He stopped eating.  He said he had no appetite, that this was the first symptom that Enid had (his wife who died six years ago) when she was sick with pancreatic cancer.  He convinced one of the nurses to include a blood test for pancreatic cancer in his lab work. I knew that he was saying “I just want to die.”

The Skilled Nursing unit of Stan’s Continuing Care Retirement Community was understaffed and underpaid.  I know they were working hard.  But they couldn’t be everywhere at once.  Sometimes when Stan pushed his call button, it would take 15 to 20 minutes before someone came in.  Stan has a primary doctor in Princeton but none of the staff could take orders from her.  They could consult with her.  After the first day back at Skilled Nursing, I didn’t hear about any consulting.  It seemed the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing.  When I mentioned this to any friends, they would nod knowingly as if this was an accepted fact of the American system.  Without an advocate, a person could easily be forgotten.  Especially someone like Stan who doesn’t like to make waves because he’s embarrassed to be seen as he is.  He made it clear he didn’t want any visitors.  We had to cook up a plan to encourage his friends to visit as if they were just passing by but not stay too long as it tired him too much.  No way were we going to leave Stan along with his depression.

By the time I left late Friday, the staff was going to put him on an IV to feed him.  My cousin, Joan, was there expertly taking over the reins to insure that Stan didn’t get lost in the system.  She wrote to say that the visits were cheering him up a bit.  Though it was only mentioned a couple of times to me, I couldn’t help but think that so much of this mess is due to our lousy Insurance system.  It was strongly hinted that he left the hospital too soon because insurance/medicare would pay another night.  When he wanted the extra lab work, a nurse took me aside and said that insurance may not pay for it.  The underpaid overworked staff remain so in order to line the pockets of those at the top of the Insurance Food chain.  I’ve had the experience of having to pay more for a medicine with my Co-Pay than the entire cost is here in Paris.  This is, of course, just my opinion but as I watched the week with Stan unfold, it struck me that this is one of the ways the Insurance men and laws deal with our elders–hide them and maybe they’ll go faster.  I don’t feel polite about my dealings with the health care system last week.  I made myself unlikeable to all the staff, sometimes even to me.  But what would have happened to Stan if I hadn’t been there?  It was Thanksgiving week and people were on vacation.

More on this later.

A bientôt,

Sara

 

 

 

A tall tale to be read in one evening by a warm fire.

I am in Princeton, N.J.  My 94 year old Uncle fell and broke his hip.  This is not fun for anyone.  Fortunately this trip was planned so I have been available to do whatever is needed.

While here, I picked up a small book written by one of his friends here at Stonebridge.  It is not something I would normally read and I thoroughly enjoyed every sing song word.

“I have not written this tall tale alone,” says Dr. Barbara Wright, author of An Irish Tale. “Tall tales are best told at night when the rain patters on the roof and the bug fire burns bright…for the telling of stories is a healing thing.”

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An Irish Tale lets us into the world of Dr. Wrights’s imagination as she creates a story, a tall tale, that presupposes the life of St. Patrick before he became the Patron Saint of Ireland.  She traced her maiden name, Dowd, back to the 5th Century High King called Niall of the Nine Hostages.  This warrior king kept his power by stealing adolescents from Briton and selling them as slaves in Ireland.

One of these young men was named Maewyn Succat who suffered six years of captivity in practically uninhabitable conditions and led him to a belief in the one-God.

Dr. Wright begins her tale by introducing us to the grand-daughter of King Niall. Kiara is a wild girl who is sent away as she becomes a young woman to learn the healing powers of herbs.  Eventually the paths of Kiara and Maewyn cross.  Kiara is an every-child, wild and curious as she watches the doings of her elders.  She has no judgment about the kidnapping, she isn’t old enough to know better.  She does observe and notices when some of the boys seem less afraid than others. And she remembers.

Once she is sent to live with a Healer, her natural ability shines through and she becomes the healer she is meant to be and sets the arc for our story.

Dr. Wright weaves lovely and graceful descriptions of the scenic homes of our characters from the turbulent sea to the Healer’s abode, to the bare side of the mountain where Maewyn tends his sheep and who sleep with him for warmth.  One longs to hear the lyrical music of the Irish language as the tale move along.

An Irish Tale will soon come out on Audio Books.  If you have the choice, I believe this tale, as lovely as it is to be read, is meant for listening.  Dr. Wright has written in the voice of an Irish storyteller and it is easy to hear the lilting sing song quality of the Irish as I read.

An Irish Tale                                                                                                                                        Author: Barbara Dowd Wright                                                                                              Illustrations by Sokyo                                                                                                                   Copyright 2016                                                                                                                             Kutztown Publishing Company                                                                                               Allentown, Pennsylvania

Available on Amazon Prime, Amazon and other places

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Communication and Technology

Someone asked me how I stay connected to the United States. Specifically she wanted to know what kind of International phone plan I have.

I don’t.  So if you are traveling to Europe or anywhere and planning to stay a month or longer, you might be interested in what I do.  I have two mobile phones.  I have my American cell phone that I use when I’m in California which is about two months out of the year.  The day before I leave to return to Paris, I call AT&T and ask them to put my phone on ‘Suspend’.  That costs about $11.50 a month with tax.  I still put that phone on airplane mode just in case.  I have no reason to take it out of my apartment.

I have a french mobile with a french number.  I pay much less a month than I do here in the States!  Since I’m only gone a month at a time and the fee is so much cheaper, I don’t bother with a suspension.  But I do make sure I have it on Airplane mode from the minute the plane lifts off the ground at CDG.

I have had my Oakland home phone number with Vonage, a VOiP, for 10/12 years.  The year I moved to Paris, 2013, Vonage designed an App to download.  I can go into the App and call the United States and my home phone number shows up on the recipients phone.  People in the States can call me without any extra charge as they are calling a California number.  I do keep that phone, the American one, on Mute, as people often forget how many hours I am ahead of them.  I just call them back.

For all the above, when I’m in Paris, I pay a total of $75.  That is about the price of one month of AT&T cellphone service.  Why on earth would I get an International plan?

I now have friends all over Europe.  We call each other on Skype, which is audio as well as visual, or download WhatsApp or Viber (WhatsApp seems to be more popular at the moment).  All the Apps can be used on my french phone at any time wherever I am.  I have found, however, that reception is best if I’m at a Wifi spot.

Then there is the wonder of FaceTime.  I have an iPhone (I actually have two iPhones but you get the gist).  There is no charge to talk to another iPhone anywhere in the world using FaceTime.  Again, the platform is strongest at a Wifi spot.

Until this morning, my Facebook page had never been hacked.  I discovered it within a couple of hours and got it taken care of quickly.  So I am one who is constantly grateful for technology.  I’m not particularly savvy but what I do know and what I do have keeps me connected to all my friends around the world.  I don’t find it difficult at all to keep everything straight.

For people who do come for a shorter time, one or two weeks in Paris for instance:  if you want a french number, Orange will happily sell you a SIM card with 2 weeks worth of talk time and unlimited texting for a reasonable fee.  Most french numbers can call a landline in the US and UK.  But as more and more people get rid of their land lines, that becomes a moot point!

I hope this is helpful.  People are so glued to their phones these days that the idea of not being connected while they are traveling is terrifying.  These are one person’s suggestions.

A bientôt,

Sara

JANE

Monday evening, my friend, Erica, and I went to see the documentary JANE.  It’s been awhile since I have talked about a movie.  This incredibly well edited, well documented film that uses footage that has sat unseen in the National Geographic library for over 60 years, chronicles Jane Goodall’s life and love with the Chimpanzees of Tanzania.

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I don’t think there is a person alive who hasn’t heard of Jane Goodall but most, like me, know the bare basics.  That she was English, that she was the first person to ever get close to chimpanzees in order to record observations that had never been known prior.  I had seen photos of her up close with a chimp and both looked lovingly at each other.

What documentarian, Brett Morgan, has done in bringing Jane’s story to life is nothing next to extraordinary.  The film is narrated by Jane herself and set to the  emotional music of Philip Glass.  We see her as a young 26 year old woman who goes to Africa with no science degrees or education, chosen because she would be objective about what she sees.  We follow her as she attempts and finally succeeds to get closer to the Chimpanzees that live near to her.

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/jane-the-movie/

I learned on the website that “Morgen took veteran indie cinematographer Ellen Kuras to Tanzania to spend two days filming a wide-ranging interview with Goodall, now in her early eighties and a subject of great candor, humor and warmth.”  The opening shots of the smaller beings in nature were clearly filmed in the present.  Yet, the footage from the 60s, shot by the great filmographer, Hugo van Lawick, who later becomes Goodall’s husband, hold up well next to the present footage.

Watching this film was a peek of such intimacy into the life of the young Goodall, the growing romance between her and van Lawick, the birth of her son and the birth of the first chimpanzee baby that she knew and all the challenges that followed.  One would be absent a heart to not be deeply moved when looking into the eyes of David Greybeard, the first chimpanzee that she named.  Chimpanzees make tools, think through actions, suffer grief and have war-like tendencies just as humans.  In fact, the one thing that differentiates the chimpanzee from the human is language.

Many much better written reviews of Jane have been written and I urge you to read them so that you will be convinced to go see this remarkable film.

Production company: National Geographic Studios, in association with Public Road Productions
Distributor: Abramorama
Director-screenwriter: Brett Morgen
Producers: Brett Morgen, Bryan Burk, James Smith, Tony Gerber
Executive producers: Tim Pastore, Jeff Hassler
Director of photography: Ellen Kuras
Archival photography: Hugo van Lawick
Music: Philip Glass
Editor: Joe Beshenkovsky
Animation: Stefan Nadelman

A bientôt,

Sara

 

Rosie the Riveter

One of the excellent offerings of the American Library in Paris, is the opportunity to join one or more bookclubs.  I tend to veer towards Mystery Book Clubs.  This year, I decided to challenge myself and joined a Book Club entitled “The Home Front during WWII: USA, France and Germany”.  Our first book was Freedom’s Forge by Arthur Herman.

The second half of the book centered on the Kaiser Shipyards in Richmond, California.  I found myself reading about my own backyard and a bit embarrassed not to already know this history.  When our Book Club leader, Philippe Melot, learned I had lived in Oakland, he asked if I had visited Rosie the Riveter Nat’l Historical Park.  I had to respond “No”.  I knew that a Rosie memorial statue had gone up a year before I moved to Paris and that was the beginning and end of my knowledge.

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Now I’m on my yearly trip to Oakland.  Yesterday I visited the museum/Nat’l Park.  The website opens with this: “An unusual urban national park, the Rosie the Riveter/WWII Home Front National Historical Park (RORI) is located on the waterfront in Richmond, CA. It is the flagship national park for telling stories of the home front efforts across the United States. Park sites you can visit include the Oil House Visitor Center, the Rosie the Riveter Memorial, the historic Ford Assembly plant, Maritime Childcare Center, and more. Visit us and learn!”

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And it took a Frenchman to tell me what an extraordinary museum was less than 15 miles from me!!  He also advised that I look at the website and go when some of the Rosies were there so I could hear their stories.  I chose an afternoon talk by Betty Soskin.  The website said she is so popular that one should arrive an hour early to ensure a seat.  Now 96 years of age, Betty was a young African-American during WWII.  She became a Park Ranger at 85 years of age.  Some people just never stop grabbing opportunities as they pass!!!

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Betty Soskin talking to us Nov. 4, 2017

After I arrived and got my seating ticket, I was shown the theatre room where Betty would talk.  Movies were playing.  I saw one entitled Blossoms and Thorns that told the history of the Japanese-Americans who were sent to camps.  The fear and hate that drove that decision is a lesson we have not learned.  We are doing the exact same thing only the country and religion has changed.  What I find most amazing is that I/we did not learn about these events in High School history classes.  I knew about Mr. Kaiser and was fairly sure that the Kaiser Permanente Health Care plan had something to do with him.  Now I learn that he was the first employer to make sure that men, women and children were insured when they worked for him.  The city of Richmond grew from 23,000 inhabitants to 130, 000 people when the shipyards were working.  Maybe not every adult worked for him but the majority did.

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Rosie the Riveter is a cultural icon of World War II, representing the women who worked in factories and shipyards during World War II, many of whom produced munitions and war supplies.[1][2] These women sometimes took entirely new jobs replacing the male workers who joined the military. Rosie the Riveter is used as a symbol of feminism and women’s economic power.” Wikipedia

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Kaiser also went to the South and brought back hundreds of black men from four different states to work for him.  His call to work became a part of the Great Migration of slaves and ex-slaves to the North and West during the first half of the 20th century.

Back to Betty:  Betty’s talk of 30 minutes was mesmerizing.  She talked about the black experience and the female experience of being on the Home Front, being paid to do what up until then, had been men’s jobs.  She has since gone on to outlive two husbands, raised a family, has met Obama twice and become a Park Ranger at the age of 85. “Reflecting on her own role in planning for the Park’s creation, and on how she brought her personal recollections of the conditions for African American women working in that still segregated environment to bear on the planning efforts, she has said that, often, she “was the only person in the room who had any reason to remember that… what gets remembered is a function of who’s in the room doing the remembering.” That is a quote from Wikipedia but she said the exact same thing to us.  

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We Can Do It!” by J. Howard Miller was made as an inspirational image to boost worker morale

 

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Norman Rockwell‘s Saturday Evening Post 1943 cover featuring Rosie the Riveter

If you happen to be in the Bay Area or if you live here and, like me, have not seen this amazing National Park, I encourage you to go.  I was told by a friend that public transportation goes right up the Visitor’s Center.

A bientôt,

Sara

 

We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy

Until five months ago, I had never heard of Ta-Nehisi Coates. I started seeing ads for his latest book We Were Eight Years in Power on my digital version of The New Yorker. Last week, I was sent an advance copy of the book to review (it hit bookstores on October 7th but I received an unedited version) and my world turned upside down.

This is not a scholarly review.  This is a review of a citizen of the United States living in Paris trying to understand how and why Trump happened.

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The book consists of eight essays that Coates wrote for the Atlantic where he is now a Senior Editor. Each essay represents one year that Barak Obama was President. He prefaces each one with a present day writing telling us specifics of why he wrote what he wrote and how he sees the article now, 2017. He ends with an Epilogue about President Trump “our first white president”. The Guardian review calls him “the laureate of black lives”.

I am a seventy year old white woman living in Paris, France. I was raised in academia, my father taught at Princeton University. I say that I was released from behind Ivy League walls at eighteen years old a very naive young woman. I have always considered myself a liberal (my sister says that is a four letter word) and always voted Democrat. Never have I felt more naive and uneducated about the realities of the class system in the United States than reading Coate’s book.

Coates has a unique way of presenting his material in a New Yorker-type style while searing you with some very unpleasant truths. Truths that, the minute I read them, I knew were true though I’ve had my head in the sand for a long time. The Guardian says “Coates has the rare ability to express (it) in clear prose that combines historical scholarship with personal experience of being black in today’s America.” He calls all types of slavery, the Klu Klux Klan, White Supremacy ‘Domestic Terrorism’ which, of course, it is. Slavery was outlawed over 150 years ago, Blacks have the right to vote and the Civil Rights movement, of which I partook, was supposed to have ended all the inequality. Yet Blacks are consistently murdered and the murderers not indicted. Laws have been passed to stop Blacks from voting at the polls. Coates probably sited 100 instances of domestic terrorism. Some I knew about, many I did not. All done in the name of keeping the White class the superior class.

His eighth chapter was specifically about Obama. What made Obama unique and able to become President of the United States was the fact that he was raised by three white people who adored him and let him know how much he was loved. He was not educated to be suspicious of white people. He was not cautioned about going into certain neighborhoods that were too dangerous for black people. He was encouraged to learn and encouraged to strive for the best. Coates stated that 71% of Republicans still believe he is Muslim and many still believe he was not born in the United States. Trump began his political career by openly challenging Obama to produce his birth certificate. For years, he stated everywhere he could be heard his “Birther” beliefs. Obama was our first black president. However, if he was not born in the US, then he couldn’t be president and for the majority of people who are threatened by the idea of a black president, the string of white presidents remains unbroken.

I couldn’t put Coate’s book down. I learned that he was a fellow at the American Library in Paris where he wrote parts of his last book “Between the World and Me” I didn’t join the Library until after he had left France and want to turn back the clock. I feel cheated. I have watched his interviews on YouTube and his presentations at ALP. He seems a soft spoken man who is very funny and still a bit overwhelmed by his fame. He told Chris Jackson, his editor and publisher of One World books, that it felt like being hit by a Mack Truck. A Mack Truck with money but still a Mack Truck!

Coates is a man who has a lot to be angry about. But he has chosen to channel that energy into educating people like me about “Reality”. He is not surprised by a Trump presidency. I was. We Were Eight Years in Power felt like a fist to my gut. It hurt. I needed the painful punch. I didn’t choose what color my skin is anymore than Coates did. I have been fortunate. A whole class of my compatriots have not been.

If you are interested in reading The Guardian review:                                                                 https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/oct/08/ta-nehisi-coates-our-story-is-a-tragedy-but-doesnt-depress-me-we-were-eight-years-in-power-interview

A bientôt,

Sara