It’s About the Iced Tea

I do hope, dear reader, that you understand that I’m not writing these blogs to draw attention to myself.  The goal is to inform you about end-of-life issues:  how do you decide when your life is over?  What do you do about it?  Who is there to help?  What are the challenges?

The first issue in what makes you decide to quit life is all about quality.  Great Uncle Tom’s bed was moved down to the big farm kitchen and put in the bay window where he could see the farm and the cows coming in for milking.  My bed is in the little bedroom of my two-room apartment, which is at the end of the hall on the eighth floor of a HUD-subsidized high-rise apartment building. 

Uncle Tom lived with his daughter, son-in-law and three children; his other daughter’s family lived across the road, with nephews and nieces all up and down the road.  I am estranged from my sisters and have no husband, children or grandchildren.  My aide comes two hours a day; except for that, I am alone twenty-two hours a day.

Uncle Tom was a farmer until the day his son-in-law refused to keep lifting him into the seat of the tractor, deeming it no longer safe.  I have been a writer since I was eleven years old.  Thanks to a hospital bed, a tray table and a laptop computer, I continue to write.  I am called to writing as the bawling of the cows called Uncle Tom to milking.

I wake up in the morning and shuffle to the bathroom.  I no longer can walk properly, and have balance issues, which means I am at constant risk of falling.  Falling is terrifying when you get old; there’s no more “Pick yourself up; you’re okay.”  You’re not the least bit okay.  Why is it that children bounce and old people don’t?  The last time I fell was in the bathroom—that’s where most falls occur—and as I went down I hit every piece of unyielding, unmoving furniture and ended up with a black eye, multiple bruises and maybe a concussion.

What is needed is someone to be present at all times—there always was someone on the farm with Uncle Tom—to put a strong arm around me and make sure I get to the bathroom safely.  And there isn’t time to wait; fecal incontinence has become a problem.  Of course, you also have to factor in the waves of dizziness and nausea.  As Bette David said, “Getting old isn’t for sissies.”  And then there’s the shortness of breath from pulmonary fibrosis.  The simple exertion of getting up, going to the bathroom, checking the temperature and the windows, and getting back to bed leaves me gasping for breath.

After I’m back in bed, I turn on the computer and Pandora music.  It is needed for distraction.  I don’t want to know how bad I feel in the morning.  The numbness in my fingers is increasingly becoming a problem.  I rarely check my blood sugar since there’s no point.  Because of the antidepressant damage to my immune system, I can’t take any medications for anything, so the diabetes is just going to keep getting worse, bringing with it headaches, lack of mental clarity, and lassitude.  My glucose average is 375 with spikes over 600; it should be under 120.

Bette Midler is singing “It’s the soul afraid of dying that never learns to live.”  I’m not afraid of dying and isn’t it better than this?  Sick, alone and afraid, with nothing to look forward to?  I talked to God about it and he said, “Come on home.”  So I went to the doctor and he ordered a Hospice referral.  Please note that he cannot order Hospice care; he only can order a referral.

I had previously been told that Hospice would show up within twenty-four hours.  Wrong!  It took them a week to get here.  I had always heard that Hospice is great, but now I realize that I heard it from families who’d never had home health care and were thrilled to get some help.  Fact is, Hospice is not for the dying; it is for the living.  Hospice does not provide total care for the patient; they provide relief for the primary care-giver.

Because I have been disabled since 1991, I already have in place all the equipment—hospital bed, shower chair, wheelchair, etc.—that Hospice might provide.  All that Hospice is prepared to do for me is increase my home health aide hours from twelve-and-a-half hours a week to fourteen.  Big whoop.  And in the process, they would take away Amelia.

Amelia is the beloved granddaughter that I never had.  For nearly two years she has been coming and taking care of me as a home health aide.  She knows everything there is to know about how I like things.  She is well-trained and works without supervision.  At the end of your life, believe me, you want someone like Amelia.  She comes in and greets me pleasantly, then chats with me or not, as my mood indicates.

She can keep silent like nobody’s business and that’s a major gift.  She waters the breathing machine, makes the bed all nice and tidy, washes the dishes and makes the iced tea.  Because of the kidney disease, I drink half a gallon of iced tea each day.

My mom’s recipe:  first, fill the pot with water up to the stain line (that’s half a gallon), then bring it to a boil with a lid on to cut down on how much energy has to be used (and therefore cut down on the National Grid bill).  When it comes to a boil, take it off the burner.  Stir in a rounded quarter-cup of Splenda.  Add ten decaf tea bags and two flavored herbal tea bags.  Let steep until cool enough to squeeze out the tea bags or, as my sister observed, anywhere between forty-five minutes and twenty-four hours.  Finishing the tea was low on my mother’s priority list; raising five kids was high.

This is the iced tea I’ve been drinking all my life and Hospice plans to take it away from me.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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2 Responses to It’s About the Iced Tea

  1. Debra says:

    Anne Wooden,

    I am sorry to read about your ongoing decline….there are just not words to express the pain and frustration I feel over your rotten situation. I just told my sister this morning that there has got to be a tortuous hell for all these rotten human beings who make life here on earth such a living hell for a vast number of us…(She was “let-go”( fired) last September from her banking job because she is a person of integrity and would not “bend” the rules (( being a “TEAM PLAYER” has got to turn into one of the warning signs that a company is wanting to hire individuals who are willing to break the law and play by the individual rules(which are against the laws in most cases) set forth by company management members that are in fact scumbags!!!!!!!!!!)) Her husband just found out on Friday that he was laid off after company’s large contract with Ford Motor company was not renewed.) Another family brought to their knees by a Capitalist system that has run amok since the rule of law has been allowed to be usurped by the immoral and amoral cretins amongst us.

    I did not choose to be a victim-nor did you but that is what we have become by default as the gross acts of ongoing stupidity, ignorance and criminality continue to impact our lives.
    Wish I could wave a magic wand and make the years of hurt disappear…There are just no words that can adequately express the outrage that I feel over the cursed injustices that have plagued your life.

    Justice -a word that rings of strength and greatness but has- in our modern world- turned into a travesty of what it once was suppose to stand for for the 99% of us. Justice is for and by the rich who can hire the “best”(and I use that word with tongue in cheek) attorneys who can bend and twist the written laws to their well-heeled clients’ best interests. .. but I am telling you nothing new.

    • annecwoodlen says:

      I am struck by your use of the term “team player.” In this context, doesn’t it mean doing what’s good for the corporation, not the client? And this is totally true of all government agencies, which are staffed by Civil Servants who are self-protective and do not advocate for the citizen/client/patient/end-point-use-of-services. We now live in an age of cowards who find safety in group-think, not individualists who will stand up and do what’s right. The fact that churches and synagogues now are two-thirds empty may be an indicator of failing morality. Individuals no longer are being raised with a strong moral code. Instead of doing what’s right–and “right” must grow from a moral base–they do what everybody else does, what the common denominator is, what the group standards are.

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