Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Bleak Days

The doctors verified today that Dad had a major stroke on Sunday evening. It has damaged some of the same frontal areas affected by Alzheimer's without limiting in any way his mobility, so the stroke was masked to a degree until an MRI was done.

My early theories about what happened on Sunday were partly correct; something did go wrong when Dad went out to his car. I presumed that Dad got confused from Alzheimer's and didn't remember to drive home. Their theory now is that Dad's vision was affected (we've verified that he sees as if looking through a narrow slit), and he walked back into WalMart because he knew it wasn't safe to be home. I am firmly convinced that, as much as Dad wanted to return to his house, this thoughtful, generous, selfless man walked back into the store because he knew his driving home would be unsafe to others. I suspect he stayed there to see if the problem would pass; as his brain suffered more and more injury from the stroke, he finally collapsed.

Yesterday, I thought Dad was just reluctant to eat; now I realize he didn't see the food I offered him because I was holding it below his very limited field of vision.

Dad has lost friends to strokes; he has always said that he hoped he would go suddenly rather than dying in stages from a stroke. Life can be relentlessly cruel...

Because he has full mobility, he has been combative and aggressive; the doctors say that is normal, and in some patients it never ends. They offer a desolate prospect of Dad having to live in a nursing home, restrained for his own protection.

Another stroke is still possible as well, since Dad's blood pressure remains dramatically elevated. The next few days will give us some clearer picture of what the remainder of Dad's life might be like...

I wrote with disapproval earlier about Dad having eaten almost a dozen cookies in spite of his diabetes. Now I am glad that he did; those cookies could not have contributed to his current state, I've been assured, so I am glad he savored those cookies when he could still appreciate them. He denied himself so many things for so very long, and joy had eluded him more and more frequently since Mom's passing. I picture him now, eating slowly as he always did, chewing deliberately and cherishing each bite. "Makes the good last longer," he remarked when I asked him why he sometimes ate slowly. I hope the good lasted a long, long time, Dad...

Monday, July 30, 2007

A Turn for the Worse

Last night at about 10:00 pm, I got a call from the Floyd Medical Center in Rome. Dad was there; he had collapsed at WalMart and had been brought in; he didn't remember his last name, nor could he remember mine (thankfully, his wallet was still with him, although at first the hospital mistakenly told me his wallet was missing, which caused some concerns that he had been robbed while unconscious and that thieves might now have his wallet, his address, and his keys); he knew that Kim was his daughter, but thought she lived far away.

We'll never know what happened for sure, but here's my theory: after Kim, Cole, Christy, and Dad had lunch and went over to his house on Sunday afternoon to do a little housecleaning, Dad decided to drive to WalMart for some cat food (he doesn't need any, but he's in a cat-food-hoarding mindset for some reason). We know that he made his purchase at WalMart at 4:41 pm, because I have his receipt with a timestamp on it.

At that point, he walked back out to his car and put his purchases in his trunk. Then, I suspect, Dad couldn't remember where home was. My reason for thinking this? Because for some reason, he did something he never does: he walked back into the store he had just visited, and he stayed at WalMart for another three hours. Dad doesn't stay with the family on Christmas Day for three hours, so the fact that he spent three hours wandering around WalMart at a time much later than his usual bed-time is quite telling.

I suspect that, while he seemed relatively normal to passersby, he was inwardly getting more and more anxious about not knowing what to do, who to call, or how to get home. I think that triggered an anxiety attack, probably exacerbated by the fact that Dad had eaten a peanut butter chocolate chip cookie--and he's a diabetic. His blood sugar had soared to near 500; due to anxiety as well as other factors, his blood pressure was 240 over 150. Dad got light-headed and fell to the floor, at which point someone with whom he once worked recognized him, called for medical help, and rode with him to the hospital. I owe this man an immense debt of gratitude; Dad was in need, and someone reached out to help him without asking for a thing for himself.

When Dad got to the hospital, he was not lucid. That was when the medical staff found his ID and called me; I called Kim, then headed up to Rome, arriving there at about midnight. They had to restrain Dad because he was combative and wanted to go home. It took a while to get him to settle down and rest so that the medications could begin to work. At about 4:30 a.m., I got back home and slept; I suspect that I rested better than Dad. I got up at 7:30, exercised briefly, ate a bite of breakfast, then headed off to Rome once again.

Today started off well, with Dad eating a tiny bit of breakfast; he seemed more normal, and kept talking about how he felt better... but I could see the faraway eyes that told me he was still unsure of his surroundings and his circumstances. Soon, he began to get agitated, struggling against his restraints. The doctor advised Haldol, which turned out to be disastrous; within five minutes, Dad was furious, lashing about so intensely that he dislodged his IV and nearly pulled out his catheter. It me, Kim, and three nurses and interns to hold him down until they could administer Atavan and gradually settle him down.

Dad was frantic and frightened, and for my entire life, I will be haunted by that anguished, tear-stained face as he looked into my eyes and pleaded, "Just let me go to my room to die. Just let me go to my room. I want to die in my room." Dad no longer talks about his house; his world has been reduced to the bedroom where he spends most of his time. I have never felt more cruel nor loathed myself more than at that moment, and that vision still torments me whenever I close my eyes to rest.

The hospital tells us that Dad cannot live alone any longer. They recommended a nursing home that specializes in Alzheimer's patients, but none in Rome have any openings; he would have to be moved to Cartersville or Marietta, where he would be a pathetic stranger in an uncaring strange land.

This afternoon, Cole told me that he and Christy would like to move into the house with Dad and try taking care of him so that he can live in his house for a while longer. "I've known that house more than any other house in my whole life," Cole said. I have told him to think it over; it's a tremendous burden and responsibility, one that will place even more stress on a young man, his wife, and their young son. He called an hour later and said he still wants to do it, as does Christy. I outlined the problems: he'd have to take Dad everywhere, since he can't drive. They'd have to cook. Their lives might be disrupted by Dad's odd schedule.

Cole said they had thought of all of that, and they still want to do it. I told them to sleep on it, and we'll talk tomorrow.

But for tonight, there's a distant hope that Dad will get to return for a time to the house I feared he would be forced to leave forever...

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Hank's the Man

Since Atlanta's Fox affiliate has scheduled syndicated episodes of King of the Hill from 12:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. during the week, I frequently catch segments of an episode before I call it quits for the night. Over the past few weeks, I've gradually come to realize just why I enjoy this series so much: Hank Hill just may be the most ethical and open-minded father on television.

When I first heard the concept of King of the Hill, I dismissed the series as an intolerant redneck-stereotype comedy; as a result, I didn't even try it for the first two seasons. Once I tried it, though, I realized I had totally misjudged. Hank routinely demonstrates loyalty, responsibility, family love, modesty, and other ethical values rarely seen in family comedies, animated or live-action. He clearly loves his wife; he loves and appreciates his son, even though it's obvious that Bobby Hill will grow up to be very different from his father's expectations; he loves his father, even though his father frequently displays qualities of which Hank disapproves. Heck, Hank even embodies the Hindu concept of dharma, although I suspect he'd have to ask Peggy to explain it to him.

In some ways, Hank reminds me of my good friend Charles; both of them do the right thing because they believe it to be right, and both follow that path of self-discovered ethicality even when no one else would know of their actions. Charles is, of course, more erudite than Hank--but there is much to admire in both of them.

What's even more surprising is that, in a medium that almost always finds its humor in the inadequacies and failings of father figures, Mike Judge and his creative team have managed to keep King of the Hill relatively fresh and clever without compromising Hank's character or sacrificing his integrity. Considering the typical television attitude towards character and integrity, that's a pretty amazing accomplishment!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Playing the Heavy

I've somehow become the bad guy in Dad's mind, and I'm saddened and disturbed by that. Dad had adopted a stray cat a little while ago; it turned out that someone had dumped her most likely because she was pregnant. Well, she gave birth to a litter of kittens in Dad's house, and next thing you know Dad has eight kittens and a stray. While the mother cat is docile and people friendly, the kittens weren't--and Dad simply wasn't able to keep up with them as well as he might have when his health was better. End result: the kittens aren't properly litter trained, and they're ruining Dad's porch and his house.

I talked with Dad about it, and he and Kim and Cole and and I agreed that it would be best to take the kittens to a local no-kill animal shelter so that they might litter train them and find them good homes while they were young enough to be domesticated. All was fine until last Friday, when Dad became very upset that I was forcing him to give up his cats. Nothing I could say would convince him that (a) this was something we had all agreed on, and (b) it was beneficial for him and the cats.

I feel awful about this. I love Dad, and I love cats; I don't want to do the wrong thing for either. But I know that Dad simply can't take care of the cats and maintain his house. If he wanted, he could keep the mother cat if we simply took her to be spayed; I'd gladly pay for that, but Dad is for some reason opposed to this. Dad has a strong antipathy for doctors of any sorts, and that apparently extends to veterinarians as well.

I'm at a loss. For the first time that I can remember, I simply couldn't bring myself to call Dad tonight because I just wasn't prepared to have to face the reminder that I am the bad guy. And the whole experience is leading me into a somber melancholy that seems to feed on itself; I've had this happen before, and I don't enjoy the results. Tonight, I found it easier to avoid the problem. That won't be possible for more than a day or so, but there are times when avoiding the inevitable seems desirable, and this is one of them...

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Welcome Back, Potter

After two years, J.K. Rowling is back with what she says is the final book in the Harry Potter canon. A lot of people who have grown up with these books are sad to see the saga end; I can understand that, although I've never grown that attached to Harry Potter and friends. I don't think the books are bad, but they have at times struck me as being lengthy for the sake of being lengthy (I've had similar problems with Robert Jordan books).

Read the final book last night, and enjoyed it fairly well, although this was the book that suffered most from being needlessly long. I'm sure that the avid fans would disagree, since the longer it is, the longer they can postpone reaching the end of the literary journey.

I'm not sure how Harry Potter became such a literary phenomenon, though. There's nothing here that I haven't seen done as well, if not better, by many others who never achieved more than a small fraction of Rowling's success.

And while this may be the end of Harry Potter's literary adventures, I cerainly don't think it's the end of Rowling's fantasy storytelling...

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Summer Breeze

This evening, when I came home from dinner, there was a light, pleasantly cool breeze that made the night's 78 degrees feel even cooler. As I thought back, I realized that we've had a number of pleasant summer evenings this year... more than I can recall in my seven summers of walking outdoors after dark.

I don't like heat and high humidity, but summer will always hold a special appeal... probably because of the childhood association of summertime and freedom from school and other responsibilities. The first year or two after I began spending more time outdoors, I remember feeling uncomfortable even on summer nights. Now, though, I feel like I can appreciate them in the same way that I did when I was a child. There's a richness to the summer night that gives it a character of its own; it seems heavy with life and yet relaxed and sedate at the same time.

I think summer nights and I have begun to adjust to one another quite well; perhaps we enjoy each other's company.

Dead Again?

Mandy Patinkin has quit Criminal Minds.

Ellen Muth, the actress who played the lead character on Dead Like Me, has reported on her blog that a Dead Like Me film and/or followup series is in the works.

When asked if Mandy Patinkin would be back for the series, she responded, "Mandy can't do two series at the same time."

Oh, how I wish all these pieces really fit together as well as they do when presented out of context like this!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Distinguishing Characteristic

I'm about twenty minutes into X-Men: The Last Stand... but this isn't a film review, just an idle observation. After a few minutes, I noticed that visual elements that work fine in comics look odd on the screen. Why does Rogue have a white streak in her hair? Why is Storm's hair totally white? Why is Professor X bald? Why is Hank McCoy blue?

I realized that it's not an inherent part of their powers, but an essential element of comics storytelling: every character has to look so distinctive that he or she is recognizeable regardless of the talent--or lack thereof--of the artist illustrating that story. Comic book writers can't always count on getting a Curt Swan, who could portray a seemingly infinite variation of facial and body structures. Many artists seem incapable of illustrating more than a small handful of visual archetypes--and when it comes to drawing women, the number seems particularly limited. The distinctive hairstyle, the eye-catching primary-color costume, the unusual physical characteristic (like hair combed back to an exaggerated point and long sideburns)... it's a way to ensure that people can tell they're looking at Wolverine or the Beast or Professor X no matter how crudely the artist might illustrate them.

A reader recently complained that he was having trouble telling characters apart in many of the comics he was reading. The problem, it seems, is that artists and writers have forgotten this very basic story element. Many superhero comics today devote a large number of panels to talking heads, or to shots of characters in their human identities.. and unfortunately, the artists simply can't make one character look sufficiently distinctive from the other to enable readers to instantly tell them apart.

You might argue that the FF, for instance, had the same costumes. Sure they did--but one was a brown-haired man who stretched, one was a woman who could turn invisible, one was a blond teenage boy who burst into flames, and one was an orange rocky guy who wore only his costume shorts. If you couldn't identify those four in spite of similar costumes, you really weren't paying attention...

Considering the state of comics art nowadays--lots of flash and exaggeration and animation influences, but little subtlety--maybe it's time for writers to revisit the past and realize that stories make much more sense when readers are sure which character is doing what...

The Scent of Sandalwood

While cleaning out the cabinet under the bathroom sink, I ran across a bottle of sandalwood shower gel that dates back almost a decade... maybe more than a decade, now that I think on it. Back in the 90's, (Bath and Body Works offered more basic scents like this; I don't think they've offered something so simple in at least a decade.) I had used what I thought to be the last of this shower gel several years ago; every time I used it, the smell took me back to the house in Rome.  Proust was right; smells have evocative powers beyond any others.

On the one hand, I'm inclined to ration the shower gel, using it sparingly and infrequently to make it last even longer. On the other, I want to use it now, to enjoy the memories of a very different part of my life.

Prudence may have its benefits, but I'm more likely to follow the latter course. One lesson the heart attack taught me is that you can't always count on the future... Sometimes putting off dessert 'til last isn't the right thing to do...

Sunday, July 08, 2007

The Other Comic Book Guy

Over at the Simpsons Movie website, they have an avatar creator. The site was wonky, at least for Mac users; I tried on two different computers and never could complete the registration process in Safari, so I wasn't able to actually save my avatar. Instead, I was able to create it and then grab a screen shot of it.

I'm never very good at this whole avatar-designing thing; the finished avatar they offered doesn't look much like me, I don't think. I'm much more impressed with the second image, which is a Simpsonized version of me drawn by a production artist a few years ago. I know which one I would recognize as me if I saw it on an episode of the Simpsons...

Even so, it's sort of fun to play around with for a few minutes; if you're bored and want to cast yourself as an extra in the Simpsons film (or create an avatar to use for whatever...), it's a nice way to while away the time.

Still have no interest in seeing the film, though... Of course, I also lost interest in the Simpsons this season when Matt Groening and crew began inserting biased political points of view into the show... and now that I've broken the Simpson habit, I have little interest in playing catch-up.

Mushroom Clouds Over Marietta

While I was walking on Thursday afternoon, I saw this unusual cloud formation to the northwest; the size and shape really looked like the archetypal mushroom cloud depicted in so many apocalyptic films (although without the associated heat, wind, devastation, and radiation, of course). Shot with an LG Fusic FX550, which ain't the best camera (or camera-phone) out there, but at least you can still tell what it is. (And when you think about the qualify of a camera like this compared to the pocket instamatic cameras I often used back in the 1970s and their small, grainy, soft-focused images, it's amazing how much our equipment has improved over the years...)

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

4th Down

Another 4th of July pretty much over. I have to confess that the 4th is one of my least favorite holidays--not because of the events it's supposed to commemorate (I do celebrate the spirit of independence that was celebrated by Hector St. Jean de Crevecouer many years ago when he wrote, "What then is the American, this new man?...He is an American, who, leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds"), but because of the mode in which all too many choose to mark the occasion. I really dislike fireworks in the hands of amateurs, and I don't think they have any place in residential areas; I also am dismayed that for many the 4th has become a drinking holiday.

Even so, I was surprised by how few businesses marked the occasion. Comcast had set up an appointment for a cable repair for the morning of the 4th; I was surprised when they offered the option, because I figured that they'd take the day off. Publix, which usually has shortened hours on the 4th, was open for its full daily schedule. In fact, I only saw a few small mom-and-pop businesses that were closed. Of course, Dr. No's was open, because we made a conscious decision to be open 365 days a year, and it's something our customers expect nowadays. But I can remember prior Independence Days when many other businesses were closed... not this year, though!

Back to MDX

Just thirteen months after we got the 2006 Acura RL, I've traded it in for a 2007 Acura MDX. Chuck Rouse at Nalley Acura made it very easy; they made an incredibly aggressive offer (an offer that was even better than the proposal I had made to Jackson Acura... a proposal that seemed so offensive to them that they never responded to followup e-mails, although I blame the Jackson Acura sales manager Dmitri for that more than I blame the Jackson Acura salesperson Vladimir, who tried to make the deal work), then did everything necessary to close the deal in less than 48 hours, even though a computer glitch meant that he had to truck the car in from North Carolina when it turned out they didn't have the color I wanted, no matter what the computer said.
I ended up getting a Nimbus Gray/Black Interior sport/entertainment model, and it's simply amazing. I was told that the ELS sound system in this vehicle was far more sophisticated and nuanced than the system in the RL... and remember, I thought the RL system was incredible. Well, this one is better than I ever imagined an automotive sound system could be. Remember when I complained that the Lexus Mark Levinson sound system was mushy and indistinct compared to the RL? Well, this is as much better than the RL's system as the RL was better than the Lexus. What's really amazing is what the unit does to MP3's... the Dolby sound processing really makes them seem like they're surround sound mixes, complete with crisp treble and rich bass. Plus, the MDX sport/entertainment will handle 5.1 DVDs as well as DVD-Audio, offering more listening options--and it also plays MP3s from a DVD-R, which means that if I don't want to use my iPod, I can burn 4.7 gigs of my favorites as MP3 files for more targeted listening.
The vehicle drives like a fine luxury car; it's powerful, smooth, and hedonistically comfortable. It also sits higher than a car, which is something I've missed ever since I got rid of the MDX a few years ago.   This vehicle's suspension sounds like something from Stark Enterprises: it uses a ferrous fluid that responds to electromagnetic impulses by becoming thicker or thinner, offering more or less resistance to road impact, roll, etc. 
Storage space/cargo space? No comparison; the RL was a little bit short on storage space, unfortunately (it was the only vehicle I've ever owned in which the glove compartment was too small to hold the owner's manual, which I had to slide under the passenger's seat to keep it out of the way).

The only thing that the RL had that is missing in the MDX is a proximity sensor for keyless entry and the starter. I actually have to hold the keyfob in my hand to unlock the key, and I have to insert the key in the ignition to start the car... very 20th century, but I'm more than willing to make that tradeoff in exchange for improved handling and a top-of-the-line sound system.