Friday, March 25, 2011

A question of shoes.....

For those of you who have gotten to know me better over the last couple of years, you know of my new found delight in purchasing shoes!  I was recently asked.."what's with women and shoes, anyway?".. it got me thinking.  So, what's with women and shoes, and more importantly for me, what's with ME and shoes these days?  Women and shoes; it's a purely psychological thing. Shoes is one of those fashion statements that can change the way you seem to the world, as well as change the way you think about yourself.

A small woman puts on a pair of heels; depending on the ratio of angle between the heel and the toe (women with a smaller size get a dramatic difference with a lower heel) you look 10 to 15 lbs. slimmer! That's a bonus on it's own! The way you walk in heels changes your stride. Leading "heel/toe, heel/toe" makes your body undulate, and when you lead with your chest when you walk it is very attractive to the opposite sex, as it conveys the primal idea that you are an "alpha" female. Stiletto heels force the upper thighs to tighten to keep your body in balance, lifting the "derriere" and making it look higher - there fore more youthful and therefore a better mate (again, body language overrides the conscious brain!).

One of my favorite movies is the British Film "Kinky Boots", and a lot of what I have come to realize about the subject is paraphrasing some of the ideas there.  You can tell a lot about a person by their shoes.  Shoes have character, and they convey what you think about yourself to the world.  Think of a young woman wearing Doc Martins.  Now picture someone wearing Christian Loubouton!  More than expensive jewelery, expensive shoes make a statement about how you feel about yourself. And face it, shoes have connotations; think of the term "the girl in the comfortable shoes", "sensible shoes", "old lady shoes",  "stripper shoes", "office shoes", "baby shoes", "ass kickers", "CFMs", or just simply "heels".  Each one of those titles carries a thought in your brain about "who" the person who wears them really is!  And think about a woman wearing a well tailored grey skirt suit... then add a classy pair of Jimmy Choos or Manolo Blaniks in red and it changes how you look at her! It especially changes how her peers look at her!  It's like that big fat diamond ring that makes a statement about a woman's status to her peers.

From personal experience, well made, butter soft leather beats cheap and cheerful shoes by a mile - mostly because they look good AND they are functional! When you slide into that Italian leather and feel the material wrap around your arch like it was made for you there is NO going back!  We are and can be very vain creatures, and lets face it; Cinderella was most little girl's "favorite" fairy tale!

So many of us have been in "Mom" mode for so long we forget the power of shoes.  Some shoes we wear make us feel worthwhile and rich.  Some allow us to feel strong.  And some just allow us to feel beautiful.  If a shoe reflects all those feelings for me, I'm sold!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Timmies triage....

In the grand scheme of things I never expected to have those "15 minutes of fame" to deal with.  I expected my life to continue on in much the same vein as it has most of my life;  occasional drama, highs and lows, normal and everyday stuff or perhaps the excitement of some special occurrence.  But sometimes you get caught in a moment you never expected; you end up riding the current and being swept along with nothing to go on and only being able to take one fast paced step after another, literally running in place without seeing what is next just to keep your head above water or be drowned.

On February 28, 2011 it was only the luck of the draw that sent my Mom into the hospital.  She had called the ambulance to take her to the hospital with flu-like symptoms.  The dizziness she was experiencing made her feel so helpless but she still managed to make the call and have them come to get her.  With the help of her niece - my cousin, Lois - the attendants loaded her onto her "granny transport" rolling walker and took her down the elevator to wait in the lobby for the stretcher.  When I got the call that she was in the emergency I flew of the house as fast as I could (leaving my debit card, cash, phone charger and snacks at home) to find her waiting, still on the same stretcher, with the ambulance attendants keeping her spirits as high as they could, flattering her, smiling at her, comforting her and never leaving her side.  Unable to even supply her with a proper pillow, her head was supported by two flannel sheets tucked into a pillow case. My brother and I had to hold up a sheet to give her privacy while they quickly helped her change into a gown, inserted the IV needle and brought her a warmed blanket.  The four of us took turns,  held the bag when she vomited, wiped her chin, held her hand, joked with her and tried to keep her comfortable until the medication nurse brought her a dose of anti nausea medication and something to calm her and help her relax.

With no where else to keep her and the emergency filled to overcrowding (I heard later there were rumours of 100 or more travelling through the emergency that night) the personnel running the shifts was quick enough to make a snap decision to take what they thought were less critical patients and place them in more quiet surroundings;  the Tim Horton's coffee shop located in the Hospital lobby.  I heard the nurses and staff worried about funding cuts, talking about placing patients in otherwise unstaffed areas because they needed care - referred to as "ghost wards" - rather than give them no care at all.  I heard them talking about working hard and having to work harder without the staffing needed to supply all the areas needed, and talked to them about the problem of "burn out" with the overload.  It was frightening. 

The Tim Hortons was quiet, and mom slept in a drug induced doze, snoring gently. I was glad she could get some peace but truly troubled.  The cold bled off the windows and I draped her coat over her feet to keep her from chilling too much.  I started taking pictures of the situation with my mobile phone, even recorded a short video to make a point, but was not able to upload the video and allow others access to the shots.  I did post the photos on my facebook page, and one of the other family members for another patient went outside to speak to television reporters on the conditions our caregivers are forced to work in.

It seemed I was there for a significant amount of time, but after a while they moved my little Mommy from the cold of the Timmies back into a bay in the admitting area;  still in emergency and still among the traffic, but quieter than it was closer to the nurses' station. and she and I sat together with me pulling her blankets around her shoulders, wiping her face, comforting her when she was fretful and letting her know that people were sending good wishes and thinking about her.  She was truly thrilled by each well wish and giggled over the mentioning of friends and family she has loved for so long.  As the medication wore off she began vomiting again and I called the attendant to help her while I held the basin and spoke to her gently.  In the wee, small hours of the night they gave her a dose of different medication to calm her and keep her from being sick again.  This time it was successful.  But by 6:30 when the Tim Horton's opened for business again I had seen myself - front and center - in stills taken by other patients on the Timmies' Triage ward running in a news segment on the televison in the emergency room.  "Dbl Dbl Trouble for RCH"...  Well, the damn place was shut that night and we couldn't even get a coffee!  Mom and I waited until 9 am, with her becoming more worn out as the hours past, until they finally prepped her for a CT scan, and I pointed out to them that one side of her face was "droopy".  After that the situation was handled a little more seriously and the staff reacted in a way that showed they were concerned for the prognosis.  I went to the lobby to make some calls and inform my family of the state things were in (my poor cell phone had died from lack of power the night before, and my car was under lock and key in a blockaded lot across the street), then managed to move my car to another spot and headed back in to continue waiting.  Mom was returned to the Trauma room on the emergency ward - the 4th spot in less than 12 hours - where we waited for the Dr. to give us the news;  it was not good.  Stroke with atypical symptoms (hence the diagnosis that she suffered from the flu), looking at waiting on a swallowing assesment, a chest xray and stabilizing her.  The staff wanted me to go home.  I was told the "cavalry" was being mobilized, and there would be people to spell me off, so I went home to grab a few hours sleep, take care of my dogs, feed myself, send out information to those that needed it, field phone calls, and prepare to do it all over again.

Back to the hospital I went, this time carrying my debit card, a recharged phone (no charger), change in my wallet, and parked in a different lot - after calling in work to say I wasn't coming to close the store tonight  I arrived to find... no one.  Mom was sitting in another bed (the 5th spot in her stay and right next to the noisey nursing station) and on a new oxygen set up.  The phlem she was coughing up had thickened and darkend, and was very difficult to move.  I talked with the staff who made changed that should have made her more comfortable, but she began struggling and trying to remove the mask, saying she couldn't breath.  And then she stopped.  She drifted into a semi coma and made no further complaints, just a few incoherent comments.

I suspect she had another stroke at that point.  Even though the chest xray showed no infection her lungs had been compromised and were shutting down.  The staff did everything in their power to help her, but in the end the last thing they could help with was to give her morphine for the pain and to take away that feeling that she was drowning.  She stopped fighting the machines, stopped fighting to breathe, and as they wheeled her down to what would be her 6th and final spot in the hospital she breathed shallower and shallower until she wasn't breathing any more at all.  I held her in my arms, kissed her, and as I stroked her arms my brain recognized the shape of my own hands in hers, the lenght of my forearms and the size of the muscle structure,  the height of my cheekbones and the depth of my eye sockets in her face.  I am my Mother's daughter.  And I'm just as stubborn, just as pragmatic, just as strong, and just as weary of the unneeded drama that affects my life from the outside.  Come by it honestly, and have no intention of changing it at this time in my life.

The damn story has gone viral on the internet now... it's all over the world and so it should be.  Our government has allowed the infrastructure that supports our medical system to come perilously close to collapsing.  The only problem is, every time I hear them on the news, every time I see my Mother's smiling face on the TV, every time I catch a glimpse of myself in a still shot I am back in the Timmies Triage waiting for them to take care of my Mother.... but they can't anymore, because she's gone.  And I cry.  And cry....

I know that my role in this is to remember, so remember I will.  I need to make sure this NEVER happens to someone else.  Spread the word.  I didn't want this particular 15 minutes of fame and I would give it back to hold my Mom in my arms one more time.  But you don't get a do-over very often, and I don't think there would have been any other outcome, but I would have wanted her to have the dignity she was denied, the comfort they were unable to give, and had a diagnosis sooner through quicker care so she could have had those last moments with more of the family.

More than anything, I would like the world to remember; one day this may be you....

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Oh.... how I wish you were here......

There comes a time in everyone's life when they have to step up.  The natural progression of aging; first babies, toddlers, school kids, teenagers... if we're lucky; spouses, parents... grandparents.  We all take a step ahead, and bring what we learn with us.  In the rush and joy we forget that the progression has an end, and eventually those that were ahead of us in the ladder have disappeared.  So, when we get to the front of the line it's time to reflect on a lot of things until the final step into the unknown.

Last night, on the 1st of March just before midnight, my first love made that final step into forever;  my Mother, Gloria Rossalind Knowlan, at age 86.

On the afternoon the day before she suffered a sudden and serious stroke.  When the call came to let me know where she was (at that time her condition was unknown) I quickly grabbed my things and drove to the hospital.  It was simply time to step up.  For the next 15 hours I rarely left her side, holding her hand, comforting her, passing her tissues when she coughed, waiting (yes, even in the infamous "Tim Horton's" ward in RCH) for tests and time to pass.  We spoke of so many things when she wanted to talk;  how much she loved us - her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren - special friends, fun times, things she taught me over the years;  we talked quietly between her struggles to rest.  She wanted Pink Floyd played at her memorial service and we talked about her favorite music. Mostly I dozed in the chair beside her bed and let her know she was not alone.

When she was finally taken for a CT scan on the morning of the 1st we were unsure of the prognosis, but I saw marks of the seriousness of her condition in the laxness on one side of her face and steeled myself for what was to come.  When the Dr. finally had a consult with me following the test the result was pure and simple;  there was a serious stroke in her cerebellum; it had not been the first one; she was going to be stabilized and best case scenario was she would stay as she was or heal;  worst case scenario was further strokes, compromised respiratory system or heart problems.  They told me that sleep was my best option and I checked with family and informed them that in my opinion the situation meant we all needed to step up and change how we were dealing with this.  I was hopeful someone else would care for her while I took care of my own responsibilites, phoned in sick at work, slept a few hours, cleaned up and returned... this time with a different parking spot, change in my wallet, a fully recharged phone, and the hope that TONIGHT Tim Horton's was serving tea....

My siblings had taken care of a lot of the important stuff;  Mom was still in the emergency by herself after insisting she wanted "no visitors" and that she was just tired.  She sent my other siblings off to their lives and didn't want a fuss.  My brother and sister had gone to clean her apartment and ease her worry over her personal space.  My brother came by with a care package with personal items as I attempted to keep her as comfortable in bed as possible, but a little after 10 pm there was a marked change.  She told me she was sad that we were all having to do these things for her now, so I reminded her that she did that and more for us when we were small; stayed by our sides, stroked our hair, held our hands, wiped our faces, and look at how lucky she was that now we were here to do it for her.  I reminded her that her life was very, very rich, and that we were the gold that made it so.  That comforted her and she giggled a little.  But she was drifting away, not so lucid anymore, her breath becoming harder, fretful and struggling for air.  The staff made her as comfortable as they could and I asked that they call my family and tell them of her condition.  I knew it was close to the end.

One more time to feed the meter, and back I went to wait.  I helped the staff gather her belongings and whispered in her ear that the family was coming, hang on just a little longer, but the morphine they gave her for her pain and comfort allowed her to slip away like a firefly, creeping softly from the ground and rising for the first time.  I watched the husk of her earthly body wind down quietly like an old fashioned toy, and I held her close and kissed her as she took those last soft breaths.  And she healed me.  Softly, quietly, and without a lot of fuss or drama, she taught me her last lesson.  I'm strong enough to take care of myself.  I'm strong enough to do the right thing.  I'm strong enough to take the tough stuff on and I don't have to claim the world, I just get to claim my role in it.  And for one last time I had her all to myself.

That is the gold I get to share now.  Like a chocolate coin, it's shiny on the outside and sweet in the middle, and it tastes better when you share it.  And when you share a lot of them you have other people share theirs with you.  That is what makes life so very rich and so very sweet.

I always tell people that your immortality lives on in the memories other people have of you.  Mom, to me you will always be immortal and I will treasure every precious moment of your life.  And although I do have a lot of regrets I am at peace in that this time I have none.  I will keep being honest and straightforward with my family and friends, and I will live my life more the way she did; quietly and softly, with compassion and humour, and keep my childlike wonder, until I too go forward. I will continue to do the right thing even when no one else wants me to be right.   I'm a bit stubborn that way, but for all of you who really knew Gloria you also know I come by that trait honestly.