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Braking Points

Exploring the Adventure of Aging

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multiple sclerosis

Fowl Play–Chapter Thirteen

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Chapter Thirteen

The first request Amy made, when they arrived at Milo Grant’s room, was for Gina to open the curtains and blinds to let the light in. Advantages to being unable to see expression on the human face included not being able to read negative reactions such as the skepticism that Amy suspected occurred when a blind person requested light. Gina like most people assumed light was unnecessary to the blind. Perhaps it was to some blind people, but in Amy’s case light gave form and definition to the shadows.

Once the blinds were open, Amy managed to orient to Milo’s room—bed, bureau, night stand, an IV stand and chair—the shapes though hazy had distinct auras based on their size, density and position in the light from the window. Looking up at Gina, who was the only moving form in the room, she used Gina’s eyes to clarify some details not allowed by her visual disability.

She began her questions with the patient. Describe Mr. Grant. What direction was he facing? Amy could hear his raspy shallow breaths, but could not distinguish any movement in the faint human frame that barely created a bump in the bed.

“He’s on his left side, facing the window. He’s all curled up and there is some sort of wedge—you know a pillow-like thing—up against his back.” Gina replied.

“Is there a chair, over there, by the window?”

“Yes.” Gina answered.

Amy navigated her scooter between two dark shadows, the bed and the bureau.

“Could you help me into the chair, Gina?”

Once settled into the chair, Amy unpacked her instrument and dismissed Gina, who tried to protest though really relieved and ready to leave.

“When should I come back?” Gina asked as she pulled the door closed behind her.

“Don’t worry about that. I need to learn to navigate to and from in this building. If I get lost or in a tight spot or Lord forbid run into something, I’ll call for help.”

Amy smiled in the direction of the door, but Gina had already gone.

Opening the violin case, she tuned the instrument and then pulled it lovingly to her chest. Taking a couple of deep breaths she studied the ambiance as only one who depends on a heightened awareness in a few senses can.

Amy had thought Milo’s room might remind her of her mother. She thought she had steeled herself for that possibility, but the aroma of human organ failure, the shallow breaths with apnea spells that hovered airless for increasing lengths of time and the depleted figure under the sheets cast a shadow over her.

She sank back in the chair as she remembered her mother’s last day—even now as then she seemed to be in an audience watching a death scene played out by actors. In this state as in that state then her vision was perfectly honed. With no control over the action she became both participant and observer.

The gaunt flesh covered skeleton bore no resemblance to Emily Davidson. Shrouded in a fresh sheet Emily lay in a tightening fetal posture. Amy watched as if observing the hospice nurse bend to whisper in the ear of the patient’s daughter—her ear. She wondered then and now with the memory so clear, why whisper when whispering seemed unnecessary.

The nurse repeated the behavior as she headed for the door, leaning over to speak to the husband—Amy’s Dad—he sat staring forward, his eyes empty, not focusing on anything. He nodded at her words, rose and escorted the nurse to the door, although she protested that was not needed. Ever the gentleman, the nurse thought as she crossed the lawn to her car.

She knew her next visit to this house, if indeed she was the one on call, would be to tidy up, see to the family and offer comfort. Perhaps another would come, she considered, perhaps this had been her last visit to the Davidson home. She cast a final look at the house as she pulled away and headed to her next appointment.

Inside the house Amy watched herself walked to the door of the bedroom, glance out at her father in the living room, and then close it. The presence of the hospital bed changed the layout of the room slightly, so she used her cane as a guide. Crossing to the hospital bed, she stood next to her mother, stroked her cheek, and traced her features when she felt Emily Davidson’s eyes open. Startled, she drew her hand away.

“Don’t go.” The words were hushed, barely audible. Emily had so little breath, so little time.

Amy, the observer, watched as the other Amy paused, remembering in a swirl of memory, all her mother had been to her in a life that had been split in half, delineated by “before the accident” and “after the accident.”

At age eight Amy had awakened from a dreadful nightmare complete with screeching brakes and the tearing of metal to a reality that frightened her more than the nightmare had. In those long first days Amy clung to her mother; she’d been the one pleading, “don’t go.” In those days, Emily Davidson would climb into bed with her young daughter and hold her until she fell asleep.
Amy sensed from her earliest days in the hospital after the accident a grief in her mother that far exceeded her own. Emily Davidson felt responsible for her daughter’s injuries and her blindness.

It was only after Emily’s diagnoses of cancer, followed by the discovery that Amy’s balance problems were not from the old injury, but instead were caused by Multiple Sclerosis, only after that did Amy consciously acknowledge feelings of condemnation directed at her mother. The action of a careless driver could be forgiven, but discerning—not so much by the facts as she knew them but from a new appraisal of her life since the accident—that her mother had been culpable.

Looped with Emily’s hovering presence, her dominance over every morsel of her daughter’s life, which continued to her death bed caused Amy’s anger to deepen into a root of bitterness with a gall so nasty denial was the only answer Amy could embrace. So it happened as Emily Davidson diminished daily, Amy despised her more and hated herself because she did.

Her fragile mother, with her life dangling on a raveled thread, begged her to stay. The plea released the cauldron of rage in Amy that had sputtered near the boiling point for so long. The simple request of the one who had given her life lifted the lid of denial unleashing a cascade of gall. Amy began to shake uncontrollably. The emotionally charged atmosphere compelled Emily to turn her face on the pillow toward her daughter, though the effort sent waves of pain through her body. Emily released a tiny gasp when she saw the malice in her daughter’s face. Amy struggled against the anger. She stepped back unwilling to lose whatever self control she had.

The good daughter’s voice tried to change the course of the injured one At first the tender voice shouted, “Crawl into bed with her!” Then dropped to a plaintive tone, “Hug her.” Finally, at a level of defeat, a level barely audible above the madness that rumbled to be set free, the voice murmured, “Forgive her.”

The resentment, so long denied a voice, stomped its foot and demanded center stage. So with a heart set like flint, she chose distance rather than closeness, callousness rather than grace; she chose to embrace her violin rather than her mother. With her ire tangible, her head throbbing, her mouth dry and the tension in her muscles as tight as a cat set to pounce, Amy poured her feelings into the music, choosing selections that expressed the depth of her fury. Ignoring Emily’s faint protests that lapsed into mournful groans, Amy played until her mother lapsed into unconsciousness.

The intercom in Milo Grant’s room startled her as someone tried to locate Helen Marcum. Amy opened her eyes experiencing a slight disorientation. The music in her head lingered. Tears streamed down her face and her breaths came in gasps. She steadied her hands, remembering her purpose here in Milo Grant’s room. With the will of a professional, she lifted the violin and bow. With the assurance of one who trusted the music, Amy let the music lead until her whole being was spent.

Before she departed more than an hour later, Amy managed to pull herself out of the chair and move closer to the bed. Once stable she stroked Milo’s cheek with the thumb of her right hand, while tracing his nose and mouth with her fingers.

“Don’t worry, Momma, it won’t be long now. The music will pave his way, just like it did yours.”

Amy removed her hand and fumbled for his night stand. The top surface was bare; no framed photographs suggesting family connections, nothing. Amy’s hand continued moving down. The top drawer slid open easily. With the touch she had cultivated for thirty years, she surveyed the contents, which consisted of a box of tissue, an eyeglass case, a comb, and leather bound book, she determined was a Bible. Her finger tips told her Milo Grant was embossed on the lower right corner of the front cover.

So little remained of the man, Amy thought. Tears welled in her eyes; his soul longed for release—the anguish she sensed in Milo grew palpable as she stoked his face—Milo cried out to break loose from the depleted cocoon of a body that no longer nourished him and yet refused to let go.

Amy scanned again the night table’s contents. The scarcity of memorabilia represented by the bare table with its nearly empty drawer seemed to resonate with the man. It was so unfair. Amy felt him move under her hand. He twisted, then relaxed.

She opened the eyeglass case, extracting the spectacles. Utterly useless, just like Mr. Grant himself, she thought as she dropped them into her pocket, closed the case and the drawer.
Exiting the room, her violin on her lap, Amy almost collided with Helen Marcum who was surprised when Amy called her by name. Helen recovered quickly.

“Do you need someone to escort you back?”

“No, I need to learn to navigate.” Amy beamed at Helen and started to move away then turned, “Ms. Marcum, were you going to check on Mr. Grant?”

Helen held back a retort. Few people dared question anything she did. Instead she took a breath and nodded. Then realizing Amy probably could not see that slight movement, spoke.

“Yes. Was there something wrong?”

“Oh, no”, Amy remarked, “He seems rather peaceful. It won’t be long for him will it?”

“Sometimes at this stage,” Helen halted, wanting to tell Amy that the process of dying even when someone reached Milo Grant’s stage could pause. Sometimes it happened because the patient was waiting for someone. For Milo that was not the case, so she thought better of what she should say. “It’s hard to tell, but yes Milo appears to be weakening rapidly.”

“And he has no one?”

Helen thought that a curious question and her response came out tarter than it should have. “Nonsense! He has us!”

“Oh, of course. Well good-bye.” Amy scooted away.

##

Helen baffled as ever by people and their strange assumptions entered the room. The light from the windows flickered across Milo as if a thousand Tinker Bell fairies danced. The effect much like that of a reflective ball over a dance floor originated from the cottonwood outside the window. Its leaves fluttered with the breeze sending flashes of light and shadow across walls, floor, ceiling and Milo Grant.

Helen, on who aesthetics were wasted, strode across the room and yanked the curtains closed. Turning back to her patient she noticed his side table drawer ajar. A bump of her hip closed it. Only then did she look directly at Milo as she reached to check his pulse. Empty eyes stared out at nothing. His mouth hung open. Her deft finger tips felt for his carotid, while she pushed the button of the intercom with her other hand. Milo Grant was dead.She issued a command when the ward clerk responded, then ran her fingers over his face, closing his eyes and then his mouth. Helen reopened the drawer she’d closed, took out his Bible and opened it to a passage she knew was must be a favorite because it fell open to the spot and he or someone had underlined it.

Helen pulled the chair closer to his bed, knowing only a few seconds remained before a stream of people came through the door.
She read, “In my Father’s house there are many mansions. . .”

Fowl Play–Chapter Eight

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Chapter Eight

Taylor and Lucille Wingate sat down to breakfast long before the day began for the residents and the day shift staff at Heritage Village. With the unpredictability of both their jobs, it was the one meal they guarded for themselves. Even if they did not join hands and return thanks, the ritual would have been described as sacred by each of them. Other meals could be eaten on the run, or in Lucille’s case with the kitchen staff or as it happened often missed entirely by Taylor who moved from one urgent task to the next.

Breakfast provided the Wingate’s the togetherness that prepped them for whatever the day brought. Like a bookend their evening decaf coffee sipped in their small living room and the shared crossword and cryptogram from the daily paper allowed the couple the opportunity to unwind the coils of the day before slipping into bed to coil as one.

“Quite a storm last night,” Taylor remarked between bites, “good preparation for the boarding of the animals.”

“Comparing the likes of the animals coming on board at Heritage Village to the ark, may border on sacrilegious,” Lucille responded with an amused smile and without a hint of malice.

Taylor returned the smile, merely grunting his mouth now filled with Lucille’s pecan pancakes, one of his favorites. A verbal response was unnecessary; he knew Lucille sided as did he with Mavis. Pets, even the questionable chickens, would undoubtedly provide therapeutic companionship to a community of people in need of companionship. Even the extra work the menagerie threw his way would be worth the trouble if the residents with pets benefited.

##

By 7:30 the kitchen staff had breakfast near completion; they had set the tables in the dining hall and some residents began assembling. The majority gathered around the movie sized television set and watched the national morning news programs and the local weather rather than taking their appointed places.

Darin Murphy, former student of Agnes Webster, now a meteorologist reported that the evening storm had produced two inches of precipitation. Agnes paused, leaned on her walker and watched her former student with a thankful heart. She remembered Darin as a boy, always fixed on the sky outside her fifth grade classroom. Her thankfulness surfaced as a silent amen for Darin was now putting his cloud gathering to work. Another observation told her that the cowlick he’d battled as a boy still struggled to be free even with an ample application of hair spray.

Agnes studied her former student—now, become expert, boy become man—and that moment of reflection, impeded her deliberate progress toward her chair at the table on the other side of the room. The walker had yet to become an extension of her legs, requiring her constant cognizance to keep both it and her legs moving in the same direction at the same speed. Twice, Agnes had gotten her feet tangled in the aluminum legs and had narrowly avoided falling.

Glancing across the room, Agnes saw, Thelma Louise and the Reverend were already seated at the breakfast table and approaching found them chatting brightly about the sunshine after the storm and the expected arrival of their “pets” when she approached. She noticed Ruth chatting with Lucille, who was busy setting baskets of hot biscuits on each of the tables. Hot they were when Lucille set them out, but Agnes knew by the time breakfast officially started they’d be warm at best. With only a bit of effort, she lowered her bottom into her chair, cheered by the animated faces of her new business partners.

Call them “pets”, if they wanted, but Agnes didn’t believe that wild tale anymore than Mavis Purcell had. She wasn’t sure how many eggs three hens could lay, but they’d need a market. Aside from that, with a rooster they’d be sure to go to brood and with any luck they’d have more—maybe even some baby chicks around Easter, although the memory of Thelma Louise’s sad story tended to cloud that possibility.

“The brooder should arrive this morning,” Agnes announced, reaching for a biscuit, the moment Lucille placed the basket on the table. She’d at least get the Promise spread on it while it was still hot. She continued, “good thing, because it will give Otto time to get it all set up in the furnace room. The chicks should arrive this afternoon and they’ll need a home. I checked on the computer to see where they were and found they were at the main post office in town scheduled to be delivered just in time for the little ceremony Mavis has planned.”

Ruth wheeled into place, butting into the table and the conversation. “Can you guess who is getting a toy poodle?” she asked leaning forward as Agnes had to grab a hot biscuit.

Before anyone could venture a guess, Pauline bounced into her place, leaving only the Colonel’s chair empty. The Reverend Henry Porter looked up at the clock. The Colonel was late. He started to comment, but not quick enough. Pauline had taken the floor.

“You will never guess what my dear sweet Celeste has gotten me.”

Ruth sent sideways knowing glances to the other Early Birds, and was opening her mouth to respond but Pauline babbled on, “She has gotten me a genuine pedigree toy poodle!”

Before anyone could respond, Colonel Henderson Wilcox arrived. All eyes turned to greet him, including Pauline, who gasped. The normally impeccable Colonel looked as if he’d slept in his clothes, if he had slept at all. His face sported evidence of a hasty shave complete with a piece of tissue that clung to a razor nick. A tiny bird’s nest of hair that his comb had missed, if indeed a comb had been used at all rested toward the rear of his head near the crown.

“Good Morning,” he said, taking his seat and flipping his napkin into his lap. For a split second his table companions gaped at him. Pauline continued to sit as if in suspended animation, her mouth pursed to speak. The Colonel furrowed his brow, as he glanced from one to the other.

“Are you alright, Colonel?” Ruth inquired quietly.

“Of course, I’m alright!” He retorted.

“We were getting a little worried,” Pauline tittered, and then ventured, “It isn’t like you to be late.”

“Late?” He sputtered, extending his back and raising his chin, so that he peered down at the lot of them. Crazy old fools, he thought. “Nonsense! I am never late.”

Thelma Louise started to respond, but Agnes poked her before the words of protest crossed her laryngeal folds.

“Senility,” Agnes hinted softly, lowering her head so the Colonel couldn’t hear her. Unfortunately, Agnes’s attempt at discretion failed. Speaking so that the Colonel could not hear also meant that neither could Thelma Louise, who whispered back while covering her mouth with a napkin and dabbing at nonexistent crumbs at the corners.

“I don’t think humility ever crossed his mind.”

##

Helen Marcum considered with pride her practiced lack of vanity, no primping and preening wormed their insidious delays into her day. Neither self admiration of a shapely nose, which she did not possess, nor self debasement of the aquiline one she did slowed her one whit. A quick shower, an application of deodorant followed by combing still damp hair straight back from her face and clasping it into a tight chignon at the base of her skull, facial moisturizer—slapped carelessly on her cheeks—brushing and flossing her teeth composed her total daily beauty regiment.

On occasion she would use mouthwash or eye drops, but those occasions were rare.
She dodged her mirror image. Thus she avoided the pitfalls of nose laments and other issues most women encountered when preparing for the day. Helen could be up and out the door in less than hour and for as long as she could remember she had managed to eat breakfast and at least glance at the headlines in the morning paper within that same time frame. Helen had no tolerance for people who dilly dallied in front of mirrors.

Half the staff she supervised in the hospice section couldn’t pass a chrome pitcher without checking their hair or make-up and the other half were slovenly. Thirty minutes before her shift, Helen slipped a jacket over her uniform and headed out for a brisk walk around the lake. Rain or shine, every single morning, Helen completed one lap or maybe two. Discipline had never failed her.

With a determined steeling of her spine, Helen decided that it would not fail her today either. Today the animals would be arriving. Well, no amount of dirty animals would change her patterns. Nor would she allow even one in the hospice unit. She tucked a small notebook into her uniform pocket. She planned to record every infraction, every unattended poop pile, and every wandering beast. Yes, indeed she planned to detail every incident, even the mildest, that represented animal or animal owner misconduct. “Residents with Pets” ranked as public enemy number one in Helen’s book. She’d bring them down or die trying.

##

Amy Davidson’s morning regime resembled her neighbor’s in at least one way. Mirrors were useless. Her mirror image had faded years before, but her attention to detail in her morning grooming matched Helen’s, except for the greater time required.

Even with careful planning, she could not complete all the tasks required to get up dressed, and groomed in less than two hours. She’d heard her neighbors across the hall leave before she’d managed to sit on the side of her bed. Not that Amy hadn’t tried to swing her legs off the bed and rise to an upright position—she had been trying for nearly twenty minutes. Another ten minutes passed after she’d listened to the crisp retreating footsteps before her wooden feeling legs obeyed with her torso and head following in one continuous if not graceful movement.

Once sitting, a few more minutes passed as the swirling in her head subsided. Now bracing herself against the bathroom sink, Amy listened to Helen Marcum as she left.

Having been blinded at eight years of age, Amy found working in the fog that surrounded her natural. At thirty eight years old her compensatory skills and her other senses had been honed to the point that she hardly noticed her blindness. Of course she’d been lucky or blessed as her mother would say, because her blindness was not the blackness others imagine. Amy’s visual deficit had not robbed her, at least not yet—who knew what the multiple sclerosis would do—it had not robbed her of light and dark. Amy’s visual environment varied with the light she encountered, with objects in her path, producing at times a kaleidoscope of gray tones.

Some days if the light around her was bright, she could almost distinguish lines and shapes, patterns, but no matter how she strained no color emerged, only shades of gray. Her fiddle, as she lovingly called her violin brought color into her world.

Blindness no longer threatened her, if it ever had. Her memory of the accident, followed by the months after as her vision declined, were incomplete—an act of repression, according to one therapist her parents had insisted on when she entered eighth grade. Amy remembered at the time wondering why on earth Dr. Babbitt thought remembering bad stuff was so important. At age thirteen, it wasn’t her blindness that depressed her, it was her flat chest. Now clinging to the sink, the enemy was the multiple sclerosis, because she knew it could eventually take the color from her world, her music.

Today she battled not only the heaviness in both legs but also a spasm in her right thigh. Amy grimaced, wondering what diminished function this exacerbation would leave behind. Typically, her MS kicked in when her resistance dropped especially during stressful times. Her greatest exacerbation came following her mother’s death and had swept her from dependence on a cane to increasing dependence on her scooter. Smaller episodes dotted the last several months as she made decisions that added to the stress of grief.

With tenacity she edged her body away from the sink, reaching for her cane, fumbling a bit before finding the familiar curve of metal. Amy pulled it closer to her, turned loose of the sink, and leaned momentarily on the three footed stabilizer. She had agreed to taking the music therapist position at Heritage and living within the facility after an awful row with her father. Only in a semi-protected environment would he even consider letting her move out of the only home she’d known since the accident. There was no convincing him that she could take a position with more autonomy and manage to live, work, breathe on her own.

So, she relented, but in her plan Amy determined she would not remain one moment longer than required to soothe Wyatt Davidson’s doubts. It would require a perfect performance, but Amy planned to give one.

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