Reno / part 1: Hip hooray

An old Reno postcard showing the arch.
An old Reno postcard showing the arch.

Caregiving: I just got back from Reno on Tuesday, so I am still catching up with stuff. I was there for a week or so to help my sister Barbara recover from hip replacement surgery.

There were a few moments when I started to wonder what they replaced it with. (Used parts?) But she is progressing really well, now. I was drafted because it seemed like I was the best faux nurse in the family at the moment. I had the most recent caregiving experience with Kathy’s Huntington’s Disease. The reality is that all the Lehndorff siblings have done their fair share of caregiving in the past. My brother John, and sister, Lisa took care of my mother in her final years in Boulder. And Barbara was always on a plane to help out one place or another (read my story about my brother Paul) and she came to Hampden when Kathy had pneumonia.

Travel plans: I was trying to figure out a way to take a shuttle from here to the Hartford airport,  Bradley. It turned out a shuttle would have cost $300 each way, much more than the plane tickets. So, I drove to the airport and self-parked for $60 for the ten days. That seemed reasonable. Marty stayed with his dogsitter, Joanne. That was $20 a day. It was strange to be away from Marty and Hampden that long. With Kathy, I could not be away from the house for an hour and a half at a time. I hadn’t been on a plane since Kathy and I went West in 2008. And I had forgotten how to fly on Southwest. In the weeks leading up to the trip, I notified my clients (all two of them) that I would be out-of-town but able to work wherever I was. I bought a small Logitech keyboard and mouse to take with me.

Marty: Since Marty would be staying around other dogs, I had to bring him to his vet for a tune-up. He was still behind on some tests and shots. I wanted to ask Dr. Peck about Marty’s trouble getting into the car or going up the stairs. The Hampden Vet Clinic just built their own building. It is very nice with five exam rooms. The old office was in the mini-mall down the street between a Chinese restaurant and Dunkin Donuts. Many veterinarians seem to be near Chinese restaurants. I don’t know why but it is one of the mysteries of life.

vetclinicMarty got a thorough checkup. His nails were clipped. His weight was excellent (which is great for his back and hips). She said he is doing pretty well for a 2004 model. He has a few lumps to show for it. Unfortunately, one of those lumps is very large, irregular and hard and she feels it should be removed (could be malignant). She gave me an estimate that included some lumps and warts, tests and antibiotics, and cleaning his teeth. It was between $900 to $1000. Once I get my own teeth checked out I’ll try to take care of him. But on the plus side, Marty has been the healthiest basset we have had. So he hasn’t been very expensive. Dr. Peck gave me a prescription for a painkiller and recommended some Glucosamine chews for his hips. She told me to go to Costco or Walmart to get them because it would be a lot cheaper. If you have read my blog you know I avoid Walmart. But when the time is tight Walmart is the logical choice since I don’t belong to Costco.

It was the first time I had ever picked up a prescription for a pet someplace other than the vet’s office. The pharmacy tech was confirming the info:

“So, the date of birth is 2004?”
I said, “No, 1951.”
“Not you. Martin!”

Departure from Hartford: Early Sunday morning I got up at 5:30 but started driving too late. I got to the parking lot and to the airport pretty late. Then I waited in the wrong line. And because I was late they said my suitcase might not arrive on the same plane with me. Then I left one of my boarding passes at the counter and I had to go all the way back for it. It was like I was circling the airport but I was in the terminal. I brought my carry-on stuff and my laptop in a black leather backpack. After I went through the security line and X-ray, I put on my backpack and my shoes, grabbed an extra backpack and ran to the gate. Once I got there I realized I had two backpacks. The Southwest gate person returned it to the security area. Everything worked out in the end. And it wasn’t an explosive device (as far as I know). I had an aisle seat way in the back for the first leg to Denver. It was relatively comfortable and the Southwest flight crew was friendly even though it was a full flight.

I started working on a new design project for Butler Hospital on the plane. And did some reading. Southwest lets you watch free TV on your laptops or ‘mobile devices’. So I watched part of the Denver game until we landed in Denver. At Denver International, their playoff game was on every TV in every snack bar. But I spent most of my layover charging my old laptop. It has a bad battery and I need to install a new one soon.

reno-selfieDuring the next leg, from Denver to Reno, I sat next to two women who were involved with sales and marketing. I thought they were friends traveling and working together. But they had just met. Extroverts will do that. One was a customer service rep for a medical software company in Cleveland that develops applications for Anesthesia departments at hospitals. The other had a franchise for a health and wellness product of some kind. I’m not sure what it was, but she was from Reno, loved the small city quality of Reno. Miss Reno was more chatty than Mrs. Anesthesia. Luckily she was in the window seat and I was on the aisle.

Reno: A friend of Barbara’s picked me up at the airport. We texted our selfies to one another so we could find each other but I still walked right by her. Maybe it was the slot machines in the airport.

They seem to have slot machines almost everywhere in Reno. They don't have them in the hospitals or churches but in the airport, grocery stores and shopping malls.
They seem to have slot machines almost everywhere in Reno. They don’t have them in the hospitals or churches but in the airport, grocery stores and shopping malls.

Caregiving: With Barb’s hip surgery, she was supposed to have someone with her 24 hours a day for two weeks. She has to keep most of her weight off of that leg. And she isn’t supposed to bend over yet. The surgeon found some additional tissue damage while he was in there that needed to be put back together. They kept her in the hospital an extra day. Normally they send you home as soon as they hear a pulse. My nephew, Morgan stayed with her first and my niece Nicole had left before I arrived.

Friends: An army of her friends filled in the other gaps. They stayed with her, got her ice packs and kept her fed and coffee-ed. Ran errands. Picked up her brother, me. Brought her to physical therapy. She has a lot of very loyal friends. It made me think about where I should “settle down”. As we get up in years we start to think of where to move next and how we should be living. I know I started that process before Kathy had passed away. What would be cheaper or easier? Should I rent instead of own? Should I stay put? Should I move to where the family is? Or live in a camper or a van down by the river.

After seeing the support Barb gets there from her local friends and from the university community where she worked, if it were me I would probably stay in the Reno area. She still works a few days a week for the university even though she is retired. Morgan and Nicole are prodding her to look for an active senior type apartment. The dilemma for her is that anything else may be more expensive than a paid off house. Friends and support are the reason I would stay near here. It wouldn’t necessarily be in Hampden. And this house is no place for an old man. But, I could not have gone through what I went through without all the support I received from many of you.

Barb's Lazy-Boy chair was similar to this one. It had power recline, leg support and power lumbar and was a rocker.
Barb’s Lazy-Boy chair was similar to this one. It had power recline, leg support, and power lumbar and was a rocker.

The Chair: Barbara had purchased a new power Lazy-boy recliner to recover on. She basically lived in it and slept in it while she was recovering. It wasn’t one of those Lift-o-Matic, slow-motion catapult chairs that help you stand up. So while it was leather and comfortable, it didn’t want you to ever leave it. And because it was low and a rocker it made it darn near impossible to get out of it safely and use a walker to get across the room. She may not have realized it was a rocker when she looked at it in the store. Most days it was okay and between her efforts and mine, we could get her standing up in the walker. Then she was good to go. But there were days if she was tired she had trouble. Then she would almost panic that she couldn’t get up. The panic would make her frustrated and depressed.

The platform was similar to this. Just enough to make it easier to get up.
The platform was similar to this one I found online. Just enough to make it easier to get up.

Later we tried stacking pillows on it and that helped some. And we used a gait belt so that I could steady her. But the final solution was to have Larry build a short platform to raise up the whole chair just a few inches. I didn’t get a photo of the chair or the actual platform but it seems like all furniture for older people should be higher. I should build one for my futon. If you think about those high-rise toilet seats they are much easier to get up from.

Unlike Kathy, I didn’t have to bathe or dress Barbara. For the first week or so she couldn’t take showers. So she just gave herself sponge baths. She took care of dressing herself with the exception of her socks and shoes. She was supposed to wear those damn compression socks. Every once in a while, we would get lucky and get them on. More often than not we just couldn’t do it.

The greeter at the physical therapist office
The greeter at the physical therapist office

Physical Therapy: I drove Barb to a few of her physical therapy sessions and to a follow-up appointment with the surgeon. The physical therapist named Wendy was really good. She listened to the problems Barb was having but still made her work hard when she was there. She suggested the pillows and the platform for the chair. She was trying to get Barb to do some of her exercises on her bed. And not on her chair. I realized that some of her advice applied to all of us. We sit for so long that our muscles are keeping us from straightening out.

Wendy demonstrating how to use a belt for exercising the hip and legs. We ended up using a dog leash for the same purpose.
Wendy demonstrating how to use a belt for exercising the hip and legs. We ended up using a dog leash for the same purpose.
After exercising Barb received some electric zapping of her muscles to relieve some of the pain.
After exercising Barb received some electric zapping of her muscles to relieve some of the pain.

A few days later I drove Barbara for her post-surgery follow-up visit with her surgeon. We got a late start. Got down the stairs late. And into the car late. The surgeon’s office is located outside of Reno and just off the highway. Then we got lost. All of the office buildings looked the same. On top of everything, we had the wrong building number written down. It ended up being fine because let’s face it: all doctors are late. She had a good check-up. They took out the staples and cleared her to start taking showers again. The doctor said her pain was pretty typical and described the different types of pain that she is experiencing or has experienced. He also wanted her to try to lie flat on her bed to help stretch out different muscles.

Errands: I ran a few errands while I was in Reno. Barb lives in a part of town with some fun retro signs and buildings, too. Mostly I did grocery shopping and took Barb’s dog to the vet. She may check into having groceries delivered until she can do more walking. She is supposed to be able to drive soon. The driving part would be okay. But getting down the four stairs at her front door with a crutch and her walker without another person is not worth the risk. In Reno, there are a few stores that deliver including Whole Foods (aka Whole Paycheck).

Barb teaching me
Barb teaching me

Barbara was also getting the urge to start playing guitar again. She taught me how to play when I was ten or eleven. She showed me a video of her nine-year-old granddaughter Frieda playing and singing “Angel From Montgomery.” Someone gave her an old classical guitar and it needed new strings. I ended up going to Guitar Center, mostly because I had never been to one. I got that out of my system. It is a large and noisy music store. It reminded me of my youth when my friends and I would basically hang out at the local music store for hours and try different guitars.

There was a kid in the drum section banging away. People sat in front of amps playing Fenders and Chinese knock-offs. There was one guy playing a few notes on a banjo while his wife waited disapprovingly. He had probably gone with her to buy shoes at the DSW next door and she had to humor him. Then I stepped into the “Acoustic Room”, a sealed humidifier of a room that promised to be an oasis of quiet music. The sounds of five or six guys playing different songs at the same time convinced to step out without even touching a guitar. I was directed to the accessory department, bought some strings and a capo and left. I did see someone loading a new keyboard into a car so someone bought something.

I just remembered one other thing that would happen at Barbara’s physical therapy. There was  a vet with a wonderful sense of humor who was rehabbing from knee surgery. He would come in at the same time we were there on crutches.

The physical therapist would ask him.
“And how are you doing today?”
His reply was always, “I’m at physical therapy.
How good could I be?”

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