Every day is a unique adventure with my end of life/eldercare client Lloyd, age 88. Since Lloyd is not actively dying, he is not yet in the realm of end of life care. As with many of my past clients, often they get better for some months before falling into a gentle or steep decline into active dying processes.
For now, Lloyd is attempting to extract the last embers of living–as much as he is physically and mentally able.
When we first started together, Lloyd was recovering from a near fatal fall. Left alone for just 30 minutes, he decided it was time to clean the pool, falling and hitting his head – rupturing an artery.
Amazing grace spared his life, in that a paramedic team was just one quarter mile down the road and leaving a residence when Lloyd pressed his 911 dispatcher necklace. Airlifted to Stanford, he survived. After this episode, his wife, Sue–12 years Lloyd’s junior, decided she could no longer take care of Lloyd alone or ever leave him unattended. Like many woman in her position, Sue had done her saintly best to continue her regular life activities and care for Lloyd.
Wheelchair bound and near to the point of bedridden during my first month of my work, Lloyd made a dramatic recovery. His speech at first almost incomprehensible and slurred -improved dramatically one week after some unnecessary pharmaceuticals were discontinued (cholesterol drug). Makes you wonder! Of course, it could also be part of a progressive recovery from his fall -though his doctor did not think so (or perhaps-simply God’s grace). After about a month of wheelchair life, Lloyd also discarded his wheelchair for a walker and sometimes tries walking without it! One must watch him like a hawk, as they say.
Lloyd is a physicist who was instrumental in the first accurate distance reading from the earth to the moon and back, using a laser that was implanted inside the Lick Observatory Telescope mounted on top of Mount Hamilton (overlooking the Santa Clara Valley of California). Lloyd worked with a team on the ground, including NASA, astronauts on the moon and was an integral part of the computer interface. This was in 1969.
Lloyd really had 2 full times jobs for several decades: one as a physicist working at Lick, the other a Groundskeeper and jack of all trades maintenance man working on the land he purchased in 1976. He planted small redwood trees that now provide a glorious shady region on the property during hot days, myriad fruit trees: grapefruit, lemon, lime, not to mention 5 species of apple trees with names like granny smith, golden delicious…other fruit trees are there too, such as persimmon–which this year will produce an incredible bounty. The apples are coming off now and are incredible, eaten without washing as they contain natural soil organisms that further amplify their nutritional and immune enhancing magic. Did I tell you the pear trees are dropping too!? Lloyd also has ozone and solar systems and intricate sprinkler systems, an active compost pile which allowed him to rejuvenate the once lackluster soil and plenty of other tinkering options at his disposal.
Lloyd, a Virgo astrologically, the sign of perfection, has a strong penchant for detail. He thrives on projects. In fact from what I have seen, Lloyd enjoys the actual experience of getting something working perfectly, rather than enjoying the finished product. Lloyd is one of those guys who can focus minutely on a task, displaying an elegance mixed with utter clumsiness, which is accentuated by his dyskinesia, one of the hallmark signs of Parkinson’s disease for which he has been diagnosed. Other symptoms of the disease are on full display with Lloyd, such as: tremors, restless legs, hallucinatory moments (seeing ghostly apparitions sitting with us), dizziness, poor balance, and confusion.
This last week, we spent nearly 5 hours on 2 separate days working on Lloyd’s violin. A near heirloom instrument and one of those I am not particularly fond of.
I was his hands.
Unbelievably, we fixed that violin.
I repeat, we fixed a violin!
Many of you will dispute this , having known me for any length of time. I once built a picnic table…. It lasted 3 years before spontaneous collapse. The nails started backing out all over like demonic daggers. Then came the sagging after 2 years…non useable, then all that was left: a shrine, a scrap wood relic, nowhere near ancient.
A sign was left on her:
“Don’t sit or use this table. In fact, do not get closer than 10 feet as the vibration from your feet may dislodge a nail and shoot it forth like a aboriginal poison dart! Simply peer and gasp.”
If this violin makes 24 hours, I will be astounded. And this is not simply from my workmanship. For if Lloyd decides to tinker with the pegs or any other parts, twang, bang and she’s done! He destroyed his restrung violin one day by attempting to tune it.
And to participate with Lloyd on a tuning foray, one must endure listening for hours to:
A, D, G and E tones on the computer, over and over and FN over. Follow this tuning warm up with a digital gadget that tells you exactly when perfect tune strikes. But Lloyd does not understand how this digital device works, nor does he trust it.
So the trusted mainstay device is a hand tuning fork.
This I, as token banger, rap against the desk about every 15 seconds for 20-30 minutes at a time. Pure primitive madness! Lloyd and I both wear hearing aids and keys, tuning, frequencies and all sounds are already challenging. We, essentially have no shot at this. But I faked it!
“Yes, that’s it Lloyd!” We have it.” He agrees half the time and disagrees half the time. Leading to more testing. It is a verifiable ‘Who’s on first’ Abbott & Costello routine. And just as ridiculous. It keeps the man amused and entertained. He is a doer. I am a be-er, but boy could I use a beer.
The man, Mr. Lloyd, is relentless. He goes until he drops into his chair for a power nap. Some days, I pray for his nap. Often it does not come.
Lloyd’s lack of dexterity does not hold him back. He leans into life with a pizazz that is truly inspiring. His intellectual brilliance may be dampened but is more than made up for in his unique ability to focus on the positive and accomplish tasks that one would think impossible for a man in his situation, like our violin reparations project:
“That’s it.” Lloyd finally says. Only to have his confusion tell him. “We better check the E again.”
“You just did.” I assert.
“No that was A. He says.
Who’s on first?
Most days with Lloyd are filled with some kind of action and adventure, such as roaming about his 3 acre parcel just above the University of Santa Cruz and test eating fruit.
Other times, a chess game will be undertaken. To call it chess, well, hmmm. Lloyd has created a new game. He is a hallucinating, fucking genius. I have a scoresheet that I plan to send to a U.S. Grandmaster and announcing a theoretical novelty in the Russian-counter gambit defense of the Lloyd’s King’s Indian. I know the Grandmaster has never seen this move order, nor has he ever played a physicist with Parkinson’s.
No way could Mr. Grandmaster have seen this variation. No one switches sides mid game and is able to promote new queen with your opponent’s pawn! Other moments, Lloyd plays fine chess, for a few moves. I have devised a way to keep the game going, create a balanced position and have some fun. He has his way; I have mine.
In truth, we simply enjoy each other’s company, it matters not what we do or how an event unfolds.
Some days Lloyd can barely walk- even with the help of his walker. I am poised, in total absorption and concentration on his every movement. Not sure if he will make the next step or fall over. It is type of fragility that brings out of the best qualities in me. Kindness, full awareness, gentleness and space. I feel as if I am attending to a great spiritual Master and it is an honor to simply walk near Lloyd. I walk slightly behind him and to the side, looking for places he may need assistance both internal and external. A door jam ahead and his walker angling sideways towards it; dizziness within, I instinctively reach out to make contact with his low back, hip or arm. Compassion and love dance together, thoughts vanish and the moment is full and ripe, exquisite beauty.
This work is mostly sedentary, which is right up my alley these days. And ultimately, this is all part of a great inner quest, patience training, full surrender to the Divine.
Nothing needs to get done, the enjoyment of the task itself and being present…some days I outlast him, others he me. It doesn’t matter.
Just another day on the eldercare circuit. I am lucky that way.