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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Red Lipstick

Have you ever tried using a more neutral color?” my friend, Diane, asked me, as she perused my burgundy lip gloss.  I sensed some intrinsic motivation on her question. The fashion gurus were forecasting nude lipstick colors—which promised a more natural look for the wearer.

I cared less about the year’s beauty trends. 

“Red is a classic color,” I replied, flashing a crooked smile. 

“That’s true. I guess it goes well with your skin tone.”

I shook my head, thinking that Diane had little business intermeddling in my lipstick preference, knew nothing of my makeup routine, for that matter. 

In the morning I’ll  typically pause a few seconds in front of a mirror to inspect the glossy red smile of the woman looking back at me.  And I think that this is the woman I want for others to see—pleasant and self-confident. 

“Have you seen Carla’s lips?” Diane asked me, motioning toward a lady sitting in a wheelchair.  The lady sat quietly, observing birds gracefully flying about, while others stood on limbs, happily chirping at one another in the bird aviary.  

Carla was a new resident in the nursing home. She had already caught the attention of the staff due to one particular factCarla wore red lipstick at all times, day and night. 

“I know she likes to wear lipstick,” I said as I glanced at Carla.

“No, not that!” Diane countered. “Go and take a closer look.”

I frowned, intrigued. I walked toward Carla. 

“Hi Carla!” I exclaimed, and smiled.

Carla turned her head and looked directly at me. She flashed a sparkly smile, outlined by her red, cosmetically coated lips.  I noticed the crooked trail of lipstick applied haphazardly on and about her thin and worn lips.  Red smears were displayed around the corners of Carla’s mouth. 

Notwithstanding, Carla exuded confidence.  She was evidently unaware of what others may have considered to be the imperfect application of her lip makeup.

Like me, I surmised that Carla found delight in the ritual of applying red lipstick daily. With one differenceCarla did not use a mirror. 
Carla’s arthritis had significantly afflicted her hands. Trying to hold the small lipstick tube with her damaged fingers was enough of a struggle that must have dispensed by necessity the use of a hand mirror.  Poor mobility must also have precluded her use of the vanity mirror and, even if she could reach it, her age had stolen her once keen eyesight. 

Nonetheless, I learned that Carla was quite pleased in her routine of applying her lipstick.

Perhaps as she did, evoking thoughts of her younger days, I mused.
“Carla, I like your lipstick,”  I said, sincerely.  I looked beyond the crookedly applied lipstick lines and saw the younger woman I hoped Carla envisioned as she ritually drew the lines across her tender lips. 

“Thank you!” Her face lit up.  The red hue on her lips seemed to brighten.

“Red lipstick is my favorite too.”  Had I not anticipated to find out so much in common with Carla. 
From that day forward, I visited Carla daily with a special mission—to help her put her lipstick on.  In exchange, she treated me with enjoyable recollections of events from her life.  Her reminiscing was so delightful and rich in details that my thought of Carla checking herself in the mirror as I do daily, came to my mind again with clarity. 

Fond memories of Carla flooded my mind recently as I was reading a fashion webpage:

“Classic Red Lips. Nothing screams feminine, or sexy like red lips. While there are a lot of new lipstick trends out turning heads right now, the classic red lipstick look has been around forever, but its timeless sophistication has proved itself as a fashion staple now, and probably forever.”*


Thursday, February 17, 2011

Blind Spot

There was tension.  Uncertainty.  I was with family, and shocking news had just been delivered.  One of our loved ones was believed to have died.  An accident.  A fatal accident had occurred. 

I felt my heart ripping into pieces. Pressure clutched my chest.  I felt short of breath. Agonizing.  I uttered inarticulate words, making no sense to the few that may have heard my anguished voice.  Nothing made sense.  My pain was too great. I could not focus.  I gasped, struggling for air—and for life.  

A cry of my despair echoed throughout the room as I stared in disbelief at my loved one’s body lying inert on the hospital stretcher.  Feeling close to fainting, I gasped—until my terrified eyes were finally torn open, wide...  
I abruptly woke up. I realized I had been dreaming.  A bad dream that seemed to last for  hours. 

Now awake, I reflected on the dream.  Emotionally, my pain had not subsided with each lucid minute that passed.  My loved one had tragically died ten years ago, but the dream brought back the agony as if news of the death had just been delivered to me. 

The grief is not over and it never will be.  Losing a loved one will leave its scar for lifetime. 

Approaching grief management under the K├╝bler-Ross’ model of the Five Stages (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) can be helpful in the process of healing.

But there will always be a blind spot. An emotional blind spot.

Specific events or situations can trigger those painful feelings manifesting itself in a dream; a terrifying, vivid dream like mine. Thankfully, I can find solace in my   awareness that events of the past are tempered in my spiritual beliefs, and strength to withstand unexpected moments of sorrow.   
My life goes on, enlightened with the certainty that the memory of my lost loved ones will forever be carried in my beating heart.  And the hope that they will be waiting to meet me once my heart grows still. 

After analyzing my dreadful dream, I hopped out of bed, energized by thoughts of having another delightful day in Hot Springs, Arkansas, where my husband and I were spending the weekend. 

I walked toward the window, feeling the crisp mat of new carpet under my bare feet.  Our room—room 608— was very clean and stylish, a clear sign of a recent renovation. 

I gazed out the window, mesmerized with the stillness of the quiet morning and misty cool breeze that wafted down from mountainside across street, boasting stately fir trees still adorned with traces of snow.  

I directed my view down to the streets.  I loved the captivating architecture of the historic buildings.  I thought of the natural spring water—that gives the town its name—flowing out of the ground at a temperature of 147 °F.  I indulged myself in reading of the town’s intriguing history of gambling and gangsters.

“Are you ready for breakfast?” My husband voice displaced my thoughts of the town and replaced them with visions of a delectable meal.

“Sure!” My voice carried with it the relishing thought of breakfast at The Pancake Shop across the street.

As we waited for our breakfast, I reached for my cup of coffee. I loved watching the way the steam swirled around the brim of the cup.  Even more, I loved the rich and warm coffee aroma drifting from the cup. 

“I had a weird dream last night,” my husband mentioned to me.

I stared at him, unsure if I had understood him correctly.

“A weird dream?” I inquired, narrowing my eyes.

“I dreamed that my dad had died.”  He whispered, as he grabbed his coffee. “Just a bad dream, thankfully,” he said, taking a quick sip.

I blinked, speechless.  Scenes from my nightmare flickered in my mind. I took a deep breath.

“Yeah, good thing it was just a dream.”  I regained my composure.  I lifted the cup to my lips, taking a generous sip of my black coffee.  My mind flooded with intriguing thoughts as I envisioned my next Google search... 

Hot Springs Arkansas haunted hotels

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Golden-Years eLove Story

Five years. Five years  since his wife had passed away. Life was not the same without his lovely wife, but Mr. McLaurin had made it through the worst of his grieving. Now in his mid seventies, a retired businessman, Mr. McLaurin felt stronger, and was seriously considering to open his heart to the magic of love. The idea of finding a loving lady who may become his companion for the twilight days of his life made him giddy with excitement that he had not felt since his younger days. 

Mr. McLaurin paid close attention to the single elderly ladies at the church he earnestly attended. He joined a seniors group as part of his dating search. But Mr. McLaurin had no luck. He had not anticipated the complexity of his daydream. The single ladies he had approached had shown no interest or desires to enter the dating game at this stage of their lives. 

Almost ready to give up, Mr. McLaurin bounced back into his pursue of love with the intrigue of a new tool which would aid his enterprise. 

A year ago, his daughter, Elizabeth, had given him a laptop for Christmas.  She introduced him into the cyber world. After months of struggling with the computer, learning applications, connections issues, and all the components of this modern mode of communication, Mr. McLaurin finally was able to reasonably master using his laptop. He exchanged daily emails with his daughter, grandchildren, and friends. 

But the real adventure began when his buddy, Leo, talked him into exploring online dating. Mr. McLaurin was amused by the infinite possibilities that the world wide web could open for him, just there, at the tip of his fingertips.

Mr. McLaurin spent a few months communicating with ladies. He met some ladies in the area. Nothing prospered beyond a casual lunch or diner encounter. As his spirit  became more adventurous, Mr. McLaurin decided to expand his contacts to a greater geographical area. He started searching for ladies out of state. After several contacts, emails and phone calls, he ended up with two candidates that would be willing to meet him in his hometown. His heart pounded with the thought of meeting Joan and Virginia.

Joan was ready to drive and stay with a friend of hers who happened to live in the area. Virginia was not quite sure when she would be ready to meet him. She had some financial issues that were her priority, and at that moment she didn’t have the means to afford the trip.  

Anxious and not wanting to lose any time in his endeavor, Mr. McLaurin made arrangements with Joan. Their first meeting was full of emotion and uncertainty. It was somehow fun, but sadly, Mr. McLaurin felt no chemistry, no attraction to Joan. She seemed to want to extend her stay for a few more days. He was polite and accommodating as he didn’t want to hurt Joan’s feelings. 
Nonetheless, he grew more eager to meeting Virginia. Driven by mesmerizing hopes, and certain that he didn’t want to establish any commitment with Joan, he offered Virginia to buy her a ticket so that she would fly to meet him that weekend. He also offered to pay for her hotel, for comfort, safety and respect. Virginia accepted his offer, and made plans to meet him in the next two days. 

Mr. McLaurin rushed to see Joan and in the most gentle way possible—if there is a gentle way to deliver news of rejection— told Joan he was not ready for a steady relationship.  

Joan left for home. 

With an uneasy feeling of relief, he started to get things ready for his next date. Mr. McLaurin finally met Virginia. Love sparkled between them at first glance. For the next days, Mr. McLaurin felt like he did as a junior high school boy when love snuck up on him, grabbed him, and never to let go, when he first saw Marilyn, the girl of his dreams, and years later, the woman who became his wife.  

Virginia’s feelings were obviously mutual, and she was eager to consider a long-term relationship.  Mr. McLaurin could not believe how beautiful life had become again. 

The Internet was the answer to his prayers.

Within a few months, Virginia became Mrs. McLaurin. The newlyweds were the perfect example of love prospering in their golden years. 

Life was grand. 

And life continued being grand for Mr. McLaurin after three years of marriage, as he deeply loved his Virginia. He told everyone in the nursing home about how they met, and how much he was in love with his wife. 

The first time I heard Mr. McLaurin tell the story, I sighed countless times. Tears welled in my eyes as I could feel the sincerity of his words as he recounted the story.

Mr. McLaurin’s health progressively deteriorated in months that followed. He underwent a few surgeries, and he and Virginia hoped that he would complete his rehabilitation, and return to their home. 

I heard Virginia had been busy with doctor’s appointments as she had medical issues of her own to contend with. I was also told that she hadn’t said anything to Mr. McLaurin about her health as she didn’t want to worry him. 

An team meeting was held to discuss Mr. McLaurin’s rehabilitation status. The meeting went fairly well until a therapist announced that Mr. McLaurin’s discharge was projected for the following week. Virginia became restless and started questioning the planned discharge date, stating that it was too early.  As more facts were presented about the criteria for keeping someone under rehabilitation services, Virginia became more inquisitive, and ultimately outraged. She started yelling that she was not ready to take care of her husband at home. Everybody looked at her, astonished. Then, Mr. McLaurin attempted to calm Virginia, but she in return, started screaming at him. 

“You have dementia!” She shouted. 

Virginia’s merciless words echoed in my head. My heart ached for Mr. McLaurin. 

The meeting had to be adjourned, quickly. The Administrator came to speak with Virginia. 
I wheeled Mr. McLaurin to his room, trying to solicit conversation from him to minimize the raucous encounter we had just left. Amazingly, Mr. McLaurin did not seem upset. 

“She has a temper, but she calms down quickly.” He said during a lull in my apparent soliloquy.  His words sounded genuine. “I know she loves me.  Things will work out.” 

I remained with Mr. McLaurin for a while, making sure he was all right. I recalled that he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a few months ago, but to me it appeared that his dementia was very mild. The wife’s words sounded so harsh to me that I wished there was somehow a magic wall in between the words and Mr. McLaurin as if a shield, protecting him from any hurt. Any emotional hurt. 

To my dismay, I saw that his love for her was actually his shield. Virginia’s desperate words did not touch him at all as his love for her absorbed her rant.

Virginia walked into the room, looking down. She spoke to him calmly. I stepped away, glancing at the two as they embraced and kissed. They looked into each other’s eyes. 

I could see there was no need for further words. 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Mental Status

I knocked at the door. 

“Come in!”  Ms. Caldwell exclaimed, mustering all of her strength to greet me. 

“May I visit with you?”  

Ms. Caldwell had been admitted to the nursing home a couple of days ago.  After being hospitalized for a hip fracture, the surgeon had explained she needed rehabilitation therapy before returning home. 

“Yes. Have a seat.”  Her voice sounded as weak as it did the day she first arrived.  She was lying in bed.  Her slender arms moved slowly, trying to adjust the pillows under her head. 

“Can I help you?”  I drew close to her bed, attempting to reach the pillows.

“No, I’ve got it.”  Her words tumbled with effort from her mouth, but I understood. I  found myself almost staring at her when I spotted her bright eyes.  I had not noticed she had beautiful blue eyes, bright in contrast to her light brown curly hair.  

Ms. Caldwell’s eyes were curiously focused on the clipboard I was resting on my left arm, poised to write my social services assessment paperwork on. 

As a social worker, I conduct a psychosocial assessment on each one of my new residents.  Part of the assessment has to do with what we call ‘the resident's mental status’. We want to know about the resident’s current state of mind, for instance, if he/she knows who he/she is (orientation as to person), where he/she is (orientation as to place), and if he/she knows the date (orientation as to time).  

Also, we ask questions to explore their memory—both short and long-term. This evaluation is required in each skilled nursing facility.  And it is a component of a more extensive—comprehensive assessment, which will be crucial for the inter-disciplinary team to determine the level of care, and the type of interventions a resident may need. 

I explained to Ms. Caldwell the reason for my visit and about the questions I was going to ask. 

“Okay.”  She answered, her voice in disbelief. 

On my first conversation with Ms. Caldwell upon arrival to the facility, I noticed she paused quite often, and at times appeared that she had to think hard before articulating an answering.  My first observation may have not be an accurate reflection of her mental status.  It’s quite common to see elderly patients confused after surgery, and then a week later, be back to their normal acuity of mind.  However, sometimes residents may have an underlying cognitive deficit and the confusion may be just part of their baseline mental status. 

At this point, I was not sure about Ms. Caldwell. 
I asked her the first question. Ms. Caldwell glared at me.  Sometimes residents may dislike this type of visits, the visit where they are asked 'tricky questions' and their embarrassment and frustration at not knowing the answer or how to respond is exposed.  As gentle as I always try to be, the residents know they are being tested for their cognitive status. 

I pondered what Ms. Caldwell’s reaction would be. 

I felt a bit of excitement when she answered appropriately.  I continued asking questions, and she continued giving me accurate answers.  A pleasant feeling filled me when we were finished with the last question. 

“Very good!” I said, flashing a grin. 

She glared at me again. Then her lips curled up, drawing an endearing grin.  And her words came out with unexpected strength, and delightful irony.

“I hit my hip, not my head.”

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

A Sweet Birthday

Today is my birthday.  Unlike most of my birthdays, I am not dressed up.  I am not heading to work where I would expect to hear a few “happy birthday” greetings from my fellow workers.  I don’t expect to get flowers or to go out to dinner. The inclement weather here is preventing a conventional celebration.

Today is different.  Simply different.  A casual day at home.  I woke up early—as is normal for me.  Being in my pajamas in the daytime never felt so comfortable.  

A cup of coffee gives me the greatest boost as I look at the dawn.  I read the news, checking on the weather. 

“Most reports indicated that roads were just beginning to become slick around the Springfield area around 4 a.m.” 

A serious blizzard has been forecast since yesterday.  I continue reading.

“Plan on impassable roads with dangerous weather conditions in the Ozarks today.  Stay indoors and off roads.”

Perfect!  I grin. 

Perfect day to stay at home.  Perfect way to celebrate my birthday, I decided.  I want to indulge today in writing.  I have a few stories brewing in my mind, and I neither have had the time nor the energy to write them.  What an enchanting day to bring those stories weaving through my mind into pieces of work, feeling my fingers dance across the keyboard.  A day to feel my heart beat like a drum as I see my ideas transforming into heart-warming stories to share with others. 

That’s what birthdays should be about.  A day to relish in what brings us inner joy.  A day to delight in heartfelt desires and passionate dreams. 

As I hear the sleet pelting against the windows, I suddenly start thinking of the most special birthday celebration I have attended in my life.  It was Marie’s 100th birthday.  
Marie was my husband’s grandmother.  I had heard many wonderful things about her.  I couldn’t wait to meet her.  There would be many relatives coming from different states to attend the party.

My husband, children and I walked into the nursing home.  Marie had recently moved into a long-term care facility due to her health challenges.  I was anxious. Not just about meeting Marie, but also the several relatives that I’d never met before.  It happened to be most of them. 

There was also an odd feeling of being a visitor in the facility.  I didn’t realize that I’ve got so used to being “Doris, the nursing home social worker” that it felt fairly strange to play a different role that day, “Doris, the nursing home visitor.”

Yet my distress vanished when I met Marie.  I looked at her sweet face, full of love, smiling at me. I felt her arms embracing me in a warm, welcoming hug.

Sweet Marie. I recalled my husband telling me that that was how everybody referred to her.  Now I understood perfectly why.  

I didn’t need to know much about Marie to feel her kindness and affection.  And I definitely adored learning about Marie’s life.  She was a devoted wife and mother.  Her children and grandchildren have followed her path of loving and kindheartedness.
Marie was a lady well known in her town for the devotion to her faith and to people. Marie was a good soul always helping others.  She made strangers feel as if they were her long-lost friends.  Stories were told of how she sang and played the piano to bring joyfulness to children and adults, taught Sunday school, visited elderly neighbors and always made sure any elderly lady who needed her hair fixed, had it fixed up right at Marie’s house. Her freezer always had provisions of ice cream for the neighborhood kids and grandchildren who often stopped by to get a treat.  
Marie’s compassion knew no limits.

There I was contemplating Sweet Marie on her 100th birthday.  It certainly was an honor to be her guest, and now her granddaughter-in-law.  Marie looked beautiful, elegant, radiant.  Marie was having a happy birthday.  She was indulging in what her passion in life was:  being with people.  Family, and nursing home residents she made friends with made her the best birthday present.  And her last one, as she peacefully met the Lord a month later. 

Immersed in my thoughts, inspired by Marie, I look out the window.  The snowstorm is getting heavy.  I am glad I have the day off.  I spin around and go back to the dining table where I have my laptop.  Unexpectedly, I spot a card lying on the keyboard.  Someone had snuck in and laid it on my computer while I was distracted at the window.  As I am unfolding the card, my cell phone rings.  An unknown number. 

“Hello?” I answer.

“Happy birthday!” One of the girls from work exclaims.

“Thanks!” I cheerfully replied, smiling. 

“Guess what? You got flowers!” 

“Uh? Who sent them?”

“I don’t know. The card is sealed. What do you want us to do with the flowers?”

“Place them in the refrigerator, please. And thank you so much for letting me know.”

“Sure. Enjoy your day!”

I glare at my husband and my son Ernie who are nearby conversing.  I can sense that they know about my phone call.

“Who sent me flowers!?” I ask, showing a crooked smile.

They look at each other, and chuckle. Then they resume their conversation about the blizzard and the winter storm warning.

I turn around—grinning— feeling thankful for my loving family.  I sip my coffee, place my fingers on my laptop keyboard—as I was taught in typing class in high school.  And my thoughts start to unravel as I start typing a new story.  A story about flowers and dreams.