Friday, September 5, 2014

A New, Unexpected Chapter

Readers know my father passed on Monday. For friends and family members reading this, services will be at 11 AM Tuesday at Weston Lodge, 5718 S. Rapp Street, Littleton. If you wish, gifts in Dad's memory can be made to Bonfils Blood Center (Dad was a 50-gallon blood/plasma donor).

Back at my parents' home, things are still moving fast. It's no disrespect to my father--circumstances are driving it. Mom is living there again, feeling like she made a jailbreak from the nursing home. A month and a half ago, we didn't think she'd be able to live at home anymore--she was having dialysis and was so sick she still doesn't remember even going to the hospital. Yesterday, we went clothes shopping because she lost a lot of weight and needs something to wear to Dad's funeral. Today, when I mentioned (for the 20th time) that the estate sale people were going to start setting up the sale in a few weeks, she balked. (I'd set it up when I didn't think my parents were going to be back.) The signed contract, the expense of living in her house, and other hard, cold facts got me yelled at. I worried that if she didn't have a sale soon, she never would--and she'd never move. The house is too much for her to take care of and even with help, I can't do it for her. I tried this year. The estate sale people said they'd have to use part of the yard to set up--apt to be a muddy mess when it's much past early October in Denver.

They say that in a negotiation, you have to give something to get something. I showed Mom photos of a condo for sale near my house and other amenities, hoping she'd sell the house and stuff if she had somewhere else to go. It's a beautiful place, well designed for a senior. Mom was so pleased with the condo that she already wants to move there. It's something I tried to get my parents to do for years: move to a smaller, manageable place close to my house--which is close to public transportation, a senior center, a hospital and a gazillion doctors. Mom could go to Walgreens and the Country Buffet every day. She likes the idea of continuing to own her own home. If she ever has to take out Medicaid, she won't have to leave it. Talking about it, she was the happiest I've seen her in a long time.

If she wants to buy the place, the next step is...having that sale. (Even if she doesn't want to buy the condo, she'll end up going to some other condo, in which case the next step is...having that sale.) So the sale is on.

Want to buy some 60s or 70s furniture or collectibles? CDs? Vintage patterns? Power tools? Furniture? A house in the suburbs of Denver? It's got to go.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Tale of Two Parents

Let me tell you about my parents: same age, same socioeconomic background, same race, and up until a few years ago, same diet.

From there, they're quite different. My father worked construction, enjoyed hunting and fishing in his younger days, is emotionally self-controlled, and bears up well against suffering. He developed mild diabetes a few years ago, but has been lean and fit most of his life.

My mother had several surgeries, a bad back, torn rotator cuffs, was obese for many years, developed diabetes and suffered from uncontrolled blood sugars for 20 years, but started a low-carb diet four years ago. She hasn't been very active for much of her life. Emotionally, she could use more resilience.

A few months ago, they went to the hospital about the same time--my father for a bad cut on his arm and bump on his head after a fall; my mother, because her kidneys were shutting down.

One of my parents made a remarkable recovery and stayed with their mate Monday night at their deathbed. That parent is my mother--the same one who worried that she wouldn't live to see me graduate from high school. (I'm 45 now.) She took care of my father, the metabolically gifted one, who nevertheless suffered from dementia. Due to that and his active nature, kept getting up, falling down and hurting himself. She also took care of herself starting four years ago--she mostly stuck to a low-carb diet because she felt so much better when her blood sugar was under control. Even though she was far more sensitive to carbohydrate than my father, she kept her diabetes under better control than he did.

How could did diet have affected their outcomes? Dad died of an infection. Infections are less likely to happen with normal blood sugars--and unfortunately, the rehab center where both Mom and Dad were makes no effort to help patients control their blood sugar with diet. Alzheimer's disease (a form of dementia) is now known as type 3 diabetes. If Dad's dementia was due in part to hyperglycemia, a low-carb diet might have given him the presence of mind to avoid getting up, falling and hurting himself. He likely wouldn't have gotten an infection of clostridium difficile if he hadn't been at a rehab center.

In fairness, though, Mom had a few trumps. She'd never had a stroke; Dad had had a few and they ran in his family. She was also from long-lived stock: one of her uncles danced at his hundredth birthday party and most of her ancestors lived into their eighties.

* * *

Dad insisted on having his funeral service in the town where he grew up: Thermopolis, Wyoming, hundreds of miles from his friends and immediate family.* Fortunately, we've talked Mom out of having a destination funeral. A lot of people (who aren't me) find Thermopolis wonderful; my only objection is that a day's worth of oil wells, antelope and windy prairie lay between there and my nice, comfortable home (and the nice, comfortable homes our family and friends don't have to pay to sleep in or gas up their cars or take off days of work to get to). And nothing against people from Wyoming, but I just don't like the place. As my best friend put it, it's Destination Desolation.

A funeral service doesn't have to be an expensive packaged affair. It can be whatever you want it to be. Say a few kind words, tell some amusing stories about the deceased, scatter some ashes, and have lunch. If you want to avoid Alzheimer's and diabetes, make it a lunch that keeps your blood sugar under control.

*Correction: Dad didn't want a service at all, but wanted his ashes to be taken to the cemetary in Thermopolis.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Low-Carb: Getting through Luncheons and Other Group Meals

The first rule for following a low-carb diet when going to luncheons and other group outings is to assume there will be nothing there that you can eat. You'll usually be right and you'll come prepared. If it's a breakfast, eat before you go. If it's a luncheon, eat afterwards. Check the menu first if it's at a restaurant.

Most restaurants can offer something low-carb, but my carb-loving coworkers have a way of picking places and selecting buffets where there's absolutely nothing I can eat. (I'm carb intolerant and allergic to wheat.) Salad doesn't count as a meal. If I were more of a smart-aleck, I'd ask people who suggest salad if that's what they normally have for lunch and if so, whether they don't get hungry until dinner.

It's a problem when the meal is the entire point of the gathering or it comes in the middle of an event. This came up today--the buffet at the staff meeting had pasta, meatballs and salad. And here I thought the nineties were over. I went to McDonald's because a 20-calorie salad doesn't get me through the day no matter how much dressing I add. Some people find that socially awkward, but where are your acquaintances going to be when you're having an allergic reaction to something you ate? They won't be holding your hair back over the toilet or giving you Sudafed or regretting that nobody warned you, they'll be clucking that you should have had the salad.

The second rule is to prepare: eat breakfast before, eat lunch after, plan to fast, take some food you can eat, or find out where you can go nearby. Don't leave the house hungry--unless you know for a fact there will be food you can eat, assume there won't be. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Controlling TMJ Pain; Fixing a Wheelchair Controller

The roaming pain should have been my first clue that my mouth wasn't hurting from newly replaced fillings. As soon as I realized it was TMJ pain, I followed advice from old TV ads for pain pills: "Take at the first sign of pain." They were right--nip it in the bud and tension can't turn into spasms, which turn into pain, which turns into more tension. All I've taken is aspirin and ibuprofin. I've also avoided long practice sessions playing the recorder. (I could say I'm a purist about playing baroque music, but truth to tell, a clarinet is really hard to play. I've tried.) I also avoid coffee when it bothers me, which is as intermittent as my TMJ pain.

My parents are still roped in red tape and I have nothing but nail clippers and a screwdriver. Since their credit union wouldn't accept their power of attorney, I whipped up a new one and brought a notary public to their nursing home.

Even with some practice, my mother couldn't drive her new wheelchair: the joystick has right and left reversed and she can't get used to it. Tonight I had the idea to flip it over so that the joystick is facing downward and right and left aren't flipped. We'll see how Mom does with it. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Eldercare: Almost It's Over!

How did things go so far downhill so fast?

A month ago, I wasn't thinking about my parents going to a nursing home and selling almost all their belongings. But kidney failure put my mother in the hospital and an accident put my father there, too, a few weeks ago. They've since improved and now they're both at a rehab center. Their dog has moved in with me.

Mom and Dad were in the same room, but they had to move my father because he called out for my mother all night and she couldn't get any sleep. Now he calls out to her from the room across the hall. He stops if I'm there--he calls out for me instead. At least my mother has the room to herself so she can learn to drive her new wheelchair, the one I found on Craigslist and bought from a guy at a storage unit way out in Longmont. When Mom said she found it hard to control, I bought a new joystick for it off Ebay.

Ebay wouldn't take my credit card--it said it had expired. It hadn't. The seller's website wouldn't take my address, even though I live in the US. I finally gave the seller my credit card number over the phone and got the joystick. I put the new joystick on her wheelchair the day after I got it, but Mom still can't drive it. This, from a woman who used to get around in a wheelchair that drove like a bumper car. I advised her to practice for a few hours.

Monday, I met with a man who does estate sales. He looked around my parents' house (after I'd taken out about 50 bags of papers and old toiletries) and said it would take him and his crew of six to eight people two weeks to set up. Most houses, he said, took a week to set up. Yes, I grew up in a (borderline) hoarder house. I've watched episodes of Clean House lately and wished the messy houses they show were all I had to deal with.

Among the papers I sorted were several unpaid bills. I take care of my parents' bills, but I can't take care of them if I don't see them. They're paid now, and now that my mother doesn't have to spend so much time taking care of Dad, she has time to deal with credit card companies and her credit union. The way her lawyer set up her power of attorney (with two co-successors) renders it useless with her credit union. She's putting me on her account and I've whipped up a new power of attorney form.

You'd think a nursing home would take care of all needs. Not so. I do my parents' laundry since nursing homes lose patients' clothes left and right; the last time, they sent Dad home with random clothes that weren't even his size and ended up writing me a check for clothing that I had bought for Dad a week earlier. Since both parents have lost weight, I bought them some new threads from Goodwill and ARC.

My mother's blood sugars have been running over 200 since she can't take metformin anymore. She can't control her blood sugar with food alone--I think the kidney failure scared her into being more strict about carbs than she had been. (The doctors said her kidney failure might have been caused by an antibiotic she reacted to.) So along with clean laundry, I brought her some Atkins bars and made sure she had enough coconut oil.

My next project is to scan her photos and letters onto her laptop and send the originals to her sister, who has volunteered to act as curator. (I bought a laptop cable so the laptop doesn't go the way of my Dad's clothes.) If Mom ends up with one more thing that needs to be taken to the post office, she's on her own.

Helping my parents isn't all I've been doing: I got three fillings replaced a few days ago. Between that and having revived my habit of grinding my teeth at night, my teeth have hurt for the past few days to the point that it's hard to eat. But I feel well enough to go to and have a good laugh without hurting myself. And now that things are becoming more stable, I tell myself, "almost it's over."

Monday, July 28, 2014

Freakin' Fabulous Pâté

I'll admit it: even though my dietary requirements include organ meat, it was a chore to eat it...and you know what happens when that's the case. I ended up eating Atkins bars instead of liver. Partly, I've been too busy the past few weeks to eat many home-cooked meals, but mostly, there are a lot of things--even on Atkins induction--that I'd rather eat than liver.

Last Saturday, needing some wind in my sails after a few weeks of family emergencies, uncluttering my parents' house with a room temperature of 85 degrees, and being too wound up to get much sleep, I checked out a book called Freakin' Fabulous by Clinton Kelly from What Not to Wear and The Chew.

Just looking at the pictures at red lights on the drive home inspired me to stop at the store--the grocery store. I knew Kelly was a stylist, but didn't know he could cook, too. He's quite the meat eater--his good looks attest to that. That, and it sounds like he eats little or no junk food. I don't suppose the Fabulous munch on Fritos. Even though he thinks fat is bad, he's no ascetic--in fact, almost all the recipes are low-carb if you forget about the crostini. The Freakin' Fabulous Four recipes (hollandaise, roasted chicken, french omelette, and nice vinaigrette) are all fat and protein.

I set to work in the kitchen over the weekend. The little pancetta/lettuce/goat cheese rolls were one of the tastiest, easiest snacks I've made. For the first time, I roasted a tender, juicy chicken with a crispy skin. Tonight, I made the best pâté I've ever eaten, anywhere. And it was the fastest, easiest I've ever made! I did add two tablespoons of butter and skip the anchovies because I don't like them. I accidentally burned the onions because I'm not used to frying with olive oil. Even so, the burned onions smelled good, so I proceeded. It turned out beautifully. Clinton's recipe is now THE recipe for pâté in this house.

I'm planning to try the recipe for salmon mousse. Since it calls for a packet of gelatin, an ingredient some readers here have a surprisingly wide and deep knowledge of, I'll provide details on how it turns out.

Friday, July 25, 2014

It Hurts When I Eat This!

Newbies in the low-carb and paleo community often say, "the diet is great, but I still have problems eating (fill in the blank). What should I do?"

Maybe they're too young to remember a certain old joke. A man goes to see his doctor and says, "Doctor, it hurts when I do this." (Picture the patient holding his arm in odd way.) "What should I do?" The doctor says, "Stop holding your arm that way."

This old joke now represents a radical idea. If you have trouble eating something, then stop eating it. Or eat smaller amounts of it if the smaller amount doesn't give you problems and you can stop yourself at a little bit.

I have FODMAPs problems--polyols in particular. I can't eat more than a strawberry a day or a few spoonfuls of lemon juice without getting an upset stomach and acid reflux. Too much alcohol sugar gives me gas. I could try probiotics, resistant starch, fermented foods and the other latest things that purportedly heal your gut. Having taken antibiotics like candy since childhood for sinus problems and acne and taking a couple of massive courses of them to kill Staphylococcus aureus and Helicobacter pylori later on, my gut bacteria population is probably down to a few isolated tribes.

For myself, though, I don't see a point in eating more starch (carbohydrate) so that I more carbohydrate. My digestion works perfectly if I don't eat fruit or more than a little sugar alcohol or large meals. And I had some serious upper GI problems--acid reflux and an esophageal ulcer.

What if I could eat all the beans, potatoes, fruit and sugar alcohol I wanted, though? If I did, I'd probably weigh 200 pounds. I'd also have roller-coaster blood sugars and I'd start getting cavities and sore teeth again. As for large meals, I have zero need to be able to knock back a five-course dinner.

For me, taking things to "heal" my gut would be a solution looking for a problem.