This is something of a test. I haven’t written more than text messages and short emails since the concussion eight days ago. Since then, I’ve had some curious social encounters, been overwhelmed at times, but mostly have just been compelled to take long naps of completely empty time. Paraphrasing the words spoken by Johnny Knoxville when he was brutally knocked out by Eric “Butterbean” Esch, “I was a little concussed.”
Early on June 4th, 2016, I rushed down to Denver City Park to the start of the 50+ Cat 4 40 minute criterium around the park. Two parts of the course were tricky involving sharp left hand hairpin turns. Everything else was reasonably wide open. I showed up late and rolled up to the starting line minutes before race time. In fact, I missed the instructions and announcements. The instructions are always the same. I wasn’t worried.
The USA Cycling Race Predictor had me picked for 4th among the pre-registered riders. Of course, the winners always seem to register on race day. Still, I felt like I had a chance at the podium if not first place even though I was coming off a big week of workouts. I wasn’t rested but I was riding well going into the race and this was my first criterium with my new Mavic Carbone 40 wheels which had done wonders for my most recent time trial performance.
The race started out a little funky. The 60+ group started a couple minutes after us and caught the 50+ group. This was problematic because we weren’t allowed to work together so for a while, we were a big messy group being yelled at by the officials. After a couple laps of that nonsense, the 50+ group put the hammer down and dropped the older guys. I almost felt bad for them but I’ve been in the 50+ group when we were with the 40+ guys. They would do the same thing to us so perhaps this was the universe attempting to restore some sort of karmic balance.
I was warming up still and hanging back, chatting with people I knew and waiting for someone to do something crazy. About fifteen minutes in, there was a little break off the front that caused the pace to ramp up. We picked up the flyer (dude that went off the front). Riding faster felt good to me and I was feeling punchy so I moved up and tried to animate the race a little and keep the pace up. At about 30 minutes into the race (10 minutes to go), I decided to take a couple laps of recovery. Along the northeast side of the loop in a big sweeping curve to the left around the pond, I pulled to the right and let almost the entire field pass me on the inside. I slipped back into the peloton in front of maybe five people.
After this, I have only pieces of my memory to work with. Being in the back so close to the end of a race like this is dangerous for a couple reasons. For one, crashes anywhere in the peloton affect everyone behind them so being the in back means that I could be collateral damage should someone in front of me go down. In addition, if there was an attack, I would be caught behind most of the field and unable to respond aggressively. I would have to keep tight on the wheels in front of me and essentially race 10 riders ahead of my position. Especially around turns, to mitigate the accordion effect where the front riders get a lift coming out of the corner, I knew that I would have to take the corners hot and accelerate efficiently or I could have a problem.
The first corner we came to was the first hairpin left. I was pretty sure I knew what happened before watching the video Lloyd Jones took of the race but the video confirmed that I was mostly correct. As I rode through the corner, I started pedaling a split second too soon. My left shoe clipped the ground lifting my rear wheel off the tarmac. When the wheel came back down, it was six inches or so to the right. It caught rather than slid (I might have had a chance with a little skidding) forcing my weight to shift suddenly to the right.
The last thing I remember of the race was my front wheel violently being pulled to the right and then left. In the video, my weight shifts to the right, the front wheel jerks, and then I am in the air above my bike. I came crashing down on my right side with my hip leading followed by my shoulder and then head. I never let go of the handlebars which is good, of course, but my head does do a double tap on the ground:
In this entire experience, I’ve tried to be grateful and there are so many things and people to be grateful for. My wife Jane and Jeremy, my son, came down to get me. A race volunteer wouldn’t leave my side until I was delivered to the EMTs. The EMTs who were very nice to me. So many of the guys I race with came over to see how I was doing. When I got home, my neighbor Chris came over with DHA for my head. My boss and other office folks were super understanding. And, of course, back to Jane who has been my brain for the past week.
I am so grateful to all those people who were nice to me but two experiences also have been very interesting. First, after I came to or woke up or whatever, I was standing on the grass in Denver City Park on a beautiful Saturday morning. The sun was making the leaves of the trees glow. The grass was an over-saturated green. The day was warm but not hot with a perfect gentle breeze. It was the perfect version of City Park. If City Park exists in heaven, this was how it would look and feel.
To my right, a pleasant voice was speaking over the radio saying that I was OK and indeed, I felt OK. Nothing really hurt at all. The voice remained “The Voice” because I remember nothing of what the person looked like. The Voice asked if I was OK and I said I was fine but then tried to figure out what I was doing there, where there was, what had I been doing, and if I was wearing pants. See, it felt like waking up in a dream and after decades of having the “I forgot to wear pants to school/work/church/mall/etc.” I have apparently conditioned myself to quickly figure out what sort of dream I am having. Is this an inappropriately naked dream, a no-gravity dream, a drowning dream, a Ronald Reagan as my over-domineering great aunt dream, … Don’t judge me; your subconscious is a mess as well.
After saying I was fine and then contemplating the what, where, why questions and coming up with nothing, I said, “I seem to be having some memory issues.” The Voice directed me to walk across the grass to the EMTs and then went back to giving my status over the radio to the authorities, whoever they were. I remember interrupting one more time to say that I was still having some memory issues but this probably means that I repeated myself dozens of times.
The walk took just a minute it seemed but upon review of the course map, it was probably more like 10 minutes or more. The time with the EMTs was a blur as well. The male EMT took my Road-Id and called Jane. The female EMT kept me sitting down which in retrospect I apparently was not interested in doing. They bandaged up my right middle and ring fingers which were a little scraped up. The guy tried to convince me that I was winning until the crash and had me pretty convinced for a little while but then memory of the race started coming back and we had a laugh. A few of my fellow racers came over include Randy from Old School Industries, Philippe “Pippo” Capraro who I think is a doctor, and a couple others who are just blurring together now. Everyone wanted me to go to the hospital but Pippo was very insistent that I go directly. He and his wife gave me water. I like water.
Jane and Jeremy showed up and the EMTs let me go with them. Jeremy drove my car and I drove with Jane. I navigated which is why Jeremy got to the hospital long before we did. Jane called ahead so they were expecting me (we went to the hospital where she works).
The ED experience was less exciting than most of mine. I got out of my Swift Cycling racing skin suit that was nicely ripped up on the hip and shoulder. I am going to have the big rip on the hip repaired because showing up at races with a shredded kit speaks ominous volumes.
They gave me an elephant’s dose of morphine I think to shut me up more than anything. It was very nice; like falling gently into a pile of puppies. Then they CAT scanned my head and shot an x-ray of my hip. I had no apparent bleeding and the pelvis wasn’t busted but they did say that pelvic hairline fractures don’t always show up clearly right after they occur.
Everything gets pretty blurry after that partly because of the morphine and partly because of the concussion. I think Jeremy took me to Chipotle and I think it was awesome. I believe I took a shower which is when I discovered three small road-rash patches on the side of my right knee, elbow, and shoulder. In terms of things to be grateful for, there was blessedly little road-rash.
I was told to stay away from ‘screens’ like TVs, computers, and phones, not to read or write, and generally just to let my brain rest. I was banned from driving, riding, running, being around people, brightness, screens, reading, writing, and other intense stimuli. Pretty much that wraps up most things that I do. So, I was a little bored and decided I needed to cheat and turned on cartoons on the TV. I decided that I could watch TV as long as the plot didn’t make me think.
At some point, Chris from down the street showed up and gave me a big bottle of DHA because I had a brain injury. I remember just enough of the conversation to know that I have no idea what I said to him or how weird it may have been. I felt fine except for what felt like a heaviness in my head. It was sort of like a headache was trying to break through but never did.
That afternoon was my first experience with another thing I am super grateful for which I call the “hallucination nap”. For what felt like minutes but was actually hours, I laid on my back thinking I was about to fall asleep but instead just hovered at that twilight point between consciousness and sleep where reality is entirely in my head. Entire alternative realities and life stories would emerge in my head and for a while, I would be a completely different person. I would tug on the storyline and it would unravel just enough so that I would cross the conscious/unconscious line back to consciousness and the alternate reality would disappear. Over and over it happened and was strangely enjoyable.
For a couple days, at least part of my afternoon was spent having a hallucination nap but then they stopped and were replaced by black-out-missing-time nap experiences. These were actually a little scary because I wouldn’t take the nap; the nap would take me. I stayed home from work Monday and followed up with my primary care doctor who wanted me to essentially remain very still for a very long time. We agreed no driving for a couple more days after I essentially failed every balance test he gave me.
As my head was improving, my hip was getting worse with impressive swelling, bruising, and pain. Since the treatment of a broken pelvis is to rest and since I was going to rest until things felt better, we decided not to repeat the x-ray. I also know that the x-ray machine at the doctor’s office is crap and wouldn’t show a hairline fracture anyway.
I drove to the office on Wednesday and did some errands like dropping off my bike at the shop to get checked out. I was most concerned about the new wheels getting knocked out of true. At the office, I spent too much time talking to people and it was exhausting. I rushed home that evening and took another black-out nap. The next morning I emailed the office types and said I was out until Monday.
Bored to tears with cartoons and still having trouble reading even graphic novels, I decided to try gardening. I leaned into the gardening which seemed to be enough movement to keep my hip limber without over-stressing it. I would putter in the garden in the morning and black-out nap in the afternoon. Excitingly boring.
On Sunday, I tried going to church, listened to a sermon, read a little Greek, did lunch with some people, spun on a stationary bike, swam a kilometer, and then started writing this blog entry. It went well but truth be told what I wrote that Sunday ended about 1,000 words ago. My writing was interrupted by another black-out nap albeit a shorter one. The day before, Jane and I had done some shopping errands. When we got home, I felt scary tired and when I finally let my head hit the pillow, the lights went out immediately and I stayed down and out for almost three missing hours.
On Monday, I went back to work and started the day by writing an email warning people about the black-out naps and asking them not to freak if I was out cold. I made a point of mentioning that I am not the sort of person that appreciates practical jokes. I am more of the kind of person that responds to a Sharpie doodle on the face with a Keyser Söze style response of vengeance, revenge, and destruction.
I saw the doctor to report that I was able to crank my heart rate up on the stationary bike without any affect in my head. He was unimpressed. We agreed I would do more stationary cycling before getting back on the open road or track but that swimming was fine.
Over lunch, I swam 1.5km in the pool and my hip got angry. The hematoma that was causing bruising all over that area expanded to be about six inches round and ballooned out a couple inches. Five days later, it is still there. I have to wear my old ‘fat’ pants and I am thinking about perhaps cross dressing for a while because dresses and skirts sound really comfortable right now.
It has been exactly two weeks. My hip isn’t looking good but me head seems fine. My Smith Overtake helmet with MIPS did a nice job of keeping a bad situation from being worse. I am planning on riding in New Mexico next weekend. My concern is less that my head will be able to handle the ride than if my hip will play nice and that I haven’t lost too much not doing any significant training in what will be three weeks.
Again, I am trying to focus on gratitude. Gratitude isn’t just a healthy practice but redirects from a selfish perspective outward to others and even to the Divine. Indeed, the miracle of my own brain even when it is damaged is glorious. That in spite of banging my noggin on the ground, I can have two of what the hippies would call a consciousness expanding experiences is amazing to me. Is it designed for this? A happy accident? I don’t care really. I can point to my Creator and say that I am simply grateful for the experiences, for the equipment (head, brain, etc.), and for the opportunity to push my body, well, too far.
Too far? Maybe but I am grateful for the grace to go a little over the edge and bounce instead of break.
I work out all the time. Every single day involves a certain amount of planning around work, weather, upcoming races, family responsibilities, keeping the house from collapsing, and how I am going to burn at least 1,000 calories, lift, swim, cycle, run, all, or other. If it rains all day and I don’t have access to the gym, I start to twitch.
One solution is the “Dad Bod”. This is a new(ish) trend launched by some Hollywood male stars that are getting old and, well, chubby. At the drop of a hat they could be back in form but between gigs, they are enjoying the life. According to the MSN article that was the top Google match which I didn’t actually read all the way through, there is this McKenzie person who wrote a blog post that started the thing in which she said:
… Mackenzie describes the Dad Bod as “a nice balance between a beer gut and working out”. She continues: “The dad bod says, ‘I go to the gym occasionally, but I also drink heavily on the weekends and enjoy eating eight slices of pizza at a time.’ It’s not an overweight guy, but it isn’t one with washboard abs, either.”
Yeah, it is the new normal. The weekend warrior that is an inflated shadow of the college man he was. He hasn’t gone ‘full-accountant’ or neck-beard, but he won’t win the 10k race this weekend. It actually looks more like a conscious decision to back away from competition rather than the ‘lost control around every cheesecake ever’ look.
I’m not one of those that thinks North American men need to be euro-trash spindly because that is unattractive in its own awful way. Yes, that is a good look racing in the Tour de France while simultaneously being the worst look possible in a Speedo. OK, yes, I can think of a worse look but I choose not to think of such things.
To me, the Dad Bod looks like giving up. It looks like a sub-conscious decision was made to not take the time, not make the effort, and not care anymore. They’ve married the girl, spawned some kids, taken all the good pictures they need, and now it is time to put the body into a glide path and just chill out. It is an extension of frat boy culture that breeds selfishly off the status quo: all anyone has to do is look or act or be just slightly better than average to be a winner.
I find it strange then that I need to defend the Dad Bod. There are chapters in a man’s life and there is a long chapter where the family needs to come first. It just isn’t possible for all of us to be successful in our careers, be good husbands, pour love and time into raising children, keep the house from collapsing, and still compete to win in our age group in six or seven triathlons a year. Something has to give and backing away from four hours of exercise a day is simply the right thing to do.
I did, sort of. I have to work out an awful lot to stay lean and mean. I’ve never been sedentary, but I sure wasn’t as viciously dedicated as I am these days and my new low-teens body fat percentage is new and fun.
During the years the boys were growing up, I wasn’t this way. There was a time when running was my sport of choice because it was the biggest burn for the time. Then I played hockey over lunch and late in the evenings. Truth be told, I would have been a much better hockey player if I had been in better shape but I played hockey to “stay” in shape.
Perhaps we should eat better and less. Perhaps we should be less stupidly dedicated to our pathetic dead end careers. Maybe we should spend more active time with our kids. Maybe we can be fit as well. Maybe, but I doubt it.
For the men out there that aren’t at their fighting weight, can’t compete like they used to, can’t hang in the pack, or had to change to lifting kilograms from pounds to force themselves not to compare against what they once were, you are doing the right thing. It is only temporary but during this chapter, you absolutely must be a man and a man serves his family. When you are older, you will have the luxury of working on yourself but now, you need to be a real man and a real man doesn’t look like one of those guys in 300.
That said, if you are being a tool, stop it. I get it that you want/need to ride the Leadville 100 but if you have a couple kids, demanding job, and wife you love, just don’t do it. Let the kids grow up, let the career settle down, and maybe let your wife get sick of you being around the house so much. Don’t be that guy that has to get a notch in his belt for completing some stupid stunt–climb that mountain, run that trail, ride that nightmare, sail that ocean, whatever–at the expense of his family. Don’t be that guy that needs to accomplish some insanely time-consuming and expensive adventure to feel complete, whole, or superior. Just don’t. Not just because of your family and marriage but because you make us all look bad. Just stop it, grow up, be responsible, and do your job.
Then, when you have the time, get back on the bike and ride. Drop the pounds and instead of having a midlife crisis where you buy a fast car, buy a couple bikes and a metric ton of awesome gear. Chisel yourself into a middle age piece of stone. Work yourself like iron. Become the body your wife remembers from when you started dating. Make your grown children proud. Be ‘that guy’ in the office who looks half his age.
I hate the Dad Bod because I need to kill my Dad Bod and get busy building my Mature Grandeur: Mat Grand. It is easy to look good in your late teens and early twenties. Slow down the metabolism and it is harder to keep that weight off. A little less testosterone will make building muscle tricky. All that damage to my back over the years will make working out trickier. My arthritis makes this a challenge as well.
If you want to be a hero, be in the best shape of your life at 50. If you want to command respect, be that guy that competes at that age. Anyone can kick ass at 22 but doing it at 52, 62, and 72 is a challenge. Anyone can compete in their 20s and 30s but a real man is a good father and husband when the family needs him most. Do the Dad Bod then and when the time comes, come out and play with us old guys. We’ll wait.
Rod passed peacefully in his sleep after about a day in a coma at around 10:35 PM on Wednesday, March 25, 2015. Curt and Carrie were at the house in Estes Park with us for dinner. Carrie’s father had passed on Saturday and she was working on a photo montage with Greg when I got to the house that afternoon. In the evening, we had Hunter Stew in the dinning room. Rod slept through it all breathing regularly but shallow..
Curt and Carrie were here earlier in the evening and we all had dinner together next to his bed. After they left and three of us fell asleep, Jane and Linda stayed up to watch a movie. About 12 minutes before the end of the movie, Jane noticed that the shallow rhythmic breathing that was ever present in the house, was silent.
Linda came upstairs and woke up Greg and I with the news and we all came down to the dining room. Indeed, Rod was still and the room quiet. We milled around a little fidgeting like we knew we were supposed to do something but not sure what it was. I sat in a chair and just stared at a Rod for long minutes.
Laura called Science Care and then hospice. Of course, because it was late at night, it was going to take some time before the hospice nurse could make it out. Science Care wasn’t going to dispatch their team until the hospice nurse confirmed that Rod was dead and they were driving up from almost 2 hours away. It was going to take some time.
I have a hard expiration date (time) at about 10 PM. I don’t stay up much past then gracefully. I decided that it would be better if I went back to bed. I tried but it wasn’t going to work so I got back up and sat with the rest of the family. We all poured some drinks and got comfortable.
Carol the hospice nurse indeed arrived almost an hour later. She was efficient as always. Then it was another couple hours wait for Science Care.
Leading up to this time, I was curious how it would feel when Rod was gone. What emotions would we express? Would we all be on the same page? This is a huge event, right?
I expected relief. I expected for the suspense to be resolved like a diminished chord giving way to major tonic. I can’t speak for everyone, but for me it wasn’t relief; I just felt nothing. I felt numb. Perhaps I was too tired to process what was happening at the time or possibly too self-conscious. In retrospect, I think I was just in shock.
A nice man from Science Care arrived about 2 AM to take Rod away. He was very polite, professional, sensitive, and proper. He had to be, of course, but it seemed he was so overly patient with us when he didn’t need to be. He explained that Rod was going to be moved from the hospital bed to the gurney, first shrouded in a sheet and then covered once on the gurney. We would be able to say goodbye once he was moved to the gurney and then he would take Rod to the car. He encouraged us to leave the room while he moved Rod.
It isn’t my place to speak about anyone else in the house except for me and, well, Jane. This was obviously a very personal time and our choices were deeply personal. I chose to watch and Jane chose to help. The Science Care guy seemed a little surprised by both of us but accepted our decisions. Jane put on the purple gloves and with the professionalism and compassion that was a trademark of her work throughout, helped.
I was surprised that this was a one person job. Rod was very thin but still his full 6’3″ height. Assistance seemed necessary and I wondered how he would have faired without Jane. I was surprised and moved by the care the two put into the task. There was no sudden or rough movements. They treated him as gingerly and gently as he was treated when he was alive. They treated Rod’s body with the respect that I hope we had afforded Rod throughout.
For those that want to know, the professionals executed an elegant ballet that I watched from near the foot of the bed. First, the covers were removed but not his clothes or the catheter. He was rolled to his left and a lengthwise fold sheet placed where he was. Then they rolled him to the right and unfolded the part of the sheet beneath him. Then they laid him flat and wrapped the sheet around him. With a count of three, he was lifted to the gurney. Rod, of course, was too long and they had to reposition him. Jane and the tech moved quickly with few words spoken or necessary. The tech covered Rod in a charcoal black covering with a single fake red flower in a pocket and announced that he was done.
We all remerged and stood for a brief moment in silence. I think he expected us to do “something” but we had nothing left to do. We were exhausted in every way.
Sleep came easily after he was gone but being greeted by the silent house the next morning was difficult. Pastor Jess came over in the morning and we sketched out the memorial service. It was decided that Monday afternoon was the best time. I had a sales call to support in late morning. I did my best and then signed off. Over the course of the day, we did more planning and picked out pictures for the photo montage. Many of us napped, of course. Curt and Carrie came over and brought lunch. It was a blur.
I was always curious about the days between the death and the service. I wanted to provide a picture of what it was like but the word ‘blur’ pretty much sums it up. I will do my best but must say that it was just a pile of small tasks, many errands, and conversations punctuated with laughter as well as tears.
Friday started with me scanning photos for the montage and then Jane and I packed up to go back home. Greg and I worked on the program and the montage as the women escaped to do some shopping in Loveland. In the afternoon, Rod’s sister-in-law Marsha called and something about her voice on the phone absolutely wrecked me. Marsha’s hip surgery was going to keep her from coming to Colorado from Sioux Center, Iowa. Marsha is the matriarch of the ‘huggy’ side of the family and a woman that I find absolutely delightful. I had to close the door to the office while I spoke and cried with her.
That night we retrieved Maggie from the airport and shuttled her up the mountain. Jane and I slept at home together Friday night for the first time in five weeks.
I went for a ride Saturday morning with Swift and rode well but felt like I was still fighting the cold from earlier in the week. Then we packed up again and headed back up the mountain. I picked up Jane’s aunt Phyllis and my nephew Andrew from the airport and drove them up. Jane brought Jeremy up. That night, twelve of us went to dinner together at Twin Owls which was excellent and then headed back to the house for a little. At some point, I started to feel and act strange. I got real tired and felt like I just needed to close my eyes for bit.
That night at the hotel, I developed a fever of at least 101.5 which for me is up there in the hallucination range. The hotel was loud and I couldn’t get warm. At some point in the middle of the night, the fever broke and was accompanied by really cool nightmares. Call me crazy, but I find it fascinating that my subconscious can crank out such weirdness given just a little extra heat. Still, I felt terrible in the morning and Jane chased me off to go seek medical help.
I went to the Estes Park Hospital emergency room and was greeted by the lonely attendants like polar bears welcome wounded seals. The nice doctor diagnosed me as having sever bronchitis and then loaded me up with a Z-Pak, inhaler, and some really awesome cough syrup. I filled the prescription and got a bunch of San Pellegrino water bottles. The fever from the night before was giving me just an awesome headache.
Back at the house, I worked on my eulogy but kept falling asleep. It was another blur of a day for me. I kept running outdoors to go hack in privacy. My ribs hurt even. Jeremy went to pick up Eric in the evening.
Monday morning started with the more or less cromulent breakfast buffet at the hotel with the Wisconsin Mulders. I had taken a good swig of the cough syrup before bed the night before and it took most of a pot of coffee to clear my head. I got myself into my suit and went out into the parking lot to run through my eulogy a few times. The boys opened their window and heckled me for a while: “more passion,” “I’m not feeling it,”, “you suck.”
I finally got to see Kelsey when we got to the church. That was very nice. The place was beautiful and the service was coming together perfectly. The Rocky Mountain Church crew are all professionals, for sure.
After just a couple last minute changes, the service was underway. I had had only a couple coughing fits before the service but I was plenty nervous I would have one during. My voice was trashed from all the hacking and my ribs were still tender.
Jeremy’s picture of Rod at Christmas was the on screen during most of the service:
Curt eulogized Rod first and highlighted how he was always helping people. Of course it was from the heart and deeply moving. Greg was very polished, of course, and followed Curt with a eulogy about how Rod exemplified the love described in 1 Cor 13. I followed with this:
Thanks to all of you for coming today. It means so much to all of us to know that Rod was loved, liked, and respected by so many.
I am Derek Brouwer, the husband of Jane, Rod and Laura’s youngest. I will try to speak on our behalf about Jane’s father. As many of you know, Jane, who is a nurse, and I relocated to Estes Park about five weeks ago to assist Laura with caring for Rod. Many people asked me how Jane was and the truth was and remains, she is a rock. Steady, stable, professional, compassionate, but largely OK.
Rod was diagnosed with the brain tumor about a year and a half ago and Jane noticed changes to her father almost immediately. Leading up to the first surgery and immediately after it, Jane was at her saddest.
As her father’s little girl, she had always looked up to Rod as the gentle giant that he was. He was the smart man in control of the situation. He could solve problems, quietly command respect, and always spoke with an otherworldly authority.
As the disease attacked him, it stripped away some of his mental quickness, poise, and coordination. It was then, over a year ago, that Jane mourned the loss of her father the hardest. It was then that I realized the vacuum that was forming in her life and how little consolation I would be.
I don’t feel ashamed saying that Rod Mulder has shaped my understanding of God. He is a good father to not only his own children but their spouses as well. Rod & Laura were delightfully normal and stable when perhaps I needed to know that normal was possible.
Watching Rod was like watching the archetype of a Christian man. I should be clear that my father is a great man and I want to be just like him in every way but my father is different. He set his own course and paved his own roads. Rod colored inside the lines more often that not. He was methodical and calculating but also kind. Rod was an elder at the church for way more years than he had to be. He was the very definition of “elder” and there are so few men that can fill that roll as perfectly as he could.
To me, he is a picture of the immovable rock that is the father God. That love that cannot be shaken. The sense of normal, calm, right, good, and proper that is a world without sin.
And Rod Mulder was interesting. He grew up in northwest Iowa where he brought two important gifts to farming: hard work and technical expertise. And then he left farming and set his sights on technology. How amazing is that? Admittedly, there were factors that caused him to leave the Dutch enclaves: there was only so much land to farm and those that could do something else were encouraged to do so. He could leave and he did.
He forged a new life but never lost the values of his youth: integrity, hard work, family, and friends. He landed in Boulder, invested in Crestview Christian Reformed Church, and had a long career at StorageTech in Louisville. I should point out because it has been pointed out to me many times, Rod and Laura were RCA and NOT CRC. They begrudgingly had to settle for CRC in Boulder as there was no RCA church available.
When Rod was 36 and because they were in Colorado, Rod and Laura learned to ski. Always in control, his skiing personified the style of the old school cool. Something about Rod enjoying a beer at the bar at the base of Lion’s Head in Vail is one of the memories that we all hold dear. Perhaps it is because a man who worked so hard relaxing with friends just seems so right.
I do need to say that Rod had some faults and we would be remiss if at least one of us didn’t mention these.
First, Rod’s taste in beer was truly atrocious. He likes Coors Lite. He completely non-ironically liked PBR. He was accidental hipster.
Rod had a sense of humor but it was certainly not the most refined sense of humor. Rod liked Gallagher. He was never going to make it as a comedian but loved to tell corny jokes. As a child, he was motivated to learn Dutch so that he could understand the punch lines of the off color jokes the adults told. I think he simply enjoyed life and it never took much for him to smile or laugh. He just thought everything was delightful.
As the disease progressed, it was this kind, funny, and cute part that emerged. The filters came down and he became childlike and playful. So many of us when faced with these same circumstances would act out bitterness and anger. Rod certainly was uncomfortable. Some days he was sad and depressed; not his best by any stretch. Then there were the days that he tried to teach me how to swear in Dutch—like I need more profanity options—or tried to peel his thumb like a banana.
At his core, when so much of him was stripped away, Rod became even more the person we knew and loved.
I married a woman who was the daughter of a great man and a loving father. I have been trying to fill his big shoes for almost three decades now. He raised the bar for me and then taught me how to clear it. Thank you, Rod. I love you.
During my part, this picture was on the screen:
The service was an excellent testament to Rod. The gospel was proclaimed and he was honored. Hymns he loved were sung and the service included all the components that he would like.
After the service, I was surprised how exhausted I was. Certainly some of my exhaustion was from the speaking in front of everyone but I think the bronchitis also factored in. As I suspected, there were people at every place in the mourning and grieving process and it was challenging to accept the greetings and words of sympathy from everyone. Everyone was very nice, of course, and it tickled me inside to talk to those who were most uncomfortable. It is uncomfortable and being uncomfortable is completely appropriate and honest.
I suspected that as news of Rod’s decline spread, some people had to separate themselves from us. Death is inevitable and certainly there are people that meet this part of our humanity poorly. That seemed to be the minority. I suspect that for most of the people that had to withdraw, the situation was just too painful. Rod was a good, giving, helping, loving, and kind man. Seeing him at his weakest was painful to people. Some I am sure were and are dealing with their own losses. Besides, it isn’t a test of friendship, love and compassion to be at his bedside through all of this. I was blessed to not only have the honor but also to be in a place where I could perform the task.
Truth is, I needed to do it. That doesn’t make me a good person; perhaps it even makes me a bad person. I think it just makes me who I am. I took one of those vocational tests while in seminary because it was free and the counselor that went over the results with me said that it appeared that I like to be in or near the action. Like, I didn’t want to be the hero but I wanted to hang out with the heroes. And I did. Jane and Laura were the heroes; I was just the support crew. I changed batteries in smoke detectors in the middle of the night, shoveled snow, reached high places, did some heavy lifting, fetched stuff, and hopefully provided entertainment. But when the “Code Brown” alerts happened, the real heroes went to work. Laura cooked and baked up a storm, sat with Rod for hours, made a thousand difficult decisions, and remained a rock throughout. Jane simply executed like the professional nurse and loving daughter that she is.
Of course, others were involved like Linda and Greg who were like the reserves showing up at just the moment before we were overwhelmed. Curt and Carrie were a constant resource. Pat and Paul from next door never said no to any request neither did Steve and Allison (thanks for dinner!) or Joy and Fred or anyone from Rocky Mountain Church or the hospice. Or the number of people that sent cards, emails, and text messages that we read to Rod. Or how about the people that Jane and I ran into in Estes Park who would start crying when they learned who we were and why we were in town.
I hate going to memorial services for great people. No, honestly, there is nothing like being in a room with a couple hundred people honoring a single person that makes me feel like I have done nothing useful with my life. Theoretically, I should have hated Rod’s memorial service. We gave little warning and did the thing in almost the least convenient place possible and still people showed up from across the country. Rod was loved, liked, and respected by so many. It was an honor to serve this man in his time of greatest need and to speak and write words of memory about him.
Here is a link to the photo montage following that are the pages of the memorial service program:
And today was interesting. I thought the night was good and easy. It mostly was. Morphine happened at about 2 AM administered by Linda and Laura. In the morning, the pillow under Rod’s legs and head were no longer in place and his legs were hanging off the bed. It looked like he was trying to get up which would have ended poorly, of course.
I woke up feeling dread. Good days are followed by bad and, well, we were due. In the moment when adrenaline takes over, we deal pretty well but waiting for it to begin is stressful to me. Rod was asleep when I got downstairs. His breathing was even more irregular than before with 4 or 5 non-rhythmic breaths followed by 30 seconds or so of complete silent stillness.
Laura and I debated church and she decided that talking to everyone was not something she wanted to deal with. I decided to go partially to check in with the pastor who had adjusted his vacation because of Rod.
The first worship song was 10,000 Reasons (Bless The Lord) by Matt Redman. The third verse reads:
And on that day
When my strength is failing
The end draws near
And my time has come
Still my soul will
Sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years
And then forevermore
The stress of the past couple days combined with this prayer struck the raw nerve that I’ve become. It was not pretty at all. The service was good and Rod was a sermon illustration in a way that made me proud to call him my father-in-law.
That which I dreaded never materialized. Instead, Rod got better and better as the day went on. He was interactive, awake, funny, interested, and generally not thinking about dying any time soon. At one point, he wanted to call Curt to ask about the house. Rod, who hasn’t been the least bit interested in the phone since he got back from California, suddenly wanted to make a call. He and Laura called Curt and it sounded to me like it was a completely normal phone conversation.
It wasn’t until later that we thought about how totally freaky this probably was for Curt. When Curt saw Rod Friday night, Rod was in a coma. Now he is calling him up for the first time in a month to have a little chat about house construction?
Linda gave Rod the controller to the hospital bed and he played with it for about a half hour before I final called down from the loft that it isn’t a toy or a carnival ride. Then he was hungry AND COULD EAT AGAIN. He was better this afternoon than he had been in weeks. Even the hoarseness that was a symptom of the brain tumor since the beginning was milder.
He was like a cat that wants to go outside but then wants to be inside, then outside, then inside. Argh! Pick one! Commit!
So, we don’t know but we think that this might be something the DVD that hospice gave us called the Lazarus phenomena but I don’t think that is the common name for it. I’ve seen it called a “rebound” and it is apparently somewhat common among terminal cancer patients. Unfortunately, it doesn’t last and when it happens, it is typically right at the end which really pains me to write.
Today was a beautiful day and a real gift to us. We talked with Rod for a long time today about his youth, his grandparents and family, and, of course, more Dutch profanity.
Many factors went into our decision, but we (Greg, Maggie, and I) went to Beaver Creek for a couple days. It was good for all of us. We heard through Linda and Jane that Rod was concerned that we got discount lift tickets. We most certainly did. Thanks to Eric, we scored free tickets and there was great rejoicing. I shared that with Rod and he was very happy about it.
We got back to Estes Park tonight. Eric also scored us a couple cases of beer which came in handy because Rod wanted a beer. I showed him the good stuff and then poured him a little PBR which I was pretty sure he would like more.
Rod is confused and sleeps all the time. He thinks Linda is Laura much of the time even when they are both in the room. He still has a good appetite and likes his ice cream and coffee.
Thanks to everyone that was concerned because there were no updates. Rod continues to surprise us. Sometimes he is incredibly lucid and others, just entirely out of it. He is happy and friendly most of the time. Sometimes, I would even say he is playful, funny, and sort of cute.
Eeek, I almost missed another day! Last night, I left my computer in the wrong room and couldn’t get to it. Tonight, well, I got tired.
Rod is sleeping most of the time. His anti-seizure medicine had to change to one that is more sedative. We aren’t sure how we feel about that. Though Laura talks to him sometimes, his interest in Curt and Carrie’s house, Chuck’s back crisis, and Marcia’s hip replacement has waned. There are times when he pulls the blankets over his head almost like he wants to shut out the world. Soft conversations around him seems to calm him but if it gets loud, he isn’t happy with it.
We seem to be at a new plateau point and we are all becoming comfortable again with our positions and roles. Maggie is flying back to Michigan Sunday to get back to Calvin before classes begin Monday. Linda and Greg are going to prolong their stay a little longer. Jane moved from short term FMLA to long term today. I am planning on going back home more often now that the weather is better. In other words, now that Rod has stabilized again, we are preparing for more and an indefinite duration.
Words like “stress”, “shock”, “numb” &c. pop up in our conversations. It is surprising still how emotionally drained we are and how that translates into our energy levels in general. Nothing about this has been “normal”. No one has any guidance for us and I think we have basically given up trying to understand what is happening. Though maybe that is a good thing, there is stress in uncertainty and a sense that our lives are on hold waiting and dreading what we wait for.
Tonight Curt and Carrie came up for dinner. All three children and their spouses were here and it was good family time. It was sweet as we all talked but also bitter that one of us still in the room was silent.
Rod is mostly confused and incoherent when he is awake which is very rare. He is still here but seems to see things and sometimes reaches for things that only he can see. He is worried about where his watch, wallet, and glasses are but also wants to know if we have reservations, where he is, and whether there is a suite available in the other building. Everything he says is a whisper or mumble. I don’t understand much but I caught a couple jokes today and got a smile or two out of him as well.
His breathing this morning was very irregular and he was sleeping sometimes with his eyes open. Tonight he and I talked for a while which was nice though very challenging and all over the map. After a while he started singing “Just A Closer Walk with Thee”. His singing was just barely a whisper but I picked up on “this world is not my home.”
I figured it was worth getting that song playing and pulled up three versions: Oak Ridge Boys, Willie Nelson & Patsy Cline duet and, of course, the original Patsy Cline. The best version, by the way, is Willie and Patsy’s because anything Willie Nelson does is the best always.
He fell asleep during the hymn and I queued up the Gaither Vocal Band’s Hymns album. He is sleeping and breathing regularly as I write this. After the frustration and confusion he seemed to be experiencing tonight, it is a peaceful way to end the day.
That was Sunday night. I headed into Boulder on Monday to make an appearance at my office. Working remotely has actually been very productive but that feeling of my life on hold was something I needed to move beyond. Also, my absence would leave the office vacant and allow Greg a place to work. The house was full and all bases seemed to be covered, so it felt like I would be most useful evacuating for a couple days.
Jeremy hadn’t had a home cooked meal in a while so we made some steaks Monday night. I tried to do some laundry and repack for spring. When this dance started, it was winter. Spring roared into Colorado this year and I was overdressed everyday.
Wednesday, I decided to work in the morning and support a sales call just before lunch and then make my move up the mountain directly from the office. On Monday, I realized that I was not feeling well and had caught a cold. Did that stop me from working out in the gym Monday or swimming Tuesday? No, of course not. I did, however, forego a 20 mile bike ride Tuesday evening because I felt terrible and because there were 45 mph wind gusts.
If you have been reading up to now, this will be a departure. This isn’t a theology or attempt at a coherent explanation of the universe. It is the ramblings I jotted down while struggling to find answers, reasons, justification, and comfort.
Today started well. Jane stayed up and administered the good stuff to Rod at about 2 AM. The nurse came in the morning and the pastor a little later. Rod was in and out of it. The coughing was back making it hard for him to breath and sleep. Outside of high blood sugar, his vitals were rock solid.
I went to the gym and got back with some yummies around 1:30. Jane caught me at the door wearing gloves and I made a quick right turn into the office. This was best for all of us. I ate my chicken peacefully oblivious to the business of the moment.
About two hours later, things got, well, bad. He claims he isn’t in pain, but something was clearly making him miserable. Laura was on the way out the door to the insurance agent and Rod didn’t want her to go. She stayed until he fell asleep and then ran the errand. Some time after she was back, Rod complained to Jane about chest pains which he thought was heart burn. Jane, being the sort of nurse that knows a thing or two about cardiac care, was clearly concerned.
Then bad went to worse. I could hear the badness from the office and emerged. It was about 4 PM and Rod was not only feeling terrible but actively calling for help. Laura stayed at his side holding his hand trying to comfort him. She called the hospice nurse and I took her place at his side during the call.
The nurse had a conversation with Laura and then Jane and the hospice nurse talked in nurse-speak for a few minutes. A new plan was hatched and Jane got cooking.
Over the next couple hours, someone was sitting within a few feet of Rod pretty much at all times. A couple times he seemed to be choking and couldn’t breath which he rightfully found very distressing. So did we. Other times, he hugged his chest like it hurt. His eyes were not focused at all. He didn’t see us even with his eyes open. He called for help but sometimes doesn’t seem to know he is doing it. He also calls out “Christmas” and a few other words that don’t make much sense in context or, well, at all. If he did try to speak, it is just slurred mumbles and gibberish.
Of course, we are praying for peace for Rod. For the first time today, he asked “why me?” It was, honestly, one of a dozen things he said today that we understood. Laura pointed out that this was the first time in the entire journey where he has felt even a little sorry for himself. Early this evening, he seemed to slip into a coma.
Curt came over this evening and we ate dinner that Jane cooked while sitting around Rod’s bed. As we talked around the bed, Rod seemed to calm and relax. I think our voices are soothing to him. His breathing is better now which I think is thanks in large part to Jane the chemist. She did “something” and about an hour later, he stopped choking. Now he breathes with difficulty for maybe 30 seconds and then not at all for 15 to 30 seconds.
Clearly something happened this afternoon. A resource we have contrasts the organ-by-organ shutdown typical of other cancers to brain cancer saying: “the brain, as a master circuit breaker, has the capacity to shut down the body in one swift motion, without taking it organ by organ.”
Sorry to end on a down note but I have no energy to put a positive spin on this. Frankly, we are preparing for a challenge. Thanks for reading (if you made it this far).
14 March (real time)
It is about 5 AM and I am alone with Rod. Jane stayed up to 2:15. Laura got up at 2:34 and just went back to sleep fifteen minutes ago or so. Rod’s breathing is slowed and more or less the reverse of what it was the night before. He breathes “normally” four or five times for about 10 seconds and then not at all for as long as 30 seconds. He calls out “help” in his sleep, scratches his head, and fidgets with the covers. He has called out the name of his brother, Theron, who passed two years ago, I think, after a relatively short stint with Alzheimer’s. Laura thought he was thirsty and tried to give him a sip. He bit down on the straw and wouldn’t let go but didn’t drink anything.
He doesn’t seem to know we are here. My experience volunteering at the hospice and as a chaplain has taught me differently. The person in the bed might not understand us, but they know that we are here and our presence can be a calming influence. People fear public speaking, being alone, and dying: in that order, I believe. I am happy that I don’t fear public speaking and I wish I didn’t fear the other two as well. I guess if I didn’t have these fears, I would be a superhero. I’m not a superhero and if I was, there are still those spiders that would be my Kryptonite.
The question I’ve been told never to try to answer is “why is he/she suffering now?” For me, the question is more about the purpose of this suffering. Rod is calling for help because he is in distress, right? It is the one word he seems to always get right. Ironically, I don’t think Rod ever called for help normally. He was the one we all looked to for help. He had the answers, the calm, the measured approach that no matter how complicated or emotional the problem, we could look to Rod for help.
But now he calls for help and there is nothing any of us in this house can do. We don’t even twitch anymore. Only Jane has the power of the chemicals to calm him. My powers are useless now. As a chaplain type, I provide spiritual, emotion, psychological, and sociological support and comfort. I have minimal power over the physical except when it relates to those aspects.
So, why suffering and why now? What purpose does this serve to Rod and to us? These are the questions we are never supposed to answer and, well, never say never.
The light has no meaning without the dark. The good isn’t good unless it is contrasted with evil. This isn’t punishment for Rod’s sins or even ours. This is the result of the human condition and that is all there is to it. It isn’t personal which is why we should never answer this question. It isn’t because the answer is wrong but because it is not satisfying. In our time of distress, we want a personal answer even if the answer is “because he sinned” or “because we did a terrible thing” or whatever else as long as our names are in the answer and tied to a specific action.
Rod Mulder is dying of brain cancer. It isn’t because of anything that this is happening to him except that we live in a fallen world. It is a philosophical and theological reality. Atheists can point to this time and say that this just proves that there is no master plan. I think people of all faiths can point to this time and say that exact opposite. There is a plan and even though we can’t understand the fullness of the plan, we can know that something went wrong. The fact that we know it went wrong means that we know that it should have gone right. Could it have gone right? I would say ‘no’ but that is a much uglier conversation.
No, I would suggest that without this time of trouble, we won’t value the time of peace. Without this specter of death, we won’t appreciate life. It is why young people allow themselves to be sent to war. They do not understand the value of their lives and they allow rich, old people to convince them to throw their lives away for causes that are always lies.
Death and the suffering that surrounds it must be. I really wish it were not so but I fear that it is. I obsess over my health and fitness partially because I wish to avoid a miserable and premature death. That is far from the only reason, but it is a little part. The buddhist idea that we can’t avoid suffering so we must rise above it–transcend suffering so that it doesn’t bother us–truly is the opiate of the masses that Marx warned against. No, we should not rise above it; we should be see suffering, evil, and death for what they are: wrong and difficult.
I am not saying that there isn’t beauty in this time or that it isn’t natural or sacred. It is, but it isn’t going to be pretty nor should it be. The writer of Ecclesiastes creates bookends for life in chapter three. He describes the edges as a time for peace and time for war, a time for life and a time for death, et cetera. We appreciate one because we know of the other. If death were peaceful, easy, completely without fear or suffering, we would not know the value of life.
The truth is that Rod’s suffering was short and even now as he calls out in his sleep, he isn’t suffering. I know this and even though it is disconcerting to us in the house, this is biological in every sense of the word. We were built by our creator to fight for our lives. This isn’t a choreographed Rocky fight or a WWF match or even the UFC style; this is a bar fight. It isn’t fair and it was over before it even really began. One guy had a knife, gun, bottle, or chair and the other guy never had a chance.
And just like a bar fight, it isn’t really personal. It feels personal, but it isn’t really. Maybe that is comforting in its own way or maybe not. There are two things in life that are not optional: birth and death. Every other aspect of life is entirely optional though most of us choose to do things like breath, eat, poop, walk, talk, et cetera. I find it interesting what people will choose to vicariously experience and what they want to experience first hand. Frankly, I think most people have those things exactly reversed. Having experienced a multi-course French meal and a meal from McDonalds, dude, why eat at McDonalds, right?
My point is that from the perspective of how bad this could be, we did it right and up until yesterday afternoon, Rod was comfortable, and loved. The last thing he said before the turn was about how much he valued his family.
Thursday night, Jane and Laura were off watching a show and Rod was sort of awake and wanted a sip of Diet Coke. One thing led to another and I got him a “chewy cookie”. Sitting beside him, I decided to read to him the prayer written on the label of his quilt. It is a beautiful little prayer about how each knot in the quilt is itself a prayer for him. Then we talked. At one point, he tried to tell me a secret. I have no idea what he said so I hope it wasn’t where the gold is buried. We talked a little as men do when they want to share their feelings: poorly. I asked to pray for him and he let me.
It was the last conversation I had with Rod and I am incredibly blessed and honored that it happened. It was, I think, the longest he stayed awake all day. That probably had much more to do with the cookie than me. The conversation ended like all conversations like that end between men, just like the conversation between the rock star and the manager when the rock star confesses that the manager is the love of his life in Love Actually. There was grunting, eye contact was averted, and if he could have, we would have smacked each other on the back painfully.
One of my theological problems with Christianity through the ages has been this idea that we are just worthless sinners no matter where we are in our walk with our God. As much as I’ve read and studied the words of Jesus and the theology of the Bible, I’ve never gotten the impression that we are supposed to just wallow in our ineptitude. Certainly before we know Jesus or know our need for Jesus, we are ripe and bloated with sin. But then the saving nature of Christ’s crucification lances us as well and drains our sin away.
I am not proud of that picture I just painted. No, wait, I am. Sorry.
This isn’t to say that the infection isn’t still present (let’s just ride this train a little further, shall we). The sinful nature is still there and the work of sin in our lives continues to cause us problems and pain. The point that bothers me is that we never seem to progress or if we do, we aren’t allowed to mention that we have progressed. The work of Jesus is not a cure that we only realize when we die. It was supposed to be transformative in that we are supposed to actually and very really and tangibly transform. We are supposed to become more Christ-like.
I look at Rod Mulder and see a man that was transformed. His pastor asked him yesterday when he came to know Jesus and for a moment I was happy that Rod wasn’t speaking intelligibly and the question went unanswered. Rod never knew a world where Jesus wasn’t an option. Faith was like air and church was not optional. Contemporary evangelicalism forgets that prior to the 18th century, being outside of the community of faith was impossible in most of Christendom. I read a book by James Joyce (just one and it was enough for me) where the young man confessed that he was an atheist to his friend who was shocked (as was I at the time). There was a world were being born-again made no sense because there was never a time when you didn’t know Jesus.
Rod grew up in northwest Iowa where church are as ubiquitous as corn, cows, and barns. There was probably a time when he made the faith his own (edit: 14 years old, as it turns out) but it was likely much like my story: a progression over time rather than a light switch being flipped. As such, the faith permeated him. He didn’t know Jesus as a revolutionary diverging away from society but as society. After he left that world, my understanding is that he took that with him wherever he moved be it Iowa City, Chicago, California, or Boulder. Rod and Laura’s home is not riddled with Christian symbols but there is a sense here that Jesus simply is.
My point in this is that I don’t feel ashamed saying that Rod Mulder has shaped my understanding of God. He is a good father to not only his own children but their spouses as well. Funny that all three of the in-laws come from interesting family situations. Rod (& Laura) were delightfully normal and stable when perhaps all three of us needed to know that normal was possible. This isn’t to say that they were better or surrogate parents, but they were hope that normal was entirely possible.
Watching Rod especially was like watching the archetype of a Christian man. I should be clear that my father is a great man and I want to be just like him in every way but my father is different. He set his own course and paved his own roads. Rod colored inside the lines more often that not. He was methodical and calculating but also kind. Rod was an elder at the church for way more many years than he had to be. He was the very definition of “elder” and there are so few men that can fill that roll as perfectly as he could.
To me, he is a picture of the immovable rock that is the father God. That love that cannot be shaken. The sense of normal, calm, right, good, and proper that is a world without sin.
Today started very rough. Jane stayed up to 2 AM so that she could administer more medication. Rod wasn’t calm right away so Laura got up and sat with him. I woke up sometime and heard him calling out so I got up around 4 AM. Laura and I sat together until Laura started to fade and went back to bed. I stayed up writing my blog entry about all this until Laura re-emerged around 8.
During the night, Rod’s breathing was very uneven. He would breathe normally for about 4 breaths in ten seconds and then there would be a pause for about 30 seconds before he would gasp for another breath. During my watch, he would call out but the only intelligible word was “help”. During Laura’s time, he called out “Theron”. Theron is his brother that passed away a couple years ago from Alzheimer’s.
While Laura and I were discussing plans for the day, Rod turned toward me, and focused! I said, “you had a rough night Rod but we’ve been sitting with you the whole time.” He nodded, closed his eyes, and fell back asleep. He focused on Laura later but that is her story to tell.
Over the next eight hours, Rod slowly emerged from what I can only describe as a comatose state. I don’t know if that is really what happened, but he slowly emerged first motioning that he wanted a sip and then actually saying the word. He wanted food but he can’t swallow anymore.
Linda and Greg rolled in late this afternoon. Jane administered the medication that dries him up and seems to relieve the coughing. Once that kicked in, he was much more comfortable and interactive.
Still, the breathing is halting and he falls asleep with no warning. He asked for a cookie and fell back asleep before Laura got back with it. I got him a sip of Diet Coke one time and he said something to me that I couldn’t even pretend to understand. Rather than placate him, I thought I would try something else and just said, “Rod, I have no idea what you just said,” with a smile. To my delight, he looked away with the first smile I’d seen all day.
It feels like this last crisis is in the past. He is comfortable and stable though diminished from where he was Friday morning. Conversation is not possible and he can no longer eat.
It is good to have more help. Linda and Greg are up to speed on the “sip” protocol and I hope that many hands will make light work overnight. I am also happy that Rod is more or less medication free and comfortable at the moment as this gives us options should he become distressed again.
Still, this job is not done and though a momentary pause in the storm allows us to regroup, it also allows us to reflect on what we’ve experienced and dread what lies ahead. It feels ominous to me–like a weight on me that I can’t identify or move. There is nothing to do but wait for the next attack and pray that when the trouble comes, we will rise to the challenge yet again.
Sounds like a Psalm. Sounds like a bunch of them actually.
Last night was quiet which, rather than leaving me energized and optimistic, makes me think the other shoe is just about to fall. This is why I don’t go near Disney World; all I can think about are the high prices, sweaty people inside the costumes, the world beyond the facade and how all of it is there to distract us from the real horrors, beauty, and adventure of the real world so that we will slavishly pay for lies to be stuffed down our throats and broadcasted before our eyes. Sorry, I should really see someone about that.
Truth is that last night, Rod came back to us. We sat around the bed and he talked. He tried to tell jokes and even thought some things were a little funny. Hints of a smile at moments. Still, understanding him is challenging and it takes so much of his effort to construct and say a sentence. In the past, the effort to engage and communicate is exhausting to him which one would hope would simply put in to sleep and keep him there for the night. That hasn’t always been that case. It seems more like the effort robs from his ability to stay comfortable and merely breath. He goes from “normal” to distressed rather than to tired.
That said, the night was quiet. Frankly I was surprised when I came downstairs to find him still breathing. Laura was at his side as were both of his pillows: the one under his head and the one that keeps his heels off the bed. His breathing is very irregular. The four or five breaths are without rhythm and are followed by 30 seconds of total stillness. When this started Friday, the pauses involved facial twitches like his was preparing for a breath. Now, he is sometimes completely still. He still rubs his eyes and they are red and bloodshot.
After we got into a pattern and learned how to live in Estes Park, we realized that we weren’t leaving any time soon. We were just waiting and waiting is a slog.
Jane and I made a run to the house yesterday. We were gone longer than we wanted to be but we got to have some dinner with Jeremy which was most awesome. Tried to get Rod a Sunggie but apparently we missed the news that those were recalled or something.
Knowing that I wasn’t going to have time for a swim today, I decided to go to the 5:30 AM Masters Swim at the aquatic center. Rod perked up as I tried to sneak past and asked who was there. Our brief back and forth woke up Laura and caused me great guilt for causing the commotion.
Rod was confused yesterday. He wanted to–let’s see, what euphemism haven’t I used yet?–drop the kids off at the pool. Even though he hasn’t been out the bed in a week, yesterday he made it to his feet and onto the bedside commode. This I know only second hand. Jane speculates that he simply didn’t remember that he hasn’t been out of bed in a week and not knowing he couldn’t do it worked in his favor. However, she said it was pretty shaky. He never really had his legs under him or was supporting his own weight.
Rod also told Laura that “we should take the neighbors to breakfast.” I couldn’t hear the whole conversation but Laura essentially asked who the ‘we’ in that statement was referring to.
So, he was delusional and confused today which may be because of the excitement Thursday. Generally he is not angry, sad, depressed or mean, just friendly and confused.
No Dutch lessons last night; I was too tired.
Even though last night was good, we think that Saturday was pretty rough which makes it two bad days in a row. Jane and I were speculating that our standards are changing. Maybe what was a bad day a week ago is a good day now? It is difficult to be objective.
Rod obsesses about things like food and something in his teeth. He had lunch and then fell asleep for a little while. When he woke up a short time later, he asked if he should be hungry. Jane interpreted this as less about being hungry and more about him not feeling well and knowing that food can make him feel better.
He likes us in the room with him. However, his breathing is sometimes disturbing to listen to so, you know, we have a small challenge there. He is back to clearing his throat often and coughing sometimes quite violently. This is sort of what we saw before the hospital bed and it is no fun now that it has returned.
There is some confusion but he is such a nice man that he accepts our suggestions when we tell him that he is wonky. He has been very talkative today but all over the place and sometimes asking questions out of nowhere. Usually he just wants a cookie which is awesome. One time I answered him with “don’t we all?”
I think he looks pretty good. When he is sleeping and his face is relaxed, he looks peaceful and not as old.
Eric called this morning partially to ask if he was supposed to be reading something between the lines. What is the real story? The real story is that we think we are looking at one to two weeks. The rate of decline seems to have slowed but we are still seeing daily changes. We are seeing less physical and more cognitive change. The trouble breathing as well as the compulsive eating might be symptoms of that.
But, of course, he is still very nice, friendly, and thankful. The softest and best part of his personality is what we usually see.
Rod seemed confused this morning. Laura said that he was certain he was going to die the night before. He is uncomfortable but not in pain. He wants things that were small comforts to him like ice cream, cookies, and coffee. For the moment, he gets a little pleasure from them and that makes him feel a little less blah.
He has been asleep most of the time but wakes up disoriented. Laura was out shopping today and he woke himself up calling for help. Jane asked him a couple questions and it was clear he didn’t know that he had called for help or why he was calling for help.
We have had music on today which he seems to like. Laura picked up some chewy cookies at the store today which he and I both like. They aren’t going to last long. He likes it when we are in the room and I think he especially likes when we are talking but not necessary with him. He and I had a couple conversations today but they were very short. I recounted the sermon to him this morning and this evening I showed him some pictures from the hike Jane and I took as well as some others. I was surprised when he read something off my computer screen because reading has been difficult for him. He wears a watch but it takes him about a minute to read it.
He is not joking around today and he isn’t appreciating humor much either. It hasn’t been a “good” day but it hasn’t been difficult either. He is quiet and as long as he has something to drink and a steady supply of cookies, he is sort of content in an unhappy sort of way.
It is a little blue in the house but we are taking turns going out which seems to be helping us cope.
I went to bed early. There was a kerfuffle downstairs after I made my exit which I am sure I will hear about in the morning.
Look, this is my blog and so I can write about myself a little, right? I am trying to remain “in shape” during all of this. I am certainly not working out as much as I could if I was at home but I am putting in a good effort. At home, I lift 3 times a week, swim twice, and ride 2 to 4 times depending on the weather.
Up here, the cycling is out. I’ve replaced that with snowshoeing which is just wickedly painful for me especially afterwards. My arthritic great toe lights up making everything difficult including sleep. I am swimming at the Estes Park Aquatic Center and lifting at MedX. Both of these are tricky because the pool is only open for a couple hours each day and MedX is somewhat limited compared to what I am used to. I swam with the masters group last Friday morning but those nut cases start at 5:30 AM. I have never been an early morning athlete. I think it is actually cheating because it isn’t fair not feeling the pain. The body isn’t fully awake and the brain is all foggy. Pain receptors are sluggish and so, yeah, it doesn’t count if you can’t feel it.
Anyway, the “spring forward” time change was yesterday and I was all freaked out about not waking up in time for the 5:30 AM waterboarding experience. Subconsciously, I was worried so, of course, my brain got me up on the hour every hour starting at about 1 AM. I was up plenty early and rolled into the deserted parking lot a couple minutes early. It remained deserted for the next 15 minutes while I thumbed through Reddit wasting time waiting for someone else to show up or for the cops to arrest me for being a middle age man parked next to a playground or whatever.
I gave up and came back to the house. Now, on my way out, I was a ninja. The bottom of the stairs from the loft where Jane and I are camped is right where Rod’s bed is. In the complete dark, I had to navigated those stairs on the way out, tiptoe past Rod, find my entry fee, USMS license, keys, coat and shoes, and got out the front door that is only 15 feet from his bed. It was tricky and I think I got it done. On the way back in, I had to reverse the delicate process. I suspect that I failed because after climbing back into bed, I heard Rod.
I felt responsible, of course, and when things didn’t seem to calm down, I got back up and dressed (a little) and went to check if there was anything I could do. Laura was solving the problem and I scared her asking if she needed anything.
Back in bed now around 6 AM, I figured I would try to get a couple hours of sleep and set my alarm for 8 AM. At 7 or so, the smoke detector in the guest room chirped. And then again a few minutes later. Not knowing if this is one of those systems where if one battery gives up, all of them start chirping and also figuring I wasn’t going to get any more sleep with even one chirping, I got up again, showered and got dressed.
I am sitting in the loft writing this for the past 15 minutes or so and there hasn’t been a single chirp since I’ve been sitting here. Am I hallucinating? Dreaming? Still dreaming? Rod is out and I don’t want to wake him up so I feel trapped up here.
The update for the day:
In spite of me, it has been a very quiet day. I was in and out of the house around 5:30 this morning as I tried to go swim and was deeply concerned that I was waking Rod up. Laura assures me I did not or I didn’t make it any worse.
After I disappeared to bed last night, there was some concern that Rod’s blood sugar was too high. Jane noted a couple things and there was a moment of great disappointment when Laura substituted string cheese for a cookie. The nurse today borrowed a glucometer from the hospital and even though he ate pretty much only a cracker all day, he was over 300. Most of us are under 125 unless we binge on cotton candy and funnel cake. So, a little high today and it was probably worse yesterday.
Rod’s been sleeping most of the day. Aides showed up this morning and gave him bath. He kept his eyes shut most of the time and only interacted minimally. They were very nice considering I backed into their car when they arrived.
For the nurse this afternoon, he was largely passive as well. When he is awake, he keeps his eyes closed. When she asked for his hand to do the blood test, he responded but didn’t flinch when she pricked his finger. He is still a tough guy. He has eaten very little today which is a BIG change. His speech is more slurred and he is difficult to understand in general.
On the positive, he looks peaceful and seems to be comfortable. It is beautiful out today. All the windows are open and the room is bright. I have started liking the Gaithers so I relocated to the living room while Laura was out shopping and decided to further confuse my Google Play recommendations by playing their Hymns album again for Rod. He asked for a sip and in the process of getting him some Diet Coke, he accidentally punched me in the throat. I am not taking it personally.
The other night, Rod said that something he has had time to do in his situation (his words) was remember the words to the old hymns. Then, without breaking eye contact, he recited the third verse of “Just a Closer Walk with Thee”:
I am weak, but Thou art strong;
Jesus, keep me from all wrong;
I’ll be satisfied as long
As I walk, let me walk close to Thee.
Just a closer walk with Thee,
Grant it, Jesus, is my plea,
Daily walking close to Thee,
Let it be, dear Lord, let it be.
Through this world of toil and snares,
If I falter, Lord, who cares?
Who with me my burden shares?
None but Thee, dear Lord, none but Thee.
When my feeble life is o’er,
Time for me will be no more;
Guide me gently, safely o’er
To Thy kingdom shore, to Thy shore.
I wish I had good things to write today. I don’t. I’m sorry.
When Rod is awake, he is miserable. He seems to like us in the room but he calls for help and we don’t know what we can do for him. He is having trouble breathing, clears his throat very often, and has terrible apnea when he is asleep. He is not conversational. One word answers usually. He talks more to Laura than Jane or I. Even when he is awake, his keeps his eyes closed. Many times when his eyes are open, they are not focused. Last night at about 2 AM, Laura couldn’t wake him up to take a pill.
OK, sorry for that. That is it for the bad news.
It was a beautiful day today again. Blue sky, sun, deer in the neighborhood, children playing outside, and a peaceful warm place in the house. As life goes on, to me, it felt quiet, peaceful and sacred in the house. The normalcy of life outside contrasted the sacred, important, momentous, and eternal inside.
There are moments, however, when he is himself. Jane knocked her knee agains the bed today. Laura asked if she hit her funny bone but before she could answer, Rod piped up with, “nothing funny about it.”
I am writing this while Jane and Laura do yet another puzzle. Rod is sleeping. Hymns are playing and we sing along sometimes.
On Wednesday, I commuted to work in Boulder (about forty-five minutes to an hour away depending on traffic in the canyon) to put a face to my name for the new guy that was hired. I am sort of a prickly-pear to work with unless you get to know me a little and realize about 90% of what I say and write is sarcastic, hyperbole, and meant as a joke. It was nice being back in my world but I could feel that I was tired and a little more seriously and somber than normal.
Sorry for lack of report Wednesday. I commuted to work in the morning and stayed at home for the night. Tuesday night was, however, awful. I slept very little as did Laura. The only nice thing was that I saw a fireball at 6 AM out the window because I was wide awake. I even filed a report with the American Meteor Society or whatever.
Rod was coughing up a storm all night. He was very uncomfortable and having trouble sleeping and breathing. It was disconcerting to all of us.
I talked to Jane a couple times during the day Wednesday and expected the worst each time. They gave Rod the good stuff (morphine) Wednesday night with a chaser of Ativan. When I got back this morning the report was that it was a good night. Jane slept on the couch until about 7 AM. This allowed Laura to sleep soundly. She reported that she slept so soundly that she woke up sore like she hadn’t moved all night.
Rod is much more comfortable today. Thanks to a lifetime avoiding narcotics, he has a nice low tolerance. Apparently a little goes a long way. There is a life lesson in this for all of us. I mean, too late for me but for the rest of you, yeah, don’t do drugs.
I’ve had a couple short and goofy conversations with Rod today. So have Laura and Jane. At one point he was mumbling and I asked if he needed something. “Just keeping tabs on everyone,” he said and then with a smile, “taking names.” He talked about going to Holland, Michigan, getting ready to go to bed, wondering where we were going to spend the night, and other things that were just on the border of making sense.
Happy, pleasant, peaceful, calm, and quiet. He is here and someplace else at the same time. His eyes focus at nothing and seem to just scan the room looking at or for something. When he calls for a “sip”, he seems a little surprised when I appear at his bedside even though I just walked across the room in his field of vision the whole time to get there. More and more, we can walk by him and not be noticed.
Jane is going to sleep on the couch again tonight because that worked.
He hasn’t been lucid much but yesterday he was very concerned about his sister-in-law Marcia who was having hip replacement surgery. He was relived to hear that the surgery was successful and that she is doing well.