Monthly Archives: September 2018

The Alzheimer’s Medical Advisor: a caregiver’s guide

Do you know who I am?

A girl?

Yes, I was your first baby.

You were my #1? 

My mother was a cut-up, an RN, an ambulance squad leader, a mother of four and the last living senior member of my family. When she died, I popped to the top of the old age squad.

alzheimer's medical advisor coverBefore she died, she lost her marbles. All of them. But she never lost her humor or her love of ice cream and her hatred of bananas.

In spite of having 2 RNs and a certified EMT as children, my mother was able to hide her failing memory for a long time. She developed tricks of the trade so to speak. She was always sneaky with her memory so she knew the ropes.

mom and ice cream infoWe faced her fading memory and faltering physical health as best we could right up to the end. Alzheimer’s and good old standard full-blown dementia never come with a manual.

The Alzheimer’s Medical Advisor: a caregiver’s guide comes about as close as a layman can get to a manual. I have had this book for a couple of years; negligent in my responsibility to Sunrise River Press and LibraryThing to provide a review in exchange for this advanced reader’s copy.

Now that my brother faces a severe form of early onset fronto-temporal dementia, I find myself reaching for the book for answers to so many questions. And in doing so, I remembered I owed a review, so here it is.

dementia table of contentsThis book is a gold mine of information. You won’t be smothered in fifty-cent size medical lingo that makes you feel overwhelmed.

The initial chapters cover dementia, general care information, setting goals and stresses the importance of taking care of yourself.

The heart of the book discusses 54 common issues encountered in the care of the patient. Each issue is covered in a two-page spread beginning with basic facts and highlights signs of a possible emergency, lists other important things to observe, identifies ways to handle the issue at home and when to contact medical health professionals.

sampleOne concluding chapter deals with general health issues and gives tips to accomplish the tasks, like taking the temperature or pulse of a confused and scared person, and when monitoring vitals can be helpful.

Another chapter tackles the tricky subject of medical safety and management and does so in great detail.

Quoting the book, “Throughout the course of illness, persons with dementia often require services from multiple types of health care providers in many different settings.” Each level of care is covered from selecting a primary care provider through emergency and general hospitalization all the way to full-time residential care.

The hardest chapter deals with end of life decisions. Everyone and every family must explore their own feelings about the end of life wishes of a person no longer able to make their own decisions. These pages are more of an outline of topics helpful in developing a course of action working with the person while still capable of decisions and understanding the course of their disease or in the case that incapacity precludes that discussion.

The final pages are worksheets that can be reproduced and deal with gathering information necessary before consult with a health care professional. Filling out the personal information and preferences in advance makes a stressful time easier.

I hope this review is helpful. I encourage anyone with ANY long-term illness, not just dementia, to look at this invaluable resource.

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LIES: a novel


It’s a Mummy car. Look, Daddy!
Good spot, matey… It does look like Mummy’s car.
I squinted, trying to make out the
[license plate].

It was her car.
The VW turned into a Premier Inn.
Can we see Mummy?
Can we, can we, can we?

I made a spur-of-the-moment decision
that would change my life.

Let’s go surprise, Mummy.

What’s cuter than a dad and a four-year-old playing car bingo? A kid with his first School Superstar “cerstiff-a kit”. Little Wills spots his mother’s car in traffic and his intense need to share his pride with his mother melts his father’s heart. They track her car into an underground hotel parking garage and bolt upstairs to greet her. Joe comes to a skidding stop when he spots Mel (Mellisa) in the hotel lobby in a heated argument with Ben Delaney, a neighbor. Ben was screaming at her. Joe quickly frog-marches Wills back to the car to wait for Mel.

lies graphicMel swiftly exits the elevator and never sees them before leaving quickly in her car. Once more the elevator door opens and Ben walks out.  When Joe begins to ask about Mel, Ben becomes violent. Refusing to fight the smaller man, Joe gives him a little shove to put space between them, causing Ben to trip over his briefcase and landing on his head on the concrete floor unresponsive with blood trickling out of his ear.

The stress induces a Richter scale asthma attack in Wills. The spare inhaler is not in the car and Wills is in trouble. The two crises force Joe to make a decision – get help for Ben or get help for Wills. Wills wins but Joe does return to find Ben and his car gone along with Joe’s cellphone that he had dropped in the altercation.

With Ben gone, Joe is left to puzzle out the conversation that flipped out Ben. Joe had been pressing Ben about Mel when suddenly Ben shouted, “Just leave it! You have no idea! You’re so f***ing dense that you haven’t seen it, have you?” Just before he fell.

As Joe seeks answers, his warm and fuzzy world begins to fall apart. Ben is nowhere to be found but Joe knows he is alive; he gets regularly cell phone and Facebook messages from him.

Beth, Mel’s best friend and Ben’s wife files a missing person report. The search for Ben gets darker and darker as evidence points to foul play and seems to implicate Joe. On the other side of the equation, Ben’s messages to Joe get more and more taunting and sinister. I am going to destroy you! Mel finally admits she had an affair. All efforts to verify Joe’s claims that Ben has been in contact him are traced back to Joe’s online accounts.

Joe realizes his only way out of this miasma is to find Ben. Against the advice of his newly hired attorney, Joe begins his own private search to clear his name and to save his family.  What he finds confirms what Ben had told him – You had no idea. You never saw it, did you?

Thoughts

I love debut authors and I don’t expect them to rage out of the gate with a blockbuster bestseller. It happens. Not this time. Lies is a easy read, somewhat predicable, and contains elements of mystery and surprise at the end. I found it entertaining and kept my interest. Joe was patently naive and gullible; I think the author was striving for devoted and loyal. Mel, from the beginning, was more worldly and adventurous dusted with a sly and devious capacity to snow Joe. Little Wills was adorable.

Good read for a slow day or long car ride; guaranteed not to make you homicidal.

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JELLO GIRLS

Where to begin. As the book, ostensibly, is billed as a memoir, I’ll begin with the author’s lineage.

In the beginning, Benjamin Hartwell “begat” two lovely daughters, Clara and Edith.  Clara would grow up to become our author, Allie Rowbottom’s great-grandmother. Edith would become the heiress of a huge Jello fortune after marrying into the Woodward family and surviving her husband, Ernest.

Ernest’s story begins with his father, a man with a fancy name of Orator F. Woodward. who spawned six children and supported his family as a manufacturer and selling of a variety of items that included composition balls used by marksmen in target practice. The family lived in the small town of LeRoy, New York where in 1897, a local carpenter somehow discovered a way to make horses hoofs and bones into a tasty fruit flavored dessert labeled Jello. Lacking the wherewithal to market his product, he sold it in 1899 to Orator Woodward who successfully marketed the product into a household name and, in turn, made the Woodwards another newly minted American “nouveau riche” family. The Woodward clan did great things for the town. Their fingers were in every pie from schools, churches to library trust funds, restaurants to factory work.

Clara’s granddaughter, Mary Edith Fussell had a rough childhood; not because of poverty, access to money not a problem. Her mother, Midge, was not a warm and nurturing mother; unsettled and uncomfortable as a woman stifled in world controlled by powerful men. A woman who would have preferred to be a writer to birthing children. Midge dies of breast cancer when Mary Edith was fourteen-years-old leaving her fearful of living under the same cloud as her mother; doomed to a life dictated by “the family curse”, just as her mother had predicted. A curse with as many negative spells as Medusa has snakes. She felt she had seen the curse take her mother when she was a young girl, feared for her own life and feared for the future of her daughter, Allie. She tried to outrun the curse through drugs, drink, sex, and obsession with witchcraft. Always searching for the elusive need to feel loved and wanted in a patriarchal society. Swallowing emotions, repressing and silencing her womanly voice bringing on illness of mind and body.

The curse…It was used to explain all manner of familial misfortune. Death, alcoholism, wealth and the existential boredom it brought with it.  It was, she was told, confined to men and therefore nothing for to worry [her pretty little head about]. Later she would understand…the curse wasn’t confined to men; it came from them, from a social structure predicated on their power. The curse was the silence impressed upon her…and countless women before…

Mary’s story was very much overshadowed by several other themes -the history of Jello and its impact financially and socially on the township of Le Roy. The sweet wiggly product was examined intensely for its marketing and ad campaigns that Rowbottom feels strengthened the patriarchal power and depicted what should be the aspirational goal of every women hoping to please her man at the same time attempting to stay relevant through wars and changing societal norms.

If the intense coverage of Jello didn’t smother Mary Edith’s life, Rowbottom tosses in a mysterious “Tourette Syndrome” like illness that befells LeRoy teen girls in 2011, plays a recurring part; the impression left that these girls, like girls before them, are caught in the tangled web cast by a patriarchal society. Some thin thread alludes to Mary and Allie’s affiliation with the girl’s problems.

In the end, I felt like I was searching through a thick stew to see Mary Edith. There was one scene that physically made me sit back and say…What the? One of Mary’s heartbreaking issues had affected me emotionally. At the chapter’s end I flipped the page to an abrupt change of subject discussing the redesign of the Jello box.

There was no joy, happiness or sense that anything other than doom and gloom follows the inheritors of the great Jello fortune. I never really connected to Mary, Midge or Allie or their assertion that money was at the heart of their problems. Their curse.

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BENEATH A SCARLET SKY: a novel

EXCERPT FROM PREFACE
February 2006

At a dinner party in Bozeman, Montana…I heard the snippets of an extraordinary, untold tale of World War II with a seventeen-year-old Italian boy as its hero. My first reaction was that the story of Pino Lella’s life could not possibly be true… I [later] learned that Pino was alive some six decades later. The story you are about to read is not a work of narrative non-fiction , but a novel of biographical and historical fiction that hews closely to what happened to Pino Lella between June 1943 and May 1945. – Author, Mark Sullivan

Mark Sullivan, true to his word, gives us the harrowing story of a World War II teenage “Forrest Gump” – a child whose courage would have challenged the most stalwart adult. The story was not an easy one to obtain from him; he had buried it very deep in his memory. Pino was mentally crippled for the rest of his life by the spit-second decision he had to make late in the war – a choice to live or die for the one you love.

Giuseppe “Pino” Lella was ten-years-old when Nazi Germany and Italy’s fascist prime minister, Benito Mussolini, formed an alliance in 1936. By early 1943, Pino was now a pimple-faced seventeen-year-old focused on girls, food, and music; he and his brother Mimo’s attention still centered on themselves and growing up.

Mussolini’s power was waning and Nazi Germany was flooding Italy with troops and supplies to slow the Allies advance from Sicily. The rising scent of war permeated Italy, Pino’s home, and his family’s businesses in the fashion district of Milan. The boys were familiar with and comfortable around the friendly high-ranking Nazis that drove through the city and frequented local shops and restaurants. The evilness and cruelty that lie ahead still dormant in the Italian psyche.

Pino and his younger brother, Mimo, had been fortunate to have been raised in wealth. With foreign born nannies, each had become fluent in English, French, and Italian. Each summer and a month each winter were spend frolicking high up in the Alps at Father Luigi Re’s Casa Alpina, a Catholic boys school. The boys loved their time there skiing and climbing the steep mountain trails.

The trajectory of their carefree lives changed the day Pino “fell instantly in love” with a stranger on the street and asked her for a date. Hoping to meet her at the movies that night, Pino and Mimo headed to the theater (she reneged on a promise to meet him) placing the two boys at the epicenter of the Allies first bombing run of Milan. Both were able to escape major injury but their childhood ended that night.

The boys were sent into the mountains for safety to Father Re. Mimo first, then Pino later when the family home in Milan was destroyed. Pino was soon to learn that the deadly war had reached even the solitude and treacherous slopes of the Alps. At Father Re’s direction, Pino, only seventeen-years-old, spent eight months guiding a multitude of Jewish refuges and downed Allied pilots to safety in Switzerland. Every trip was fraught with danger from the mountains themselves, Nazis, and the murderous partisans preying on the travelers. It is a wonder that the unprepared and inexperienced refugees made it to safety, but they did with the extraordinary help from Pino and other guides that he trained.

Weeks before his eighteenth birthday, Pino’s father ordered him home for a family meeting. At eighteen-years-old, he would be drafted into Italian military service and undoubtedly sent to the Russian front as cannon fodder. Pino’s father and Uncle Albert had, what they considered a better option, albeit one that would require Pino to endure the wrath of the community – enlist in the German Army. With his Uncle Albert’s deep connections, Pino would spend the war in a non-combat Nazi unit.

On July 27, 1944, Pino, aghast at his predicament, donned his uniform of the German Army in the Organization Todt. Everything I have told you about Pino to this point – his courage, his strength of character, his patriotism – pales in comparison to his unexpected role as a prominent spy for  the Allies throughout the remainder of the war in Italy.

It all began at a serendipitous meeting with Major General Hans Leyers, one of the most powerful Germans in Italy overseeing Armaments and War Production and the General’s disabled staff car outside his Uncle Albert’s store. Pino arrived home wearing his Organization Todt uniform on a ten-day convalescence leave for a war injury. The General’s driver stared helplessly at the engine. Pino, grabbed a screwdriver with his good hand, adjusted the carburetor, the vehicle started, and the rest is history.  The General fired his driver and put Pino in the driver’s seat for the remainder of the war.

Uncle Albert, a member of the Italian Resistance as a secret Freedom Fighter, saw the potential of Pino’s close proximity to everything Nazi:

“You’ll go where Leyers goes. See what he sees. Hear what he hears. You’ll be our spy inside the German High Command.”

So began Pino’s life as an Allied spy. Code name: Observer

It is remarkable that this young man could witness the murders, the mutilations, the despair and hopelessness of enslaved captives and pillage of his own country and still retain his composure to relay valuable information that helped lead to the end of the Nazi presence in Italy. He found true love, faced numerous dangers, saw horrors that would scar him for life, yet, Pino held true and served his country well.

It is not an easy read. Many times I felt my stomach get queasy. But read on I did, I owed it to all the Pinos out there that place country over self.

Recommended reading.

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