the untitled project

My POV. Unmasked. I'm not invisible here.

Yellow roses

Me: “This room has a nice view, Dad. Look at all those rose bushes they have planted right outside your window! I’ll bet they’re really beautiful when they’re all blooming.”

Dad: “The yellow ones are my favorite.”

Me: “Really? I didn’t know yellow roses were your favorite.”

Dad: “Yeah, I think they’re really pretty.”

I’ll bet Heaven has the prettiest yellow roses you’ve ever seen, Dad. We’ll pick them together when I get there. I love you and miss you everyday.

Happy Father’s Day. See you soon!

Fine, thanks!

An article in this morning’s Public Opinion states that Manor Care Health Services, a nursing home in Chambersburg, Pa., has been fined $12,500 by the Pennsylvania Department of Health for violations. The article talks at length about how difficult it is for nursing homes to make ends meet nowadays, as they are receiving less and less Medicaid reimbursement, and are actually losing money on their Medicaid clients. While Manor Care was not the only facility in the area to be fined, it is the only facility with which I have personal experience.

Shortly after my dad had his first stroke in 2006, he was transferred to Manor Care for rehabilitation. My brother and his wife were living in South Carolina at the time, and Marcus and I were living in Florida. But Dad’s siblings, who were all local, seemed to think we lived on Mars. For some reason, our distant locations were seen as license by Dad’s siblings to completely shut us out of any decision-making required for his continuing care. Neither my brother nor I received so much as a phone call about Dad’s nursing home placement, and in choosing Manor Care, his siblings picked a doozie.

Our first visit to Manor Care was an eye-opener. It was the stereotypical scene of disabled elderly people slumped over and sleeping in wheelchairs parked haphazardly in a glaring-fluorescent hallway, their call buttons strategically out of reach. The floors were tiled, the walls were stark, and the whole place screamed “Institution!” We had a difficult time rousing Dad. He was clearly over-medicated and his clothes and wheelchair were filthy.

I frequently spoke with Dad by phone and tried as best I could to monitor his care from Florida. Calling the facility to check on his progress and to speak to nursing supervisors to express concern over some of their practices kept me busy. During one of our phone conversations, Dad told me that a CNA was helping him brush his teeth and accidentally dropped his toothbrush in the toilet. She promptly fished it out and handed it back to him to continue using. That was the last straw. I immediately filed a formal complaint with the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Believe it or not, the complaint about this and other shocking practices didn’t go very far. I don’t even want to think about what it takes to garner such an enormous fine.

To be fair, I can only imagine how difficult it must be to run a nursing home. The constant financial constraints, trying to find competent and compassionate staff who are willing to provide the hard work of excellent care for very little money… But some facilities seem able to get it right. Thankfully, Dad wasn’t in Manor Care very long. When he was placed in Menno Haven a few years ago, we learned why they have such a good reputation in the area. Not that they never make mistakes; no facility is perfect. But I can say that Dad received superior care there.

The nurses at Menno Haven always made sure Dad’s call button was within reach, and they came to check on him within minutes of his ringing it. Unlike at Manor Care, where he would press his call button to be helped to the toilet and usually waited at least 30 minutes before someone came. At that time, he still had his cell phone and kept it within reach. Dad being Dad, one day he decided that he’d waited long enough for a nurse to come, so he picked up his cell phone and dialed 9-1-1 and told them he needed help! Needless to say, the nurses took his phone away from him for a time after that, but I thought that was a pretty ingenious solution to their neglect.

We remain so grateful that during the last six years of his life at Menno Haven, Dad did not have to resort to any creative shenanigans to receive the care he deserved.

 

Divine intervention

If this doesn’t affirm your faith in a God with a better plan, I’m not sure anything could. divine intervention art
Reblogging from http://www.malcolmivey.com

Written by Malcolm Ivey

I think I had been up for four days when I robbed the second gas station. But it could have been five days or even six. I don’t know. Days run together when they’re not separated by sleep. Armed robbery was a new low, even for me, but then so was crack cocaine. In the six months following my first hit from a crack pipe, I’d lost everything — my car, my job, my girl, my family. I couldn’t stand the weak thing I had become and by then, I was ready to die. My plan was simple: rob and get high until the police got behind me, then blow my brains out.

Although cocaine is not classified as a hallucinogen, sleep deprivation most definitely is. And as I was exiting that gas station, I was seeing and hearing all sorts of things – police search lights, sirens, footsteps, voices… I hopped into a stolen car and sped away, zigzagging my way through neighborhood streets and charting a course for the nearest dope hole.

As I pulled out onto the main thoroughfare, two things happened that would change my life forever: 1) My headlights stopped working, and 2) a cop was driving by. I checked the rearview to see if he was going to turn around. Of course he was. It was 3 a.m. and I was driving with no headlights in an area where a robbery had just occurred. When he turned on his siren, I stomped on the gas and yanked hard on the steering wheel…

…and drove straight into a brick mailbox. I bailed out of the car and ran through someone’s yard, tires screeching behind me. Desperate to escape, I sprinted toward the field abutting the backyard but never saw the fence. It was one of those waist-high, rusty barbed wire things and it flipped me upside down. I felt the gun fall from the pocket of my hoodie into the tall grass below. I quickly freed myself, then frantically groped for it in the dark. I couldn’t lose the gun. I needed it to off myself when there was nowhere left to run. But I heard squawking radios and jingling keys approaching. I had to go.

Branches and thorns slapped my face as I tore through the field. I tripped, lost a shoe, tripped again, and finally rolled into a gully and pulled the brush over myself to hide. An hour passed. Helicopters flew overhead, far off voices shouted, car engines roared. Then the low growl and panting breath of a dog drew close. I could hear it a few feet away, tracking me. Suddenly, the massive head of a German Shepherd poked through the brush. I threw my arms up to keep him from biting my face. He seized my wrist and began ripping flesh from bone. I was quickly surrounded by police and pummeled with flashlights and boots.

But something strange happened in that field. Maybe it was just the dope or the sleep deprivation. Maybe I was in shock, but for a moment, I was hovering over my body, looking down at the scene below. This pitiful crackhead that was me — emaciated, dirty, bloody — being mauled and stomped and finally handcuffed.

If I’d had that gun while I lay there in the bushes with the police closing in, I would have killed myself. There would be no Consider the Dragonfly, no With Arms Unbound, no On the Shoulders of Giants, and you definitely wouldn’t be reading this post right now. I’d be just a forgotten news story from the last decade, a dead crackhead in a field. Forgotten, except to my mom and she would have found a way to blame herself. Instead, it is my belief that something bigger intervened and that has made all the difference. If Malcolm Ivey has a birthday, it’s March 22, 2005, the night I dropped the gun.

In praise of psych meds!

Welcome to May, Mental Health Awareness Month. It seems an appropriate time to sing the praises of psych meds! You know the ones. Those antidepressants, mood stabilizers, anti-anxiety meds and the like that so many of us take on a daily basis. Or should…

I know there are some who have been prescribed antidepressants or anti-anxiety meds, but refuse to take them. You’ve heard all the excuses:
– “We live in an over-medicated society!”
– “Doctors get kick-backs from drug companies, so I’m not going to help line their pockets!”
– “Taking those types of medications is a sign of weakness!” (This one is my personal favorite.)

I don’t get it. I guess I was raised differently, but I was taught that if something is wrong with you, it’s smart to seek help from a trained professional and follow their advice. Nutty, right? Um… no.

So if your car breaks down on the side of the road and a tow truck shows up to help you, you refuse it? You tell the driver, “No, I’m not going to allow you to take my car to the mechanic, I’m going to tough it out! Seeking help for my broken car is a sign of weakness!”

If you get some nasty infection in your body and your doctor prescribes antibiotics, you refuse them? You tell the doctor, “No, I’m not going to take these antibiotics that will help me and make me feel better. I’m going to tough it out because that makes me a stronger person!”

Really?

While most people would agree that these two examples are self-defeating, reckless, maybe even silly, when it comes to medications that provide help and relief for a mental or emotional disorder, that’s where they draw the line. The stigma that still lingers on mental health issues like a foul smell prevents people from allowing themselves to accept help.

“Only crazy people go to therapy.”

No, only crazy people willfully choose to continue to suffer and torment everyone around them in the name of some misguided notion of strength or flawlessness or self-denial.

I was prescribed the antidepressant Zoloft nearly 25 years ago and I still take it today. Unlike some people who can take a course of antidepressants for a time, then stop and feel fine, I have not been able to stop taking Zoloft. Under my doctor’s supervision, I’ve tried to wean myself off of it a few times over the years, just to see if I could do without it. But before long, that black cloud of depression crawls over me again and I have to go back on it. Sure, I could stay off of it, refuse to take it… and feel like shit for the rest of my life, but why would I do that? Why would anyone choose that?

Not everyone needs antidepressants, and not everyone who needs them responds well to them. But to refuse to seek help simply because your ailment is mental or emotional has never made sense to me. I talk freely about being on an antidepressant and engaging in therapy because I want to do all I can to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health. If you’ve read this far, you know I talk plainly about people who continue to inflict the stigma on themselves and others. It’s not helping anyone and I believe it continues to hurt people, so I speak out. Happy Mental Health Awareness Month!

Land of contradictions

American actor and activist John Fugelsang once said: “Only in America can you be pro-death penalty, pro-war, pro-unmanned drone bombs, pro-nuclear weapons, pro-torture, pro-guns, and still call yourself pro-life.”

This country is a land of contradictions. The conservative right call themselves Christians, but they resent any of their tax dollars being spent on taking care of the poor. “I’m not going to subsidize laziness!” is their motto. They call themselves pro-life, but really, they’re just pro-fetus because once that child is born, they’re on their own. Until they reach age 18, when they must register for conscription so the government can send them off to war if it wants, to kill or be killed. How is that pro-life?

I noticed a bumper sticker on an old jalopy last night. I’ve seen it before. Sometimes on old cars, usually on pickup trucks. The sticker is promoting the NRA with the slogan “Stand and Fight!” I always think: “Stand and fight what, exactly?” What or whom are we fighting? Terrorists? Not likely. Statistics show that our fellow-Americans are much more likely to murder us, partly because guns are so easily attainable in America. You can purchase a gun in a day or two in this country, but if you want an appointment to see a psychiatrist, the wait is about three months. How ridiculous is that?

Some of the blame for this pervasive “stand and fight” paranoia that has gripped our society should be placed at the doorstep of Hollywood, and the music and video game industries. It matters not at all to me that there have been no conclusive studies done that show movies, music, and video games that glorify violence have a negative influence on our thinking. But I do find it terribly coincidental that as the popularity of these forms of “entertainment” has grown over the last 30 years, our society has become convinced that “the enemy” is coming to get us and we must arm ourselves. Meanwhile, the enemy has become us.

As a country, we have allowed the fallacy of the Marlboro Man and “rugged individualism” to completely cloud our thinking. We love to call ourselves a Christian nation, but in reality, we don’t live it. We don’t even come close. We’ve bought into the lie that if a person needs help, they need only to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, even if they have no boots. And if they have no boots, it’s because they are lazy, or made a bunch of bad choices, so why does someone like that deserve help? Even in our government, compromise, negotiation, and diplomacy have been deemed weak, even un-American. “Talking to our enemies is a waste of time! Let’s just carpet-bomb the fuck outta them! Am I right?” Yes, sadly, you are right.

It’s true there are pockets of sanity out there filled with people who are tolerant, generous, and loving, just like real Christians. I plan to spend my time in those pockets with those people, and hold onto the hope that one day, our country will see the wisdom in taking care of one another.
 

The truth about spice

I awoke to a shrill and piercing wail, half panicked, half orgasmic. “Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God!” I sat up in my bunk and glanced at my watch. It was 5 a.m. The commotion was in the back corner of the dorm. A crowd of inmates was gathered around a young […]

via The truth about spice — Malcolm Ivey

15 styles of distorted thinking

Do any of these sound like anyone you know?

Filtering – Taking the negative details and magnifying them while filtering out all positive aspects of a situation.
Try instead: Identify the positive aspects of a situation. Keep the negative aspects in realistic proportion.

Polarized thinking – Things are either black or white, good or bad. There is no middle ground. You have to be perfect or you’re a failure.
Try instead: Look for the middle ground. Give yourself alternatives besides the extremes. Accept that you are worthwhile even if you’re not perfect.

Overgeneralization – You come to a general conclusion based on a single incident or piece of evidence. If something bad happens once, you expect it to happen over and over again.
Try instead: Be specific. Avoid using words like “always, never, all, none, every.” Limit statements to what actually happened.

Mind reading – Without their saying so, you know what people are feeling and why they act the way they do. In particular, you are able to define how people are feeling toward you.
Try instead: Ask others what they think, feel, want, or need. Tell others what you think, feel, what, or need.

Catastrophizing – You expect disaster. You notice or hear about a problem and start the “What if’s?” “What if tragedy strikes?” “What if it happens to me?”
Try instead: Focus on the present reality. Ask yourself what is the worst thing that can happen, and what you can do to prevent it. Use your energy for what you CAN do. Let go of what you cannot control.

Personalization – Thinking that everything people do or say is some kind of reaction to you. You also compare yourself to others, trying to determine who’s smarter, better looking, more talented, etc.
Try instead: Keep in mind that most people are wrapped up in their own problems and there could be a thousand reasons why someone is acting the way they are. We tend to judge others by their behavior, while we judge ourselves by our intentions. It’s not always about you.

Control fallacies – If you feel externally controlled, you see yourself as a helpless victim of fate. The fallacy of internal control has you responsible for the pain and happiness of everyone around you.
Try instead: Remember, the only person you can control is YOU.

Fallacy of fairness – You feel resentful because you think you know what’s fair but other people won’t agree with you.
Try instead: Speak directly to the person involved in the situation. Ask for cooperation. If a situation cannot be changed, remember life isn’t fair. What is fair to one person may not be fair to another.

Blaming – You hold other people responsible for your pain, or take the other tack by blaming yourself for every problem.
Try instead: Others may have an impact on you. You may have an impact on others. What you choose to do in response to that impact is up to you. You decide whether to be miserable.

Shoulds – You have a list of ironclad rules about how you and other people should act. People who break the rules anger you and you feel guilty if you violate the rules.
Try instead: When you think “should,” ask yourself “Who says?” Do you agree? If yes, say “I would like to” rather than “I (or you) should.” If you don’t agree, try to let it go.

Emotional reasoning – You believe that what you feel must be true, automatically. If you feel stupid and boring, then you must be stupid and boring.
Try instead: What you feel comes from what you think. If your thinking is unrealistic, your feelings will be unrealistic too. If you feel bad, it doesn’t necessarily mean the situation is bad. Remember, your thinking could be distorted.

Fallacy of change – You expect that other people will change to suit you if you just pressure or cajole them enough. You need to change people because your hopes for happiness seem to depend entirely upon them.
Try instead: Remember, you can change only your own actions.

Global labeling – You generalize one or two qualities into a negative global judgment.
Try instead: Because you or someone else make mistakes does not mean you or they are all bad. Watch out for generalizations like “always” and “never.” Remind yourself of good things you or others have done.

Heaven’s reward fallacy – You expect all your sacrifice and self-denial to pay off, as if there is someone keeping score. You feel bitter when the reward doesn’t come.
Try instead: Give when you are really willing to give. Get your needs met in the present.

Being right –
You are continually on trial to prove that your opinions and actions are correct. Being wrong is unthinkable and you will go to any length to demonstrate your rightness.
Try instead: Accept that it is natural to make mistakes. Being right doesn’t mean you’re a better person. Affirm that you are worthwhile just the way you are.

Accuracy, Accuracy, Accuracy

In the managing editor’s office, there was a dog-eared piece of paper affixed to the top of a newspaperssmall box on his desk. On that paper were three words written in red: “Accuracy, Accuracy, Accuracy.” I remember sitting across from him in that office, staring at that paper, knowing our entire operation hinged on those three words. Though I never worked a day at that newspaper in which that managing editor didn’t intimidate the hell out of me (think a skinny Lou Grant minus the big-cuddly-teddy-bear side), those three words made me realize that the integrity of our reporters and editors was the lifeblood of our news organization. Woe to any living soul in that newsroom who might even think about embellishing the facts or pushing an agenda, no matter how subtle.

Every day at around 5 p.m., we held a story budget meeting. Easily the most important 45 minutes of the workday. This was the time when all the editors would gather to discuss which of the day’s stories would make the front page of the next morning’s paper. Each editor would “pitch” their story and talk about why they felt it was worthy of A1 placement.

These daily story budget meetings were also, perhaps most importantly, a time of “checks and balances” for editors who were deciding what our readers would see on the front page. Editors would play devil’s advocate with one another, asking tough questions about why a given story was newsworthy, what were the most important angles of the story, and who was being served by covering this story? I witnessed countless serious discussions in which editors would argue and agonize over whether a story was fair, unbiased and ethical. As graphics editor, I had not had any formal journalistic training like my colleagues, but I learned to respect and admire these people for their deep commitment to truth, accuracy, and making sure the general public was aware of what was going on in their world so they could make informed decisions.

Fast-forward 20 years to the 24-hour news cycle in which ratings are king and “fake news” abounds. These days, it would probably be difficult for the average American to imagine editors sitting around debating the ethical merits of any story. But I can assure you, they still do. Truth still matters. Accuracy still matters. Solid, agenda-free reporting matters more than ever.

I bristle and feel personally offended every time someone uses the term “disgusting, dishonest media” because that used to be me. Most days, I wish it was still me. And the offense slithers deeper into me when these insults are hurled at venerable news organizations that dare to print accounts of events or speeches that, while true, come across as unflattering to the subject.

Are there some news organizations that have an agenda they’re not afraid to push? Certainly. Left or right? Of course! Especially in our current environment, every American should be concerned about the validity of the news they are consuming. But that doesn’t mean that any news item you come across is fake news just because you disagree with it or find it unpalatable.

One of my favorite college professors used to tell us: “As a professor, my job is to profess. Your job, as a student, is to go out and do your own research and figure out if I’m right.” As citizens and consumers of news, our job is similar. Do some fact-checking, maybe a little investigative work, to find out which news organizations are trustworthy. Not which ones you agree with, but which ones are trustworthy. There’s a big difference. And remember, one of the hallmarks of any democracy is a free press and, hopefully, a citizenry that isn’t too lazy to think critically, ask questions, and form their own opinions independently.

Dear Younger Self,

kelly-high-school-pic-1979I’ve been wanting to write you this letter for a while now. To tell you that your life makes a turn into happiness in about 20 years.

As I look at you now, I see a girl preparing to embark on the journey of college that’s more exciting than scary, more fun than grueling, and more rewarding than empty, though you’ll experience plenty of scary, grueling, and empty times for sure. But you’ll make fast friends who will help you through. A word of caution: don’t get your hopes up for romance in college. As much as you crave the approval and acceptance that having a boyfriend represents to you now, take it from me, you’re better off. You know all those Saturday nights you sat at home feeling sorry for yourself watching the Carol Burnett Show instead of being out with a boyfriend? Remember those spring seasons when no one asked you to prom? How no guy would even talk to you and how crappy that made you feel? Remember your self-esteem in the toilet? Well my dear, fear not! Life will reward you in spades, trust me.

After college, you’ll spend about 10 years living single, managing your own affairs, working at a satisfying career, making new good friends. You’ll still hear that nagging voice in your head telling you there’s something wrong with you for not being in a relationship that’s headed toward marriage. So in your mid-30s, you’ll take steps to quiet that voice and marry the first guy who shows no evidence of being an ax murderer in his spare time. Here’s a secret I learned: that nagging voice? It was Mamaw’s. The good news is, getting married does silence that voice. In 1999, Mamaw will die happy for you in the knowledge that you’ve “married into a good family.” So what if she had no idea you were miserable? That’s not the point. What’s important is you did the deed so she could see.

Within six months of her death, you’ll leave the bum (finally! who knew just three short years could feel like such a slog?). And guess what? You will have already met your real Prince Charming!

The end of your first marriage will come fairly easily and definitely painlessly. The only tears you’ll shed over its demise will be while asking God’s forgiveness for being unable to keep your marriage vows. But lucky for you, God’s specialty is forgiveness. The very day you leave your husband, you’ll have your first date with Prince Charming and within six weeks, you’ll be living together. I know, right?!? Fast! But you know what? Don’t worry because you will never have been as sure about anything in your life as you are about him.

I can’t wait for you to experience him that first night! He will astonish you by not only asking your thoughts on different topics, but actually looking you in the eye and listening to your answers, as few, male or female, ever have. He won’t be able to take his eyes off you and for the first time, you’ll feel ravishing, important, and valued. You’ll learn that he’s not only thoughtful, sweet, and caring, but also spiritual, smart, and funny.

For a while, you’ll wait for the other shoe to drop. Okay, nobody is this perfect. Where are the skeletons? You’ll learn he doesn’t have any skeletons or even any closets.

As I sit here now writing you this letter, Younger Self, I can tell you that as Prince Charming and I approach our 15th wedding anniversary, he is still the man he presented himself to be that very first night. Just wait, you’ll find that you and he are so compatible you are positively boring. How wonderful is that? He does live with chronic pain and will often apologize to you for his limitations that will become, by extension, your limitations. But you’ll try to make him see himself through your eyes and understand that all in all, you’d gladly take his limitations any day. That just by coming into your life and settling here, he is quite literally, an answer to prayer.

So hang in there, Younger Self. In about 20 years, God will extend His hand of mercy by pushing you aside and saying, “Geesh, do I have to do everything for you? Here, let me,” and send you a companion who will make the pain of earlier struggles fade like dew on grass. For all those times when you were aching for the validation of a boyfriend and feeling like an ugly duckling, your older self will know the peace of love that’s deep and real.
See you when you get here,

7 p.m.

By Kelly Z. Conradgazebo
It happened every day. The evening news had just ended and bedtime was fast approaching. The end of another day that was just like yesterday, and the day before, and the day before, and the day before…

My phone would ring and the caller i.d. would say “Dad.” Every. Single. Night. When I couldn’t pick up, he’d leave a message that was always the same: “I didn’t do much today. My blood pressure is good. My sugar is good. I feel good, I don’t hurt or ache anyplace. Well, I don’t have much to tell you.” After the first couple of times, I could no longer listen to his messages because the sound of his voice would make me cry. Not because he sounded depressed or sad; he didn’t. It was because I felt sad for him. His half-broken body in a wheelchair, dependent upon others for everything. I saw defeat, finality, and all that he had lost. His freedom, his independence, his happily busy life, his connection to family and friends, his healthy body that he had total control over. There were two things Dad always hated: boredom and inactivity. Now he was stuck with both.

During the final year of his life, he didn’t call as much, then not at all, because his brain was no longer functioning enough for him to be able to dial the phone. Frustrating for him. Heartbreaking for me. He kept saying his phone wasn’t working because he couldn’t get through to me. I didn’t have the heart to tell him there was nothing wrong with his phone, he was simply no longer able to use it. Maybe I should have been more honest with him, but I was never able to slash him with the sharp blade of truth that would drain all the remaining hope from his eyes. Even three months before he died, he was asking me if he had enough money in his bank account to buy a used car. He wanted to get out and drive around a little. Instead of saying, “Dad, you can’t even dial a phone! How are you going to operate a car?!?” I told him he didn’t have enough money to get a decent car, but if he just wanted to get out more, we could make that happen. But he soon lost interest in even that.

I’m so thankful that the fall of 2016 stayed relatively warm and mild, even into early November. During one of my last visits, I had wheeled him outside so we could sit in a gazebo on the grounds of the nursing home. It was a beautiful, brisk fall day. Dry leaves crackled in the breeze and a couple of squirrels scampered among the trees on their afternoon errands. Conversation with Dad was no longer possible, so we just sat quietly, holding hands. He was slumped in his wheelchair, chin to chest, and looked to be sleeping. But he continuously rubbed his thumb over the back of my hand. I knew he couldn’t be sleeping if he was doing that, and I hoped this simple action was as comforting to him as it was to me.

I found myself wishing I could apologize to him for every smart-mouthed retort I ever shot at him as a teenager. I wished I could tell him how much I regretted not asking him more questions and listening to his answers. How much I missed being able to make him laugh. How much I missed the sound of his laughter. How much I wished we could listen just one more time to bluegrass music and I could see his eyes light up when his favorite song, “Rocky Top” came on.

It’s so easy to say “don’t waste time!” But really, listen to me: for the love of God, don’t waste time. Every night at 7 p.m. I’m reminded. Don’t waste time.

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