August 14, 2020

My seven hard months of being out of sight and mind

By John Guy LaPlante

Morro Bay, CA — I’m so, so happy, my friends, to tell you I’m back home finally. Living on my own again, by myself, in my mobile home.

This after some five months of being in a hospital, two nursing homes, and an assisted living facility.

Strangely it seems I was away in those institutions much longer than five months. Methinks because a lot of it impressed upon me the reality of being very old.

You know, I never thought I would live in a mobile home.  Six years now.

Over my many decades I’ve lived in houses and apartments and condos, most of which I’ve owned.

This mobile home is perfect for me in my very old age. I said “very” old age because very soon, on April 26, I will be 91 and starting my 92nd year!

Notice the exclamation mark. That’s because turning 91 is a surprise, a very nice one. Truth is, I never expected to live this long.

What’ pleases me a lot is that most people who know me seem to agree I still have my wits about me. A lot of people my age do not. Very sad.

Anyway, this is supposed to be about the huge medical crisis that kept me out of circulation those many weeks. Until I moved back home nearly two months ago.

But this is not supposed to be about my mobile home. I’m telling you about it because it will make you understand why I wanted to come back to it. Plus I feel it will be interesting to you.

It happened as a result of my my moving to California from Connecticut to be with my daughter Monique and her husband David. That was some eight years ago. They are wonderful.

Morro Bay is a lovely small city about half way between San Francisco and Los Angeles. No ice or snow here. The harbor and the broad Pacific are just down the hill a mile and a half or so. Very low crime rate. Very peaceful. Only 15 miles from much larger San Luis Obispo with its hospitals, airport, university, big stores, on and on.

I moved here permanently, intending to live here until I die.

I knew zilch about mobile homes. I suspect few of you do. I’m telling you about it so you’ll understand why it’s so important to me. Besides, it will interest you, I believe.

Then I will get back to my humongous medical crisis.

I bought my mobile home six years ago. It’s number 19 in a mobile home park of 55 units. The park is called Morro Palms, so named because of its towering palms trees.

The median price of houses in Morro Bay is a bit more than $500,000. This may sound very expensive to you but that’s what it is.

Right now the average price of a mobile home in Morro Palms is about 20 percent of that. So $100,000 or so. But I paid much less than that five years ago. Prices have been going up and up.

As is the custom in all mobile home parks, or so I’m told, you own the mobile home but pay for the lot it’s on. They call it ground rent. This ground rent was a big novelty to me. You pay that ground rent monthly, along with the utilities. Those utilities are gas, electricity, and water.

Living alone as I do, those utilities are quite modest.

I feel I have a wonderful deal here, indeed I do.

Now a little secret. I believe that deep down I had a prejudice against people living in mobile homes. I didn’t know better.

Well, my neighbors are fine, upstanding folks. I have one who is a retired university professor. Another who is a half-retired contractor. Another who was a chemist. His wife was a psychologist. Another who is the assistant manager of a very large chain hardware store. Another who had a big state job certifying new state buildings just completed. Quite a few are like that.

They all like the idea of saving a lot by buying a nice mobile home.

The location of our Morro Palms park couldn’t be better.. Besides being very safe and very quiet, it is so, so convenient. Just a 10 to 15-minute walk to supermarket, drugstore, bank, post office, public library, senior center, restaurants, and all the shops and services typical of a nice small city of 10,000 people.

My neighbor Francis walks down to our harbor’s Embarcadero every fair day.

Our park has strict rules. You have to be 55, and you can’t have children of any age living here. And you cannot rent it out to anyone.

About 20 percent of the mobile homes are used as a vacation and weekend home by their owners. All because they find Morro Bay such a pleasant and interesting community.

About 20 percent of the mobile homes are used as a vacation and weekend home by their owners. All because they find Morro Bay such a pleasant and interesting community.

About 20 percent of the mobile homes are used as a vacation and weekend home by their owners. All because they find Morro Bay such a pleasant and interesting community.

About 20 percent of the mobile homes are used as a vacation and weekend home by their owners. All because they find Morro Bay such a pleasant and interesting community.

About 20 percent of the mobile homes are used as a vacation and weekend home by their owners. All because they find Morro Bay such a pleasant and interesting community.

For me the big, bg plus is that Monique and David live only a seven or eight-minute car ride away. So I see them and enjoy them often.

Yes, sir, how fortunate I am to have discovered Morro Palms Mobile Home Park.

Finally, finally back to my huge health crisis.

That crisis sprang up in early October and that’s why you haven’t been receiving my blog. It put me out of business. Not the right expression because my blogging has never been a business, as you know.

I was scared. Terribly worried. Did not have the energy or the zest for anything else. Was totally preoccupied with getting better.

Truth is, I had a close call. Far closer than I realized when David and Monique drove me the 18 miles to French Hospital in San Luis Obispo.

David is a very fast driver. Believe me, he got me there faster than any ambulance would have. Lucky no policeman spotted us. Right to French’s big emergency care department.

By the way, there’s nothing French about the hospital. It’s called French only because the gentleman for which it is named was a Mr. French.

I thought I’d be there for two or three days and that would be it. I’d be sent home. I had no idea it would be five months before I got back home. And that’s why only a few of you got to hear from me directly in all that time.

When Monique realized that I was worried about you not hearing from me, she took it upon herself to do something about that. She contacted you through my blog and told you about my bad news.

My key diagnosis turned out to be double pneumonia. It was compounded by a couple of other problems. Well, I spent 13 days at French Hospital. They did a good job. That’s for sure. Of course I expected a big bill. But I was shocked, nearly fell over when I got it.

They hadn’t done any major surgery or gotten me started on heavy chemotherapy for a life-threatening cancer, or any other huge problem like that.

So yes, I was nearly knocked off my feet when I spotted how much those 13 days had cost. Wow!

It was $135,000!  Now divide that by 13 for the 13 days that I spent there. More than $10,000 a day!

But because I had Medicare plus Medex, which is a good supplemental policy I have, all French asked of me was a $50 copay. How fortunate I was.

Now here’s something interesting. When I have asked friends to estimate what the huge tab had been, they put it at a mere $20,000 to $30,000 for my whole stay. Crazy, don’t you think?

They seem to have no idea how hospital care has become shockingly expensive.

Well, I insisted on an itemized statement from French and finally I got it. It ran many pages long. But it was written in such impossible technical gobbledygook that no way could I understand it.

 Anyway, from there I was transferred by ambulance to San Luis Transitional Care. It’s a rehab facility. It’s operated by a local chain called Compass.

It made me think back some 30 years when I spent a couple of weeks at a rehab center in Connecticut. That had been a very good experience.

San Luis Transitional Care also turned out to be a very good experience.

I was one of two men in hospital beds in a double room. Which was standard. My companion had been there a few days. I’ll call him Charlie. A good guy. I got to like him a lot.

0ur beds were barely five feet apart. We ate our meals propped up in our beds. We pushed a button by our side and quickly someone would appear to tend to our needs.

Sometimes a nurse and sometimes a nurse’s aide. Nearly always the nurse was a woman. Half the time the nurse’s aide would be a man. 

Often I preferred the man. Why? Some of the care I needed was embarrassing, and I liked it if the aide turned out to be a he. True for Charlie also.

I’d have to use a urinal or a bedpan and that was no fun. When finally I got to use the toilet and passed stool, I wouldn’t be allowed to flush it until an aide came to see how much it had amounted to. That was the rule.

But if a woman responded and got the drift, she’d take it in stride, and just laugh and say,”Not a problem, John. Not a problem.”

After a couple of days, I felt these various caregivers were new friends, sort of.

We got care day and night, through all three shifts, including our blood pressure readings and our prescribed medicines.

But how irritating it was to have somebody tapping my shoulder at 4 a.m. to wake me up and give me an injection or a couple of pills or do whatever else they had to do.

I was being given a variety of pills and the nurse would make sure I swallowed each and every one.

Very soon I realized I was getting very good care right around the clock. A nice feeling.

Charlie agreed.

But the TV set we shared turned out to be a problem. I had little interest in what was being shown except the news reports. He could have kept the TV on 24 hours a day. Regardless of what was on. Finally he’d turn it off at 10 p.m.

But he had to do that because it was the rule. Thank God.

Quickly I was encouraged, like every other new patient, to get up out of bed and start using the wheelchair by my side. It seemed every patient had a wheelchair.

Not only to get around but for meals. Our meals would be served to us on a tray that they placed on our bedside table. I’d edge up to it in my wheelchair.

And no more urinal and bedpan, by the way. I’d wheel myself to the toilet.

I was given a shower twice a week, and I really enjoyed that.

After three days or so I was encouraged to navigate my wheelchair out of the room and down a couple of corridors to a dining room. And sit and dine with other patients at tables for four.  It was very nice to mix in like that.

And the food was quite good, I am pleased to say. I am a vegetarian, and I was sure that would present a problem, but it did not.

And in a few days I began spending an hour or an hour and a half in the physical therapy room. It became the most important part of my day.

A couple of dozen patients would work out in there in a typical day.

The exercises were individualized to us, depending on our specific needs.

There were seven or eight of us in there, both men and women. We would be started on sets of exercises using machines, the exercises becoming more and more demanding. I did it seriously. It was paying off.

I was surprised by how many men and women were in there working out after a knee or hip replacement. Or falling and breaking a bone.

My needs were much simpler. The usual workout was one hour. I’d try to squeeze in extra time and quite often I’d get away with it.

What was wonderful was that right from the start I began receiving visits from Monique and David. Sometimes Monique, sometimes David, sometimes both. They are busy people. How fortunate I was.

Sometimes l’d tell them, “No need, no need,” but they never missed. How good that made me feel!

And I’d get calls from my son Arthur in Florida and my son Mark in Wisconsin.  Wonderful!

Just about every one of my nurses and aides got to know Monique and David. And vice versa. It was all very friendly.

I must tell you that there was not one of these nurses or aides that I did not get to like.

Well, I expected to spend two weeks at San Luis Transitional Care and then be discharged to go home. That was not to be.

The problem was that my medical insurance would pay for just two weeks. The two weeks ended but I was lucky to get an extension. But those extra days ran up my bill considerably. 

Yet even with the extra days Monique and David felt I was still not ready to go home. And I agreed with them. Absolutely.

Then we got good news.

If I shifted to another rehab center, my insurance would cover that. Strange but true.

And so I was accepted at another Compass rehab center. It was called Bayside. I went in in better shape and I adjusted easily.

I expected to stay two weeks but I ended up spending a month.

And in its services and the good attitude of its staff, it was very comparable to San Luis rehab. Very commendable

One nice thing was that Bayside was much closer to home.  Now it would take Monique and David less than 10 minutes to get here. As opposed to 30 or 40 minutes. They were still coming every day.

Now I was really getting better.  I looked forward to wrapping all this up and finally getting back to my mobile in Morro Palms.

No, not yet, I was told. I was upset when I heard that.

Monique and David agreed that I had improved a lot. But not enough. I disagreed.

The problem they saw was that at home I would be living on my own 24 hours a day. They felt I was not up to that. It would be very risky.

A couple of times I have fallen at home.

Even have had to be taken to a hospital. I’m extra cautious now.

Finally I agreed to stay. But reluctantly.

Well, Compass has an assisted living home nearby. In fact, it was in the same building I was in now. Yes, Bayside. It was just a couple of corridors down from Bayside.

I repeat, this was not another rehab center. This was an assisted living community. Big difference.

Familiar with that? I wasn’t. It turned out to be interesting.

It was called Casa de Flores, which is Spanish, I think, for House of Flowers.

I had no intention of living there. But I was curious. One day I wheeled myself right into Casa, as everybody called it. Nobody bothered me. I took a good look at this and that. I did that another time. I learned a lot.

Casa’s specialty was serving elderly people who weren’t able or no longer wanted to live at home. Most were widows and widowers, with more women than men. But there were a few couples also.

Casa, as insiders called it, was a comprehensive package of services.

Residents got room and board and laundry service, received their daily medicines–nearly everybody was on medicines–and were treated to a wide variety of interesting things to do. Concerts, movies in its own little movie theatre, nice excursions here and there.

And most important of all, an ongoing program seven mornings a week of mental and physical exercises in its Activities Room. With trained leaders who did their best to make it pass as fun.

 I would not be staying here. I did explore it quite thoroughly..

I wheel-chaired my way right into what Casa called the Fireside Room. Named for the beautiful fireplace in one corner. 

It had chunks of sawed firewood in its hearth, but they were just impressive imitations of the real thing. And they were always burning, or so it seemed. But the fire wasn’t started by striking a match. No, no. It was gas-fired.

And the fire was always going even when the room’s temperature was automatically set at 75 degrees.

Residents of Casa would enjoy sitting by it and enjoying it, as make-believe as it was.

The Fireside Room was beautiful. It looked like the main sitting room in an expensive hotel. The beautiful carpeting. The fine couches and armchairs. The mahogany side tables. The paintings. The grand piano.

I even got to see the two dining rooms. They were planned and furnished to look like high-class restaurants, with menus and uniformed waiters and waitresses.

I picked up one of Casa’s brochures.

Every week, at least twice there would be concerts and solo performances by artists.

Monique and David suggested, in fact very strongly recommended that I spend a few weeks at Casa.

True, a very nice place for anybody that needed such a place. Not me. I’d be going home.

I do feel they protested for my own good. They loved me. It was that simple. They were totally sincere in their concerns.

I thought differently. I felt that I did not need Casa and insisted I did not want it. It was expensive. More than $3,000 per month, and all that Medicare and Medex would cover would be the medications that I would be given. Which would be minor.

Nevertheless I could afford Casa I just didn’t need it. Didn’t want it.

Reluctantly I said okay, I would move in but for just a few weeks. I was firm about that. I wanted to go home. I signed a contract with Casa that was many pages long.

Oh, I must tell you this. While at Casa, one of the therapists that I got to see was the occupational therapist. 

His name was Arnold. He was 45, so a lot of experience to his credit.

I mentioned to him that I wanted to go home. He said he understood, sure, but was I up to going home? Could I handle that safely, comfortably?

I said yes.

So one day he picked me up and drove me to my mobile home. He said he had a long checklist of activities to put me through.

To make sure I could walk up the four front steps. Unlock the door. Use all the switches and lamps. Walk around safely.

He checked me out in every room.

In the kitchen, the stove, fridge, microwave, pantry. He asked if I cook my meals. I said hes. Could I wash the dishes afterward plus all the clean-up?

My bedroom. I already had a hospital bed as my bed. Not because I need a hospital bed. But because I enjoy reading in bed, and its up and down electric switch make reading in bed so much more pleasurable. He smiled when I told him that.

Could I hand up my clothes in the closet? Yes, Wash them in my washing machine and dryer? Yes.

The bathroom, all-important, with its toilet, counter with wash basin, and particularly its integrated tub and shower.

My toilet by the way was a raised model. I had it installed two years ago. It makes it easier for me to get up. Excellent, he said.

He suggested a couple of modifications for the tub / shower. One was trivial — an easier on / off shower nozzle.

The other was a novel bench for the bathtub. Well. novel to me.

He said the bench would make it easier for me to get in and take a shower and to get out, all by myself. I assured him I would get one.

He looked at my office with computer, file cabinets, bookcases, on and on. .

I was impressed by his thoroughness.

Finally, I said, “Well, Arnold, what do you think??”

He didn’t hesitate. “You’ll do fine, John.”  And he gave me a thumbs up.

Wonderful!

Later David bought and installed a new shower nozzle for me.

And went to our senior center. It has a room full of donated wheelchairs, crutches, bedside bars, roller carts and other good things for needy senior citizens.  And returned with the type of bathtub bench Arnold had recommended.

But at Casa de Robles suddenly a problem. They said they couldn’t take me in for a few days. Red tape of some kind.

So Monique and David took me to their home for a week And finally Casa was ready for me. And so I became a resident.

I got a very nice studio apartment. It was really a simple room with a big picture window offering a nice view of the outdoors.

It had a large clothes closet, a kitchen cabinet with a sink. And a small refrigerator.

In a corner was a small bathroom with toilet, lavatory, and bathtub and shower.

I, like all residents, would have to supply everything else, just about all of them items from home. 

David and his friend Gregg who had a pickup truck moved it all in for me. then organized it neatly. My own hospital bed. My malls kitchen table plus two chairs. TV set, radio, lounge chair. Plus other small items.

Casa would supply the bed sheets but I’d have to supply the blankets.

A chambermaid would come in in the morning and make up my bed and tidy everything.

A male aide would come in to help me take a shower two evenings a week and would do my laundry once a week. He would return my items my items nicely folded, with bigger items such as trousers and sweaters and jackets neatly lined up in the closet.

I could eat my meals in my room occasionally when I was so disposed but there would be a special charge for this — $5, I believe it was. I enjoyed eating with my new friends in the dining room.

Oh, other nice things were offered to all residents as an included service. Outings to interesting places nearby in Casa’s small bus.

In fact, you could ask to be taken somewhere. To a doctor’s appointment, say. 

In my normal life I frequented the Morro Bay Public Library.

One day I asked to be taken there. That happened. The driver asked when to pick me up. I said in two hours. He returned to pick me up. I did that twice. Once I combined it with a lunch at our Senior Center. Quite nice, don’t you think?

And once a week, sometimes twice, concerts in the Fireside Room. Every week a movie in its own small movie theater. Twice, as a matinee and an evening show.

It had a library with a nice selection of books.

Oh, this is interesting. Word had gotten around that I had been a journalist and was still an active writer scribbling about a variety of things. And that I had written some non-fiction books, including my “Around the World at 75. Alone, Dammit!”

I was invited to give a talk. And I said yes, but hesitantly. I’ve given many talks over the years.

But hesitantly I’m an old man now. Sometimes when I’m talking I run up against a mental brick wall. I want to say a certain word but I can’t think of it.

I was antsy about that. I had just read about a new medicine for people who suffer memory loss due to aging.

I had no intention of buying a bottle. But I made a joke about it. It sounded too good to be true.

I got a nice turn-out of residents in the Fireside Room. A number of them were friends of mine now.

And I started by saying to them, “Hello, my friends, first there’s something important I must tell you.

“As for a lot of old folks, my memory is not 100% anymore. For instance, sometimes I want to use a certain word but I don’t remember it. Does that happen to you sometimes?”

Some people nodded. A couple chuckled.

“Well, friends, I found out about these fantastic new pills. They’re magic for old folks with this problem.

“Know what? If I had known I’d be speaking to you this evening, I’d have bought a bottle and started taking these pills three times a day!”

Lots of laughs. I went on to answer lots of questions. It was clear my friends had enjoyed my talk. I went to bed quite happy.

After seven weeks at Casa, I went home finally. Monique and David were still apprehensive. I had to respect them for being forthright about that.

Of course they had been sharing their concerns with the rest of our family including my sons, Arthur and Mark, who totally agreed with them and quickly and emphatically made their concerns known to me.

“What’s the rush, Dad?  Casa de Flores is a fine place! Perfect! You are doing so well there. Stay there till you’re stronger!!”

They were speaking out of love. I was sure of that. God bless them!

I told them how I had been a bit apprehensive myself. And told them how Arnold the occupational therapist had checked me out at home/ But they had their heads made up. Darn! But they were complaining because they loved me.

Well, I’m in my third month at home now. I’m doing quite well. In fact, I am proud of myself. And I’m happy.

I’m a realist. Yes, I am. As I’ve said, very soon I will start my 92nd year on this earth. Of course I will continue slipping. That’s natural. Expected. In a year or two or three, if I see the necessity, I will return to Casa de Flores. For keeps.

Oh, one more thing to tell you. While at Casa, now and then I would call my sister Lucie in Connecticut to chat and keep her informed. She did not know much about assisted living places like Casa and kept asking questions. She was interested.

She’s in her eighties, very sharp, was a high school French teacher for nearly 40 years, is a strong and enthusiastic bridge player, and, this sounds crazy, loves to tango and even flew to Argentina with girl friends to take lessons. Yes, with some of the best tango dancers in the world. You should see her tango!

One other thing about her. Some years ago, I decided to fly to Asia and visit a dozen countries. It led to my book, “Around Asia in 80 days. Oops, 83!”

I invited Lucie to come with me and she agreed, but only halfway because she was committed to a special happening back home.

We had a great time together. Excuse me, adventure!

As you can see, we’re very close.

One day a few weeks ago she called and said, “Jean-Guy,” using my French name, “I’m flying to Morro Bay to see you!”

Gosh! How wonderful!

I told her that among other interesting things we’d do, we’d visit Casa de Robles so finally she could check it out.

She came. Stayed with Monique and David. We did nice things together. Had a wonderful time.  But I could not take her to Casa because of the enormous fear Covid-19 had become. 

Frightened as we all were by Covid-19, Lucie lost little time flying home to Connecticut.

The pandemic has certainly made life very, very difficult for all of us, and in so many ways.

I’m practicing social distancing. Washing my hands. Not touching my face. And wearing a mask when I go into crowded places.

Lucie is doing the same. She seldom leaves the house, and only to go to the supermarket or keep an important appointment. No more competitive bridge!

I used to see Monique and David every day.

But no more Get-togethers are rare. We do speak on the phone every morning and every evening.

But I am still pedaling my tricycle. I feel the exercise and the fresh air are very good for me. I buy groceries once a week. I stop by McDonald’s every afternoon for a coffee, but take-out only. Dining room closed!

I have read that Covid-19 has hit some nursing homes and assisted living communities very hard, with some residents succumbing to it.

Of course I have been concerned about Casa. Worried, really. I’m told security has been greatly intensified and Casa is still Covid-19 free. Great!

But this pandemic will pass though not before many lives are lost. But it will certainly pass.

I remember when polio terrorized us. I have read about the Spanish influenza. There have been pandemics that go back to the medieval ages. They all passed.

There is not much consolation in knowing this. Unfortunately.

Corvid-19 has already killed so many in so many countries in the world. And it rages on.

Medical science all over the world is searching for a preventive and a cure. They’ll find one. But it will take a while. Many more will die.

Meanwhile, what to do?

Some people practice the tips we’re being given about social distancing, masks,  and so on.

Some people also pray. Some just keep their fingers crossed. Some say, we have to deal with the cards we’re dealt. Some say, that’s life!

Me? I’m using all the tips that make sense. And hoping for the best. And right now, just going out for my daily tricycle ride and some fresh air.

Well, how about you?

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