First, thanks to Keaton's Mom (and all the others) who made donations to Hike for Mental Health. Chipmunk raised nearly $500 for Hike for Mental Health and her fund raising page will remain active for a while. If you'd like to make a contribution to her cause, check out: https://www.z2systems.com/np/clients/hike/campaign.jsp?campaign=13&team=145&fundraiser=1052&
Second, to Lisa G., who recently found our story ... welcome! I wish my web host would consider putting the completed blog posts in chronological order. For now, good luck sorting through the archives.
Since last we met … online here … we’ve had some interesting experiences. My family and I needed some time to transition back into day-to-day life and we took that time. That being said, I do want to share what’s happened to us since a few readers have asked. I’ll likely wrap this entire blog up without further postings after Neva gives her TEDx Speech, which is scheduled for Nov. 16th. Thanks for your patience and here’s a (albeit lengthy) run down of what we’ve been up to since our last post hike update:
After a terrific evening with Tom K. and Leo W. of Hike for Mental Health, and a restful night, we got up at a leisurely hour and started driving towards South Jersey, where both Jay (a.k.a. Papa Chip) and I grew up. I was so looking forward to seeing my daughter, Cori (a.k.a. Editor), my son, CJ (a.k.a. Brother Chip), Gmom (Neva’s Great Grandmom), all our Jersey friends and especially my mom (a.k.a. Grammy). We drove past places we’ve been to over the years, and we all remarked how much things have changed and we found comfort in seeing some things that hadn’t changed at all.
We had planned to stay at my mom’s home and I tried to prepare myself for seeing my mom. She and I have always been close. She has always been a wonderful mother, a close friend and a confidante. About 10 years ago, she started to show signs of dementia and other aging issues. During a particularly difficult time in her life, we asked her to move into our home with us so that we could help her and keep her safe. We were lucky. After finding her a better doctor and sorting out her medication errors, my mom returned to her home and resumed an independent lifestyle. Those 5 months were difficult but worth every bit of the stress because it meant that my mom could again live independently in her own home rather than a nursing home, as was suggested by some of my siblings.
My mom is now 80 years old and in the past few months her health has declined. She has lost over 20 lbs. in the past year and now weighs only 104 lbs., a drop of over 30 lbs. in the last 2 years. When we arrived, I was startled at just how underweight she is. When I hugged her, I could feel how bony she has become and it made me cry. She hushed me and told me that the doctors haven’t found anything wrong with her; that she’s endured all kinds of tests. She looked tired and weak but she smiled at the sight of us.
In advance, I told my mom that we had dinner plans for that evening and that I didn’t want her to worry about buying food or cooking for us; that I’d shop the next day. She ate before we left and both Jay and I noticed that she ate so very little. I began asking questions about what exactly she’s been eating and it soon became obvious that she was only consuming about 500-700 calories a day. During the car ride to meet up with our dinner partners, Jay and I decided to devote our time in South Jersey to trying to get my mom back on track. We hoped that our friends, who we wouldn’t be able to meet up with, would understand.
The next day, I woke at my mom’s house and started gathering information about my mom’s health, etc. I didn’t want to overwhelm my mom with lots of questions so I tried to just observe a lot of things and be as non-intrusive as possible. When she took her morning medications, I noticed that one pill she’s been taking for the last 10 years was missing. It’s an anti-depressant that was key in her recovery process during her illness when she was 70. When I asked where it was, she seemed confused and I offered to call the pharmacy and check if they knew the last time it was prescribed. They said it had not been re-filled for 8 months. I also called my mom’s doctor and requested to meet with him together with my mom, which he readily agreed to and gave us an appointment for the day before I was scheduled to leave town. I also called my mom’s gastroenterologist and he agreed to meet with my mom and me the next day so that I could find out more about the tests he ran.
The next day, during a visit with my mom’s gastroenterologist, he noted that my mom was definitely “less perky” than last he saw her. During an examination, he noted that she shows signs of dehydration and malnutrition. As he talked with my mom, one of the culprits came to the surface: my mom’s fear of eating again anything that gave her nausea or diarrhea in the past. While that seems like a reasonable conclusion to reach, the problem is that she had a very long list of things she no longer eats and a very short list of things she is not afraid to eat. The doctor pointed out that her situation might have become cyclical, triggered by a virus in the past year or two. He explained that if she stopped eating certain foods, started losing weight, that her body may not have the daily caloric intake to function correctly, triggering more nausea and diarrhea. With each round, she has eliminated even more key items from her diet. He told her that she needs to get her caloric intake up to about 2000 calories a day until she regains some weight; that she has no food allergies and should eat anything she wants. We thanked him for his time and I felt like we had made some progress in understanding my mom’s weight loss.
Jay and I food shopped and purchased some food items that the gastroenterologist suggested: tasty foods that pack a lot of calories per square inch. We also decided to eat as many meals together with my mom as we could so that we could encourage her to eat better. In the meantime, we were invited to our son’s apartment for a dinner and we made my mom a yummy Marie Callendar’s Chicken Pot Pie which she ate before we left. It had more calories in the one meal than she’d been consuming in an entire day.
It was wonderful to see our son and we had this funny moment. As he was showing me the house he rents with two other friends, he was hesitant to open his bedroom door. When he did, I saw a bit of a mess and then smiled and said, “It’s not my house. I don’t care how you keep your room in your own apartment.” He smiled, too, realizing yet another benefit of living on your own. For the record, I’m not a great housekeeper, nor have I had any hard and fast rules about how my kids kept their rooms. When the state of their rooms reached the point where it became an excuse for not completing schoolwork or finding their gear for a sport, I assigned them the room clean up task. The only real rule we had was: “No food or drink in your bedroom” which was mostly about keeping the house free of “critters”.
As my time in Jersey was growing to a close, I took my mom to her primary doctor’s office to see if we could piece together what’s going on with my mom’s health. She’s been his patient for a year and he said that he was unaware that she was previously on an antidepressant; he called in a new script after a closer review of the medical files her former doctor sent. He also noted that she gained a few pounds and I filled him in on what her gastroenterologist said. Overall, I wasn’t terribly impressed with him but there was only so much I could do in the short amount of time I was in South Jersey. My family and I live where we do for a lot of very good reasons … but it’s hard not to live closer to my mom and Gmom as their health issues impact them more and more. The primary doctor agreed to order a visiting nurse for my mom who will hopefully assess her better and help her with her medications, etc. I wish my sisters who live within 15 minutes of my mom would take a more active role in my mother’s life and health. I also wish I had the means to visit my mom more often.
Before heading out of town, I was able to get a little more time with my daughter, Cori, and son, CJ. Just before leaving time, I also stopped at Gmom’s and picked up a knitting machine that she no longer needs. Neva is looking forward to learning how to use it and making some Christmas presents with it.
Eventually, we pointed the ole Dodge truck (a.k.a. the Chip Mobile) in the direction of home. The rear on the truck has a major issue and we were hoping to get it home before it gave up altogether. There were lots of rattles that grew increasingly louder as we drove further south. About an hour from home, it made a new clunking noise and we doubted it would make it … but, it did! It limped into the driveway and we were soooooo relieved. I actually felt lighter; felt good! I exhaled. I wasn’t even freaked out by the fact that the grass was way overgrown. FYI, this is the second lawn guy not to cut the grass as promised while we were away for an extended time … UGH!
We all climbed out of the truck and Coco (a.k.a. Chocolate Chip) eagerly ran up on the front porch and seemed thrilled to be home. We all followed Coco’s lead and Jay arrived at the front door first. Neva and I were close behind but I sensed something wasn’t quite right since Jay didn’t immediately open the door. He turned to me and my eyes went to the door handle, which was kind of bent; the door jam showed signs of being pried. That familiar worry washed over me and my stomach clenched up. Jay unlocked the lock but the doorknob damage made it impossible to open it. For a moment, I hoped that it meant that the perpetrators were unable to break in. Neva and I waited as Jay made his way to the back door. Within minutes, he opened the front door from inside and told Neva to wait outside for a minute.
He and I walked in and he told me that someone had broken in through the back door, damaging the doorknob, lock and doorframe. He also told me that they attempted to steal our hot water heater; had cut the copper lines but was unable to get it out. As we walked through the house, it was obvious that they were there a long time (or multiple times). Although the walls and windows were not damaged, drawers were emptied, boxes turned over, etc. Our bedroom television (the only flat screen we had) was gone. Our window unit air conditioners (that were removed from the windows so that they didn’t offer an “easy” way for perpetrators to get in the house) were gone. Our well-hidden fireproof box was broken into and our original wedding bands, 2 watches (with sentimental value), a gold bracelet and my wheat back penny collection were all gone. Lately, we have consoled ourselves by saying that we had lived without all of those items for 7 months. It’s sad to not have them but we still have our kitchen appliances, our bedroom and living room furniture, etc.; we have what we need to resume living in our house. We also have time before we have to replace the window a/c units. Sadly, we soon learned that the burglars also stole almost all of Jay’s tools. Ugh! It’s going to be much more expensive to fix the rear on the truck if we have to buy new tools, too. But, for now, we are not going to worry about that.
I feared looking in Neva’s room. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the robbers must have figured out it was a child’s room, with little high value items. They emptied her jewelry box and left most all of her costume jewelry behind. As I was about to pick up the jewelry box, I realized that we should have called the police before we ever stepped foot in the house. We joined Neva on the porch and called the police. The sun was just starting to set when the officers arrived and took a report. They also dusted for fingerprints and took ours to rule ours out from any they’d find. Oddly, they also took swabs from our mouths, saying they needed to rule out our DNA. It was only later that I realized they didn’t gather any DNA from inside our home.
Around 10 PM, the officers left and we did some basic cleanup before getting ready for bed. While the officers were collecting evidence, Jay ran to the home improvement store and bought new doorknobs and supplies to reconnect the water supply. I went to Neva’s room to be sure she was handling all of this and I found her sitting on her bed, staring at the wall. I sat down next to her and soon saw what held her attention.
The material things we had stolen from us could never compare to all that we shared over the last 7 months. Although we tried our best to secure our home and have neighbors keep an eye on it, we knew there were risks in leaving it unattended for so long. In hindsight, we also saw things we could have done differently. Of course, I asked myself that age-old question: If I knew what was going to happen, would I still have gone ahead with this adventure? Unequivocally … YES!
Shortly after saying that, Jay reminded me that he needed to leave early Saturday morning for a bike tour he was asked to lead. Luckily, it’s a much shorter tour than his summer one. At first, I figured he was taking the car and that I’d have the truck to use, as per usual. Then, I remembered that the truck wasn’t really suitable to drive. Ugh.
We all went to Neva’s TEDx rehearsal, where we met some awesome young people … more about that once Neva gives her official TEDx talk on Nov. 16th. Afterwards, Neva went to the skating rink and had a blast seeing a bunch of her old friends. Jay packed for his tour and we hit the sack early (ahhh, our bed is wonderful after sleeping in the camper bunk for 7 months), knowing we had to pick up Neva around 4:30 AM in order to get Jay to his tour meet up spot (5 hours away) on time. It all worked out well and once he was squared away with his tour co-leader, Neva and I hugged him goodbye and drove the 5 hours back to home.
We arrived home after dark and I have to admit, I was a bit unnerved. I told Neva to get Coco out of the car and walk her before she came in the house. I went inside, turned on lights and checked the place out. It was obvious that no one had entered the house. Once Neva and Coco came inside, I locked the door and left the porch light on. We ate dinner, watched a little TV and both of us went to bed by 9 PM. I didn’t sleep well and I likely won’t sleep well until Jay returns.
This week, Neva will resume her home schooling and also practice her TEDx speech. I’ll work on my new “Healthy Adventure” (weight loss) blog and post the first day’s blog on the new tab you see at the top of the www.ridethenation.org website page on 11-12-13 (tomorrow). As I mentioned earlier, the next post hike update on this site will be after Neva gives her TEDx talk on Nov. 16th and it will likely be the last update. I’m sure the new Healthy Adventure will occasionally feature Neva since she is a big part of my life and the person I spend the most time with.
Thanks again for all your support,
Tammy, Jay, Neva and Coco
a.k.a. Mama Chip, Papa Chip, Chipmunk and her dog, Chocolate Chip
P.S. - If you are planning to follow the Healthy Adventure, please type www.ridethenation.org into your browser. If you have a bookmark for the site, you may need to type the address completely out and then create a new bookmark since I changed the names of some of the pages to accomodate the new pages. The tab marked "HA! (healthy adventure) is what you need to click on. The first post will appear tomorrow, Nov. 12 (11-12-13). Thanks!