06 December 2012

The heat's on

It's only 90° outside this morning! That's a relief from yesterday (mid 90s) and the day before (top of 102°). But none of these temperatures is conducive to the kind of heavy slogging that my overgrown vegie patch would require if I were going to make up for a whole season of neglect.
In the matter of degrees Fahrenheit vs Centigrade, as in yards/feet/inches and pounds/ounces vs metres/centimetres/ and kilograms/grams, I'm ashamed to admit that mentally I still visualise the old rather than the 'modern' units of measurement. Australia converted to metric for most purposes during 1974, though the total conversion in all industries actually spanned a period of nearly 20 years due to the complexities involved in converting tools, road signs, speedometers etc. I originally migrated to Australia in 1969, before metric conversion, but was back in the USA for all of 1973. So I arrived back in Australia at the apex of the conversion timeline, and had to make that adjustment at the same time as many others. Perhaps I just consigned that one to the back burner, where it's still simmering. 
For 'young' readers and those my age or older who have adapted more readily to all things metric, check the thermometer and you will see that 102°F translates to about 38.9°C (and I wish I'd thought to photograph it two days ago, when that was apparently the hottest day around here since recording began sometime in the 1800s). Having to use decimals to make a point about temperature just doesn't do it for me – though wait a minute, normal body temperature to me will forever be 98.6°F, and not 37°C, as my daughter knows it. And yet, I like to think of myself as a person who can adapt to changing circumstances, someone who has moved readily among different cultures and countries in both work and friendship. Am I self-deluding in this as in other areas, perhaps?
Let's just agree: it's been damned hot. We do have excellent roof insulation, and get good cross-breezes up here in our hinterland location. So it's usually much pleasanter in the house than outdoors. There are ceiling fans in every room – one of the first things we did after buying this place in 1996. And ten years later, we installed good air conditioners throughout the house, too – even in my outdoor studio. I doubt we'd have invested in these if my mother hadn't been coming to live here, because we were never really worried that much about the few days every summer when temperatures rose into the mid-90s. But I'm now very grateful for the impetus that Mum's coming provided. Maybe it's age, but I'm experiencing the ennui brought on by heat much more this year than ever before. Even so, I try only to resort to aircon when the temperature is roasting. And I must admit that my reasoning has as much to do with soaring electricity costs ($200/mo. when either heat or aircon is used liberally vs. $100/mo. in off-seasons) as with ecological consciousness. 

Of course there's wonderful relief to be had in the pool. And until that 100° day earlier this week, we had been swimming every morning for the past week. It's no small effort to get Allen into his swimming togs and (safely) down to the pool terrace, then in and out of the pool when the surrounding surface is blisteringly hot and he feels every temperature variation so intently. Still, it's well worth the effort.

On our first swim just last week, Allen was quite literally overcome by joy, shouting out as he floated off, "Isn't this wonderful!" I think it's the freedom of movement he experiences in the water that gives him such pleasure, especially now that his mobility on land is so tentative and there's always the anxiety of falling. His balance and motor control are both very dodgy now. And though he still manages 15 minutes every morning on his exercise bike, he can no longer walk very far without succombing to exhaustion. I guess that's the result of insufficient exercise, poor circulation, age (he is, after all, 83) and, more likely, a combination of all of these plus the rampant disintegration of various areas of the brain. Everything from using a knife and fork to washing his hair in the shower requires some degree of supervision and, often, assistance. (He just can't remember that shampoo shouldn't be applied while the head is under the stream of water, or that a soapy head then needs to be rinsed.)  It's no wonder that floating freely in the pool gives him such pleasure.
Allen can't really swim any more – that's just one of many physical skills that he's either lost completely or that have deteriorated badly. But after experimenting with various flotation devices, even a life-jacket, we finally found a simple belted hard-foam device that supports him sufficiently, whether he's just walking in the pool or swimming' on his front or back. So now he will amble up the length of the pool in a kind of bicycle movement when on his stomach. And on his back he can manage a crude backstroke.
I worry what would happen if that belt buckle ever popped, and I have to remain near enough and somewhat vigilant for that reason. However, it's not far to the edge of the pool at any one spot. I think I'd manage to drag him there if I had to, in spite of never getting past intermediate level as a swimmer myself. But even though one half of our pool is very deep – even the 'shallow' end is up to my armpits, as we always planned to swim in the pool, not laze around – I couldn't possibly deny Allen the great pleasure that swimming provides just because there's a danger he might drown! He's had to accept too many losses without adding another.
Deciding what risks are worth taking is often an issue for carers. For example, I have a friend whose brain-damaged but physically strong husband recently decided he'd like to join a rowing club. She had to go into battle to get him in. The club was keen to take him on but their insurance company was a 'proverbial pain', said my friend. It's no surprise that insurance providers are by nature risk-averse, and this company only relented after forms were completed by doctors testifying to the fact that my friend's husband was fit enough to row with the best of them. Even then, they required that he wear a life jacket at all times. The club itself bent over backwards to help, even buying the life jacket! But my friend's husband is embarrassed that he's the only member required to wear one, and he wears a vest over the jacket to minimise his embarrassment.
I completely understood my friend's belief that the very small 'risk' of her husband experiencing a rare epileptic episode while rowing – possibly resulting in an accident – was more than balanced by the pleasure and sense of achievement he gets from participating in this sport. Life isn't risk-free for anyone, so why should her disabled husband be consigned to live a life of sterility! We shared a laugh about the fact that we carers must seem a pretty hard-hearted lot, in allowing our partners to take such risks. But not wrapping them in cotton wool is all part of the struggle to help our them live as 'normal' a life as possible.
A postnote re safety and risk: The rubberised shoes pictured alongside the lifebelt above have been a godsend! Both Allen and I bought a pair of these years ago for walking up and down the stairs that lead to our pool terrace. That was after we had taken a tumble together on those stairs when going down the steps in slide-on sandals, me carrying all our gear and attempting to help Allen not trip over a hose lying across our path. I realised even then that slide-ons were a no-no for Allen, as his mobility had already begun to deteriorate prior to the open-heart surgery that we didn't yet realise he needed. Later, after that surgery and during Allen's long immobility and confinement to an Intensive Care Unit, I brought these shoes into the hospital when physical therapists began to get Allen up onto his feet, and he needed all the help he could get to relearn how to walk. The therapists loved these shoes, as they gave good support and grip on polished floors. Slippers were considered much too dangerous, even in hospital.


The Blog Fodder said...

"It's hot. Damned hot. And wet. Which is fine when you are with a lady but it's hell in the jungle" Misquoted but close enough.
I like those rubber shoes myself and will look for a pair for holidays.
It is so good that your husband can still enjoy your pool. A Godsend in this hot weather.

Chartreuse said...

I've emailed you some information about those Active Casual shoes - and thanks for reminding me to visit the website. While I was there I bought myself a new pair on sale for $19.95 (they're usually about $79.95 here in Oz). We just had a swim this evening and the water was warmer than the early evening air! I suppose you've got snow by now.

Anonymous said...

Now hang on a minute, there. I remember like it was yesterday one Xmas when I was up at your place, and it was so f...ing hot that the lovely red candles during the meal on the patio melted into a flaccid " S" shape!! And it was so hot day after day when i was housesitting, that I even attempted to do my craft work IN the pool, with a boogie board as a floating table...a fine idea on the surface of it, but the surface of it wasn't that brilliant, either, because of the devouring mozzies and midges! So, Fahrenheit, Centigrade, whatever... It's a jungle out there!

Red said...

Your description of Allen's condition is very informative. Most of us have some idea of the challenges. My Dad had Parkinson's and his slow loss of strength was difficult to watch.
As far as metric is concerned, they made a grievous error when they taught conversion. It should have been straight metric. Forget about the English system.

Anonymous said...

So nice to see Allen smiling in the water! Keep up the fun times. Good to see you! gin

The Blog Fodder said...

Can you resend the information about the shoes, please.

Selma said...

That flotation device is awesome. What a great idea. It's been hot down here too but we have to be fortunate to have nice, cooling breezes in the afternoon. Hope it cools down for you soon!

Stafford Ray said...

It's a curious thing, but every time a handicapped person does something particularly daring, such as join a crew in the Sydney Hobart Yacht Race, it gets media coverage but simply joining a rowing crew is resisted. Maybe your friend needs to try nude hang gliding!
We are extraordinarily cool here today, jacket and jeans are just enough, so I am sending the change your way!

Snowbrush said...

I'm so glad you have a pool. My wife was epileptic as a child, and so she didn't get to do some things she would have enjoyed, but, oddly, enough she rode a bicycle. When I expressed surprise, she just said that it was quiet neighborhood except when all the men were either going to, or coming home, from work, implying, I suppose, that if she fell off, at least she wasn't like to be hit by a car.

Snowbrush said...

You're awfully quiet lately.

Cameron VSJ said...


I have a quick question for you regarding your blog, but I couldn't find your contact information. Do you think you could send me an email whenever you get a chance?




About me

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I started this blog in 2009 when I became a full-time caregiver. My husband had been diagnosed a few years earlier with primary progressive aphasia. Over the next four years until his death in 2013, we went on a journey of discovery about this rare condition. My blog is about what I learned, how we both coped and how the journey deepened our love and appreciation of each other. Allen’s journey is over, but mine goes on.