Monthly Archives: August 2012

Maine Vacation

Since I’m a new employee at my job, I could not take a long summer vacation this year.  Instead, we spent a long weekend in Maine at my aunt and uncle’s house.  They live on Frenchman’s Bay across from Bar Harbor.  It’s a little slice of paradise up there.  When we got there on Saturday afternoon we played on the beach, collecting rocks and shells.  Here are the kids, very relieved to not be in the car:

Then we took a walk around the block.  It’s a very long block that winds along the beach and through the woods, and goes right past an extremely old cemetery.  I’m not a fan of the whole idea of burial – I’m more of a cremation kind of gal – but if I had to be buried, I’d want it to be someplace like this:

So peaceful and beautiful, tucked away in the woods off of a dirt road.  Curiously, it seemed that every third grave contained a Lydia of some sort or anther.  Here is our Lydia posing next to one of the stones:

The second day, we took a train ride in the morning, which was extremely exciting for Aaron, and then went out to the lake for some very windy canoeing in the afternoon.  The best part of our second day was the bald eagle.  We were eating dinner and saw a bald eagle swoop past the windows, so of course we all headed out to the porch to look for it.  My dad grabbed his camera and on a hunch ran across the road and down to the beach, where he got these shots:

It’s too bad there is nothing in either picture to give it any scale – the bird was HUGE.  So amazing to see one up close.  When it perched in this tree, it stayed there for about 15 minutes, just sitting above us letting us ooh and aaah over it.  It posed for awhile, and then got bored with the attention and flew away.

On the third day, Nate, Jake, Grandpa, and I took some kayaks out on the bay.  I had only been in a kayak once, and Nate and Jake were total newbies, but we figured it out and had a great time.  I took along Jake’s little camera in a waterproof pouch so we could get some pictures out on the water.

Here is the view of the little house we stayed in from out on the water.  It’s the little gray one of the left:

We ended going all the way across to Calf Island, where the tide was unfortunately a bit too high to do too much hiking around.  The view was nice, though.  Those specks across the water are the houses pictured above.

Our fourth and final day was mostly filled with driving home.  We did, however, stop at Fort Knox.  Not the one in Kentucky with all the gold.  This one is a civil war era fort that was built in case the British decided to side with the South and invade from the north.  It’s a gorgeous old building, with lots of secret passages and dark, damp tunnels.  The kids and I had been there before, but Nate had never come with us, so we had a great time showing him all around.

Here are a couple of parting shots of the kids.  This is what a whirlwind mini-vacation looks like:

Just a few days of summer left – then it’s back to school!




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RIP Leni (1995 – 2012)

Leni came to us as a kitten when she was about three months old.  It was October of 1995, and we fell in love with a little black cat at the Oakland SPCA.  She had been separated from her mother when she was too young, spayed too young, and been alone in a cage for too long.  She didn’t know how to be a cat.  She was silent, she didn’t jump, she played rough.  Neither of us ever having had a cat, we didn’t know she was odd.  We thought she was perfect.

Until we got another cat a few months later.  Maya was a typical, well-adjusted (if there is such a thing) cat.  We got her to keep Leni company (have I mentioned that we had never had cats before?), which of course backfired.  They barely stood the presence of one another.  Definitely not pals.  But, Leni learned a few things from Maya – she suddenly started talking, and she learned how to jump and pounce.  We were shocked, thinking Maya was some super-cat with amazing cat powers, but it turned out she was just a normal cat and Leni was a backwoods hick cat.

Today we put Leni down.  Maya died of kidney failure about six years ago, so Leni has been our one and only for a long time.  She hasn’t been easy – a steady decline in litter box use, a cantankerous attitude that often led to cat bites – but over the last few years she has mellowed quite a bit.  She began to tolerate the children, letting them pet her, allowing them to pick her up, waiting for them to come downstairs at night and give her dinner and treats.

When Leni was two years old, she somehow broke her right hind leg.  We never figured out how it happened.  We just couldn’t find her one morning and found her curled up shivering in her litter box, poor thing.  We had no idea was what wrong, rushed her to the vet, and rather than putting her down, we opted for several thousand dollars of surgery, followed by kitty physical therapy, followed by a second surgery.  We didn’t have children yet.  Otherwise that never would have happened.  The result of all that is that she ended up with a leg that was stiff – it was basically a peg leg.

Right after surgery. Doesn’t a bare cat leg look creepy?

Despite her handicap, she got around pretty well.  We put a step ladder by the bed so she could get up, she tromped around all over the house on her little peg leg as if she had been born that way.

Crazy catnip eyes!

The past year was a long downhill slope for our little kitty.  She’d gone from about 7 pounds at her peak, to about 4 pounds now.  Her good rear leg became weaker and weaker until she could no longer support her back end.  She couldn’t go up and down stairs, nor climb into a litter box.  Her time had come.

Here she is last week, a spindly, feisty, old lady of a cat.

Goodbye, Leni.  We’ll miss you.

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Can You Hear Me?

One of the most challenging aspects of my job is testing the hearing of someone who is not responsive.  Think of someone with such severe cognitive impairment and physical impairment that they cannot understand that when they hear a sound they can look at a toy and it will dance for them.  Or someone who doesn’t have sufficient control over his or her body to turn the head toward a sound.  I have a patient like this every so often, and had one this week.  She was wheelchair bound with a tracheotomy tube, and communicated with her caregivers through facial expressions.  They watch her carefully to make sure she doesn’t appear to be unhappy or in pain, and that’s about all she can communicate.

With patients like this, you have to be able to focus on them with laser-like attention, because the way they signal that the heard a sound is often as small as a shift in their breathing or a flick of the eye.  In addition, they tend to fatigue to tones very quickly.  Once they’ve heard a particular sound a few times, it isn’t novel any more and they stop noticing it.  So you have to go really slow, and change things up all the time – warble tones, voice, narrow-band noise.  Just to keep it fresh for as long as possible.

Luckily, we have a two-tester system, so there is another person sitting in the booth where it’s easier to see the small signs that the patient has heard a sound.  And in my case, that second tester is much more experienced than I am and can help me decide what is an actual response and what is a blink.  Some of the responses I was really sure about and she would shake her head no, others I thought were random movements and she gave me an enthusiastic nod.  I defer to my colleague in cases such as these – not only is she in the booth and therefore able to see the patient better, but she’s also been doing this kind of thing for 15 years and has what you’d call a knack for it.  I’ll get there someday hopefully.

You might be thinking, why does it matter that someone like this can hear?  Well, it’s not because people are having conversations with her, or reading to her, or calling her on the phone.  It’s because a large part of human connection comes from the human voice.  Even is she doesn’t have enough language to understand a word of what someone is saying, she can hear intonation, which conveys so much emotional information.  It is important to be able to hear her caregivers, even if she can’t understand or respond.  It’s part of being human to connect to other humans, and our hearing is an important part of how we do that.



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Getting Old

One great aspect of my job is that I get to hang out with old people.  I never really thought about the elderly before I discovered the field of audiology.  My grandparents were old, sure, but they were the only elderly people I was exposed to in any significant way.  Once I started meeting older people and getting to know them, I couldn’t help but start looking at life a little bit differently.

When you think of old people, you usually picture the stereotypical old person – the man with the trousers pulled up to his armpits, the checkered shirt, and thick glasses.  Or the woman with the straw hat, permed grey hair, old lady shoes, and cane.  Well, my friends, you will be very surprised to find that old people come in all shapes, sizes, and styles.  Shocker!

I have some eighty-five year old patients who come to me from nursing homes who are wheel-chair bound and don’t communicate well, and I have some 98 year old patients who I have trouble keeping up with.  I know one gentleman who strolls in with his cane and absolutely refuses to let me hold the door for him.  Some people come with their spouses (I know a lovely couple – both 96 – who have been married for 73 years), or with their grown children (who are sometimes elderly themselves!), or with their grandchildren.  Sometimes they come with friends from the senior center.  I met a pair of 90 years olds who have been fast friends since they were 6.

It really does put things into perspective.  It is so hard to imagine what my life will be like then.  The things that I spend so much time and energy worrying about today will be completely inconsequential and forgotten by the time I reach my dotage.  I sometimes imagine Nate and I sitting in an audiologist’s office together completing each other’s sentences and chuckling at inside jokes.  And our audiologist will look at us and think, “Well, aren’t they just the cutest things you’ve ever seen!  Adorable!”

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