21 February 2018

I’ve Decided It’s Going To Be A Good Day For Gus. We Have An Angel!

By: Jon Katz

Good Day For Gus


I've always believed that life is defined not by an abscence trouble but the way in which we respond to trouble. Everyone has a harder battle than I do, and we will all face challenges and setbacks in our life. People will get sick, dogs will die, things will go wrong.

The choice is always stark: I can either wring my hands or get moving.

I woke up this morning thinking of Gus and the difficult few days he has been having with us and his megaesophagus. I had this strong, even overwhelming feeling that this was going to be a good day for Gus, a turnaround day, and I mean to make it so.

I got up early, and sat down and went over my notes and decided to make some changes in his diet.

Smaller feedings more frequently.

I'm dropping the chicken broth and returning to a couple of teaspoons of yoghurt for liquidity. I am reducing the amount of EN gastroentric food and increasing the Pro Plan turkey and sweet potato. Also decreasing the rich Royal Canin veterinary recovery food..

Perhaps his diet was too liquid and too rich, We'll know soon enough.

The other big move: I have an angel, unnamed, below, one of the New Mexico Reftalos we got from an artist named Diana Breyer whose studio is in Chimayo. Diane is Jewish and was troubled by the fact too few Jewish angels are available for sale by artists.

She says the first angels were Jewish. So she made some Jewish angel Reftalos.

I have always believed in angels and spoken with them. I think one sent me Maria.

So she made some and gave me one, which now hangs on the door to the Frida Kahlo bathroom.

She doesn't have a name, I call her Deborah

Deborah: A Jewish Angel by Diana Breyer

I always talked to angels and asked them for help. "Okay," I said to Deborah, "you're not just a pretty face hanging on an old farmhouse door. Let's get to work for Gus. I'd like some inspiration."

And I felt better immediately, confident and sure about Gus's future. I believe dogs are spirit animals, and when I see that they have lost their spirit – I saw this with Rose and Izzy and Frieda – then I know it is time for them to leave our world and return to theirs.

The only treatment for Gus's esophagus is diet, and so that's on me, there is nothing he can do.

I created a new diet and gave it to Gus for breakfast. So far, so good, it's been four hours. That was farther than we got  yesterday or the day  before.

Gus has great spirit, he is bright, aware, loving,  playful and obnoxious. He is not fading, and is not ready to leave this world. So I have to figure out a diet that will stem these difficult few days. And I will, at least for awhile. I feel it.

And when I waver I can turn to Deborah or call the vet, or the gastro specialist, and just sit down and gather myself.  My stubbornness has kept me alive and I'm not into whining or lament. This is not a tragedy or drama, it is just life, and life is what we all face, most people in harder ways than me.

Deborah is already sending me vibes of encouragement. I think I woke her up. And I don't know as I have ever seen a Jewish angel or worked with one. They all seemed non-denominational to me.

To those of you sending me messages telling me you know I don't like advice but have an Aunt Fanny who had nine dogs who died, or a friend Sue who talks to Gus daily. and would I message them and arrange to talk to them?:

Don't do it. Just say no, and follow your good instincts.

It's like teaching young men that no means no. Period. Stop.  No excuses.

Those offering support and good wishes, thanks as always.

Gus is in a great mood this morning, and so am I.

Posted in General | Post a Comment

Video: Surprise Day For Ali And The RISSE Soccer Team: Come See

By: Jon Katz


Today is the Presidents Day Indoor Soccer Tournament at the Sportsplex sports facility in Half Moon, N.Y. Maria and I will be there (I'm leaving Red, the team mascot, behind, as it may be crowded and some people are afraid of dogs). It's a big day for the team, and also for me.

It's surprise day for Ali and the team. We are giving each player on the soccer team a snazzy Nike Brasilia Equipment Bag with their name stenciled on it, and I'm giving Ali a megaphone (see video) with a siren on it. He will definitely be able to get the kid's attention whenever he needs to. I think Ali will love it, I demonstrated it for the video above, Maria took the video.

A lot of people contributed to this day. The Army Of Good has supported the team and purchased their new uniforms. We have also paid for practice time on indoor courts (Thanks, Kevin Smith of Sportsplex for the discounts on time and food).

The stencils on the Nike bags were done by WickedSmartApparel of Watervliet, New York, one of the country's top sports apparel suppliers. The team name is in white, the kids name in teal.

Thanks Todd Van Epps, the owner of Wicked Smart, a supporter of the RISSE (Refugee and Immigrant Support Center of the Emmaus Methodist Church in Albany) soccer team and also the new RISSE girl's basketball team being organized now.

And, of course, Ali, who has devoted much of his life to supporting these children. They are from everywhere, including some very troubled countries – most from Afghanistan, Southeast Asia, and Africa. They have endured a great deal to get to America, and are struggling to assimilate in America at a time when their very presence is suddenly controversial.

Ali has committed himself to watching over these boys and girls, he is available to them seven days a week, day or night. They love him dearly and thanks to him, I believe they will succeed in their struggle to acclimate to American life.

They and Ali and I are deeply touched by the love and support they have received from people who represent the true heart and soul of America, a generous and welcoming country. Ali and I have told them the hostility they sometimes face and hear about is a phase, and will pass.

I believe that.

People from all over America have showered RISSE with good winter clothes, sweaters, jackets and shoes, games and toys. RISSE is working on a new Amazon Wish List, to go up shortly.

The kids at RISSE – they have a large after school program –  always need clothes and toys and school supplies.

So today is a big moment for the hard-working, close-knit soccer team. Soccer is important in their countries, where they usually played barefoot and in back yards or empty fields.

Americans play soccer differently, the game here is richly supported by parents. They play against suburban teams with lots of money and community support – lots of coaches, players, fancy shoes, expensive uniforms, the best equipment.

The uniforms we got them – they call themselves the "Bedlam Farm Warriors From RISSE" help balance the scale, and I hope to continue to support the soccer and basketball teams in this way.

That means uniforms and equipment, food after practice, and sometimes, some emergency help with clothes. I also try to help the refugee kids take special classes they might need, especially in language, finances and computing.

If you wish to help support this project, you can donate to my refugee fund, send checks to Jon Katz, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816, or via Paypal, [email protected] And thanks.

I have to go pick up the uniforms and then go to the tournament. See you later.

Posted in General | Post a Comment
20 February 2018

Gus Me Journal: 1/20/18. A Hard Turn

By: Jon Katz

Gus Meets Susie in His New Muzzle

I had to laugh when I watched our ewe Susie check out Gus in his new muzzle. The sheep don't recognize him, but are no longer trying to butt him to get him away.

Gus has taken a hard turn in the last few days, the vomiting and regurgitating has returned with a vengeance. We had a promising week or so, but for reasons I can't really understand, the worst of the megaesophagus has returned.

He's spit up on the carpet, on the kitchen floor, on our bed, my sweaters, the living room furniture. We are using up the disinfectant and Nature's Miracle, the paper towels and plastic bags. It is not a simple way to live or a good way to live with a dog. He seems tired and struggling today.

We have become very attached to Gus, he is a member of our family now, and we love his spunk and energy an affectionate nature. He is everything we hoped for  in a small dog, except for his disease.

My hope is that this is just another in the many temporary twists and turns of megaesophagus. I am never myopic or delusional about megaesophagus, it does not go away, it cannot be cured, it can only be managed. And then, only sometimes. I'm going to change the diet again, smaller amounts several times a day, and switch to less liquid foods and mixes.

For the first time tonight, I thought, I don't want to live like this for years and years. At the same time, we are not nearly ready to give up on Gus, we are still in the beginning stages of understanding this disease and learning how to live with it.  It's an up and down disease, and I have to permit myself to go up and down without. Otherwise, there is no dealing with it, i am all too human.

One problem is that Gus can't go anywhere without scarfing up everything on the ground that can be eaten, even through the mesh on the new muzzle. As the snow melts, there is more stuff on the ground for him to try to eat, and sometime, when he has to go out quickly, we can't take the time to muzzle him.

Even one pellet or chicken dropping can make him seriously ill, and we can't construct a prison so safe and secure that he will never eat anything other than his prescribed food. Yes, I'm momentarily discouraged, because we had a good streak with no trouble. I would not be human if that didn't happen.

Back to the drawing board. A number of people have messaged me saying they will take Gus if we need to find a new home for him. We are not nearly at that point, I am committed to finding a stable solution, and if it does worsen, I am ethically very uncomfortable with handing over a chronically ill dog to someone else. That has never seemed right to me, speaking only for my self.

I will be honest throughout the process, of course, and we will make our own decisions. Now, our decision is to double-down and work harder to make this work.

I don't get discouraged often or for long, and we love Gus dearly, Maria and I are not frail and we are not quitters. I can't live with this forever, but I can do it for a long time and have many more things to try.

Posted in General | Post a Comment

Joan, Lesson Four. The Improbable Becomes Possible.

By: Jon Katz

Joan- Lesson Four: Now, The Next Step

No one I spoke with at the Mansion, including me, believed that Joan could ace the reading2connect workshop booklet written to revive memory in the elderly and give them the confidence and voice to read again. Joan has memory and eyesight issues, and our hope was that this exercise – completing common phrases left blank – would be stimulating for her.

This week, we had our fourth reading lesson, and Joan instantly recalled every phrase but one. I missed three.

It's time to step up to slightly more challenging and complex tasks.  Joan's eyesight prevents her from reading alone, but she reads very well with other people and their guidance and prompting. And reading matter is certainly working to stimulate and revive her memory.

You can see that clearly in the evolution of the four videos I posted on You  Tube. Joan remembers these exercises, is waiting for me when I come into the Activity Room carrying the booklets. She had so much fun today she gave me a soft and loving kiss on the cheek when I left.

it isn't just that she got the answers, she seems grateful that I am taking the time to read to her and with her. There is a part of her that is very hungry for this stimulation and engagement. I'm not sure how far we can go with it, but I do feel we are just setting out together on a journey I would not have thought possible just a few weeks ago.

I asked Joan if she would like to be in one of our skits at "Night Of Four Skits" in April, she hesitated, saying softly but clearly that she doubted she could read in front of people, her eyes weren't good, and "whatever.." I said I would stand with her and read her lines with her, and she jumped at the chance, as long as she knew she wasn't being left alone on a stage in a room full of people.

Joan and I are having great fun, this is exciting to her, and  at the beginning of our work today she tried to tell me that it was fun for her, and exciting, and why. She got so excited, in fact, that she struggled to explain her thought process – her brain was literally running ahead of her mouth. She and I can talk to each other easily now, and I was delighted at how engaged she is in this work – everyone at the Mansion can see it.

She is a sweet and creative soul, able to write poems and paint watercolors. She has suffered great trauma, her daughter was killed by a boyfriend many years ago. Her very lovely inner soul shines through.

So come along and take a look at lesson Four. I think it's time to step up a notch and see what happens.

I'm excited by the reading2connect experiment. It is a shame for the elderly to have to give up on reading. Perhaps it is not necessary. I'm sure going to work hard to find out.

This work is challenging my beliefs and conventional wisdoms. I need to have faith in Joan for Joan to have faith in me. As an author, I have a special feeling about books and reading, but to my surprise, so do these people at the edge of life, who have lost almost everything they ever loved.

How wonderful if they didn't have to lose reading, and their ability to stretch their imaginations and connections to one another. Come and see how Joan is doing.





This week

Posted in General | Post a Comment

Video: First Rehearsal, “Night Of Four Skits,” Madeline Reads Her Lines

By: Jon Katz

Today at the Mansion, we had the first rehearsal for "Night Of Four Skits," four short plays to be performed at the Mansion by the residents on April 5.

Madeline is one of four actors who signed up for the readings, we're going to rehearse with her and the others every Tuesday until the performance, which will be held in the Mansion Great Room, and a week later, at the Mansion's private  sister facility, the Cambridge Hotel.

Madeline is in her mid 90's, she performed in community theater in New York, playing Willie Loman's embattled wife in "Death Of A Salesman." She is eager to do as much theater as possible and practically begs for more cultural opportunities. She admits to having memory issues, but is not prepared to write off her mind.

Gail, one of the activity director's at the Mansion, is also excited about the reading2connect books, and has agreed to work with me on rehearsals, playing opposite roles, encouraging the actors,  and helping me stage the play.

The residents are very excited to work with these skits, sold by our new and valued friends reading2connect. They know what they are doing, everything they create really seems to work, at least so far.

The Essex, Connecticut publishing house believes that people with dementia and memory loss (the Mansion is not a dementia facility) can learn to read independently of aides and guides. I purchased a set of four skits from them for $85. Each skit has two speaking roles there is a separate book for each role.

Susan Ostrowski, a speech pathologist and Dr. Peter Dixon, a doctor and co-director of the program, creating these books to challenge the idea that people with demential could no longer read. They do not believe that is true. You can see their brief explanation of the program on this YouTube video. They believe accessible reading can make non-interactive people interactive.

The  four skits were initially written for the elderly by BI-FOLKal Productions who permitted clinicians  Ostrowski Dr.  Dixon to make minor changes. They have found that older people enjoy reading, and listening to their peers read. The skits are written to be simple to follow, relevant to the residents' lives – preparing for winter, going to the doctor – and funny.

They are designed to draw at the innate and often wise and wry humor that characterizes so many of the people I see at the Mansion – they have, after all, seen just about everything – and they seem drawn to performing so long as they are not made to appear foolish or feeble.

No one wants to show case their memory issues. I've assured the volunteer actors that they will have scripts with them during our performance, their roles highlighted in yellow markers. The only hesitation I have found is when the residents ask me if they have to memorize the lines. Once I say no, they are all in. They know what they can't do, but are unsure of what they can do. I feel my job is to give them a peek at what they can do, I see that happening with Joan. (see above.

The residents of the Mansion have absolutely no hesitations about getting up in front of a crowd, they love the idea, I think it gives them a sense of power and purpose. And it reminds the world that their minds are not dormant or useless, as the outside world often assumes.

The skit booklets are 2 to 5 pages each

Madeline, the first actor I cast,  is vocal about needing activities of the mind that celebrate culture beyond just watching TV and playing games. She is a New Yorker, with a thick bronx attitude and a New Yorker's bluntness. She is eager to read the reading2connect books with other residents, not just me. She sometimes struggles with memory but is sharp and engaged.

I love her enthusiasm and energy, it is infectious. Next, Sylvie, Joan and Allan, the other performers. They are all ready to join me in Tuesday rehearsals, now in the regular Mansion Activity Schedule. Their families will be invited to the "Night Of Four Skits."

Come and check out these videos.

More to come. I am lucky to have found this project, it gives real dimension to my work as a volunteer.

The Mansion program depends almost entirely on donations from the readers of the blog. If you wish to contribute,  you can send a donation to me at my post office box, P.O. Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816, via Paypal, [email protected]

Posted in General | Post a Comment