THE CALM BEFORE THE FLOOD

The whirl of the helicopters overhead this past month brings back memories of the Big Thompson Flood of 1976.

The hours before the 1976 flood seem like yesterday.

The day broke muggy and overcast. At the time I didn’t think too much about the sultry weather because I would work indoors that day.

I saw clients at the Larimer County Mental Health Clinic on Saturdays in exchange for a day off during the week.

The County occupied a small office on the second floor of a building on Cleveland and 4th Street—two blocks south of the present County building.

That Saturday, Bill attended the HP picnic near Estes Park along with several of our daughters. All were home when I returned from work.

I remember fixing spaghetti—now we call it pasta—for dinner that night. I multitasked past al dente and ended up with al gooey. But the kitchen blunder was to be the least of anyone’s problems that night.

Right after dinner one of the ER docs at the new McKee Medical Center called about a mental health client he had seen earlier that evening.

Just as we were ending our conversation, he said “Sounds like there a flood up the canyon. I’d better go. We’ve probably got a few scrapes and bruises coming in.”

None of us could conceive of the magnitude of the flood.

Readers, what do you remember about the day of the flood?

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MEMORIES OF THE BIG THOMPSON FLOOD 1976

The following column appeared in the print edition of the Loveland Reporter Herald several years ago. I am posting it again–during this second devastating flood–as a reminder of how well our communities come together in times of crisis.

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The phone call came at noon that day—the Sunday after the Big Thompson Flood in 1976.

I was a mental health worker at the Larimer County Mental Health Clinic.

Fellow therapist, Ed Callahan called. All mental health workers were called to assist with the aftermath of the flood.

Ed and I were assigned to set up an intake station at the temporary morgue located in the old Loveland Memorial Hospital near Douglas and Sixth Street in Loveland.

Our job was to get basic information from family and friends of those missing in the flood: name, age, gender, clothing, physical appearance, rings, tattoos, scars, etc.

We didn’t know that the force of the water left bodies stripped of identifying markers.

That Sunday the National Guard rescued over 800 people from canyon walls, trees and rooftops, but hundreds remained missing or separated from their families.

I was humbled and inspired by the patience and courage of those who brought terrifying experiences to my intake desk. One moment a loved one was within arm’s reach, and the next moment swept away in horrific darkness and noise.

Over the next days and months the community pulled together to rescue, mourn, rebuild and remember.

This summer’s fires brought communities together once again to rescue, mourn, rebuild and remember.

Here in the Front Range—as in other parts of the country—we do a great job of coming together in times of crisis.

In flood and fire men and women risk their lives to save people and property. Others work tirelessly and generously to help rebuild lives.

Yet, once a crisis has past, we often return to becoming a people divided by ideologies. We come together in times of concrete crises but are often poles apart in the realm of ideas.

Our county faces challenges in almost every arena. I wonder if we could begin to heed the words of Henry Ford: “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”

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THE WEDDING

It is two weeks before their wedding.

The gift and card I bought for them sit on my desk.

“What should I write on the card?”

“Best Wishes?”

Of course!

“Advice to the newlyweds?”

A reluctant “No.”

Though tempted, I won’t dole out advice. My history of giving out advice is dismal.

Besides, most people find their own paths to the important things in marriage. But one of the wonderful things about weddings is that they afford the opportunity to reflect on our own experiences.

When Bill and I married in the mid l950’s, I divided my time between two worlds. College classes, tests and studying made up the first part of my day.

In the late afternoon, I’d dump my textbooks on the sofa, fix dinner, and swap my bobby socks and saddle shoes for high heels, stockings and a dress before Bill and I had dinner in our third floor apartment.

While I loved being a student, I also desperately wanted to be a proper l950’s wife and homemaker. I devoured Good Housekeeping and the Ladies Home Journal for guidance on my new role.

While customs and fashions change across decades, the heart of marriages—of relationships—remains the same.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that marriage has more to do with compassion and humor, respect and resilience, hard work and light heartedness than with how I dressed for dinner.

I suspect the soon- to-be bride—a graduate student— will wear jeans and sneakers while fixing dinner. And I have a hunch the groom can easily whip up a meal in the kitchen.

My guess is that this young couple already knows that there’s more to marriage than its outside trappings.

I wish them delight in one another and the strength and courage to love deeply.

Whatever sentiments I will write on the card, will soon be written in the hearts of this young couple.

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WHAT’S IN YOUR GARAGE?

It was time for a garage sale.

It wasn’t just extra stuff that I wanted to sell.

I wanted to sell the whole garage—junk included.

I could picture my 47 year-old garage being whisked off to the final resting place for old garages. Someone, please tell me there is such a place.

How I yearned for a new one to rise up miraculously in its place!

Wanting a new garage is a tell tale sign that I’ve bought into our throw away, disposable society.

When something gets old, we replace it, even if it’s still functional.

Because my garage is obviously too big to drop off at a local Good Will or Habitat for Humanity, it became clear it was time to do some serious cleaning and organizing.

My mission began on a hot June afternoon, when Bill was gone for the day. In my heart of hearts, I know I chose this start time because it’s easier for me to bring order to Bill’s clutter than to deal with my own.

I zeroed in on Bill’s workbench.

Bill’s workbench had become the resting place for umbrellas with ribs that could poke out an eye, worn hiking boots with the red laces popular a few decades ago, and enough empty plastic and cardboard boxes to set up our own shipping supply store.

Yet organizing Bill’s workbench seemed more manageable to me than cleaning up the rubble on my side of the garage.

Why is it so much easier to fix someone’s disarray than one’s own?

Readers, what do you think? Is it easier to clean up after yourself or someone else?

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LOVELAND’S 1965 TORNADO

Loveland is generally spared the brutal spring storms that wreak havoc on much of the country, but back in June 1965 a tornado paid a visit to our town.

At that time our young family lived on Abeyta Court, right off 18th Street—then on the northwest edge of town.

That afternoon high dark clouds billowed and bulged over the mountains.

By 5:30pm the skies dumped heavy rain and ping pong ball-sized hail on the lawn and patio. At one point I thought I saw an eerie yellow glow peeking from behind the black clouds.

Our daughters, then ages two, four and five, had their noses pressed the picture window facing the west, watching the storm.

I didn’t have the common sense to realize I was putting them in danger, but somehow they survived my ineptitude.

During the height of the storm, a gentleman from Leslie The Cleaner braved the hail, jumped out of his delivery truck and rang the doorbell to bring our dry cleaning.

I don’t think either of us realized that while we were safe, a tornado had touched down a few miles from us.

The storm passed without much notice on our end of town. By the next day, word of the tornado reached us. If I remember correctly, it touched down near Marianna Buttes and damaged homes in the areas of Village Ave and Falls Court.

How many of you lived in Loveland at that time.? What are your memories of the tornado?

Please share your memories.

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WHY?

“They caught one of the suspects,” Bill tells me as I wake up.

On an ordinary day, an ordinary week, I’d have to shake off morning grogginess to grasp what Bill was saying.

But this was no ordinary week.

Last night I’d seen videos of the suspects in the Boston Marathon Explosions.

This morning one suspect was dead, the other on the run.

One of my favorite cities—Boston—on lock down.

I turned on the TV and felt transported to Watertown.

Back in l986, after a week of settling one of our daughters in college in Massachusetts and enjoying wonderful seafood in Boston, Bill developed a hankering for Mexican Food.

In Watertown, we ducked into a little Mexican Restaurant named The Phoenix and were treated to Mexican fare that tested even Bill’s high tolerance for hot spices.

Today these fond memories seem distant.

Watertown residents were not grabbing a bite of lunch at their favorite eatery.

They remained locked inside their homes—perhaps watching on TV as an intense door to door investigation took place right outside their homes.

Law enforcement agencies will find the remaining suspect or suspects.

But the larger question remains.

What is it in the human experience/the human psyche that leads some individuals to take the lives of others—while other individuals put their lives on the line to save others.

Readers, let us know what you think.

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THE TALK–PART 3

In my last two columns I wrote about filling out my Advanced Directive.

I recalled my friend Bob’s illness. Several years ago, Bob was hospitalized with a serious but treatable illness.

Life support measures kept Bob alive while his body healed. Today he continues to live a healthy and productive life.

Now let’s consider a different scenario—a situation in which life support measures such as ventilators and feeding tubes are the only things keeping a patient alive.

This time I’ll be the patient. Unlike Bob, let’s say I have no chance of recovery from my illness.

Suppose I’m in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU), kept alive by means of machines that breathe for me and tubes to provide fluids and nutrients. I have irreversible loss of brain function.

In this situation, I am not able to tell my doctors or my family what kind of treatment I want or do not want.

Without a say so from my family, I could remain in a limbo of machines and tubes indefinitely.

And without Advanced Directives I would leave my family facing wrenching decisions.

With this paperwork in place, my family will be better able to speak for me if I can’t speak for myself.

I had a good conversation with family members about my End off Life Wishes—so it seemed time to put pen to paper.

I opened The Colorado Hospital Association’s pamphlet: Your Right to Make Healthcare Decisions.

This booklet offers information and forms for advanced planning.

The booklet includes several parts. The most important section in my mind is the Medical Durable Power of Attorney.

By filling out this form, I appointed one of our daughters to make medical decisions for me if I’m incapacitated. Our other daughters are designated to step in if needed.

Another section in the booklet is a form for a Living Will.

This second form lets you put into writing the kind of medical care you want—or don’t want.

A third form in the booklet lets you decide whether you want CPR (Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation) if your heart stops or you stop breathing.

While Advanced Directives don’t try to answer every question that may arise, hopefully these forms will help family and medical staff if I’m unable to speak for myself.

I’m glad I completed the Advanced Directives, but I found it difficult to wade through all the legal jargon in the documents.

I think a class to help fill out such documents would be helpful.

Apparently others also find this task daunting since only about 25% of adults have filled out these forms.

I can’t speak for others, but what I really needed was an Advanced Directives for Dummies book.

I have mailed copies of m Advanced Directives to my physician and to our daughter. And I have one copy tucked away in our freezer—right next to the frozen peas.

Filling out Advanced Directives ranks right up there with root canals, colonoscopy preps and IRS forms. But if I can trudge through this form so can you!

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THE TALK-PART 2

In my last column, I wrote about sitting down with family members to fill out my Advanced Directives—or End of Life Wishes.

Although I’m in good health now, I’ve seen life turn on a dime. I don’t want to leave my family in the dark as to my final wishes.

Filling out forms has never been my strong point. The fine print in Advanced Directives and Living Wills seemed overwhelming.

So before I put pen to paper, my family and I divided my potential illnesses into these categories:

CONSCIOUSNESS:

1. I am conscious and able to make decisions; OR

2. I am unconscious or in a coma and unable to make decisions.

POTENTIAL FOR RECOVERY:

1. I have a serious but treatable condition; OR

2. I am in a terminal/vegetative condition with no chance of improvement/recovery.

As our family discussed these categories, my friend Bob’s illness came to mind.

Three years ago, Bob, a healthy 74 year old, was admitted to a hospital for routine surgery.

Neither Bob nor his physicians knew that Bob had a rare genetic condition which caused a severe, adverse reaction to anesthesia.

Bob hovered on the brink of death for a number of days after his surgery.

As a family friend, I spent time in the ICU area—minutes passing slowly—as we awaited the latest updates from the medical staff.

In the critical time following surgery, Bob was given CPR several times, placed on a respirator and given tube feeding until his condition stabilized.

After nine days in ICU and 15 more days in the hospital, Bob was discharged to recover at home.

Currently Bob is actively involved in the lives of his five children and seven grandchildren. His calendar is filled with grandchildrens’ school and sports events.

Bob lives life to the fullest, traveling and socializing with his wife and friends, reading and cooking gourmet meals for family and friends.

At the time of his hospitalization, Bob’s family knew that he had plenty of living yet to do. His condition was serious but not terminal, so it was appropriate to use life support systems while his body recovered.

Recalling the fact he was unaware of much what was going on during his days in ICU, Bob noted:”Somebody has to be there to advocate for you.”

Then he added with a laugh, “It’s a good thing I kept my lovely wife around for 55 years.”

Bob’s illness is a good example of an instance in which life support measures were used to help an otherwise healthy patient while he recovered.

Bob’s situation spurred my thoughts about my own Advanced Directive and Living Will.

Obviously, if I have a serious, but treatable medical condition I will want to have support measures if appropriate.

But what if I have a terminal illness and cannot speak for myself? What if I have a stroke?

What kind of care will I want? Who will make decisions for me?

In my next column I will discuss my own process of filling out an advanced Directive and Living Will.

Readers, please tell us about your experience in filling out these forms.

 

 

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THE TALK–PART 1

Last weekend, I knew the time had come to have the Second Talk with our daughters.

Decades ago, I flubbed the First Talk—the mother/daughter Talk about sex— so I decided to pull myself together for the Second Talk.

This talk is about my End of Life Wishes—a good talk to have while I am still healthy.

Sex is no longer a taboo topic, but death—particularly the prospect of one’s own death—remains an uncomfortable conversation topic.

As we sat around the kitchen table nibbling on ham sandwiches and slices of coconut cake, I retrieved the green booklet tucked away in the freezer—the place I keep grocery lists and notes to myself.

The booklet, provided by the Colorado Hospital Association, is called: Your Right to Make Healthcare Decisions.

This booklet may have a familiar ring to it.

If you’ve been to a hospital lately or outpatient facility, you may have been asked if you have an Advanced Directive.

This green booklet is designed to help understand and complete an Advanced Directive, which allows you to let family friends and physicians know what kind of medical care you want if you are unable to communicate your own wishes.

On hearing that I wanted to discuss my end of life issues, our daughters didn’t seem unduly surprised. Perhaps they were relieved.

In Part 2 of this column, I’ll tell you more about my experience filling out the Advanced Directive.

Meanwhile, readers—have you talked with your family about end of life care. If so how did it go?

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WHAT DO YOU WANT TO BRING TO THE TABLE?

Yesterday, I put away our Christmas placemats, red with green plaid borders.

To my eye, the reds and greens—which looked lively during the holidays—seemed as tired as crumbled Christmas wrapping paper, discarded weeks ago.

Now that the days grow longer, and the promise of spring is here, I unpack the lavender placemats and place them on the dark wood table.

Pinks, yellows and lavenders call spring to mind, and lavender is what I set out every year.

I know I’m premature in trying to entice spring—the season of hope—into our dining room, our home, our lives.

Perhaps I’m trying to push back the darkness which shrouded our state, country and world in 2012.

I wonder how we can best rebuild from the morass of High Park Fires, Hurricane Sandy and the Sandy Hook tragedies which were part of 2012′s legacy?

And that’s just in the U.S.

Global tragedies and losses are too numerous to mention.

It will take hope, trust in each other as people, and the best of talents to make the promise of spring a reality in 2013.

So this is my question to you: If time and money were no object, what would you do to make our city, our country our world a better place in 2013?

I’ve put the placemats on the table.

Now what do you want to bring to the table?

Readers, let’s hear from you.

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