Saturday, August 3, 2019

Transitions and More Transitions

On my birthday this year, May 14, I was offered a full time position as a Clinical Case Manager at the Veterans Assistance Foundation, a non-profit organization that operates the Veterans Housing and Recovery Program at the Wisconsin Veterans Home at King, WI.
King holds a special place in my heart because my Grandpa Porath spent the last years of his life there. When we visited him, he would take us for a tour of the campus, which is extensive. He took us to the five lane bowling alley where they offered beer for sale, the viewing area for the water skiing group that offered free weekly performances for the veterans, and the museum to which he donated his "war trophies" of Swastika arm bands taken from Nazi soldiers that he had killed. He told us he had three of them, which I never doubted as he landed "D plus three", three days after D Day, June 9, 1944, when he landed in Normandy France from north Africa.
Working at King felt like honoring my Grandpa in a way that no one else in my family could. At 1800 hours the bells chime for 10 minutes. The cottages where married couples lived when Grandpa was there are no longer habitable due to asbestos and lead paint. They can't be torn down because of the asbestos exposure risk, so they are left to rot where they stand. I frequently drive past them looking for a parking spot, lace curtains and flower beds still there. It evokes such a sense of longing and sadness that prompts me to park in the field across the street rather than violate the memories of the couples who previously lived there.
My first week of full time work at VHRP (Veterans Home and Recovery Program) started on June 17, 2019. As with any new job, my first week was spent getting to know the veterans who would be on my clinical caseload, i.e., veterans with a mental health or AODA diagnoses. On Thursday, June 20, 2019 the Site Director was "walked out" from her position. This sent up red flags for the Case Manager I share an office with. On Friday, June 21st our Executive Director told the staff, (me, the Case Manager, Administrative Assistant, and Driver/Chef) to either be at the office or be available by telephone for a conference call held at Stordock Hall at 1600 hours. We were instructed to bring our personal items with us as we were directed not to return to the 2nd floor of MacArthur Hall where we worked.
That was when all of us were told that the second year of our program grant was revoked and our program was scheduled to end on September 30, 2019. There are A LOT of political reasons I can direct you to if you are interested in why the WDVA (Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs) stopped funding the grant we had received for 2 years (reapplication required by 09-29-20). Please contact me if you are interested in informing other veteran's organizations about our program closure. Regardless, I was offered a Clinical Case Manager position that happened to open up at the VHRP location in Green Bay. Needless to say I took that position and am in the process of dividing my time between King and Green Bay.
Thank God we didn't sign a lease for a totally kick ass townhouse in Waupaca. We have signed a lease for a side-by-side duplex in Green Bay and will spend the month of August moving from Menasha to Green Bay. We have scheduled movers for 08-16-19 and will spend that weekend arranging our new home in Green Bay.
I do, however, have a commitment to the program in King until 09-30-19, which happens to be our 14th wedding anniversary. I will be there until 2359 come hell or high water as I know my coworkers will be. We are currently working hard to ensure that every veteran in our King program will be placed in stable housing, whether that be in another program or supported independent housing.
For me, I will be traveling between our home in Menasha to King or from our home in Green Bay to the VHRP in Green Bay or from there to King.
King continues to feel like home to me. Part of Grandpa Porath's soul still lives there, despite years of being reunited with my Grandma Porath in Wausau. When a veteran arrives at King, likely to spend his last days, weeks, or years of his life surrounded by his brother veterans, the announcement of "another American hero has joined us us here at King" is made throughout every residence hall, including the second floor of MacArthur Hall. I can only hope that announcement was made when my grandfather arrived there, to spend his final years with his brother veterans.

Monday, May 13, 2019

47: Good-bye, Farewell and Amen

Some people like to list what they've done within the past year on the cusp of turning another year older. I am not interested in listing such futile adventures. As I am within 24 hours of turning 48 years old, I'd like to list what I didn't do during the past year.
1) Still haven't watched It's A Wonderful Life: Almost a decade ago I declared that I'd never seen the feel-good, gratitude gushing Christmas movie It's A Wonderful Life. Despite receiving a DVD of the film as a gift 5 years ago, I still haven't watched it. I didn't do it when I was 47 and I don't foresee myself watching when I'm 48, but we'll see.
2) Haven't seen the Great Wall of China: This is one of those bucket list adventures. I didn't have a chance to travel to China when I was 47, so we'll see what happens when I'm 48. Who knows? Maybe I'll win the lottery.
3) Didn't win the lottery: There were several multi-million and at least one billion-dollar (if I'm remembering correctly, which at my age is questionable) lottery winning totals this year. I only buy a three line, quick pick ticket if the jackpot reaches the one hundred million dollar mark because, really, I pay enough money to the state of Wisconsin and it only seems fair that if I contribute money voluntarily, it should be significantly worth my wild to do so.
4) Haven't watched one minute of Game of Thrones: I have absolutely no idea what this HBO series is about. The theme now on my Wheel of Fortune app is Wheel of Thrones or Game of Wheel, I can't remember which, and I am purely guessing at puzzles with names of the characters, locations, pet-dragon names, whatever. Today I heard on a podcast I regularly listen to that in the most recent episode there was a Starbucks cup that made it into a broadcast-ed scene. Meh. I don't drink coffee either.
5) Still don't drink coffee: This appears to set me apart from most of the people I know or am related to. I maybe had one sip of coffee while in high school and hated it. It was way too hot and incredibly bitter. Blach. It's been suggested that I try iced-coffee or flavored coffee, coffee with cream and sugar, coffee with flavored cream (particularly "pumpkin spice" cream), a frappe or caramel macchiato. Forget it. I don't like the taste of coffee in any way, shape, form, temperature or flavor.
6) Didn't get the measles: I had the standard vaccinations during childhood and had to get an MMR (measles/mumps/rubella) booster as a requirement for attending college in Massachusetts in 1991. Two weeks ago I had a physical and my doctor ran a blood test to verify that I was immune to the measles. After having at least three vaccinations, she and I were pretty confident that I had developed immunity to measles. I work in public schools three days a week and the generation of my students are part of the anti-vaccination movement embraced by their parents. My measles immunity status was "inconclusive" according to the lab that ran my measles titre. WTF?? I've had one more vaccination compared to most people my age and yet my blood couldn't confirm immunity. I'm getting the first of two MMR vaccinations on Friday. I will receive the other 28 days later.
7) Still didn't have a kid: At 47 I would've been a super high risk pregnant woman. I'm not stupid and have never had unprotected sex before marrying my husband. Yes, really. When I started babysitting at 12 years old, I was like, "Oh hell no am I ever doing this." I made damn sure I did everything I could to prevent a pregnancy. The only exception to this was when Mark and I got married. We tried for 18 months to conceive. He had surgery to open up one of his one of his vas deferens; he was capable of producing children at some point because he has a daughter and a son from his first marriage. I had dye shot into my Fallopian tubes to verify they were functioning properly, which they were. Despite temperature taking and ovulation calendars, apparently it wasn't meant to happen, which, overall, we are ok with. Pregnancy is no longer an option because of my total hysterectomy in November 2018. Hot flashes be gone! And they are...mostly.
Those are at least seven things I didn't do when I was 47. Maybe I'll cross some of them off when I'm 48. Who knows?

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Is this Really the Christmas I've Been Wishing For??

So I've previously titled one on my posts, A Year of Loss, posted on 10-07-18, the day my last maternal great aunt passed away. My Grandma Krause passed on 02-16-18, her sister-in-law, my great-aunt Annabelle passed away in April 2018. Those were just family losses. My 19 year-old "girl kitty" Angel passed away on 10-29-18 and one of the neighborhood dad's from my childhood, Jerry Reinke passed away on 12-04-18. Ironically I would've been married to my first husband for 25 years on that Dec. 4th. At least Jerry's death provided an opportunity that distracted my family from the date which is a big BIG deal in my family because my mother has a memory along the lines of a steel trap:"Short fuse, long memory" I frequently use to describe her.
So my mom didn't attend either of her parents' funerals. She didn't attend her Uncle Arnie's funeral, although our Dad did, which was kind of  interesting in a truly authentic definition of the word. She did attend the funerals of both of her aunts, Annabelle and Shirley. And she even came to the luncheon afterward.
As my older second cousin would say, we're here as"second cousins, once removed." I can understand after a brief informational lesson. Although I don't write that on my Christmas cards; we know how we are related and through whom. We are NOT hoighty-toighty and pretend to be Native American Princesses or anything silly that like. I use the word "silly" in the context of female first cousins, my sister and myself as being eligible for such a thing, not for those members of my family who could really have a shot at it.
Because of all of this loss and my parents not showing up for my grandmother's funeral, but showing up for my two great-aunts funerals, Rog & Shirl are spending 12-24 through 12-26 at the casino in Wittenbergh. Cool for them, but that leaves me and Mark & our brother Chad lost in the lurch.

Jan & Ben's family will spend the holiday with his parents and siblings which is great for them! Mark has such a large family, his siblings spend the holidays with in-laws and his local cousins spend the holidays with their families. So that leaves us with nowhere to go on Christmas Day. Maybe it will be quiet and peaceful, something I've longed for for years.
I must admit that I will miss looking at my sister's face when she opens her gift this year. And I will miss watching the girls open their gifts too. Usually my parents get us a bunch of scratch-off lottery tickets and I will miss the tension palpable in the house as the tickets are scratched off, one of us certain we've got a multi-thousand winner, which never comes to pass.
Sometimes be very careful with what you wish for because you might get it and then have to live with the results.
Like what Mark, Apollo and I will be doing this Christmas day. Because of surgery I'm not up for cooking a full family meal. I'm sure Mark will go shopping for some dishes I can throw together with his help. Since I was 2 years old this is the very first time I won't be at 1415 N. Lynndale Dr. for Christmas. Time to grow up or time to concede to  my mother's expectations?

Based on Farewell My Dear Friend Angel-A Warm and Loving Cat by Leonardo Durango

On hearing of the death of my pet cat, Angel, 19 years old and all,
The first thought that came to my mind
Was that a friend like her I never shall find
So loving, so genuine, so kind.
Her affection overwhelming
Her love unconditional
Had to be shared with all and sundry.
She did not care 
Whether you liked it or not
She would give you a magnanimous slice
She would nudge you and rub you
And curl up on your lap 
And all she expected
Was an acknowledging pat.
The house is so empty after her death
We wish, oh we wish, she never had left.

Rest in Piece our little girl kitty Angel, 10-28-18.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

For My Grandmother

For My Grandmother                                            by Krissy Sack

Dry your eyes; please no more tears,                                               Listen to my words carried on the wind.

It may now seem we are so very far apart,                      But my tender syllables arrive with the summer breeze.

You are entirely a part of me.                                    And I of you.

Though time takes us apart,                                      The distance between our hearts could not be closer.

A Year of Loss

My grandma Krause died in February 2018. My great-aunt Annebelle died in April 2018. Today, my great-aunt Shirley, the last of my maternal grandmother's siblings died. She was the last of my grandma's siblings and now she is gone too. I no longer have any great-aunt or great-uncles who were born in either of my maternal or my paternal lines.
We called my grandma, our great-aunt Kootchie, and our great-aunt Shirley "The Golden Girls." They accompanied us during our Gravehopping tradition well before they became part of those we would honor as a result of that tradition. I can't remember the year, but one Memorial Day great-aunt Shirley taught us about FDR's desire to enter WWII. She picked out Grandma's oranges from the kitchen table fruit bowl to provide examples of the way airplanes were posted on the ships in Pearl Harbor which caused the US Navy a delay in response. Grandma turned from her kitchen sink and told Shirley, "Don't bruise my oranges just to make your point."
Shirley also told us the story of when they were all children, sitting on the front porch one Saturday morning when John Dillinger walked his dog past their house at 1202 S. Smalley Street in Shawano. Shirley recognized him and called out, "Good morning Mr. Dillinger!" to which he tipped his hat and kept walking his small dog.
These are the stories that fascinated us, her great-nieces, and sparked our imaginations of what their childhood was like. We knew our Grandma and her family grew up during the Great Depression. They treasured oranges in their Christmas stockings. During an 8th grade project that required me to ask our grandparents about what it was like to live through the Great Depression, Grandma Krause told me, "We didn't know we were any poorer because of the Depression, we were poor anyway."
I remember my great-grandma Ziemer and my great-great-aunt Sarah Denn babysitting us, especially during fair time, the Shawano County Fair is held every Labor Day Weekend. Grandma Ziemer and Aunt Sarah would undo the buns they kept their hair up during the day and they would braid each other's surprisingly long hair down their back and sing us Menominee lullabies. I was astounded by the amount of hair they managed to pin on the tops of their heads and how long and flowing it was when they took it down.
Before dementia began eroding away Aunt Shirley's memory, we would frequently talk on the phone. She always told me I was smart enough to be a doctor, but since I hadn't chosen medicine as my career path, she swore I would get my PhD without any difficulty. As much as my parents and grandparents encouraged me to continue my education after achieving my Master's degree, Shirley was the one who said, "Someday we'll call you Doctor." In a superficial way I'd half-smile and nod in agreement when my parents or other family members would talk about me going on to get my PhD. But when my Aunt Shirley talked about it, she was committed. She believed from the bottom of her heart that I could go on to get that PhD. That led me to believe in myself that perhaps one day, when my chaotic life settled down, I would start that arduous process. Now that she's gone, I feel as if I've disappointed her for not starting down that road, but no matter what my future holds, I know I will have someone who unconditionally believed that I could do it, can do it, and perhaps someday will do it.
Right now her funeral is planned for this Wednesday, October 10, 2018. Another tradition she sparked in us is her love for the Kentucky Derby. She and my great-uncle Norton used to annually bet on that particular horse race. I hope that we get to sing "My Old Kentucky Home" at her funeral.

"The sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home,
 'Tis summer, the people are gay,
 The corn top's ripe and the meadows in the bloom,
 While the birds make music all the day.
 The young folks roll on the little cabin floor,
 All merry, all happy and bright:
 By'n by Hard Times comes a knocking at the door,
 Then my old Kentucky Home, good night!

Weep no more, my lady,
 Oh! weep no more to-day!
 We will sing one song for the old Kentucky Home,
 For the old Kentucky Home far away."

We will honor her with that "one song for the old Kentucky Home,
For that old Kentucky Home far away."

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Expect the Unexpected

I was originally scheduled to read this piece at the last Storycatcher's event on June 21, 2018, but because of a work conflict, I was unable to attend. I still want to share it, so here it is: from a time in my life when  I should've known enough to Expect the Unexpected.

September 26, 1995 was a Tuesday. As I was showering for work that morning, I was replaying portions of an episode of “Murphy Brown” we watched the night before. I dressed in a long-sleeved beige and black tunic and black pants. It was cool already that late September.
My fiancé and I had had sex the night before and he was already showered and dressed, making coffee in the kitchen. He wore a forest green shirt and beige and green tie that was a gift from a coworker the previous Christmas.
Not only was he my fiancé, but he was also my employer. At the time he was also my dealer. We were both addicted to fentanyl; actually any opiate would do. He was a doctor and had IV fentanyl and a litany of other opiates at his office in addition to a cabinet full of Tylenol #3 with codeine and Darvocet, an oral opiate pain reliever banned by the FDA in late 2010 due to risk of cardiac events in otherwise healthy patients.
This day began as any other. There was no reason to suspect the day wouldn’t be like all the other days we’d strung together, stashing away meds during the course of a workday to use ourselves. Our thinking was so delusional we thought no body in the office knew a thing about our diversion of narcotics. This, despite a new work policy that only he could reconcile the narc count at the end of the day whereas until February of 1995, any staff person could complete that task, as long as another coworker was watching, counting along, and also signed the log indicating the count was correct: amounts of each drug we started with in the morning minus what was documented as administered that day equaled the total amounts left. That was the case until our addictions became so overwhelming and ravenous at the start of ‘95 that a few doses stashed away here and there was no longer sufficient. We were using amounts that would register as “toxic” on urine drug screens and there was no hiding it by manipulating the narc count. So the new policy of the doc completing the narc count was established and he would go through the motions of counting, subtracting and establishing an accurate drug count each afternoon.
All of it was fake. Made up patient case numbers showed up on the log sheets. After that lie wasn’t expansive enough to cover up what we were using, he stopped tracking the drugs all together, although he continued the ritual of counting and entering false totals each workday.
On our way to work that morning we laughed and chatted. Of course we had shot up on the kitchen counter before leaving, both of us at the point that we needed to use early each morning just to feel normal and functional. We arrived at his office around 6:45am as usual. He began seeing patients at seven.
There was a lull at 10:20 that morning which gave us a desperately needed chance to “feed the beast”; we needed maintenance doses to keep going until mid-afternoon. At 10:30am the receptionist called his office and through the speaker phone said, “Umm, there are people here…legal people from the medical board that want to see you…they want copies of the narcotic logs too.”
Well, shit. Maybe in the deep recesses of our brains we knew this day of reckoning would come, but we had not prepared for it. That’s just one of the things addiction steals from you: your ability to think like a reasonable human being. Drugs made us think we were invincible. The drugs lied.
Being the good co-dependent I was, I walked to the front desk and faced a representative from the state medical board, two U.S. Marshalls, and someone from the Federal Dept of Justice. If he walked out to meet them, they would arrest him instantly, he said. So while I stood across the counter from them and collected business cards, he was shimming out the women’s restroom window down to his Jeep Cherokee and driving to his business attorney’s office. They asked if I was Kristine Porath (my maiden name) and I nodded yes. They asked me to bring them the narcotic logs for the past six months and I told them they were locked in the safe in his office and I didn’t know the combination. Then they asked to speak with him and I said he was unavailable and his attorney would contact them. (All of this I had been prepped with before leaving his office.)
They left en masse as they had arrived. I went to the storage room, grabbed four or five dull-red sharps containers and hid in his office, dumping every pre-filled syringe and vial of whatever controlled substance we had stashed into the sharps boxes and sealing them shut. Ten minutes into this his private line rang. I told him what I was doing and he yelled at me, “Are you fucking crazy!? Get that shit out of those sharps containers and bring it to the house. Someone from (insert attorney’s office name here) will pick you up in ten minutes and drive you home. I will already be there.”
Ok. I knew my thinking was just as impaired as his, until he demanded I bring the drugs we were both accused of using illegally by the Feds, (the Federal fucking government, man!!) to our home to use later that afternoon. My first instinct was to throw the shit out. His was to have me illegally transport it home so we could get fucked up later and forget about all of this? You’d be surprised at how easy it is to open a sealed medical waste container. Maybe it was adrenaline that fueled my power to rip the covers off, or it could’ve been my own addiction that wasn’t ready to give in, but I did it. I did exactly what he and my addiction demanded of me.
In the end our relationship was officially over in September 1996. He went to residential treatment and stayed clean while I was in and out of using. He was serious about getting his medical license re-instated and couldn’t be with a woman who still used. I needed and got a $5,000 check from my parents to put the “second best” defense attorney in Milwaukee on retainer because he of course had “the best” defense attorney representing him. I went into treatment that September and stayed clean for four years. He eventually moved to Michigan and began a family practice residency. It was weird though because for three or four years we still talked on the phone, exchanged Christmas cards with each other’s parents, and my dad went golfing with him on a business trip to Michigan.
I sold the two carat engagement ring and spent a week in France in March of 1997. When I came home there was a message on my answering machine from my attorney telling me the Feds knew our relationship was over and would I now consider coming in to talk with them. It’s creepy to know that the federal government had been watching me, monitoring my personal comings and goings, possibly recording my phone calls, I had no idea. But they were right, I was now willing to come in and tell my story, answer their questions and was provided with immunity testifying to the grand jury and at a criminal trial, should the grand jury indict him.
I was well prepared by my attorney and the day I spent three and a half hours “talking” with the DEA and DOJ was achingly slow. They asked me what the first thing I remembered about that day, September 26, 1995. I said I remember showering. I remember that he and I had made love the night before. I recited what we were wearing on our way to work. I remember talking to whomever it was that showed up at his office that morning. I told them I remember it all.