A Eulogy For My Father

Melvin Edward Hall with foster dog Shemp

Melvin Edward Hall - April 1, 1932 - November 24, 2010

There are those who seek fame and fortune in life.  My father was not one of those people.

There are those who put their own interests first.  My father was not one of those people.

There are those who seek admiration, adoration, respect, sympathy, compassion, and a host of other responses from those around them.  My father was not one of those people.

My father was a teacher.

It was more than his vocation, more than a job, a profession, or a career.  It was who he was and it was what he loved.  He constantly sought knowledge and wisdom, even in the most unlikely of places – not for his own edification, but so that he could pass it along to others – human and canine.

The truth mattered to Dad.  The hopes, desires, and emotions of others mattered to Dad.  In nearly every conversation he ever had, he would tell a story from his life.  It might be a story of one of his many successes.  It might be a story of one of his many failures.  It might just be a story of everyday life.  But it was always a story that he felt would provide something useful to the listener.  It was never about him, but about how he could be of service to somebody else.

Dad smiled often.  A big, giant, authentic smile – because he found great joy in life.  Joy in his surroundings, joy in the growth and accomplishments of others, joy in the bounce of a dog’s step, joy in living life.

I was truly blessed in life to be the recipient of so much of his joy.  When ever I was down, when ever I faced a difficult decision, when ever I was not sure how to go on – I talked with Dad.  He would listen, as he was a great listener.  And then he would share a story.  As a child I was often frustrated with these stories – I just wanted him to tell me straight out what I thought I needed to hear.  As I grew and matured, I realized that he had provided the information, the knowledge, and the wisdom I needed to come to my own conclusions – to make the decisions that were right for me.  Not what he wanted me to do, not what would work out best for him, but he always gave me what I needed to advance my own way down my own path – and live my own life.

He gave this gift not only to my brother John and I, but to every one he conversed with, every student in his classroom, and every athlete he coached.  He was indeed a very generous man.

One of the things that both John and I gained from him was a love for the written word.  And it would not be a eulogy for an English teacher without a poem.  Dad taught me to enjoy the simple way of the poet Edgar Guest – the poet laureate of Michigan.  This is Guest’s “A Boy and His Dad.”

A boy and his dad on a fishing-trip—
There is a glorious fellowship!
Father and son and the open sky
And the white clouds lazily drifting by,
And the laughing stream as it runs along
With the clicking reel like a martial song,
And the father teaching the youngster gay
How to land a fish in the sportsman's way.  

I fancy I hear them talking there
In an open boat, and the speech is fair.
And the boy is learning the ways of men
From the finest man in his youthful ken.
Kings, to the youngster, cannot compare
With the gentle father who's with him there.
And the greatest mind of the human race
Not for one minute could take his place.   

Which is happier, man or boy?
The soul of the father is steeped in joy,
For he's finding out, to his heart's delight,
That his son is fit for the future fight.
He is learning the glorious depths of him,
And the thoughts he thinks and his every whim;
And he shall discover, when night comes on,
How close he has grown to his little son.   

A boy and his dad on a fishing-trip—
Builders of life's companionship!
Oh, I envy them, as I see them there
Under the sky in the open air,
For out of the old, old long-ago
Come the summer days that I used to know,
When I learned life's truths from my father's lips
As I shared the joy of his fishing-trips.

I would like to close by sharing a story of Mel – and the power of the Dum Dum sucker.  For every athlete who went out for track, he would make a sheet listing all of the possible events in a track and field meet.  On this sheet he would note the athlete’s best performance in every and any event.  Each time the athlete would post a new “best” performance in any event, that student’s name would go on the “Sucker List.”  And each week Coach Hall would read off the names on the “Sucker List” and award a Dum Dum sucker for each personal best.

Of course it wasn’t the actual Dum Dum sucker that inspired 18-year old boys to push themselves to a new achievement.  It was the public recognition, the acknowledgement that Coach noticed their efforts and wanted to celebrate their achievements with the team.

This led shot-putters to form their own “Fat Man” 440-Relay team – so that they could earn that sucker and that recognition.  The fact that the sprint work also improved their ability to turn a circle and put the shot farther was never discussed.  It was simply enough that they tried something new, or improved on a previous best.

As you leave the Sanctuary today, you will find bowls of Dum Dum suckers waiting.  Please take a sucker, on credit from Mel, and as you go through the day – do something new or better than you have ever done before.  That will be Mel’s legacy.

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last hopes

My younger brother John found his way through life by writing about it.  As I was working my way through Dad’s stuff today I came across one of my favorite of John’s poems.  I’ve often taken the advice he presents here on difficult days.  I think I’ll do so tonight.

last hopes

john lee hall

the woman

i thought i’d loved

had left

me.  my rent

went

unpaid

because dear father

stopped payment

on his check

“just to show”

me.  my last

close friend

had o.d.’d

on strychnine,

and my checks

bounced higher

than a head-first

suicide

off a six-story

parking tower.

i had five

bucks

left.  the phone

was restricted

to local.

i dialed:

three

five

one, seven

one

hundred,

was put

on hold, came

off hold,

and asked

for what i needed

most —

and it came

with two

free

pepsis.

 

god

won’t answer

my prayers,

but dominoes

delivers.

Rest In Peace Melvin Edward Hall

Melvin Edward Hall portrait

April 1, 1932 - November 24, 2010

Melvin Edward Hall – April 1, 1932 – November 24, 2010 – Father, teacher, coach, and a comfort to dogs.

Mel passed away peacefully in his home on Wednesday, attended by his son Jim and his beloved Irish Setters Sue and Paladin.  His final days were brightened considerably by visits from family, friends, and former students.

Mr. Hall was born in Muskegon to parents Melvin Bristol Hall and Irene (Vos) Hall.  After graduation from Muskegon High School in 1950 he attended Western Michigan University, funded by R.O.T.C. and a Latin scholarship.  He made the Bronco football team as a walk-on, and was a member of the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity.

After satisfying his military commitments, he completed his Masters degree at WMU.  In 1959, he married the former Lois Marie Pugh and joyously welcomed the arrival of sons James Edward (1961) and John Lee (1963).

He began a career as a high school teacher and administrator at Allegan High, moving on to DeTour and Gobles high schools before landing at Spring Lake High School in 1964.  He taught English and Latin at SLHS until his retirement in 1992 and was the school’s first Cross Country coach.  He also coached Track & Field for the Lakers, overseeing the design of the track facilities at Grabinski Field, and introduced girls’ teams in both Track and Cross Country.  His boys’ track teams experienced a streak of 41 dual meet victories that was unbroken from 1981 to 1986.

In his later years, he worked as a substitute teacher, served on the Spring Lake Village Council, and volunteered as a Foster Parent for Save Our Setters, Inc. – an Irish Setter rescue organization.

He was proceeded in death by his parents, his brother Kenneth James Hall, his son John Lee Hall, and his former wife Lois.  He is survived by his son Jim, sister-in-law Donna Hall of Fremont, daughter-in-law Karla Kube of East Lansing, Matthew Kube-McDowell of West Lafayette, IN, and many beloved nieces and nephews.

Visitation will be at the VanZantwick, Bartels, & Kammeraad Funeral Home of Spring Lake.  The Reverend Dan Anderson will officiate the service at the Spring Lake Presbyterian Church.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that contributions be made to Save Our Setters, Inc. on-line at www.saveoursetters.org or by mail at Save Our Setters, Inc. P.O. Box 328 Oakland, TN  38060.

Arrangements are being handled by VanZantwick, Bartels, & Kammeraad Funeral Home of Spring Lake.

I Don’t Know Why It Has To Be This Way

Last June the doctors told us that Dad wouldn’t “live to see Christmas.” At the time it seemed just plain silly to me. Sure, Dad was showing signs of what the Alzheimer’s Disease was doing to his memory. And sure, his PSA levels were ridiculously high.  He had some problems, but absolutely nothing that seemed to actually be life threatening.

We took it seriously enough to enroll him in a hospice program (for some of the trials and tribulations of that search, click here).  After a lot of researching and interviewing we selected the Big Statewide Hospice Company.  BS Hospice has not been without its challenges, but overall they have been satisfactory.  (Note that the names of all health care providers have been changed – mostly for my amusement).

Two weeks ago, things changed dramatically.  Overnight, Dad was suffering severe pain in his lower spine, left hip, and left femur.  This is potentially very bad.  It means either that the cancer has metastasized into his bones, or that we have a new problem.  If it is the cancer, then this is the beginning of the end.  He will be in constant pain until the cancer kills him.  If it is something new, then we may or may not be able to do something to help him.

Roxanol liquid

The Father

BS Hospice responded admirably.  They immediately started him on a rotating program of the holy trinity – Roxanol (liquid morphine),

Dr. House recommends Vicodin

The Son

Vicodin, and

Gapapentin capsules

The Holy Spirit

Gabapentin.  While this keeps him pretty dopey, it does allow him to be much more comfortable.

After a week of this “pain management” Dad’s condition was unchanged.  BS Hospice Nurse #5 (the RN Case Managers from BS Hospice change so frequently that I haven’t named them, just numbered them) decided that she should refer Dad back to his primary care doctor (Dr. Primary) to get a bone scan done.  This is HUGE.  From all of my research, I understand that it would not be unusual for a lesser hospice company (like Dr. Asshat’s Lying Thieving Hospice Company) to simply declare that this was a symptom of the cancer and nothing was to be done.  In that case, your only options are to wait for death or to quit the hospice company.  But BS Hospice did the right thing – they decided to actually gather some evidence and make an informed decision about his care.

this is actually Dr. Asshat

This may actually be Dr. Asshat

So immediately after Nurse #5’s visit on Monday I called Dr. Primary to make this happen.  Now you may not know this, but while Dr. Primary is wonderful he works in an office under the direction of Dr. Asshat.  So it was no surprise that when I called I got a bunch of bullshit about how Dr. Primary was out of the office blah blah blah blah blah blah “but if you were with [Dr. Asshat’s Lying Thieving Hospice Company], then [Dr. Asshat] could order the bone scan today.  Would you like to change hospice companies?”

I put up with this nonsense over a series of phone calls, until finally on Wednesday morning I explained to the Useless C on the phone that this was illegal, and I was certain that the state regulators would love to hear about it – and that I was going to find a new primary care doctor immediately.  And then I hung up.

In less than 10 minutes, Miss Useful (the office scheduler) called back to let me know that Dad’s bone scan was scheduled for Friday morning at 10.  Wow, isn’t that amazing?  Providing medical care for Dad is simply not possible unless they are threatened!  Who woulda thunk it?

A gait belt in use

A gait belt in use

Now, lest you think that this is simply a rant about a single bad provider (Dr. Asshat), let me continue.  As soon as Miss Useful scheduled Dad’s bone scan at North Ottawa Community Hospital I called BS Hospice to let them know that we finally had the test scheduled.  While I had them on the phone, I also let them know that Dad was getting progressively weaker and now needed assistance to get up.  I asked if they could provide me with a gait belt so that I could assist him without throwing out my back.

Keeping in mind that I was praising the BS Hospice Company only a few paragraphs back, what do you think their response was to this question?  Why, the ever so pleasant and less-than-helpful voice said to me “I don’t think that we can provide that.”

Since I was already on my last nerve for the day, I simply stated “Since Dad is 6 feet tall and weighs 270 pounds, it is dangerous for me to try and assist him unaided.  Since you can’t provide me with a simple device to assist him, I am going to be forced to call you and request a nurse visit EVERY time he needs to stand up or sit down.  Thank you.”  And then I hung up.

Wow, that hanging up thing really works!  In less than 20 minutes Nurse #5 called to let me know that she had been updated on the bone scan – AND – that she would be stopping by later in the day to deliver a gait belt!  Isn’t it amazing!

It really frightens me that Dad gets treated like this.  He has good insurance, is a compliant patient, and has a full-time in-home caregiver (me) who advocates for him.  I cannot imagine what it must be like for someone lacking these advantages to try and navigate through the system.

Every Day Is Like Christmas

Our Charlie Brown Christmas TreeThis is our Charlie Brown Christmas Tree. I bought this just before Christmas last year.  It just seemed to fit our lives, our Christmas decorations, our living room, and our lives.

A Charlie Brown Christmas first aired in 1965 – I was four years old.  I can’t swear to it, but I’m pretty sure that I’ve watched it every year since.

A Charlie Brown Christmas blu-rayWatching Dad’s reaction to the tree, I bought him a copy on blu-ray for Christmas last year.  We’ve probably watched it a dozen times since then.  There is just something about this classic that makes you feel good – even if it isn’t Christmas time.

When it came time to take down the Christmas decorations last season, Dad and I decided that the Charlie Brown Christmas Tree should stay up year-round.  So it became the centerpiece decoration in our living room.

Sue wearing a Christmas Wreath

Sweet Sue

With every thing that is going on with our lives and Dad’s health – we decided that we should stop for a moment each day and remember the great gifts that we have.  We have each other.  We have a roof over our heads and enough food to eat.  Dad has a tremendous insurance plan that covers whatever medical care he needs.  We have Sue – the love of Dad’s life and a tremendous blessing all by herself.

At the time, we were also fostering dogs for a rescue group – so we were sharing our gifts every day with those less fortunate.  We’ve since adopted Paladin, which put us at the limit for animals in the Village of Spring Lake and removed us from the fostering business – but we are overjoyed to be able to share our blessings every day with the most recent addition to our family.

At our house, everyday is Christmas Day – and we have the Christmas Tree to prove it!

Last June the doctor sat Dad & I down.  With a look of deep seriousness on his face he gazed deeply into Dad’s eyes and said “I very much doubt that you will live to see Christmas.”  I tried my best not to look at Dad, but I couldn’t help myself.  I looked over at him and we both started giggling like school girls.  The moment could not be contained, and soon we were both roaring with laughter!  The poor confused doctor said “That certainly is not the reaction I expected.”

As Dad & I wiped the tears of laughter away, Dad stated simply, between chuckles, “EVERY day is Christmas at our house!”

So, if you come to visit us – or even if you only visit through reading this blog – remember that EVERY day can be Christmas if you want it to be.  And please take a moment to appreciate the gifts that you have, and share them with others.

What The Hospice Companies Don’t Want You To Know

In which Dad & I continue our education regarding corporate health care.

Dad likes doctors who speak plainly to him.  It’s a big part of what he likes about Dr. Primary (his primary care doctor), Dr. Pisser (his urologist), Dr. Onco (his oncologist), Dr. Tootsie (his podiatrist), and even Dr. Twitchy (his neurologist).  In fact all of these doctors have been specifically chosen as much for their ability to communicate with Dad as for their medical skills.

not actually Dr. Primary

Not actually Dr. Primary

So it was actually a bit of a relief to Dad when Dr. Primary told him “you probably won’t see Christmas this year.”  It can’t be put much more plainly than that.  Dr. Primary also suggested that it was time that we got Dad into a hospice program.

Now, since we’ve been through this once before with in-home care (you can read all about that thrilling episode here), we knew that Dr. Primary would refer us to Dr. Asshat’s Lying Thieving Hopsice Company.  And sure enough, as we walked out of the office Miss Useful (the scheduler) offered to set us up for an “intake visit” from Dr. Asshat’s Lying Thieving Hospice Company.  I nearly declined on the spot, since I knew that there was no way we would be using

this is actually Dr. Asshat

This may actually be Dr. Asshat

Dr. Asshat’s Lying Thieving Hospice Company.  But then again I thought, why not waste some of their time – and they may provide a useful comparison point.  So we set up the visit with Dr. Asshat’s Lying Thieving Hospice Company.

As soon as we got home, I googled up other hospice companies in our area.  I decided that Happy Hospice company looked like a good candidate, so I called Miss Useful (and only had to talk to 5 of the Useless C’s before I could talk to her) and asked her to also set up an “intake visit” with Happy Hospice.

Now the fun begins!  Miss Useful informs me that it isn’t usually

The Tree of Hospice Caring

The Tree of Hospice Caring

done this way.  Usually she only writes one referral and that is the company that we would use.  This of course pisses me off.  So I bluff.  I remind her that the law requires her to write the referral to whatever agency or agencies that WE choose (I have no idea if this is true or not – but it worked)!  So she backs off and does what I asked.  Score one for the home team.

The visit with the woman from Lying Thieving Hospice Co. actually goes pretty smoothly and even starts on time.  She paints a wonderful picture of the caring team of professionals who would look out for Dad’s best interest for the remainder of his life.  She assures me that that the Lying Thieving Hospice Company is nothing like those lying thieving bastards at the Lying Thieving Nursing Company.  Even though Dr. Asshat is the “Medical Director” for both firms, she assures me that they are nothing alike.  I give her all of Dad’s information, including his list of medications.  She looks it all over, declares that everything is wonderful – and if Dad will just sign on the dotted line we can start making the magic happen.

Won't this be wonderful

The happy picture of a caring hospice worker

Of course she is very unhappy when I tell her that we will also be hearing the sales pitch from the Happy Hospice Company and that we won’t be signing anything until after we evaluate our options.  She has “never heard of such a thing” and leaves in a bit of a huff.

The following day we get our visit from the Happy Hospice Company.  Five minutes before the scheduled time, this woman calls us and tells us that she will be running half an hour late.  She doesn’t ask if that will be O.K. with us – she just informs us that she’ll be late.  She arrives at T+30, and proceeds to spend the next 10 minutes talking on her cell phone in the driveway.  She then comes in and informs us that we’ll get started as soon as the nurse arrives.  At T+60 the nurse arrives.  I inform them that this is a bad sign, if they can’t be on time when they are trying to sell us their services, how are they going to treat us after we’ve signed up?  She informs me that this is not a sales call, it is an “intake visit” and the purpose of the visit is to sign us up and get the service started.  I’m not sure how that is actually different from a sales call, but whatever.

I’ll give the Happy Hospice Co. nurse credit.  She looks over Dad’s list of medications (the same list that I provided to the Lying Thieving Hospice Co. worker) and informs us that we will “of course have to discontinue the Zometa.”

it builds strong bones

Zometa - it builds strong bones

Zometa is a drug that Dad gets through an IV once a month.  It doesn’t actually do anything with regards to the cancer cells that are rampaging through Dad’s blood stream.  What it does is strengthen Dad’s bones so that they are better able to resist the cancer cells from eating away his bones or setting up housekeeping in his bones.  It is good to keep the cancer out of the bones, as it can be VERY painful if the cancer metastasizes in the bone.

This is a very expensive medication – about $1,200 per treatment.  But as we’ve previously covered, Dad has great insurance that pays for this treatment.  I explain to the Happy Hospice nurse that Dad’s insurance will cover the treatment, so we don’t see any need to stop it.

And this is where I get my next lesson in the business of health care.  The nurse explains to me that once Dad enters into a hospice program, Medicare picks up all of the costs.  However, any Medicare supplement that you have will no longer cover any treatment related to whatever caused you to enter hospice.

At this point I decide that we need to regroup and study the situation some more.  So I send the ladies from the Happy Hospice Company on their way (they too are disappointed that we won’t sign anything) and start researching some more.

This issue is particularly troubling to me, since the Lying Thieving Hospice Co. didn’t seem to have any issue with Dad remaining on the Zometa.  But, as their name implies, the Lying Thieving Hospice Co. isn’t exactly known for their honesty.  So I call them up and ask specifically about Dad’s Zometa treatment.  The charming and delightful person at the Lying Thieving Hospice Co. informs me that “of course he’ll have to stop the Zometa, it isn’t covered.”  Wow!  It sure would be nice of them to tell us that before they ask us to sign on the bottom line.  They decide that they should schedule Dr. Asshat himself to come to our house the next day to explain it to me.

In the meantime I do some more research.  The nurse from the Happy Hospice Company was telling the truth – as far as she went.  Of course she didn’t tell the whole truth.

the whole purpose of hospice

Hospice Mission Statement

“Standard” hospice companies work exactly as she explained.  When you enter hospice, Medicare takes over the complete cost of hospice.  Any Medicare supplement that you happen to have is no longer in effect for the disease that caused you to enter hospice.  And since standard Medicare doesn’t cover Zometa, you can’t have it if you are in a “standard” hospice program.  Actually that isn’t entirely true – the “standard” hospice company could still let you have the treatment.  But Medicare won’t reimburse them for the cost of the treatment.  So the hospice company would have to pay for it out of the per diem that Medicare pays them for everyday that you are in the program.  But since this would cut into the profit margins, no “standard” hospice program will let you have the treatment.  Remember, it isn’t about the quality of care or quality of life – it is all about the profit margins!

But my research tells me that if you select an “open access” hospice program instead of a “standard” hospice program – you get to keep your insurance!  This sounds like what we need.  In fact, it sounds like how hospice should work.

keep gubmint outta my healthcare

A Common Insurance for Hospice Patients

Most people who need hospice care, I’m assuming, are on Medicare already.  And if they are smart or fortunate, they have a Medicare supplement.  So why would you not be able to use your Medicare supplement to help pay for medical care that you want or need?  Can anybody explain this?  How does this make sense?

The following day, Dr. Asshat arrives to explain things to us.  First, he explains that while Dad cannot have further Zometa treatments, there are oral medications that work “almost as well” that he could still receive from the Lying Thieving Hospice Company.  Then he proceeds to tell us that Zometa is “a bad medication for your father.”

Now hold up there a minute doc!  If Zometa is a “bad medication” then why would we want an oral substitute that works “almost as well?”  Would “almost as well” mean “not quite as bad?”  What are you talking about?  I held that thought and instead asked “Why does Dr. Onco keep him on the treatment if it is a bad medication?”

Dr. Asshat’s well thought out answer to my question was simply “I’m not going to argue the literature with you, you wouldn’t understand anyway.”  EXCUSE ME!  EXCUSE F’n ME!  Who do you think you are?

But I knew that open rage wouldn’t really help Dad, so I managed to hold my tongue for a change and instead asked about “open access hospice.”  You know, the kind of hospice where Dad could still use his insurance to pay for the Zometa treatments?  Dr. Asshat, in his eternal wisdom says “I’ve never heard of that.  I don’t believe that anybody would actually do that.  It would be illegal.”

alternate literature

I don't know doc, can we look here?

Now I’m not a doctor with a degree.  I probably don’t understand “the literature.”  I’m not the Medical Director of two different Lying Thieving health care companies.  But I do know how to use Google.  You, gentle reader, probably do too.  So go ahead, google up “open access hospice” and see what you can find.  That’s right, you’ll find literally hundreds of “open access” hospice companies.  Apparently they are all illegal, if you believe that Dr. Asshat has a clue.

We have since regrouped, and located three different open access hospice companies that service our area.  We have interviewed the first of the three already, and we were very impressed.  Keep your fingers crossed for us in this search.

And here are some tips and tricks if you need to find hospice care for yourself or a loved one.

* Read up on everything you can about hospice.  There are reportedly lots of good hospice companies, and I can tell you first hand that there are lots of bad ones.

* Use your yellow pages.  Google only gave me two hospice companies that serve our area – Lying Thieving Hospice & Happy Hospice.  The yellow pages gave me five companies.

* If you have a Medicare supplement, or other private insurance, you REALLY want to find an open access hospice company.  DO NOT settle for anything else.  You have insurance, you should be able to use it.

* Check, double check, and triple check EVERYTHING.  These companies will do or say anything to get your business.  Do not simply trust the referral from your doctors office.  There are lots of options – find the best one for you and your loved ones.

* Make sure that the hospice company that you select provides an emergency kit of some sort.  This emergency kit usually contains medications to ease breathing and manage pain.  They often include some form of morphine.  This kit could be a big time blessing in the case of emergency pain.  Do you really want to wait half an hour for the nurse to arrive, or do you want to (at their direction) get your loved one some relief NOW?  Believe it or not, not every hospice supplies such a kit.  Make sure that yours does, and make sure that you know what is in it.

* During the sales call (or even before if possible) provide the hospice company with a complete list of medications.  Make sure that they understand and verify YOUR desires with regards to current medications.  YOU must dictate to them, do not let them dictate to you!

* There are lots of good websites that give suggestions about choosing a hospice provider.  None of them that I’ve found mention “open access.”  But they do have lots of good ideas.  Read them all!  This is a very important decision.  Make it carefully.

As usual, the names of the health care providers & companies have been changed mostly for my amusement.  If you want to know any of their real names, e-mail me privately.

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