Saturday, January 31, 2009

Some Preliminary Thoughts on High-end Senior Living

I've been living at The Clare at Water Tower for three weeks now. I'm still getting used to the place. Here are a few thoughts on the good and the annoying parts of living here:

The good:

My apartment is lovely, with its views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago skyline. Once I get my mirrors and pictures on the walls and out of the bathtub and one shower stall and find a few missing possessions, I'll be perfectly settled and comfortable.

The dining room food is excellent. There's no need to cook. But I have a few problems with eating here (see below).

The location can't be beat, at least for a city lover. My three-times-a-week physical therapy sessions are about four blocks away, and even in Chicago's winter weather, I've been able to walk there all but once (icy sidewalks). There's a doorman to get a taxi, too. There's also a convenient Walgreens store to provide for almost any emergency.

In the building, there's a library (still in need of organization). There's an exercise room filled with machines, one of which I actually use from time to time.

There are endless activities listed on the Clare website, although so few residents have computers that most people don't even know what's going on. Most of the activities are just getting started; people are still moving into the building.

The service is very good. Newspapers and large packages are delivered to my door, my apartment is cleaned once a week, a maintenance man is always on call (there's sometimes a wait, but that's understandable), and my extras did fit into my small storage bin (I had doubts about that). I don't have that old helpless feeling if something goes wrong.

The annoying: As I probably would at any senior residence, I feel a small decrease in independence. Instead of just going to the garage to get my car, I have to call ahead and have it delivered downstairs. It sometimes takes quite a while. Of course I use my car very seldom, and may not keep it for long. I can't leave my apartment for the public areas without giving at least a bit of attention to my appearance (I still dress more casually than most, but no dirty bathrobe or face without makeup).

Even though I recognize their importance, I sometimes resent all the emergency call buttons in my apartment. Yes, I may need one sometime, but I annoys me that one of them slips down occasionally and brings a frantic call from the security desk. There's nothing wrong with the non-slipping ones except that they remind me I'm old.

As I've said, the food is good--too good. It's certainly not low-calorie food, with the possible exception of the Healthy Choice Breakfast (an eggwhite omelet). I lack willpower when it comes to food, so I'm tempted to eat pancakes, bacon, delicious bread, even desserts. Maybe we need a lo-cal menu or a special table for those of us with weight problems. And even the best menu can become monotonous after a while. I guess I have a problem with too much food and too much choice, not much of it healthy. It's a bit like eating out every day at the same fine restaurant. That doesn't fit my casual style very well. Of course I have a kitchen. I may have to take up cooking, thereby forfeiting part of my monthly food allowance (not cheap, of course).

It's easy to be lazy here. In a way, living here is like living in a fine hotel. The building still has growing pains, and I still have adjustment problems. My basic loner personality has kept me from making close friends so far, and it may be too late to change. That's my problem, not The Clare's. I'm not likely to turn into a social butterfly, but at least I hope to get back to doing more writing. So far, my attempts to interest my fellow seniors in computers and writing have come to naught.

My main problem is the lack of communication here. So far, I haven't received instructions for using the appliances, staff telephone numbers, or a TV channel lineup. I simply don't know whom to ask for those things. I guess I'm not good at asking questions. I wish we had a newsletter to let us know what's going on. I'd be happy to work on such a newsletter if someone would keep me informed myself. I suspect that the staff has enough to do right now.

So the saga continues. This is a beautiful, expensive place to live. As senior residences go, it may be one of the best, but perhaps I just resent the fact that I'm not young anymore. Have I been alone too long? Don't worry; I'll adjust.

Photo: northern view from my apartment

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Cat, a Town, A Life: a Book Review

A review of Dewey: the Small Town Library Cat Who Touched the World, by Vicki Myron, with Bret Witter (Grand Central, 2008).

If you love cats, the book jacket photo alone will entice you. However, this book is about more than just a cat. Dewey the cat is a "catalyst" (pun intended) for the survival of a small Iowa town and a major force in the life of the author.

Dewey (full name: Dewey Readmore Books), only a few weeks old, was stuffed into the book return slot at the Spencer, Iowa, Public Library on a very cold night. The frostbitten kitten was discovered the next morning by library director Vicki Myron, a single mother and survivor herself. From then on, Dewey resided in and ruled the library.

Dewey was a special cat who seemed to know how to charm and comfort everyone, from young library patrons to the entire staff to the local press and especially Vicki, who became his champion and chief companion.

Library patronage increased as Dewey became everyone's special friend. He attracted national and international press attention, even a movie crew from Japan. For nineteen years, Dewey was the symbol of a reviving and surviving library and town. He put Spencer, Iowa, on the map and improved Vicki's problem-filled life considerably. How? Just by being Dewey.

As a cat lover and former small twon girl, I couldn't put this book down. Of course I cried at the end, as I have at the end of every one of my own cats' lifespans, but I'm happy to have met Dewey through this book's pages. He was, indeed, special.

Copyright 2009 by Marlys Marshall Styne
Photo courtesy of

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The "Joys" of Moving

As a person who likes to have everything organized and neatly arranged (even though I procrastinate about such things and had an efficient crew to unpack my worldly goods after my move), I still have had a few uncomfortable moments.

1. I discovered that I don't have enough wall space for my wall decorations and art collection. My carefully-wrapped pictures and mirrors are still filling my bathtub and one of the shower stalls.

2. The three large boxes of books intended for The Clare library turned up in the shower stall, too.

3. I have a few extras to go to my storage compartment, but there's a catch: I can get those things carted away, but only if I can provide a padlock. I don't have one, and haven't been able to go out shopping for one yet due to the weather. These large items are still cluttering my living room.

4. In my office, the cable connection turned out to be on the wall opposite my computer desk rather than the wall behind it. My computer cables and other gear were jumbled in a box in the closet. No wonder I had to hire a technician for more than four hours to get me on line again.

5. I'm an avid reader of the Chicago Tribune, so of course I called to transfer my home delivery subscription to The Clare. For days, it didn't show up. Thanks to the building concierge (yes, we have one) I finally got a paper yesterday, and today's arrived at my 35th floor door early in the morning without incident. I'm turned in to the world again. Despite my computer, I still like to sit down and read a newspaper every day.

6. Since I didn't put my own things away, there are still a few things I haven't found, but that means I have surprises every day. I still haven't found my little booklets of postage stamps, for example. I seem to recall writing earlier about the tyranny of "stuff." I have too much of it.

As you can see, my annoyances have been minor. My lovely apartment and magnificent lake view (see a previous post) make living here a joy. The dining is gourmet quality; there's a weekly cleaning service. This is high-end senior living. Now if the economy will just improve, I'll be better able to afford it. I'll take more pictures later.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Moving Memories: Six Days Later

Moving is traumatic. No matter how many hired or volunteer helpers one has, things will be confusing. Here's how my packing and moving days, January 8 and 9, went:

On January 8, bright and early, the packers came, the charity pickup men came later. The packers did their job, although there were a few absurdities, such as their careful wrapping and labeling of the toilet plunger. In fact, everything was padded and wrapped and labeled, and believe me, there was a lot of "stuff."

The charity pickup, arranged by Mature Transitions, didn't work out quite as expected. The driver refused to take my gigantic entertainment center cabinet: it was too big and heavy. Only after the driver had left did one of the movers point out that this heavy item came apart (not easily) into two sections. Next day, that "white elephant" was finally hauled away.

The packers were not finished by 3 p.m., when I had to leave for The Clare to sign papers--no signing and the movers would be sent away. This last-minute closing was not my choice. I just left, trusting the mover-packers to lock up.

I finally got back, tired and hungry, to a condo jammed with boxes and wrapped items, but with my bed fortunately intact. I ate some junk food and went to bed. During the night and in the morning, my stomach rebelled. I needed to stay close to the bathroom. I was sick, sick, sick, and it was moving day. It was also a very snowy day in Chicago.

Mature Transitions representatives, who were in charge of unpacking and arranging, came early to haul away my two plants and the sparse contents of my refrigerator and freezer. Those things magically appeared later in my new residence.

The movers, who had loaded certain boxes the day bewfore, braved the snow to deliver them to The Clare early. They were back to pick up the furniture by 10:30. A crew of four from Mature Transitions was on hand at my new place to unpack and arrange.

By mid-afternoon, my condo was empty, the van was loaded, and I was ready to put my suitfcase and a few papers into my car and drive the short distance to The Clare.

Some positive moving moments:

1. The movers agreed to bring me a nutritious lunch when they went out for their own. Some sensible eating seemed to cure my stomach problems.

2. One of the movers agreed to buy my exercise bike, which was about to be given away. It wouldn't fit in my new place, and The Clare provides such things anyway.

3. The movers also agreed to dispose of my sofa bed mattress, which was ruined years ago by my late cat, Lyon. This was a relief; I hesitated to buy a replacement mattress before I knew how to get rid of the old, stained one. Problem solved.

4. The Mature Transditions crew worked long and hard to find a place for all my worldly goods in my new apartment. I would have been overwhelmed had I faced that task myself.

Next: Problems after the move and how I'm doing now.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Moving Day Minus One

Have you ever thought of the logistics of moving large numbers of people into a new highrise city building in a short time? Add to that the economic downturn, and you know that there will be serious problems.

Tomorrow is my long-scheduled moving day; today is packing day. It almost didn't happen. I spent all day yesterday eagerly awaiting a phone call telling me whether or not I had to call off the move. It would be easy to blame the staff of The Clare for the problems, but perhaps I took their assurances that financial matters could be worked out until I sold my condo too literally.

The Clare, a very expersive and beautiful senior lifetime care building on Chicago's Gold Coast, was designed some years ago on the premise that affluent seniors would have plenty of money after selling their rapidly-appreciating homes and condos. I foolishly believed that the real estate boom would go on forever, so I signed up in 2004. You know how things have been going lately; my condo has not sold, even though the price is now listed at slightly less than I paid eight years ago.

This week, moving week, after many weeks of seeking information and a meeting with the staff, I was finally told to come up with the entire large sum of money before moving, or else. I'm not seeking charity, and on paper, I have the money. However, withdrawing my tax sheltered annuities all at once would bring so much income tax that I'd virtually be wiped out.

To make matters worse, my financial advisor was out of town until Tuesday, and I couldn't get in touch with him. Eventually, a lot of good people helped, but I'm still unhappy about the delays and run-around I got--perhaps unintentionally.

Now I'm moving in, but I face a large debt. Within sixty days, my condo must be sold or I must withdraw my annuities. If there's a message here, it's to get everything signed well in advance, hope for improved economic conditions, and be especially careful about committing to a senior building before it's built. It takes a long time, and conditions can change.

Don't feel too sorry for me. I was naive, and I've not missed any meals or lacked shelter. It was my choice to move into a very expensive and luxurious place (more pictures later), and I still believe I made a good decision. As someone says, "The devil is in the details." Wish me luck!

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Hospital Survival Guide: A Book Review

A review of Critical Conditions: the Essential Hospital Guide to Get Your Loved One Out Alive, by Martine Ehrenclou, M.A. (Lemon Grove, 2008).

No one likes to think about being hospitalized, or of dealing with the hospitalizaation of loved ones. This is a book that answers those questions that you probably were afraid to ask or never thought to ask.

Based on interviews with nurses, doctors, social workers, and families, this is a serious book well worth reading for anyone facing the need to deal with any personal or family hospital experience.

According to Ehrenclou, "Hospitals today are institutions struggling to survive in an environment where authority is in the hands of insurance companies rather than patients and their families. Rapid advancement in technology makes ever more expensive treatments in wide demand. Nurses are more expensive and harder to find and retain. . . . Serious infections, which are often treated in hospitals, are inadvertently spread from one patient to another. All of these factors are serious impediments to the compassionate care and good outcome we all desire when hospitalization is necessary."

Every patient needs an advocate or an advocate team, especially if he or she is elderly and impaired. The advocate serves as his or her "loved one's eyes and ears," establishing contacts with doctors and nurses. Responsibilities include keeping track of the patient's medications, allergies, symptoms, treatment plan, diet, and a myriad of other things.

It is the advocate's duty to catch patient name errors (to prevent similarly-named patients from getting someone else's treatment or medications), insist on pain management, and speak up if something appears wrong.

Of course the problem is doing all these things without insulting or seeming to second-guess the doctors, nurses, and hospital administrators. Infinite tact and understanding are required. Yet hospital personnel do want to avoid unfortunate or even fatal errors, and many are willing to listen.

This is a very detailed book, containing interviews, tragic examples, hospital staff and medical terms glossaries, and spaces for patient advocates' lists and notes. It also includes a list of useful websites for information on medical conditions, medication errors, and hospitals.

It would be comforting to think of hospitals as efficient, caring institutions that can take care of us and our families, but the economic realities and unfortunate errors pointed out by Martine Ehrenclou ring true.

Read this book if you or a family member faces hospitalization. It is filled with valuable information and useful suggestions that we can't afford to ignore.

Copyright 2009 by Marlys Marshall Styne
Photo of book from Go to that site for a look inside the book.