Karlyn DeBoer 1928-2014

Two people were permanently ensconced in Karlyn’s room when I arrived the next day. They were monitoring her vitals and constantly adjusting machines and medication to keep her alive. She was hooked up to a perpetual EKG machine, she had a respirator down her throat, and a feeding tube. There were other things hooked up, too, but I wasn’t sure what any of it was.

I spoke to the doctor who again asked about family, and restated that his hands were tied. They were required to keep her alive by all means–exactly what she didn’t want. I was beginning to question my decision to call 911. She wasn’t moving and she was ashen gray. I was surprised she was still alive.

I stayed for a little while holding her hand, until I had to go to her apartment, meet George, get the dogs and head upstate.

I called Mom and said I’d have to wash the dogs as soon as I got there, and she agreed. The dogs smelled horrible, still I had no choice but to hold them on my lap for the two hour drive. On the way up we discussed a few points. We didn’t think we should alert her landlord just yet, we didn’t want anyone entering the apartment and going through her belongings. Not that there was anything of value, we just didn’t want her papers disappearing. We also didn’t know what would happen if she was incapacitated for a long time and then needed to return home. With her history of harassment, we thought we should just be quiet.

When we arrived at Moms, she wanted us to wait to wash the dogs—I don’t think she knew how badly they smelled, so I took them up to the shower and did my best. Demi washed-up pretty well, but Minnie’s hair was so thick that you couldn’t really get the smell out, but I was able to reduce it greatly.

I ended up spending two nights at my mothers. My sister lives very close, and I went to her house to use the internet. I wanted to find a family member, any relation, who might have legal authority to make decisions, or find a way to prove that she had no living relatives. But how do you prove a negative?

I went onto Ancestry.com and built her family tree. I had her birth certificate, so I had a good starting point, as it included her date and place of birth, her father’s name, and her mother’s full name including her maiden name.

Have you been on Ancestry.com? I’m fascinated by it. I built my own tree and was amazed by the wealth of information. I’m a paying member, so I have unlimited access to a trove of documents. Also, when someone in your tree matches someone in another member’s tree, they let you know. You can look at their tree and try and determine if there is a match and, if so, you then can build-out your tree even more.

I didn’t get far, and yet I did. The first thing that came up was the 1940 census. Her family was living in Hicksville and Karlyn was 11 years old. It listed only her, her parents and two servants. This was good, I now could prove that when she was 11 she was an only child, so chances are she remained an only child. Servants were a good sign, richer people tend to have more of a paper trail than poorer people, so there was a good chance I would find more. For example, two days before she was born, her father arrived on a ship from France. It must have been a business trip because he wasn’t traveling with his very pregnant wife.

Ancenstry.com told me I had a hint, which means something in her tree matched something else. Often it’s records, but in this case it was another person’s tree. Turns out she had an aunt, her father’s sister, who was married and had a child. If the child was alive, he’d be a first cousin. Hmmm. I kept digging.

The child, Lester, was no longer alive, but if he had a child then there would be a first cousin once removed. I didn’t know if that was good enough for the hospital, but it was worth a shot. Although I could not find evidence of a child, I did find that there were relations of his wife’s that were still alive. I kept digging. That’s when I found Ed. Ed Fitzgerald. A relation of Karlyn’s cousin’s wife.

I sent him a message on ancestry.com. You can send a message to another member and Ed had built an extensive family tree. I also found two other members that had distant relations by marriage to Karlyn, and I sent them ALL messages. I must have sounded like I was the King of Nairobi who won the lottery and I needed help to get my money out—because no one responded. But I’m tenacious, and Ed was my best lead. I started googling his name, doing searches here and there and, low and behold, I had a phone number. I left a crazy message and Ed called me back.

I told him the story, stopping to sob into this stranger’s ear now and again. He was able to confirm that Lester and Helen had no children and that was that. Karlyn had no living relatives. Ed was very kind and promised to help however he could, and I promised to take him up on it if I needed him.

I called the hospital and, to my surprise, the nurse gave the phone to Karlyn’s social worker. She had a social worker! She was in the hospital for two and half days and I never heard from this person, but I was glad to have her on the line. I told her what I found out and she said “Yeah, I have to start working on this. If she has no relatives then we can make you her guardian, but I need to start my due diligence.” I said “Yes, please, if you could, I really hate to see her suffer” and on the inside I was screaming “WTF! She been in there around 60 hours and you haven’t lifted a finger to start the process? WTF are you waiting for!!!” But, instead, I promised to follow up the next day. She reminded me the next day was Thanksgiving and she’d be gone until Monday. I did not curse her out. Fuck. Monday. Fuck.

Then it started to snow.

It snowed so hard that my mother, sister, and I decided that we could not drive down the next day to Queens for Thanksgiving and we were right: the snow was pretty deep and it didn’t make sense. I spent most of Thanksgiving searching the internet for more relatives, but Ed was all I had. I called the hospital a few times and her condition had not changed.

Mom seemed to like the dogs, and while I was there I had them on “puppy schedule”. Since Karlyn let them go on papers, I was not sure if they were well trained and, indeed, they weren’t. So I figured I’d walk them every two hours, praise them lavishly when they went outside, scold them when they went inside, and if they went on the papers, well, that was neutral territory. Once they got that, I would expand from two hours to three, then four, then more. That was my plan. But I wasn’t going to be there.

One problem was the name Demi. My mother couldn’t remember it, so she called her Debbie and that was that. It was close enough for her to respond, and easy enough to remember.

Towards the end of Thanksgiving Day the plows had done their job and Mom drove me to the train. I needed to get to the hospital.

 

The next two weeks are a blurr. Let me give you the short version, even if it’s not short.

When I got to the hospital Thanksgiving night, a very nice young Doctor said he was glad I was there. He talked to me about Karlyn. She was not getting better, ever. He had spoken to the Legal Department to begin the process of making me her medical proxy, but wanted to be sure I was willing to do it. I told him that the social worker would begin her research on Monday, and he said he was going around her.

Karlyn’s arms were tied to the bed. She was clearly uncomfortable. In fact, I would say she was in pain. She kept pulling out her IV’s and tubes, so they had to restrain her. She would try and move her hands, and shake her head back and forth in either frustration or pain. She was miserable. I held her hand, then I went and found the doctor and said I would do it. I also asked him give her more pain meds.

On a side note, the doctor was very cute, in a nerdy kind of way, and I told my niece she should come up from the ER on her break and meet him. I know, terrible, right? She had just started seeing someone, but why not have a back-up plan? She never came up so they never met, but I have his name and noted the absence of a wedding ring, just in case she changes her mind.

It took two days to get medical authority, until then they monitored her closely. The staff was very good. Before giving me final authority, they came in and tried to get her to respond one more time, to see if she could express her wishes by blinking or squeezing his hand. She could not. Everything was now up to me.

Now I had hard decisions to make. I had them take her off the respirator as this was causing the most discomfort, and she was breathing on her own. I instructed them not to take extraordinary means to revive her if she coded again. This meant she no longer needed to be in ICU, since she would not be needing their services.

They moved her to a regular ward, but with a doctor who specialized in geriatrics. When I met with him, he said it was just a matter of time. He didn’t outright recommend removing the feeding tube, but he hinted at it. This was a tough one. I asked him a lot of questions about her condition and what it would be like for her if we removed the tube. He thought she would pass away in about two weeks with the tube removed, and it could be a month or longer if we left it in. She wouldn’t feel like she was starving, she was not aware of much sensation. I had to think.

When I got there the next day, they had moved her to another room. She was still miserable, and I asked them to give her something to make her settle down and be comfortable, and about 20 minutes later they did. When I thought about it, they always gave her something when I asked, but why did I have to ask? The nurse said it had to be requested. What??? I would have called every four hours and requested pain meds had I known. Hospitals are no place to be sick.

Seeing her so miserable, I ordered regular pain medication and I decided to remove the tube. If I didn’t she would be miserable for weeks on end, but the final result would be the same. She didn’t want to be here, she didn’t want to be kept alive. She had told us so. It was my job to keep her as comfortable as possible, not to keep her heart beating.

She was moved again, this time to the hospital’s new geriatric ward. She still had the feeding tube in, and she was still miserable. The nurse was great, she said it wasn’t in her chart for pain meds every four hours as I had requested.  “Should I page the doctor for you?” she hinted, and I said she should.

I waited two hours and had the doctor paged again. When she arrived I tried to remain very calm, but I was very upset. “No, it’s in her record for pain meds every four hours” she said, then looked at the nurse who was still in the room. I said “look, someone is wrong, and I don’t really care who. I care that Karlyn gets her pain meds regularly, that she does not suffer”. I was crying now, I couldn’t help it, but I was remarkably calm. “Someone had promised she would get meds.  She needs constant pain meds. And we need the feeding tube removed.”

The doctor apologized, and said the feeding tube could not come out until the Medical Ethics board met the next morning. I said that was fine.

The next morning the nurse met me. Karlyn was on regular meds and was much more comfortable. And her feeding tube was out. “I got permission to untie her, and she pulled it out herself and immediately calmed down went to sleep” the nurse admitted. I loved this nurse.

A new day, a new nurse, a new social worker, a new room. I was starting to get dizzy. And this is how it is. You develop relationships with the staff and then you have new staff and have to start all over. Most of the staff was great, but now and again I came up against someone not up to speed. Like the transport nurse who moved her from ICU into the ward. Karlyn’s arm was hanging out the side of the bed. The nurse ignored me when pointed out the dangling arm, so during the move I made it my job to protect it. This lady was not just indifferent, but a bad driver as well. Karlyn’s new team comprised of three solid, unamused Jamaican nurses. These ladies were tough, and I trusted them completely. The gave it to the transport nurse who, right in my face, lied and said she fixed the arm several times but it kept falling out. They didn’t believe her—clearly they’d dealt with her before.

The new social worker was trying to get her into hospice. This hospital did not have hospice, so she would have to be moved. “How do I do that?” I asked, confused. Turns out they put her in an ambulance. I don’t know what I was thinking, of course that’s what they do. Did I think I would hail a cab or give her a ride on my Citibike handlebars? Sometimes my brain just freezes up.

They moved her to Belleview Hospital where the Visiting Nurse Service of New York has a hospice ward. They could not have been more wonderful. She was comfortable, there were no beeping machines, volunteers came in and talked with her, although it this point she was not responding at all. They also did a good job of taking care of me. I was so emotionally drained at this point that I needed to be here, too.

The hospital’s job is to keep you alive, so access to pain meds require several levels of authorization. Hospice’s job is to keep you comfortable, so they are more liberal with medication. This was the right place to be.

Less than 72 hours later I got the phone call in the middle of the night. This two week period felt like two years, and I while I was sad for Karlyn, I was relieved.

I was informed that I now had to make the decision for disposal of her remains. Karlyn had wanted her body donated to science, she had said so several times. Apparently I had the legal authority to have her buried or cremated, but not donated. The Hospice Social Worker went to work, and got the Albert Einstein Medical College’s legal staff to work with the Hospice legal team to grant me the authority to donate her remains as, again, she had nothing in writing. It took 24 hours, but she got her wish.

They listed me on her death certificate, which should totally confuse future Ancestor.com members.

This entry is long enough, it is time to post it. I have a few quick tales related to this, but they’re not so sad. I’d also like to tell you about the rest of our time in New York, and our current stay in Ecuador.

Before I go, a word of advice: put your wishes in writing. Do it now. Make sure your family has a copy. Update it regularly. Don’t wait. You’re not too young to do it. Take the pressure off of your loved-ones. Make all your decisions yourself. Now.

Karlyn DeBoer (November Continues)

This is not one of my usual light-hearted posts. In fact, it’s difficult. I just thought you should know—you might want to skip this one. And probably the next one, too. I just need to get this off my chest.

Right before we flew home, our nephew contacted us again. He had checked in on Karlyn and didn’t like what he saw. She wasn’t leaving the couch. Not to eat, drink, tend to the dogs, nor go to the bathroom. He did his best, giving her food and water and feeding the dogs. He’s a good soul.

Our flight got us into Kennedy around 11 PM on Saturday night, the weekend before Thanksgiving. After spending the night at my sister-in-laws we headed into Manhattan. The apartment we rented through the end of December was a six floor walk-up. George circled the block looking for parking while I schlepped everything upstairs. We dropped the whole lot inside the front door and headed directly to Karlyn.

The smell hit us the moment we unlocked the door. I went straight to the window and opened it. As the dogs bounced around merrily I spoke with Karlyn. If you had spoken to her, you would have thought she was a bit out of it, and you’d be right. That’s how Karlyn usually is. She was happy to see us and sat up. I asked if she wanted to get up but she said “No, I’m peeing”. I tried not to freak.

We had a conversation where she said she was dying, she was happy to die, and she didn’t want any doctors. She was adamant about that—no doctors. I had brought her some Ensure and a few bottles of water, she gulped the water greedily and drank a whole bottle of Ensure. We talked a little bit, and she kept saying how glad she was that we were there. Then she fell asleep.

George took the dogs for a walk and I got a good look at her apartment. We had been there a few times before, of course, but I never gave it a hard look.

The building she lived in was built as a hotel in 1890 and sits at the corner of 30th Street and 5th Avenue. Her studio apartment is on the third floor. It is very large, has two walk-in closets, a small kitchen area and a normal sized bathroom. It was spacious enough to hold a kitchen table and a full-sized living room/bed room.

Karlyn had moved into the building in1957. The building had changed hands many times since then and some of her previous landlords tried over and over to evict her. Since she always paid her rent on time, and since she did not cause any problems, they never had a proper case. So some of them tried to harass her. The local State Senator, Liz Krueger (who I adore), found her a pro-bono lawyer, so when they shut off her water, or her heat, or her cooking gas they would go to court, and the judge would always rule in her favor. She had been to court so many times over the years that, at some point, the judge had enough—and he reset her rent to original 1957 amount, $100. Her rent was currently $157 a month! You don’t fuck around with an old Broadway showgirl!

I surveyed the room, trying not to wake her. Everything was neat and put away, except for the few things she needed. I doubt it had been cleaned in decades, but it was orderly. There were plastic bags everywhere, stuffed into the kitchen cabinets and every nook or cranny she could find. Then I saw something move—there were roaches.

The refrigerator did not close properly and the roaches had free range. I put on rubber gloves and cleaned out the worst of it, then I set to work cleaning the bathroom. The toilet seat appeared black but scrubbed to a sparkling white, I don’t think it had been cleaned since Gunsmoke was on TV. I didn’t clean the tub—the rest of the bathroom took real work. The newspapers on the floor for the dogs had not been changed, so they stuck to the floor with a vengeance. Despite the open windows on a cold day, I worked up a sweat.

Karlyn didn’t want us to take the dogs, and we thought it would be good for her to have them, so we just talked a while more. She made it clear, constantly, that she would not go to a doctor. I said she couldn’t live like this, incontinent on the couch. She dug in. No.

I left some water near her and some more Ensure, promising to come back in the morning. I really thought, at this point, if she had some nutrition in her she would get better enough to at least get to the bathroom.

 

That night I didn’t sleep a wink, I kept trying to figure out the right thing to do. She clearly needed help, at least someone to get her to the toilet. I knew she went from being up-and-about a week ago to not getting off the couch. She had radiation therapy a couple of years earlier for breast cancer, and her chemotherapist sent her to a cardiologist who gave her a prescription for something, but I didn’t know what. I just knew she refused to take the drugs he prescribed. So there was a good chance her heart was acting up. Or her cancer.

And then there was the lack of friends and family. I thought there must be other people in her life that checked in on her, but I found no evidence of that. I asked her about friends, and she hadn’t spoken to the one friend I knew of for several years. Bonnie. Bonnie was nuts. I knew she had a friend Carol, who initially introduced us to Karlyn, but could that be it? Only Bonnie and Carol would call me to check on her, no one else. Was I the only one to take care of her? What did I sign up for? And she was clearly sick.

I’d like to say I cried myself to sleep, but I didn’t sleep. Running through my head were those cockroaches, the stench of the place, the dogs jumping around, the piles of decaying plastic bags. I had pulled on the light-string above the kitchen—Karlyn couldn’t have reached this standing on a chair—and it came off in my hand, leaving me with a palm-full of rancid brown grease. She was living like this. Social security and food stamps, and no one in her life. The job was falling on me. So I made up my mind: It would no longer be her decision, it would be mine. I was going back to her and making one of two calls. Either 311 to get social services in to help her, or 911.

 

The moment I opened the door I was assaulted by the stench. The dogs were happy to see me, bouncing off the furniture. I opened a window and turned to look at Karlyn. She did not look good. She said couldn’t dial the phone because she was paralyzed, which was confusing because she was moving. I called 911.

She couldn’t sit up, so I helped her into an upright position and gave her some water. She drank it all. She wanted more, but colder. I found some ice and fed her another glass, and she drank it all. She wasn’t wearing anything except urine soaked panties.  She used a coat as a blanket which kept sliding off. I kept talking to her, giving her as much water as she could handle, wishing the ambulance would get here. Where were they?

The dogs were jumping onto her and onto me. I couldn’t stop them. They had to smell, too, because they would jump on the couch with her, but I didn’t have time to deal with them right now. George was coming by to walk and feed them, right now Karlyn was my only concern.

She was pretty coherent, except for thinking she was paralyzed, and didn’t argue with me about calling the ambulance. But she wasn’t pleased, either. She looked tired, and very, very sad.

Where was that ambulance? I could hear the rush hour traffic building outside and was expecting a siren any minute. But I called 20 minutes ago and now I was worried. I looked in her closet to find some clothes. It was jam packed. Piles upon piles, hangers so close together that some had risen above the pole, forced up by the overwhelming pressure of years of shopping. What was I looking for? I couldn’t dress her, and I didn’t want to. Frankly, I’d seen enough. Maybe a nightgown?

Damn. Where is that ambulance? It had been 30 minutes, so I called again. They couldn’t find it in the system, and passed me through to the EMS dispatcher who said he would stay on until someone got there. He asked the right questions, trying to start to diagnose the situation. Finally an ambulance pulled up. And then a second one pulled up, too.

They were shocked by the way she was living and by her condition. They started to treat me like I was the abusive son. I can’t blame them. There she is, emaciated on the couch, naked, a coat thrown over her, the couch is full of urine and feces, the smell is intense, the dogs are barking, and she is kind of rambling about not being able to move her arms. While moving her arms.

I established that I was just a friend, and they agreed she should go the hospital immediately. They wrapped her in clean sheets and a blanket, strapped her on the gurney, and headed out the door. I grabbed her purse, which contained $4.16, her credit cards and, mercifully, her insurance information. I locked the dogs in the apartment and flew down the stairs into the ambulance.

The traffic had built to a halt, and we inched along Madison Avenue at a ridiculous pace. Karlyn was surprisingly calm. She slept most of the ride, but would open her eyes, look around, look at me, and shrug her shoulders. She was able to answer questions like her birthdate, but not about the last time she ate or what today’s date was.

They decided to take us to Cornell-Weil Presbyterian Hospital because they felt it had the best social workers. I thought that made sense—she would need a social worker to straighten things out and get her the home care she would need when she got out.

I texted my niece Kathleen, who, as luck would have it, worked in the emergency room there.   She wasn’t working today, but would meet me there in an hour or two. This was great news.

I told the EMT that my niece worked in the ER and he said he knew her. From that moment on, as we were passed along from person to person, it was announced that I was a family member of Kathleen, and that made all the difference. Also, as Kathleen had seen her a week before.  She was able to attest to Karlyn’s condition and rapid decline. She also had a handle on which medications were in Karlyn’s apartment. Of course, just having her with me was a comfort, and she knew the ins and outs of the machinery, the hospital and the staff.

Karlyn was pretty alert when we got there. She told the nurse her name, her birthdate, and who her doctor was, although when pressed she didn’t know much more. The first tests came back indicating her sodium levels were dangerously low, so they hooked up an IV to hydrate her and balance her electrolytes. Still moving her arms and legs while insisting she was paralyzed was still a major indicator that her mental state was not good. They cleaned her up and made her comfortable while they monitored her vitals and ran tests. After a bit she started to sleep. It was hard to tell whether or not this was a good sign.

 

The biggest stumbling block was that she had no family to make decisions, and nothing in writing about her wishes. I was questioned several times about family members, but I knew she had none. I thought that, when she got her fluids and was a little more coherent, she could sign those forms. She was certainly in no mental state to sign them now.

After 5 hours she was finally sleeping peacefully. I sent Kathleen home and headed downtown to meet George at Karlyn’s apartment. It was a warm day, I had left the window wide open, but still you couldn’t take a breath without gagging. The sheets on the couch had to go and, summoning as much courage as I could, I donned a pair of rubber gloves and started to pull the sheets and blankets off. I had to stop after each tug because I was getting sick to my stomach, but I pushed through. The sheets, pillows, and anything that fit went into a garbage bag.  I couldn’t figure out how to get the cushions into a bag and avoid skin contact, so I stood them up on the bare sofa so the dogs could not jump on them.

George found her will but no health related documents. At least we now had a lawyer’s name and it gave us hope that their might be something in his files.

Minnie at Mom's house
Minnie at Mom’s house
235
Demi at Mom’s, too.

We now turned our attention to Minnie and Demi—what to do with the dogs? They were thrilled to see us and, I have to admit, they are charming and adorable. We could not take them to the apartment we rented. Luckily, for me and for the dogs, my mother is a saint. She agreed to take the dogs for a bit, until we found another solution or Karlyn came home. Which was very nice of her, although I was worried because Mom already had a dog. In the past she’s had two dogs, but three? That’s a lot to ask. But I did. God bless her.

A plan was formulated. It was clear Karlyn would be in the hospital for at least a week, yet there was a good chance she would be in a nursing home after that. If she recovered, that is. You hate to think that way, but you have to plan for the worst. We decided to leave the dogs in Karlyn’s apartment overnight and take them to my mother’s the next day. I would get up and go to the hospital while George would go to Long Island and pick up our car. We would meet at Karlyn’s and drive upstate to Mom’s. I would spend the night, and George would drive back. My mother and sister, also a saint, were on board.

Back to the hospital I went, feeling a little relieved.

 

The ER waiting room was crowded now, and I waited my turn to speak to the nurse at the front desk. She recognized me from earlier and asked me to have a seat. Then she asked me to sit further away, she had to speak to someone confidentially. I moved to the back of the room.

She led me into a small room within the ER and said the doctor would be right in. She looked at me with a little confusion in her eye and asked if someone had called me and I said “no”. To myself I said “this can’t be good”. The doctor I had spoken with earlier came in and was very straightforward, explaining that I was not family, but since I “brought her in” he wanted to let me know what happened. Shortly after I left he was standing next to her when everything stopped at once. Her breathing and her heart. He immediately started CPR and was able to restart her heart. “If I had been across the room, I don’t think I would have been able to revive her”.

They took me to see her. Many more machines were attached to her as they were wheeling her to ICU. They have no choice, if there is no DNR, family or health care instructions, the law requires them to keep her alive by all means possible. Exactly what she didn’t want. They pressed upon me the urgency to find a family member or some documentation. She would probably never return home.

This was a game changer for everyone; Karlyn, me, Mom, the dogs. Karlyn had flat lined. I had to stop crying and start figuring out what to do.

 

 

 

November

November
Loreto Bay, Baja, Mexico

If you recall, we last left off in Loreto. The community we rented in was lovely, although it was 99.9% “expats” from the United States and Canada. Mostly from Canada. Mysteriously there was an extremely large contingent from South Dakota. I guess if you live in Canada or South Dakota, you have to do something.

Flowers from the walkways of Loreto Bay
Flowers from the walkways of Loreto Bay
Loreto Bay houses from the beach
Loreto Bay houses from the beach
Walkway in Loreto Bay
Walkway in Loreto Bay

The community was located in Loreto Bay, and cleverly named Loreto Bay Villages, which was thankfully only a few minutes’ drive to downtown Loreto.

Loreto Bay was planned and construction begun prior to the recession of 2008. They had designed a community of 8,000 homes complete with stores, restaurants, pools, a police force, a movie theater, a golf course and a few hotels. It was to be self-contained, producing its own electricity and purifying its own water.

In 2008, after approximately 700 homes were built, Citibank pulled its funding and the project went bust. The remaining homeowners took matters into their own hands, banding together to protect their investment. They finished the pools and the infrastructure to service the homes that were built. As a result, there are miles and miles of eerily empty paved roads with street lights and manholes, servicing abandoned overgrown lots.

Abandoned Streets, waiting for development
Abandoned Streets, waiting for development
Barren roads in Loreto Bay
Barren roads in Loreto Bay

That being said, the homes that were completed are beautiful, and the layout of the town is very well thought-out. (See better pictures than mine here)  There is a main drive through the center of the community, but other than that there are no cars. The entire development was envisioned as a place for strolling, with houses built around charming courtyards complete with fountains and benches, interconnected by meandering cobblestone walkways. Although it was a bit on the sterile side, we really enjoyed it.

There were only a few restaurants, and we realized we would tire of them pretty quickly, so we often would eat a big lunch and then have tapas or a light dinner at home.

Pelican, downtown Loreto
Pelican, downtown Loreto

Food shopping was an experience. The store in Loreto Bay had almost nothing in it, and to my surprise, there was no central market in town where local farmers would sell their goods, mainly because this was high desert and there were no farms. So we shopped in the two supermarkets in downtown. It was like shopping in a C-Town market in the Bronx, not well stocked, they smelled of floor cleaner, and the items on the shelves were questionable at best. I thought I was buying chicken thighs at one point, but when I got home I apparently bought half of a poorly plucked chicken, complete with half of a head and one foot. When they say half, they mean half!

On Saturdays there was a fishmonger who came to Loreto Bay and set up shop. People lined up early to await his arrival—he was known to sell out quickly. After standing in the queue for a bit, I bought a parrot fish and some shrimp as big as pork chops. Both were delicious, although I had to look up what a parrot fish was and, realizing how beautiful they are, immediately felt guilty.

Cactus at the Sunday Market.
Cactus at the Sunday Market.

Sundays there was an outdoor market, about a 15 minute drive away. It is held in a dusty lot, and they did not have much in the way of food. There were three produce stands and butcher. The produce was unremarkable, but we did score some delicious bananas, avocado, beans and cactus. I had never cooked cactus and it was surprisingly good (a bit slimy like okra, but delicious). The butcher was inapproachable. All of the meat was covered in white lace tablecloths, but the blood had soaked through and everything was thickly covered in flies. It was a horror movie. Most of the rest of the market was “other than food”, tent after tent selling used clothing, dirty toys, furniture, religious items and snacks. I’m guessing it was the snacks that got me sick. For two days. I lost weight! Montezuma’s a bitch.

crap for sale
crap for sale
Honey, including comb, $8.
Honey, including comb, $8.

The best thing I bought was from a man on a bicycle who had quarts of honey for sale. He goes into the local caves and collects the honey himself. They honey was delicious, and the full quart was only $8. Funny thing about honey, though, it’s hard to use more than a tablespoon at a time.

We took a few day trips, one to Coronado Island, where our boat broke down so we never got to see the sea lions or blue footed boobies we were promised. Luckily, the beach was majestic and it we had a great day. Our guide put us on his friend’s boat for the return trip. We met a very nice young couple from Switzerland and had a wonderful, yet bumpy, ride home.

Pre-Colombian Cave Paintings, sans cave.
Pre-Colombian Cave Paintings, sans cave.

We also took a trip to see the local Cave Paintings, which were more like Ledge Paintings due to the lack of a cave. Pre-Columbian graffiti. Our guide conjectured that this was a gathering place for the exchange of goods. There is no way of knowing if he had any real knowledge, so we accepted it as fact and moved on.

Time was a slow moving blur, with one day lazily running into the next. But our trip was suddenly cut short when we heard from our nephew Peter.

When Rita came into our life, we had a dog-walker named Karlyn. She was a little crazy, and I loved her for it. In the 1940’s she was a Broadway Showgirl, and she was delighted by my fascination of her dance career. She would tell me stories of shows opening and closing, out of town try-outs, stage door Johnnies vying for her attention, and life as a hoofer. I googled one of her playbills and showed her—she was thrilled.

After Rita we had Gomez, whom she adored. Gomez was immediately followed by Mabel and Archie. She didn’t like Mabel much, and after a while she refused to walk her. We should have fired her, but we’re mush. She loved Archie the best. When he died she was devastated. She also didn’t like Milo so she fired us, several times. We always let he come back. We knew she wasn’t a very good or reliable dog-walker, but we also knew she needed the income, so we would pay her and take care of her.

Our relationship spanned two decades, and throughout that time she was constantly dying. She would call and say “I can’t walk the dog today, I had a heart attack and need to rest”. At first we were shocked—ready to take her to a doctor but she always refused. She hadn’t had a heart attack, or a stroke, or any one of a hundred different conditions. She self-diagnosed herself regularly; she didn’t believe in doctors. After a while we learned not to worry.

Sometimes I had to worry—her friend would call me and tell me she had not heard from her for days, would I please go over and check on her. This happened many times, usually at 2 in the morning. I would haul myself out of bed and walk over to her apartment. I’d ring the bell, which was pointless because she couldn’t have been deafer. I’d eventually pound on her door until she opened it with a startled look on her face—the television playing at top volume and her phone off the hook.

During each of these events, George and I would have to promise that, if she died, we would take good care of her dogs. We always agreed, and then made her promise not to die, which seemed like a much better plan. She would laugh and promise. But just in case, she had a note taped to her front door to call us in an emergency. We were happy to help. We also gave her our nephew Peter’s number if there was an emergency while we were away.

So Peter emailed and said Karlyn called and wanted him to pick up the dogs because she was dying. Given her hypochondriac history, we were not too worried. Peter went over to check on her and, although she was clearly ill, he did not think the end was near. Our niece, Kathleen, who is an emergency room nurse, also looked in on her and had the same conclusion. She continued to refuse to see a doctor, and we were concerned enough to fly back regardless.

Changing our flights was difficult as Thanksgiving was fast approaching, but a very helpful Delta agent was persistent and wrangled two seats on the Saturday before Thanksgiving. The apartment we had rented in the East Village was available early, so we drove the 8 hours to Cabo to catch our flight home.

Our relaxing vacation was over, and the shit was about to hit the fan.