Monday, March 30, 2009

Spring 2009 Trip Report: Silicon Valley and Chicago

I spent Monday through Friday back on the VMware home planet: Palo Alto. You know, there is really no substitute for hallway conversation. Twitter, IRC, IM, e-mail all pale in comparison. Informal interpersonal communication is the stuff that keeps software development groups focused on the common goals of the company. I feel like my self-imposed exile in Texas has put me at a bit of a career disadvantage, but I do my best to learn and teach from a distance. These quarterly visits back certainly recharge my engineering batteries.

From the San Francisco Bay, I flew to my home planet: Chicago. As I had mentioned before, my mother is in a nursing home. It's strange to think that exactly one year ago, we were preparing to meet in Las Vegas to celebrate my 40th birthday.

She came with my Aunt Helen, and I could tell at the time that something wasn't quite right. But I was surrounded by family and friends, both old and new, and I chose to defer to my mother's judgment. Within a week of returning home, she was in the hospital with an infected cyst on her groin. That infection turned necrotizing, and required major surgery to clean up. When I flew home to visit at the end of April, she could barely recognize me -- sepsis had set in and was affecting her brain. Yet she still responded to polka music, and strangely, whenever she was in pain, she would laugh.

There was a brief attempt to bring her home in July, but persistent bowel and bladder issues, along with general weakness put her back in the nursing home within a month. From there, she's been bouncing back and forth between the nursing home and hospital as the infections wax and wane.

She's now in a long term care facility, and the primary purpose of this particular visit was to move my father into a new house closer by. It was truly a family effort that included my Uncle Jim, Aunt Mary Jane, four of their five sons, three of my four sisters, three spouses, and a fantastic steak dinner at the local Moose Lodge. "If you want to talk Moose, do it at the semi-monthly meetings, not at the bar."

We completed the move in record time, and just before a late winter snow storm blew through.

Mom has gotten much better mentally, but the bowel and bladder issues are keeping her down. "I pee like a puppy," she's fond of saying. She's become quite introverted -- it takes a lot to draw conversation out of her. We played a few hands of Crazy Eights during which I got some stories about her fellow residents. She just wasn't willing to discuss any of the medical options being offered.

After she thoroughly kicked my ass at cards, it was time to say goodbye. But not before I simulated a wheelchair Tilt-A-Whirl ride for her in the hallway. It always was her favorite.

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