Thursday, July 31, 2008

Update on Mom...A Day Before I Leave

I am in Italy still. I leave tomorrow by train for Zürich, Switzerland and Saturday I leave from Zürich airport to go home. Mom isn't going to make it. While they are not absolutely sure yet, they are doing final tests to confirm that she has Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. It's a disease that affects one person in a million, but she has every symptom. "Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD ) is a very rare and incurable degenerative neurological disorder (brain disease) that is ultimately fatal."

So now it appears a matter of weeks or months at the most. She has not recognized me or my sister since I've been here, three weeks now. She has reached the point where she's in a waking coma, hardly seeing us anymore. The doctor at the hospital is very dedicated. We spent three hours today answering all her questions. She made family trees, she took lots of notes, and she called other experts. She told another doctor while we were there that this was the most serious case they have had in that hospital department in a long time. She also said that they were going to rule out any other curable diseases she might possibly have, but that at this point all signs pointed to CJD and that she would be surprised if that wasn't the illness that has invaded my mother.

So I thought I would share with your some photos I took tonight of mom's room. My sister and I went in there to surround ourselves with "mom." I was surprised to see an English book on her night table. My sister told me that mom was still reading in English before the disease hit her so hard. I didn't know that she had retained the language at that level. So you can see some of the books she had read or was reading in the first picture.

The other photos describe themselves.

Thank you again for all of your support. While there is still a little hope, there's not much left. I plan to return as soon as possible, though it may be for her funeral if the doctor's predictions are right.

Italian Signs...Just Suggestions Really

See the photo? See the red signs in the middle? Can't see them too well? So look at the second photo for a closeup. What do those signs mean? They mean NO motorcycle parking and NO bike parking here, thank you.

What do you see right below the signs? You see motorcycles. You see bicycles. They are parked.

In Italy, signs are so much fun!

Three Kittens in a Clump

I just had to take this picture. Kittens are so cute. Too bad they grow up to be cats!

Are Poor People Poor Because They Are Too Generous?

So here's a question that has been on my mind for a while. Are poor people poor because they're too generous with the little they have? Are rich people rich because they (generally speaking) are not willing to part with anything they have?

I have had two life experiences that lead me to this question. When I was young I worked as a pizza delivery guy on the side for about a month. On the wall of the pizza place was a large map so that we could see where we needed to deliver our pizzas. Each time a pizza was ready to be delivered, the next guy in line would go get it, look at the address, find it on the map and leave.

We knew which part of the map represented the rich neighborhoods and which represented the middle class and poorer areas. When we would see that the address to which to deliver our pizza was in the rich area, we would groan. We knew we would come back from the rich person's house with little or no tip. The poorer the home, the higher the tip was generally. When the doors to the rich homes would open, I would see a lot of fancy things, but I guess buying all those luxuries meant there was no money left for a tip. Once I delivered 12 pizzas to a party at a rich person's home. My tip? A big fat zero. The owner there said, "Oh, sorry, I don't have enough for a tip." I wondered why then he hadn't ordered 11 pizzas so he would have enough left over to compensate me, the driver.

Another time when I was young I volunteered to go door-to-door to seek donations for a boy in our neighborhood who needed a new liver. He suffered from a rare childhood disease and would die without a new liver. We needed to raise about $40,000 and I joined a group that canvassed the town. We made our goal. The boy got his new liver. He lived.

While canvassing, I found out that the richer the home, the more quickly the door would get slammed in my face. The poorer the home, the more willing they were to share what little they had to help the boy. Some of he poorer folks had real concern in their eyes and would ask for details about the boy, saying they would also pray for him, asking if they could help the family also with meals and such. The rich? Some of them handed over a couple of bucks, most of them wouldn't even talk to me.

So is it a vicious cycle? The poor stay poor because they're too generous? The rich stay rich because they're too stingy?

I know that there are no generalizations here. There are many generous rich people and there are many poor people that would not give a penny to a good cause. But am I wrong to think that in general my thinking is right?

Where are the Restrooms???

I was at the hospital. I was looking for the restrooms. I saw a sign, the one in the first pic you see here. I followed the sign.

I found out what the sign meant. It didn't point to the restrooms. It pointed to the elevators. The second pic shows the sign next to the elevators.

Really? The elevators? Yes. I thought the sign was the international symbol for a place where to pee or poop. No, in this case it means you can go up and down in a metal box. I thought about using one of the elevators as a restroom out of spite. However, I'm not a spiteful person. I proceeded to search and find the real restrooms. I thought of looking for a sign that showed an elevator, thinking it would point me to the restrooms, but I didn't see one of those. It's OK - I found them anyway.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

A Cat Story of Cooperation

Remember Marron, the dark brown kitten I showed you the other day? Well, Marron has brothers and sisters! You see, Marron's mom was born here almost five years ago. Sally named her Selvatica (Savage) a while back because she was always a bit wild, not friendly like some of the other cats.

Selvatica decided she was going to give birth outdoors somewhere and she brought only Marron back last week to see what we would do. When she saw that we were nice to Marron, she brought her other two kittens to us too. See them in the box?

Well, in the first pic, the cat you see is not Selvatica, that's Luna, Selvatica's mom, grandma to those kittens. Luna is already almost 20 years old and she hasn't given birth in a couple of years. She's nearing the end of her life. She's lost her appetite and spends much of her time baking in the sun. Imagine our surprise when we saw that she had gone into the box while mom was away. When mom leaves, grandma takes over? Luna has always been a very friendly cat, unlike that no-good daughter of hers! ;-)

As mom does come back very often to feed her babies, we were also worried about what Selvatica might do to Luna when she saw her with her children, even if Luna is her mom and all.

Our fears were unfounded. In fact, they seem to get along just fine. It's all in the family!

You can really see how much one of Selvatica's kittens resembles her! Luna (which means Moon) is not being sent away, she is welcome.

It takes a village!

Mom - Up and Down

This is a photo of my mom at Starbucks while she was visiting me in the States a couple of years ago. I think it's a cute photo.

Mom has good days and not-so-good days at the hospital. Yesterday she was very alert. She tried to talk several times and we were able to make out a word here and there. She grabbed our hands several times. She even raised both arms up a few times, the first time in a while she's done that. She even raised her right arm quickly to scratch her head. That was almost startling! What really made my sister and me laugh out loud with surprise and happiness was when we asked our mom near the end of our visit if she was tired and wanted to sleep and she instantly and very quickly started nodding her head up and down in response. A few minutes later we asked her again and she responded the exact same way. That was nice.

We spend our time every day talking with mom, cleaning and refreshing her neck, face and arms with wet wipes and just being with her. Nowadays she seems really happy to see us...most of the time. Today she seemed to be in a bit of a foul mood, not talking, her face in somewhat of a grimace most of the time. We exercised her arms and legs so as to not let them atrophy, as we do every day, and she didn't seem to like it all. I know it might be somewhat painful, but it has to be done.

One day at a time. Tomorrow may be a better day.

A Stop in Felina (Italy)

On the way to the hospital today, we stopped at the Slow Food fair in Felina near here. The Slow Food fair is in its eighth year and is a backlash against the fast food society, which is unfortunately becoming the vogue in Italy as well, leading to higher rates of obesity and other bad side effects. In the years I've becoming to Italy, the people as a whole have become heavier and heavier, just as we have in the States. There are many wonderful things that other countries have copied from us Americans - this is not one of them!

The fair goes on for three days and today was the last day. It was very nice with lots of booths that had either food (slow, not fast) or artisan designs for sale. There was also a band playing old style music. You can hear the music by playing the short video.

To see more, click here.

My Sister's Works of Art Being Sold in S. Polo

In S. Polo, my sister had business with a shop there that sells local artisan work among other items. Among what you see here are her works.


Last Saturday night for dinner we decided to get some pizza. Usually Saturday for dinner, Sally makes pizza at home, and it's really the best ever, but with all that has been happening and as tired as we feel, last night we decided to go out for pizza. The first place we tried was small and it was already packed so we went to the town of Marola, close by. It's a pretty little place and opens its arms to tourists. The pizza we had at Il Griffone (The Gryphon) wаs mighty good.

More photos of Marola? Click here!

S. Polo d'Enza

On the way back from the hospital yesterday, Sally had some business in a town called S. Polo d'Enza. Enza is the name of the river that flows through the mountains here. S. Polo is a really pretty town, larger than Casina where my sister lives.

More photos of S. Polo? Click here!

Friday, July 25, 2008

My Friend Laura Silverman Published in Los Angeles Times

I'm very proud of my dear friend Laura Silverman who has written an article that is appearing in the My Turn column of the Los Angeles Times. The title is:

Doctor: 'There's nothing wrong with you.'
Patient: Can I quote you on that?

Read the story here. It's short and well worth reading!

See Laura's bog here.

Today's Update on Mom

The photo you see is of the hospital where our mom is a patient.

Today we were able to talk with the doctor. He told us they have determined that our mom has no virus after all and that they believe that the problem is in the cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds the brain. Specifically, it is not mixing or circulating correctly. They describe it as a plumbing problem in the head.

On Monday, mom will be moved out of Infectious Diseases, because she doesn't have one of those, and into Neurology, where they should be able to help her more.

A New Addition to the Family

Here is my sister holding the newest addition to the family, an itty-bitty kitten. I came up with his name. He's brown, you see, and the word brown in Italian is marrone (mah-roh-neh). I also thought of how in New York, the transplanted Sicilians there would pronounce Madonna "Marron" when frustrated, so I suggested we call it Marron. In English, I guess, we'd translate its name as "Brownie."

Cute, huh? But it has a set of lungs on it!

My Brother-in-Law's Secret Formula

Like most of us who get older, once we realize we like something, we stick with it. My brother-in-law figured out a while ago that mixing certain flavors of soda (or pop, whatever you prefer to call it) in just the right proportions makes for the perfect flavor for him.

So here he is mixing just the right ratios of ginger and orange soda and who knows what else? I tried it once. Let's just say that I don't think the results would be a big seller on the open market! But each to his own, right?

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Castle Grounds

This is the first time I went inside this building on the grounds of the Sarazano Castle near my sister's house.

In the first photo, you can see the base of an altar, recently found and now being excavated.

More photos? Click here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Stopping for Coffee

On the way to the hospital today, Sally and I stopped at one of our favorite coffee shops for cappuccino. You may remember this from my travels here last year - this is the place where the world-famous Diana makes the best coffee ever and adds art work, as you see here. (Sorry the coffee is a little out focus!)

Diana consented to have her photo taken with me. Wasn't that nice of her?

To see the other entries on Diana's artwork, click below:

Caffe Macchiato with Class

More Coffee Art from Artist Diana

Mom...Maybe a Little Better

It's hard to say, but today mom may have showed some signs of improvement. I spent a long time talking with her, my face close to hers. She never looked away from me and when I moved a little, she would follow for a bit. She also reached out her hand to mine and grabbed it three times today. She tried to talk three or four times but could not get the words out.

I don't know if she knows who I am (I think not) but she knows I'm a friendly face who comes to visit her every day and talk to her. She is able to smile ever so slightly when I play the fool with her. That's rewarding for me.

Sally (my dear sister) and I are mom's companions. We talk to her every day and try to cheer her up, try to jog her memories, try to make her feel loved. In this hospital, the first couple of days she had a young lady as a roommate for a couple of days, then she was alone for a day, and then she has had a very nice 90-year-old lady who was there for 3 days and was released today. The 90-year-old said she had never seen a mother so loved by her children. We responded that we were just showing her what she had shown us all our lives - the love of a mother who took care of her two children by herself after losing her husband after only 3 years of marriage.

Sally is fantastic. Despite having her share of pain and her very busy schedule, she seems indefatigable with mom - loads of energy there.

Today she had an MRI. We hope to know the results very soon.

Thank you again for all your support.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A Visit from Pamela and Her Two Boys

This is Pamela, a long-time family friend of my sister's and so also one of my friends for the last several years. In the time I've known her, she married Robby, who was stuck at home tonight working, and has had two boys, Thomas and Lucas. They are all wonderful people and I'm proud to know them!

More photos? Click here!

Davide, Mark, Monica and Michela

Here I am with Monica, Mark, Michela and Davide and Carlotta the Dog in their workplace here in Reggio Emilia, Italy. They are all supernice people and Davide and Mark are good friends of the family.

Monica (the blonde) and Michela (the brunette) are twin sisters - yes, really! I think this is the first time I have been kissed by twin ladies!

More photos? Click here!

A Visit from Mark and Giorgia

Our good friends Mark and Giorgia (pronounced Georgia) came to visit Sunday evening to my sister's house here in Italy. This is Giorgia, Mark, and my sister in the first photo.

In the second photo, I'm the lucky recipient of a kiss (on the cheek, alas) from Giorgia!

More photos? Click here.

Vera's 50th Birthday Party

This is Vera, a good friend of my sister Sally. She is an excellent pediatrician who lives and works in London. She visits her home town here in Italy often and was here to let us all celebrate her 50th birthday party. She had a huge turnout and a local band. We all got blue T-shirts with VERA 50 on the back so we all looked like members of her team. She wore a yellow t-shirt as our coach.

A fun time was had by all!

More photos? Click here.

Mom is the Same Today

Today mom is the same, not talking, looking at us when we talk but not able to respond or move much. I have extended my stay by eight days until August 2nd and hope to see some results in the meanwhile.

Tomorrow we should know the results of the MRI. Here's hoping...

You all keep me sane with your emails and comments here. Thank you so much.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Mom is Not Improving was not a good day for hoping for mom's recovery. The head doctor at the new hospital said he's not convinced that mom has the Herpes virus because the test for the virus results in many false positives and it is so rare for the elderly to actually have it.

The cortisone had helped, it seems to me, in that they stopped it yesterday and she was back to not being able to communicate or move again. She only tried to say things a few times today to us and each time it was hard for her to get any words out.

Part of the reason for that, I think, is the side effect of the cortisone. Her face is very swollen and perhaps her tongue as well and it's hard for mom to talk.

I'm seriously thinking of prolonging my stay here. The doctors are doing another MRI today and will have complete results on Wednesday. I was supposed to take trains up to Zürich Thursday and then fly out Friday, but I may stay longer to see if the diagnosis changes with the MRI results and if that means a treatment with visible results in a few days.

Here's hoping...

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Mom is Improving

Improvement is always a relative term, of course. She has been at the new hospital for two days. We had a long talk with the head doctor and he confirmed what they were going to do. The first order of business has been to give mom some cortisone to help dry up some of the excess liquid that surrounds her brain and presses down on it. They started the treatment yesterday. Today she was like a different person. She is still not back to herself but I was delighted to see her moving her whole body in bed rather than just her head when she would move any part of her body at all. She also would turn her head to look directly at me and grabbed hold of my hand a couple of times. She is still not herself mentally but she is talking nonstop again, over and over about how she has to work hard to help the children. In this case, she's not talking about my sister and me, whom she still doesn't recognize, but of the orphan children that she worked with when she was a young lady, before meeting my father and moving to the States. She worked long hours to make money to help the orphans in the orphanage. The name of the orphanage was St. Joseph's (San Giuseppe) and she mentioned the name, so we figured out where her memory was. She used lots of words today, though, that I hadn't heard her use since I've been here, a larger vocabulary than simply repeating the same phrase over and over, which is what she was doing before.

It's day to day. I hope to see even more improvement tomorrow, perhaps even a return of more recent memories, but I'm happy to see such improvement in one day. These things can turn on a dime, I know, and tomorrow she may be back to a waking coma state, but perhaps this is a harbinger of things to come, good things. Thanks again for all your support.

Friday, July 18, 2008

They Now Know What's Causing Mom's Illness!

Finally, a test has come up positive. Mom has Human Herpes Virus Type 6. It usually attacks children under the age of 3 and is mild, affecting the skin only, going away on its own after a while. However, when it attacks adults, it can be much more serious, often infecting the brain, which is what has happened to her.

Mom is being moved as we speak to the bigger hospital in Reggio Emilia, where they have a topnotch communicable disease division and they'll be able to take better care of her.

Mom didn't have a fever or any of the symptoms she has now when she entered the hospital. All this happened after about a week. We don't know if the virus had been dormant in her and woke up after she was in the hospital or she got the virus in the hospital. The research we have done this afternoon after we found out tells us that this virus an lay dormant for months in the body, so it's likely she already had it before she went into the hospital. Either way, I'm glad that at least we have a probable cause!

We hope to know more soon and will keep you posted here.

Thursday, July 17, 2008


Signs, signs, signs. I like signs.

Around the Washington, D.C. beltway, near the town of Kensington, is the Mormon temple. When you come West on the outer loop, the temple seems to rise out of the ground in front of you. To many, it looks like the palace of the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz.

Once in a while, on the fence that separates the beltway from the temple grounds, someone will put up a hand-written sign that can be seen as you drive past- SURRENDER DOROTHY. The first time I saw that, I almost split my gut I laughed so hard!

Not far from my sister's place in Italy is a home on a nice piece of land. For years, the homeowner had a horse on his land. When the horse got old, it would often lie down on the ground to rest. Well...motorists driving by would see the horse lying on the ground and stop to tell the homeowner that his horse was dead. After this happened a few times, the homeowner put up his own handwritten sign, "MY HORSE IS NOT DEAD!"

Of course, the horse did eventually die, but as far as I know the homeowner simply took the sign down after they took the horse away rather than putting a big red X over the word NOT.

These things make me laugh!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Update on Mom

This is my mom a couple of years ago with Chiara, my cousin. For the last few days, my mom has shown some slight improvement. Sunday was much like Saturday - she was very talkative but didn't say much that made sense.

Monday she slept quite a bit. Yesterday and today she has been awake but has spoken much less, and when she does it's tough to understand because she is not speaking very clearly. We have been showing her photos from her life and ours, have been talking with her about a lot of things to try to trigger her memories but at this point she still only seems to remember her name and her place of birth.

The doctors still can't figure out what's causing all this - it's very frustrating. I'm ready to wring some necks but I don't think that will do much good - in fact, wringing a doctor's neck may just get me barred from the hospital. Of course, the doctors are doing their best but I can't believe that there aren't other doctors who may not be able to tell what's wrong with my poor mom.

Thank you for all of your emails and your good wishes. They are much appreciated!

More Photos - A Castle!

These are from today. More photos can be found by clicking here.