Sunday, December 29, 2013

2013 in Review

2013. What an awful year.

I don't know if we're feeling "survivor guilt" or merely survivor exhaustion, but 2013 was a bad year for people and animals around us.

Our elderly adopted cat Quigley died of bladder cancer; our beloved cat Mabel was diagnosed with large-cell lymphoma at the beginning of the year and in September she was gone. Her passing left a huge hole in the household.

Several friends have had a rough year. I'd like to write a big-picture piece about that (perhaps something publishable, though how I could be both truthful and protective of their privacy I can't imagine).

Some vignettes, with identifying info blurred:

  • Last spring we drove to another part of the state to buy some "stuff" from a disabled and impoverished friend, only to discover that the day was her birthday and she has no living relatives or close friends with whom to celebrate. Of course, we took her out to dinner. 
  • For the past year, we've been part of a group helping a friend with serious health problems (whose only two relatives have even more serious health problems) relocate, only to discover that he has enough possessions to fill two houses and can't face making decisions about getting rid of any of them.
  • Since late October, we've been worrying about a young friend whose experience with chronic pain from an "undiagnosable" condition drove him to attempt suicide. Doctors expected him to die, but two weeks later he walked out of the hospital. However, after hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent on him in intensive care, the only follow-up care he was offered was a referral to a heroin clinic because — since he had used over-the-counter drugs and whiskey to try to kill himself —"he must be a drug abuser." The clinic told him he didn't belong there.

These are three people I care deeply about. I could easily list a dozen other friends who are sliding into homelessness because of a sequence of either a physical illness or loss of job leading to mental instability which then prevents adequate handling of the physical illness and/or a return to employment. The healthcare, economy and social systems today are such that you have to sink so low to get help that by the time you get there, the help can't help you because you are irreparably damaged.

Exactly one of all the people we know who has slipped into this situation has climbed back out. Though she pulled herself out on her own, I suspect it was because she knew that if she was faced with loss of her apartment, she could resort to retirement savings or ask a relative for a loan. Her complete recovery is something to celebrate, and we're trying.

But, really, what kind of year can we have with all this going on around us?

Tom and I are grateful every day that we enjoy doing the very basic things in life together, from going to the store, cooking, taking a walk, playing with our cats, volunteering, and working with our clients. We are grateful for our warm house, our safe neighborhood, and for the good health of my mother and his brothers. I'm very pleased that we are in frequent contact with my cousins from my late father's side of the family.

While we've both been appalled by the instability of some of the businesses we work with as contractors, we've also had some great experiences and are continually reminding each other to do more for the good clients and "fire" the bad ones (even if turning away business can initially seem counterintuitive).

One wish for the new year is good things for our friends in need. We just don't see how things can go on this way for another year.

Our resolution is to make sure we spend time with friends who are fortunate (and strategic) enough to be doing well. To often we see them across the room, also helping someone with problems, and all we find time to do is wave and smile at each other. We realize that we need to spend more time with these folks, regrouping and regathering our strength.

So, here's to 2014.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

How to troubleshoot and fix a weak refrigerator door seal

Note: Despite the title, this is post is more about how to avoid replacing a refrigerator door seal. 

Very few refrigerators made currently will fit the odd-size space in our cabinetry where our 10-year-old Kenmore Elite refrigerator sits. Thus I'm highly motivated to keep the current refrigerator running.

Last weekend, it dawned on us that the door to the main refrigerator section wasn't closing very firmly. One a few occasions, it had even drifted open.

I began troubleshooting, and it was bad news.

The paper test: Close the door with a piece of paper (or a dollar bill) inserted at least an  inche into the closure. If the paper pulls out easily, the seal isn't tight enough. (Our freezer compartment passed; the main compartment seal failed.)

The temperature test: I used an inexpensive refrigeration thermometer (which I usually keep in the freezer compartment) to test the main compartment. It was running a bit too warm, so I used the controls to dial it back to nearly the maximum cold setting for the main compartment. It had already been set quite cold (5 out of 7) so I realized I'd need to take further action to keep the colder air in.

It was time to study up on repairs.

Replacing the gasket/seal: Hoping to get the seal repaired and this whole episode over with, I called two repair companies. But they said replacing the gasket would be more than $300, and they suggested that I simply get a new refrigerator since the existing one was more than 10 years old. But they also gave me some suggestions, which I'll cover later. (I also read some descriptions of how to replace the seal yourself, which I would never consider trying unless I were desperate for material for a humor column. Baby powder and hair dryers were involved.)

My online research yielded an odd assortment of ideas, some of which I tried and which resulted in  moderate success.

Level the refrigerator. One fellow told the story of taking his refrigerator (with a weak door seal) to his brother's shop to have the gasket replaced, only to discovered that it closed firmly at the shop. IT turned out that the refrigerator had been tilting slightly forward at the original location. They took it home and used shims to adjust it so that it tilted very slightly back. I haven't tried adjusting the feet or shimming my refrigerator yet — but read on.

Remove everything from your refrigerator door and see if that improves the door closure. Bingo! In our case, it did — dramatically. (Of course, this limits the usefulness of the refrigerator; we ended up putting lightweight items, such as breads, in the door and putting large, heavy bottles of liquids in the main shelves.)

Tighten the hinge screws. One website suggested that if you want to improve the door's ability to deal with a heavy load, you might consult the manual for the refrigerator and try locating and tightening the door-hinge screws, which can loosen over time. I've put that on my "maybe" list. After reading the directions, I'm not so sure I want to go there.

Apply Vaseline to the gasket. I'm not sure exactly how or why this works, but the repair company I called suggested that after thoroughly cleaning the rubber gasket with soap and water, and drying it, I lightly coated the flat face of the gasket on the hinge side of the door with Vaseline. Some of the websites made this same suggestion. I tried it, and it certainly didn't hurt.

The combination of applying Vaseline, decreasing the door's load, and adjusting the setting for the main compartment seems to have worked quite well. Meanwhile, I'm watching for an appliance sale at Sears.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Mabel's last summer

One Monday in early February Mabel, our little black Bombay cat, collapsed. I thought she had an abscess, and asked Tom (who's a massage therapist) to feel for a lump. He didn't find anything serious, but we made a vet appointment for the next day.

The vet wasn't very concerned. They did a quick blood panel, which came back normal. Tom asked the vet to check out what he thought was a small lump in her lower abdomen. The vet did a needle biopsy, but told us not to worry.

We got a call the next day. They were very sorry, but Mabel had fatal large-cell lymphoma and would likely live only another two or three weeks. I asked about oncology, and they said I'd have to get her an appointment in the next two days. By this time, it was Wednesday. And the oncology clinic didn't have Friday hours.

I managed to get us in at the oncologists the following Monday, where we were told we had three options for chemotherapy: A series of weekly treatments with one drug; a series of weekly treatments that alternated between two drugs, and a series of weekly treatments that cycled through four drugs. All three regimens are palliative, not curative, chemo. We picked the four-drug regimen, they started it on the spot, and within two days of starting it Mabel was seemingly back to normal. It was like magic.

This was in mid-February.

Mabel responds exceptionally well to chemo. She doesn't mind the treatments — even the series of subcutaneous injections (cats don't do well with IV drips) that we have to give her at home every few weeks. We rub prednisone cream on her ear every night, but that's the only other medication involved.

After eight weeks of treatment, the vet tried putting Mabel onto every-other-week chemo. Ten days into it, she took a dramatic turn for the worst. One eye was shut, and she began twitching. We rushed her to the clinic, thinking it might be time to put her down. But they administered her next dose of chemo, and a hour or so later we had Mabel back to normal. We're back to weekly chemo, which we refer to as "renting the cat."

Mabel has always been a hugely demonstrative and affectionate cat, and the cancer and chemo have made her even more interested in sitting on people. And it's much harder now to tell her to go away and let you work because you realize that your time with her is limited. It is very difficult to imagine life without Mabel.