Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Behind bars and beginning to forget.

Just clicked through to this powerful photo essay by Todd Heisler on the New York Times Lens blog.

The story, which documents the lives of elderly prisoners suffering from various stages of dementia and their caretakers, shows a side of prison I'd never really thought about, in a very visually striking way.

Obviously most of the inmates have done some awful things, including murder, but thinking of these same people being a personal carer, feeding, showering and changing adult nappies for another mentally ill inmate is somewhat jarring.

One of my grandparents has quite advanced dementia and has needed full-time care for a few years now. It's hard to know what level her understanding of the world is. On the odd occasion she has made what seems like a completely lucid comment out of the blue, but for the rest of the time she may barely even register that anyone else is in the room, let alone recognising who they are.

Visiting a nursing home full of people who have lost most or all of their mental capacity is quite confronting; I think partially because of the fear of ending up with a life where you have no control or understanding of anything that happens. Todd's 'Vanishing Mind' portfolio covers similar ground to this:

It's hard to not feel pity for some of the poor souls in nursing homes, who may well spend their last years and days staring vacantly at a wall, with no control over their physical bodily functions, and no idea of who they are, where they are or why. But combining that pity with the revulsion for someone who has murdered another human being, or something similarly terrible, makes for a strangely conflicted feeling while viewing this series of images.

Be sure to check out more of Todd Heisler's work on his website here:
He has an enormously diverse body of amazing work. His portfolios range from arresting depictions of the war in Iraq, to behind the scenes coverage of the popular American TV series Glee.

His 'Final Salute' series, showing a dead American soldier's return home and subsequent funeral, is particularly moving:

Todd has received well-deserved awards and accolades from numerous photography organisations and competitions, as described in the 'about' section on his site:

 "Todd Heisler has been a staff photographer for The New York Times since 2006.
While a staff photographer for the Rocky Mountain News, Heisler was awarded the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography for his images depicting the families of Marines killed in Iraq. The images also received top honors from the World Press Photo Contest, Pictures of the Year International , NPPA’s best of Photojournalism, The American Society of News Editors and at Visa Pour l’image. He was also part of the team which received the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of wildfires in Colorado."

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Ella's Story: Family dinner at Baba's #2

Being a pleasant summer evening, after dinner everybody headed outside. After exploring the yard a bit, Ella was very keen on taking the dog for a walk.

With some help from Auntie Anita, Ella took Lilo for a walk around the yard.

Scarlett took the opportunity to start working on her biceps.

The backyard wasn't quite big enough for a decent dog walk, so they all trotted off down the street together.

After walking to the end of the street, Ella and Anita made their way back into the yard.

Fresh from her workout, Scarlett rushed over to show off her guns.

Lilo was pretty excited about it, struggling to get inside.

Emily offered Ella a high-five for walking the dog so well...

...while Daniel had his head stuck under the bonnet of one of the cars, with Lilo safely tied up again on the lawn.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Ella's Story: Family dinner at Baba's #1

Last night the Jakas family got together for a nice family dinner at Baba's (grandma's) house.

Having just completed a marriage counselling session with Sally, she quickly rushed over to her hip-hop/breakdance class, run by a couple of our good friends, Angie and Jege. You can have a look at their website here, which includes some photos I've taken for them:
After hearing about Ella's disheartening test results a couple of days beforehand, I wanted to see her and everybody else, so headed over to Daniel's mum's house.

I arrived a bit late for the food part, not that it's relevant to me anyway, but came in while the older people (over 5) were sitting at the dinner table. I'd had my jejunostomy tube switched over on Tuesday which was rather brutal, mainly consisting of a doctor trying hard to pull the old tube out, before snipping the bottom part off and putting the new small port in. I'm in the middle of writing another blog post about that, so keep an eye out for that in the near future.

But anyway, after showing them the changed tube site, I walked into the main room where Ella and Scarlett were watching The Wiggles on TV. Ella was sitting back on a mini lounge chair, while Scarlett was half-buried in a large beanbag.

Going up to say hello, Scarlett waved her arms and legs around like a turtle stuck on its back in the beanbag, while Ella quickly looked at me and said hello. Still watching the TV, a few seconds later she called out 'Sally...?!, expecting her to be with me. She asked 'Where's Sally?' and I said she was having some fun at her dance class.

I said hello to Scarlett as well, and helped her struggle out of the big dip she'd made in the beanbag. Ella went up closer to the TV, while Scarlett wandered and jumped around a bit.

I'm not sure what was happening here, but it looks like something on the floor was funny.

She then jumped back onto the beanbag.

Bored with the current DVD, Baba and Zoe helped Ella pick out a new Fairies DVD to watch; who are generally at least more bearable than the Wiggles. Or maybe I just haven't heard them repeated quite as frequently.

With the new show playing, Ella settled back down on her little lounge, fixed on the screen.

Obviously that was way too boring a viewing choice for Scarlett, and she decided to see what the fairies looked like upside down.

She scampered off again shortly afterwards, leaving Ella enthralled with the dancing routines taking place on the beaches of Second Valley. (A guess that was confirmed by the end credits; having been there in person several times, the coastline and rock formations looked very familiar)

Scarlett and Zoe came back in with a weird looking knobbly ball, and mucked around with that for a bit, before Scarlett ran back out of the room again.

She had a bit of a cuddle with Baba, before struggling to escape so she could get a drink of water from her backpack near the kitchen bench.

The family dog Lilo (The name has a couple of Ls in it, but that's probably not right) was pretty keen on playing with Scarlett. 

Holding the bottle out towards her briefly, Scarlett then gulped some water down while Lilo pawed at the window.

A short time later some desserts were on the table, including rice pudding, chocolate and a nice bottle of red wine.

After clambering onto a couple of different chairs, Scarlett sat down between Daniel and Emily and shoveled spoonfuls of rice pudding into her mouth as we all chatted.

Scarlett takes after her mum in quite a few ways, one of which is a love for chocolate.

After a few pieces, playing in the backyard started to look like fun....

Coming up in Post #2: Playing outside.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Ella's Story: Ella & Scarlett having fun.

Although Ella has to endure countless procedures, medicines and pain every day, she is a tough little thing, and manages to nearly always keep a smile on her face, especially on some of her better days.

So for a more light-hearted post after the hospital ones, here are some photos from last weekend of Ella and Scarlett getting some cuddles, smiling, laughing, and having fun playing.

With a computer animated version of DuckTales on TV (which seems a bit sterile compared to the hand-drawn cartoons I used to watch as a kid) , Ella took up one of her usual viewing spots next to the TV cabinet.

Meanwhile, Scarlett was experimenting with less traditional vantage points, none of which included actually sitting on one of the lounges normally. Why sit on the cushioned seat when you can awkwardly straddle the armrests instead?

Or better yet, get in some painful-looking yoga exercises to make sure your fitness levels don't go downhill while sitting in front the magic picture box.

After such a strenuous workout, you want to be sure to stay well hydrated. But Scarlett had spent so much energy on the yoga, that she forgot where her mouth was. Happens to the best of us.

Scarlett: 'Hmm, something isn't quite right here...the water bottle is not quite as refreshing as I expected. Very disappointing; I'll be sure to write a complaint letter to the manufacturer.

Fortunately Sally lent Scarlett some assistance with the water bottle.

'Ah, that's much better, thank you kind water waitress. I guess I can throw my letter in the bin now.'

Ella was a bit tired, so she had some cuddles with Emily while watching the Lion King movie for the 382nd time.

Scarlett was encouraging Sally to do some leg exercises, generously volunteering to be a leg weight,which is apparently a rather amusing pastime.

After a bit more of a rest, Ella had gotten some energy back, starting a game of 'Lion'; which mostly involves roaring at other participants while chasing them around with hands out like claws.

Scarlett quickly jumped up to help Ella charge at Emily.

After a few quick swipes, Ella ran back a few steps, before advancing on Emily again while laughing hysterically.

You can see Scarlett in the background here trying to attack Sally.

Ella: 'Mum, you're supposed to kiss people on the cheek, not in their eye, silly.'

Wanting a bit more of a chase, Ella persuaded Sally to get up and join the fun.

She then scampered away, quickly followed by Scarlett holding her trusty but inconsistently reliable water bottle.

There was much hilarity as all the girls chased each other around the house.

With the taller people in the house stopping for a rest, Ella made a beeline (or lionline?) straight for me, but stopped short and started laughing instead.

After Daniel came in, she had gotten a bit tired and went back to watching the Lion King again.

Scarlett was busy doing a cool-down leg stretching routine...

...which this time included laughing uproariously and trying to eat her own foot, which is at least a lot closer to food than most of the garden materials she tends to find appealing.

Ella was getting some kisses and cuddles from Emily while she kept up with Simba's adventures.

In the meantime Scarlett had returned to her perch on the armrests of the lounges.

After Ella switched over to curling up in Sally's lap for a while, some chippies had arrived...

...which Ella usually gets stuck into fairly quickly with her high salt needs and cravings.

Scarlett was busy practicing her magic routine of trying to make a chip disappear...

...which didn't quite work. Making water appear on the table and her t-shirt instead was pretty easy though.

After dinner the girls sat back on the lounge for a while, until Sally and I had to head off.

No-one really knows what's in store for Ella this year, but we'll all try to have as much fun as we can along the way, stay positive, pray and trust in God's plan for her life, as well as Daniel, Emily and Scarlett.