Tag Archives: Vivy

Memorial Service Confirmation

Just a quick update that the memorial service for Vivy will be held at 11AM, Saturday, June 2nd.


Finally it’s been decided: Vivy’s memorial service will be held in Mt. Jewett on Saturday, June 2nd. As far as I know – and I will post updates as soon as I have them – the service will be in the late morning at St. Matthews Church. Please come. I will be there. Carlo will be there. My two aunts, father and stepmother will be there. We would love to see you.


I’ve been thinking about this for a few days and have decided to go ahead and set up an area of this site for people to post thoughts about Vivy. I’ve been writing a little offline about her and the farm – perhaps others have to or would like to put pen to paper (as it were) or take pleasure or comfort in reading what others might have to say. Please consider using this space to do that.

If you’d like to contribute something long or short, a memory, a memorium, or just a passing thought, please use the Comments link below this post. The site isn’t currently set up to post comments without first getting my approval (I get a lot of spam submissions), so hang tight and I’ll approve them and they’ll post to the site as soon as I get back to a connection. I know some of you have experienced some issues already when submitting comments – I’m sorry about that and I think we’ve fixed the issue now. It’s not pretty, but it works.

If the site won’t work for you or you’d rather send me a note via email and have me post it for you, feel free to do that as well.

Post-Fire: Update

To get to the best news first, Carl’s been steadily improving over the last few days and will be released this afternoon to go to Buffalo and work with the burn center there, closer to our father’s home.

In more specific news, on Tuesday he came off the oxygen and blood pressure monitors and, after some concerns about possible infection, his temperature finally stabilized yesterday. The risk of infection in burn patients with open wounds is very high and can immeasurably complicate and extend the healing process, so it’s excellent that he’s avoided any so far.

Also on Tuesday, they removed the several sets of stitches from his forehead and the scars are clearing up. He has a long set of stitches up one ankle and calf, some in his feet and many in his hands which will remain in for at least another week. His nose was almost torn off as he went through a window: that line of stitches has left a pirate-like scar running across his nose, but they are optimistic that it too will heal to near invisibility. Alternatively, Carl will do well in biker bars.

His vision remains blurry, more so on the left than the right. His corneas were burned, so they’ve been keeping the pupils constricted and the eyes soothed with ointment and drops to facilitate healing. His left side was exposed to the flames more directly so that side will take longer to heal but they expect a complete recovery.

His lungs are almost clear – he still coughs some and that’s normal, but they believe he did not sustain irreversible lung damage from the smoke.

The burns on his face, head and neck are healing gradually and should leave very little, if any, scarring. The skin on his face now looks like a very pink version of normal.

His hands sustained by far the worst of the damage. Breaking through super-heated glass twice (a door and then a plate-glass window) left him with severe burns and some very bad gashes. At admittance to the burn unit, they classified them as extreme second degree burns. The right hand is particularly bad with a couple of long and painful sets of stitches in addition to near-total burn coverage. For the first several days, the burn/trauma team was on the fence about reclassifying them as third-degree burns and therefore in need of skin grafts, which would have required a much longer hospital stay. On New Year’s Day, they decided to keep him at Mercy for the week and see if, with aggressive pursuit of burn therapy, they could pre-empt that. After a few more days of work and a considerable amount of pain for Carl, they were ready to call it a success and he’s officially out of the woods on the graft front. His hands will heal on their own.

Carl is going through two particularly painful daily therapies. The first is hydrotherapy, a process in which they remove the bandages on his hands and scrub free all the previous day’s medications and any dead tissue on the burned areas. This prevents infection and scarring, a critical concern, particularly on the hands, which must remain scar-tissue-free in order to maintain mobility, especially for playing the piano. The hands’ health is determined by the presence of nerves, which – good news – he has. The down side is that, as there is very little skin to protect these endings, the scrubbing requires considerable pain medication and endurance on the patient’s part. It took almost a week to sort out what meds he needed and when he needed to take them for maximum effectiveness – it’s been an exhausting and complicated process but Carl’s borne up very well under it as we pressed for consistency, new meds, different meds, different intervals and on and on and on.

The second process is physical therapy which is also designed to limit the build up of any scar tissue or banding on his hand joints, his palms or between his fingers. This is also a very painful undertaking, as it involves manipulating burned and stitched skin, but he’s not only kept at it with the therapists but is constantly scrunching his bandaged hands between sessions. He’s even whaled on a piano a few times, a recommended dexterity exercise. The staff is very pleased with his progress and tenacity.

A note on Mercy hospital might be in order here: the burn unit is excellent and the staff both responsive and good-humored. The nuns (it’s a Catholic hospital) converted the top floor of the hospital into a small, spartan inn for relatives of patients – it used to be the psych ward, which seems appropriate. Our father, his wife, R and I have been staying there for a week and a half on and off and are very grateful for it. They have a kitchen, laundry, an attentive staff and Carl is three floors down so we have been able to keep tabs on him and his care eighteen hours a day.

We could not be more delighted that Carlo is doing so well. I was not able to get back from Europe and to Pittsburgh until some thirty-six hours after the fire and when we saw him, he was in the burn ICU, swollen and barely whispering. The progress he’s made in ten days is extraordinary. He has a long way to go to regain full function in his hands, but his treatment from here will be on an outpatient basis in Buffalo. His long-term recovery is certain but the duration is still an open question: the doctors have said anywhere from five weeks to six months. It’s both understandable and frustrating that they can’t pin it down more specifically.

On a much sadder note, some of you have asked about memorial services for Vivy. They are being planned for both Mt. Jewett and Philadelphia (where much of the Carlson family lives) – I will send those dates as they are set. Losing her is a source of immeasurable grief for the family. The additional loss of the farm and the family’s history in that house is difficult. I know I speak for the family as a whole when I say that we appreciate your thoughts and prayers.


I woke up yesterday morning with these words in my head: “It could have ended differently, I suppose. But it didn’t.”

It’s the voice of the narrator in Mansfield Park at the very end of the film, pausing over a happy tableaux of the characters arranged on the lawn of the manor.

My grandmother’s home was like that, only less British. Sprawling and American, it looked out over its orchard and gardens and pool and lawns and the forest in the distance.

It could have ended differently, I suppose. But it didn’t.


black.jpgHello. Thanks for hanging in there during this prolonged silence. I’ve been meaning to post but have had limited internet access and have yet to figure out how to tell people what happened. Below is an excerpt from an email that conveys the basics.

“We got a terrible phone call last week and had to make an emergency flight back from Zurich: my family’s farm near the New York border burned on Christmas night, and my 94-year old grandmother perished in the fire. My brother Carl was staying with her for the holiday and tried to get her out of the house twice, but was ultimately unable to pull her to safety. He was badly burned and cut in the blaze and was brought to the Trauma and Burn Center at Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh. They are, I think, one of the top burn centers in the country, which is good. His injuries are no longer life-threatening but burn treatment is difficult and exhausting. My father, stepmother, R and I are here with him on rotating shifts eighteen hours a day to handle care, therapy and all the medications. They have a small residential area on on the top floor of the hospital for family members, so we’re staying there for now. We are hoping that he will move closer to my father’s home in Buffalo by next week, but it is still touch and go. I will know more in a few days.”

And So On

headlights.jpgSince I had to pick up my stepsibilings from the airport at 11PM and I was still vaguely on PST, staying up until midnight to collect my luggage was no big deal. Naturally, given how the trip’s been going so far, I got lost for half an hour after leaving the hospital. On the up side, I was lost in a straight line. Oh, and there was a Dunkin’ Donuts along the route, so I pretended it was on purpose and moved on to the airport. (I honestly didn’t think Dunkin’ Donuts could get any more perfect, but this one had a flatscreen TV, wifi – which the French pronounce “weefee” by the way – and a lounge area. Come to mama!)

One of the kids returned from holiday with a set of golf clubs which is almost bigger than he is and definitely too big for The Speck. With all due respect to Papa Tiger, who gives a thirteen-year-old golf clubs for his birthday? We wedged the clubs in with the three teenagers, I dropped them off, turned around, went back to the airport, collected my bag off its (overdue) flight and, in a fit of organizational insanity, decided to drive the two and a half hours to my grandmother’s at 1AM instead of wasting daylight hours on the road that I could otherwise spend at the hospital on Monday.

For reasons only known to the Transportation Department, two very long sections of the highway headed south are under construction simultaneously. These sections are so long – fourteen miles each – that there is no way that the states of New York and Pennsylvania could possibly have enough employees to work on them continuously. It’s like going into a university classroom and saving all the seats just in case everyone you’ve ever met shows up for the lecture. One stretch has walls on both sides which is unnerving for someone who is exhausted, claustrophobic and rapidly losing her visual grip on anything smaller than a semi. That merged right into the six-mile gauntlet that is the back road to my grandmother’s house. I narrowly avoided two deer in the fog and made up for it by driving over a felled tree in the road with my Speck. I arrived at 3AM, wrote for an hour and collapsed.

I get up, my grandmother feeds me breakfast, then coffee. I make rosettes, a deceptively simple Swedish cookie which involves a lot of hot oil and a special iron, while she makes more coffee. Halfway through the hot oil part, she starts making lunch. We have cookies. We have lunch. She gives me twenty dollars “for the rental car,” and I hit the road for the drive back to the hospital.

Five hours, two meals, three coffee breaks. I don’t see how we didn’t all grow up fat and diabetic.