doctors

BE THE ANSWER TO SOMEONE’S PRAYER

A block print by Irene Weeks, the mother of Ann Romick who also suffered from Alzheimer's

Last year, a week or so before Christmas, I flipped through our church magazine stopping at an article titled, “Be The Answer To Someone’s Prayer.”  Captivated by the thought I read the article through.

As a woman of faith and active in my church I have always striven to do those requests asked of me, but never have I through of my acts as being an answer to someone’s prayer.  I believe in prayer, that prayers are answered, and yes, I believe “angels” help many people.  My favorite Christmas movie is “It’s A Wonderful Life,” but “me” as an answer to a prayer – it’s never even been a consideration.  So my answer would have to be – I’m not sure.

Please don’t misunderstand.  I believe I am, for the most part, a charitable person donating to many worthy causes, dropping money into the Salvation Army’s kettle, helping others, and I loved all of the old TV angel programs often to the point of shedding a few tears at the happy endings.  I have also been known to hand money to a guy carrying a gas can who asks for help in getting his car filled and the family back home.  “It’s a scam, Mom,” I was repeatedly told by any one of my adult sons.  “That’s all right,” I have answered.  “If it is a scam, then he has a problem, but I did the right thing in helping.”  Is that an answer to someone’s prayer – again I’m not sure – or am I a sucker for a scam?

I also received an email about a hospice physician living in Colorado who was forced out of a rainy evening’s traffic into a gas station because his car kept stalling. (I’m not sure if the writer was a man or woman as it was written in first person, and it really doesn’t matter.  However, for the sake of clarity I’ll refer to the person as male.)

Somewhat exasperated he looked around only to find himself stalled near a very troubled woman who appeared to have fallen down next to a gas pump.  Asking if she needed help, the tearful, haggard woman said she didn’t want her children to see her cry.  Our Good Samaritan noticed the older car filled with stuff and three kids in the back – one in a car seat.  Summing up the situation he took his credit card and sliced it through the machine nearest her gas pump saying, “I’m the answer to your prayer.”  She looked at him with surprise, and he followed with, “You were praying, weren’t you?”

As the car filled he went next door to a McDonald’s coming back with two large bags of food for the kids and a cup of coffee for her.  The kids tore into the burgers and fries like young wolves.  The woman shared her story of being abandoned by a worthless boy friend, and was now hoping to make a new start by returning home to her parents with whom she had been estranged for more than five years. They were looking forward to her and the children with open arms, and offered to help until she got back on her feet.

Feeling much better, she thanked her benefactor, and then asked, “What are you – some kind of angel?”  “No,” he chuckled.  “This time of year the angels have a lot to do, so sometimes God has to use regular people.”

He was the answer to her prayers.  And by the way, when he tried to start his car the motor turned over immediately and purred like a kitten.

Christmas: the time of year when we begin to think about being kinder, more charitable, more aware of mankind and their problems, and thoughtfully wonder, “How can I help others?”  And then we get busy writing cards, shopping, wrapping, getting presents ready for mailing so loved ones will receive their packages on time.  In a whirlwind of doing good, we often find excuses for not taking the time to think of doing “more good.”  Such was the case one blustery evening a week before Christmas last year.

It was near dusk, but light enough outside to see the wind blowing the never-ending rain of leaves from our trees when the door bell rang.  Before me stood a man in his 30s holding a rake; he spoke with an accent, but his English was good.  “May I remove the leaves from your lawn for a donation?” he asked.  My thoughts were not kind. Ken was in a bad mood, and I was busy trying to prepare dinner, needing to get back into the kitchen before something burned.  “Oh bother” I thought, “I just raked them yesterday, and I’m busy, and my husband has Alzheimer’s, and I need to see if he’s getting into something, and you’re here to rake leaves?  Why now?”

I all but said, “No thank you,” just to have him gone, and then I remembered the magazine article and the email tale of the physician and the down-trodden woman – whether it was fact or fiction – it didn’t matter — it was a beautiful story.  Before I could speak my uncaring thoughts, sending him away with his rake, a kinder, gentler thought raced into my mind.  “Perhaps you can be an answer to his prayer.”

“Sure,” I said. “Go ahead. There’s a recycle can next to the house.  Put the leaves in that.”  Suddenly, I felt better, less harried – less annoyed – a little more in tune with the season.

From my purse I took two matching bills placing each in a front pocket of my jeans.  If he did a sloppy job I would give him one, I decided.  For a good job he’d get both.  Returning to the kitchen it wasn’t long before the bell rang once again.  It was darker now, but still with enough light to see the lawn was perfectly clear except for the still-fluttering leaves falling to the ground.  With both hands I reached into my pockets and handed him the two bills.  “Good job,” I added.  “Thank you,” he said with a broad smile, “and have a Merry Christmas.”

In the realm of Sister Teresa’s life it certainly wasn’t a big deal, but maybe he didn’t need a big deal.  Perhaps he needed just a few more dollars – for whatever.  Was I an answer to his prayer?  I don’t know, but I felt good.

This year of 2010 has not been my favorite year.  There has been illness and death among our friends and family.  Ken’s Alzheimer’s has continued to plateau downward making his care increasing difficult, and the automobile accident in February which nearly took my life are not experiences I would like to repeat  Yet from the ashes of sadness and disaster I have found blessings.  And yes, I must acknowledge the abundant answers to my prayers through – not only God’s angels – but through the human angels He has sent to answer not only my prayers, but the prayers of those near and dear to me.

What better example is there about being the answer to the prayers of others than words from the Lord Himself as he reminds his disciples in the Bible (King James) —  Matthew 25:35-40 when he says, “For I was hungred, and ye gave me meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink; I was a stranger, and ye took me in; Naked and ye clothed me; I was sick, and ye visited me; I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

“Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when saw we thee hungered, and fed thee? Or thirsty, and gave thee drink?  When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?  Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

“And the King shall answer and say unto them, ‘Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.'”

Originally posted 2010-12-18 18:43:52.

FRIENDS IN CYBERSPACE

Early on with Ken’s Alzheimer’s I joined a support group sponsored by our HMO.  My friend Madalyn, whose husband was also an AD victim, picked me up for my first meeting, and for a time it was a good thing.  I would hate to use the term “Misery loves company,” but I’m going to use it anyway.  Perhaps it was the motivating force for going — at least in the beginning.   Finding others who share the same burdens, the same dilemmas, and the same problems is often comforting as well as educational and helpful.  After all, it is this miserable disease in common that links us together.

However, circumstances change: Madalyn’s husband passed on, the timing no longer fit into my schedule, and eventually Ken couldn’t be left alone for such a long period of time.  No matter how beneficial the guidance and help had been, plus the medical information obtained, attendance for me became impossible, yet I needed something.

Other sources:  Books for starters, Madalyn gave me her copy of “The 36 Hour Day.”  Another friend began sending me scientific updates on the disease, and I continued searching the internet for any new developments.  Johns Hopkins puts out a weekly newsletter covering many facets of many illnesses, including Alzheimer’s.  I subscribed and it arrives quite often in my inbox.  Printed under the headings of any one of the issues are diseases of interest.  Each mini article allows the reader a glimpse of what’s contained in the full paper.  For more solid information you must download the rest of the paper or book for a fee. It’s good to know an abundance of helpful information is available if and when needed.

After reading and more reading plus watching PBS’s specials on Alzheimer’s I found I wasn’t necessarily looking for any further brain scans or definitive breakdowns on the disease.  I felt thoroughly informed as to what was happening to Ken’s brain.  Okay, I understand what it is – now what?  It was hands-on information I needed:  like an in-house support group where I could glean and share tips on how-to skills, in polishing up my own acceptance, increasing my strengths, my endurance, coping methods and picking up on dozens of ideas not even thought of.  Back to the internet – and what a wealth of support group information exists — mostly from people just like me.

The first post of my Blog, nearly two years ago, had an immediate response from Dr. David, a middle-aged psychiatrist who appeared to be much too young for any of this, but was stricken with Lewy Body Dementia (LBD).  I know next to nothing about LBD (which is no doubt lumped under the Dementia Umbrella and is a close relative of Alzheimer’s) Despite my LBD ignorance David was warm and welcoming, inviting me to join his link.  That evening I read several entries from his blog as well as entries from others as far away as Australia, all of them coping with LBD.  I ached for where they were – physically and emotionally — and what they were going through: the victims as well as the caregivers.

Dr. David’s wife Pam is his caregiver, and I’ve noticed, now, when I go to his site and read his entries I find his battlefield has become strewn with his many losses, but he struggles forward enduring as the valiant fighter he has proven to be.  His posts are dotted with what we all feel: anger, frustration, humor, incredible sorrow, and acceptance, but also with lots of information, hope for a breakthrough and some positive signs for more research funding from Congress.  A breakthrough in any of these mind deterioration diseases will benefit us all.

I also find encouragement from writing my blog when I receive comments from people I don’t even know.  Most, if not all, have had experience as caregivers for AD or other related diseases.  For many their battle is over, but for some it’s just beginning such as one woman who was caring for her AD mother and had just been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s herself.  She was pleased to find my posts are driven by my faith and my personal relationship with God, and took comfort in my writings about what we shared.

From as far away as South Africa I was advised that there is life after Alzheimer’s.

Another message stated simply, “Thank you for sharing your journey with us.”

Writing to me about my post a young woman wrote, “How sweet, and how sad at the same time.  Whenever I read your blog I am blessed.”

“Best of luck to you.  I know how difficult it is.”

From another who wrote, “The hardest thing to deal with is feeling alone, but you are not alone.  We are here and through this blog we can share in your very difficult battle.”

There are many out there who believe the internet is a bad thing filled with perverts, child molesters and ugliness.  It can be.  We do hear, see and read stories of its abuse, and lives ruined because of misguided and inappropriate use.  Simply put, it’s a tool.  Any tool can be used for evil – or for good.

Writing about my journey has brought me peace and has kept me focused.  I often refer to my computer – especially the far-reaching internet — as my electronic therapist, which I may have stated in previous posts.  Not only can I tell my readers of the good moments in our battle against AD, I can vent.  And during the tough times if I need some encouragement all I have to do is go to my pages of comments and read all of the supportive words from those of you who have taken the time to leave me your loving, caring messages.   I know that I am not alone in this frightful journey.  Thank you.

Originally posted 2010-11-14 03:40:53.

MEAN MR. NICE GUY AND GAL

During her recent visit and before Marvalee sang her songs for Ken, she and I talked about the two people we loved, their Alzheimer’s and where it had taken them.  “Mama has become so mean,” Marvalee lamented, saddened by her statement.  “I guess deep down inside, she had a mean streak in her personality.”  I understood why she might reach that conclusion.  It’s hard to watch these people who have led such rich, full, and often charitable lives become less than who they were, eventually becoming virtual strangers.  Strangers we often don’t like.

“Oh Marvalee,” I said, “You mother didn’t have a mean bone in her whole 105 pounds.”  I remembered Eva strumming her ukulele and singing, dressed in a colorful muumuu, a flower decorating her dark hair which flowed free as a girl and as a mother of four was styled into a bun.  Even after the band, led by her talented husband Ed dissolved, she put on her muumuu, placed a flower in her hair, picked up her ukulele and spent the day at rest homes and care facilities entertaining the patients.  “Your mother was a kind, gentle woman,” I told my troubled guest.  “She isn’t a mean person, nor is Ken – at least not in their hearts.”

I recounted an afternoon when I had taken Ken with me to buy a new refrigerator shelf for one of our rentals.   It was a parts store where we had become frequent customers.  Tony, the associate looked up our needed replacement chatting as usual, almost bantering to Ken as he had in the past.  Silence prevailed, and being puzzled Tony glanced at me.  “Alzheimer’s,” I mouthed.  Puzzlement changed into dismay as he said, “I’m so sorry.  He’s the nicest guy in the world.”  I nodded in agreement as Tony wrapped the shelf and volunteered to carry it to our car. 

 “Let me tell you who the mean ones are,” I continued, recalling an accident of many years ago when the four-year-old son of our mutual friends ran between two parked cars and was struck down.  Slammed onto the street by an oncoming car, Robert was seriously hurt.  At the hospital, he lay unconscious, the doctors doing all they could possibly do to stabilize him while his parents hovered nearby wondering if he would even survive.

“Before I finish Robert’s story, let me remind you of my own son ,Kevin, who, at 18, also suffered because of a disastrous automobile accident.  Not like Robert’s accident, but badly injured when he was thrown from a little VW onto a highway in the middle of Idaho.  But like Robert, he too lay unconscious while the doctor in a very small town hospital worked to save his life.

“So what did these two accidents have in common?” I asked.  Marvalee listened while I continued.  “With Robert stabilized, but still unconscious he called out words like, ‘shut up,’ and ‘stupid.’  Words which his parents had told him were not nice words to use.  To a four-year-old, they were profane.

“Years later when my 18-year-old lay unconscious, he too called out profanity.  His naughty words, however, were much more advanced than those of Robert, and typical of a young adult male. As concerned as we were about the seriousness of his condition,” I explained, “Ken and I were a tad embarrassed as Kevin blurted out all the cuss words he knew turning the air in the hospital a bit blue.  ‘Don’t be embarrassed,’ the doctor counseled, ‘that’s base man calling out.  He’s hurt and he’s angry, and he’s venting.’  Robert had done the same thing with his words of ‘stupid,’ and ‘shut up.’  Even though he was just a boy, base boy was angry, hurt and venting.”

Summing it all together as best I could I assured Marvalee that the meanness was not some long-suppressed personality trait of Ken or Eva, but base man and base woman.  There are times when they are not only confused, but angry and no doubt frightened; both of them locked away in a mad world of nothingness.  Their meanness allows them to not only defend themselves, but being mean is also a way to vent.

 “Of course,” I concluded, “the application of base man and base woman as part of the Alzheimer’s disease is only my opinion.  But I take comfort in believing that both Ken and Eva are not fundamentally mean, but have always been two of the nicest people in the world.”

Originally posted 2010-08-11 07:30:26.

GRATITUDE PRAYERS

A few months ago while still healing from major injuries, I browsed through a stack of magazines, mostly untouched. However, as I shuffled through the pile, I noticed my church magazine, the pages already dog-eared, was opened to an article intended to be the next read. Interesting, I thought picking it up and noting the eye-catching title, “GRATITUDE,” then asking, “Was this a message for me?” Certainly, I felt gratitude. After all I was alive and recovering, and yet I was nudged at times with, “Poor me.  Angry me.  Why me?”  Perhaps I needed to ponder about gratitude a bit more deeply.

Written by a practicing psychologist who had researched the use of gratitude interventions in promoting well-being, he found that by interceding at appropriate times during counseling, thoughts of gratitude were helpful in treating depression and other problems. The doctor also advised that acknowledging thankfulness would be helpful to everyone’s mental health no matter how grave their situation. As a result of being grateful, we could all lead richer, fuller lives.

He also defined gratitude: a positive experience when we recognize gifts or blessings and feel thankful.  It sounded so overly simplistic, yet I continued reading.  Soon I began to reflect on this later portion of my life concentrating on the positive rather than the negative.

In my own defense I counceled me that I have always been prayerful.  As a child, my teachers of faith described prayer as like a sandwich:  a top and bottom piece of bread, or better known in addressing Diety as a beginning and an ending.  Inside of the prayer sandwich we were to express our thankfulness first.   “Before we ask our Heavenly Father for anything,” he explained, “we must always remember to thank Him for what He has given us.”  That could be the peanut butter portion of the sandwich.  The teacher followed giving thanks with permission to ask — the jam or jelly.   As an adult I have wondered if this pattern for prayer was a bit irreverent, but it is such a good pattern, one which I have followed all of my life, and long ago I put aside any thoughts of peanut butter and jelly when making supplication.  Perhaps now, I needed to be more outreaching in my gratitude. 

I recalled from the past that Oprah devoted the better part of a year’s programming to gratitude and journal writing. At the time, I too was caught up in the thought process of making myself more aware of blessings, but never kept a specific journal. Recently, in her magazine, Oprah admitted that through the years she had become so consumed with work there was no time left to write about the good happenings of each day. Reading from an old journal she recognized those great years from before, and commented on how happy she had been.

 The author of the “GRATITUDE” article encourages keeping a Gratitude Journal as well, with the purpose of recording several remembrances each week, but not just in list form. He suggested describing the experience, recording thoughts and emotions for the purpose of savoring and reliving what you had experienced.

In reviewing the past six years of struggling with Alzheimer’s, battling the war which is never won, I remember my friend, Madalyn, who had also battled the same war, until her husband, Darwin, died three years ago. “It wasn’t all bad,” she would tell me, and we often laughed about some of the funny things Alzheimer’s victims do and say. She reminisced about trips they had taken, visits with family which brought joy to her and momentary pleasantries to him. Her happier times with Darwin were similar to mine with Ken. These were all positive experiences: gifts and blessings recognized and thankfulness felt: gratitude.

When I came to the paragraph titled “Express Prayers of Gratitude,” I decided that would be my new beginning. As I continued my recovery in the quietness of my daughter’s home I reflected on being grateful for little things:   One at a time I could lift each foot, place it on the opposite knee and tie my own shoes, I could shower alone and I was beginning to feel confident once more. I wasn’t searching for big, dramatic epiphanies.   Deliberately, I looked for small things to appreciate because there are so many, and small blessings are often overlooked.  Every morning before I struggled out of bed I would look up at the ceiling — still wearing my neck brace and unable to kneel in formal address to Diety — close my eyes and offer a prayer of gratitude without pleading for any favors. (The favors could be requested in later prayers.) My morning prayers would be only of gratitude. I was amazed by the multitude of gifts taken for granted  for which I had to be grateful.

I have been home now for more than two months and my gratitude list grows each day. Ken’s Alzheimer’s is getting worse, but because of his caregiver, Ben, I have a sense of freedom. If I write for a few hours during the day, I know Ken is all right. Ben is with him, and I can nap undisturbed because Ben is here. I am grateful for Ben and for his relief, David. I am grateful for each new day, and my growing ability to actually help Ben with Ken. I am eternally grateful for family and friends. I won’t say I’m grateful for Ken’s illness, because I am not.  I detest this dehumanizing disease and how it has robbed us of so many good years. However, I am grateful for my coping mechanism, my compassion and awareness of others who suffer from Alzheimer’s and other devastating illnesses. I am grateful that through my writing I may help someone else; letting them know they are not alone in their struggle. I am grateful for Ken and the wonderful years we have spent together. Every so often, I see a spark in his eye and a smile. For a moment he is the man I married. Feeling gratitude and offering thanks each morning for all of this and more gives me strength.  Each day I can and will go forward into our daily battle, beginning with a prayer of gratitude.

Originally posted 2010-07-25 07:18:33.

HOME — AND STUFF — IS WHERE THE HEART IS

Sabina drove me to and from my doctor appointments, and it was during one of my follow-up visits they discovered I had a blood clot in the groin area.  Discouragement must have shown on my face as my sympathetic doctor counseled, “It’s not unusual with injuries as serious as yours for things to keep going wrong.  It won’t be long before your body will regain its balance, and you will get better.  Meanwhile, you do need to be taking coumadin to keep your blood thin.  Hopefully the clot will dissolve.”  Good grief, I thought, another pill.  I wanted to cry, wondering if I would ever be well.

Returning to daughter Julie’s house I settled into a big leather chair and propped up my feet.  That too had to find balance.  With the clot, the doctor didn’t want my legs too high, nor did he want them too low.  He didn’t want the clot to travel, so it was difficult to know just what to do.  During the days that followed I kept my legs and feet level, watched TV, read, listened to a book on my I-Pod, and grew restless.

Following another visit to the doctor, I asked Sabina to drop by the house – my house.    Still covered with scabs and bruises, and wearing my neck brace I must have looked terrible – even a bit scary – to Ken.  It was my first visit home and the first time we had seen one another since the night of the accident.  He looked very old and frail, and somewhat gaunt, having lost several pounds which he really couldn’t spare. Apparently, his current glasses had been lost in the wreck and he was wearing a pair of old, huge horn-rims from long ago: spares kept in the back of the drawer in case of loss.  I hated them back when they were in style, thinking of them as “fly eyes,” and I hated them even more now.  If  I looked awful, he looked worse.

Showing no signs of recognition he boldly warned, “This is my house and you can leave right now.”  Dismissals were nothing new; nor were his personality changes and mood swings.  Had this rejection been a jolt I would have burst into tears, but I had coped with the ramifications of Alzheimer’s for the most part of six years.

What I found troublesome was having someone else in “charge” of my house.  Ken’s primary caregiver, Ben, a dear, loving and efficient man had made a lot of necessary changes for Ken’s safety and well being, as he was now a recovering patient.  I did understand that “need” outweighed my decorating preferences, and yet I wanted my house to be just as I had left it.

We didn’t stay long.  I got some stuff from our bedroom and returned to Julie’s.  I felt a little like a displaced person.

Settling back into the big leather chair, I propped up my feet and opened a magazine.  Flipping the pages my mind drifted back to home.  Days passed and as I began to feel stronger and not so fearful of the clot moving, my restlessness turned to boredom and thoughts of getting my life back became constant.  I mulled over things I could do without jeopardizing my recuperation, and I thought about my “stuff.”  Every so often I wanted to get something, or do something  – play my piano, which I do poorly, start some needle work, which I do well, read once again a favorite book, pull out photo albums representing a life time of living, get a few curlers for my hair or wear a different pair of shoes.   I realized that I was missing my stuff.   Totally unimportant belongings; material things — just stuff –yet important, and I thought about how important stuff is in making up a home.  First you need people, devotion, love, caring, and stuff; like the hook on the wall of your house, apartment, flat, tent or penthouse where you hang your hat.  Besides the hat  home is where you keep the rest of your stuff.  It doesn’t matter if stuff is Ikea, antiques, thrift store or yard sale junk; stuff is you, your likes, your personality and it’s part of the mix in making a house a home.

I had come a long way from Rehab where I cared about very little except wanting to leave.  I suppose my homesickness was returning because I was beginning to care, but this time the caring and the longings were actually for home  — my home.

At first I stayed overnight, then a couple of nights, and then several nights and finally I felt ready to stay permanently.  I packed the few things I had taken to Julie’s house, gave both her and Tim a hug and an inadequate thank you, cut the imaginary umbilical cord and came home.

Little by little I began to feel comfortable in my own house.  Upon leaving Rehab I did request a hospital bed, which Ben had set up in the family room after moving a few pieces of furniture into the garage.  With so many injuries still healing, and being very vulnerable I didn’t want to chance sleeping with Ken no matter how big the bed.

Ben was wonderful as he went about the business of caring for Ken and I realized I could relax, and it was okay.  No longer was I the sole provider of his needs and wants.  I could visit with or sit next to him and if he became mean and cranky I could go into another room, and not be concerned.  Ben was with him.  I rested when I felt tired with no interruptions.  Ben prepared meals, washed dishes, kept up the laundry, did light housekeeping and made sure everything looked neat and clean relieving me of my normal responsibilities as I continued to heal.  Meanwhile, I zapped through 300 emails, wrote thank you notes, reclaimed my financial books from Sabina (with another inadequate thank you) and returned to writing my blog and my books.

In June I picked blackberries from my own backyard and sat on the steps while berry juice ran down my fingers staining them a deep purplish red.  I didn’t care, they were my blackberries, my hands and my stains.  Inside my house I could sew, bake a cake, and give Ken a quick kiss if he happened to be Ken, pull a familiar plate from the cabinet, shower in my own bathroom or wear a different pair of shoes.  I was home, and finally it was where I wanted to be — with Ken — for however long this chaper of our life together lasts; home with him, the caregiver, and all of my stuff.

Originally posted 2010-07-04 00:42:19.

I WANNA GO — HOME?

After three weeks in the hospital I was tansferred to a convalescent/rehab center and still felt — comfortable — if that’s the right word — being a patient.  “Just leave me alone in my bed so I can get better,” was my plea, but the goal at rehab is to get you up and going and out — and home.  However, when I looked down my road to recovery I found that I didn’t want to go home.  As injured as I was, I didn’t want to pick up and continue with where I had been in February.

Ken was home.  After the accident he stayed several days in the hospital as my daughter, Debbie, wrote about in her guest blog titled   “One Simple Phone Call. ”   From the beginning I felt at ease knowing he was being cared for by her and the caregivers she had managed to assemble: all good people.  With everything in place, Debbie returned to her home in Utah several weeks after the accident to be with her family.  For me, the thought of going home was beyond comprehension.  I wasn’t ready to assume the responsibility of home and Ken and all it entailed.  I was still too caught up with me.

A few years back my neighbor mentioned she felt my family wasn’t doing enough to help me with Ken.  “They should take time and be with him for a while so you could catch up on some rest, take a trip — something — just get away.”  I smiled at my friend and jokingly asked, “If you lived in Hell and someone told you they would be willing to take your place for a week so you could get away, and you took them up on it and managed to have a wonderful rest and vacation, would you come back?”  All joking aside, while I dearly love my husband and the life we have had together, living with Alzheimer’s is Hell.

Laying there in rehab, that’s how I was feeling.  I had been given time off from Hell and I didn’t want to go back.  “Time off.”  That was almost laughable.  I hardly considered my hospital experience a vacation of choice.  I felt terrible not wanting to go home, guilty in fact, and sad, but after six years of being Ken’s only caregiver watching helplessly while my husband slipped away into the awfulness of Alzheimer’s, the cycle — the routine — the dedication — all were gone; shattered by the thoughtless decision of someone who believed he could drink and drive.  My neck remained in a brace, my head and face were still healing from wounds, cuts and contusions, and my legs felt like cooked spaghetti when I managed to walk.  I just wanted to stay in bed.

Rehab was a zoo.  The halls were filled with visitors coming and going, and patients in all degrees of recovery.  Some strolled the halls hanging onto their walkers, some were wheeled about in wheel chairs either by friends, family or staff.  Doctors and nurses gathered around the nurses’ stations; medical aids, nurses’ aids and housekeepers busied themselves with whatever needed to be done while therapists of all kinds guided their charges to and from the exercise rooms.  The only time the halls were empty was after midnight.

No matter how badly I wanted to rest, it would only happen in rehab after I had done my part in getting stronger.  This was a workplace and I was part of their work.  So was Sabina.  They taught her how to change my neck brace making her an important part of recovery after I left.   I soon learned that it was necessary to turn my whole body, never my neck  if I needed to look around, how to shower safely,  to use my walker for support, to climb stairs even though my wobbly legs would rather do nothing, and to get into and out of a car without hurting my neck.

I went to therapy every afternoon at 2:30, and then returned to my room where I cried — not from pain — it was more from the frustration of  everything combined.  Hadn’t I had enough on my life’s plate taking care of Ken, our finances, our business, maintaining the house and lastly — myself — without this added burden of dealing with a long list of serious injuries.  And so I cried.  My afternoon sessions with weeping seemed to be a release of pent-up worries and struggles, prior unshed tears, so much time lost, and the long aftermath yet to come where I would be contemplating, “What’s next?”  But even more, I was homesick.

I thought of the orange tree growing to the side of our house.  This time of year it should still have been filled with the succulent fruit and I imagined myself picking one, and then sitting down on the steps.  In my daydream it was warm — spring was just beginning.  Slowly, I dug my finger nails into the peel pulling it away from the fruit and tossing the discarded evidence under the juniper bushes telling myself  it was good compost for the soil.  I could almost feel the juice run down my chin as I relished my prize.   The  reverie vanished and I cried some more.  I wanted so badly to leave, but I knew I didn’t want to go home.

“You don’t have to go home,” said Julie, her husband Tim agreeing.  “Come and stay at our house until you feel strong.  Stay as long as you like, we’d love to have you.”

With my walker for support, Rehab discharged me after three weeks.  I walked to the car, got in without banging my head or straining  my neck.  Sabina drove me to Julie and Tim’s home, where they were waiting to welcome me.    Having been there countless times, it now felt rather odd.  No longer was I just Mom paying a visit, I was a house-guest with a room of my own.

That day was sunny, bright and blue — April — I have always loved April.  The countryside flourished green with spring and a few scattered daffodils bounced their yellow heads as if bowing to a passing breeze.  I sat on the front porch wrapped in a warm blanket on pleasant days just watching the season awaken.  Blossoms opened before my eyes as the days and weeks passed.  Wisteria vines flowered into full cascading clusters, followed by tiny leaves wiggling free from deep inside the gnarled branches.  Spring was healing winter’s visit — and me — making everything new again.   How grateful I was for this bonus time so badly needed to mend my body, my sadness and my broken spirit.

Originally posted 2010-06-28 07:22:40.

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