Being unavailable to my caregiving responsibilities was like going on vacation.

I recently took some time off to have my gall bladder removed.  Golly, but body-part removal sounds ghoulish — even neglectful or careless although I know that isn’t true – things just happen. Furthermore, Dr. Frankenstein is not my surgeon. Replacements and repairs sound all right – like putting a new engine in a car – a pacemaker, new hip or knee replacement.  That sounds like good maintenance.  It’s the removal word that sounds menacing, discarding – like we’re throw-a-ways — like taking the car to a junk yard.

However, that comparative idiosyncrasy exists only in my imagination.  Actually, I had a good-size stone which produced some severe stabs of pain and some degree of discomfort, but never a continuing 10-on-the-chart pain, which was a good thing.  Nevertheless, a lack of urgency placed the procedure into an elective surgery category.  My surgeon’s advice:  it should be removed.  So I was faced with having a body part taken out – scary.  I mourn a tooth extraction, now I was considering the removal of this important and useful, but expendable storage/distribution organ which has been with me all of my life: a part of me.  It was time to share this news with family and allow for other opinions, and it’s times like this that I feel so alone and really miss Ken.

Years ago having one’s gall bladder removed was a major, lengthy hospital stay, long-recovery operation.  Today, using laparoscopic surgery, it’s an in-and-out ambulatory procedure requiring three small, intentionally placed slits in the upper abdomen and an interesting reconfiguration of the navel. Yet, even with family input, I debated whether I should wait for a No. 10 on the pain chart.  I conferred once again with my p.c. doctor (who believed it was warranted) my dermatologist (with whom I had a chance-same-week appointment) — she advised that I should do it — and finally I shared my hesitations with another doctor during my pre-op appointment.

I knew that it wasn’t going to get better even though many people carry a gall bladder filled with stones and never feel even a twinge. The most compelling reason for me to have it done before I was driven to consent by a siege of No. 10 pain was because I am the prime caregiver for Ken.  Everyone in the family would best be served, including me, if it wasn’t an emergency situation.  As the pre-op doctor and I were talking about my husband having Alzheimer’s one of the nurses overheard and after the doctor left, she suggested that at some time I really should get away for a rest – whether I did the surgery or not – she felt I was ready for a respite: a pause in my care-giving duties.  I assured her I was all right and that I wouldn’t consider traveling more than an hour away in case of him having an emergency.  “Then,” she said, “You should take some time off and be unavailable.”  Continuing, Nurse Nancy explained that she had cared for her mother who was a victim of AD, and her sister came periodically from out of town to relieve her.  “I never went anywhere either,” she said, “but when my sister was with my mom I was ‘unavailable.’  You’ll be surprised how refreshed you will feel.”

Following my pre-op appointment I was mentally ready for the procedure and made arrangements with our daughter, Debbie, to come from Utah to be at home with me and Ken for three weeks.  Although most of our grown children are self-employed, she is the only one who has the flexibility to bring her work with her. 

She arrived as scheduled, helped Ben while our daughter-in-law, Sabina, accompanied me to the hospital and brought me back home to my waiting bed for some R & R.  Debbie continued helping Ben and pampered me when necessary with other family members nearby as backup.  Furthermore, I happily found myself totally unavailable for anything outside of my own personal needs. 

I cannot express what an incredible sense of freedom I felt.  It isn’t that helping the caregivers with Ken is so difficult because it isn’t.  It’s just the responsibility of caregiving is relentless when done every day 365 days of the year.  Scheduling is unbroken and it’s the unbroken part that becomes not only relentless but stressful which usually goes unnoticed because it’s a silent, consistent buildup of tension.  The wise nurse knew exactly what she was talking about.

Up and about I was back checking my computer the next day.  Opening my email I found that my personal address book had been hacked and the hackers had sent out an ad under my name for weight loss.  Several of my friends sent it back with questions.  Emailing everyone on my list I stated that I had not mailed the ad, and then changed my password.  Hopefully, that will eliminate the problem of further intrusion – till next time.  Coincidentally, the timing couldn’t have been more on target lining up perfectly with my surgery, and I did see a little humor in the entire scenario.  The text read that the recipients should use the product because, as stated in my bogus testimonial, I had lost 29.2 pounds in the last 30 days.  I thought about the troublesome stone which was now gone, “It was like your father’s,” the doctor had explained, “about the size of a small egg.”  Remembering my erroneously reported weight loss, and although shedding a few pounds in never far from my personal goals, I’m sure glad my small egg didn’t weight in at the better part of 30 pounds.

You ask if I am still enjoying my recuperation.  Without a doubt, I am.  However, because I feel so good I must remind myself periodically that I am still recuperating.  Following doctor’s orders I’m not lifting heavy boxes or mowing the lawn.  Debbie and the caregivers haven’t missed a beat in Ken’s care.  Perhaps he too is appreciating a change, and I am comforted that he is well and as happy as a victim of AD can be.  From the comforts of my own home I can watch from afar yet spend time with him as a visitor, all the while making myself very unavailable for any of his needs.  If it weren’t for a few tender spots in my torso I could lose myself in a book and even pretend I was on vacation.

Photo courtsey of:

Originally posted 2011-09-11 00:02:18.


We had just helped our oldest son unload the last of his boxes.  Watching him settle into the austere dorm room I felt that pang of longing which mothers often get watching their children leave home.   I had felt the same way when our older daughters went off to college and marriage. Now it was Kevin’s turn to spread his fledging wings and fly from the nest.

College would be an adventure in itself, but we had turned this one-way-trip for him into a family vacation.    With our two younger boys, Keith and Kenney, the five of us camped our way through Yellowstone  and the surrounding country before dropping Kevin off in Idaho to begin his freshman year.  I vowed to be brave and gave him a big hug and kiss as I told him I loved him and to be good.  Ken reached out his right hand to shake hands with this gangling young man we had reared and I said, “Oh, for goodness Ken, give your son a hug.”  “Real men don’t hug,” my husband lightly replied.   “Do they Kevin?”  With that the two shook hands and patted one another firmly on the shoulder.    From the car we waved and smiled as I  pinched myself to produce a physical pain.  I needed a counter-irritant for my aching heart.

All the way home, the younger boys referred to their older brother as “Brand X.”  “Why are you calling Kevin Brand X?”  asked Ken.  “Because every time we mention his name, Mom begins to cry,” answered Keith.   Laughing at their humor I admitted it was true.  I always found it hard to let go.   From their first day of kindergarten, mom’s send their sons off with hugs, kisses and a few tears, while  the fathers pat their little men on the shoulders and give them a hardy handshake.

The first few phone calls home were almost more painful than the parting.  He was homesick, lonely and disappointed because he wasn’t selected to be on the travel team and wouldn’t be playing in the first football game of the season.   So I became the strong one encouraging him to hang in there and that, surely, he would be selected for the next game.  He took comfort in my words and the following day joined five girls in a tiny VW to deliver a non-student back to her home in a neighboring state. 

The next phone call was from the Sheriff’s Department near Malad, Idaho informing me that our son had been in a tragic automobile accident and lay unconscious in the town’s hospital.   We made immediate arrangements to fly to Pocatello, rent a car and drive to Malad.  Seeing him lying there so hurt, so out of our reach we wondered if he would ever be awake again — if we would ever be able to hug him and hold  him close.  For three days he was engulfed in a coma while we sat and waited, hoped and prayed.   Finally, late in the afternoon a nurse came to tell us that our son was awake.  Through his foggy focus, Kevin looked at Ken and said, “Hi Pudg,” a nickname for his slightly overweight father.  After that, Ken always hugged his sons.

Recently I asked Keith (who lives nearby) to help move some furniture.  It took just a few minutes making the visit brief.  All the while Ken looked at the man before us with suspicion.  “This is Keith, our son,” I explained several times.  The confused look continued.  “I’m your son,” Keith said, looking straight into his father’s eyes.  “I’m not sure about that,” Ken answered.  “I’m just not sure.”  I thanked Keith profusely for his help and gave him a hug.  He turned to leave then thought better of it and came back to his father, reached around his shoulders and gave him a hug saying, “Bye, dad.”  With his left hand he patted his father on the back — momentarily forgetting —  but patting right on the spot of Ken’s throbbing shingles.   Keith’s hug awakened no memories in the demented mind of his Alzheimer’s-afflicted father.  Ken pulled back in pain, anger and a flurry of words about this strange man doing him harm spewed from his mouth.  “Thank you for the tender try,” I said as my son apologized and left.  My eyes welled with tears as Ken continued to rant.   Did Keith feel rejected and hurt even though he understood?  Interesting how mothers always feel their children’s pain.  Some day, the Lord willing and in the far distant future of eternity, Ken will return Keith’s hug  because in his heart of hearts my husband has learned that real men do hug.

Originally posted 2009-04-08 06:41:48.


My grand daughter Katie and her new husband Brian

My granddaughter Katie and her new husband Brian

July 20, 2012 — Alzheimer’s is a prison for the victim and often for the caregiver.  As caregivers, especially those of us who care for our loved one at home, we struggle against the confinement.  Keeping our head above water in the never-ending stream of responsibilities and duties we must fight diligently to give ourselves the needed breaks we not only deserve, but desperately need.  I periodically write about breaks” for caregivers and the different things we can do, places to go and the importance of friends not only to keep us as a viable part of society, but to keep us sane as well.  Undoubtedly, all of those suggestions seem to work for the day-to-day functions of our busy and often stressful lives. Continue reading

Originally posted 2012-07-20 21:21:59.

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