The first thing I did this morning after getting up, even before making coffee, was to put sheets in the washer. Yesterday, I stripped our bed and, with some much-needed help from the guy who painted my deck (and his wife), disassembled the four-poster bed. The deflated mattress and box springs are leaning against the wall and the components of the heavy wooden frame are in the garage, sitting where the Camry normally sits. The Camry is in the driveway. When the sheets are clean and dry, I will fold them and put them away. In the bedroom, in place of the disassembled queen bed, we’ll have a twin bed for me, lent by a friend, and a hospital bed for my wife, provided by the local Health Mart.

Only after I made coffee and checked my email this morning and discovered a Jacquie Lawson ecard did it register with me that today is my birthday. I’m sure it would have occurred to me at some point, even without the card, but I was oblivious to the fact until I saw the card in my inbox. I suppose birthdays become less occasions to celebrate, as we age; instead, they become reminders of our mortality. At twenty, thirty, even forty, we can imagine being twice our age. The possibility disappears about forty; maybe forty-five.

My wife has an appointment with the wound clinic in Hot Springs this morning, so I will drive into town and will wait until the end of her appointment to learn the doctor’s assessment; will she finally be able to put weight on the front of her foot? If so, that may accelerate the process of recovering her strength. If not, her strength will continue to ebb, requiring that much more effort and time to rebuild it. Either way, her experience will be different after she comes home. She will have less access to therapy to help rebuild her strength, courtesy of Medicare’s idiotic rules. I am confident many of Medicare’s rules and regulations were created by people who have never experienced, nor known anyone who has experienced, the challenges brought on by age. The Medicare system (indeed, the entire health care system in this country) should be taken over by people over sixty-five years of age. The wisdom of experience should inform policies and procedures that impact people; not the arrogance of youthful inexperience.

My neighbors and friends, the ones who sent the Jacquie Lawson card, had planned to have me over for a birthday dinner tonight, but I cancelled because my mind is racing and I am afraid I would seem distracted and unappreciative. I would be distracted; I would be appreciative, but unable to show it. It’s best that I cancelled. I would have appeared an ungrateful guest.

Yesterday, I thought I had secured assistance in the form of two “helpers” from a senior services company to help with my wife’s return home. But, after I was ready to hand over a “retainer” check and authorize ACH withdrawals from my checking account, I was informed the price I was given was half the amount I would actually have to pay. The actual price was impossible, so I began looking again. I have spoken to five or six companies, all but one of which said they did not have sufficient staffing to be able to help. I have an appointment today with another company; if it cannot provide one or two people to assist me, I am not sure what I will do. I can ask people from my church, but that might be asking too much…spending hours and hours in my house, helping my wife into and out of bed and into and out of a wheelchair.  I promised myself, and my wife, I would not put her in a nursing home. One way or another, I will keep that promise.

Even before her return home, I am feeling the pressure of caring for her. The reality of helping her recover her strength, if it is recoverable, is settling over me like a blanket. Or a shroud. I am not certain I have the wherewithal to do what I promised I would do. My physical strength has declined over the years and I have done little to counterbalance that decay. I suppose now, though it’s late, is the time to rebuild that strength. I better have some protein for breakfast if I hope to build my strength.



About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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1 Response to Strength

  1. Bev says:

    I hope your comments are working so that you’ll see this – even if they aren’t visible to me after. I just wanted to give you a bit of input. First, I’m very glad that your wife will soon be home with you – or at least that is the plan. Two more days, and she should arrive home. Also glad that you were able to get help with moving furniture. You’ve said you have had plenty of offers of help from friends, neighbours, people at your church. Please, if you’ve received offers, try to accept the help. If there is anyone who seems more eager to help than all the rest, something that I have seen friends do is for one or two people to *coordinate* help efforts — because that is something that is very hard for the caregiver or patient. Someone else may be willing to line up volunteers for tasks.
    Next, try not to worry too much about how you will manage. At first, it may all seem overwhelming, but after a couple of days, I’m sure you’ll find that you’re gradually falling into a routine that works. I’ve seen it with enough people who have had to deal with situations. Be glad that you don’t have to take your wife to tons of appointments. That’s what really killed it for my brother and I when my mom became ill — she had to be taken for kidney dialysis 3 times a week – which took about 6 to 7 hours and was so physically and emotionally stressful that the two of us could barely cope. I hope you can avoid that kind of circus — and it sounds like that will be possible.
    Something I would try to do is find someone in your area who does respite care or part time caregiving work. I don’t know how things are there, but in my area, there are both agencies covered by our health care system — and also people who may be retired health care workers who take on some home care work. You should have someone who can help you for a few hours a week or can be your respite person if you should become ill or just tired. This isn’t something you have to arrange immediately, but it would be worth putting the word out — maybe through your church organization — that you would like to find a part time home care person. You might find there is someone in your community who could help.
    Regarding strength building — see if you can find someone who knows what kind of physio your wife needs in order to build her strength. It might be things like using one of those big elastic things to push her foot against to strengthen her legs. Don used that and also ankle weights to keep his strength up when he was basically too ill to do much normal walking. There are plenty of ways of building strength and someone who is used to working with older patients can teach some of those techniques — like chair yoga, etc… This is stuff to take seriously and can make a big difference with recovery and quality of life.
    Anyhow, yeah – birthdays. I often don’t think of mine – or some other events. Being just me, it doesn’t really matter. Age doesn’t matter either. That said, “Happy Trip-Around-The-Sun Day to you, John!

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