Wednesday, May 18, 2011

One woman show

Okay, I confess that I'm feeling a little sorry for myself tonight, and I'm doing a bit of grieving as well. All normal, I suppose, given the events of the past three weeks, but a bit unusual and uncomfortable for me. I'm also a little uncertain about putting this out in a public forum like this, but I really feel that if I don't get it out I'll explode. That could get messy and someone could get hurt by flying titanium!

Part of the problem, of course, is that my rock, the man who would ordinarily be providing the emotional support for me, is in no condition to do so. He's struggling with his own issues and doesn't understand that, in addition to being worried about him I'm worried about myself. This afternoon when I went to visit him, he stood up from his wheelchair (which he is absolutely NOT supposed to do without someone on staff there with him), so he could sit on his bed and change his clothes. I won't kid you; I freaked out. He's not real stable on his feet, and I was terrified that he would fall and knock me down. The absolute last thing I want to do is fall, believe me. He got upset with me, because he's quite certain, of course, that he won't fall. And he didn't, but I was still very frightened and found myself backing away from him instead of going toward him to help him. That felt very odd to me, but the instinct for self-preservation is strong, and if I fall and dislocate this new hip I'll be of no help to anyone for a long time.

I didn't like leaving when he was so angry, but it was better for me to leave. He was going to bed, the nurse came in when he got up (it sets off alarms), and it only upsets him (and me) when I can't communicate to him the fear that I have. I wouldn't trade his strong will for anything, but he's not currently able to really understand that he's impaired and that I am, too.

I'm also still digesting the information that I got from the Physician's Assistant on Monday. My healing is going extremely well, so that's not the problem. The problem is that I have an artificial hip. It will always be in greater danger of dislocation than the OEM version. The only cure for a dislocation is - you guessed it - another hip replacement surgery!

It may mean that I can't crawl around on the floor with the grandkids or play trains and cars on the floor with Addison. That has always brought such great joy to me that it's upsetting to think I may have to give it up. Perhaps my physical therapist will be able to allay some of these concerns - s/he'll be here tomorrow - but for tonight they're tumbling around in my poor brain.

I have flowers that I bought just a week before this all happened, and they're sitting on my deck, waiting to be planted. I had gathered some of the stuff together that I needed and was only waiting for some sunny weather to put them in their pots. Well, the sunny weather is here, but I'm not able. My fuschias need to be fertilized, but the mechanics of doing that are frustrating me. I think I can do it, but gathering together the things that I need presents a challenge.

It's mostly just dumb stuff like that driving me to this melancholy. I really don't have any insurmountable problems. Thankfully, we both have good insurance and the money to cover what insurance doesn't, so it really does feel like a one-woman pity party. I've managed to make it this far with only one real crying session - though I've teared up a few times - so I'm really not doing so bad. But the tears are always right there, waiting, and I guess I just needed to get it in writing. Somehow that seems to make it more manageable. I've always been someone who feels that nothing is insurmountable if I can see it in words.

I should be back and ready to conquer the world tomorrow. As long as no one bumps into me.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


Well, I've survived my first 24+ hours home by myself, although I confess to being a bit lonely in this big house without the daily presence of my Jim. It's funny how much I always have looked forward to the times when he's away hunting or fishing or pursuing some other such pleasure. It's always been a time for me to embrace my alone time and not have to think about anyone else. This time, though, all I think about is Jim.

My youngest son, Ben, ran all over Portland yesterday, gathering up all of the medical accouterments I thought I'd need for my convalescence - bath chair, cane, "grabbers," a new shower head, prescriptions - then picked me up from The Old Folks' Home and brought me back to my much-loved, but now quite lonely, home. He spent a couple of hours getting everything set up, and then kissed me goodbye to return to his wife and children. My sister stopped by last night and brought me some wine (yay!). I drank half a glass and then off to bed for me.

Although I'm technically not cleared to drive, the rehab center where Jim is currently staying is less than two miles away, and I was able to visit him twice today. It takes me almost as long to get into and out of the car as it does to drive there! And since I'm so close, wild horses couldn't keep me away. And it's become abundantly clear over these past two weeks that my presence is vital to Jim's recovery. He's surrounded and loved by our children, grandchildren, other family members, and many, many friends, but our connection to each other is strong. There is nothing that gives me quite the thrill as the joy I see in his face and hear in his voice when he sees me.

He's doing very well, though he has a way to go in rehab. For an impatient man, he's actually coping quite well. He wants very much to come home and would walk out tonight if I were to give him any indication that it would be okay. But we both know that he needs the physical therapy to regain control of his hand and his balance, and that we still have time to be together and to resume the life that we love and enjoy. Every day I realize anew just how blessed I am to have found this deep and abiding love at this stage of my life. Each day brings us closer to once again enjoying our morning ritual of coffee, newspaper, and local news; our afternoon ritual of wine on the deck, admiring our yard and the company of our neighbors; and just the simple pleasure of being together, taking care of things around the house, sharing mealtimes, and arguing politics.

Last July, when we were married, my middle son, Jason, read from I Corinthians. The final words of that reading keep coming to my mind:

But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Friday, May 13, 2011


It seems that so many of life’s blessings are mixed, filled with both joy and sorrow, gain and loss. Tonight feels that way to me.

I’m excited that early tomorrow afternoon, Ben will arrive at the door of the rehab center, ready to take me home to return to a life briefly interrupted by the events of the past two weeks. I’m elated that I’ve improved enough to be considered able to be home, taking care of my own needs. I’m also a little nervous about not having the safety net of a team of dedicated professionals who are as close as a small grey button, should I need assistance.

I walk quite well with both walker and cane, and although the walker feels more secure, I’m gradually transitioning to the cane except when I’m out among people. The walker gives me more protection and provides a greater visibility in crowded places. I can take a shower by myself, as long as I use a shower chair, I can manage all of my personal care, and I’ll have a tray attachment on my walker for carrying coffee and food from kitchen to dining area. It all sounds so mundane, but it feels so enormous to be able to do these things after hip replacement surgery less than two weeks ago.

Why, then, is there sorrow? Well, I will leave behind a group of wonderful people here at Marquis Care at Vermont Hills. They have helped and encouraged me, they’ve cheered my achievements, listened to my fears and worries, provided shoulders to cry on – quite literally on a couple of occasions – asked always about Jim, provided comic relief, and have, in just a few short days, become like another family. Julie, Lynette, Nicole, LaShaunda, JoAnna, Angela, Cheryl, Angelica, Debbie, Lisa – all names that recall faces and kindnesses I will never forget. Although I have jokingly referred to this place as “The Old Folks’ Home,” it truly has been a place of rest and refreshment for me, as well as a place of rehabilitation. It fits none of the stereotypes of nursing homes, being instead a place where people care – and it shows.

And the greater sorrow for me will be returning home without Jim. He has been discharged from hospital and is undertaking his own rehabilitation at a place much closer to our home. A place where I will be able to visit more often, and a place that will help him recover and return to our interrupted life.

I’m optimistic that he won’t be there long, but each day apart is its own kind of sorrow. I miss him and I know he misses me. He has come from a far place to where he is today, and there is still much work to be done. He has some trouble with words and he’s undertaking the job of retraining his right hand. But my Jim is a man who has never shirked hard work, and there’s no reason to think this time will be different. I’m so thankful that the man I married last summer knows who I am, who our children, grandchildren and friends are; I’m thankful that he can carry on a conversation; and that the weakness in his right side isn’t major or permanent. Things could have been so much worse.

But when I sit on the deck tomorrow afternoon – and that’s in my definite plans – I will feel incomplete. My joy at being home will be tainted by longing for my Jim to be with me. But soon, very soon, he will join me on the deck, we’ll admire our glorious red rhododendrons, our azaleas, fuschias, vine maples – all the beauty that our beloved home offers us. And we will resume our interrupted life together.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

What really happened!

On Monday, April 25, I fell out of the back of Jim's truck. Although that may not sound like a big deal, let me rush to assure you that falling from a height of about four feet onto an asphalt parking lot and landing full force on my left hock, with only minimal fall interference from the left hand and arm, can be a very big deal indeed.

Jim hovered over me for several minutes, asking if I needed an ambulance, while I struggled to assess just how badly I was damaged, and whether I did need an ambulance or not. After a few minutes, with a light Oregon rain falling on me, I told him that I thought I was okay, and that I just needed some help to get into the truck. I didn't feel able to actually get up onto my feet, so I crawled the length of the truck to the front door, where I used the door to pull myself up, and Jim helped me haul myself up into the seat. As he climbed into the driver's seat, he continued to worry that we should call 9-1-1, while I reassured him that I thought a broken bone would hurt a lot worse than I seemed to be hurting. We drove home, I dragged myself up the stairs to our bedroom, climbed painfully into bed, took some heavy-duty drugs, and slipped into an uncomfortable sleep.

From then until Friday morning, I managed - with lots of rest and drugs - to get around the house, eat the occasional meal, watch some t.v. in the family room with Jim, and even do my laundry. Although I was in pain, it seemed better each day, and I was a little more mobile each day. Briana even brought Addison and Drew over for a visit on Thursday, and we had quite a nice time. I was pretty sure that things were healing and I was lucky to be doing so well after a nasty fall.

Friday morning around 7:00 a.m. I made my way downstairs to find my Jim apparently still groggy from sleep and not making much sense. After trying to get him to respond, I made the decision to call 9-1-1 -  the best decision I've ever made. When the EMTs arrived, they told me that they thought he was having a stroke and should go immediately to the hospital. After arguing with Jim for a while, I called his son Mike, and Jim finally agreed to go. He left in the ambulance, and I followed about 30 minutes later in my car.

When I arrived at the ER at the VA Hospital, I parked and struggled to get out of the car. Finally, I grabbed my lower leg and bent it enough to get my foot past the doorsill. I heard a couple of popping sounds, and my whole field of vision went white as I experienced the worst pain I've ever felt. After several minutes, I attempted to put my foot on the ground and stand up. When I did, it felt as if there were nothing under my foot, and I almost passed out from the pain. After hanging by my arms between my car and the one parked next to me, I was able to flag down a very nice man who grabbed a wheelchair and wheeled me to the VA Emergency room. Mike and Christina were already there waiting for Jim to come back from an MRI. I saw him for just a few minutes, and Christina wheeled me across the Skybridge to the ER at Oregon Health & Science University. After waiting what seemed an interminable time, I was x-rayed and told that I had broken the neck of my left femur. Apparently it had been broken when I fell of the truck, but wasn't displaced until I bent my leg, at which time I completed the circuit. The treatment: a full hip replacement.

I saw Jim again briefly that afternoon, and early Saturday morning I was wheeled into the operating room for a four-hour surgery.

For the past few days, I've been recovering from surgery and visiting Jim each day, thanks to the cooperation of the two hospitals and the strong arms of Mike to push me in a wheelchair. Jim has been in and out of the neurology ward and ICU, and we've been told variously that he's had three strokes - or maybe two strokes - that he's had a heart attack and that there either is or isn't a blood clot in his heart that may or may not be feeding clots to his brain. He has traveled in and out of coherence, and has been happy to see us or unable to recognize us. It's all been very frustrating, but he's being cared for by lots of good, well-qualified people.

Tonight I am in a short-term care facility about 7 miles from Jim, where I will spend the next couple of weeks learning how to take care of myself without dislocating my new titanium hip. Jim is resting well and will be returned to the neuro ward from ICU as soon as a bed opens for him - hopefully tomorrow. I will be able to visit him each day, by utilizing medical transportation. Each time we are able to spend a few minutes together it's revitalizing for both of us. And each day I am thankful all over again that I told Jim I didn't need to go to the hospital when I fell; he would have been home all alone at a critical time on Friday.

We have been blessed with the love and care of so many of our family and friends who have visited, run errands, sat with us during difficult times, retrieved things from our house, bought clothes (mine had to be cut off of me), and who have just generally provided loving support during what has been a difficult 10 days. We hope that we're both on the road to full recovery, but recognize that there are still some unknown waters ahead. Together, and surrounded by love, we will face them!