https:// Home ». fatigue

fatigue

Independence Battles Protection

Husband and wife out for a stroll.

One of the greatest struggles I have found in being a caregiver is finding the happy compromise of my husband’s need for independence and control of his life versus my need to control his environment and keep him safe and healthy. Many times these two needs seem to be in direct conflict with each other. Here’s why I think.
Him:
Lynn was in his 40’s when he was diagnosed with MS. He was married, had a child, a successful career that was very physical, he played in a band, sang, and was a strong man of faith. MS came along, and suddenly, he was vulnerable. No longer did he have the stamina to work all day and go to band or choir practice at night. No longer could the go to trade shows and walk the miles he needed to make sure the displays were set up and workings as necessary (these displays were often the size of small houses). No longer could he travel and immediately to go work after landing. No longer could he drive because he could not determine when his leg would cooperate with pushing the gas or the break. In his mind, he was losing the man he was because let’s face it; we are what we do to a large extent. He was slowing losing his identity of himself, so he was trying to control anything he had the power to control. Thus came the conflict.
As Lynn’s muscle fatigue and spasticity would get worse, so would his balance and ability to walk any distance. Several times a day, he would fall. Sometimes he would get hurt; other times it was his pride only that got hurt, but he refused to use a cane or a walker. He would put his hand on the wall or furniture or lean on me, but he was NOT going to give in and use a cane! He refused to admit he needed help because in his mind if he gave in to the disease, then the condition had won.
Me:
When Lynn was diagnosed with MS, we were married (both for the second time), both of us had children, and I have a very time consuming and difficult job. My two children lived with us, so my life was hectic all the time caring for the kids, keeping up with the house, and managing my demanding job. Though Lynn and I had joint interests (we both were in choir and both very involved in church activities), much of the time we went our separate ways because we both were super independent. I also needed to be able to control my life so I could fit everything in that I needed to do. When I have control, I feel safe and confident.
Enter: MS.
I watched as my husband’s body began to decline. I could see his struggle to keep going when exhausted. I could see how, as the day progressed, his balance got worse. I understood that he felt that if he “gave in” to the disease, he would lose his fight against it. However, I was also very frustrated with him. I saw him fall and sometimes not be able to get up knowing that at any moment, he might fall and break a limb or hit his head or break his back. I KNEW he needed to use something for support. I KNEW he needed to make changes in his lifestyle to conserve energy…but, he refused. I became angry.
Both:
I was angry and frustrated. He was angry and frustrated. Both of us felt right in what we were doing, and both of us were, but we needed a compromise. Continue reading at: http://multiplesclerosis.net/caregiver/caregiver-perspective-independence-battles-protection/

Caregiving From a Different Perspective

Each of us filters information through our previous life experiences. Through those filters, we evaluate comments made and inferences perceived and eventually make conclusions based on those filters. We also tell ourselves stories about what we see and hear based on those filters and it’s through those stories that our emotions are generated.
That being said, each of us will read a blog and get something different out of it. We will pass judgment on the writer and the content based on where we are in life and what we believe to be true at that moment. As I have been writing my columns, I have had a growing concern that what I share may be misinterpreted or may even cause pain to readers who take in what I share from the point of view of someone who has MS. When I share my “story,” it’s from the point of view of the person who cares for the person with MS. Essentially, I have MS by association. I do not have the muscle weakness, the spasticity, the loss of functioning, but I have equal impact as my husband’s full timecaregiver. I do not for a minute think I have it worse than he does. I could walk away from this situation (though I choose not to), but he cannot. My image of myself, my career choices, my plans for the future are not made based on my own limitations but every choice I make, I make with his limitations in mind.
I pledged to Lynn before God and our families that I would love and care for him in sickness and in health. I meant it. I never considered leaving when his condition deteriorated to the point it is now. I want to take care of him and I put his needs first in everything I do. I feel it is a privilege to be able to give myself over to the care of my husband whom I know would do the same if he could for me. However, that being said, this life is not easy. It’s incredibly difficult. I, alone, am responsible for ALL his needs. He only has use of his mind and his left hand and arm (and that’s before lunch each day; by lunch time, he can’t use them anymore either). I have people who come in and help me for a few hours during the day so I can continue to work full time from home. However, they do not provide for any of his physical care other than to feed him. Don’t get me wrong. What they do for him saves me a lot of time and allows me to focus on work during normal work hours rather than late at night; however, if there is a problem, I still take care of the fix.
Though, I have pledged to care for Lynn and do so willingly, I get frustrated. I get angry. I get depressed and overwhelmed when he feels bad and demands more attention that I have the energy to give.  When he asks me to adjust his inflatable cushion so that his bottom doesn’t hurt, he expects me to know, I guess by instinct, whether to add more air or take more away. He can’t tell me what to do. He looks to me to figure out everything he needs and while I understand that after he’s sit for a long time on a cushion till his bottom is either numb or painful and he can’t “feel” it anymore, it’s frustrating to be called away from cooking or from participating in a conference call while working so that I can provide a fix that I don’t know exactly how to provide. I am very adept now at cathing him while discussing highly sensitive issues during a conference call and balancing the phone with my head while I use my hands to do a sterile insertion. I often have food cooking on the stove, while I’m scratching an itch somewhere on his body and formalizing a response to an issue to give when I can get back to my email. I get angry when he sits there watching TV while I administer to his care, I finish up to leave with my arms full of supplies, and he says, “Oh, before you go I need…” I get depressed when I ache all over because I’m coming down with something, I’ve had 4 ½ hours of sleep, and still have several jobs to do and all I want to do is lie down and rest but I can’t. I get depressed when everyone from work gets to go to conferences or gets “atta boys” for what they do and I don’t because I have to stay home, out of sight/out of mind, and I feel unappreciated. I admit, I do a lot of “poor pitiful me” self-talk before I even realize what I’m doing which is unhealthy.
continue reading at: http://multiplesclerosis.net/living-with-ms/different-perspective-caregiving/

Take Care of Myself?

While I know people are well meaning, when they remind me to “take care of yourself,” I honestly want to ask them, “Now, how do you suppose I do that?” People who have never been full timecaregivers while jointly being a full time employee and at the same time being responsible for the food, shelter, transportation, maintenance, solving problems, researching issues, managing medical care, providing entertainment, comfort, and encouragement….have no idea what they are talking about.
I was sharing this week with a colleague how overwhelmed I was over Christmas with my father-in-law dying, helping my mother-in-law find hospice and companion care for him, helping her maneuver through insurance changes, keeping a watchful eye over my Mom who has chemo every three weeks and was admitted to the hospital for fainting spells, doing Christmas activities (mainly as a respite from medical issues) and helping Lynn who was depressed over his step-dad’s impending death and who was bummed out because he could not help me with it all.  Now, don’t you think that list of “to do’s” is a little overwhelming?  Well, at the same time, one of my four employees who handled a unique function for my team resigned, I had to start recruiting for her position, a consultant was coming in to our department who needed information, and various other challenges were being thrown my way that were work related. That’s a lot of stuff to juggle in 24-hours. My usual amount of sleep was 4-5 hours a night; so I was running on empty and admittedly using caffeine pills just to keep going. …and she tells me to “take care of yourself.” …Really??  What is she expecting—for me to eat healthy, exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep?
I wonder what people think sometimes when I tell them about my life.  Do they think that I can just call up the local “help” agency and have a fully trained, caring individual come help me out so I can take a nap?  Do they think I can just say, “Lynn, see you in a few hours.  I’m off to the gym,” or that I can choose to go to bed earlier and sleep later because all that stuff I’m doing is not essential?  I guess, they think I can just say, “No.”  However, “no,” is not an option.  Have you seen that commercial where the Mom or Dad is feeling lousy with a cold and comes into the baby’s room to say, “I’m feeling sick. I won’t be in tomorrow.”? That commercial gets attention because any parent knows you can’t just tell your child you’re taking the next day off and leave them to their own devices.  Well, that’s true too for caregivers. The only difference is that when you’re a full time caregiver, there is never a “next day” when the illness has passed and life goes back to normal because our normal is high demand, adjusting to constant change, and often feeling exhausted and achy all the time due to lack of sleep and muscle strain.
Continue reading at: http://multiplesclerosis.net/living-with-ms/take-care-of-myself/

Giving the Gift of Receiving

“Giving the gift of receiving,” sounds like a contradiction.  How can you give a gift that you receive? I think you can and I think it can be the greatest gift you give and receive all year.  Here’s why.
As a caregiver for someone who is totally disabled with very limited abilities, my world is very structured and organized.  It has to be in order to keep Lynn healthy, to meet all his abundant needs, and in order to get all those things done that must be done by the end of each day. Because I must be so organized, changing my schedule or having someone come in to “help” me is often very disruptive.  I know they are well meaning and I know they truly want to help; I get that, but truthfully, it’s also disruptive even while helpful.  If someone is coming over to help, they typically want to do it first thing in the morning to get it out of the way so they can get on with their day.  I would want to do that as well so I understand why they ask to come over early.  However, in order to receive visitors, I have to make sure that Lynn’s three-hour morning routine is completed before they arrive. So if someone wants to come in “mid-morning” at 9:00 a.m. because he/she is an early riser, then I must get us up at 6:00 a.m. Getting up at 6 doesn’t sound bad except when you realize we can’t get to bed most nights until 2 or 3 a.m.  Therefore, before a visit, we are often getting a “nap” rather than a night’s sleep which compromises not only my well-being but Lynn’s since he battles fatigue.
Another concern for letting people give their help is potential exposure to infections.  When family members or close friends come over, they already know our “rule” for visiting–if you might be sick, don’t come!  That little sniffle might not stop a visitor from spreading holiday cheer but from our perspective, they are bringing in a weapon that threatens Lynn’s safety and welfare.  His immune system is compromised and an innocent, though irritating, cold for most people can put Lynn in bed or even the hospital for weeks. I remind anyone who asks to come over of our house rules, but occasionally they still show up with the sniffles thinking that they just won’t touch him or sneeze/cough in his direction and it will be okay, but what they forget is that the greater spread of their virus and other germs is not the cough or sneeze (though such an action carries the germ a good distance), it is the unwashed hands after such an event that touches something he or I use.  Since I provide all his care, not only do I have to limit his exposure but mine as well so that I won’t be the carrier into his environment or I won’t become sick and unable to care for him. Therefore, though I try to be kind, if someone is sick I often ask them not to stay and help.
Continue reading at: http://multiplesclerosis.net/living-with-ms/giving-gift-receiving/

Who Can Afford Respite Care?

Before I get started on this blog, I want to write a disclaimer:  I’m very tired and having difficulty this week coping so if you are a caregiver; read on—you probably have felt the same way.  If you are someone with MS, maybe you better skip this one.  It’s not meant to cause you guilt or pain but unfortunately, it’s how I’m feeling right now.

So what’s wrong with me today?  I’m tired.  My body aches.  And though it’s 8:30 at night when most people are starting to wind down, I still have many hours to go.  Nothing out of the ordinary going on today; it’s just a regular day, but that’s why I’m feeling down…Not depressed; just down.
Do you ever just feel like you want to run away?  I do.  I want so much to have a couple of days in a row where I only take care of myself.  I really feel like I need to get away but I also know that is not going to happen.  You may be thinking, if you’re a parent of a young child that you are also in the same situation, but unless you have a special needs child that is not likely to leave home, I’m going to challenge you on that view.  When your child is totally dependent on you, they are still small enough that you can lift them fairly easily.  Chances are they weigh less than 50 pounds. The person I’m caring for weighs 195 pounds, is six feet tall, and can’t move a muscle independently. While your child is taking up every spare minute of your day, you know they are going to gain independence, and as they grow and learn, they will become even more independent until eventually they will either leave home or if they stay at home, you can ignore them. You have the “empty nest” to look forward to.
I don’t.
Not trying to be morbid here but my responsibilities are only going to get more demanding; not less. As I grow older and have less strength and more discomfort, his needs will only be getting greater.  Our situation will not get better until one of us dies … and the fact is, I’m just as likely to be the one to go as he is since the life expectancy for a full time caregiver is less than the average population’s of the same age.  I sometimes feel that the only way I’m ever going to get any rest or really be able to rejuvenate is to become hospitalized myself.
I know I should not be complaining like this; I have people come over almost every day to help Lynn with his writing.  Most of them also feed him his breakfast, get him what he wants to drink and help him with small comforts.  However, in order to be able to use their services, I have to get up three hours before they arrive to get him ready for them.  Then once they leave, I have hours of work to do related to his care as well.  Each morning my alarm goes off and Lynn is telling me to get up; he needs to empty is bladder as soon as possible. So I can’t linger in bed and stretch or gradually to wake up anymore.  Then we spend a half hour to an hour in the bathroom where my tired, tight-feeling body lifts him onto and off of the toilet.  Finally, I lay him down to get him off his butt since he sits up to sleep. I want so much to not have to get up each morning; to not spend three hours lifting body parts that are heavy and dead weight; to not feel so exhausted I can hardly move.
But I can’t.
Continue reading at: http://multiplesclerosis.net/living-with-ms/can-afford-respite-care/

So, How Are You….Really?

When you run into someone when you’re out in public, what seems to be the first thing out of their mouth after saying your name?  For me, it’s, “How’s Lynn?” and then it’s, “and how are you doing?”  It’s never easy to know how to answer that question.

I believe that most people don’t really want to know details; they’re just asking to be polite and to communicate that your well-being is something that they care about.  Therefore, my typical response is, “we’re doing fine.” Then, there are those who know a little more about some of our challenges and want a little more information, so that group gets, “Doing well.  No new issues right now.”  That’s all they really want to know—is he worse or about the same? They know he’s probably not “better” because he has a chronic, long-term health condition that has totally disabled him so in their minds, “how good can it be, anyway?”
There are those who are interested in details—family members, close friends, and confidantes—those groups get more information, but it’s still filtered.  People in those groups want to know if there are any new problems and what is being done about them is there is.  They want him to get better and make progress.  They don’t like for him to feel bad or have to go through difficult times and they seem so disappointed if I tell them, again, that he feels “bad” or is exhausted and just has no energy.  So I just share the surface things and change the subject.
The fact is, Lynn is totally disabled.  That’s not likely to change. He feels lousy on some days and less lousy on others.  He’s tired every day but some days he’s just tired and other days he’s exhausted to the point that he couldn’t move his power-chair to get out of the way of a car speeding toward him. We attribute those good and bad days to a variety of factors but in reality, “who knows?”  It is what it is.
So then, how do I respond when someone asks me, “How are you? No, really, how are you?”  Usually I still just smile and say, “I’m doing okay; it’s hard but I manage.”  I don’t believe that they really want to know how my life really is.  It would sound too much like I’m whining because if I really told them like it is, it would go like this:
continue reading at: http://multiplesclerosis.net/blog/really/

Caregiving and Work

The type of employment you have when you become an adult makes all the difference in how you live your life.  It dictates when you’re asleep or awake, what you wear, what you’ll be exposed to, the type of people you will encounter, and your standard of living (unless you are independently wealthy or someone else contributes to your income).  Though it’s possible to change some of these by changing where you work, the bottom line is that work plays a significant role in our lives. Besides the income we derive from being employed, many jobs also provide benefits, social interaction, a sense of accomplishment, ways to enhance our self worth through positive contributions, and an identity (while especially true for men, for many (but not all) women, it’s equally true). There’s a lot of positive to be said for working.
On the other hand, “work” can bring a source of conflict.  When you’re employed, your employer counts on you to be present, timely, focused, energetic, accurate, cooperative, cordial, and do your very best on their behalf at all times.  If they need you to switch up your hours, they expect you to be able to make any necessary personal adjustments to make that happen.  For most employers, (though they might not say it) they expect your job to come first.  Many say to their employees, “Leave your personal life at the door.  When you’re here, you should not be thinking about anything else but your job.”
Though working can be a good thing, being a caregiver and an employee are often in direct conflict with each other. For instance:
Employers expect employees to be at work and on time. That expectation is often difficult, if not impossible for a caregiver.  A caregiver needs to provide the following for him/her self and dependent prior to arriving at work:  grooming, dressing, toileting, feeding (preparing, feeding, and cleanup), oral hygiene, and preparations for the day—any one of which can lead to a delay beyond their control (clothing that gets soiled after dressing has occurred, toileting that takes twice as long as usual, food spilling on before-mentioned clothing, emotional breakdowns needing attention, equipment that does not work, etc.)  For myself, I have to plan to allow three hours for “us” to get ready if I’m going somewhere and I still find that my being on time can be unpredictable.
Employers expect their employees to be well-rested and energetic.  Caregivers often get as much sleep as is available between the time they finish up one day and start the next.  Dah, doesn’t everyone?  However, the amount of times to finish a day varies depending on their dependent’s needs on that day.  Sometimes they go to bed when planned; other times a load of laundry is unexpectedly needed and they’re up an extra hour or two.  Sleep time, for the caregiver, is also interrupted by the need to assist their dependent with comfort and bowel/bladder elimination during the night.  Therefore, well-rested probably means just enough sleep to be functional and the amount of energy they have is directly proportional to the amount of caffeine ingested and still in their system.
Employers need their employees to be focused and provide accurate and competent performance.  Being focused for a caregiver is a question of being focused on what?  The caregiver always has to be planning ahead to make sure he/she is ready for the next big event and is required to coordinate all their dependent’s activities and needs whether in their presence or if receiving assistance from someone else.  It is not uncommon that a caregiver would need to call a doctor or therapist while at work to discuss a new development, arrange for equipment or supplies to be repaired and/or delivered, or to talk to the secondary caregiver regarding a question or concern that has arisen.  Caregivers have to have the ability to have split personalities at all times because when at work they need to be able to address effectively their work duties while at the same time managing the life of their dependent. They, in fact, do have great talent at being focused but the need to switch focuses repeatedly is where the problem comes in.
continue reading at: http://multiplesclerosis.net/living-with-ms/caregiving-work/

Sometimes I Get Jealous

Sometimes I am jealous of Lynn.  Isn’t that sick? How could any able-bodied individual who is healthy, independent, productive, able to work and function normally be jealous of someone who is totally dependent on someone else for EVERYTHING in his life other than his own thoughts.  I must be mentally ill – but there it is, sometimes I get jealous. Just how sick is that?  It’s certainly not something I’m proud of but I decided to share this secret, unattractive side of caregiving with you because I expect other caregivers have had that same emotion.

Let me be absolutely clear before I go any further….I do not envy him. I do not think he has the good life and would want to trade places with him for anything.  I know he hates being dependent on me.  I know it hurts him emotionally to see me tired or in pain or physically ill but still needing to do for him.  I know he had much rather be going to work every day, feeding himself, taking his own bath, and scratching his own itches.  I know he only asks of me what he cannot do for himself and no more.  My jealousy is not about his abilities or lack thereof; it’s about my own need to be cared for.  That’s why I get jealous. I want someone to take care of me for a change; no not just that, I want to be able to put myself first when I’m sick or tired rather than having to ignore how I feel and keep pushing forward.  Here’s the base truth—I want to be selfish for a change.
Like being a parent, when I became a full time caregiver, I committed to that role totally.  I ALWAYS put Lynn’s needs ahead of mine except when to do so might cause more harm than good. For example, if he needs to be moved and I haven’t had a chance to eat anything in hours and my blood sugar is crashing, then I may leave him where he is, even if he’s a little uncomfortable, till I can go grab a bite of something to keep me from passing out—not a whole meal, just a snack. However, if he’s really needy one day because he is feeling pretty rotten or achy, chances are I’ll put off eating, going to the bathroom, or completing home/work chores until I can get him at least half-way comfortable.  I sympathize with his inability to comfort himself and I show that concern and acknowledge that need by tending to him first.  He in turn tries not to ask for anything he absolutely does not need – though sometimes in my jealous state, I question if he REALLY needs to have a particular action done…again….and again.
Truthfully, the jealousy comes when I’m tired or sick or both. When I have had four ½ hours of sleep the night before and I’m on hour 14 since getting up with much still left to be done… when all I want to do is lie down and go to sleep, I become very jealous of the fact that I will make him comfortable and he will immediately fall asleep and nap while I head to the kitchen to prepare meals for the next day or to eat my own dinner or to put in a load of clothes or take a shower or whatever and it will be yet another 2-3 hours before I get to lie down.
I become jealous when I am in pain from my arthritis (which is significant at times). Both hands are painful; I have little strength in them any more with swollen knuckles, nodules on the bones, and joints that must not have any lubrication left.  I cannot take the usual medications that help reduce the effects of arthritis due to being allergic to shellfish and many of the other ingredients in those remedies so I take four Advil usually twice a day to help control it. However, when my hands hurt from the effects of air moving across them yet I still need to pull of his clothes, give him a shower, and then put clothes back on him; I just wish someone else could do it for me.
I sometimes fantasize that I’ll get injured and can’t do his care for a while and I’ll have an excuse to take care of myself.  But in the next thought, I remind myself that there would be pain and it would not be a vacation.  I guess what I need is respite care.  However, that’s easier said than done. Respite care is not paid by insurance so if I obtained it, the money would have to come from somewhere.  If I saved enough for respite, then I couldn’t afford to go away and if I didn’t go away, I would be home and he would need my help so that’s not much of a realistic option.
To finish reading this post, click here: http://multiplesclerosis.net/living-with-ms/sometimes-get-jealous/

Moment by Moment

I was reading a blog about advice caregivers give to other caregivers and as I read through the suggestions (all of which rang true,) one connected with me more than all the others—“live in the moment.”

“Live in the moment,” is a phase I’ve heard much of my life in the context of learning to appreciate life.  The comment parallels the phases, “stop and smell the roses,” and “this, too, shall pass.”  While I rarely “stop to smell the roses” (all the flowers in my yard are artificial, even the roses), I do try my best to “live in the moment” and keep in mind that “this, too, shall pass” but from my perspective, they take on a little different meaning.
When I’m asked what advice I would give to someone who suddenly is thrust into the role of caregiver, I always say, “Take life moment by moment and try not to have, too, many expectations.”  I guess that sounds pessimistic to some but I see it as being realistic.
I’ve find that when I plan my day, I still tend to plan it as if I can actually control what happens.  For example, today is Saturday.  It is the one day I get to actually get a full night’s sleep provided we don’t have anyone coming to the house to help us out. Today, I had no visitors coming so I got seven hours of sleep!!!! I feel wonderful; full of energy.  I planned that after I finished our morning routine, I could write my blog, do some flower arrangements for the porch and get some work done for my paying job.  Wrong….
I started to write this blog at 12:00 p.m. It is now 2:30 p.m. and when I got interrupted, I had written two paragraphs.  Lynn has an unexpected trip back to the bathroom.  That’s a big deal when someone is fully dependent on someone else. It takes time to get them undressed again, assist them with contracting their abdominal muscles by pushing on their stomach for them, doing the necessary clean up, back to bed, redress, then back up again and settled in for their next task.  That additional 1 ½ hours of unexpected activity will mean either not doing something for my job or not doing the flower arrangements.  Things change, moment by moment and usually it’s not something that can be foreseen; however, it’s something that must be handled because it’s necessary and “you” have to do it.
Continue reading at: http://multiplesclerosis.net/living-with-ms/moment-moment/

Planning, Time, and Flexibility: Essential Ingredients for the Holidays

Christmas is a wonderful time of year; full of fun, excitement, and family gatherings.  For weeks beforehand, I spend time decorating, planning, anticipating the good times and envisioning the perfect holiday.  Like so many dreams, reality is rarely the picture perfect vision that I have in my head.  That is particularly true now that MS is part of our lives.
Lynn and I have three big family get-togethers at Christmas—my parents and siblings come the week before Christmas, our kids come Christmas Eve, and his family comes Christmas day.  Each is a wonderful time of creating memories and eating way too much food.  Even though these times are lots of fun, they are also very challenging.
Holiday celebrations are always held at our house since Lynn’s wheelchair cannot enter anyone else’s house in the family. Even though we often order pizza or one of the other family members will do the cooking, there is still a lot of preparation required to host a gathering. Everything takes more planning, more time, and great flexibility if you’re hosting the party at your house.  There’s the need to buy and prepare some, if not all, of the food, clean the house, and decorate (or make everything look festive).  When everyone gets there, you help make your guests comfortable, assist those who need to heat up items or put out food to do so,  make sure everyone has what they need to eat the feast (the fun part), clean up afterwards and put everything back into its original place.  Even if you and your family members are healthy, it’s tiring to host a party at your own house.  If someone in your family is not healthy, then it’s exhausting.
Read more at: http://multiplesclerosis.net/living-with-ms/planning-time-and-flexibility-essential-ingredients-for-the-holidays/

When Is This Going to go Away?

I realized something this week. Somewhere in my subconscious, I seem to be waiting for all “this” to go away…to wake up one day and “everything” be back to normal.  How odd is that?
Lynn was diagnosed with MS in 2006.  We were married in 1997.  I knew well before his diagnosis that he had MS even though he was repeatedly told he didn’t; that his symptoms were something else.  Lynn didn’t want to have MS so he accepted that explanation; however, I’m a realist, and in my heart, I knew.
When the official call came and one of his worst fears was realized, I just received confirmation of what I “knew.”  I immediately started researching what I needed to know so I could manage his care. Initially, he was more involved in putting up roadblocks to learning about his condition than in really being involved.  I, however, have always faced my challenges through trying to learn more.  I look to find answers in the wisdom or knowledge of others through books, articles, webinars, etc.  I try to absorb all I can with the hope that the more I know, the easier it will be to cope.  In many ways that works for me because as the challenges occur, I at least have a starting point on how to approach it.
That being the case, then why am I waiting for all this to go away? I realized that I keep clinging to the hope that one day a miracle will happen and he will no longer feel so tired or so incredibly bad all the time. I read about other people with MS and they go out, have fun, work, participate in family events, do advocacy work, participate in bike rides and walk-a-thons, so on and so forth.  They seem to feel well and have energy though they get around using a wheelchair, cane, or walker.  They say they have bad days but overall they seem to feel pretty good.
Not Lynn.  He has maybe one day a week he feels pretty good. He’s pretty good on Monday, not too bad on Tuesdays usually. By Wednesday the first half of the day is okay but by afternoon he’s heading downhill.  Thursday is worse, Friday is pretty bad, Saturday and Sunday just “suck.” He feels so bad today, I’m surprised he can even function.
Why does he feel so bad?  We have lots of excuses.  His thyroid hormones are way off.  He’s slightly anemic.  His Rebif shots seem to accumulate in acting as a toxin to his system as the week goes by. The combination seems to make his quality of life pretty low most of the time.  It’s hard to watch him be miserable day after day after day; to watch him hope for a good day and need to accept that it’s not going to be one…again.
For me personally; if he’s having a bad day, he needs more attention.  He becomes impatient; then I get annoyed and then feel guilty for being annoyed but still get that way anyway. He can’t help with any movements so I have more muscle fatigue and spasms.  He needs to drink more fluid to flush out his system which means I have to cath him more (I cathed him 21 times yesterday in that 24-hour period. Needless to say, I was interrupted in whatever I was doing about every 30-45 minutes all day long).  So even though he’s the one who feels bad, we are both significantly affected.
He tries not to burden me with how he feels.  He tries not to ask me to do too much but when he’s like this, he really cannot even find the strength to lift his good hand to flip a switch on his peddler to turn it on; to scratch an itch behind his ear because he can’t lift his arm that high; to change the TV channel on the remote because he doesn’t have the strength to push the button, etc.  If he can’t do these small things, forget feeding himself, getting dressed, shifting positions in his seat or in the bed…
When he started Rebif, he was told it should take about six months to adjust to it.  He started it in April 2012.  We’re still waiting on the adjustment.  While he’s better than he was initially, this drug really kicks his butt.  Even as bad as he feels though, he’s afraid to stop it.  He has not had an exacerbation since 2010.  Is that the medication?  If so was Copaxone doing just as good as Rebif?  That didn’t seem to be the case because he progressively got a lot worse while just taking Copaxone.  If Rebif has been helping him to not lose further function is it worth feeling awful most of the time to keep it going?  Maybe so if an exacerbation might take away his ability to breath on his own, or be able to see, or remember, or speak.  There are a lot of really bad “loses” that can happen with MS so maybe putting up with extreme fatigue and weakness is not such a bad thing.
But I keep hoping that each day will be the day he suddenly adjusts to the medication, either the medicine for his thyroid or his anemia, or the Rebif suddenly works and he no longer feels absolutely awful.  I keep waiting for that day; expecting our lives to no longer be held up by how he feels and that we can again go back out into the world and be part of it.  Is it possible that could happen or is it just wishful thinking?

"I Know Someone With MS…"

When I tell friends, family, acquaintances, etc. what I’m up to these days (i.e., being a full-time caregiver for my husband while working full-time from home) it’s amazing how many people either have someone with MS in their family or know of someone with MS. What’s even more amazing, however, is how different each of their stories are.  Often how someone views the condition is directly related to who they know that has it.  For example:
“My friend’s sister has MS but they’re fine”
In this situation, they really have very limited information about MS because as we know, no one who has MS is “fine.”  Each MS victim struggles with something periodically, especially during periods of stress. Often they battle fatigue, heat sensitivity, weaknesses in functioning in some aspect of their lives either full-time or temporarily. So if the person you are talking to only knows someone who is “fine” then they have difficulty comprehending the nature of the condition and the potential restrictions imposed and may even wonder, “what’s the big deal?”  They just don’t get the condition.
“My cousin has MS and has to use a cane.”
If they know someone who has mobility issues, then they seem to have an idea that someone with MS has struggles to overcome on a regular basis.  They understand there are special needs and often associate MS strictly with mobility challenges.  Often they have no idea that MS can affect any function of the body either completely sabotagizing it’s ability to react normally or at the very minimum, creating an annoyance on a regular basis.  They have no idea that a person’s bowels, bladder, eyesight, memory, sensory stimulation, hearing, speech, eating, …you name it… can be affected. There is much they do not know but they at least have some insight.
“My sister has MS. What an awful condition.”
Once it’s in the family though, they realize just how devastating the condition can be.  They understand that the person with MS struggles each day to be “normal” to be able to have a “normal” day and fit in like everyone else. They realize that one minute the person may be fine but the next they are so exhausted they can hardly function and where before they could walk alongside someone, once they hit that point that fatigue takes over, they rarely can keep up. They know that some days they feel like a heavy weight is sitting on their shoulders and other times they are optimistic and hopeful.  They know that each new “odd” sensation raises the question of, “Is this an exacerbation?”  “If it is, how bad will it be this time and will it go away or linger?”
I see one of my roles as an MS Caregiver to be that of educating others. In the grocery store, at work, wherever I meet someone who asks about Lynn and his condition, I try to clear up misperceptions and provide insight into what MS is all about and most importantly, that it’s different for every person they will meet.  No two people with MS seem to be affected the exact same way.  Each MS person knows they are unique in their personal struggles but at the same time they are a member of a larger community who has to learn to cope each day with what that day brings. 
That’s one of the reasons why I write this blog, too.  I want those who read it to know there are common struggles but each person is unique. Don’t look at Lynn if you’ve just been diagnosed with MS and believe you will be wheelchair dependent and unable to fed yourself in less than ten years after being diagnosed because that is probably not the case. I tell anyone who listens that the only way to deal with MS is to take each day and each minute in that day for what it brings in that moment.  Don’t look too far ahead or focus on what was left behind; just do your best with what you have that day and keep the faith (literally) that God will give you the strength to carry on through one more day and one more triumph.

Family Gatherings

Helping Lynn during family gathering

This past weekend, my parents and siblings as well as our children and theirs, came to our house to celebrate Christmas.  It was a wonderful time; lots of laughing and sharing…as well as good food.  We rarely get to see most of them since Lynn has become wheelchair dependent so these times together are especially precious. 
Changing where and how you do things is one of the adjustments that comes with being a caregiver. Since most homes are not designed for access and steps or narrow doors make it difficult to negotiate around most homes, the places a wheelchair dependent person can go are rather limited. The result is that you either become isolated from your former friends and family or you open your open to them coming to you.  That’s what we do; we have everyone to come our house.  It’s funny but before Lynn became disabled, I used to really stress out and have to have the house clean and neat with everything looking great.  Now, I’m just glad they are coming and have learned to let it go…somewhat.  I still like to make it look nice but I’ve also learned that if I don’t get the chance to do that; everyone understands and it’s no big deal.
Lynn was really looking forward to this year’s get-together.  He has not been able to participate in our  family get-togethers for the last two years due to some aspect of living with MS. This year he thought would be different, but it didn’t turn out as well as he had hoped. He realized shortly after he got up yesterday that it was not going to be a great day.  After breakfast he had to lie down because he was already exhausted.  He rested about an hour and he got up just before everyone got here so that he managed to great everyone and participate through lunch.
He was there for the welcoming greetings and for my daughter’s big announcement.  You
Baby's Ultrasound (profile shot)

see, he and I had known since October that Sarah (my daughter from my first marriage) was pregnant but she asked that we not tell the family so that she could do it herself.  Boy, was that hard but we managed. It’s been especially hard because she has had a difficult pregnancy so far; excessive nausea with a lot of weight loss and at least two hospitalizations for dehydration.  She was out of work for about six weeks and used up a great deal of their savings so it’s been hard not to share with our family the struggles she’s been having.  She’s better now but still on an infusion pump for nausea. 
We’ve been talking for a couple of weeks about how she would make her big announcement.  Since the pump is rather obvious, she had me call her when everyone was here so she could come in last with her coat on.  Then she presented a special Christmas present to my parents (her grandparents).  It was an oranament that she had affixed a picture of the baby’s ultrasound scan to.  It took them a minute to figure out what it was but when they did, everyone was very excited.  It made the day extra special, and Lynn was able to be there for that. 
He also managed to eat a pizza that was especially made for him by our church friend who cooks his gluten-free diet entrees.  Often when he’s this tired he cannot feed himself but he didn’t want me to feed him in front of everyone.  The pizza was the perfect solution. Because he could hold the slices, he was able to feed himself successfully, plus since everyone else was also eating pizza, he fit right in.  (Besides that, the pizza they made for him was wonderful!)
Right after lunch, the family gets together to play games.  It’s a way for all of us to be together and share in an activity of fun regardless of the age of the players. We divide up into teams and have a lot of good-natured competition.  Once we started the games though, Lynn had to lie down.  He was absolutely exhausted.  I put him to bed and kept the baby monitor close so I could hear him when he needed something.  For the rest of the day, I divided my time between taking care of him and coming back to the party. Even when he woke up, he was feeling too bad to join back in.  I attached him to his peddlar and would come back about every twenty to thirty minutes to make sure he had what he needed, give him either hot tea or cold water depending on what his body temperature was feeling at the moment, and cathing him since he was drinking so much.  He was very disappointed but felt so terrible that there was no way for him to join in. 
Overall this year’s gathering was better for him than last year’s by far but once again he wasn’t able to really fully participate… and neither was I.  I’m fortunate that my family just steps in and picks up the slack.  They put the food together and set everything out.  They also cleaned it all up and I came out of his room to a clean kitchen with everything put away.  They really try to pitch in with whatever they can do.  I really appreciate that because it allows me to also enjoy the time. 
When you are a caregiver, it’s like when you have small children–you never really get time off except that with children, it’s a little easier to get a sitter.  When the person you are caring for is 6 foot tall, weights about 200 lbs, and can only do very limited things for himself, finding a sitter is not so easy.  And while the person is an adult, you find that you watch over them in much the same way that you watch over a child.  You are constantly watching to make sure they do not run into anything with the wheelchair, you anticipate what they need so that it’s within their reach or you go get it for them, you watch for signs of distress…are they warm enough?  comfortable?  do they need to go to the bathroom? did they get enough to eat? and on and on.  I ate my meal standing up next to him so that I would be close in case of a problem.  I also am always looking around to see if he has a pathway that’s big enough for him to get into or out of areas without knocking over something or someone.  As a caregiver, you must always think ahead and plan for the what ifs?
All in all though, our family get-together was great.  I had time with everyone.  I managed to eat and snack and participate in the games.  I managed to be both a part of our family fun and the companion to Lynn that he needed…so it’s all good.  It’s different but it’s good; just like so many other aspects of this condition.  
I have three more celebrations coming up this week.  Thursday someone is staying with Lynn while I go out with my staff for lunch to celebrate the season.  Saturday night our kids and their significant others will be here for dinner and then Sunday, Lynn’s family will be here for lunch.  I am looking forward to it all and hope that you all will be having similar good times and good memories. 
Merry Christmas.

Ferritin Deficiency

 

When Lynn went to the doctor last week, several blood tests were done to find out why he is feeling so tired and run down.  We got the results yesterday and was very surprised to find out that his hemoglobin was greatly improved (now 14) as were his other lab values.  For the most part, everything was within range of what it could be and still be normal.  So why does he feel so awful? I think he has ferritin deficiency.
What’s that you say? Ferritin is a protein produced by the body to store iron. When there is insufficient iron in the blood, the body uses the iron stored in ferritin. Once the iron levels in the body improve, ferritin will again begin to store iron but there needs to be a surplus of iron before that happens.  Lynn’s blood work shows that his iron level is getting much better (his is 66 and the range is 30-165) which is why his hemoglobin has also improved.  However, his ferritin level is only 31 (normal is 30-330).  At this level he has symptoms of ferritin deficiency.
With low ferritin, the person gets tired easily and is unable to tolerate even moderate levels of physical activity. They have almost no stamina and will experience sudden loss of energy even with routine tasks. Their skin is often pale and dry and it’s common for them to have thyroid disorders.  The thyroid gland is unable to produce hormones when ferritin is low.  That may explain way Lynn now has hypothyroidism as well!
What’s the treatment?  Taking iron supplements and eating foods high in iron.  He has been on extra iron since September.  His first lab in September showed his ferritin at 30; in October it was 47, and now it’s back to 31 so he’s not making good progress yet.  We haven’t heard yet if his iron intake will need to be increased even further.
While I’m glad to know what’s wrong with him and relieved that it’s not something like liver failure or cancer, it’s also concerning to not know why this is happening.  He’s on a diet already high in red meat, eggs, greens–all things high in iron; so why is this happening? 
What I can tell you is that it’s exhausting for me.  He gets up in the morning and by the time he has eaten breakfast, he’s done in.  After that, anything he needs to have done, I do. He’s also suffering from being chilled to the bone; one of the side-effects of the condition.  He puts on blankets and we turn up the heat and he’s still cold so he drinks hot tea; and then he is too hot and he drinks a bottle of cold water; and then he’s too cold so he takes more tea; and on and on.  Today, since midnight last night I have catheterized him 17 times!  That’s almost every hour.  The only time it has not been every hour was when he was sleeping. 
Between being called back to cath him every 45-60 minutes, I’m making tea or getting more water for him, handing him things, helping to move his arm that won’t move, and trying to help him get comfortable. I have to admit, I’m lost my patience a few times today because I’ve been called away from what I was doing every few minutes.  But I also know he’s miserable and if he could control his needs, he would. Just one more thing to add to our list of medical challenges.
Did MS have anything to do with this?  Who knows?  A year ago he was in the hospital for not eating or drinking.  Maybe he lost all his stores then and with the other four hospitalizations, it never had a chance to improve.  Plus no one paid any attention to the anemia until this past fall. He was so sick with other things, the focus was on those and not on this so now that the other things are better; it’s ferritin’s turn now.
The blessing is that this is something that can be treated.  The curse is that it takes months to see an improvement.  With all things in life, there is a balance.
I don’t suppose anyone would like a house guest for the next few months???
 If you want more information on ferritin deficiency, I found this website to be informative.   http://www.buzzle.com/articles/ferritin-deficiency-symptoms.html

I have the blues today

I don’t know why.  But I’m feeling blue. Maybe the atmospheric pressure is playing a role since we are waiting for  the hurricane to roll in tomorrow night.  I think it’s primarily due to lack of sleep and trying to get away today.


I worked till 10 last night and then Lynn wanted to lie down for a nap.  I put him to bed and had so much I needed to do that I let him sleep from 10:30 till 12:30.  I know that was a mistake and I knew it when I was doing it but I needed some uninterrupted time to finish what I was working on.  (Plus we spilled some urine on his seat cushion and I wanted to get his favorite socks, leg warmers and the seat cushion clean for him before he got up)….so I let him sleep.


Of course he didn’t feel like eating right away when he woke up so I worked on downloading my contact list on my phone so I could transfer the information to my new phone. As usual I ordered what I needed over the internet so I was reading instructions so I could “do it myself.” I got him feed and into bed by 2:45 a.m.   I set my alarm for 9:00 a.m. because I was supposed to have a conference call regarding an issue at work.  At 4:00 a.m. he needed to be cathed.  I got up and did my thing, (while he slept) and was just about to settle back into bed when he decided he was too stiff to sleep and wanted to get up–so I got him up and got to bed around 5:00 a.m. He peddled till 7:00 a.m. and wanted to come to bed.  I was so tired.  I pulled up my work email and a message that I needed to reschedule the 9 a.m. meeting.  I went back to bed.  He got up at 9:00 a.m .  I went back to bed after getting him dressed and settled and fell right back to sleep.  My alarm went off again at 11.


I had a 2:00 doctor’s appointment for myself.  It was for a physical but also to talk about my painful hands and hip joints and the fact that my feet are numb all the time now. I showered, got breakfast, got Lynn dressed, got his meds ready, we ate, I took him to the bathroom, checked my emails, got my stuff for the appointment, put a foley in him for the day since his son was going to stay with him, got a message his son was going to be late but to go ahead and go….In the middle of this, I had several “special” requests, help with his email, help with the window AC, measure something for the device he wants to have built to help him keep his legs moving while in bed.  Each interruption just caused me to become more tense.  I finally, in frustration, told him he couldn’t ask me for one more thing, I was going to be late. He then said, “that’s why I asked you if getting up at 11 would give you enough time.”  To which I responded, “but you also told me you didn’t want me to go if I was going to fall asleep driving so I was trying to get at least 6 1/2 or seven hours when all the naps were totaled.”  He agreed that was more important.  I finally ran out of the house to go to my appointment.


I made it right at 2. I have a 45 minute drive.  I got so sleepy driving and was so tired.  I listened to a book as I drove which helped but I was really more like a zombie.  I read while I waited for my appt. and was seen. My doctor told me I really needed to find a way to get some sleep or it was really going to take a toll on my health.  She admitted she knew that would be a challenge.  She also told me until I could get some rest, I probably wouldn’t be very successful trying to lose weight because the stress was causing my body to hold on to “stores” to fight the stress.
I think that’s part of why I’m blue.  I want to see if we can get someone to be here at night so I can sleep more than two hours at a time but Lynn is so against it.  He doesn’t want anyone but me to do anything for him.  He promises to find a solution; create a device to help him stay in bed.  He assures me he is getting better and it won’t be an issue soon.  I so want that to be true but I admit, I don’t believe he will get so much better, with or without the device he’s making, that I will be able to sleep.


I asked him if while I was gone he could have Eric get the deck ready for the hurricane and to go to the gas station to fill up the gas can for the generator.  When I got home, nothing had been done.  He had not asked Eric to do any of it, including he hadn’t had lunch and nothing was put away from the things he had done while I was gone. In his defense, he just didn’t think of it but it made me sad. I wish he would think about me a little more and do things to make my life a little easier too.  I know he’s the disabled one and his burden is so much worse than mine. He is so appreciative of what I do and he tries to keep a positive attitude, but….I’m tired, and I’m sad, and I just want to be able to go to the store without rushing to get back home, and I want to not do anything of importance or any chores for a while.  Oh, well.  Time to get over my pity party.
Time to go get supper out of the stove.  Thank goodness all I had to do was heat something up tonight because I’ve been “at it” catching up work and trying to fix his computer  since I got home….It’s 11:30 pm. time to start the two-hour process of dinner and getting ready for bed.    Have a good night and stay safe from the hurricane.