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Tested By Fire

I was listening to a Bible commentary today and the commentator was talking about how God takes us through trials in life that prepare us for events yet to come. He described how precious metals are often put into fire for purifying so that the impurities are removed and the remaining metal is stronger and better able to withstand pressure and stress thereafter.  I can see how that has been the case in my life.
People often ask me how I do what I do.  How can I survive on five hours of sleep a night, hold down a very intense full-time position that often requires more than 40 hours a week to complete but yet be there night and day to take care of Lynn without losing my mind? Now, there are days when that last part might not be true; days when I think I am losing my mind, but for the most part, I’ve learned to take each day one minute at a time and just deal with whatever is the greatest need at that particular moment. I realize, I’ve learned to do this by being tested by fire throughout my life.
Continue reading at: http://multiplesclerosis.net/caregiver/caregiver-perspective-tested-by-fire/

Am I Competent to Do This Job?

I earn a living by working in a hospital in the department of Human Resources.  Hospitals are heavily regulated and one of the most stringent agencies who monitor us is The Joint Commission. One of the standards they have for human resources is that it’s our responsibility to determine if the people we hire are competent enough to safely do their jobs. I won’t bore you with the details on how that’s done but in working on a project related to competency determination today, I thought about what competencies are required to be a family caregiver.  It’s not an easy job but for some reason insurance carriers and the government seems to believe that any family member should be able to be a caregiver.
Just before my father-in-law died last month, I was attempting to assist my mother-in-law in finding someone who could take care of him if he was discharged to hospice care.  We discovered that once a person is deemed not to be able to improve but instead just needs comfort care or maintenance care that Medicare and insurance companies no longer pay for help regardless of the health and well-being of the family member responsible for his care.  My mother-in-law is near 80 and has myasthenia gravis, a neurological condition that makes all her muscles very weak.  She cannot lift or move anything more than a few pounds in weight.  There was no way that she could provide care for her spouse; however, that factor was not considered by insurance and she was unable to get any type of financial assistance to bring someone in to care for him or to place him in a skilled care facility.  Why? Because insurance said he did not need skilled care; just palliative care.
I’ve found the same is true for someone who is totally disabled and cannot improve their health, like Lynn.  His MS has progressed to secondary progressive and he can do nothing physical for himself; not even scratch an itch. He is an author and writes manuscripts with the use of a verbal command program that writes what he dictates.  It’s slow going but it keeps him productive and fortunately, so far his memory has not been affected by the disease.  With Lynn needing total care and my needing to work full time to pay the bills, I looked for help that we could afford.  I now pay an individual to work six hours a day 2-3 days a week to assist him with typing, feed him, and make sure he has liquids to drink. I provide all the rest of his care.  Am I competent to truly care for him? What type of competencies do I need to keep him safe and healthy? If someone was to apply for my job, what would my job description as a care giver look like?
Caregiver Job Description
continue reading at: http://multiplesclerosis.net/living-with-ms/caregivers-perspective-competent-job/

Life Lessons from Caregiving

Occasionally I get an email from someone who is a new caregiver asking for advice on how to adjust to this new role they have acquired.  Here are some of the life lessons I’ve learned from caregiving.
I can’t be perfect.
Not that I ever was but I’ve always had the personal philosophy that if I was going to do anything, I wanted to do my best if not be the best.  I didn’t just want to do a good job; I wanted to do a great job.  I did not like failing and so to avoid that negative feeling, anything that I wasn’t naturally good at doing, I would tend not to do. I would engage in only those things where I could be a success. I took that approach to caregiving, too.  I started out wanting to be the perfect wife and caregiver while simultaneously being the exemplary employee in my job.  I was depressed and frustrated and heading down a slippery slope till I broke down one day and Lynn and I discussed what my new reality needed to be. My goal now is to do a good job at everything and exceed where I can, but to recognize I can’t keep up the pace needed to be excellent. That’s hard for me to accept but necessary for survival.
Learn to say, “No.” 
I am a people pleaser.  I usually said “yes” to any request for assistance and I volunteered to help out when someone had a need.  My new reality is that even as much as I want to be part of the drama team at church or sing in the choir, or even attend a support group, Lynn needs someone with him 24/7 and most of my friends and family members need to care for their own families after 5 p.m. or on weekends when those types of activities usually occur.  I frequently see requests to assist with one type of mission activity or another or even I hear that my daughter needs someone to keep her sick child; but I have to say, “No.”  Right now, Lynn’s health and safety have to take priority so I can’t allow myself to over-commit.  I have to set priorities and stick with them or I’ll collapse from exhaustion.
Ask for help. 
continue reading at: http://multiplesclerosis.net/living-with-ms/life-lessons-caregiving/

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/

How FMLA Supports Caregiving

My paid job, that supports Lynn and me, is as a Human Resources Director of Employee Relations.  As part of that role, I am responsible for keeping up with employment law.  One of the laws often misunderstood by employees is the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  While from the employer perspective this law is a thorn in their sides, from an employee perspective this law can provide you with the ability to care for your loved one without being punished for taking time off.

When many people hear about FMLA it is in relation to having time off when a new child arrives in the family either to recover from childbirth or to adjust to being a parent.  However, it’s more than just a law for new parents. Where it can especially be useful is for those people who need to miss time from work intermittently to care for a parent, spouse, child, or themselves due to a serious health condition.  Multiple Sclerosis is included as one of the conditions that is considered a serious health condition.
The provisions of FMLA say that you cannot face disciplinary action (including termination of employment) if you need to miss time from work to provide “care or support” for your immediate family member with MS…at least for a while.  It does have its limits. If you work full time you can have up to 480 hours off, without pay, each 360 days.  The 480 hours does not have to be taken all at once. It can be taken in as small as 15 minute increments if your employer counts its work time in that small of an increment which is the standard for most jobs (meaning you’re paid for each 15 minute period you work).  You can also take the time off with pay if your company has a paid vacation or personal leave policy.  In other words, if they allow you to take time off using paid leave to take your car to the shop for repairs; they have to allow you time off to take care of your spouse using that same leave.
You can use FMLA for any reason that meets the definition of care or support.  The obvious ones are to take your spouse to medical appointments, bathing and dressing them, helping with therapy, etc. But you can also use it to clean your parent’s house if they physically cannot, run their errands if they cannot drive, provide emotional support, and take care of their banking, etc. if they cannot do it themselves. The only thing to keep in mind is that you only have 480 hours each 12 month period.  Once you use it up, it’s gone till the year starts over again.  It’s also one of those situations where if you don’t use it, you lose it.  You can’t carry it over to the next year so that you can be off for an even longer period.
There are, of course, some rules you have to follow.  First, you must prove that you qualify for this law’s protection.  You must have been with your employer for 12 months though the 12-months does not have to be continuous.  Second, you must have worked at least 1,250 hours in the 12-months just prior to when you need to take the time off.  1,250 hours is about 31 weeks or almost 8 months if you miss no time and are working 40 hours a week.  The other point is that if you don’t work 40 hours a week, you are not entitled to as much time off.  If you want to know how much time you’re allowed, here’s the calculation.
Number of hours you work per week /40 (divided by).  That gives you a percent. (Example 30/40=.75) You take that percent and multiply it by 480 to find out how many hours you can have off.  (Example 480 x .75 = 360 hours)
Once you’re qualified then you have to provide medical documentation that you or your spouse, parent, or child has a serious health condition. Usually your employer has a form for you to take to your healthcare provider for him/her to complete.  Your healthcare provider and you should talk about how often you will need to be available to support your family member. I recommend estimating on the high side to be safe but also be realistic.  For example, you might need an hour each morning to get your loved one ready for the day.  That would be five hours per week but do you also on a fairly regular basis need to take several hours off for medical appointments or to run errands?  If you can’t do these things outside of work time and have to do them during working hours, include that time.  Just remember, when it’s used up, it’s gone AND you’re likely using your vacation time up to earn pay for this time.  Many employees assume because they have to be given the time off, their employer has to pay them extra pay above vacation time to provide this care.  That is not true. The law only protects your job and access to your benefits.  It does not provide for pay.
continue reading at: http://multiplesclerosis.net/living-with-ms/fmla-supports-caregiving/

Information from WeGO Health community

This announcement was sent to me for possible inclusion on my blog.  If you’re interested in joining the WEGO Health community www.wegohealth.com , it seems to have a lot of resources.
Announcing the 2012 Health Activist Awards!
We’re excited to announce the start of the WEGO Health Activist Awards Nominations!  This year, we’re extending the nomination period and we’ve added some exciting new award categories but we’re hoping you’ll take a moment to recognize all of the people who make a difference, offer support, and share information in your online health community
Not sure who to nominate?  Recognize your favorite blogger or tweeter, the person who always make you laugh, the community member who’s always there to offer support, or those who inspire you to do more – we’ve got an award for everyone!  If you can’t think of someone to nominate right this minute but want to be kept in the loop on the Health Activist Awards, join the WEGO Health network at www.wegohealth.com – we’d love to have you as a member!
Cheers,
The WEGO Health Team

Virtual Support Group Instructions

Great News.  I have Skype set up and we can do conference calls, not group videos (though you could if you have that option in Skype, I just don’t have the bandwidth to do it).  Here’s what you need to do to participate:

  • Set up a Skype to Skype account.  It’s free.  You will need to have the capability to talk through your computer so a webcam with audio capability would be helpful.  Some laptops already have them installed so you’ll need to figure that out on your computer in advance.
  • Once you have your Skype account set up, you need to send me a contact request.  My Skype name is MSCaregiverDonna.  You can just click on “Add Contacts” and type that in as my Skype name.  That will send me a request to accept you as a contact, which of course I will. This has to be done in advance of the group meeting so I can add you to the conference call.
  • The day of the conference call, I’ll have already created a “group” for the session and I’ll send you a call when we’re ready to start.  You just answer the call and we get started.  Hopefully, it’s really that simple; however, I expect we may have a few glitches to work out initially so have patience.

Let’s set the date for our first support group meeting as June 16 and we’ll meet at 2 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.  That means you’ll need to convert the time for whatever time zone you are in.  I’m looking forward to meeting you all and having a real talk.

Virtual Support Group Update

I’m finding out that my internet, which is DSL, does not have enough bandwidth for me to do group video conferencing but I should be able to do group conference calls using Skype.  I’m still working out the details and when I have it figured out, I’ll be back to set up a specific time for our first virtual support group. 
I think we’re still on track for sometime in June. Based on the number of people who expressed interest, I think we’re looking at having a small group 5-8 to start with but if it works, I expect that could get larger.  Keep your fingers crossed that I figure out how to make this work. 
If anyone is interested in being a “co-leader” let me know.  There could be times I would not be able to host it and it would be nice to have someone else be the contact if that should occur.  Think about it and let me know.
Thanks
Donna

Sometimes I Feel Like I will Explode

Pressure.   So much pressure.  …but where does it come from?  Me or “them?”
This has been one of those weeks where I have felt I was under extreme pressure all week.  The week started off with me getting up early on Monday for a conference call that wasn’t actually scheduled till Tuesday.  I needed to get up early anyway in order to have the four hours I need to get ready before I go into work for meetings so it was actually somewhat of a relief to have gotten the date wrong but that meant also getting up early the next day…which I did.  “Issues” started flowing in from work Tuesday afternoon and I haven’t had a break since….
My job can be very intensive.  I coordinate investigations, consult on workplace conflicts, and generally give advise on how to address problems.  Often participants are very emotional and the consultations are intense.  I have to be “on my game,” able to listen for variations of the truth, able to see through smoke screens to the facts, able to determine what laws apply and what solutions might work in a situation based on personalities and behaviors that I rely on others to describe.  Therefore, I need to concentrate on what is being said, how it’s being said, and what is not said to make sure I manage a situation effectively.
Now imagine this…I’m on a speaker phone attending a conference call about some highly emotional issue.  I’m multitasking at my desk, looking up information, referencing reports, taking notes, and planning strategies with the people on the line.  Over the baby monitor on my desk, I hear, “Donna I need to be cathed.”  So I take the speaker phone with me, mute the line, glove up and take care of business, never missing a beat.  Then he mouths, “I need nose spray,”  so I apply the spray, then as I put down the spray, “can you make me some tea?” I continue to carry on my conversation and go make the tea. When I deliver it, his foot has come loose from the stirrups in the peddler so I fix that, his socks need to be pulled up and his shin needs scratching.  I finish all this, still on the phone and go back to my desk.  Fifteen minutes later, “Sweetie, can you come here?” and it starts again.
Some days I do okay with this pace; other days I don’t.  When the issues are intense or the stakes are high, I feel intense internal conflict between who gets my attention at that moment. So far, I’ve managed to juggle it all– I can multitask like you wouldn’t believe, but the pressure is getting to me. Several times this week, I’ve just felt like I could not keep going like this.  I would love to quite the dual role.  I would love to go back to work and have someone else be the caregiver for a while but I can’t afford to do that.  The cost would just be too much so I keep going. I admit there are times I almost wish I would get injured or sick so I would have an excuse to stop for a while.  If that would happen, then insurance would pay for a temporary caregiver at least and the decision to stop being a caregiver, even temporarily, wouldn’t be mine to make.
I am very fearful that eventually I won’t be able to keep up the pace.  What will happen then?  We have a little savings but that would not last long if full-time care was needed.  If we lost most of our resources, then we would be eligible for assistance but I don’t want to lose nearly everything so I can get some help.  If I quite my job and worked part-time, we could not pay our bills.  Lynn could go into a care facility but I couldn’t (not that I ever want him to have to do that) but if that happens, what happens to me, the caregiver, who has burned out, lost their income, lost their home, lost their savings? 
I’m getting morbid and over-dramatic but it’s these type of thoughts that cause the pressure.  I don’t want my worst fears to happen. I don’t want to lose our home or to have to put Lynn in a care facility; nor do I want to lose my job (believe it or not, I really like what I do).  So I feel pressured…pressured to do my best at work so I don’t let down my colleagues; pressure to do my best for Lynn because I love him and am committed to him; pressure to try to be a supportive mother and friend; pressure to make it all work.  Where does this pressure come from?  From me. From my own expectations.  From my own demands to do it all perfectly.
So maybe what I need to do is go find a pin…I think its time to create a small leak.  Just a little leak to reduce some of the pressure; not so much as to make me explode or deflate entirely… just enough to stay afloat like a balloon that has lost its elasticity and becomes almost puncture proof.  That’s my goal. To become a low pressure, rubbery balloon. Sounds good doesn’t it? Or better yet, I guess I just need to turn it over to God and let him handle it because it’s just too much for me right now.  So….God, this is Donna.  Here… it’s yours.  Thanks and Amen.

Virtual Support Group by Skype?

  When I first started this blog, my intent was to create a virtual support group; a place on-line that people, like me, who could not get away to attend support group meetings could get together on-line.  While this blog has allowed me to make many new friends and to gain support periodically from each of you, it doesn’t allow for that “personal” touch.  But I have an idea that might just work….let me know what you think.
Have you ever heard of Skype?  Skype is an online phone service that is free and allows you to both talk to and see whom you’re calling. Lynn uses it to speak to book clubs about his book and while it’s not always the best picture (depends on the equipment being used of course), it allows you to meet the people on the other end of the conversation.  Skype also offers an option for video conferencing which enables the subscriber to have multiple pictures of callers up at the same time.  There is a fee for this but it’s only $10/month if someone wanted that option.  See where I’m going with this?
If enough people were interested, we could have a virtual support group of caregivers.  From the location of our own home, we could reach out from across the country or even overseas to meet each other and share a “real time” conversation.  By getting together on-line in this manner we could attend a support group while still caring for our family members.  Many laptops now have webcam capabilities built in but I’ve looked into buying a webcam and you can get some good ones for less than $50.  Skype has some listed as five stars that are around $25. I’m very technology illiterate so I may be missing something that would not make this possible, but I don’t see why not? 
If you’re interested, I was thinking maybe once a month, on a Saturday afternoon, we could designate an hour to talk about whatever is going on that month.  I’m not a therapist or a counselor so this would not be a therapy session; just a group of caregivers who share a common challenge who get together to encourage and support one another.   I don’t know if it would work but I think God put this on my mind as an option to reach out to support people in a more personal way.  I would still do my blog but this would be a separate project.
So, what do you think?  If you’re interested, let me know.  If there’s enough interest, I’ll buy the subscription to Skype for group video conferencing.  I think you could call in and just view me if you only want the free subscription or if you also subscribed to video conferencing, you could see everyone else who calls in. I’m not sure about that though but it makes sense that you could.  So give it some thought and we’ll see if there’s any interest.  I’ll get back to you in about a month to let you know if there’s enough interest and when the first meeting would be.
Be “seeing” you soon?

Patient Advocate

Out of the blue today, Lynn asked me to write about advocacy. He said, “please stress to your readers the importance of having an advocate or being one for yourself,” so here goes.
When Lynn and I first got married, we were both VERY independent.  Both of us had been married before and both of us had learned to survive as single parents and single individuals. Therefore, unless we needed someone to drive us home after a procedure, we never accompanied one another to medical appointments. That was fine at first but then I became very frustrated with that approach because Lynn’s approach to health care is “the less I know the better” or “ignore it and it will go away.”  Mine, on the other hand, is “tell me absolutely everything, give me a copy of every medical report you receive, and where can I get more information?”  Therefore, as I began to notice more and more often, symptoms that, to me, signaled MS, I began to ask more and more, “what did your doctor say?”  The answer was always the same, “I’m fine.”
Finally after one intense discussion around this factor, I announced that the next time he went to ANY doctor, I was going, too.  I’m glad I did.  I sat silently to the side and listened as the doctor asked Lynn how he was doing.  His response, “Fine, if I was any better I could not stand myself.” Knowing that doctors do not have x-ray eyes and cannot read minds, I spoke up and said that wasn’t exactly correct. So began, my role as MS Caregiver, and patient advocate.
Initially Lynn continued to have a hands-off attitude.  He told me he didn’t want to know anything other than what he had to know to get by day by day. When I would be reading about MS or looking at something on the internet about it, he would turn his head as he walked by.  This attitude continued until his second admission to the hospital.
Lynn’s first hospital admission was pretty serious.  His body temperature dropped so low it could not have sustained his life for long.  That was due to aspiration pneumonia which occurred when he coughed up a nasogastric tube through which he was getting a tubefeeding and the feeding went into his lungs. He was actually too sick during this admission to participate in his own decision-making so I stayed with him 24/7 and did it for him.  I was present whenever the medical team visited and I asked hundreds of questions to make sure I understood what was going on and what it all meant.
Then on his second hospital admission, he learned for himself that he needed to speak up on his own behalf.  Lynn’s diaphragm was weak; whether from an MS exacerbation or the intrathecal baclofen dose being too high and making the muscle weak. There was a period where I expected him to be put on a ventilator at any moment.  Thanks to prayer and a good medical team, we avoided that but when he became more alert, he started taking a more active role in the decision-making.  He was convinced he was NOT having an exacerbation so he refused the IV steroids.  There was one doctor in particular who kept insisting he had to go on steroids and he flatly refused to do so.  He insisted the baclofen dosage be adjusted and that, along with some aggressive pulmonary care, helped him to overcome the respiratory depression he was having and be able to leave the hospital. 
During that admission, he had difficulty talking because he had limited oxygen and had to wear an oxygen face mask all the time.  Often the doctors would assume he was going to go along with what they wanted and would not wait to hear him out.  However, I learned to read his signals and would at times, block the doorway and say, “he wants to say something to you, listen.”  They would apologize and indeed listen.  Sometimes they just get too busy to slow down and listen to the patient and you have to force the issue.
That’s what patient advocacy is all about…making sure your opinions are known and heard.  Healthcare professionals can be intimidating.  They are trained to be very confident in their decisions and in deciding what is best for someone; they have to be so that they will have the courage to do what has to be done. However, sometimes they have a hard time turning that off.  That’s when you have to speak up.  You know your own body and how your body reacts to situations.  In much the same way, you know the body and the reactions of the person you care for. 
As a caregiver, you can often spot changes that even the patient doesn’t notice.  I’ve intervened in Lynn’s care several times and having done so, prevent a great deal of pain and suffering for him. You won’t always know the answers but listen to your gut instinct when you feel something’s wrong. 
…and be a pest if that’s what it takes.  Don’t be abrasive or rude; that will backfire.  No one likes to be bullied or threatened so don’t go there but be persistent.  Keep asking for an explanation and pointing out discrepancies until you’re satisfied that what you know is being considered. I’m not saying to always disagree with the medical team or to insist for the sake of insisting, but just make sure you’re heard and your opinion is considered.  Get a second or third opinion if necessary, but always look out for your loved one like a mother bear watches over her cubs.  It’s just one more essential role of being a caregiver.

The Secret Life of a Caregiver

 I follow the writings of another caregiver, Patrick, (http://caregivinglyyours.blogspot.com) who has been caring for his wife who has MS for 22 years.  Patrick recently discovered he had cancer and one of the comments he made in his blog struck home with me.  Patrick described how he hid the truth of his illness from his wife so that she would not become upset over the news. When I read that, I wanted to reach out and give him a hug and say, “I know.”
Who, as a caregiver, has not been in the position of putting on a smile to hide the true emotions they are feeling?  I have been very fortunate (so far) that I have not had any serious illness to hide, but I have learned that I must be careful what I share. I remember coming home from a medical appointment where my healthcare provider warned me that if I didn’t get some sleep, I was likely to become very ill…and then who would care for Lynn?  More than a concern about my own health, I started taking measures to address the warning so that I would be around to care for him. 
I admit though, I told Lynn what the doctor said.  He initially took it in and encouraged me to follow the doctor’s advise.  Then I started noticing that depression was setting in for him.  He would be on the verge of tears and he was constantly asking me how I was feeling.  I realized that while I felt responsible for him, he felt guilty for the potential harm he was causing me and he was having a very difficult time dealing with it.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I will share that I am sometimes evil.  Sometimes I am so tired of being tired and I’m hurting all over from muscle strain and the burden of doing everything, and I just want to escape…then he calls, “hey, sweetie!” to scratch an itch for the 10th time in an hour or to adjust his clothing…AGAIN… or something else he needs when I’m in the middle of trying to get something done that REALLY needs to be done.  I admit in that moment, I want to make him feel guilty so that he stops needing me so much.  I tell myself that he doesn’t really need that much attention or that he just wants my company so he’s making up reasons to call me, or he’s just being plan unreasonable and impatient…. I’m angry and resentful of the situation so I say something that I think will make him feel sorry for me.  I hope you all will not think too badly of me but at those times, I’m evil and mean.  I don’t like myself after that and when I see I stuck home with what I said to him and he’s feeling guilty then I feel awful and try to make it up to him…but I admit, it happens…especially at night when I’m tired.  It’s embarrassing and I feel guilty that I’m so petty but it’s true unfortunately.
I’ve found that I have many secrets as a caregiver.  I keep my fears a secret (when will he get worse, what do I do about a caregiver, how can I manage repairs, etc.)  I keep my desires secret (I want to escape, I don’t want our life to be this hard, I don’t want to move one day)  I keep concerns about my health a secret (are those just stress palpitations? do I need surgery on my thumb joints?) I keep my “bad” self secret–my grouchiness, my frustrations, my resentment at times.  
I keep all these things secret because I don’t want to hurt Lynn.  Some of it he knows by observation and experience anyway (especially my grouchy nature)  and sometimes I share just enough to prepare him for what may come but not so much as to drive him into a depression.  It’s tough being the strong one though.  Sometimes you just want someone else to carry the burden awhile.  That’s why I wanted to give Patrick a hug and say, “I know.” 
To Patrick:
I’m praying for you, Patrick and wish you the very best. I’m so glad the surgery was successful and you dodged the bullet, but right now, it’s time for someone else to care for the caregiver.  God Bless.

Life Changes

I’m going to be a grandma for the first time in June!  My daughter is having a little boy and I’ve been more than a little excited since the first moment I heard the news (which was about two days after she knew she was pregnant). She and her husband are going to make great parents and I’m fortunate that they are not that far away so I’ll be able to see them fairly often (I hope).
I’ve thought a lot about this new baby entering into our family.  I day-dream about babysitting and playing with him.  I want to go to their home for his birthday parties, attend his school functions…all the things grandparents love to do.  Then there’s this part of me that thinks about the reality of my ability to do that.  I expect I can babysit here just fine but Lynn can’t get into their house so  I couldn’t go to his birthday parties unless they were somewhere accessible or Lynn didn’t go.  I also wonder as I look ahead, when the little guy actually starts school, what shape will Lynn be in by then.  That’s five years away.  Thinking back five years ago, Lynn was still working and totally independent.  What if the next five years has the same decline of the past five? ….I can’t even go there.
So instead, I’m going to think positively.  I know that there will be grandma time.  I also know that Lynn wants some grandpa time so we’re thinking about getting him one of those things you strap on to hold the baby so he can safely cuddle him, too.  Oh, probably he could not tolerate much time actually holding or playing with the baby but we’ll find a way for him to participate. I already have visions of the two of them racing down the hallway in Lynn’s powerchair!
That’s not our only life change coming up.  Lynn’s son is getting married in November!  Our kids are all great at finding ways to include Lynn so he can fully be a part of their lives.  For instance, Lynn had secretly hoped that his son would ask him to be his best man but he was not going to say anything about it to him because he didn’t want to put any pressure on him.  It’s their wedding and we want them to celebrate as they see fit.  But he didn’t need to worry, he’s going to be the best man.  We’ve been laughing about me getting him dressed in a tux and this should be something to see.  Maybe a youtube moment that would go viral?
The wedding is at 2 pm, early enough that hopefully Lynn won’t have gotten worn out by then and late enough for me to make sure he’s had all his essential daily activities completed in plenty of time.  The other factor is the rehearsal dinner…you know the groom’s family does that.  My concern, though not shared with them, was that between the rehearsal and the dinner, Lynn would become so worn out that he would be barely able to function the next day.  Well, they solved that problem for us.  We’re having a rehearsal luncheon instead.  Everyone will come to our house, I’ll fix something we can serve buffet style and that can be fixed in advance and when he gets tired, he can rest.  I’m hoping he can do the lunch thing, ly down for a while and then go to rehearsal, come home and rest for the remainder of the night and be refreshed for the wedding.
So we have major life changes happening in our family.  I’m excited about them all but as is true for anything, it has it challenges.  When a family member has MS, special consideration and long-range planning is needed. You hear the news, get excited, and then at almost the same time, start thinking about what changes will be needed so that the MS won’t get in the way.  The important thing is to make sure it doesn’t stop you or anyone else in the family from participating and enjoying the new events.  It would be easier in some ways to just “sit this one out” but we intend to keep our lives as normal as possible and to participate in whatever we can whenever we can… and so far it’s working.  I hope the same is working for you and yours.

Hope or Reality?

It is Lynn’s belief that if he accepts that he has MS then he is allowing MS to “have” him. He says that he has seen enough people who we struggling along, maybe feeling bad, but still going along until they find out they have a serious condition.  Then as soon as they accept that they have cancer or heart disease or whatever, they give into it and no longer push through it. So what he tells people is that he was diagnosed with MS but that he refuses to accept that he has MS.
Though I understand what he’s saying, I don’t buy it myself.  I’m the type who wants to know as much as I can so I can take control of my options.  I want to choose what I do and when I do it. I want to plan for my future.  I’m a realist. I want to know, within reason, what to expect, good or bad.  I know that knowing can sometimes have a “self-fulfilling prophesy”  component to it but I think that knowing doesn’t mean you have to just accept that nothing can be done but instead it allows you to make intelligent decisions.
When we are expecting test results that may not be good, Lynn usually tells the doctor to tell me the details and he tells me to just take care of it because he doesn’t want to know.  I’ve found that’s not entirely true.  The reality is that he has to ease into the knowledge. He’s more like the person who s-l-o-w-l-y peels off the bandage while I’m the one who ripes it off, sees stars for a moment, and then takes a deep breath and moves on. 
This difference in how we view life and the future has us at odds at times.  For instance, before he found out he had MS, we bought land to build a house.  He wanted to do it all himself so for about five years, he designed the house, researched materials, and found someone to draw the detailed plans.  Then he began to build the house.  We currently have a complete foundation that has been sitting there untouched for 2-3 years.  Last summer, he decided we were going to find subcontractors to start back to work on it.  He has not made much progress on that decision other than he has selected a builder and has some contractors selected and he’s re-designing the house to adapt to being in a wheelchair.
He has changed the design of the master bathroom to make it easier to shower.  He’s figuring out how to put a floor to second-landing ramp in the living room so he can drive his wheelchair to the two lofts that will be at either end of the open living space.  He continues to work on the new home, planning for the future.  He’s looking forward to the day he can oversee it being built and moving in.  He even still wants to add a pond in the back so he can fish….
Me, other the other hand–I’m thinking, “yeah right.”   I have no true belief that we will ever move into that house.  In fact, right now, I can’t say that I even want to.  The house we live in now is wheelchair accessible.  My daughter and son-in-law live ten minutes away.  I have a good neighbor I can call on to look out for the place if I’m away.  It could certainly be designed better for us but if we moved, I would have so much work to do to get the house ready to sell and I had rather burn it down than try to pack everything we have in it! (not really but it will truly be a nightmare to pack up)
If I share that with Lynn, however, then it’s the same as if I’m saying he will never get better.  He works out every day and pushes every day to get stronger so that he may someday be able to walk again.  I have to be so careful with what I say so that I don’t take that hope away from him….but I’m afraid to hope. I know how MS works, especially when it gets to this stage.  It doesn’t go away.  I occasionally hear stories of people who were in wheelchairs who walk again but I’m afraid to hope that that will be him because I don’t want to be disappointed when/if it doesn’t happen.  But I don’t want to stop him from hoping or trying either.  He needs that hope.  He needs something to work toward….and it could happen, couldn’t it?
What if he’s right?  What if the only reason he is unable to do anything for himself is just because he needs to build more strength? What if there is not permanent damage but instead what we see is his de-conditioning from all the set-backs he has had?  What if this new diet continues to make him feel better and by feeling better, he can do more and by doing more, he gets stronger and by getting stronger, he regains his ability to walk?  It could happen, couldn’t it?  If it did, then my reality would totally change and I would be willing to move and pack and whatever else was necessary to start a new life in a new home.
So what do we do?  Hope or live in reality?  I guess I promote hope for him with a strong dose of reality for me.  I still need to plan for “what if” and I still need to make sure his needs, as they are now, are met.  He can hope but I need reality to cope….that’s just the way it is….

MS Connection Site correction

Last week I mentioned that the MS society had established a new site to help connect individuals interested in MS. I did not realize at the time that I was using a test site and I gave you the wrong web address.  The site is now open for business at  http://www.msconnection.org.  I hope you will check it out.  There is a discussion group for MS Families called “Care and Support” that can be used to ask questions and get advise from others.   I’ve posted some of my most recent blogs to the site as well.  I think just over 300 individuals were invited to participate in getting the site started before it’s opening day so there is already a lot of content there and should be more as others join in.  I hope you too will take advantage of this opportunity to connect to others.

Back to work

I have so much going through my mind today that I find my emotions on the surface for no real reason other than overload.
We’re having friends over for dinner tonight.  They are bringing the meat and I’m doing the vegetables. This is a couple we really enjoy being with and can be ourselves with so why am I feeling overwhelmed?  Maybe because it’s 1:30 p.m. and I haven’t been able to go to the grocery store yet to pick up the vegetables. Maybe because in the course of writing this paragraph, I’ve had to go back to the bedroom twice where Lynn is supposed to be resting.  Once because “I’m ready to get up,” but he changed his mind.  Once because “I need you to push my toes”  (releaves muscle tension) and again now because, “I’m ready to get up now to peddle” and each time he calls me I go back there and he is snoring….but insists the minute he opens his eyes that he has not been sleeping and must get up because his legs are aching so much. I’ll be right back…
It’s now 3:41.  Yes, I have been helping Lynn with one thing or another since I wrote the last paragraph and can now resume where I left off. I’ve cathed him, given him his two MS shots, gotten him dressed and into his wheelchair, connected him to his peddler, given him his nose spray twice, adjusted his clothing for comfort five times, heated up his lunch (eatten mine as his cooked), fed him, cleaned up afterwards, cathed him again, answered some of his emails for him, put the dishes away and sat back down to write this again.  Oh yea, and canceled our dinner plans.  He’s achy and can’t get comfortable; he’s sleepy and irritable; just not a good day for company.  What’s wrong? Probably the change in atmospheric pressure.  We have been having the weather go from hot to cold to hot and now back to cold and when that happens, it wrecks havoc with his system so it’s not a good time for company. 
Though disappointing, not having to worry about getting ready for company is actually a relief today.  It’s fun when things are going well but not when they aren’t.  We had plans today to have the dinner tonight and to go to the fabric store and Lowes this morning to get things for the device he’s building for his legs to move in bed.  We didn’t do that either. His stomach was grumbling and questionable.  He was very tired and I was on the edge of tears most of the morning  just trying to get chores done so we could go.  When life gets like that, it’s just better to stop and let it go.  Maybe tomorrow we can go those places; or maybe not.  He had his Avonex (IM MS drug)  today so tomorrow he will feel achy like he has the flu so it might not be a good time to try a trip then either.  We’ll see.
The other stressor I’m feeling is that next week I have to start finding a way to go into work some.  Yep, the full-time working from home has come to an end.  I’ve been blessed to have it for a full year after his initial hospitalization but my supervisor asked me, very gently and kindly, if I could find a way to start coming in more often.  She was very nice about it and certainly didn’t have to be; after all I have an important job there and I’m needed so they have been more than accommodating.  In fact, she still is.  She isn’t making me come back there full-time and suggested trying once or twice a week for a few hours to see how it worked.
I have to admit, I have very mixed emotions about going back. 
Worries:  Who will stay with Lynn?  He wants me to go in on either Mondays when his son, mother, and sister come to visit or Thursdays when our friend comes to help him with his writing and book marketing.  That makes sense…he’s comfortable with all of them and they all have an idea of what to do for him but now it will go from them “wanting to come” to my “needing them” to come.  I’ll need back up plans for if they are sick or have something else to do so that will add pressure every time I plan to go in…will they come?  Plus none of them can cath him so I’ll have to put in a foley.  Foley’s are more irritating and cause urinary track infections easier due to the irritation and direct access of the catheter from the outside of the body to the inside.  We’ve had one really bad experience with a UTI which landed him in ICU. I learned from that but it has left its scar. 
Plus getting ready to leave him is always a lot of work; getting meals ready, comfort items set up, and providing him with emotional comfort. He has a lot of separation anxiety when I leave him and he can’t help but to show it which makes me feel guilty of course.  If I decide not to use family, I’ll need to find someone to come in that he likes and we can afford.  That means researching what our insurance will pay and the different care options.  Ugh, just one more task.
Pluses:  On the other hand, I’ll be able to get away.  I REALLY need to get away.  I can feel the stress build up of constantly having to stop what I’m doing to scratch, adjust, fetch, move, etc.  I miss the people I work with.  I miss doing something that is productive and is an accomplishment.  I miss interacting with others and I need to be able to get away from “Hey Sweetie!” 
I think going back to work will be a good thing.  He needs to learn to let me go and I need the break.  I hope I can handle the extra work though.  To go into work means I’ll actually have to work more hours.  Currently, I can just go to my desk in my living room and begin work.  Now, I’ll have to get myself ready and get him ready and drive the 45 minutes – an hour (depending on traffic) to my job and back so all that will be lost time I’ll have to make up.  So in order to work two hours there, I’ll have to make up four hours when I get back home or on the weekend.  If I go in twice, then it doubles.  It will certainly be a challenge but somehow I’ll make it work.  I have to…so I will.

Whose life is he living?

Last night I talked about the fact that I felt that I was not living my own life and that I was lost in the caregiving role.  Tonight I want to explore the other side–his side. 
Lynn sits up at night to sleep so that he will not wake me up to put him on his peddler when his legs get stiff.  He has given up sleeping in a soft bed until he can create a device that will keep his legs moving at night.  Therefore, when he wakes up he decides if he needs to be cathed or if it’s just stiffness that caused him to awaken. I’m sure he looks over at me sleeping comfortably in the bed under my covers and tries to delay waking me as long as possible.  Often when he does, I groan and ask, “are you sure?  I just cathed you at xxx.”  He is dependent on my getting up when he asks so that his bladder can be relieved.  His relief is contingent upon my cooperation and my timeline.
When morning comes, he lies down while I shower and eat breakfast.  Even if he is stiff and needs to move around, he has to wait until I am available to get him up.  His comfort is dependent on what I’m doing and when I can come meet his needs.  If he has an itch or gets cold and needs covers, he can call out for help, but he can’t take care of it himself unless I’m willing to be his hands.
When it’s time to get dressed, I pick out his clothes and dress him.  I often give him the choice of what to wear but putting it on so that it feels comfortable and fits right is up to me.  If the seams aren’t right or something is twisted and I don’t fix it, he has to wear it that way.  Ever worn a twisted garment for very long?  It’s very uncomfortable and annoying, but I can’t feel his discomfort so how do I know?
When he wants to eat, he has to wait for me to fix it.  I season it according to my taste which is nothing like his.  Though I try to match what he likes, I can’t taste through his taste buds so the flavor of his food is through my taste buds.
When he wants entertainment, unless the remote is within reach, he has to watch what is on until I can come change the channel or put in a new CD or DVD. 
If he’s cold or hot, he needs me to change the thermostat or bring/remove blankets to adjust his comfort level.  He’s anemic but I’m often hot, have a fan blowing, or lowering the temperature when he’s got bone-chilling coldness to handle.
I manage his medical appointments, often deciding with the practitioners the course of treatment.  I arrange his living space, take him where he needs to go, or buy what he needs to have–all of which is done according to my taste, my timeline, my skill level.  He cannot use his hands or his legs.  He cannot change his own position.  All his comfort is contingent upon my being able to help, my understanding of what he needs, and my willingness to do it.
As is true with each of us, inside ourselves we are still young, still able-bodied, still filled with the hopes and dreams we have always had only now that he is disabled, he is a prisoner in his own body that will not respond to what his mind still believes it can do.  In order to live his life, he has to live through me. 
So last night I was lamenting about living my life through him but he can lament the same.  We live our lives through each other…but then isn’t that what a married couple does anyway?  What God has joined together….well in our case, we are truly one.

Whose life is this I'm living?

Have you ever wondered whose life it is you are living?  Sometimes I wonder if I exist anymore. Some days it seems that I only exist to be Lynn’s assistant.  I do not have a life of my own anymore.  Sometimes I try to have one but when I do, I just become frustrated with trying so I try not to try.  I also wonder who would I be if I was not providing care to Lynn?
When you are a caregiver, your entire life is wrapped around the person for whom you are caring. You decide what time you have to get up in the morning based on what you have to do for your loved one.  Here’s how today went for example.  I wanted to attend a meeting today, in person, at work.  In order to do that I had to make sure I had someone who could come in to stay with Lynn.  I had to plan for what he would need while I was away and I had to calculate how long I would be gone, what else I might be able to fit in while I was away, and what he would need while I was away.  I set my clock to get up two hours before I had to leave. I  got up and put him to bed while I showered (he sits up to sleep at night so he can peddle if he gets stiff).  Putting him to bed takes about 20 minutes.  I showered, blow-dried my hair and put in hot curlers. I didn’t apply make up or put on my clothes because I knew they would get messed up as I performed his morning care.  I got his medicine ready and part of his breakfast and went to get him up.  I got him dressed, and brought him into the kitchen to take his medicine while I ate breakfast, then I took him to the bathroom, catheterized him, redressed him for being up all day, brought him back to the kitchen, fixed his breakfast.  He fed himself while I brushed my teeth and applied makeup.  Meanwhile he kept calling me to help with things he was doing.  I was supposed to leave at 10 and did so finally at 10:15.  Not bad; I’m often later.
Today I was able to sit through the entire meeting without being called away.  I was actually able to assume my “worker” role and learn something new.  I was able to talk about something other than MS and to do something that did not involve caring for Lynn for an entire 1 1/2 hours. It was refreshing.  Then I left to go home.
On my way home, I had to stop at Walmart to get some things we needed, go to Krogers to get his medicine, look for a movie he wanted to watch at Foodlion, and make two other stops.  He called me as I was leaving Walmart to ask when I could get home.  Knowing that meant he needed something as soon as I could get home, I skipped a few planned things and headed home.  When I got home, I resumed caring for him for the next two hours and then put him to bed.  Then I resumed working till he woke up.  It’s always a balance between what he needs, what I need to care for him, preparing to care for him, cleaning up afterwards, and planning ahead.  Whatever a caregiver does, he or she has to consider the impact on the one being cared for.  No decision is made in isolation and whatever you might want to do, those plans are contingent upon the other one’s needs. 
My office party is next Thursday.  I’m hoping to go but I know that I can’t be counted on to be there.  If I can’t find a sitter or if he’s sick, I can’t go.  His needs have to come first; just like caring for a child.  I often feel like a single Mom again because it’s the same now as when I was caring for two young children on my own.  Usually at my age, you’re able to start living your own life again but not so if you’re a caregiver.  Your life is not your own.  Your life is lived though the life of your partner or “care-ee” and that’s hard to adjust to at times. 
I have chosen to give up my life to care for my husband.  It’s what I want to do and it’s what is best for him but it doesn’t mean that there aren’t times that I want to just escape.  I would love a day off –a day that I’m not rushing to get what I need done; a day to just relax and be away but in order to get that someone else has to be here and everyone else has their lives to live as well.  I have to ask for help so often that to ask for just a day off seems rather selfish; I already ask a lot from them. I have a lot of really great family and friends who are here to help on occasion so I’m very fortunate.  But I admit, that sometimes I would like to just get away and be me for a while…whoever that is.

We can finally drive the van!

 

After paying the owner the sales price of the van on Nov. 18, we finally have tags and can drive it as of December 3.  This entire experience has been one of frustration and endurance from the beginning but it’s over now, and we have the freedom provided by a wheelchair van. 
Today, after breakfast, I got Lynn dressed, put him in his powerchair, and he drove himself out the door and into the passenger side of the van.  After figuring out how to use the straps to secure the wheelchair to the floor, we were on our way and for the first time in over two years, Lynn actually went into a store and bought something for himself.  What freedom that is!  I no longer have to be his eyes and ears at the hardware store and won’t have to experience the frustration of figuring out what size nail he needs or what type.  He can actually talk nails to the sales person himself and get what he wants.  No more guessing by me and returning it a few times before I get it right.  Yeah!!!
I have to admit however, that I am still considering filing a formal complaint against the lending company.  It’s not that I want them to be in trouble, it’s that they do not have a process for addressing the needs of the disabled. All I want is for them to create a process that they will follow going forward to quickly be able to determine the value of conversion vans or other special needs equipment.  They really should have that in place and I would like reassurance that they will.  I plan to contact the President or someone there to ask them to create such a process and let me have a copy so that I know this won’t happen to anyone else.  I had rather they do that than report them to the Dept. of Justice for an Americans with Disabilities violation.  (I hope I will follow through with what I want to do and won’t become too distracted and forget.) 
So anyway, we have the van and we now have a comfortable and reliable way to get Lynn to destinations.  We have two doctor’s appointments this week and should be able to make both without any trouble.  The one Friday is the important one–it’s where we’ll hopefully get some blood work done to find out if his anemia is improving or getting worse.  Keep the prayers going that it’s getting better.  He still feels really bad but we had to change his blood pressure medicine too this week so it may be the adjustment to that.  Have you noticed that MS patients don’t adjust to change very well?  Any change in medications or routine just knocks the wind right out of them for days…at least it does to Lynn. 
I hope all is well with you and your family. Thanks for your prayers….they really worked….we have our van and we can drive it.  Amen.

Who Has It Worse?

When I run into coworkers, friends, family, people from church, etc., I can see in their eyes that they feel sorry for me.  Many say, “I don’t know how you do it, day in and day out. I don’t think I could.”
I don’t feel comfortable when someone tells me that.  I don’t feel like I need anyone’s pity or that we are a tragic couple.  I know that our lives are really quite good.  We get along very well.  We have wonderful family members both close by and far away who constantly support us and give us encouragement.  We have a church family that really walks the talk that Jesus proclaimed while he walked the earth.  I work for a compassionate supervisor in a job that is challenging and rewarding.  I have the best employees working for me that anyone could ever ask for. I love where I work and what I do.  We have enough–enough money to pay our bills, more than enough stuff as evidenced by the fact I can’t find enough places to put it all, and more than enough food as is obvious by our waistlines.  We have good lives.
Yes, our lives are hard at times.  Lynn rarely feels good. He is often uncomfortable.  He is needy at times, stubborn at others, often funny, and sometimes angry.  I almost never get to “sleep in,” or sit down to read a book or watch TV.  I never go out on my own to shop or visit or do anything that is not essential.  I watch every penny we have and the money going out is often more than the money coming in but not always… so it evens out. 
Lynn has a lot of physical challenges.  He has basically no use of his legs or right arm and his left arm fatigues by the end of the day.  Many of his bodily functions do not work well on their own and need some help along the way like urinary catheterization or a bowel routine.  It takes a lot of strength and energy to move him around and by the end of the day.  I’m often tired and sore but a good night’s rest and I’m fine to get back at it again the next day.
When people look at me with that sadness in their eyes and say they couldn’t do it, what they don’t understand is that we didn’t get where we are now overnight.  It was a progression of decline.  By stages his abilities got less and at each stage we learned to adapt.  When it’s gradual you have time to adjust and seek ways to make it better and …. find a new normal.  The people who wake up and suddenly can’t walk, or see, or hear; they are the ones who have it worse.  MS can do that to you.  One day you are fine and the next day you can’t see anymore. How scary is that?  You don’t have time to adjust, you just ARE.  Everyone is scared but trying to support the one who is now blind or deaf, or immobile.  No one has time to really adjust….  Suddenly your lives change and you’re thrust into a new reality.  Now that’s hard.
You know what else is hard?  When you’re caring for someone whose memory is fading.  Lynn occasionally has some cognition issues.  It’s usually just when he’s very tired or feels really lousy, but when he has asked me the same question three times in 3o minutes, it gets annoying.  I can’t imagine dealing with that over and over and over again and knowing that it’s going to be like that every day all day.  With Lynn, I settle him in one place and he has to stay there because he’s immobile.  I really feel for those whose loved one is mobile but not thinking clearly.  I would be afraid all the time that they would leave the house or start a fire or turn against me because they didn’t know who I was.  That’s got to be so much worse than dealing with someone who is physically challenged.  …..  or maybe not.
What I do know is this–whatever is your challenge…whether physical, mental, spiritual, emotional, or whatever it is; it’s your challenge and that makes it difficult and becomes your struggle and whatever that struggle is, it’s hard for you.  Yes, you can always find someone worse off than you are but in their shoes, they may look at you and think the same.  Everyone’s pain is real.  Everyone’s challenge is theirs and it’s just as difficult as the next person’s. 
So who has it worse?  We all do; each in our own way and each with our own struggles.  That’s why we need each other and God to help us carry on from one morning to another to another to another….
Ps.  Feel free if you every need to share to drop me a line if you don’t want to do a public comment.  Sometimes it helps just to share.
 
 

The world still doesn't understand disabilities

 

Would you believe I still don’t have the loan settled for our van?  I know God will provide and this van will be ours but it has been so very frustrating dealing with the loan company this week.  Here’s the issue:
The seller is asking about $7000 more than the blue book value for a 2005 Uplander.  The loan company’s policy is that they will not loan more than 125% of the blue book value.  Can you figure out why there’s a difference in price?  Of course!  It’s a wheelchair converted van! Duh!  It’s not a regular van that is equivalent to the basic 2005 Uplander blue book value.  It’s a van that has had $20,000+ of work done to it so that someone in a wheelchair can use it. Therefore, an additional $7000 is extremely reasonable as an additional cost above the blue book value.  However, the fact that this is a specialized van does not seem to figure into the equation.  The loan officer is very sympathetic.  She was once a nurse and understands the need for the van and the fact that they are very expensive but rules are rules–there has to be a way to determine a “reasonable” value for the van and that’s the blue book value.  I’ve suggested that she contact companies that actually do conversion van work so hopefully she will but today was Veteran’s Day and they were closed so I’m not sure what is going on with the loan.  It’s just so frustrating that rules get in the way that do not take into consideration the needs of the disabled.
If dealing with the loan company was not enough this week, I’m also struggling with the insurance company regarding a patient lift I want to buy. When Lynn was in the hospital, I learned to use a device called a Maximove.  It was so easy to manage.  It has electronic controls and allows you to be at the patient’s side as you adjust him from lying to sitting and then slowly adjust his position as he’s placed into a chair or location.  It’s easy to use, very stable, and much safer than the hydrolytic lifts the insurance companies want you to use.  Hydrolytic, manual lifts require that you stand near the pump and/or release value as you use the

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device.  Although that’s not that far from the patient, it doesn’t allow you to be right there with them.  It’s also difficult to get the patient adjusted because you can’t change their position while they are in the sling.  I’ve tried the one we have now that has been approved and I never can get Lynn comfortably settled into his wheelchair. Usually he ends up on his spine or twisted. It looks like the insurance company would realize that if it’s not as easy and as safe to use, the caregiver is not going to use it and eventually the wear and tear on their body will cause the insurance company to have two people submitting claims instead of one.  Go figure…
I wonder if the people making the rules for insurance and loans would implement as many barriers to caregivers if they became one themselves.  Maybe it would help if they “walked a mile in my shoes.”

Answer to Prayer

 

I have often mentioned in my posts that God takes care of us and that our church is an ongoing support group for us.  I want to share with you how I know prayers are answered.

 If you follow my blog you know that several weeks ago I wrote a blog about how much I needed a conversion van.  Lifting Lynn in and out of our Impala is extremely difficult and there have been many times that I only managed to move him safely with God’s help through prayer.  I had received a lot of encouragement to look into purchasing a van.  As you know, there are really no resources for getting a handicap accessible vehicle.  There are some scholarships or discounts but the cost of converting a van is very expensive. Therefore, those discounts only go so far in helping. 

We knew we could not afford a new vehicle that we converted ourselves. The cost of a new car plus the $15-$25,000 just to adapt it was too much.  Therefore, we went to our church to ask if anyone in the congregation knew of anyone who was selling one.  We wanted someone reliable that someone we trusted also trusted.

 

Someone did.  Someone I didn’t even know personally from our congretation who had read my email request but she took the time to make contact and let us know about her neighbor.  The van was listed on Craig’s List and it was very reasonably priced for a conversion van.  It was also in very good condition.  The owner has been so accommodating, bringing us the car to check out, getting it inspected and brakes changed, keeping us informed and answering every question we had.  I feel very comfortable with him and the vehicle.  If anything goes wrong with it after we buy it, I feel certain he would not have known it was a possibility.

 

After I sent out the request for help, I just knew in my heart God would send us something… and he did, in only about a week.  By this time next week, we should have a vehicle that I can take Lynn out in without the trauma to me or him.

 

I feel very blessed today and very hopeful.  I often write about the challenges in our lives but I wanted to share a triumph this time.  This was truly an answer to prayer.

Disappointments and Guilt

This week has had several disappointments.  On Thursday and Friday, I was scheduled to take a course in Critical Incident Stress Management for my job.  I was really looking forward to it not only for the new information and skills but also for the opportunity to be back with coworkers and others for the day.  I got up at 5 a.m. and got Lynn and myself ready for the day.  I had a friend coming to stay with him from 9-2:30.  All was going well at first and then his stomach started grumbling.  Not a good sign.  I went on to the class with the hope that it would settle down.  At 3:40, I got a call to come home.  That was the end of my two-day training program.  Friday, I could not go in at all.  Disappointing but a necessity.  At least I got the training manual.
Saturday, my nephew was getting married in Northern Virginia. For me, that’s a 2 1/2 hour drive at minimum.  My daughter was supposed to go with me but she has not been feeling well all week so it was decided that instead she and her husband would stay with Lynn till his son could come help out when he got off work.  As you recall from above, Friday was not a good day for Lynn.  Since he had stayed up from 5:00 a.m. till I got home around 4:30 on Thursday, he had over-extended and in addition to the upset stomach, was exhausted on Friday.  My ride for the wedding (I didn’t want to drive alone that far due to sleep deprivation‘s impact on my alertness..i.e.  I get sleepy when I drive) called to make final arrangements and it was then that I realized just how long I would have to be gone.  They were going to pick me up at 10:00 a.m. and I would probably not get back till midnight.  The truth hit me then like a ton a bricks…I couldn’t go.  I would be gone much longer than Thursday.  Lynn’s stomach was still not totally straight.  I didn’t think my daughter and her husband could get him into bed and his son could not come by till around 6:00 pm. That would be too long without a nap. I couldn’t go.
I was very disappointed and I felt guilty.  My brother and his wife had bought me a suit as a gift so I could have something new to wear to the wedding; I had my parents cancel their reservation for Saturday night for accommodations since they were driving back with me after the reception so now they had no place to stay; and I’m big on family participation and here I was missing a major family event. On the other hand, Lynn is my responsibility.  I have to make sure his needs are met because if they aren’t a set back could occur which could mean loss of the progress he has made or worse yet, another hospitalization.  I couldn’t take that risk.  If I hadn’t already had issues on Thursday, maybe it would have worked out, but now, it was just too risky.
I cried a bit, started calling to find my parents another hotel to stay in since the one they were in on Friday was booked for Saturday.  I called my brothers to let one know I would not be riding with him and the other know that I had made reservations at another hotel for our parents because I could not come now.  (he had already heard about the problem and had made reservations for them himself so I canceled mine.)  The new hotel was right beside the one the rest of the family was staying in so it all worked out good. I called and canceled my daughter’s help and let Lynn’s son know he wasn’t needed and could now attend the party he had needed to cancel participation in so he could stay with his Dad.  It all worked out but it was disappointing none-the-less to give up a special family time.  I’ll live it though pictures and stories but it would have been nice to see it for real.
Guilt again on Saturday night when I got a call from my niece that my mother was on the way to the emergency room due to a fall.  She had hit her back hard when she fell and was having trouble moving.  My first thought was that I should have been there to make sure she was okay.  I called my brother who was following her to the hospital to say what needed to be considered if she was discharged so she could travel back today and what to do if she was admitted.  I have contacts at the hospital where I work that could help me get her transferred back to Richmond if she needed to be in the hospital so we could help out and Dad would have a place to stay. Fortunately that wasn’t needed.  She had no broken bones and was released with pain meds and muscle relaxants.  She and Dad will be coming here shortly and will stay with us tonight and longer if needed for her recovery.
So anyway, all worked out but I share this to say that as a caregiver, your life is not your own and making plans is only a tentative thing…you can never really plan.  Anything can get in the way and throw a major kink into the works.  But it usually works out.  I got to sleep in yesterday so I was more rested.  I always have about three hours of work to do for my job on the weekends so I got that done yesterday and will be able to visit without guilt when my parents and brothers get here shortly…and Lynn is feeling better.  He was able to get the rest he needed. His stomach has settled down, and he’s not feeling so exhausted.  So it’s all good.  It’s just a different good than what I had been planning, but still good.

What a day!

I have had a terrible day, and it’s all due to having to get a new modem to my computer.  I truly believe computers can either be your best friend or your worst nightmare, and since about Wednesday; I’ve had it up to my eyeballs in frustration with them.

 

First, on Tuesday, I lost the internet.  I HAVE to have the internet because that’s how I connect to work.  I called tech support and spent over an hour, trying to figure out what was wrong.  They decided it was my modem and said they would have to send me one.  I was really upset.  If I can’t work from home, I have to go to work.  Who was going to stay with Lynn if I went in?  If I didn’t go in, I had to take a vacation day.  Who wants to take a vacation because their internet is down? 

 

I was on the verge of tears.  Lynn insisted he would be fine and I had to leave him home alone.  I didn’t want to but what other choice did I have?  I started getting him ready, getting the items he would need within reach, tidied myself up to go in (I don’t exactly dress professionally at home), and got ready to leave.  Fortunately, before I got to the main highway, Lynn called to say the internet was back up.  I was so relieved! I turned around and came home (so much for the tech support diagnosis).


Late Wednesday the modem came in by UPS.  Supposedly it’s faster than what I had so this morning I hooked it up.  I’ve been working on the x!@#$%^ thing all day!  First getting my computer set up took well over an hour because the activation process wasn’t working for me. I finally got that settled.  I then had internet, but Lynn’s computer didn’t.  Tonight I spent 2 hours on the phone with a guy from India (who was incredibly nice), but Lynn’s computer still doesn’t have an internet connection.  It’s connected to my modem, but the internet won’t come up. What’s with that?  I finally had to get off the phone. I have now hooked up a laptop for him to use, but it’s got such a small keyboard and monitor I don’t know that he can use it at all.


I share all this because of the effect it had on us.  I was so frustrated all day–torn between wanting to help him (so he could work on his book marketing and play music from YouTube), and I need to work or do things around the house.  He knew how upset I was, and that directly made him feel like a burden.  He had had a good day today.  He was able to do things in physical therapy and later, when he was exercising that he hasn’t been able to do in a while.  He was so excited, and all I could do was focus on the !@#$%^ computer.  My behavior stole his joy.  He was feeling so bad about being a burden to me that he was nearly in tears this afternoon. Then he recognized it was just Satan trying to steal his joy and undermine his progress so he would give up. Which also showed me that Satan was doing the same thing to me, so instead of seeing Lynn’s growth, I would focus on the difficulties.  What a shame. 


I wish I could say I’ve learned my lesson, but I know myself too well.  I can easily get overwhelmed and start to feel sorry for myself, and then I take it out on Lynn, letting him know how frustrated I am that he cannot do more and accusing him of not trying hard enough. He truly tries but with fatigue and spasms, and just plain ole MS complications, he can only do so much.

 

Lord, please forgive me of my attitude and self-pity and help me to appreciate the improvements and the successes.  And Lord, please give me an extra measure of peace in my spirit so that the frustrations of trying to work on his computer tomorrow won’t result in the same thing.  Amen.

My back hurts…

Caregivers are at great risk for back injuries due to not using proper body mechanics in moving family members correctly.
 

Actually, it’s my side.  I tried a patient lift, but it didn’t work with Lynn’s wheelchair.  I know the one that I would like to get–it’s a modified version of what we used in the hospital–but it’s over $3000 because it’s not provided by our insurance company.  So I lift Lynn myself.  He now weighs 215 lbs.  That’s a lot to lift.  I’m no small person either. I weigh about 180 lbs, which is probably part of the problem.  If I were in shape and lost about 50 lbs., I would have more energy and more flexibility, however; as my doctor explained, losing weight is difficult when you’re under a lot of stress.  My body thinks it needs to store fat so that I’ll have the necessary energy to fight off what’s causing the stress.


I also admit I have no will power right now.  To think about counting calories or watching portions is just more than I can face.  I eat to keep up the energy, and I grab what’s easy.  I try to keep sweets out of the house, but I snack on nuts and bars and whatever I can find that I can eat while I work. I’ve looked at weight loss ads, but I’m afraid of that plus I have a lot of sensitivities to foods of it’s just too much to think about right now.


I know I also need to exercise.  I sometimes get in a few  minutes of stretching to help my muscle spasms but to even carve out 30 minutes means either reducing sleep time or work time and if I reduce work time, I have to take vacation time and I need to store that up in case he gets sick and goes into the hospital again. What a roller coaster!


I worry though about these spasms I’m having so often from lifting.  I know one day I’ll probably pull something that won’t go back and then what will we do?  I’ll have no one to take care of either of us. Then what?  I have long-term care insurance to cover me, but Lynn already had MS when I had the opportunity to get it, so he wasn’t qualified.  Just one more thing to leave in God’s hands because I can’t worry about it right now.


For now, it’s 11:00 p.m.  I finished working at 10:30 and put a pre-made meal from a friend in the oven for dinner.  Thank the good Lord (and Amelia) for those meals.  I don’t know what I would do without them.  I’ve had some Advil and Lynn’s in his powerchair attached to his peddler for the night. Think I’ll go have something to eat…