What Doesn’t Kill Us Makes Us Stronger, Part 2

I met Greg and Laura Nordfelt at the 2013 Brain Injury Conference, just two years after Greg’s motorcycle crash. I’ve enjoyed our friendship and watching this couple get stronger through their traumatic experience. They spoke last week at a combined Survivor and Caregivers Support Group sharing what they’ve learned.

Written by Laura Nordfelt

Greg & Laura-landing pad.pngThe medical helicopter which came to life-flight Greg was very old and small. In fact, half of his body was in the nose of the aircraft. The ventilator was broken and one of the paramedics was trying to bag Greg (it seemed sporadically) while trying to preform many other tasks. I mentioned to her I was an EMT and asked her if I could do the bagging for her. She agreed and I continued on every 4 seconds like I was trained to do in school. The flight seemed to take forever (I worried we were going to Canada!) and only looked out the window once or twice. When we started to land, all I saw was a “tough shed” structure on top of a roof.  Medical people ran out to get Greg and down an elevator we all went and into the Emergency Department. By the time I felt comfortable enough to leave his side, I asked, “Where are we?” When they told me Coeur d’Alene, ID, I told them I needed to take Greg to Salt Lake City, but the doctor told me he would not survive the flight. I slumped down against the wall and lost it.

I made mistakes. I am fiercely independent and a stubborn woman. In the beginning I turned family and friends away. I said “don’t fly up here, I’m fine”. Then, “we don’t need meals, I’ve got this covered.” Not only did I watch him crash, but I kept him alive for 45 minutes until the paramedics arrived. I was a mess! I had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and I was in a cocoon as much as Greg was in a coma.

An Executive Vice President from Greg’s work came to the hospital to visit and I cut her off down the hall and visited with her. There’s no way I was going to let her see the condition Greg was in. I was so worried that he was going to lose his job. I posted a sign “Family Only” on Greg’s door at the hospital. Visitors had to check with me or the nurse before entering his room. I took the phone off the wall and put it in a drawer and took his cell phone away from him. He wanted to call his office to “check on things” all the time. I was worried he’d say something inappropriate.

Greg & Laura-tableWhen Greg left the hospital, I sent out a message on Facebook telling our friends that Greg needed time to rehab and recover so if they could wait to visit, that would be much appreciated. I really only meant it for acquaintances, thinking our close friends wouldn’t take it to heart. A few months down the road some dear friends of ours called and asked if they could bring dinner and come for a visit. I was thrilled! Frankly I had wondered why they hadn’t called sooner.

While we were setting up dinner, she told me they would have come sooner, but wanted to respect my wishes of giving us our space. I said, “Oh, I didn’t mean you guys!” I realized then that I had alienated the very people Greg and I needed the most. Greg’s co-workers later expressed the same emotions. If only they’d known what to do. They wanted to help in any way, but we pushed them away.

I own a business and I needed someone to sit with Greg or run him to therapy appointments, but I said “NO, I’m fine”. I really wasn’t fine, but I wanted to be and I didn’t know how to let them help. Most of it was my fault, but some of it was not.  Caregivers leave the hospital with their tool bags pretty much empty. I had to earn my hammer, saw and screwdriver the hard way. I felt neglected, isolated, abandoned, ignored, lonely, unsupported, disrespected and misunderstood. When I needed family and friends the most, they were all gone.

Greg & Laura-walkIn order to heal, I had to get outside of myself. I started the first ever Caregiver Group in Utah as a survival mechanism. As much as I wanted to give back to the community, I needed other caregivers. As I spent time listening to their stories, I felt not so overcome by my own problems. I felt empathy and compassion. When “in the moment” of caring for caregivers and survivors, their hurdles felt more important than my own. When we get caught up in these “feel good” experiences, we don’t need anything in return. I also joined the Board of the Brain Injury Alliance of Utah. This is my passion now!

Another way I healed is a couple of years ago a friend asked me to join her book club. I love to read, but I was scared at first because I only knew her and no one else. I went one time and almost did not go back, but forced myself to hang in there. These women are now very near and dear to my heart. I’ve read many wonderful books which I never would have picked up on my own. The social setting has its benefits as well. We trade off hosting dinner so I’m learning new recipes. I work on my listening skills and forget my problems for a few hours. By the very nature of getting together with women, it forces me to get out of my pajamas. Therefore, I get semi-dressed up, put on my makeup and lipstick and wear my fun jewelry. All of this is very good for my soul!

Thank you, Laura, for sharing your experiences and what you’ve learned. Friedrich Nietzsche was right, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”  I see that in Greg and Laura’s life and hope you see that truth in your own life.

What Doesn’t Kill Us Makes Us Stronger, part 1

A German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, actually said it more eloquently: “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” I thought this title was fitting for the couple I’m highlighting this week. I met Greg and Laura Nordfelt at the 2013 Brain Injury Conference, just two years after Greg’s motorcycle crash. I’ve enjoyed our friendship and watching this couple get stronger through their traumatic experience

Written by Greg Nordfelt

Greg headshotI am a three time Traumatic Brain Injury Survivor (TBI). By looking at my picture, you’ve already noticed I have a huge forehead. Many have told me I could rent space out on it as a billboard. Well it’s also a magnet to immovable objects. That’s why I’ve had three TBI’s. The first was in high school when I was skiing at Alta. I fell on a mogul run and hit the post of a sign that ironically said, “SLOW SKIING”. I hit it head on with the left side on my forehead. The second time I was racing heavy bicycles in England downhill on the wrong side of the road. I didn’t make the turn at the bottom and my front tire hit the guard rail. I hit a lamp post head first, again with the left side of my forehead. The third time I crashed my motorcycle into a bed of Lava Rocks and, again, I hit them, you guessed it, with the left side of my forehead. I am an adrenaline junky, but unfortunately my forehead had a crazy attraction to all of those immovable objects which eventually caught up to me.

Last August was our 5 year anniversary of my accident. We drove to Coeur d’Alene, this time in a car, to meet with Kootenai Health’s executives, two surgeons, and the critical care team that save my life. This was my first time to meet them consciously. I wanted to thank them individually, face to face, and hug them so they would know how grateful I am for what they did for me and my family!

Greg & Laura-Gala

2016 Greg & Laura, Festival of Trees

The press showed up and articles were written. We were on the cover of magazines. They asked us to be their “Spokespeople” for their Festival of Trees. It’s a black tie fund raising Gala.  They asked us and we agreed to help them set a donation record. They were expanding their Emergency Department and Operating Room, the two areas that saved my life. They called us the “talent”. Put us in wardrobe and makeup. They ran out of spray for my face and said I’m “Ruddy” and “Scaly”! I’ve crashed into too many immovable objects and my “talent” and “cover” days are over! We helped them set the record they asked for and raised over half a million dollars!

My primary focus after I got home from the hospital was keeping my marriage with Laura because the TBI divorce rate is huge at 70%. My second focus was keeping my family together. Everything else I had was intently driven into relearning how to speak, read, write and walk again in Neuro Rehab. I worked harder than they asked me to so I could get my job back!

Unfortunately, I lost most of my friends and communities. They became the casualties of brain injury. As a survivor, I ruminate, isolate, avoid loud noise, bright colors, confusion, strangers and crowds. I fatigue easily.

As a result, I was no longer the late night party animal I used to be. I wasn’t as apt to go on long road trips on a whim. I avoided situations where I would get over stimulated and fatigued – the exact opposite of my old self.

I woke up one day after fighting to recover and realized I was a newer version of my old self and I had lost the human connections I once had. The good news is our neuro rehab physicians and therapists not only helped me remap my brain, but gave me tools which helped me nurture my most valuable relationships. Now it was up to me to reach out to friends and family and hold fast to the human connections that were dear to me.
On my second outpatient speech therapy session I learned my biggest lesson after my accident and it had nothing to do with learning how to talk again.  It had everything to do with being taught how to nurture the most important relationship I had – my marriage! I showed up complaining about having my first disagreement with Laura since the accident.  Remember I didn’t have my wits about me yet and could barely speak, so disagreement was a huge stretch!  I sat down across the table from Kim with a huff.

Greg & Laura-landing pad.png

2016, Greg & Laura Coeur d’Alene Hospital Landing Pad

“What’s wrong?” Kim asked. I tried to explain what happened the night before with Laura. After a few minutes she said, “Greg I’ve heard enough. Where’s Laura?”

“In the car,” I said.

“You need to stand back up in your walker, walk to your car and ask her nicely to come and stand next to you.” Then say these words to Laura.  I’m sorry.  I love you.  Thank you for all you are doing every day to take care of me and then HUG her.

This was the most important thing I learned in all of my therapy, by far!  It was an awakening moment for me. I learned that day I was a traumatic brain injury survivor and others were working their butts off to take care of me.  And, I need to thank them – often.

Thank you Greg for sharing and to your therapist, Kim, who told you what caregivers need to hear often. You are an inspiration and definitely stronger by your experience!

Greg had a 35 year career with Zions Bank and was Senior Vice President before the accident. Now he is a motivational speaker and a professional member of the National Speakers Association. The year 2016 was a big year for Greg as he was the Utah Speech and Hearing Association’s (USHA) Ambassador was awarded Survivor of the Year by the Brain Injury Alliance of Utah (BAIU) in October. He is a mentor and volunteer with Neuro Rehab patients and caregivers at IMC and is writing a Memoir expected to be published in 2018.

 To see Greg’s website visit: www.gregnordfelt.com

On Wednesday, Laura’s will share her perspective.

My Broken Habit

writingloveI can’t believe it’s been over three months since I’ve written on Uniting Caregivers. I’ve missed it and the therapeutic nature writing is for me, but as with any good habit, they are hard to start and easy to break. Why is the opposite true with bad habits? They’re too easy to start and hard to break. Now that I’ve broken my writing habit, I’m struggling to know where and how to restart.

A lot has happened in the past few months. December is always a crazy month with it being the end of the year and the holidays thrown in the mix with related parties. It’s joyful and stressful all wrapped up at the same time. This year my mom, who is the supreme organizer and chief executive of all our family gatherings, was not feeling well so my siblings and I tried to step up to the task. We enjoyed our time together, but nobody can fill my mother’s shoes.

Arthritis and a bad hip are keeping my mother in constant pain and making it very difficult for her to move. Using a walker has been a hard recommendation for her to follow, but for safety sake’s she reluctantly agreed. My mother has always been the ultimate caregiver to those around her, yet it’s difficult for her to accept help from others. Switching roles is a hard transition for all of us, but there isn’t a better alternative than to accept health problems and make the best out of life challenges. Therapy and cortisone shots are her best hope now and she’s doing both.

Dad works hard to keep up with his new household responsibilities in addition to all his old ones. Assisting Mom with cooking meals and doing laundry along with driving to every doctor and therapy appointment can be strenuous. Living in the same household with them has been a blessing and I help as much as I can along with four wonderful siblings who all live nearby. Unfortunately, Dad recently developed pneumonia. We’ve all stepped up a little more to help out and as our family works together, our love and appreciation grows stronger.

Caregiving comes in all sorts of intensity sizes and experiences. Soon after Thanksgiving, our twenty-year-old, outdoor cat became very sick. I love all animals and have had many in my lifetime. Several years ago I started suffering with asthma and my complete dependence on breathing and the adverse impact that animals have on my airways made it necessary for me to love them at a distance. What I wish could be indoors had to be outdoors and as our beloved pets passed on, we haven’t replaced them.

Sammy

Sammy, February 2017

Sammy is a beautiful Siamese cat with more than nine lives. He has stayed with us longer than either of our two children, who both left home at eighteen years. He isn’t cherished more than our children, but still cherished for being a loyal friend day in and day out for a very long time. When I pulled our van into the garage, which is also Sammy’s apartment and he didn’t come out to greet us, I was worried. I found him in a corner looking distraught and unloved with his matted hair. I grabbed his hairbrush and with the first gentle brush stroke he nearly fell over. I put him in his bed and brought it in the house. He lay motionless for most of the night, which I know because I tried to sleep on the couch by his bed with one eye continually on him. I expected him to die that night.

I don’t know for sure what happened to Sammy, there was no blood or noticeable injury, but I suspected a cat fight. There had been a black cat hanging around, which Mark named Spook Impostor after a similar adored black cat we had thirty-five years ago. This particular night we saw him leaving the yard as we drove in.

The next day Katie helped me give Sammy a bath and we inspected his body for wounds. We did find a couple of puncture wounds by his right shoulder, but they didn’t appear to be bad. Days went by where he only woke up to eat and to use the litter box. I continued daily breathing treatments and shed many tears because I didn’t expect he’d live much longer and it would be the end of the pet era of my life.

Some family and friends suggested I put him down. I had to do that eight years ago with our cat, Figaro and that tied my stomach up in knots along with giving me a bad asthma attack from the vets office and all the animal dander in the air. Since Sammy didn’t seem to be suffering in pain, I wanted him to go naturally.

Nearly four months later, I continue to give Sammy hospice care. He’s had a cyst fill with infection, drain and heal, then come back four times now. He has gained weight and strength, only to lose it again. It’s a roller-coaster ride, but I want to care for him as an expression of my appreciation for his long-time companionship.

Dad & Sammy

Dad with Sammy December 2016

Amazingly, my asthma is doing better. I rarely need breathing treatments now. We did get an air purifier, which I’m sure has helped my allergies, along with hypoallergenic wipes I use on him almost daily. I’m enjoying this time with Sammy and he is the perfect house cat. He’s too old to jump up on furniture or counters. I know his days are numbered and I enjoy every day we have with him.

Aging in any life is hard. As I try to help and support my loved ones through it, my life is enriched. So as much as I enjoy writing, providing for the needs and cares of my family will come first while I try to mend my broken writing habit.

The Advantages of Gratitude

Gratitude Unlocks.jpgLast Thursday I had the opportunity to speak to the caregivers of the Brain Injury Alliance of Utah support group. The title—Gratitude When You Don’t Feel Grateful.

I’ve been asked, “How long after the accident did it take you to feel grateful?”

gratitude-shortcutsOne of my first thoughts after I realized we had been hit and were pinned inside the wreckage of our car was, I’m grateful the kids aren’t with us. It was on a Saturday afternoon and we needed to make a final decision on which home to purchase. Fortunately, we left our two young children with my parents while we traveled to our three favorite homes one last time before making an offer. Looking at the back seat of the car makes it evident their chance of survival would have been near impossible. During the three months Mark was in a coma, I realized it could’ve been worse had our kids been with us.

I recognized the blessing right from the beginning, but that doesn’t mean I always see the positives and feel grateful. Sometimes my mind stumbles into a pity party where I’m entertaining thoughts of how Mark’s, mine and our children’s lives would have been if the accident never happened. Yes, at times I wish life could have turned out differently.

I suppose it’s human nature to feel this way, but before long I realized what a drag it is. When I recognize I’m staggering in self-pity, I remind myself what a waste of time and energy it is because all the wishing, worrying or feelings of regret do not change the situation. It only brings me down.

Some days are dark and worrisome, but the best way to pull myself out of discouragement and unhappiness is to turn my thoughts around by looking for the positives. Sometimes this is harder to do than other times, but I’ve learned it helps every time. When I consciously focus on the positive, I see the it in more situations. It gets easier with practice and before long my outlook on life changes for the better. I’ve learned I attract what I’m focused on.

As I recognize the positive interactions of family and friends, I can readily appreciate them for the love and support they give. The result is—they’re usually all the more helpful and loving. That isn’t the motivation for appreciating them, it’s just the way it works out.

gratitude-transformsWhen my kids were teenager’s I started a gratitude journal. It helped me get through a rough time. Every night I wrote down five things I was grateful for. Some nights it took a while to think of five things I appreciated. Knowing I needed five things to write each night encouraged me during the day to notice the positive in simple things and take mental note. This practice turned my discouragement into encouragement. It brought inner peace because I was focusing on the good instead of dwelling on the bad.

I don’t believe gratitude always comes naturally, which is another good reason to write down what we’re grateful for. In times of discouragement we can go back and read it. I found that remembrance really does help.

be-thankfulOne evening a few years ago, we were having a birthday celebration with my parents and siblings. The conversation centered on their travel destinations and the wonderful things their grandchildren were accomplishing—two things which are lacking from my life.

My mind traveled to that depressing pity party, with thoughts turned to all the places I’ve never been nor could possibly go to with Mark. I lost focus on how blessed I am to have my siblings who all live nearby and both my parents still alive. For an evening, I forgot how fortunate I am for the love and support we all share with one another. Instead of enjoying with them their experiences, I let ungratefulness take over my heart and mind. grateful-happiness

I didn’t live in thanksgiving that night, yet I know I’m happiest when I do. I believe gratitude is the key to happiness. I remind myself often to count my blessings so I can feel peace and contentment in my life. It works every time.

What hidden advantages do you feel gratitude brings to your life?

 

Embracing Life Challenges

Therapy isn’t fun, but the progress and inspiration I get from other patients encourages me. Last week I met JR. He’s a recent amputee who is embracing his new life challenges. I told JR about Uniting Caregivers and asked him if he’d allow me to share his story. He graciously agreed to let me interview him.

I took a seat in the large, open sitting room just as you enter inside Rocky Mountain Care in Riverton, Utah. This area is a popular place for the in-patients to read, do crossword puzzles or chat with visitors, so we found a quiet corner by the grand piano looking towards a fireplace which wasn’t lit due to the unseasonably warm November day. The home-like atmosphere makes this place comfortable, but I have to admit, I’m glad to be here as an out-patient.

JR is sitting in a wheelchair wearing a white T-shirt with dark blue, bold letters which say, “I’m retired. Do it yourself!” I told him I look forward to wearing a T-shirt like that someday. He told me he bought it in California as a statement to his grown children. They brought their kids for him to watch every day after he retired from a newspaper printing company in 2011. “Don’t get me wrong, I love my grandchildren, but I had just retired and wanted time to do some things which I couldn’t do before retirement.”

I nodded and told him it made sense to me.

“You know you never retire from family. I wouldn’t want to,” he said as he shrugged his shoulders. “It’s just every day that made it too hard.”

I asked JR what diagnosis brought him here.

“Well, in 2001, I was diagnosed  with type 2 diabetes. It progressively got worse and by 2011, I couldn’t drive anymore because I didn’t have feeling in my feet. I couldn’t feel the gas or brake petal. I could step on a tack or staple and not feel a thing. I couldn’t feel items on the outside of my feet, but inside, my feet were very painful.”

“That sounds awful,” I said.

“Yes, and it partly led to my retirement, but the hardest part was I’ve always been an outdoor person. My feet problems made camping or driving ATV’s hard. I finally bought a Jazzie to save my feet and to use it to motorize when I’m outdoors. I also have a manual wheelchair for when I would go out to Village Inn or do other activities. I like to use that chair when I’m indoors.”

“Aren’t wheelchairs great,” I added. “My husband needs an outdoor and indoor wheelchair too.”

JR nodded in agreement.“They allow me some independence and I knew this was coming,” he said as he glanced down at his gray sock which covered his shortened leg. Later he told me the compression sock which covers the ace wrap around the newly cut leg is called a “shrinker.” It decreases swelling, which is critical for the proper fitting and use of an artificial leg.

“What happened,” I asked.

“I got an ulcer in my ankle. The open sore failed to heal even after weeks of being on a heavy duty antibiotic through an IV pic line. On week four of fighting the infection I had surgery to clean it out. Week eight they did an MRI which showed the infection had gone into the bone. On week nine my skin actually peeled when they unwrapped my leg. My toe was black. The infection had moved down into my foot and toes. That’s when the decision was made to do an amputation,” he said in a matter-of-fact way.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’ve heard it’s harder to heal when you have diabetes.”

“Yes it is. I fought the infection for about three months. The doctor called it gangrene and recommended amputation.”

September 1st they did the first cut on his right leg and he was scheduled for a second surgery six days later. On that sixth day he was feeling pretty good and thought he could get to the bathroom on his own. Unfortunately, he fell and broke his left hip. Instead of surgery on the amputated leg that day he had a titanium rod placed in the left femur, which was secured with two screws into the broken hip. The following day he had his second surgery on the right leg. In an eight day period of time he had three surgeries. After twenty-one days of hospitalization he was taken to the care center on a stretcher for rehab.

“The first week was torture. Not because of the amputation, but because of the broken hip. I worked hard and have done more than they’ve asked me to do. The hip has been the most painful.”

jrI first met JR on Halloween. My therapist said, “You have to meet JR, he’s a great example of embracing life challenges.” She wheeled JR into the room. I had to smile as she introduced us; he was dressed like a pirate, complete with a wooden branch for a peg leg.

I told him he looked great and we both laughed. I thought his jolly disposition along with his long white beard and hair made him also a good candidate for Santa Claus. He later told me about the trick-or-treaters who came that evening. One boy asked him what happened to his leg. His father seemed embarrassed and hurried him on to the next bag of treats. Another boy also asked what happened, but this time JR was given the time to respond.

“I was in a sword fight and lost my leg. Boy—did that boy’s eyes get wide,” JR said with a mischievous smile. “I imagine his dad had some explaining to do later,” he chuckled.

JR and I discussed how this incident reminded me of many conversations we’ve had through the years where children ask questions about Mark being in a wheelchair or why he talks the way he does. Some just bluntly ask, “What happened to you?” Or simply state, “You talk funny.”

“Some parents are so mortified they turn away and rush their child away from us. This actually makes us feel more awkward. Parents don’t need to be embarrassed. We understand Mark looks and sounds different than most,” I said.

JR agreed and added, “I’m not ashamed of my missing leg. I didn’t do anything wrong. It is what it is.”

JR shared his goals and timeline with me and said he should have his artificial leg on November 28th. He also has some work to do at home, especially modifying the shower because he won’t be able to stand to shower. He’s working on those arrangements as well as his rehabilitation.

“I want to be independent and I can be with modifications. I know there will be some limitations, but I can work around those. I came in on a stretcher, but I’ll walk out of here.” Then he added, “Hopefully before Christmas.”

Thank you, JR, for sharing your story. I really appreciate your example of embracing life challenges. Best wishes to you and your family as you make the transition home. It’s been my pleasure getting to know you and I won’t forget your example along with others at Rocky Mountain Care who have made my shoulder rehabilitation more pleasant.

Scary Confessions

At this time of year, there’s a lot of discussion about what you what to be for Halloween. When you enter most department stores, there are isles of costumes for every imaginable character, but my favorites are the homemade costumes conceived by a clever individual.

wonderwoman-halloween-shirt-walmart

Wonder women shirt at Walmart

I want to be a superhero and not just for Halloween, but every day of the year. I know they’re fictional characters with super human powers, but that’s what I need. It takes a wonder woman to be a successful wife, mother, caregiver and have a professional career at the same time. I want to be friendly and helpful to all those around me. Having a perfect figure with a tiny waistline would be another wanted image when I look in the mirror.

Being a ninja who excels in a particular skill or activity with flawless strength and coordination would come in handy. My trip and fall accident in July proves I’m no ninja, but rather a silly clown who feels clumsy and not too bright.

witch-costume-from-walmart

Witch costume at Walmart

My reality is that I often come up short in what I’d like to be or want to accomplish. This brings overwhelming feelings, which too often lead to actions and/or behaviors more like a witch. Sometimes the inadequate feelings nearly paralyze me to the point that I can’t decide what’s most important or the best direction to fly.

Yes, there are monsters inside me and they are discouragement and depression. Sometimes my mind dwells on life’s unfilled expectations and what I’m unable to accomplish. And then the ghosts of past memories or future worries come to haunt me, which sink my spirit into despair.

vampire-dress-costume-from-target

Vampire costume at Target

Sometimes I’m like a vampire – not just because I have to draw Mark’s blood every two weeks for testing, but because I can’t go to bed at night. I know my body needs rest, but I lack discipline and think I have too much to do and deprive myself of sleep. This brings out the zombie in me the next day, which should only be found in the horror and fantasy genre—not real life.

What I appreciate about real life is I don’t have to wait until next year to change my character. Every day is a fresh start. I have the choice to get out of the character I don’t really want to be and strive to become the desired ninja or wonder woman. I’ve heard it said you are what you repeatedly do. As long as we’re breathing, I don’t believe we’ve run out of times to get back on track, so I can at least do that. Realizing that I’ll never become those fictional characters with needed super human powers is a good reminder to be more understanding of others around me who are also facing challenges, which may be bringing out their less desirable character. I imagine we all have “set backs” which don’t bring out the best in us. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t “come back.”

ninja-costume

Ninja costume at Target

Please forgive me if I act like a witch, clown, monster, ghost, vampire or zombie from time to time. I’m really striving to be a good daughter, sister, wife, mother, neighbor, friend and employee by showing and giving care to those around me. Yes, I keep falling short because I don’t have the super human powers I need to accomplish all I want to do, but I can repeatedly get back on track.

Although Halloween isn’t my favorite holiday, I sure can relate to some of the character costumes which I see this time of year. What are you planning to be? A ninja or wonder woman is at the top of my list.

Carry On

July is full of outdoor activities and celebrations that last all month long in Utah. It’s my favorite time of year with family reunions, outdoor plays, concerts, parades and many festivities to look forward to. The sun rises early, which makes it easier for me to do also. The weather is usually sunny and the daylight lasts until 9 pm, making this month the one to accomplish the most outside. I always have great aspirations for this month.

This year we started the month out by driving to Vancouver, Washington with our daughter, Katie. We enjoyed visiting with Mom Wilson, Karen and Mark Ray. Lucky for us our son, Christopher, lives just across the Columbia River in Portland, Oregon making our visit quadrupled the fun. We enjoyed an Independence Day celebration at the park with energetic music, food trailers, beautiful fireworks and the great company of family. It’s always hard to say good-bye to loved ones especially without knowing when we’ll see them again. We made the long trek home in about fourteen hours, which includes our fuel and rest stops.

My asthma flared up during our trip and I struggled more than usual to get it under control. When we returned home I went to the doctor for what I thought would be just a medication change. I left Mark home alone, expecting it to be a short doctor’s visit since I was her second appointment of the day. My oxygen level was low so they gave me a breathing treatment and oxygen, which confined me to the room until my oxygen level reached normal.

Two hours later, I left the room anxious to get back to work and to Mark. Remodeling construction had started near the large entrance/exit sliding glass door of the building. With no cone or sign before it, I didn’t see the piece of metal track that had been attached to the tile floor during my doctor’s appointment. I tripped and fell on it, landing hard on the tile, dislocating my right shoulder.

Dislocated shoulder 1

Dislocated Shoulder 07/08/16

My body wrenched in pain like I’d never felt before. I tried to get up, but couldn’t. A man came to my aide and before I knew it, I was sitting in a wheelchair and whisked to the Urgent Care Clinic in the building.

I heard someone report I was in and out of consciousness and my vitals dropped. “Call an ambulance; she needs to go to the hospital.”

“Please put my shoulder back in place,” I pleaded. “I need to get back home to my husband.”

The look on the doctor’s face helped me realized how silly the statement sounded, so I explained. “My husband has a traumatic brain injury and is confined to a wheelchair. He depends on me to get him in and out of the chair.”

“I don’t believe you’re going to be able to lift him for six to eight weeks,” he said while placing an IV for fluids and another one for morphine.

The first stranger who rushed to my aide looked at me drenched in perspiration from the pain and in sympathy said, “I’m sorry. Don’t worry about the medical cost. We’ll take care of you.” I assume he was the job foreman.

Submissive to all the medical team requests, I moved every which way they asked as they transferred me to the stretcher and rushed me to the hospital. For the next three hours the only thing on my mind was getting my shoulder back in place. My right arm went from feeling like it weighed 100 pounds, to numbness, to sharp, shooting pains running down it. I was sure my arm was dying and at times I thought death would be my only relief. No matter how many times I begged them to fix my shoulder there were tests that needed to be done to make sure I didn’t need surgery or an x-ray that had to be taken to show the best way to maneuver it back in place. Finally I was given a conscious sedation and like Humpty Dumpty who fell off the wall, I was put back together again. Instant relief followed, but then came the body shakes, which I will take anytime over the pain of a totally dislocated joint.

Located Shoulder 2

Healing shoulder, 07/19/16. The bump on my clavicle is from the break 25 years ago. I’m glad it didn’t break again!

I’m an aging caregiver who is dedicated to the love of my life. My worst fear is not being physically capable of caring for him. I’ve always known it’s a possibility, but I don’t know how to prepare for it. I know the options and none of them feel right. Even the option of relying on family and friends for help ties my stomach up in knots.

This year the sunny month of July has been the darkest I have felt in a long time. Depressing thoughts linger because my body can’t do what it wants to do. With my arm splinted in a sling and strapped to my side to allow torn tendons and ligaments to heal, my mind keeps focusing on the negative aspects of my life. Having to depend on others to help with Mark’s care for several weeks makes it hard for my heart to find hope in a brighter future. How do I dig out of this gloomy place and feel the sunshine in my life again?

brigham-young-and-pioneers-entering-the-valleyAnnually on July 24th, our state honors the Mormon pioneers who arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847. I imagine after pulling handcarts or driving wagons with oxen or horses across the plains more than a thousand miles, the pioneers were happy to settle the desert landscape now known as Utah. Last week our celebration reminded me their trek exemplifies courage and faith. Their stories inspire me. They endured harsh weather, death of loved ones and starvation as their food and water supplies diminished.  Nothing had prepared the majority of these travelers for the exhaustion, illnesses and injuries they would suffer. They were beginners in a new territory, learning a new way of life.

I see similarities between my caregiving trek and my pioneer ancestors who walked approximately 1,248 miles from Nauvoo, Illinois. Although we thankfully have the comfort of a home with plenty of food and water, nothing had prepared me for the anxiety and exhaustion of caring for another, or the illnesses and injuries which keep arising. As we make it through one challenge only to receive another, I continue to be a beginner in a new territory, learning a new way of life that most people can’t fully understand. I am a modern-day pioneer and so are you as we struggle through our own personal trek. This connection gives me courage and faith to carry on.

The pioneers didn’t know how or when their journey would end. Similarly, I don’t know how or when ours will end. Like my ancestors’ examples, I’m committing to carry on with faith in every footstep for a brighter future. Even if we don’t reach our desired destination in this life, I believe we’ll be blessed beyond the grave, free from the harsh physical ailments which we have endured. With confidence, I picture this celebration far grander than I’ve ever witnessed and possibly can even imagine.

Just as I started the month of July with great aspirations, I end it with the same for the future and will carry on as best I can.