Our Happy Place

Hip QuoteTwo months ago today Mark had his second total hip replacement surgery. Out of the three most common replacement surgeries, hip, knee and shoulder, we’ve been told the hip replacement is the easiest to recover from. We saw many people during his seven weeks of in-patient rehab days who healed a lot quicker than Mark, even with a knee or shoulder surgery. It’s hard not to get discouraged. This is when I realize having a short-term memory problem is a blessing that Mark inherited from his traumatic brain injury (TBI). He lives in the moment, which is what I’m trying to learn how to do.

DadsRightHipDadsLeftHipThe pain of moving joints, muscles and tendons which have been cut and were not in good condition beforehand seemed at times unbearable. Mark’s ability to make his body move is difficult with his TBI under normal conditions, but throw a surgery in the mix and it’s nearly impossible. However, he persistently works hard to please the therapists and me, doing all that is asked of him, even when he doesn’t feel like it. He has made remarkable progress for his circumstances. When I liken his abilities to before surgery and not another patient, I am thrilled with his progress.

Often right before or during a painful stretch, Mark’s therapist would say, “Go to your happy place.” To that Mark would reply, “My happy place is any place other than here.”

Wanting to be helpful, I started naming vacation spots which hold wonderful memories. “How about the beauty of Zions, Bryce and Grand Canyon; remember the thrill of seeing the parks for the first time on our honeymoon?”

“I just want to go home.” Mark replied.

My thoughts moved to the gorgeous State of Washington where Mark grew up. “I love Deception Pass and the San Juan Islands. I look forward to our next trip there, how about you?”

“Home is my happy place so take me home.” Mark pleaded as the painful stretch continued.

As a wife and caregiver, I want nothing more than for Mark to be better. My world has revolved in this endeavor for twenty-five years next month. In the first few years after his TBI, it was a race against time because it was believed that the greatest amount of progress would happen in the first year and then slow down and plateau within the following couple of years.

Subsequent years we continued seeking for improvement with foot surgeries on both feet to correct foot drop and toe tendons cut to release curl to make standing possible. Also he’s had previous hip surgeries to clean out the joints for improved movement and a Vagal Nerve Stimulator (VNS) implant to help control his seizures along with the various surgeries in the beginning which saved his life. All told, Mark has had fifteen surgeries since the car accident.

Mark turned sixty last November so the path of our journey seems shorter than it used to, which adds a new dimension for recovery importance. It’s evident to me that striving for improvement is a lifetime pursuit. But this is not the life we’d planned and there is a certain amount of grieving that happens over the loss of dreams and honestly some dreams are harder to bury than others.

I’m human and some days I run out of patience and energy. I want Mark to be better now, but recovery is still happening. We are no longer in an in-patient facility, but are now engaged in out-patient therapy. I’m finding it hard to get into a regular routine with the interruptions of driving to and from the needed therapy sessions daily, preparing meals, managing prescriptions and doing the regular household chores. These are the responsibilities I was relieved from while Mark was at the rehab center. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to be home, but I’m looking forward to these common tasks becoming second nature to me again. Feeling overwhelmed makes me wish for a far-away trip, a vacation from health concerns and worries. However, the TBI and physical limitations go with us no matter where we are—so there’s really no escape.

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Backyard – My happy place.

At the same time, I’m grateful to be home where we have our privacy and some control over our own time. I appreciate the beautiful place where we live, which was custom built to meet Mark’s needs. For us it is the most comfortable and peaceful place on earth, designed to make our life easier. The openness and wide hallways make it possible for Mark to maneuver in a wheelchair. The large shower which Mark can roll right into and a bathroom sink he can roll under creates independence. Even outside we have cement sidewalks around the backyard so we can enjoy the outdoors together. We are fortunate to live in such a house and we have awesome neighbors too. Whenever I feel sad about the places we can’t go, I remember, there is truly “no place like home.” We are grateful after nearly eight weeks of being away to finally be back in our “happy place.” We couldn’t be more thrilled that the surgeries are finally behind us and given a year to heal, I’m certain Mark will be entirely pleased with his hip replacements.

Where is your happy place?

A Magical Adventure

In 1991, Mark literally slept in a coma through Mother’s Day, Memorial Day and Father’s Day. Not to mention my birthday and our twelve year wedding anniversary. Although he was awake for Independence Day, Labor Day, Halloween, his birthday and Thanksgiving, all those holidays were spent in the hospital for rehabilitation. We were overjoyed Mark would finally be home for Christmas. Last year I wrote what it took to get Mark home for the holidays. It’s one of my hardest, yet happiest Christmas memories so I wanted to share it again with a new twist.

Christmas MagicChristmas can be a magical time, when wishes are granted and this definitely was the case for us twenty-three years ago. After eight lengthy months of hospitalization, I was finally able to bring Mark home —  just in time for Christmas. He was far from better and still needed extensive therapy and care, so I worked on establishing a “day- patient” schedule where he’d be there all day for therapy and I’d be able to care for him every night at home. At the time he wasn’t able to feed himself or take care of any personal needs. Mark’s doctor, Joseph Vickroy, and the rehab team of speech, occupational and physical therapist, requested that we spend several nights in an apartment-like room located in the center unit where Mark had been for six months. They felt it was important for me to understand the responsibility of caring for Mark before they released him.

I thought the request was trivial since I had spent every day with him and fed him most meals anyway; however, I understood their concern and agreed to do it. I spent several nights there and took complete responsibility for him. Our two children also spent a few nights there to understand what life would be like to have Dad at home. We passed the test and Mark was discharged from the hospital.

Once we realized Mark was going to be wheelchair dependent, we knew some home modifications would be necessary. In October 1991, we started building a large room which would become our bedroom with a wheelchair accessible bathroom off the back of the house. Fortunately, my dad and brothers work in construction and they were willing to do the job. My oldest brother, Mick, designed the addition with a ramp for the new back entrance. If you’re blessed to have a father who is an excavating contractor, “you can’t add a room without a basement.”

Top: Left - Don breaking ground. Right - Steve, Mick, Dad preparing for footings. Middle: Left- Dad. Right - Steve and Mick pouring the footings. Bottom: Left - Steve and Dad. Right - Mick, Steve and Dad pouring the cement floor.

Top:        Left – Don breaking ground.          Right – Steve, Mick, Dad preparing for footings.
Middle:  Left – Dad trying to escape.            Right – Steve and Mick pouring footings.
Bottom: Left – Steve and Dad.                        Right – Mick, Steve and Dad laying cement floor.

Because they were building this addition on their own time after work, it was not completed in December. Despite the unfinished construction we wanted Mark home for Christmas. Mark’s care was physically difficult until the new bedroom and bathroom were finished, but well-worth all the effort to have him finally home. Our regular bedroom wasn’t big enough for all the equipment now needed for Mark. Our queen-sized bed had to be replaced with a single-sized hospital bed. At night, after I transferred him into bed, I would raise it as high as it could go and place my air mattress on the floor in the only space available — which meant my legs were tucked under the bed. Worried that Mark might forget I was there and use the controls to lower it, I would unplug the bed every night.

This sleeping arrangement made for nightly jokes. I often said as I unplugged the bed, “You are now out of control.” He teasingly replied, “But, I’ve got the top.”

Our living quarters were cramped and hard with the construction going on, but it was so worthwhile. My heart is filled with gratitude for my dad and brothers who made our home a place where Mark could live. Our trials were lightened by their skills and hard work. They opened up possibilities for our new circumstances.

Top: Left Don knocking out the brick wall into the new addition Bottom: Left - Chris, Katie, Dad and Mick nailing the top floor down. Right - Chris and Katie painting our the new room.

Top: Left and Right – Don knocking out the brick wall into the new addition.
Bottom: Left – Chris, Katie, Dad and Mick nailing the top floor down.                                       Bottom: Right – Chris and Katie painting our the new room.

Chris Chipping, a friend and former employer of Mark’s, did the electrical wiring for our new addition while another friend, Walt Fisher, did the plumbing. It was a crazy busy home with construction going on for five months until the addition was completed. But, after eight months of living in a hospital — it truly was the merriest of Christmas’s to have Mark finally home.

In 1991 our world was turned upside down, but I learned “a magical adventure awaits those who venture forth.” The magic comes from the love of God, family and friends with a lot of hard work sprinkled in.

Finished room in March. Christopher, Mark and Katie.

Finished room in March 1992. Christopher, Mark and Katie. Mark in our new queen-size adjustable bed.

My Home Delivery

Mom & Dad (2)

Mom and Dad

My parents were married in 1950 and had their first child, Michael (Mickey) sixteen months later. The following year my sister Rosanne was born. Living with two little children in a one bedroom apartment was hard so Mom and Dad thought it was time to build a home. They paid $1,500 dollars for a 1/3 acre lot in Murray, Utah in 1953. They paid off the lot in two years and started building their home in the fall of 1955, just three months after their third child, Donald (Donny) was born.

Since Dad was an excavator and owned a construction company with his brother, he did most of the work including the foundation, septic tank, concrete and framing. He did hire a plumber, electrician and brick mason for their all red brick home. By today’s standard, it was a modest, three bedroom, one bath home which Dad did all the finish work on. They were able to move into their new home about nine months later, just before Donny’s first birthday in 1956.

A few years later Mom was expecting their fourth child. Since the new baby would need the bedroom my brothers shared across the hallway from our parent’s bedroom, they decided to finish two bedrooms for Mickey and Donny in the basement. The new bedrooms were the only finished area in the basement, but on the opposite end of the basement was a beautiful rock fireplace. They bought a black and white television and put a throw rug by the fireplace with a second-hand couch and also used folding chairs to sit on to watch T.V. This room would later be finished as the family/entertainment room.

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Mom, Dad, Mickey, Rosanne, Donny, Barbara sitting around rock flower box in front of our Murray home.

On Saturday, June 6, 1959, my mom’s parents came for a visit and to take Rosanne home with them for an overnight stay. They did this often, taking turns with each grandchild. After they left, Mom started having strong contractions so Dad called the doctor and told him they were on their way to the hospital. Because of the pain, Mom struggled to walk to the back door towards the garage. Dad rushed ahead to drive the car out of the unattached garage closer to the back door in hopes to make it easier for Mom. When he got back to the kitchen to help her to the car he realized her water broke and the determined baby was already on its way. He ran to the phone to call the doctor again and heard the television downstairs. Panicked, with only a stairway between my parents and the two boys, Dad hollered down the stairs, “No matter what, you boys do not come up these stairs!”

Mickey, age seven and a half and Donny’s fourth birthday in just three days, paid little attention to the hustle and bustle at the top of the stairs. They were more interested in the television than the arrival of a new baby, so it was easy to obey their father’s order.

By the time the doctor got to our home I had already arrived. What an entrance for a nine pound baby! I wish I could remember it… What I do remember is being referred to as the “kitchen baby”. Sometimes I was amused at the thought of coming into the world in this unusual way, but other times I was completely embarrassed.

Dad had always teased Mom during their four pregnancies that he had delivered lots of calves on the farm, so there was no need for a doctor. I guess I was listening. I’ve always had lots of faith in Dad’s abilities. However, he stopped saying that after my birth.

I later learned the home delivery resulted in a three day stay at the hospital and I came home on Donny’s 4th birthday. I don’t believe I was his only present that year, but he always made me feel like I was his best present.

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Dad holding me with handsome brother, Don in the left bottom corner.

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Dad holding me with Rosanne and Mick on the front porch.

I’ve always considered myself a daddy’s girl and Mom often said I had Dad wrapped around my little finger because he was there for my birth. I was the only child out of their five that he witnessed because at the time fathers were not allowed in the delivery rooms at the hospital.

Twenty-two months later Mom delivered one more baby, my youngest brother, Steven. Because we were the closest in age we shared the upstairs bedroom for several years and had lots of fun playing together. See Siblings by Chance, Friends by Choice.

Me at two years old loving my stuff animal.

Me at two years old loving my stuff animal.

In my elementary years while we were on vacation at Disneyland, I vividly remember begging my dad to buy me a big stuffed animal. “Dad, think of the money I saved you by being born at home,” I pleaded.

“You were the most expensive child!” He replied. “At the hospital I had to admit not one, but TWO patients. You were considered contaminated by being born at home so you were not allowed in the nursery. They kept you in isolation for a few days, which was an added expense.”

Not only sadden by the fact I wasn’t getting the large stuffed animal, I was shocked by his reply. I previously thought I had saved my parents from the whole hospital scene and therefore was some kind of super hero. After all I had been called the kitchen baby by family and friends. Wow, what a blow this information was to me and an indication that I didn’t really have my dad wrapped around my little finger after all—at least not this time.

Now that I’m older and have gone through child bearing myself, I appreciate what my folks went through to get me here and feel some guilt for being so impatient and determined. However, I am so grateful for the bond it created and know I’m blessed to have such marvelous parents. It’s been a wonderful life, thanks to them!