Feeling Lucky

st-patricks-dayI appreciate Christine Scott sharing her story over the past five weeks of growing up with her mentally disabled sister and the challenges they faced as a family. It’s been insightful and very helpful for me while Mark has been recovering from his second total hip replacement.

We’ve been at the rehab center for the past seven weeks and we’re looking forward to returning home on Saturday. This second battle of recovery has been easier and harder. Easier because we knew what to expect and Mark was in better physical condition to start with.  Harder because we knew what lay ahead of us and right from the start we were still tired from the first surgery.

We were tempted to wait awhile until our vivid memory of the surgery and rehab had dimmed. We moved forward with the original plan because we were anxious to get it behind us and we didn’t want the therapists who worked with Mark on the first recovery to forget what they’d learned about him the first go around. We saw more pros than cons in doing it sooner rather than later, which meant there were six months in between the left and right hip surgeries.

It was a good decision. We’re glad to have it behind us and fortunate to have the same therapists. Their previous experience working with Mark and knowing his physical limitations and capabilities have proven to be beneficial. We’re leaving the rehab center after 52 days rather than the 60 days it took with the first rehabilitation.

We’re happy with his progress and the new range and mobility he now has with both hips done. Last August, I wrote an article, A Man with True Grit, which is my favorite way to describe Mark. He reconfirms his grit daily as he works hard through painful therapy. Since I’ve watched and encouraged Mark through rehabilitation for nearly twenty-five years, the pain is both heartbreaking and tiresome. It’s easy to wonder why it has to be so hard.

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Sam & Mark with their crazy hair hats

One of the benefits of being in a care facility is that we are surrounded by people with similar struggles. Most of the patients here are overcoming a knee, hip or shoulder replacement. A few have a more serious struggle like cancer or a stroke. As I get to know each patient, my heart goes out to them and I rejoice in their progress conquering their individual health challenges. We’re encircled by people with true grit and a few of them are still here from our first stay and feel like family now.

Mark wasn’t the perfect candidate for total hip replacements and we were told it would be a tough recovery for him. He had several tests to determine whether it was even a possibility. Every test revealed a new problem such as severe degenerative disc disease, osteoporosis and scoliosis of the spine. The results were discouraging and overwhelming. The bone density test revealed he was a high risk for a break.

The orthopedic surgeon gave Mark only a 50% chance of the surgery being successful. Mark replied, “I’ve beaten lesser odds,” and wanted to go through with the surgeries despite the risks. Mark’s continuing optimism and determination for betterment is one of the reasons why I love and support him so much. He’s taught me you don’t have to be a cowboy to be a man with true grit.

If you’re old enough, you may remember one of my favorite John Wayne movies made in the 1969, True Grit. The fearless, U.S. Marshal, Rooster Cogburn, was hired by a determined young girl, Mattie Ross, to find the man who murdered her father and fled with the family savings. Rooster was cantankerous and drank too much, but his shooting ability was flawless. He was known as a man with true grit.

The scene that runs through my head as Mark valiantly works in therapy is the one where Rooster rides his horse into an open area and faces alone the gang of four outlaws he’s been tracking down for days.

One of the outlaws shouts, “What’s your intention Rooster? Do you think one against four is a dog-fall?”

Rooster hollers back with sincere determination.“I mean to kill you in one minute or see you hang in Fort Smith at Judge Barker’s convenience. Which one will it be?”

True GritThe gang unwilling to surrender to this one-eyed, pot-bellied marshal moves forward on horseback.

Rooster puts the horse’s bridle reins in his mouth, drawing his rifle in one hand and his shotgun in the other as he charges towards the four men, shooting with both guns.

Despite the unlikely odds and with one heart-stopping mishap, he does take all four gangsters down.

This comparison may seem a bit uncouth and a little irreverent, but it’s what goes through my mind as I watch Mark courageously combat rehab. He boldly confronts each challenge with every ability he has. He fearlessly fights for improvement and gives little thought to it taking him down. He may ride on top of a different kind of saddle, but he is indeed a man with true grit. However, I must add he’s much better looking than Rooster Cogburn and his language, manners and conduct are much nicer too.

Right now I’m surrounded not by cowboys, but warriors with true grit and I’m particularly fond of the one I’m married to. Just like Rooster, Mark has come out the winner thanks to his surgeon, Dr. Rasmussen and his staff, along with the great therapists at Rocky Mountain Care Center. The fight isn’t over yet, but the end of this ride is near and that’s why I’m feeling lucky. A bright rainbow is in sight!

The Countdown

 

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Rocky Mountain Care Carnival September 2015

Facing another total hip replacement makes me so anxious and worried you’d think I was the one going through the surgery. I’m confident it would be easier for me than Mark to recover, so if I could I’d trade him places, but sadly it’s not possible. Fortunately for Mark, he remembers very little about the first operation and rehab. A poor short-term memory is the result of his traumatic brain injury and is a benefit in this case. It appears the surgery is not a big deal to him and maybe that’s a blessing for me also. I only need to deal with my own anxiety and not Mark’s too. However, I just may worry enough for both of us.

This journey began a year ago and to begin with we said, “no way,” but as the pain and stiffness grew and dressing and transferring Mark became harder, we started to consider the idea. I feared my ability to care for Mark was coming too quickly to an end with already needing a large hernia repaired. We discussed: Where do we go from here? Could we live happily apart? Who could take good of care of him and would I be satisfied with them?

Mark wasn’t a perfect candidate for total hip replacements, so he had several tests preformed to determine whether it was even a possibility. Every test revealed a new problem such as severe degenerative disc disease, osteoporosis and scoliosis of the spine and osteopenia (a precursor to osteoporosis) of the hips. These health issues are related to nearly twenty-five years in a wheelchair with limited mobility. Since his hips no longer had the ability to bend at 90 degrees, he spent hours in a poor sitting position, which resulted in terrible neck and back pain. Our bodies are meant to move and if we can’t or don’t, it causes additional problems. The hip replacements became our hope for relief from pain and improved movement in his hips to help with dressing and transferring. However, the test results were discouraging and overwhelming. The bone density test revealed he was a high risk for a break, which is frightful. What should we do and when do we give up? These two questions took months to answer.

The orthopedic surgeon gave Mark only a 50% chance of the surgery improving his condition. Mark replied, “I’ve beaten lesser odds,” as he consented to go through with the total hip replacements despite the risks. The surgeon then warned, “Recovery will be hard due to your state of mobility.”

Well I’m not afraid of hard,” Mark said as I thought, he’s rather accustomed to it. He lives with hard every day, which makes Mark stronger than he appears.

In May I had my hernia repaired and two months later Mark had his right hip replaced. August and September he stayed in a rehab center and has had outpatient therapy twice a week for the past four months. Oh, what a year it’s been and we now understand a new level of hard. Not that we regret the surgery, but we didn’t realize just how long and hard the recovery would be.

Mark’s continuing optimism and determination for improvement is inspiring and one of the reasons why I love and support him so much. We knew with the first surgery he wouldn’t get full benefit of it until he had the second one. I’ve dreaded this second surgery day and wished I could take him far away to a place unknown to earth where there are no limitations and only comfort is felt. If we could fly we’d surely escape, but instead we are here with the surgery date just around the corner. With family, friends, a skilled surgeon and therapists, we are confident he will come out on the winning end and hope it will be sooner rather than later.

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Rocky Mountain Care Carnival September 2015

I’m looking forward to Wednesday, post-surgery day. A week from now we should be in a rehab center healing and working on learning how to make that new hip work. As a wife, caregiver and advocate, I’ll be there every step of the way. Not because I have to, but because I want to be by his side. I know from experience he does better, just as we all benefit in any endeavor with support and encouragement from loved ones.

So if you’re reading this, you must care and we appreciate you for that. We are grateful for every supporter and welcome every prayer for a speedy recovery. We are better prepared and understand what to expect this time around, so it should be much easier. Besides, now he has one good hip to recover on.

It’s A Wonderful Life

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While we busy ourselves with decorating our homes, attend delightful Christmas programs and parties, shop for the perfect gift for our loved ones, send cards or newsletters, hopefully we don’t lose the joy of  the season. Some days our life is filled with wonder as to where to start with all there is to do. It can become overwhelming and discouraging. For other people it’s a very lonely time.

This month also means the year is coming to an end. My work load increases with year-end reports and preparations for the New Year. I’m constantly reflecting on the past eleven months and speculating how to improve circumstances and our situation for 2016. This year has definitely been one for the books in all aspects of my life, both personal and business.

As I reflect on this year which started out anticipating improved health for both Mark and I. My hernia was getting harder to ignore and since I’d had it for several years the doctor told me I was at risk of it strangulating, which would cut off the blood supply to my intestine and could be life-threatening. In May it was successfully repaired without complications. The best part of my recovery was our daughter, Katie, and her husband, Eldin, stayed with us for five weeks since I wasn’t allowed to lift Mark in and out of his wheelchair. Katie became our main caregiver and she did a marvelous job. We enjoyed having them here.

Mark’s painful hips could no longer bend at ninety degrees, causing him to sit in his wheelchair incorrectly, which caused back and neck problems. Twenty-two years ago he had both hip joints scraped clean and we thought it was time to get that done again. After an x-ray, the doctor informed us he wouldn’t be able to do that type of surgery again and instead the hips would need to be replaced. We got a second opinion and were told the same thing. More testing was done because Mark isn’t a good candidate for a total hip replacement. He has the early stages of osteoporosis and there was a worry of a break or easy dislocation. We were told his limited mobility would make it hard to heal. We debated back and forth whether he should have the surgery or not. Transferring Mark in and out of the wheelchair was getting harder due to his inability to bend forward at the hip.

It’s hard for us to comprehend that there may come a day when I’m not physically capable of taking care of Mark at home without lifts and other equipment to fill our house, but that reality was now staring at us. We were warned and understood the surgery and recovery would be hard, but we’ve done “difficult” many times so we were confident we could handle it. Mark had his left hip replaced in July. We lived in a rehab care facility through September. Since we’ve been home I’ve taken Mark nearly every day to outpatient therapy.

The surgery went well, but the recovery has been beyond what we could imagine. Mark has endured more discomfort and pain from therapy than I thought possible. He’s a man with true grit and has overcome a more advanced level of difficulty.

Despite the anxiety of surgeries this year, we have received many blessings. We were able to stay in a nice suite at the care center, which included a bedroom and bath with a roll in shower for Mark separate from a full kitchen and living room. I was able to take my computer there and continue to work from our temporary home. The furnished suite even had a beautiful view of our familiar mountains, which always brought me comfort during our new circumstances.

Mark has had excellent therapists who have become dear friends over the past several months. We are establishing a larger support group to help Mark continue the needed daily exercises even when the “official” therapy ends. These assistants are being trained by a certified therapist. I am so grateful for each person who is on Mark’s team. I appreciate the increased love and care we feel as we have built many new relationships this year through therapy and patients.

I’m so fortunate to have a flexible job, which allows me to work from home at all hours giving me the time I need to take Mark to needed doctor appointments, tests and therapy. I have two compassionate and understanding employers whom I love and appreciate.

It-s-A-Wonderful-Life prayerIt is truly a wonderful life. Not the one I’d envisioned, but I’m grateful for all the good that has come with it. As we celebrate Christmas and hopefully feel the love this season brings, may you take time to see the good you’ve brought into the lives you’ve touched. It’s not an easy thing to do and for George Bailey it took an angel to help him realize the impact his life had on others. My holiday wish is that you too can see the good in your wonder-filled life and realize just how wonderful it is. If it’s too hard to do, call on an angel to help. I’ve heard some are eager to earn their wings.