Thoughts I Didn’t Plan on Thinking

Today we are in my brother’s truck having a rare family road trip. It’s a change for me not to be driving. It leaves me free to look out the window at the gray, somewhat foggy fall day. The leaves are turning but the colors are muted and dull. There is still a lot of green out there so maybe we’ll have a better autumn brilliance in a few more days.

We are going to Eau Claire, a small city two hours away, to visit Chippewa Valley Eye Clinic. An ophthalmologist/plastic surgeon has been working on Mom’s right eyelid after removing a small basal cell carcinoma. This is our fourth visit due to complications of the surgery and repair. Mom has been struggling with ointments, painful eyes, poor vision and a sense of being really tired of this whole process. We don’t know what to anticipate today.

We have so many medical options for anything that goes wrong with our bodies these days. And things do go wrong sooner or later – that is a given. There are many decisions to be made because of this, some we make for ourselves and some others make for us. Swirling all around these calls for decision are issues like the value of life, quality of life, the comparison of one life over another, our views of death and suffering and medical accountability. It’s deep water and not fun to navigate.

This week I was sitting in my husband’s hospital room as he slept. In the common room where I could see and hear them, a family was sitting with their youngish looking son who had obviously been in an accident of some kind resulting in brain trauma. Like my husband, he was there for intense rehab and he was showing good improvement. I had a moment of guilt as I compared him to my elderly husband, with numerous comorbidities, struggling to show progress at all who was taking up a valuable bed in the facility. I felt sorry for the doctor who had to decide to move my husband out to a nursing home for rehab, and I understood what she had to consider. Because we’re having trouble finding another suitable place, he is still here at Miller Dwan in that bed.

My husband spends time thinking about what purpose God could have for him that he was allowed to survive this stroke. He is so tired, and to look at him on some days, you might think he was half dead already. I think he looks half dead, which makes me get busy waking him up, shaving the stubble, sitting him up and telling him to open his eyes before the next therapist arrives. I want him to look valuable, hopeful, worthy of the time and effort they are putting into his rehabilitation. He has indicated he wants that and I am his advocate. It’s a job.

I’ve asked him to think about what he would want if he were to have another stroke. Would he want to go through again what he’s experienced the last two months? He said he hadn’t thought about it. How can that be? He has so much time to think. So many things happen to us because we can’t imagine what we might have to decide, but now he knows and doesn’t have to imagine.

Last week there was an article in the local paper by Garrison Kieller of Prairie Home Companion fame. He also had recently been hospitalized and had experienced many feelings my husband recognized, a lot of mention of bodily functions. He had a good laugh when I read the article to him. Helplessness and dependency is not just happening to Dennis Dietz. And at some point, it could easily happen to any one of us.

I’m thinking about my future, although I know there’s no getting “control” over this realm. It seems to help me to do mental role playing around the possibilities, that way I’m not completely surprised by some of what actually happens. My choices play into my future so I try to make good ones (most of the time) but my best choice has been in believing that God is in control, and that he doesn’t plan on wasting any of my experiences. I can accept that hardship is part of life, and that circumstances can be beyond awful at times. Endurance is needed but there is help along the way in many forms. My belief is that the outcome is good, and it is sure. Just sayin’…

Northwoods Journal: July 11, 2022

My senior assisted living community has gone down by two – a whole 50%. I still have the husband and Mom to help but my uncle and aunt, both in their 90’s, have gone south to live near my uncle’s children.

Me and Mom. Glad I still get to help her. She’s fun.

They lived near a town, about 25 minutes away, out in the country where we had trouble getting cell service. They had neighbors, but I was always worried about them being able to contact someone if they needed help. My aunt was disabled with Parkinson’s, and nearly blind. My uncle was the main caregiver for her and he was getting tired. On top of that there was the difficulty of keeping warm and plowed out during our severe winters. Something had to change, and it did.

My aunt had a crisis on Friday, July 1st, and after a week in the hospital recovering it was obvious that she needed nursing home placement. I was surprised to find out that there were no available beds for her level of care anywhere in our small community. None. But there was a place for her in a care center in the town where my uncle’s daughter lived, and they were willing to accept her. I am in awe of the social workers who helped get this done so quickly that it about took my breath away. I also think it was God’s plan to give my uncle some good time with his daughters after many years of just seeing them for occasional visits.

Caregiving… my aunt and uncle didn’t require my time on any regular basis, but more as a problem solver and go between with their doctors. I helped a little with their legal and financial affairs and often with their tech problems. Cell phones and computers drove my uncle to frustration. So, you would think I would feel free and have lots of extra time now that I don’t have those responsibilities. I guess that’s partly true – but I’m mostly aware of how quickly it all happened and how I miss them. Strange.

And that is one of the strange things about caregiving. It’s often hard, restricting, physically tiring, stressful, and has distasteful elements but it is also rewarding and more meaningful than a lot of other things I might be doing. Although I’ve been a paid caregiver and felt the weight of responsibility for my clients and the importance of being faithful and dependable, being a family caregiver is that and so much more. There are no 8 or 12 hour shifts, seldom a vacation, no weekends off, no differential for nights and no overtime. There are times when it feels like I’m handing over my life to someone else.

But, it is my life, and I know I made intentional choices that determined my present circumstances. Like many other aspects of life, the challenge is in taking what comes to me and making something of it. I must make plans but I must also expect the unexpected and figure out how to respond. I want to respond to situations in ways that won’t make me disappointed in myself at some later date.

In case you haven’t noticed, preaching to myself is one of the ways I’m meeting those challenges. It helps me to remember that God has given me specific skills to use for the good of others, and that he will strengthen me and keep me in the game until I’m no longer needed. Knowing that I am in the right place, at the right time, for a good purpose makes me satisfied and gives joy. What more could I ask?