A to Z Challenge: Letter E for Equipment

Equipment. I feel like saying “don’t get me started!” The truth is there is a piece of equipment to make almost every job easier. Yes, it’s true. If you are a caretaker, make your life easier by becoming a student of what’s out there.

My most memorable piece of equipment was a 400 lb. electric wheelchair owned by a quadriplegic friend (and client) of mine. It was in the price range of an expensive car and was customized to her needs with joystick, recline features, etc… One of my tasks, in addition to nursing, was to wrap this wheelchair so it could go in the cargo hold of a plane when we traveled. Several egg crate mattresses for padding, rolls of duct tape, and warning signs plastered all over it – that was just the beginning. We also had a smaller regular wheelchair, and a hoyer lift to disassemble and carry along. I remember sitting in the window seat watching the baggage handlers try to get the big chair into the cargo hold, and trying not to let my client see. Keeping track of, and guarding, all that equipment was… an interesting challenge.

There are other, much more common pieces of equipment, that I’m often surprised that clients don’t think about until I suggest them. Are you helping someone who needs to use the bathroom often, and can’t move very fast? Portable commodes are a favorite piece of equipment. Time in the bathroom can also be made a lot safer and easier by toilet seat risers, shower benches, and grab bars, grab bars and more grab bars. You probably can’t have too many of those. (Toilet seat risers are tricky. I thought I was getting the right thing, but no. I have two and neither one is being used… a story that won’t get told here.)

It’s so nice not to have to carry things when you’re feeling a bit unbalanced.

Keeping my people mobile as much as possible is important to me. A simple pair of hiking sticks is what Mom uses outside. Those extra points of balance are all she needs. Inside she has a shiny, red walker which she uses to transport small items (and her coffee cup) because it has an attached basket and a seat, and brakes to keep it from moving when she doesn’t want it to. Walkers and wheelchairs have come a long way in design and there’s one out there for every level of mobility.

Occupational therapists are so helpful when it comes to equipment for the things that need to be done every day. There are gadgets to help pull on socks, extend your reach, open jars, and button and zip garments. For people with low vision or blindness there are a lot of useful tools as well. There are special plates and flatware for food, clocks that speak the time and identifiers that can be placed on surfaces like the microwave control panel.

Seriously, these things work! Who uses them? Me.

Do you have a medical equipment store that you can visit? It’s a good practice to go there and look – at everything. You might not need it now but knowing what is available will make you feel very smart.

The world of equipment is large and varied. There is something for all ages and all situations. Some of it is mysterious (computers and smartphones) and even a bit controversial, like our Alexa (she’s always listening…). My husband loves this internet lady and asks her all kinds of questions. She plays any kind of music he wants and reads to him. And that brings up the equipment needed for safety too. Life alert buttons that are worn on the body can be lifesavers. And how about special locks for limiting access to doors and drawers? These can be useful for children and for elderly with dementia.

You get the idea? If you have a caretaking problem, take it to an internet search, a catalog, a medical supply store or a professional who can point you to equipment that will help. We need all the help equipment can give us.

A to Z Challenge: Letter D for Depression

I can’t believe I made it through the first week of the challenge! I can’t believe I made it through three weeks of coronavirus sheltering in place! I’m thinking by now we all know a little more about what it feels like to be depressed…

Depression is one of the hallmarks of chronic conditions of any kind, and of long term caretaking. What an awful combination it can be when both of you – client and caretaker – are both depressed. Believe me, it happens.

I don’t know what your experience with depression is, but I’ve seen enough of it that I know not to discount anyone’s experience. I’m not genetically given to long term depression but I’ve had moments, maybe days, where I’ve been unable to help myself. Unable to find motivation to do anything. I can’t do anything but wait for something to change.

Depression is sometimes hard to recognize in myself, and hard to admit. It doesn’t present the kind of image I like to have of myself. Because I’m aware of how I’ve felt, I kind of know what to look for in others. Chronic disappointment, chronic pain, unrelenting fear/stress, and other critical situations can trigger depression -when we can’t be sure change will ever come, when we can’t find a resting place, or a safe person. Sometimes it’s not apparent what the cause might be.

If you are a caretaker, you need to know that failure to practice self care can lead to depression. It is okay for you to practice self-care. If you don’t you will eventually be unable to care for others.

You also need to know the symptoms of depression for those under your care. Parents (you are caretakers!!!) recognize the changes that signal depression in a child. Healthcare workers, make emotional health of your patients part of your observation and concern. Those caring for family members, where there is more likelihood of long-term disability should be particularly aware of the silence, the apathy, the resignation and behavior changes that suggest depression.

I can’t give you the sure-fire cure for depression. For some medication helps, and it seems to be one of the easiest attempts to solve the problem. Exercise, sunshine, music, distraction, the passage of time can all help, even if that help is only temporary.

There is one remedy that you as a caretaker can apply that will never hurt, and often is one of the best aides. You can be genuinely caring and show it by your willingness to listen, your words that express your concern, your notice of suffering, and your faithfulness to difficult situations.

The perfect message – hanging on the wall in one of the halls of our small hospital.

A to Z Challenge: Letter C for Clothing

Day 3 of posts on the theme of caregiving. Do you help someone get dressed in the morning? Truth is, I have trouble getting dressed most mornings. Yoga pants are the best, probably for doing yoga too, which I never do.

Let’s face it. Most of the time, for most people, clothing is a necessity of life. I’m thankful for that. But I know from personal experience that clothing can be a frustration as well. Clothing, done well, is a learned skill.

I’ve always bought clothes for my husband – he never thought he had time for shopping – but he always dressed himself fairly well. That is, until he started dealing with Lewy Body Dementia.

The first thing we learned was that pants with belts, snaps, buttons or zippers were not going to work. Putting the belt through all those loops was a frustrating chore. Those kinds of pants weren’t very comfortable for napping either. We learned that flexible, knit pants, elastic waists, and material that doesn’t drag on the bedsheets was our “go to” combination. We bought numerous pair of pajama pants at Walmart and he wears them everywhere. No one cares.

Pajama pants outnumber the others 5 to 3, plus the ones he’s wearing.

Ample sizing became the rule for everything from socks to underwear, because tight things are hard to put on. It’s so much easier to find the armholes of shirts and jackets when they have a loose fit. Again, clothing like that is easier to sleep in too.

I have learned the hard way that an important caretaking job is the final inspection before heading out. More times than I want to remember I have looked at the husband, often when we are late leaving for an appointment, and discovered some stain on his shirt front, his jacket buttoned up wrong, his fly unbuttoned, his pant legs caught in his socks, and hair/dandruff/stuff all over his shoulders. He’s mentally much better than he looks, but he doesn’t see the dishevelment because of his macular degeneration (and general disregard of propriety which he has always had). Fixing him up is a caretaking job.

Other thoughts on making clothes easy:

Have extra clean clothes along on any outing.

Slip on shoes.

Light weight shirt jackets – he loves the quilted, down ones.

When you find something that works well, buy two or three of them.

The same general rules of simplicity and sizing go for women too.

There are a lot of small, daily decisions to make in life. What to wear is one of those decisions that we have a lot of control over. I think we should not make it hard. There is a reason they put you in those awful gowns at the doctor’s office, and the hospital. That’s how they make it easy. Thankfully we don’t have to go that far, just sayin’…

A to Z Challenge: Letter B for Bodily Care

It’s Day 2 of the A to Z Challenge! Only 24 more posts to go on the theme of caregiving. When it comes to caring for bodies, don’t forget to take care of your own, fellow caregivers! Like the flight attendants tell us “put on your own oxygen mask first”…

I am a caregiver. I care for people when they can’t care for themselves. Since we all live in bodies, bodily care is pretty high on the list of things to do.

When I studied to become a nurse, I thought of bodily handicaps in a very superficial way. It was more about learning to do interesting procedures correctly, or knowing what external treatments would help in different situations. Working in hospice, and in elder care has given me a different perspective. I began to think of all the things I do for my own body, that gradually become difficult, then impossible, for some to do for themselves.

As a caretaker, I have clipped fingernails and toenails, given haircuts, tweezed eyebrows and chin hairs, scrubbed backs, wiped butts, picked food out of beards, rubbed lotion on dry parts and cleaned up every kind of bodily discharge there is. I’ve chosen clothing and dressed people, washed, blow dried and combed their hair and flossed and brushed their teeth. I’ve cleaned ears. I’ve helped people walk, sit, and lie down when they couldn’t make their bodies do those simple actions. And I’ve spent hours trying to help people be comfortable in their own bodies.

Haircut and beard trim day

Two questions serve as my starting points. The first, “Am I taking as much care with my client/family member’s body as I would with my own?” It’s kind of the “do unto others…” philosophy. And the second question is “Am I being sensitive to, and respectful of, their own ways of doing things?”

I have a whole different outlook on the world when I’m clean, comfortable, and well groomed. I like to look good – most people do. That desire is still there even when people are disabled, elderly, or sick. Helping them achieve those qualities helps them feel better, and heal better. It’s important work.

I am a caregiver.

A to Z Challenge: Letter A for Acceptance

Ever since “sheltering in place” and “social distancing” became the norm, writing has become difficult, more like work I can’t concentrate on. I’ve been worried that this year’s A to Z challenge would be hard, maybe unsuccessful, and probably not fun. Rather than give up, I will possibly write things that are a bit strange, just to make the 26 days easier, and maybe more fun. Fun is good and worth pursuing.

Way back in the dark ages I got married and left behind a good life and a good friend, my mom. We’ve remained close, but I’ve always told myself that I wanted more time, daily time, to renew that relationship and do life together again. When my dad died a few years ago and mom was alone, I started to think that it might be time. She was starting to want help in small ways, and I knew I wanted to be there, to give whatever care was needed in the future.

Mom and I

Meanwhile my husband, who thought he would work at his desk until the day he died, started not enjoying work as much as before. He struggled with some physical problems. He lacked energy and motivation. Retirement started looking good to him.

It took a long year of planning and hard work but in July of 2018, the retirement happened, our house in Florida was emptied and ready to sell, and we moved to Wisconsin to be near mom. A couple months later my husband was diagnosed with Lewy Body Dementia, which changed our lives significantly. I was suddenly thankful to be in a simpler living situation, near a supportive family group. Caregiving life had started.

The husband and I

Accepting caregiving as part of my life, something I chose to do, not a lifestyle forced on me, was key in helping me to be a satisfied, basically happy caregiver. Maybe it wasn’t as hard for me as for some because I had already been a parent (the ultimate caregiving opportunity) and chosen nursing for a good part of my working life.

Nevertheless, one of the most confusing things about caregiving has been the temptation to feel like my life has been “taken over” by the needs of someone else. I’m working at a job that, at times, feels like I have no choice. I’m trapped and have to do it. If I rebel, guilt can start to dictate to me. Nagging voices try to tell me what I “should be doing” if I’m a good mother/wife/daughter/family member. My thinking gets filled with those limiting words; trapped, forced, should do, have to, guilt.

But the truth is that I have a choice of how to respond to people in need. I could choose not to be a caregiver. There are options these days and not everyone is able to offer the same kind of caring. What I do know is that if I feel like a martyr, I won’t be as effective in the care I give and I also won’t be fun to be around. It can get toxic.

I believe there is a realistic way to look at the limitations of caregiving. Being married has limitations when compared to being single. Having children has limitations when compared to not having children. Some jobs are limiting when compared to other jobs. So it is with caregiving. There are days when I am tempted to think of fun things I could be doing, other than taking care of someone else. But, thinking about all those other options will probably rob me of opportunity to find value and fun in what I’ve chosen to do.

Caregiving, as a choice, has it’s hard times just like any other path, but IT IS MY LIFE. I’m accepting my choice. Instead of holding others responsible for my happiness, I’m going to use that energy to make this life as good as it can be. Acceptance makes that so much easier.

Am I alone here? When have you found yourself in a time consuming caregiving role? What limits were especially hard for you to accept? Can you tell me about it? Would you have moved NORTH for retirement?!

The Next 2000 Words

For the next 2000 words, I am a writer. (Don’t worry. They’re not all going to be here.)

Back before the start of 2020, I made a few bold (for me) promises about progress in my writing journey. I am three months along that path now and haven’t felt like saying much about it. My irregular schedule of posting on my blog hasn’t given much evidence of progress either. But, in taking stock, I’m happy that some things have happened. I’m not standing still. I’m moving at my own pace and I’m thankful that there aren’t a lot of scary deadlines imposed by others.

I have installed a writing program on my iPad and am using it. Like with any powerful tool, there is a learning curve involved with the program (Scrivener) so I also had to invest in a course to teach me how to use the thing. Amazingly, I’ve found time to listen to most of the lessons in the course. The lessons have taught me that even after the course is finished, I know only the tip of the iceberg of Scrivener knowledge. It is only a start, but there it is!

I have done a lot of reading because I believe all those who say that reading is one of the most important things I can do to become a better writer. I think I have finished all the books on that past list, and have a deep well of subjects to think about and discuss with others. I have a whole new list of books for the next few months, which I’ll share later.

I’ve planned out the month of April, which is the one month every year when I write a post every day (except Sundays). The April AtoZ Challenge is definitely challenging for me. Looking back, I see that I’ve gone from random, “anything goes” topics to more purposeful, planned out writing. This year my topic could actually turn into a small booklet that would be helpful to others. I’m excited about that.

Hope*writers has been my biggest financial investment in my writing life and it has been inspiring any time I’ve let it be. It’s my online community of writing resources. The best thing about it is that it has actual “faces”, friendly ones, that consistently show up on social media, phone, and the hope*writers website with encouragement and so, so helpful direction. I’ve taken to listening to their hour long interviews with successful writers while I walk on the treadmill in the morning.

Light box, tread mill, podcast… so many good things at once.

One of the lecturers this week left me with this useful information. From a scientific study, it has been shown that even short periods of creative writing, done regularly, affect mood in a positive way. I’m taking that advice and choosing some event from the past or present, as long as it has some emotional energy attached to it, and writing about it for 20 minutes. I’m describing what happened, what I thought about it, and what feelings were attached to it. I’m doing this because it’s the end of a so long winter, there are some critical things happening in life, and I need to find some positivity. Give me some good mood! Help my brain think right!

I’ve had to give up a few things to make room for these new demands on my time, but that is okay. These new practices are better than the ones they’re replacing. If my desire and love of writing is something with a God-given reason behind it, I had better be finding out what the reason is. I no longer have thirty or forty years to play around with the whole writing thing.

Most importantly, I’ve become deeply interested in who you are, my reader. I’m asking myself what I have to offer you. I realize that my most compelling reason for writing has been for myself – what it does for me. While that is still important, it’s not enough anymore. I want to add value somewhere.

Sharp Things

I am most certainly blessed in the kitchen lately – blessed with new sharp things.

It started with the apple cutter. I helped with kid’s snacks one afternoon at church and got familiar with that little tool. It worked so great I had to go to the cooking store in town and get one for myself. The store is called Hayward Mercantile and it’s kind of high end, with appeal for shoppers from the “big city” who don’t go to Walmart. That’s not usually me, but it’s such a lovely store. Their apple cutter was heavy stainless steel and came with a plastic guard. That should have been my first clue that it was really sharp. I cut myself the first time just putting it away in the drawer.

Later, we were having a rare meal of steak or some other meat, I can’t remember which tough thing it was, and the husband was having trouble cutting it up. He wondered why we didn’t have steak knives on the table. I reminded him that our two sets of steak knives were in North Carolina living in storage. Knowing that he would appreciate it, I secretly bought six lovely Cutco table knives for his birthday. Tough meat has met its match.

The reason I bought Cutco, which is probably one of the more expensive brands of cutlery, is because a young relative has gone into business selling it. He wanted to practice his sales pitch in front of a friendly audience. I felt it was only friendly to buy something, so there, I did it. The demonstration was remarkable. He had a pair of Cutco scissors that cut through a copper penny. Wouldn’t that open up a whole new world of cooking options? (A literal 50 cent meal!)

A couple of weeks later he practiced in front of Mom, who was also very friendly to him. She bought some knives AND the penny cutting scissors. What I didn’t know was that she intended to give them to the husband and me for an anniversary gift! They now reside in the drawer with the sharp apple cutter. Several times I have accidentally brushed the cutting edge with a hand – a touch that would have accomplished nothing with my usual knives – and come away bleeding. It is a fact that I almost always have two or three cuts on my hands, in various stages of healing. The kitchen has become a dangerous place.

As if this was not enough, one day we visited some friends who had a very nice cheese cutter. I hate the kinds with the wire, but this one had a shape like a server with a knife blade in the middle. You just drag it across the cheese and a cute little slice of just the right thickness appears. Again, it was the husband who wished for a cutter like that, because he is always snacking on his special cheese. Back to the Mercantile. They had one, only one, made of heavy stainless steel and costing more than a meal for two at Perkins, but I bought it anyway. It will last forever if I don’t lose it. And who ever loses their cheese cutter?

As I said, the kitchen is a whole different place now that I can cut things. And I do a lot of cutting. My sharp tools save me time and money too. Just this week I quick cooked a nice roast, well,… actually I burned it onto the bottom of the pan. But it turned out to be juicy and tender after I surgically removed the char. I couldn’t have done it without my new knives, just sayin’…

December Reads

What I’m reading:

Do you ever find a certain topic coming up again and again in your reading and discussions with other people? I could call it accidental but it almost seems like God is sending me messages. It started this month when my brothers wanted to share “Waking Up White, and finding myself in the story of race” by Debby Irving. They wanted us to have family discussion about the topic.

Shortly after, the husband and I met an author, Ray Drake, at the hospital where we exercise. We started reading his book, “Dancing With the Fat Lady”, which has a lot to do with race and our local Native American population.

There’s even more. I’m in a small group book study starting in January and to get ready I’m almost through with the book we’ll be doing. It’s “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” by Peter Scazzero and I’m getting a lot from it. It also has sections that deal with the things we learn from our family of origin concerning race and culture.

And now it gets a little spooky. On top of the kitchen cabinets, where I was cleaning during an insane moment, I found “The Grass Dancer” by Susan Power, a Native American. Her novel is full of Native American lore and story. I can’t wait to put this all together and see where it leads.

It was so much fun to trade books with Hope*Writer Sara Stevens. We missed out on the official book exchange so partnered with each other. She sent me “The Road Back to You” by Cron and Stabile. I want to see what this enneagram thing is all about.

Last, not least, I’m planning on finishing “The Next Right Thing” by Emily Freeman, because it will be the next right thing to do. She, and Hope*Writers are my encouragers when it comes to the art and craft of writing with purpose.

They say(and I’m sure they are right) that to be a good writer, you must also be a good reader. I’m planning on ramping up my reading program over these long winter months ahead. I could use suggestions too. What have you read lately that you loved?

Wesley and Buttercup kissing, eeww!

Movies

This re-post from June 2012 is especially appropriate since I just watched “Princess Bride” again last week. It’s all part of reviewing past writings looking for that elusive book that might be in there somewhere…

The truth is, I don’t really remember lines from movies the way I sometimes pretend to do.

I remember one quote from “Star Wars”, “the Force be with you”, or at least I think that was said there.

I remember several things I loved from “Princess Bride” but I can’t quote them exactly, something about a peanut, and something about the RUS’s.

I remember the shrubbery in “Monte Python’s Holy Grail” and the blood spurting hand (which I’ve tried to forget and can’t).

“UHF” is responsible for my love of enterociters (spelling?).

 Lastly, I remember laughing till my sides hurt during “Three Amigos” but I’ve watched it since and couldn’t quite relive the experience. I sort of remember being sick and having a fever while watching it the first time and that may have accounted for it seeming so funny.

That’s it for movies. That’s all I remember. Not impressive.

But I do enjoy a good movie and can get caught up in a thought provoking plot, if it’s not too weird and unbelievable, and if the characters are compelling.  I also have an emotional memory of how I was affected by most movies, even when I don’t remember the plot.

I rarely choose to watch a movie a second time though (exception – Princess Bride). I guess I just don’t want to clog my neuron pathways with most movie content when I have trouble remembering my own life that I’m actually living.

And then there’s the actors … I put them in the same boat with sports figures. They simply get paid too much for what they do, even when they do it well. If they’re a high salaried actor it should be part of their job to go feed starving people in Africa with a lot of their money. It’s ridiculous, and no wonder so many of them end up getting disillusioned with life in general. That being said, you must be aware that this is an opinion and you are entitled to feel differently. 

Yep, here it is.

You Are Special

To all my readers:

I’ve been to a writing conference this week and it’s made me examine why I write. I have to conclude that it’s not just for myself. I want it to be for you too. I’ve been cheered by the compassion expressed after my latest painful posts (and painful pictures). It’s made me thankful for you. I feel like you are all kind of “my people”.

I feel like I should attempt to tell you why I write here. But first,

The NOT WHYS – I’m not:

trying to make you feel sorry for me

trying to present life as only full of hard things

trying to be sounding hopeless or bitter

trying to compare my life with anyone else’s

Really, I’m not.

THE WHYS

What I want to do is offer the events of my life as an example of the hope that a very average person can have. We all have seasons when life is hard, and seasons when it is not so hard, maybe even joyful and fulfilling and interesting. Life is given to us as a learning experience and I love the ability to share the ordinary things that happen to me with you. I feel a responsibility to be fully aware of what can be learned from the ordinary and to think deeply on what might be of value to you as you read.

I love to show you the beauty of our physical spaces like my northern forests and wetlands. I share with you the fear of doctor’s visits and threats to physical health because we can learn that we are not alone. I tell you about the crazy stuff because I know we all need to laugh at the things we (I) do. I love to tell you about people like yourselves that are precious to me.

For me, my hopeful outlook is bound up in my faith. I believe in a God more loving than can be imagined and I should probably be telling you more often how I feel his love applied to me personally. I believe all of us “ordinaries” are unique and specially loved by God. Whether you believe as I do or not, doesn’t it comfort you, encourage, you to know that another person respects and values you because of their belief? Doesn’t it make you curious how that can be? I want to include that kind of conversation in my stories. I hope that in some way you can feel God’s love applied to you through what I write.

I have more to say about the writing conference but I needed to start with this, tonight. Thank you for being there and for reading.