The Last Day (of 2022)

My “second brain” planner

Most every year, during the month of December, I carry two planners around with me. One is for the present year, and one is for the year to come because I am often planning ahead. That’s what planners are for. The last day of December often finds me closing out one and looking back over the fading year. I am doing that today.

The first half of the year was filled with quiet routine. The husband was housebound except for a few rides in the car and a restaurant meal now and then. We had a regular habit of reading in the mornings and sharing thoughts on what we’d read. Evenings often included him getting a wheelchair ride around the community.

I enjoyed the seasons – skiing in the winter, gardening in the spring and, most of all, planning for our August family reunion.

While family was arriving in late July, the husband had a stroke. Before that time I often wondered how his diagnosis of Lewy Body dementia would play out. He was obviously experiencing symptom progression but so slowly. I thought he was dependent on me in some ways, but little did I realize that being able to walk at all, and being able to eat are very independent activities. He was still doing those things at will, and amusing himself during the day with tv, phone calls, and books.

The stroke took all of that away. What followed was 25 days in ICU, 5 days in a step down unit, 49 days in acute care rehab hospital, 26 days in skilled care rehab, and 24 days in a nursing home. I’ve been sitting here with my planner counting up the days and marking the events. Most of these places were 90 minutes away from home. The last was only half an hour away. I’ve put thousands of miles on the car. I was weary of traveling and welcomed bringing him home. This is his 29th day at home, the 17th day under hospice care.

I am the primary caregiver, although we do have around 15 hours of care each week from CNAs hired privately. That is the summary of the second half of 2022 for the husband and me. It’s been a year to remember.

I can’t say that I have felt like writing much during this time. Occasionally it has been an emotional release. I might also like to have record of what we have gone through, at some later date when memory fails me. But much of it I would like to forget. Ten years ago I would not have imagined living the life I have now.

Should I say something about God and his part in the road we’re on? I see him as having been very patient and understanding of my fatigue, my not want to think deeply, or pray consistently, or immerse myself in scripture every day. In some ways I am numb to those disciplines in much the same way as a young mother with a house full of toddlers. God sees what overwhelms his humans. He sends me out on a “walk and talk” and I will tell you that the natural world has been my lifeline this year.

Lots of privacy out here and a real sense of who I am praying to as I walk. No denying he has a sense of beauty.

He sits with me when I cry. He gives me words for the husband when calming and encouragement is needed. When action is called for he has given me the thought of what must be done and the energy to do it. He has given me assurance about all the confusing and uncertain things – that I can trust him and decide not to fear, not to blame.

Many friends have said they are praying for us, and have reminded me of that often. That has weight with me. This is not the first time that prayer has been important to me, but still it is a mystery how God uses it. I want to be involved in that mystery, not necessarily to understand it, but just to have a part in it. Somehow God attaches great power to prayer and I love to see him be powerful , up close and personal.

I think it was good that we asked God for healing for Dennis. Why would we not? But it is also okay that he has not been healed because perfect health is not the only blessing God can bring with a hard experience. And we have always known that we will die at some time – it’s just the end part of being human. We will not waste the experience by becoming bitter or turning away from the most exciting relationship humanity has ever been offered. No, neither Dennis nor I feel any disappointment with God, or the way he has exhibited his friendship with us.

He has been “with” us. Sometimes he has been a peaceful presence on my walks. Sometimes he has sent others to us to spend time or offer help. I’m often told that I’m not alone and have felt like saying “Well, I feel pretty alone in spite of what you say.” But now I receive that differently. God puts that sentiment on the lips of others to remind me that he is with me, even when people are not. That’s enough. He is not named “Immanuel” for no reason.

Give Me a Hand, cont… Distractions

November 1, 2, and 3, 2019

Life was going on smoothly with my new, blue cast, for a few days at least. We had a good, but short visit from the North Carolina daughter and another surprise visit from a distant cousin. Events like this are good distractions and I am easily distracted when pain is chronic and below a certain level. And then came Friday, with a totally new distraction.

I had an early morning appointment with the ophthalmologist (tempted to just write eye doctor) and was surprised to see the husband up and reporting to me that his leg had bothered him during the night. He thought it was swollen and felt different. I often don’t agree with his assessments, but I always check to make sure. It did look a little swollen and was slightly warmer. I sent a quick email to our doctor and she recommended we come to the clinic and see what was up. So we were there by 11:30, the husband being examined by a PA.

There was the possibility of a blood clot, a DVT, short for deep vein thrombosis. She ordered an ultrasound of his left leg and we set off down the hall to radiology. Halfway there, Dennis could not go any further. He was leaning against the wall and holding on to the handrail, looking scary. I ran for a wheelchair and helped him sit. He was weak and sweaty. At radiology he was feeling better so the ultrasound was done. I watched the screen as the tech worked and although I find it hard to know what I’m seeing, it was evident that something wasn’t right.

From there we were ordered directly to the ER and met with a whole squad of RN’s. They hooked him up to EKG, put in an IV and started monitoring his vital signs. It didn’t help that his blood pressure was 200/104. The ER doc sent him for a CT scan of the lungs and it showed multiple clots in both lungs – significant was the word they used, as opposed to massive. He was started on anticoagulants and admitted to the hospital. That’s where he spent the next two days until his blood pressure stabilized and his blood thinners had reduced the risk of additional clots.

I don’t remember thinking much about my hand the whole time this was going on. That is not to say that I’m recommending medical emergencies as therapy for chronic pain.


If a person is a nurse, which I am by profession, it is almost impossible to avoid having to make decisions for people. At the very least one has to know when to influence people to make a decision for themselves that is best for them. Sometimes the decisions are about life or death and the responsibility can be scary and somewhat overwhelming. It just comes with the job. When I walk out the door on my way to work I am most always in a prayerful mode, asking God for the patience to make it through the day and the smarts to know what I am seeing when I look at my clients.  It’s been one of those scary weeks and I am thankful that my prayers are heard and answered.

My newest elderly client (and friend) has been out of rehab and at  home for almost three weeks.  He came home far too soon and needed a lot more help than any of us knew he would need, but we had hopes that his strength would increase and he would thrive. He was so overjoyed to be in his own house and out of the hospital.  I was leaving to visit my parents a few days after he came home, but we managed to get a crew together to be with him almost 24 hours a day.  There were ups and downs as everyone settled into routines. I returned from my time away and began helping with Jack’s care again.

And then this week, there came the morning that he was so short of breath that sitting up on the side of the bed required a rest period.  Trying to get into the car for a doctor appointment was so difficult that we decided to cancel it.  And his own admission that he didn’t feel well and just wanted to lie down finally tipped the balance for me.  Something was wrong and not getting better.  This was the first time I have ever called 911.  It was a good decision.  We were in the ER for the next six hours and he was finally admitted to the hospital with congestive heart failure.

There are four of us caretakers for Jack and we are still keeping vigil.  He was moved to the cardiac ICU yesterday. Jack remains uncomplaining, always worrying about whether we have eaten, always trying to send us home to rest and wondering if we’re taken care of.  We have hopes that he will improve and come home again, but there is an awareness of how fragile life is, how quickly things can change and how precious the time is that we have with each other. I’m just saying that vigils can be a bit stressful…

I Would Like to Say but I Can’t

I can hardly talk.  I’ve had this predisposition for laryngitis since I was a teen but I’ve been so healthy the last few years I had almost forgotten what it was like.  When it happens I know I’m going to attempt to say something but I don’t know if I’ll be able to make a noise or  not, and if I do it will probably not be audible as speech.  Then I’ll have to push myself to talk louder and my throat will tighten and actually begin to hurt.  The first cough will come, very dry and bark like.  It won’t satisfy the dryness, the itch, the involuntary spasms in my larynx until I cough again.  And the more I try to stifle it the worse it becomes until tears are streaming from my eyes and I’m in a coughing free for all.

Where do I not want to be when all this takes place?  Several places.  My worst memory of it was in a plane over the north pole during a 16 hour flight from Cambodia to Atlanta.  I was trapped in my window seat by two other people, and I don’t know where I would have gone even if I could have gotten out.  Another inconvenient place is church, on stage, playing the piano.  Not good.  And then there was today, on the quiet, serene orthopedic floor of the hospital. I  had been talking too much and it triggered an episode that I thought would not end well.  Fortunately I ran into a sympathetic nurse who not only brought me water, but cough drops as well.  Coughing like that makes one feel like a major source of the plague.  Maybe I was.

I was visiting  my client/friend, well, back up a little.

Last Monday I got a text in the evening from my client who is mostly paralyzed, having a C-5 spinal injury.  She does drive a specially equipped van and had been out doing errands that day.  It simply read “I almost got killed today on Manatee Ave.”  With an opener like that, I thought surely she would tell me more but no.

I talked with her again a day or so later and learned that her electric wheel chair had gone off the sidewalk, over a four inch curb and nearly dumped her in the street.  She had been saved  by her seat belt and two young men who pulled her back into the chair and the chair back onto the sidewalk.  Other than losing her lunch during the panic she didn’t think she was injured.  But over the next couple of days there was evidence of pain, then swelling in her leg and finally an x-ray that showed a broken femur.  I knew nothing about this last finding until last night when I got an email from a friend with a partial name of a hospital and a room number.  It was late. I went to bed.

This morning I got up early, before testing my voice, and scurried over to the hospital.  Her room number was 932 but, funny thing, there was no 932 in that hospital, and no one registered by her name.  And it took a lot of vocal energy to find this stuff out, believe me.  So I sat in my car and thought of another hospital where she could have gone.  I experienced the agonizing frustration of talking on the phone, having no voice.  It’s not like I could use body language or charades or pencil and paper.  She wasn’t at that hospital either.  I went home and sent out several queries by text and waited for answers.

I did finally find her in the next town south and made it down there by mid morning.  Other than the above mentioned coughing fit, the visit went well and I was glad I went.  This is why.  She is scheduled for surgery and when going to surgery, jewelry is removed if possible.  My client had a ring that no one had been able to remove from her finger.  It was valuable and she was not wanting to have it cut off.  I knew a nifty trick to remove a tight ring that I had learned years before from a youtube video.  I was dying to use it on this perfect occasion.  Everybody should know this method because it really works great and is so easy.  You can use thin elastic, ribbon, even dental floss.  I used crochet thread because I happened to have it with me.  So, I’m going to end with this and you should watch it because you never know when you might be someone’s answer to prayer.