Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Where Is Your Home?

As some of you may have heard, Dean's overnight home visit last month worked out well. There were no emergencies, crises, or traumas. All in all, it was a relaxing time, and Dean didn't seem to mind going back to the care center, as we feared.

The biggest stress was just the worry during the preparation, prior to his visit. Of course, six insulin shots a day didn't help my misgivings, let alone how Dean might resist going back. But as it turned out, I wouldn't mind a repeat visit once a month or so. (It did inform me though that I'm not able to do it full-time. Lots more work for me with him home.)

After just coming out of a two-day quarantine at the care center this week for stomach flu, with all the residents having to stay in their rooms, Dean is really itching to come home again. So I've promised him another home visit soon. He struggles with why he has to be there, instead of home. He tells me on the phone that if I want him home, it could happen.

I've had to repeatedly explain to him that it's not what I want, but what I'm able to do. His medical issues really need 24-hour nursing now. I can't give him that, as much as I'd like to. My health isn't perfect either, I remind him. I can usually get him to understand before our phone calls end, but I'm never sure how much understanding he'll retain.

Anyone would feel the same in his position though, I'm sure. "There's no place like home", as the famous song tells us. But another song must be remembered, "This world is not my home."

My brother and sister sit in the path of a massive hurricane, getting ready to flee, if necessary. None of us is guaranteed a home, or even a house, on this earth. It can be taken from us in a heartbeat. I long for that home above...nothing can take that one away from us.


not a mansion, but it's home



Saturday, August 19, 2017

Our Home-Alone Experiment

Dean asks me, with almost every phone conversation and visit now, what I'm doing to get him out of the care facility that he's been in since last November. Not that he dislikes it there, as much as he'd just rather be home with me. I'm sure any of us would feel the same way in his shoes.

So, I felt impressed to look into having him home for a short overnight visit. We've had him on several outings, but I just felt it was time to try him out for a little longer stay at home and see how he does.

My daughter and his nurses and therapists have given me a thumbs up, so towards the end of this week, he will be able to enjoy the comforts of home for a couple of days. I'm hoping it will be a mental boost for him, and a confirmation that I'm doing all I can to make his life enjoyable, although I think he already knows that, in his heart.

Each home visit will be an "experiment" though, because with dementia, everything you do is a trial run. The results will be different every time, no doubt. But I think I am strong enough for this. I'll let you know how I survive when it's over.

Medicaid allows us fifteen days a year for this purpose, so that will be helpful in explaining to him why the visit will have to be short. So long as his health stays stable, as it seems to be right now (even though he hardly ever uses his oxygen), we can plan on more "experiments".

In the meantime, I'm stocking up on all his favorite food and video choices, and just praying for the best outcome. With God, I know it will be alright.

relaxing, as in "falling asleep", at home a few years ago--I hope this will be him later this week!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Living OUR Dream

A couple of days ago, I happened to notice on Facebook that a long-lost school friend from Florida and her husband were passing through Nebraska in their camper. We hurriedly made plans to meet the next day at a truck stop, just off the Interstate.

It was a bit unnerving, since we hadn't seen each other in person for almost fifty years! But my nerves calmed down when Cindi saw me, watching for their arrival through the truck stop restaurant window, and waved excitedly to me as soon as they pulled up to the gas pump. We immediately got a warm hug from each other and then enjoyed a leisurely, chatty lunch, catching up on our lives, but mostly reminiscing about our junior and high school days.

For me, there was a touch of sadness though, mostly in anticipation of our meeting, because I would be facing it without my husband. It just didn't seem natural or fair to share an event like this without him by my side (he's been in a long-term care facility for almost a year now). When Dean and I were young, we had often talked about spending our retirement traveling across the country like my friends were doing. I wasn't sure just how it would feel to see them "living our dream".

But as Cindi shared some of their own life disappointments, my unsettling thoughts were totally forgotten. God has a different path for each of us. It's designed just for us, not to make life difficult or messy as it sometimes is, but to make sure that we stay connected with Him.

After fifty years, I still felt a connection with Cindi. It was almost like yesterday that we sat on the grounds of our junior high school, eating our lunch, and trying to figure out how to navigate the perplexing world of seventh-grade education. I was not used to my sister's absence (she was a grade behind me), so Cindi's friendship that year helped me fill the gap and survive what would have been a very lonely time indeed.

Amazingly, Cindi has done it again, by breezing in to help me survive another time in my life that I feel totally disconnected with someone who I have come to depend on, maybe a bit too much. What a merciful God we have to give us friends, who know just when to show up and know just how to cheer us up.

So good to see you again, Cindi (on the right). It was like we'd never been apart!


Thursday, July 13, 2017

Close Encounters

Yesterday was a terrific day at Waverly Care Center for Dean. I was able to persuade a friend of ours, Bill Fitts, to come and share his singing and guitar-playing with the folks there. I didn't realize he would be coming the exact time I was coming to visit Dean this week! So I got to sit in on his wonderful concert of songs from the 60s and 70s, everything from hymns to country to patriotic songs.

The residents loved it, and especially Dean, who, of course, loved seeing the familiar face of a friend, along with hearing the memory-laden, repertoire of songs that he brought with him to perform. Best of all, after the concert, Bill joined Dean and I in the dining room for a daily afternoon treat of ice cream.

Sharing ice cream with Bill illustrated to me the close way Jesus wants to communicate His love with us. Jesus not only put on a great show on His resurrection morning, but He followed it up with face-to-face quality time with His friends in the upper room.

I hope Bill doesn't feel uncomfortable with my analogy here. It just reminds me how intimate God wants to be with each and every one of His friends on this earth (which often feels just as much of a "prison" as the care center feels to those who live there). God takes all the individual, personal time He has (which is, of course, infinite) to make sure we all feel as comforted and encouraged as we can possibly be.

Thank you, God, for your unfailing, loving presence in our lives!

And thanks to you too, Bill!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

One Year Later

This is a must-write blogpost. I've been thinking for the past week about Dean's physical condition that drove him into the nursing home that he's in now. It's been exactly one year ago that his blood sugars were discovered to be so high. And I'm talking about high-high! Like 810, when we got him to ER.

Then in February, he got pneumonia (someone we know calls it "old-monia")--his second time for a septic infection--and we also found out he has C.O.P.D., not just sleep apnea that he had been diagnosed with a year before that. Evidently, his years of smoking are catching up with him at last.

But I'm happy to report that Dean has made a remarkable, if slow, recovery from both these life-changing conditions. He's not 100% cured of them, of course--they are chronic, to be sure. But for a man with TBI-induced dementia, he's come a long way, even though he's still a steady candidate for long-term care.

There's no way I could have had the positive outcomes his nurses have had, especially with MY pulmonary limitations. And I'm not ashamed to thank Medicaid for making his healthcare possible. Even with its flaws, without it, he never would have made it this far.

I still consider myself Dean's caregiver. But now I'm allowed to focus on making him happy, not healthy (leaving that mandate to the medical professionals). Part of my calling then was to help organize a picnic for Dean's TBI support group this month. Upon my suggestion, the location of our gathering was just a few blocks from Waverly Care Center, where Dean stays now. So, amazingly, we were able to transport him there.

The weather was perfect and everyone seemed to enjoy the festivities. For me, his smiles made it all worthwhile!




Sunday, June 4, 2017

A Look in the Mirror

This weekend we enjoyed the company of Dean's sister and brother-in-law from Michigan, as they stopped here on the way to Colorado to see his relatives for an annual visit. Amazingly, we were able to enjoy dining out at a restaurant with them, our daughter's family, and Dean and I, by loading him and his hefty wheelchair with oxygen tank, into their SUV.

The evening went smoothly (unlike our last visit, when I believe Dean's temper got the best of him a couple of times). We even stopped by the house here for some homemade strawberry pie before taking him back to the care center. His blood sugar levels have been acceptable now for some time, so we didn't have to stress out about his eating, as the case has been on previous outings. Even his oxygen saturation levels are improving, so that was less of a worry.

I was expecting Lynn to give me some feedback on how she felt her brother was doing. She hadn't seen him for two years, and she would have to notice the deterioration of his physical health, being in a wheelchair now.

Instead, at one point when we were getting out of the car, she gave me a hug and remarked on how much better I was looking these days, compared to two years ago. Really, I was shocked, but pleased, that someone noticed that about me. I hadn't taken the time to recognize any change in myself. But evidently, less stress does translate into something positive.

I'd like to think, of course, that Dean's health has benefited from his stay at the care center too. And I feel that indeed it has. I may have been able to achieve similar results with him at home, but I'm sure it would have taken much longer, at best. And I shudder at what my physical and mental state would have suffered in the process. I would gladly make the sacrifice, but am grateful God has shown me another way.

What a wonderful gift I was given by Lynn's comment. I could look in the mirror all day and not have seen what she saw. I'm glad she felt comfortable sharing it with me. It did my heart good to get "a second opinion", if you will, of how I am surviving this caregiving journey.

I must remember to pass this kind of encouragement on to all my caregiver friends. We sometimes forget to look in the mirror. God is there for us too.
"casting all your care upon Him for He cares for you"! 1 Peter 5:7

Dean and his sister, Lynn--2 years ago

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Perfect Solution

We recently passed the six-month mark for how long Dean's been in what's called a "long term" or "extended care" nursing facility. I thought at first that Dean was the only one having a hard time dealing with the reality of his increased medical needs, but I'm finding that it's just as hard for me to adjust to this unnatural living arrangement.

It was hard on me physically, taking care of Dean before his diagnoses of diabetes and COPD. I can only imagine the toll it would take on me now if I was having to add insulin shots, oxygen use, diet restrictions, and the continued, increased fall risk he's become.

None of these treatments alone would be out of the realm for a normal person to handle, but one must take into consideration his dementia from his TBI years ago. It's extremely difficult getting him to comply with all his treatments and restrictions. Even the nurses at the center have limited ability to treat him properly. I'm sure my success would not be any better than theirs. He would ultimately be making too many trips to the hospital, and they would be recommending his placement to be just what it is now.

Then, there's the factor of my own declining health. My pulmonary limitations cause me great fatigue and lack of energy. It's hard just taking care of myself! Adding another person would make me go down even faster. And how would that serve my husband?

It helps alleviate my guilty conscience somewhat to document these reasons, but unfortunately the heart does not always listen, and I find myself constantly questioning whether I could indeed have kept Dean at home longer. And whether I should not at least give it another try.

But then I remember how hard it was to find his current placement. There's no guarantee that we'd find such a perfect location, with such top-notch nurses and care that he's being provided now. I'd hate to burn that bridge by attempting it at home again.

So, what does this caregiving dilemma provide me as far as educating my faith? It has allowed me to see the difficulty our Father God has in leaving us in the temporary care of the god of this earth. Oh, how He must long to sweep in and return us to our former happiness in the Garden of Eden. But the long term results must be considered. In order to return us to that glorious place, we must temporarily remain in another caregiver's hands for awhile. It doesn't appear right now to be the perfect solution, but someday we will see how it was the only one.


Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Dean, the Inviter

This past weekend, I was all prepared to ask friends over for dinner after church. Something Dean and I used to do regularly before his accident. I've been getting tired of cooking just for myself though, and now that Dean's in a care center and I don't have the constraints and stress he brought to the table, I thought this would be the first week I'd have someone over to share a meal. I had something in the crock pot, and knew just the foods I'd serve.

Earlier in the week I had been unsuccessful in calling some people to invite them. Just couldn't make the connections with the few people that I felt comfortable asking. But, I thought this was no problem. When we had people over for dinner in previous years, we always found that people would come at the last minute, when invited.

Driving home from church, I felt quite uneasy that I hadn't been able to get enough courage to ask anyone over to eat. What's wrong here? It always worked before for us. What was different about things now?

But then, it suddenly dawned on me. Dean was the one who always asked people over to eat in years past. He had such an easy time talking to people, even complete strangers. I had totally relied on him to do the inviting.

I can see that I'm going to have to re-invent some things in my life. I miss many things about my partner Dean. But my partner Jesus is still on the job. And I will need to lean on Him more than ever.


Dean, our daughter and granddaughters--at Waverly Care Center


Thursday, April 13, 2017

My? Birthday

Yesterday was my birthday, but as with most caregivers and even busy parents, the celebration centered around someone else. This fact by no means detracted from its pleasure for me, of course. Actually, there's no happiness like seeing someone else given joy.

My main birthday wish is to make my husband happy. It isn't easy when he's in a nursing care center, a placement that neither of us ever wanted to see happen. But with both our medical and health issues, the decision just doesn't seem to be ours any more.

The birthday was brightened by the fact that my daughter and our two granddaughters, ages 6 and 8, accompanied me to the Waverly Care Center after school. We whisked Dean away (our first time trying this since his last hospital stay for pneumonia in February).

Our destination was simple enough. We headed for a local Runza drive-thru and ceremoniously parked and ate our meals while watching the cars go by on the highway. Before heading back, we stopped and watched the girls play at a playground park near the care center.

In addition to this event, I'm also looking forward to Sunday, April 23, when there will be a "come-and-go" party for me in the afternoon. It won't be at home here though as we've usually had it; but you guessed it, it will be at the care center. I couldn't enjoy my birthday more than to see Dean happily visiting with his friends all afternoon.

I can fully understand the pleasure God will have someday, when His children are all reunited and enjoying a wonderful time with Him in heaven! It will be HIS day, but I'm so happy His chief desire is to see us happy there.







Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Nevermores

This week I have been plagued by thoughts I can only describe as a strange feeling of grief in my heart for my loving spouse. It's strange, because the event that is causing the grief hasn't even happened. And yet, I am feeling the suffocating impact on my heart already.

I want to cry; in fact, I become so close to crying that I can taste the saltiness of my tears, but the relief tears can bring escapes me. I try to keep the tears bottled up as a treasure, so I will have plenty to relieve me when they are most needed. When they will really matter. When they will celebrate his life and honor his death.

Those who are in the act of caregiving understand this phenomenon of grief. It feels like piecemeal grieving. Here a little. There a little. And it becomes apparent the first time a "nevermore" is introduced in our lives. These eventually may include:
  • nevermore will he drive the family car
  • nevermore will he work to provide for our household
  • nevermore will he climb up and fix the roof or mow the lawn
Then somewhere down the line, you are struck with others...
  • nevermore will he walk unassisted, or walk at all
  • nevermore will he sleep in your bed, or even in the same room or house
  • nevermore will he eat your cooking, or taste his favorite casserole
  • nevermore will he walk through the door of your home, and be greeted by his happy canine friend
  • nevermore will he sit by you in church, and hold your hand during prayer
How many more nevermore's can I bear?
  • nevermore will he tell stories or jokes to his grandchildren and friends
  • nevermore will he say "I love you" and "forgive me" at the end of each day
  • nevermore will he send his heartfelt feelings and petitions to God in prayer
The only way I can survive these crushing "nevermore's" is to embrace the "forevermore's". I know they are waiting to comfort me when I need them most.
  • Forevermore he will sing God's praises (with the voice he always wished he had)
  • Forevermore he will pray and worship with God's people (on a beautiful mountain far surpassing the ones he loved on this earth)
  • Forevermore he will never be parted from or have to say good-bye to his friends (making it the best "camp meeting" he ever attended!)
 Whether grief comes suddenly or like a slow-motion train wreck, it can only be endured with faith that brings these cherished rewards.

When I find myself avoiding the past, consumed with the present, and dreading the future, all at the same time, there is this welcome time realm of the "forevermores" that beckons me into its loving arms and buoys me up with faith and hope.

Yes, I can bear the "nevermore's" because there is a "forevermore" that outshines them all.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Dean's Mission

Dean had a dentist appointment this week to fill a cavity in one of the five teeth he has left in his mouth. It ended up that almost the whole tooth was lost, but they filled and capped it anyway. This seems to signify what his health care looks like these days. Just making the best we can of what is left of his old, shattered body. Having a tractor run over you when you're 54 doesn't look pretty on a 71-year-old man.

I met with his nurses and staff for another care plan after we returned from the dentist. The cafeteria manager reported that his appetite hasn't suffered with his dental issues (that provided a chuckle from most in the room, including me). He is asking for seconds less often though, so that is good to hear from the diabetes angle.

It was then reported that he is not using his bi-pap machine much at night, which is designed to help him get better sleep and provide him with more needed oxygen. I was afraid his use would be minimal. It probably accounts for his sleepiness during the day. We will see the pulmonlogist again next month to once again give him a pep talk about staying on the oxygen.

He is staying in the wheelchair though thankfully, and using the oxygen that comes loaded on the back of it. They really feel he should stay in the wheelchair while he's in the facility, because he's just safer in it, due to potential falls.

I repeated my desire for him at some point to be able to return to church services once a week. They understood that request and are continuing his physical therapy with that goal in mind. He seems to have enough strength to walk around in his room, to and from the bathroom. So there is hope he can walk in and out of church, especially with the winter weather almost over.

The highlight moment at the care plan meeting was when they showed me their small-town newspaper with a picture of Dean on the front page! It showed him being read to by five eager third-graders from the local school. They were celebrating Read Aloud Week by taking a field trip there and reading Dr. Zeus books to the residents. There he was with the kids, all of them wearing Cat in the Hat headgear. I'm sure he was a hit with many of them that day.

I had remembered to bring a green "leprechaun" hat from home that Dean had worn before on St. Patrick's Day. He immediately put it over his regular winter cap (which he wears day and night) and we headed to the dining room. It was so nice to see all the smiles he got from everybody there when they saw him in this silly green cap. His table mate remarked that he was the "biggest leprechaun" he'd ever seen.

This brought home to me even more that God has a purpose for Dean being where he is. I've been trying to tell him he's found a new mission field. But this day just verified it to me even more. If he can make life a little more bearable for others there, it will all be worth it in the end. I'm so proud of my missionary husband.


Saturday, February 18, 2017

A Break in Routine

I can't believe my last post was about how smoothly our routine was becoming. Well, this past week woke me up to the possibility of excitement that always exists when you care for someone with chronic problems.

All of us were seeing signs of something going on with Dean's health for a few days there, but none could identify exactly what it was. He was sleeping more, was showing more mental confusion, calling me at different hours of day or night or not at all. He even had a couple of falls at the care center. They first did a urine analysis, which came back OK.

But, finally last Sunday they decided to send him to the hospital. His blood pressure had dropped and he was not looking good at all by the time he got to ER. Come to find out, after many tests, he had pneumonia, fluid in his lungs. So, after three strong antibiotics delivered intravenously over the next few days in the hospital, he was able to return to the skilled nursing center.

For me, this meant five long days of being there in the hospital with him (well, from 6-8 hours a day). The only thing I can compare that to is if you were to sit in a doctor's waiting room for hours on end. It gets rather old, even though there are intermittent episodes of excitement. Like when Dean decides he's getting up, despite the fact that he's hooked up to umpteen monitors, oxygen, and IVs. And, of course, he bellows at me for going out to find a nurse to help. His bellow seemed to work faster than his call light, so guess he knew how to get service!

When he wasn't being exasperating though, he was also quite entertaining, at least when he was awake. Only an old man can get by with telling nurses how pretty they are and asking them if they are married. Of course, if I was in the room, he'd always point out my beauty too. "You're almost as pretty as this other lady over here. She's put up with me for 41 years." And on and on...he knew how to engage even the shyest ones and get them talking. That's just Dean's style.

So, it isn't all monotonous drudgery being a caregiver for my Montana cowboy/truck driver. Looks like we may have a few more years to put up with each other, now that we've cleared this latest health hurdle and are back to our not-so-routine-after-all routine. God is in control!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Abundant Life

After almost three months at the Waverly Care Center, there does seem to be more routine to our lives. Much more routine than Dean would like, of course. I've had him home for short visits and I make sure he gets to church every week, plus an occasional doctor visit. But life is naturally regimented at the care center more than he'd like.

My daughter and I both make sure we visit him once during the week, in addition to seeing him on Sabbaths. He still calls me pretty regularly with his cell phone throughout the day, and he is participating in the social activities they offer there at the center.

And now a report on my life, since it seems more like my own these days. I, too, have fallen into a routine. I keep relatively busy, as busy as I'd like, with my blogging, watching the grandgirls, church activities, and caregiver advocacy meetings.

Starting tomorrow, I will join a special phone conversation with several church friends, called "40 Days to the Cross". It's a discipleship-training event, consisting of forty consecutive days of short phone conferences, and I'm excited to be included this time around. We will share our insights on selected Bible verses, and I've been told it's a thrilling way to grow spiritually.

There are many ways to inject some newness to our lives, both physically and spiritually, no matter what our age. I hope you are looking for ways to heighten your life experience this new beginning of a new month and a new year.

Jesus has come that we might have life, and "have it more abundantly." John 10:10 That will look different for each of us, but it is attainable for each of us as well. Looking to Jesus is always a good place to start.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Our Many Bright Spots

Winter is moving right along, and so is Dean's nursing care at the Waverly Care Center. We have focused so much on his diabetes though, that a visit to the pulmonary doctor last week reminded us once again of another health crisis on the horizon for him. His COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. His forty-year smoking habit has left its mark on his lungs after all.

We must make more concerted efforts to encourage Dean to use his oxygen and C-PAP machine more. His shortness of breath has increased, with Dean even noticing and mentioning it to me. The one bright spot is the fact that he has quit smoking as of 1999, when he had that near-fatal tractor accident. So at least we don't have to worry about efforts to make him quit or limit his smoking.

The Lord has blessed us with several things about Dean's care that I thank God for every day. All of them have made his caregiving possible...both when he was at home and now at the skilled nursing care center:
  1. He hasn't asked to drive the car (even though driving was one of his favorite activities, being a truck driver).
  2. He has allowed me, and now the nurses, to prepare and administer his medicines (his illegal drug use, when he was young, could have made this a hard one).
  3. He never balks or refuses to see a doctor (as many independent men are apt to do).
  4. He doesn't mind getting insulin shots and finger pricks for the diabetes now (perhaps because of his earlier drug use).
  5. He has never asked for a cigarette (which would have speeded up his lung disease drastically, not to mention the cost it would have been to our budget)!!!
 Yes, the longer Dean and I live, the more we see of God's work in our lives. When we put Him in charge, marvelous things happen. Even when they aren't readily discernible to us at the time, we can know that it will all work out in a way that most glorifies God in the end.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Practice Till It Hurts

Three strikes and I hope I'm not out. So far I have had two failed attempts at giving Dean his insulin shots at church. This should not be so hard--one would think. After all, I have a master's degree. Almost anyone should be able to do this task of checking blood sugars and giving a shot.

I admit I've never been nearly as handy with my hands as I'd like. Learning how to crochet was a major undertaking. And I have never been one to untangle a mechanical dilemma of any kind. But, really...?

Even with a couple of church member nurses present and a small assembly of other interested onlookers, I have had dubious success with getting this simple operation completed. Twice, no less! It really is quite embarrassing, not to mention heartbreaking. Yesterday Dean had to miss his first potluck dinner after church in several months. We've always had to leave right after the worship service to get back to the care center. And now that he's on five shots a day, it really is important that I learn to do this so he can stay away till his three o'clock shot.

It's all about the training though, I know. So far, it's been pretty haphazard stuff. One can't expect a harried nurse, who's busy giving hundreds of these pricks and shots a day to slowly and methodically allow me to learn how to do it on their watch. I really need a more thorough sit-down, hands-on, demonstration and practice training session, especially considering my ineptness with doing anything with my hands. (With the exception of typewriting, I sweat when I have to screw in a lightbulb.)

This experience, while increasing my appreciation for God's patience with my stumbling attempts to do the right thing, has also reminded me of the necessity of a recent piece of legislation that passed through our state of Nebraska last year. It's called the Assisting Caregiver Transitions Act, requiring hospitals to give the training needed to caregivers before they take their loved one home. We caregivers can't be expected to become instant medical technicians overnight. It takes practice.

And that's just what I'm going to continue to do. Practice, practice, practice, until I get this diabetes monster, in the form of an insulin pen, on the floor, begging for mercy!