November 14, 2007

Two Steps Forward, One Back

Don's new carbon fiber brace came on Monday and it was short of amazing how well he could walk in it while getting the final fitting tweaked. His toe didn't drag and get caught on the floor and his heel was hitting the floor first which I haven't seen since before his stroke. He was able to stay standing for longer periods. I was so pumped until…

The next day at home I tried to get Don's foot and his new AFO into his brand new shoe that was fitted at the same time as the brace. I struggled and fumed and tried the shoe horn and a few choice words but I couldn't get them on. Then Don pointed to the other shoe lying on the floor and laughed. I'd been trying to put his right foot into his left shoe. Oops. Finally, we were good to go but it still wasn't easy to get the footed brace into the correct shoe. It will get easier, I'm sure, as I practice but I'm not looking forward to adding this to our daily routine although the trade-off will be worth the effort. Unfortunately, he only had the brace on a short time before he wanted it back off. There's a break-in schedule where you add an hour each day and already we're off schedule.

His new wheelchair also got its finally tweaks on the same day his carbon fiber brace came in. It's got a solid plastic and lumbar cushion for his back which is frustrating the dickens out of me. It has to come off or on each time you fold or unfold the chair when you're out and about town. That means the back pack also has to come off as well. Monday the orthopedics guy showed me what I was doing wrong---not clicking the seat part fully down---so things are looking up. I still don't have the process down pat but I'll learn, hopefully before winter sets in. I can't imagine standing out in a storm doing an imitation of an idiot. As inept as I am about sliding those slots in place it's a wonder I ever figured out sex.

Tuesday I went into the aquatic pool with two physical therapies and Don. It was his last session and the aquatic specialist was teaching both me and the other PT how to work with someone with Don's issues. I plan to start taking him into the YMCA pool between the holidays thus the "Winter of Don" will begin. We're making up our own PT program and will go three times a week. The aquatic specialist gave me all the plastic coated diagrams she's been using with Don in the pool so I'll know exactly what to do. Hopefully, when he has his last land therapy, either Friday or next Monday, the PT will give me some written material as well. I'm excited about aquatic therapy for stroke survivors. Don's definitely made some gains that I don't think would have been possible with just physical therapy on land. If nothing more, just being able to move so much better in the water gave Don a renewed interest in taking part therapy.

I'm a little down right now, though. This morning I got a call about the results of his CAT scan. The aorta aneurysm they've been tracking has grown to 6 cm in diameter and they usually operate at five. It was 4.3 cm a year ago. Two steps forward and one back. Let's hope it's only one back. I'm a little freaked about the possibility of him having another stroke with the procedure. We go to the surgeon's office tomorrow. I'm hoping she can do the stent instead of abdominal surgery. I'm worried and want it over as soon as possible.

But on the good side, we were able to get the new docking arm put on the new wheelchair so I can use the chair lift in the Blazer again! Old lady caregivers shouldn't have to risk getting hernias. We don't have time.

Jean Riva ©

November 8, 2007

Timing is Everything

This past Tuesday a near disaster happened in the lobby of the building where Don goes for speech therapy. His wheelchair broke apart. The main bolt in the scissors-like bars underneath the seat snapped in two which made the whole thing fold up on itself---with Don sitting in it! The wheels, at the bottom, kept spreading farther and farther apart and at the top they kept getting closer and closer together until they were pinching Don in between them and the side panels snapped off their screws. Timing is everything. As I stool there panic stricken and not having a clue what to do, a professor we know walked by and asked if everything was okay.

"NO!" I replied, my voice edged in full panic mode, "Every thing is not okay." And I explained what was happening.

The professor flagged down a student she knew and sent her over to the conference hall, several buildings away, to sign out one of their curtsy wheelchairs for us to use while we were on campus. It seemed like it took forever and while I was waiting I kept ordering Don not to move even one inch which is hard for a friendly guy with short term memory issues to do. The college kids going back and forth in that lobby have always made him forget that we have places to go and things to do as we pass through.

Finally, I got him transferred to the loaner chair and up to class. While he was there I got his broken chair back in the Blazer, tracked down a phone book and made arrangements to stop at the orthopedics place on the way home. Don's had a new wheelchair on order for a couple of weeks and I knew it had come in; we were scheduled to pick it up next Monday. Timing is everything. They had just put it together that afternoon. They didn't have room on their schedule for a full adjustments appointment and the cushions hadn't come in but the chair was usable. Life was good again.

Timing is everything. This past month I've been working at the YMCA on a machine to strengthen my upper body and since I can't use our Bruno wheelchair lift in the Blazer until the new chair gets another style docking arm, I have to lift all forty pounds of its awkward metal and plastic in and out of the car until next week. So the extra muscle strength has come in handy although I still struggle and use a few blue words. Thank goodness a list of handy-dandy four letters words came with a Welcome to Caregiving packet.

This whole thing with the wheelchair turning into a pile of junk could have been so much worse. We were extremely lucky to have it happen where it did. We were extremely lucky that we had a new chair on order and to have the orthopedics place stay open until we got there to pick it up. Timing and nice people truly did save us from having an inconvenience turn into a disaster.

Jean Riva ©

P.S. I published a blog entry here last month titled Inconvenience or Disaster. I didn't think I'd be using the stress reduction techniques I talked about in it so soon.

November 4, 2007

Mayhem in Caregiverville

Did you ever have a day when you had to wear your Christmas sweater three days after Halloween because you forgot to do the laundry? Okay, so I fail at housewifey things but can anyone explain why a 60-something year old woman can't avoid stepping in dog do-do? We have a dog. Wouldn't you think by now I'd know enough to look where I'm walking when I go through his pen? I had gone outside to check the solar lights that the fertilizer guy broke and I was busy thinking I should just go back to bed and start over. Unfortunately, I didn't notice that the treads on my tennis shoe was embedded with poop until we were sipping our breakfast coffee in a restaurant at lunchtime. Oops.

Obviously, my morning was not going well but Don was in his Aphasiac-WonderBoy mode singing made-up words to a polka beat. "Oupa, oupa, I, eeee, oh, goombya, goomdya, la, la, la." Sometimes you just want to verbally smack the happiness right off his face. That impulse was almost too strong to resist when we were at the restaurant and he rolled over to the cookie case to make out his mentally wish list. I opened my mouth to snap out the words, "You're still diabetic, you know" but instead of the words coming out it hit me, then, that I hadn't taken my blood pressure medicine when I got up. Crap.

Having recognized the primary reason I felt bitchy I worked on keeping my mouth shut lest I unleash my inner Shrew Lady and get us banned from our favorite restaurant. So I sat there quietly waiting for our food to arrive while eavesdropping on the conservation going on behind me. It was coming from a man---looked divorced---and his 8-9 year old son. The son had gotten into some trouble at school and after telling his dad about it he asked if his dad had ever done anything like that. His father then launches into a monologue cataloging all his high school pranks, talking and laughing as if they were two buddies sitting on bar stools. God, Shrew Lady was getting hard to contain! I glanced back over my shoulder at the guy and that glance must have looked more like a schoolmarm glare because he sat up straight in his chair, and said, "I'm telling you all this, Mike, because I want you to be better than I was." Shrew Lady wanted to throw her hands in the air and say, "It's about time you remembered who you're talking to." But she didn't. Good.

We had to go to the grocery store that afternoon but first we stopped back home to take the pills I'd forgotten earlier. As I walked past my EZ DOES IT cart that I'd broken the day before Shrew Lady really needed the old Don to talk her down from the ledge. But, of course, his language disorders makes it impossible for the new Don to do that. "Oupa, E, I, oh, goombya, goombya, oh, bridge, " he sang instead. Bridge! A real word in his song! Things were looking up. I knew exactly what he meant. Coming home from vacation years ago, we had the radio on to a Wisconsin station when they played a polka sung by a local band and the lyrics went: "Why don't you jump off the bridge polka" repeated over and over through out the entire song. Over the years, any time either of us would sing that line it would make us laugh. Don was trying to cheer me up. Sigh.

Later I was bringing groceries in the house without my EZ DOES IT cart and Don was in the kitchen waiting for me to clean the wheelchair's wheels off so that he could go into the carpeted rooms. "Seven years," he said, shaking his head, meaning how long it's been since his stroke.

"Yup," I replied as I always do when he says this, "But we're doing good considering the alternates."

"Thank you," Don said, hugging me with deep emotion in his eyes. Sometimes it doesn't take many words to speak volumes.

With that hug Shrew Lady was out the door and Nice Nancy came in. "I love you," Nancy said, deeply grateful that he is still in her life.

Jean Riva ©

Painting by Sisley Alfred, 1885