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I'm most recently a writer.  In the six plus decades of my life, I've been a wife, mother, grandmother, Jill of all trades though mistress of but a few, and most of the time pretty content with my lot.  As a much younger person, I believed I was called to write, but life and living distracted me for most of those decades.  An unwilling transplant from the South,  twenty years ago I unintentionally landed in the geographical center of the US.  Writing came about in part due to the unwillingness, I expect.  When caring for family, gardening, and renovating a century-old house failed to provide sufficient creative outlets, I turned to the one thing I always intended to do.  Eight titles later, I'm grateful I found myself while Lost in the Plains!

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Where to Now?

It's been a week since my last post. I wish I could tell you how things progressed day by day, but all I've retained is the sum of our progress. The details are lost in sleepless nights and drowsy days, somewhere between visits from doctors and therapists, ultrasounds and X-rays, trips to the cafeteria and at least a thousand games of Spider Solitaire. But the final tally confirms that a week after surgery, John is recovering. He's learned to transfer from bed to chair and back without putting any weight on his right leg. He's able to rest comfortably. He's starting to think about what comes next on this unexpected journey and eager to take on the next phase.

At this point in time, life beyond the confines of this hospital room looms before us as a Great Unknown. Each of us has endless questions, some I suspect we're unwilling to put into words. Will he be able to walk again? How many more surgeries? Will he be able to tolerate the therapy necessary to get him back on his feet? Where can we get the best therapy? What can we do to our old house to make it accessible and comfortable for him when he finally comes home? How will we ever pay for everything we need to move forward?

I spent one sleepless night moving furniture, measuring rooms, re-evaluating needs vs. wants, a completely fruitless endeavor. We've talked about what he'd like to have access to from his collection of books and music on the second floor, concluding that he wouldn't know what he wanted until he wanted it. Other than agreeing we need our queen-sized bed moved downstairs--after weeks fighting for space on a full-size, we have no doubt of this--we're still too overwhelmed by the number of obstacles to make any other decisions about the interior arrangement.

Outside the house, I'm worried our compact car is going to pose a problem. I'm pretty sure we'll have to have a ramp built, but I can't envision where best to put that kind of addition. How will ever I manage to get him in and out of the house on my own, even with a ramp?

Each question seems to have a dollar sign attached. Nothing is free. Our budget is always tight at best, and now our income has been reduced further, since I will no longer work at the hotel. The ends seem to be farther and farther apart with more needs arising every day. I don't believe in worrying about money. Life has taught me that needs are somehow met or revised. Still, I'm aware of the need for responsible stewardship. Whatever we have, no matter how limited, will have to go far enough. We don't need the stress of collection calls and those ugly red "Past Due" stamps on our bills. There will be arrangements and adjustments to make. That's always been my job, managing the budget. At the moment, I would like nothing better than to turn it over to someone wiser and less emotionally involved, so I could focus on John's recovery. I'll get over the cowardly wish to magically have it all go away, I'm sure. Some days you just have to pick your burdens, I guess. Right now, here in this hospital room, all my energy is required to be the encourager, the cheer leader, the comforter. Next week, once I'm home again, I'll tackle the revised state of our finances and all those other details that keep me awake right now.

The big question, for which we have to find an immediate answer, is where do we go from here. It was obvious from the beginning that John would need more therapy before he could come home than what's provided in the hospital. Inpatient rehab has several levels, we've learned. Which would work best for our situation has been a question with different answers, depending on who you ask. We've made and abandoned several plans so far. Age, diagnosis, prognosis, and cost all have to be weighed, and then just when you think you've found the solution, there's no bed available and you're back to the drawing board. We think we know where we're going Monday morning, but apparently nothing is written in stone.

So we wait two more days here. It's not a great hardship, although I'd give a lot for a change of clothes I haven't already worn twice. The staff has been wonderful, both in caring for John as a patient and caring for both of us as housebound guests. But no matter how pleasant the stay, every traveler eventually begins to long for home. Believe me, I'm longing. I'm sure John is too, but he's being very brave about going to rehab instead. He's ready, at least in mind and spirit, to get to work.
I've decided to look at this "lost" weekend as a chance to rest up and get focused, preparation for the weeks ahead. We're at the mercy of whatever powers determine our next step, but we can make the best of it. We have television, room service, and relative peace and quiet--things we may wish for once we're discharged to the real world.

I continue to be grateful for so many things. The injury is bad, that's true, but it could have been worse. The prognosis is not perfect, but there's room for hope. We've been extremely fortunate in the doctors, the hospital, and the staff. Our friends and family have provided unceasing support, despite the distance. Most of all, we have each other. We've always been blessed with the kind of bond that endures and even strengthens under pressure. In times like these both of us lean heavily on the calming comfort of our faith, knowing that in a Christian marriage there are three partners. No matter where we go from here, we go together.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Just When You Think. . .

You can finish that sentence any way you like. For me, it goes something like "Just when you think your day's going pretty good, the love of your life hits the floor and your plans for the rest of the year go out the window."

Yep. That was Wednesday. Four o'clock. John on the floor, writhing in pain. One look at his leg and its gruesome new contours, and I calmly dialed 911. I do know our limits and this far exceeds them.

Hours later, after a 30 mile ambulance ride and some excruciatingly painful X-rays, he was admitted to the hospital where he had his original knee replacement done and we anticipated surgery there the next morning. Come morning, however, his surgeon, Dr. M, decided more expertise would be required to handle this and placed a call to KU Medical to a specialist. When I met with Dr. M, a caring, truly involved physician who like so many in smaller rural hospitals is overworked and often frustrated by the lack of resources, he commented that he'd been awake most of the night trying to figure out what to do. I could have told him I'd done the same, but I'm pretty sure he already knew that. He showed me the X-rays and we both shuddered at the same moment. It's ugly, to put it mildly--two fractures so close to the prosthesis it's hard to imagine those bones ever supporting weight again. He explained there's a doctor in Kansas City who actually fixes this kind of thing, after which his partner puts in a revised prosthesis. Nice to know we're not the first, anyway.

So here we are, three hours from home, taking up residence in a hospital room for not sure how long. The surgery this afternoon went well. Now we hope to say the same for the healing. The surgeon described the metal plate and the special screws in some detail, but I kind of let that go right over my head. I asked the usual questions about recovery--how long, how difficult--refraining from describing the challenges of living in a 19th century house on a limited budget, not to mention the limits to my nursing skills and physical strength. Those are things for the discharge planner to help with, anyway. 

Tonight, he's sleeping peacefully. He was a little weird coming out of the anesthesia and I think the staff in the recovery room--who all looked about old enough to graduate from high school--suspected he had some form of dementia. I explained to them he was just drunk, not a condition he's ever really been in, but I felt sure it was something that would wear off. It has. Thank God! My prayers have been first and foremost that no matter what happens with his leg, he'll come out of this the same John I've loved all these years. I wasn't at all amused by his drunken ramblings, I can assure you!

So now we enter the wait and watch. Even the doctor admits he doesn't know what to expect, only what to hope for. We've spent the first half of this year getting to this low point. Now the uphill journey begins.

There will be adjustments, not the least of which being I will no longer hold down a job outside of caring for my husband. I'll miss the paycheck, but we'll figure out how to manage on less. We've done it before. I'm already trying to think of ways to rearrange the first floor to better accommodate our needs now. Just thinking about it makes me tired, but I won't have to do it alone. One nice thing about children and grandchildren is the extra pairs of hands and feet available. And everyone seems motivated by this latest crisis. "Papa" didn't realize how valued he was until now, I'm sure.

When I posted last, I had in mind one kind of battle. Now the stakes are even higher. Many of our questions are the same, such as what caused these falls in the first place. They'll do some tests while he's here to look for that. But more than anything, the question of how well those bones will knit, and how strong his leg can become again, looms foremost. For that answer, we just have to be hopeful and patient in the weeks ahead.

I have to make one final note about the past few days. Say what you will for social media, the community of "friends," from readers to fellow writers to longtime friends and family, have stepped up to offer overwhelming support to us. Many are perfect strangers we'll never meet face to face, but the love and prayers they've sent our way feels very personal--as warm and comforting as real hugs, I assure you. I often feel alone here, but this week, I learned I should never feel that way given the outpouring of good wishes and positive energy coming our way. I'm grateful to have lived to see the world grow so small.

More to come here as we go forward. Meanwhile, hug your loved ones and say thank you to whatever power you believe in for the gift of every "ordinary" day you spend together. Just when you think this is all there is to life, there will be more. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

That Unanticipated Bend in the Road

I hate apologies. Especially for things completely out of my control. But I feel I  must apologize now, to anyone who happens to stop in here occasionally, and to myself. The past several months--yes, it's been that long--might have provided material for any number of posts. I might have shared something meaningful to someone out there, or at least vented a few of the vast assortment of emotions in here. Instead, I've been doing what I seem to do whenever the going gets tough--I've been trying to go it alone. I've decided it's time to take a different tack. I'm going to include you, those who have read my stories and shared my posts here, in this new leg of the journey. Frankly, I could use some company.

I've decided, after six decades, that much of life is journeying through the unfamiliar toward we're never certain exactly where. It's the anticipation of eventual arrival, the company along the way, and the satisfaction of the miles we've covered at the end of each day that brings joy to the life of the travelers. But every traveler rounds an unanticipated bend at times and finds himself lost, without a clue how it happened or how to get back on track. In a sense, that's where I've been these last few months, in a shadowed valley trying to find the road up and out. No map, no roadsigns, and no one to assure me I'll eventually find myself on the sunny high road again.

I don't mean to sound hopeless or despondent. I'm not really alone here. I'm stranded with the love of my life at my side, and this place is inhabited with plenty of other souls similarly waylaid. We commiserate about our circumstances, but each of us is so occupied with our individual burdens, we have little time to do more than offer an encouraging word.

What the heck is she going on about, you may be asking if you've made it this far. It's a pretty simple story, really. Last October, on a routine walk in our neighborhood, my husband stubbed his toe and fell. No major injuries, other than a possible broken toe. A few days later, he fell again, momentarily dislocating his shoulder, but escaping anything more serious. Several years ago, he had a successful knee replacement, and we were thanking our lucky stars he hadn't done any damage to that right knee. Two weeks later, his right leg began to hurt, enough so that even a stoic such as he decided to see a doctor. We were referred back to the orthopedic surgeon at that point. No visible damage to the joint, but still plenty of pain. We got through the holidays fully anticipating improvement. On January 14, our daughter's birthday, we were getting in the car when he somehow fell backwards and ended up on the ground with his legs bent beneath the car. He hasn't been able to bear weight on his right leg since. At that point, we had to acknowledge life had changed.

He's had months of physical therapy, three epidurals, and more falls. Now we're told he needs to see a spine specialist. In the meantime, he's confined to the first floor of our house. This may not sound so bad, but his books and music--a lifetime of study--are on the second floor in a room designed especially for his enjoyment. For the first time in his nearly eight decades of life, he's learning to cope with constant pain and inactivity. One by one, he's reluctantly let go of much anticipated commitments to sing and preach. It's impossible for him to leave the house without someone stronger than myself to help him. Just going from one room to the other can be an adventure of the kind no one wants. Even with a walker, when that leg gives way, or won't move, he's likely to go down. Getting up requires calling that stronger someone to come to the rescue.

My husband is not easily discouraged. He may not be the fastest moving man, but he's always kept moving, independently doing the necessary along with the things he most enjoyed at a steady, determined pace. In the past six months, life for him, and therefore for me, has rounded that unanticipated bend. We're trying to navigate this valley with patience and grace, but I'm willing to admit we'd both prefer to see that high road again very soon.

Now you may be saying this is just the natural order of things. We get older, life changes. I'm willing to accept that, but I'm not willing to let go of all expectation for improvement. I'm not willing to see my husband give up things he loves, even excels at, without fighting for a solution to the problem. I'm not willing to do that myself, either, if it comes right down to it. We're not ready to stop contributing. We're not ready to sit down or step aside. Quality of life should not be determined by the quantity already lived.

Years ago, I worked in a nursing home. My job included advocating for the highest quality of life a resident could achieve. I found myself harassing doctors, encouraging family members, banging on closed doors, and feeling generally disillusioned with society at times. Damned if right now I don't find myself in that same position, but this time the fight is personal.

Time, in the best of times, moves too rapidly. Time spent waiting and watching, hoping and praying for something good, or at least for nothing worse, still seems to pass too quickly, but the days are far less satisfying. Our focus has narrowed from looking forward to simply getting through each day, one at a time. Small things, meals, errands, getting dressed in the morning and preparing for bed, what to watch on TV, consume the hours with an importance we never gave them before. While we both acknowledge there are many in far worse straits, we're not willing to let this become our new normal.

I'll try to keep posting on what I fully expect to be our progress. We've always prided ourselves on being adaptable, and we have found some things to help us cope--some quite unexpected. More on that next time.