The Chips Under the Bed

They should be alright after about a week in the heat, right?  Ugh.

Usually when “the bus driver” and I come home from a camping trip, we empty the travel trailer of all food that very night.  Of course it may be 3 in the morning but it all comes out nonetheless.  Not this time.  This time was very different.  The unopened bags of chips are still in the storage compartment underneath the bed and we have been home for SIX DAYS!  Gratefully the ants on the driveway have not found them yet!

I really don’t know where to begin to tell the story of our attempt to bring a family member here from out of State to visit, to maybe live with us.  This was a huge undertaking for all three of us:  a journey that began over 6 months ago that was actually cancelled the first time around.  Perhaps it will be best to unpack the situation in a few blog posts over time as I begin to recover from what was largely a failure.  But there is good news:  my Aunt is healthier, stronger, more mentally sharp, conversant, happier, and overall functioning significantly better than when my hubby, Steve, and I picked her up in Florida 8 days ago.  As for me, not so much.

Last night was one of the most horrific scenes of recent memory.  After a total of 12 hours finally getting some errands done with a late night Doctor appointment too, I had the most frightening convulsive episode imaginable.  My threshold of reactivity had been plummeting with each passing day that my Aunt was travelling or living with us.  We had taken extreme mold avoidance procedures and she was wearing all new clothing that I had specially prepared for her.  Her belongings from Florida were cleaned and secured in plastic storage bins in our garage; only doubly-freezer-bagged supplements and medication were in the house in a remote closet.  She lived in an inadequately  maintained and moldy living environment laden with the fragrances that most women like.  We took extreme measures with her stuff but never considered the detoxing of her body to be the toxin most noxious to me; her skin scent reflected several different problems beyond hygiene and no amount of bathing or washing of linens/clothing was helping me fast enough.  I crashed fast.  She, on the other hand, (in our very clean and climate-controlled home with exceedingly healthy meals, rest, and loved ones nearby) quickly regained skills and energies she had lost in the past year.

I was unpacking groceries from our local Meier when an odd feeling hit me.  The warning signs that I learned to recognize in the past when at my sickest with this complex/biotoxin illness had changed.  The odd symptoms ramped up so quickly into involuntary full-body shaking episodes that I barely had a time to get to a safe position to prevent injury.  These kinds of episodes are very dangerous!  So I was standing in front of a counter filled with plastic bags of groceries when my eyes drew in to close and all I could do was kind of lean-and-cling to the edge of the refrigerator as the convulsions began.  They went on and on for at least 20 minutes until my husband would discover me and carry me to the bedroom.  The repetitive oscillations injured my spine from one end to the other.  I could not move my body and was terrified of falling.  Trying to relieve the cramp in my right calf triggered a rebound, a worsening of the episode.  I just held on . . .

Things were no better once lying down.  The involuntary shaking traumatized my neck and my body temperature began to drop.  I could not speak when I needed to and breathing was difficult.  Time either stood still or passed along quickly, I have no idea which one.  I couldn’t even cry out my angst until much later.  Then the visual anomalies began of swirling shadowy circles on the ceiling of our bedroom.  Steve left and returned a couple of times as he tried to help figure out just what caused this and more importantly, what to do to make it stop.  He sniffed my clothing and found them to be musty.  That discovery pointed to my hours trying to get special requests for everyone at the grocery store — a water-damaged building that was problematic for me before their remodeling.  I guess it is still a problem!  My Beloved removed my soiled clothing and the amplitude of the shakes lessened.  But by then the weird, demonic-like writhing and vocalizations had already begun.  It is terrifying to endure this hell.  I prayed for the Lord to take me.  I searched for the white lights but did not find any.  Three hours went by before I could function again . . . what was left of me, that is.

Repeated biotoxin exposures had lowered my threshold of reactivity.  I was at the lowest point, last night, after doing significantly better these past 5 months.  Looking back it all makes sense:  cumulative exposures began when helping my Aunt for five hours on each of two days to do laundry and then pack for this trip in her moldy State of Florida.  It rains there every day now and she has had water damage in her condo several times without remediation.  I wore a charcoal mask during our time there but the conditions were still unbearable.  (Even Steve agreed and had some symptoms.)  Have you ever had to wear a mask in 90 degree heat and humidity while doing physical and emotionally exhausting work?  I had a stress rash on my chest, at least 12 irritated mosquito bites, soreness from dental adjustments from my Craniomandibular Specialist in town, and to deal with a cognitively impaired and severely anxious family member who still struggles in facing her brain disease.  The process was exceedingly painful, frustrating, exhausting.

In another post I will outline the procedures that we used to attempt to implement extreme mold avoidance to be able to care for a family member in crisis.  We simply could not leave her in Florida any longer.  For today, I am grateful that I did survive last night because I got to see a miracle in action.  No, it’s not only the organic lime corn chips that are alright tonight.  I am completely exhausted yet stable and have not had any episodes since she left our home around 10:00 p.m. (and I cleaned, tossed bed linens and other things out of course).  This is the first time I have been stable in 4 nights.  The miracle is that when I was able to get out of bed at 5:00 p.m., my Aunt’s friend from Michigan had arrived and was sitting with her on our patio outside.  Well hello Dean!  He was offering to drive her back home to Florida.  While I disagree with many aspects of this arrangement, I was in no position to decline a solution that could help stabilize me:  her now former caregiver in crisis.  She left with him after some dinner, some packing, some very sad goodbyes.  Our visit wasn’t supposed to end this way!

Aunt Lori with Dean at Dinner 7.12.18

Looks like the chips and me are going to be fine in a little while (as the bags are still out there in the Camplite in the driveway).  Steve is grateful for the possibility of a full night of sleep.  We shall recover.  I am grieved that things didn’t work out with my family member and for the torture I had to endure trying to care for her.  I am glad that we could give her the gift of renewed health; that I discovered where I am at with this ongoing illness; and that our Lord is there to carry us, to act, to make His presence known no matter how hot things get in our lives.  Please join me in praying for my Aunt.  Dean won’t be staying with her very long and . . . I had to let her go from our care.

JJ

Earlier Today

The salesman said that the service guy dropped the bed liner in earlier today (yesterday).  I noted that the General Manager said that they could drop in a bed liner in the truck for me for the same selling price.  There are 2 problems with this:  1)  I had just gotten off the phone with the GM about an hour ago and 2)  the bed liner the salesman was showing me was DIRTY!  There would not have been enough time to install it and it should be at least as clean as the truck in time for my test drive, right?  The salesman said that they often had old bed liners left lying around.  And since I wasn’t born yesterday, I didn’t believe him.  I took a test drive to Steve’s workplace for him and me to have a little fun with it, accepted the man’s business card, and parted ways.  It wasn’t even the year of vehicle for which I had asked and the cheap air freshener smell had given me a headache!

We are not sure if we are in the market for a new truck or not.  The added expense comes at a time of a few life transitions, the biggest one being the visit and possible moving in of my Aunt Lori very soon.  Transporting her across the country in our Nissan Frontier, towing a travel trailer, has challenged several logistical parameters even our  German shepherd pup traveled in a kennel in the bed of the vehicle.  (The cage is on order, just in case!)  Renting a full-sized truck proved to be extraordinarily expensive and it’s a bit late to arrange airline tickets.  The latter involved staging a car at a local airport, a fair amount of expense that would come from the purchase of two air fares (since she is unable to travel alone), and my hubby returning from Florida separately with the pup and Camplite.  Doable, yes, however not so easy to implement when my Aunt couldn’t decide what she wanted to do about any of her affairs.

And so we are making decisions based upon prayer, speculation, clinical judgement from my experience as an occupational therapist, delay/disinterest from my Aunt’s adult children to act on their Mom’s behalf, already considerable costs-to-date, and reading between the lines of communication with extended family at a distance.  Sadly her health continues to fail, that is for sure.  We will be in her home State soon for my next medical appointment so it made sense to begin her trial visit with us with our return trip home.  I have been very stressed attending to all of the details of this process.

Regardless, plans are still coming together except for one big one:  deciding if our Nissan Frontier King Cab 4×4 SV is adequate to make the trip.  Can we tow a larger travel trailer that is just within the specs of our tow vehicle even with the new Anderson load bearing hitch?  Can I survive in a jump seat of a King cab for a cross-country trip, modified with pillows and a step stool?  Will Elle survive alright in the 90+ degree heat in a kennel in the open air, if shaded from the sun?  I have my concerns for her!  She was born and lived as an “outsider dog” before we got her 10 years ago.  A lot has transpired since then, including her becoming a lovely house pet and indoor companion for me!  Sorry pup!

dog in truck, jump seat, German shepherd, woman and dog, travelling, Nissan Frontier, pet dog

The expense of a larger truck is considerable.  Stay tuned.  I do like the 2017 Ford F150 Super Crew 4WD . . . but I won’t be visiting salesman Jim anytime soon!  Ugh.  Next!  JJ

UPDATE 6.29.18:  No new truck at least for now!  We considered last minute airline tickets for me and my Aunt and staging a vehicle at the airport to get us home from there.  But it is time for us to come together as a family for this 3-week visit and it was my hubby who decided the best way to do that was a road trip together.  Low and behold with one day to spare, a full-sized rental truck with towing capacity became available in our city.  IT IS EXPENSIVE yet the right thing to do.  For now anyways.  :J

 

Clarity Came to the Caregiver

Sometimes the moments of frustration break away to clarity and decision.  Gratefully, the crisis is over for now in our care-giving responsibilities.

Recently I vented about the stress and trials of caring for a family member at a distance.  She is having difficulties making decisions.  She is having difficulty trusting anyone to help her despite reaching out to a few family members to do just that.  Then she changes just about everything after you have helped her establish according to her wishes at the time.  I am concerned for her safety.  Mostly I have been concerned for my own sanity and stress level, caring for a lady for whom nothing is quite good enough.  What a tough place for us both to find ourselves.

So we will back away for now until she finds that she really needs us.  Her summer visit is now cancelled.  Her indecision really is a decision of sorts!  My beloved saint of a hubby and I will see this family member within a month where we will regroup in person.  Until then I will focus on the tasks of recovery from my own serious illness.  More about that next . . .

Fiji, water, patio, covered porch, Indiana, Spring, garden, relaxing, healthy food, carrots, Bible reading, prayer time, shade sail, flagstone

This Distance Caregiver Thing

I may not be cut out to be a personal caregiver.  After 3 decades of working as a healthcare professional and caring for a thousand or more adults over my career, you would think that this would come easy for me.  It is not.

It’s one thing to work with up to twenty different personalities in a single day for 30 to 60 minutes at a time, trying to facilitate a therapeutic experience that is meaningful for the person and billable to his or her insurance company.  I learned to quickly develop a rapport with each individual, turn our focus to the therapy evaluation and treatment process, and wrap it all up with a plan for the next session or discharge.  Often the most challenging patients were put on my schedule because of my experience working in mental health settings and with persons diagnosed with dementia.  Many were depressed, angry, resistant, unable to focus for more than a brief moment, or simply were not coherent at all.  I would often have to come back to a person’s room several times a day or miss my own lunch break to facilitate a feeding session during his or her mealtime while my tummy growled.  There were the difficult families, co-therapists who would “steal” your patient throwing off your schedule, the CNAs who wouldn’t bring the client to the clinic, or the patient who almost always needed a diaper change before we could fit in any therapeutic activities.  Standing tolerance, functional transfers, and self care were easy goals to fit in when the nursing staff just couldn’t fit in the care needs of their residents; occupational therapy gotter done.  I wiped a lot of bums in the process.

It’s another thing to try to help an aging family member 1,000 miles away with a range of personality, behavioral, cognitive, and early physical changes.  I am having difficulty managing the frustration of dealing with a person who can make decisions one day and not the next, seem to engage in manipulation/pity partying/whining then be as sweet as sugar, ruminate on minute details for hours, and complain more than converse about most everything else.  She has changed this past year for sure then other times she seems just like her old self.  I just didn’t see some of these more difficult characteristics before this year and before I understood that the diagnosis of a brain disease has made everything in her life more complicated.  Of course she wants to make her own decisions and we agree.  Of course it is hard even a year after diagnosis to accept that she is having problems and needs help.  And when depression, anxiety, and compulsive tendencies take over, it is nearly impossible to help her to keep moving forward.  I just don’t know what to say or do sometimes.

I could do nothing.  My husband and I could do nothing.  Instead we have offered to help and have devoted probably 100 hours of such thus far.  She has asked to stay with us this summer then backpedaled when picking apart every detail of the visit that will not be perfect, problem that will not be solved in the way she would like.  I am sorry.  We just cannot move across country to cater to your every need in sunny Florida my dear!  There are always limitations to what any caregiver, professional or family member, can do for a person in need.  We will likely continue to help her and have started to set some boundaries too.  I am still in recovery from a serious illness and, while I can do more than when I first discovered her illness just 3 months ago, there are limits.  Should she come she will have to contribute some financially and is reluctant to do so.  She will need to follow the routines of our household and is reluctant to do so.  She will need to leave a tropical climate for the ravages of the four seasons in the Midwest and is reluctant to do so.  She wants to see what it would be like to live with us but isn’t sure she wants to come for a visit.  Whatcha gonna do lady?

Tonight I am frustrated.  The Lord has set me on a path to healing with a trip to a medical specialist that happened to reside in a town near my beloved family member out of state.  It seemed to be providential that I would spend some time caring for her as I could when in town for medical visits.  We prepared for each trip for many hours on the phone and followed up for many more thereafter.  I helped her with 2 day-long projects in-person with great physical consequences for me after the last time I was in her town:  travelling alone for the first time in over a decade and only 5 weeks into recovery from a new treatment that is working!  Geez oh man.  I just don’t know how much more I can do until I am further along in my healing process.

The stress of caring for my beloved family member, even at a distance, is weighing heavily on my heart and frame tonight.  I know I am called to help her some.  The amount is unclear for every time I set a boundary there is push-back.  My ability to manage stress has changed since battling a serious illness  for over six years.   I am saying no, making things as clear as I can.  My hubby wants to accommodate her this summer (and permanently if desired) as best we can yet to do so could create some financial and scheduling chaos.  My beloved family member is not yet willing to consider some things that we see need to be done for her personal protection and safety long-term.  We understand that these are big decisions.  However, waiting seems to just foster more indecision on her part, more stress on our part as her potential caregivers.  Dear Lord, what shall we do?

We are grieved that my family member has strained relationships with several family members who are not fully ready to attend to all that is needed to care for her.  She hasn’t been able to talk directly with them yet which puts us in an awkward situation with them should she have us proceed in our role as caregivers.  We are grieved for the sorrows that her and her children have endured trying to make sense of the heartaches in their pasts and how it strains their relationships today.  Conversely, I have only good memories with my family member so I’d like to think that I am a little more level-headed in honoring her wants and needs.  Who knows?  It is still hard to care for her varying emotional states on a daily basis.  Good golly, why still struggle when there are two people who love you, seem to care about you the most right now, and are willing to invest their time and energies in doing so?  Help us out here my dear:  will you be spending the summer with us or not?  Will we be making some major purchases to help make the visit more comfortable for all of us or not?  I do hope we know the answers to these questions in a couple of days.  This distance caregiver thing is running me ragged!

Stay tuned, Gentle Reader.  We are praying for guidance, peace, and the same for our family.  Let’s all take a deep breath and take care, k?  JJ

The Dog Behind the Curtain

Dimly lit, like the medical equipment stored all around me, I sat in the vinyl seat of that cold wheelchair.  My head was unsupported as I writhed this way and that, right leg then left leg shaking uncontrollably.  Breathing was irregular and challenging as I pushed the air out of my chest to start the cycle again then again, gasping every few intervals.  Just my legs were visible from behind the curtain drawn along my right side and lit from light in the hallway.  A passerby might see my exposed knee bouncing up and down from underneath my torn jeans or maybe not.  Who would expect to see a middle-aged woman seizing just beyond a dark veil anyways?

Most likely a dog in a kennel could be positioned in such a fashion!  Perhaps to put her to sleep, to stow her away out of sight, to deal with her later?  Only a mean caregiver would treat an animal in such a way.  Or perhaps a nurse in the outpatient lab of a local hospital?  The latter was my lot this afternoon.  And hours later I grieved the insensitive treatment that I had received (rather had not received).  She never even responded earlier to my light chatter or attempts at humor as she withdrew 10 vials of blood from my scarred veins.  I had to ask her with strained breaths not to wheel me into the waiting room where others would gawk at my strife.  Holy cow.  Aren’t you paid to care for your patients?  You don’t have to care about me personally but HAVE YOU NO HEART?

Most of them have seen me react many times before to medical procedures that trigger anywhere from a couple of moments of shaking to over 2 hours of convulsive episodes and long after the procedure in their outpatient clinic was completed for infusions, injections, blood draws, and port flushes.  Several times other nurses have had to find coverage for their stations or stay late to take me to the bathroom in a wheelchair while my body writhed, gasping for air like a child with cerebral palsy.  Eventually the episode would resolve minutes after voiding in the toilet.

Once I was in the clinic having an infusion of fluids on my birthday and ended up spending the entire evening in the Emergency Room when the seizure attacks would not stop.  That was 2 1/2 years ago.  Twice they have had to call my husband to come and get me or bring me a medication to try and make it stop.  Dozens of times they have just allowed me to sit in a treatment room recovering, long after they had gone home for the night.  A p.m. shift nurse would come in and check on me every 30-60 minutes as I stared at the walls or the mobile T.V. screen in front of my face.  When I could walk again I would move to the lobby for another interval of time until I was stable enough to go home.  No one even noticed I was there.  By the way, they always play my fav HGTV in the Surgical Waiting lobby dontcha know?

This time the aftermath felt like being banished to the broom closet by an abusive grandmother.  I could not reach the call light and no effort was made to make it possible.  I heard the same phlebotomy nurse chatting lightly with the next patient after me who was there for an EEG.  And again with the lady having a blood test.  I guess they were less “complicated” than me.  They probably didn’t remind said nurse of her own seizure episode many years ago that had disrupted her life for 6 months.  (She had told me about that earlier this year while I was sitting in the clinic recovering from an episode triggered by the pain of the needle stick and extraction.)  Yeah maybe that’s it.  Or did she just want to get back to the break area this afternoon and not be bothered by me anymore?

These episodes and experiences create additional trauma for the person enduring a serious, long-term illness.  You come face-to-face with the reality that people just don’t care as much as they should or get tired of caring, even as professional care-givers.  Take more of their time, their effort, their expertise, their personal comfort than they are willing to give and you will struggle making up the difference.  You are pretty close to being on your own.  It is not your fault yet it is your fault.  Suck it up and figure out a way to get home and not kick the dog when you get there.  Almost 3 hours later I felt as beaten down as I could possibly be as I walked out of that place.

A warm fuzzy friend with big brown eyes and wagging tail greeted me at the door when I got home.  She loves me.  I love our Elle.  So at least for me, I will be caring for our dog in a well-lit room with all the comfort measures she needs within a reasonable time of her letting me know that need.  She may not even need to ask me.  I know what she needs.  I care about her and know how to take care of her.  She will not be shunned to a dark corner behind a curtain as others are walking by.  At least unless she is barking wildly at the UPS or FedEx driver, that is.  Into the laundry room alone you will go . . . but just for a moment or two.  She would bite a chunk out of them if I didn’t!

Well Elle, I must say that I know how you feel. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrr.  JJ

woman with dog, German shepherd, travelling, pet, Nissan Frontier, trip, jump seat