When you search no more

Google and Google Scholar have gotten way too much traffic from me these past 8 years of battling serious illness. It’s time to spend less time there and more time dwelling in the presence of my Lord, Jesus Christ.

And so I shall.

Facebook has been my link to the world outside the comforting yet speechless walls of our home when there were no more folks to call on the phone. A recent relapse in convulsive episodes brings a state of mental fog afterwards. While not a true “post ictal” phase of an epileptic seizure, it is still a time when goal-directed activity (as I used to call it when working in my profession of occupational therapy) simply does not occur. Reading short phrases while lying in a passive state is about the best I can do. Well, except when my beloved is nearby and comforts me dearly. But I follow way too many disease-oriented groups on Facebook so spending time there is not really a break from life, a connection to the living, or even as entertaining as it once was. It’s time to spend less time there and more time dwelling in the presence of my Lord, Jesus Christ.

And so I shall.

Endless planning in my mind or on the calendar on my smart phone has increasingly become a source of frustration rather than relief or even hope. Focusing too much on the future brings tomorrow along too soon, robbing me of the gifts all around me in today. I simply don’t know when-or-if I will be a candidate for parathyroid surgery now that I have a diagnosis that explains so very much of what is wrong with my health. I simply have to wait for others to review my case and call me. Steve and I will adjust our schedules and lives accordingly. It’s time to spend less time there and more time dwelling in the presence of my Lord, Jesus Christ.

And so I shall.

Gardening has become both a hobby and source of identity when my role as an Occupational Therapist went away. I am grateful that a couple of months of better health in the spring allowed me to largely finish a rain garden project in my community as a Master Gardener. My volunteer work continues as the Assistant Editor of the quarterly publication, Canoe News (of the United States Canoe Association), and Editor of the monthly newsletter, Across the Fence (of the Master Gardeners of Purdue Extension, Allen County). Often these are difficult to get done; somehow with the Lord’s grace we do. But I am struggling to keep up with our own landscape that requires daily maintenance and some brute strength that is tough for me to do these days. The degenerative changes in my spine are not going to go away so what will I/we do about all of those flower and fruit and vegetable beds out there? Keep watering for now, pray about it, and realize that it’s probably time to spend less time there and more time dwelling in the presence of my Lord, Jesus Christ.

And so I shall.

Gee, suddenly I feel less stressed about things. Thank you Jesus. You care about these issues in my life and in those of the Gentle Readers out there too, holding every one in the palm of your hand, the love in your heart, with the promise of your return. Things will work out according to Your Divine plan for our lives. In this we can rest tonight.

And so we shall, eh?

When the adventure is inherent in the day

No fancy definition needed

When the adventure is inherent in the day.

Not exactly a mountain top experience

Or reaching the limits of form and space.

Nor costly in the typical sense of words

For no one wants to spend thousands on health.

Nothing like it in the normal world

But for me it’s no, not, nor, nothing then let’s go anyways.

The effort to live with serious illness

Even when the trials are less to write about

Are no smaller challenge, adventure shall we say

Because you really don’t know the outcome when you head out the door.

There may be pictures (scans), adrenaline rushes (injections) oh my,

Better hold on sissies, cause there ain’t no manual when you decide to try.

And try I have, a thousand times over

To some avail with microscopic progress, not perfection by any means.

Today was no exception as my head swum with radioactive tracer

Driving down the road hungrier, less self-assured, ready to make it anyways.

So what’s in your adventure portal?

The one with an open-ended plan

Make room for the derailments of this life

‘Cause nothin’ better than that Gentle Ones. ‘K Lord, let’s go!

Prayer Request

Gathering medical records and other documents, making travel arrangements that accommodate my sensitivities, and putting together a timeline of the serious illness I have been battling for 8 1/2 years has been an emotional process for me. Just surviving to this day has been a traumatic experience. The blessings are there too yet not as clear right now with the hundreds of sheets of medical records behind me as I type this post.

I have endured so many dead ends and dashed dreams for recovery, physical damage from thousands of convulsive episodes, tens and tens of thousands of out-of-pocket expenses, and so many losses on every front of our lives. One truth is clear that I would not have survived this far without my faith in our Lord, Jesus Christ. He was my Rock when my breathing would not start in the darkness of night or my legs would not move to get me to the bathroom. Both my beloved Steve and my Lord carried me through it all to this moment in time.

Regardless of what has gone before us, Steve and I are pressing forward, hopeful for a good result at an upcoming consultation at the Mayo Clinic. For the first time since the onset of this serious illness, I get to see one of the top Doctors in neuroimmunology at THE top medical facility in the country. That is humbling. I am grateful.

Now is the time to pray for a cure to the daily convulsive episodes. Lord willing, I will be well! Thank you for your love and support, Gentle Reader. Love to you, JJ

God gave me you

Nor ordinary Christmas we had this day

Sleeping in then slowly moving into life out of necessity more than design.

Broccoli for my breakfast and handfuls of granola for my man

Brought us to our traditional reading of Isaiah before revealing our worldly gifts for I and you.

Who paddles a new long board down the hallway

But two middle-aged lovers holding onto our respective gusto of life?

A rest time had to follow for me again

Not as unusual as the waking episodes that have returned changing my hopes for the day.

Perhaps we would visit or do something fun

Yet return to my bed of sickness I did go for a most unfortunate interlude.

When your husband holds you from joy to sorrow

The same day seems surreal: later he feeds you medicine whilst you seize.

Siiiiiigh. Not that old tune returneth even today

For chronic illness ne’er takes a holiday when you want it to my dear.

This did not matter to you: your love never fades

And my greatest gift revealed its beauty the ten thousandth time: it’s you!

I could never conceive of this way that you have

To give beyond your self with a gentle spirit, still manly all the same.

You spoke only of my rest to your family on the phone

Preserving my dignity when I could barely feed myself with fingers weary from the beating moments before.

Yours is a love from the Father, the Son all in One

The kind that sustains you through trials when Jesus comes near with skin on.

He made you for me oh I am the blessed one

I pray he loves you back tenfold for the task of loving me well done today my love.

An Involuntary Adventure into a Type of Retirement

Cara Brown, BMR (OT), MSc* recently studied the role of occupational therapy practitioners in enhancing the quality of life for people in work-cessation transitions.  She was particularly interested in folks like me who made this transition when not of traditional retirement age.  Although I am still not convinced that my working days are over, I felt compelled to introduce my own involuntary adventure into a “type” of retirement.  My letter follows:

Thank you for your recent article in AJOT on Expanding the Occupational Therapy Role to Support Transitions from Work to Retirement for People with Progressive Health Conditions.**  I found it useful and respectful of persons facing both situations in life.  There may be another category to consider:  those with sudden loss of work roles who enter into “retirement.”

I am an Occupational Therapist who worked over 30 years before entering into this latter category within one night:  October 11, 2011!  I continued to work part time for a short time then decreased my hours to a few home health visits per week.  When it became clear that the onset of a serious illness made it a struggle to focus on the needs of my patients and direct the care of our Occupational Therapy Assistants, I had to stop working altogether.  My last day of paid employment was February 2, 2012.  I spent the next 2 years being my own OT by researching my condition and seeking various medical and alternative health interventions.  Energy conservation and work simplification were my way of life.  Returning to work was always my intention.

It is now 7 years since the onset of a biotoxin illness and numerous other medical conditions that continue to restrict my ability to function.  It took me those first 2 years to realize that the daily convulsive episodes and other illness factors were not going away any time soon; just the orthopedic injuries and deconditioning made it difficult to care for my activities of daily living.  Several times per week I needed to be carried to the bathroom, assisted with bathing after the worst of those episodes.  I developed, by the grace of God, dozens of new coping strategies (e.g. making my breakfast the night before and putting it bedside in a lunch bag in case I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning).  Still, I missed working.  I started making jewelry in the middle of the night and selling them online to keep my brain stimulated and some adaptive role involvement going since I was up all night long anyways.  It was the only way to avoid more seizure attacks.  My life was upside down in many ways for sure.

It took me weeks not days to eventually sell my jewelry business and start to develop a professional website akin to my occupational therapy practice in home health.  I designed a bathroom safety product and began to develop the concept while networking within every aspect of this new venture hoping it would be a transitional activity  back into practice.  In doing so, I could monitor my activity level, continue to challenge my brain, learn new computer and marketing skills, and get excited that what I had learned when off of work was not “wasted.”  After about a year in this new direction, I had to stop.  Things got even worse before they got better.  The convulsive episodes progressed, aggressive treatment took its toll, and just caring for my basic needs was all I could do.  My spirit was crushed.  That was 2016.  By the end of the year I was hospitalized with shingles.  The stress was unbelievable and my body was breaking down further.  I changed the focus of Two Step Solutions several times; my personal blog (www.justjuliewrites.com) tells the medical and emotional story.  Gee, I did learn how to blog and design simple websites (and helped 2 others with theirs)!

But my personal financial resources in addition to my physical and emotional resources (of which you mention in your article) were gone.  The isolation was staggering even with a plethora of online support groups and a Prayer Group I started with two other largely home-bound gals.  Eventually some specialized care funded, in part by a Go Fund Me campaign and an unexpected tax refund, improved my condition enough to start some volunteer work this past year.  I hoped that the volunteer work could progress to part time employment whether within or outside the field of occupational therapy but later in the Fall my health started to slide again and new medical conditions emerged that required my energies, my attention such as it remained!  I needed to keep things low key despite any “goals” I continued to set every morning, 7 years later.

The underlying message to sharing my story with you is to express the extreme difficulty I had as an Occupational Therapist to go through all of this who not only loved her profession but loved OCCUPATION.  Every day when I got out of bed since college, I set goals.  This continued through my time of disability.  The items on the list got fewer as time went on and the complications, unpredictability of complex illness continued.  I never stopped trying to find solutions for either the medical conditions or functional limitations posed by them.  If I needed to wear a charcoal mask in public to be able to shop at the grocery store then so be it.  If I needed to sit in my vehicle to rest or in the cafe of a store pretending everything was o.k., I did so.  I never felt ashamed to be online instead of in-person meeting people; genuine friendships came from meeting fellow bloggers with whom I have now met or “Skyped.”  

Dear Cara, I hope that you will keep seeking to understand the role of occupation in the lives of person with not only progressive but sudden, serious medical conditions or traumatic accidents.  Perhaps the cancer literature has studies to further your investigation as many cancer survivors do return to productive lives.  And note as you go along that there are tens of thousands of folks like me out there just hoping for the opportunity to do the same; we just don’t know if that will be our outcome . . . yet!  In the meantime, I am not giving up.  If I did not have my faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ, I would have done so by now.  Not even my drive for meaningful occupation can come close to keeping me going as knowing my future is secure in eternity because of my faith (regardless of the simplicity, setbacks, and sometimes messiness of my daily life). I submit to you that those facing progressive and sudden loss of primary occupations will require assurance from the Creator God to ultimately succeed in this involuntary type of retirement. 

Godspeed lady in life and in your work,

Julie (MS, OTR/L)

Advanced Master Gardener

Editor and Asst Editor of 2 Publications

*Instructor and PhD Candidate, Department of Occupational Therapy, College of Rehabilitation Sciences, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

**American Journal of Occupational Therapy, November/December 2018, Vol 72/No 6, p 347010