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

The day passed with gratitude

Seven years ago this night, I contracted viral hepatitis kayaking in a local reservoir, beginning what has become 7 years of serious illness.  Yet today passed with more of a sense of gratitude than mourning the lost years.  May I share the good things that came from this journey?

  • Learning to blog, beginning in the summer of 2012 and continuing to this day.
  • Wrote and published an eBook:  Hope Beyond Lyme:  The First Year
  • Learning to make macrame jewelry, starting an online and vendor jewelry business when up in the middle of the night and selling the business  2 1/2 years later with a sense of accomplishment, closure.

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Friendship Necklace or Bracelet with Seahorse Charm from Trinity Jewelry by Design

  • Learning about the numerous medical conditions for which I would be tested, ruled-out/diagnosed, treated, and make some level of progress on.
  • Started, developed, and moderate a mercury detox group on Facebook that now contains about 3,000 members and 1 Co-Admin!
  • Meeting some dear friends in the chronic illness community in relationships that 1) began locally and have continued to this day or 2) transformed from online to face-to-face either electronically or in-person.  Love you ladies!
  • Learned how to develop simple websites for e-commerce, blogging, and marketing for myself and others.
  • Supported my husband as best as I could in his distributorship of performance kayaks and gear:  River Bear Racing.
  • Became a Master Gardener and advanced within the ranks with as many in-home projects as those in the community.
  • Became an Assistant Editor of the United States Canoe Association publication called Canoe News under the tutelage of the handsome Editor and husband named Steve!
  • Recently became Editor of Across the Fence for the Purdue Extension Master Gardener program.  This required a crash course in another online program:  Microsoft Sway.

fence, cartoon, across the fence, transitions, crossing over, life

  • Became a better cook and homemaker/helpmate to my beloved Steve as I have been increasingly able to do so as the years have progressed.
  • Became my own patient advocate, occupational therapist, care coordinator, medical billing and records specialist, and health coach.  Sure, I hired a Naturopath for epigenetic counseling that was beyond my brain fog to understand yet kept in-step with as much of my care as humanly possible:  seeking answers and finding some too.
  • Learned to camp via travel trailer aka our mobile clean room!  We are grateful for the Lord’s provision on this one.
  • Taught myself via online videos to sew upholstery for our patio and the travel trailer.

upholstery, learning, sewing, machine, at home, YouTube videos, self-taught, Kermit, RV, cushions

  • Learned to grow vegetables and native plants; working on a community rain garden project for the near future.
  • Experimented with a some volunteer work for our community park this Fall that really stretched my abilities and tolerances.
  • Kept my occupational therapy license current with online continuing education, review of pertinent literature, and following the latest issues-and-trends in my profession.
  • Trialed being a caregiver to an elderly family member.  Didn’t succeed yet worked very hard in this role for six months earlier this year.
  • Became a writer!
  • Fell more deeply in love with my intended beloved, Stevers aka River Bear.

husband and wife, paddling, gratitude, Christian, marriage, summer day, wife, husband
Steve and Julie at the Fish Lake Race, Indiana, July 2018

  • And most importantly, grew into a vital relationship with my heavenly Father, heavenly Husband, and Savior Jesus Christ.  He is my rock now and forevermore!

How did all of this happen when experiencing daily convulsive episodes and its consequences virtually every day for 6 1/2 of these past 7 years?  Well that’s just how good our God is, Gentle Reader.  Little was done in my own strength in the most wretched of months.  The episodes in general aren’t as bad these days as long as I stay away from the worst noxious stimuli to which I am sensitive and plan rest days accordingly.  They aren’t gone yet.  I’ll write more about a recent setback soon.  Gratefully, the reactivity has come down quite a bit; I can see marvelous progress.  Yeah God and praise the Lord for His mercy and grace!

The day passed with gratitude indeed.  JJ

 

It’s like I’m writing my thesis again

A long time ago in another State, marriage, home, and occupation I was writing my Master’s thesis.  As a matter of fact the weekend after I came home from my honeymoon (with the man who eventually decided he was Mr. Wrong), I spent over 20 hours pounding on the keys of an IBM computer.  Remember word processing in DOS?  No, not me either.  That actually came 3 years later.  I was typing at a TYPEWRITER and hired a TYPIST to create the final 125-page report!  Back then a trip to the copy place was an event and choosing the right type of watermark paper could make a difference between acceptance and rejection of an important document.  At least having it professionally bound was not a requirement back then . . .

All of that typing did not do me, my forearms, nor the first years of my marriage any good.  Eventually I graduated with my Master of Science degree with a thesis that was as long as most Doctoral dissertations at the time!  Oh well.  That’s what happens when your first reader is a scholar in your profession and your third reader is the head of the Department of Occupational Therapy in addition to being a pioneer in the field as well.  I remember Dr. Anne Fisher handing back to me the 11th total re-write of my baby:  it was covered in red ink!  “You are a good writer,” she said.  Say what?  Could you maybe mention that to your ball point pen my dear professor!  Sigh.  Back to the typewriter I went on my way to bilateral epicondylitis or whatever.  I think eventually the repetitive motion injury from typing turned into fibromyalgia.  So I got more than my “MS” degree in graduate school but I digress.

That was 25 years ago.  I now live in a different State with my Intended Beloved, a different occupation, pet dog, hobbies, gardens, vehicles, hair styles, family, friends, church, and dress size!  It’s all good.  And today I completed three different writing projects and it only took about 12 hours!  Thank goodness for word processing, the internet, and Office Depot!  The 3 projects included:

  1. Editing and completing the photo layouts/covers of the Fall issue of Canoe News of the United States Canoe Association.  My husband, Steve, is the Editor and I am the Assistant Editor of this quarterly publication; Fall brings the biggest issue of the year.  It took me about a week to get into the right health state to do what needed to be done and now in the wee hours of the morning I am ready to send it back to my River Bear.

  2. Revising the Huntertown Family Park Rain Garden Project proposal and submitting it to my contact person at the Department of Natural Resources Urban Wildlife Program in application for supplemental funding.

  3. Finally figuring out the Microsoft Sway online software program enough to a) export the October issue of Across the Fence to Word then b) create a pdf file to c) email it to the Horticulture Educator at the Allen County Purdue Extension Office.  This will be my first issue as Editor of the ATF newsletter for the Master Gardeners.  The Educator has been answering all my questions and yet it has been frustrating for both of us.  I hit quite a few snafus with the program not working correctly in our Chrome browser at home; going back to Internet Explorer appears to have solved the problems for now!

Tomorrow will be a rest day.  A good volunteer must do her jobs then rest and recover the next day.  Part of my day will be praising the Lord that I could even do these tasks with the lingering effects of serious illness.  Thank you Jesus for sustaining me, clearing my mind, and helping me to do the tasks to which I am called.  I do pray for restoration now as there are many unfinished chores throughout the house.  Please help me to take care of the things you have entrusted to my life, to love and serve my Stevers.  I know that You see my responsibilities and weaknesses and watch over all of the details of my life.  I rest in your gracious care my Lord.  To You be the glory for the good things accomplished this day.

In Jesus name, amen.  JJ

Canoe News, paddling, competition, racing, wife, magazine, Editor, racing, USCA, volunteer
Cover photo from Canoe News, October 2018

rain garden, rocks, drainage, flooding, native plants, volunteer
Rain Garden model bed pending for the Huntertown Family Park

master gardener, volunteer, Purdue Extension, cooperative, gardener, certification, Across the Fence, Editor

But the old friend has no name

My hope went underground when the testing described in my last post revealed nothing of value.  I was crushed.  My beloved hubby had to take part of a day off of work and I had to take two drugs to be able to tolerate the contrast dye.  My doctor sent over new orders to the hospital on the morning of the test, creating further complications.  That new test was not yet authorized by my insurance company.  So would I have to come back and take more drugs, Steve take more time off of work when both tests could be done that day within minutes?  What shall we do?  The radiology staff nor us knew what to do.

We decided that since I do have a secondary insurance, to proceed with both the CT angiogram of the neck and the CT angiogram of the head that day.  The views would be with my head and neck in a neutral position, not in neck extension (which is the position that triggers convulsive episodes).  So I decided to lie on the exam table with my neck partially extended.  True to form, soon after they pushed the iodine contrast dye into my veins a tic then seizure attack erupted!  I couldn’t speak.  Steve let them know the course that these things take so the staff lifted me off the treatment table, onto a gurney, and into an empty room in the adjacent MRI suites.  There we were in the dark until my personal hell decided to stop.  (See here if you haven’t seen it yet.)  Steve helped me to the bathroom via wheelchair, the tech wheeled me out to the exit of the hospital, and we were on our way home.  Somehow I cleaned up once home and got myself to bed to sleep off the drugs for the next 6 hours!  The stress, the drugs in my body diminished thereafter.  All there was left to do was deal with the trauma of what had happened and wait for the test results . . .  No problem, right?

What followed represents the good and the bad of the patient having access to her own test results through the electronic medical record mandated by the Affordable Care Act.  I got my test results 3 WEEKS before the Doctor appointment scheduled to review them! The test was on a Friday and on Tuesday I was reading the radiology reports.  I was crushed.  There were no vascular anomalies that would explain why tipping my head backwards, certain chiropractic adjustments, sleeping on my left side, and a host of other identifiable kinesio/sensory stimuli trigger violent convulsive episodes.   Further, the question remained as to why these episodes are continuing, albeit of less intensity and duration overall, 6 months after treatment with specialized dental appliances?  This treatment brought me an 80% reduction in seizure attacks.  But after chiropractic treatment resumed, that number started to go down:  the episodes had started to increase again.  The “old friend” has returneth but still has no name . . . no cause.

In a future post, I may disclose the profound effect of this dead end in my seven years of battling a serious illness.  Last week after yet another difficult medical process revealed no answers, I really wanted to die.  Within a day that feeling changed and I continued on with my activities of daily living, some volunteer projects, and prepared to attend a women’s retreat within a few more days.  The time away helped some.  I don’t want to die I just don’t know really how to live this way anymore.  There may be some clues in the test results of what to focus on next related to a thyroid condition — or maybe not.  My veracious researching a cause, a cure has come to a screeching halt.  Right now is the time for me to dwell in the eternal space of my Savior, Jesus Christ and lie this illness at the foot of His Cross.  The lies of Satan and his tools of discouragement can go to hell with him, period.

Can’t say much more than that right now.  Tomorrow I need to be up and energetic at an event I thought I could volunteer at in preparation for another project of greater interest to me.  We’ll see how it goes.  My alarm is set.  But the get up and go, the drive in my heart is more asleep than I am at the moment.

Maybe something good will happen soon?  I’ll letcha know if it does, Gentle Reader.  You are always on my heart and the first to know as usual, k?  JJ