Friday, March 3, 2017

The Art of the Transfer

One of the most daunting questions I faced after Jeff was injured was How in the world am I going to get him in and out of bed?

I mean, the man is twice my size.

While he was in rehab, a team of nurses and CNAs would march into the room every day and perform the transfer. They worked without speaking. Each one had a job. One was in charge of the vent tubes. One held his legs and made sure his feet didn't flop down when they lowered him into the chair. And the other two flanked him on his sides and would catch him and push him back into place when he would begin to melt over the side. I watched them with a mixture of wonder and trepidation. My stomach turned over at the thought of having to hire this many people to help me once we got home. There's just no way I am ever going to be able to do this alone, I thought. I remember tears of anxiety and worry spilling over my eyes when I would try to sleep.

Then one day two therapists took me into the rehab gym and told me that over the next few days, they were going to teach me how to transfer Jeff using a manual hoyer lift. Once we got in the gym, they reassured me that transferring didn't require the army of nurses and assistants that were currently mustering around my husband every day. That what I needed was training, practice, and confidence.

First, they put a sling under me, and made me lie on the padded table so they could transfer me to a wheelchair. It was the first time I experienced all this from the patient's point of view. Then they each took turns being the patient and I would help with the transfer. They taught me how to put a fabric sling underneath a person who was lying down. They taught me how to operate the manual lift up, move it into position, then engage the lever just enough to make lowering my husband into the wheelchair a smooth ride rather than a crazy carnival experience. They taught me how to pull my husband's torso forward and position my body against his so he wouldn't crumble to the floor. They taught me how to pull the sling out from behind him. Then they taught me how to do all of that in reverse. But mostly they taught me that it would indeed be possible for me to safely and confidently transfer my paralyzed husband, who was 9 inches taller and 100 pounds heavier than me, in and out of bed.

We used the manual hoyer lift for the first year Jeff was home. I performed the transfers with my mom's help most of the time. But my dad, Jeff's parents, other family members, a caregiver, and sometimes even friends would step in to assist as well. The manual hoyer lift was cumbersome. It didn't break down easily, so we just left it fully assembled. It lived in and took up most of the space in the office/junk room. Every day we would maneuver it down the hall, around a tight corner, and into the bedroom where it would do the heavy lifting of the transfer. Then we'd wheel it back. We did this twice a day, every day. The floorboards were smattered with dings and dents.

Then we had a big opportunity open up for us. We moved to a new state, bought a house, and began setting goals for how we wanted life to progress for our family. One of the first things we did in our new home was arrange for the installment of an overhead lift in our bedroom. We purchased it with the generously donated funds in Jeff's Help Hope Live account.

It was just like the overhead lift used in the rehab hospital where the mob of nurses would rally around Jeff for the transfer. But this time, it was just me. Me, Jeff, the lift, and the green sling. It was something Jeff and I had envisioned for ourselves - a milestone of progression and establishment: me being able to safely and efficiently transfer my husband by myself.

At first, that gap between his wheelchair and the bed, the gap we had to traverse every day, twice a day, may as well have been the size of the Grand Canyon. There was a lot of frustration, a lot of trial and error, a lot of learning and growing that happened in the span of that gap.

But eventually we developed a routine. And today, we're able to perform it pretty smoothly.

The art of the transfer may sound a little silly, but it is indeed an art. It's something we've performed over and over and over. And over again. My muscles have memory in them like a dancer's. My hands move in rhythm together gripping, pulling, holding - sometimes simultaneously, sometimes in succession. My feet make the same steps in the same spot on the floor every day. If I put down those sticky footprints that are used to help people learn to dance, I can guarantee I'd hit my mark more often than not during the transfer.

So I made a video of this unique dance my husband and I perform every day. I made it to give people a brief glimpse into a daily routine in our life. I made it to show what practice, perseverance, and the right tools combined together can produce. But I mostly made it for that scared, anxious, overwhelmed woman who is sitting in rehab with her injured husband wondering how in the world she is ever going to be able to get him out of bed by herself.

Here's how I do it:

You can also check out the original post where this video appears on AbleThrive!

Friday, January 13, 2017

This Zombie Life

This life has been eating us alive lately.

Every morning I wake up, raise the head of Jeff's bed, do some minor adjustments of his stiff body, wipe his eyes, give him his morning pills, turn on his voice-activated remote control, put on his beanie, take off his night boots, empty his pee bag, start his breathing treatment, then head to the kitchen to make coffee.

That's just the first 15 minutes of the day.

I would have thought that after three-and-a-half years of living and dealing with my husband's spinal cord injury every minute of every day, things would have gotten, well, easier - more manageable.

I guess in a way, they have gotten easier. We're no longer bombarded with something new every day like we were in the beginning. I wrote a blog post - one of my most popular posts - about just this subject about a year after Jeff's injury. I titled it Relentless, and that's still a word that accurately describes our life.

But things have settled down a bit now in the sense that we've established a routine that works for us. And each day we work that routine.

But it's not exactly clockwork. While much of what we do every day is repeated physical maintenance of Jeff's condition, there's a lot of other stuff that comes our way too, like administrative duties, and on-the-fly troubleshooting. We are constantly vigilant. Continually on the ready to handle the barrage.

And so I've come up with a new analogy for what we experience on a daily basis.

Living with a spinal cord injury is like being followed by a horde of  slow moving zombies.

Jeff and I have always loved a good zombie flick. During our dating years, we snuck little bottles of liquor into a movie theater to watch the remake of Dawn of the Dead. And once The Walking Dead aired on AMC, we were instantly hooked.

I remember one of my first impressions when we started watching The Walking Dead. Sure, the zombies were ugly, but they moved so slowly. How scary can that be?

But what if a zombie was lumbering after you, and you tripped and fell? And now that zombie's dreadful fingers are just inches from your feet. In your panic, you can't regain traction, so you frantically scramble backward without putting much distance between you and the growling monster that, in any second, will be upon you.

Now imagine a whole group coming at you. From all sides.

You're overrun. Overwhelmed.


But you fight back. You have to. It's your only way out.

And somehow, whether by experience, determination, or sometimes just sheer luck, you emerge from the zombie scrum to make your escape.

As you close your eyes and catch your breath, exhausted from the battle, you slowly turn around, and that's when you see it. Another horde. Not upon you as before. But coming for you nonetheless.

That's what this life is like.

That's what maintaining a body with an injured spinal cord is like.

And so to further illustrate my point, I'd like to present some visual examples. With neither Photoshop skills, nor the time to acquire them, here's a look at our zombie life - in crappy pictures.


Some days the horde is off in the distance - dark shadows on the horizon reminding us that there's things that will need to be addressed soon:

Other days, the zombies are all up in our business:

Sometimes, the whole day is spent troubleshooting:

Other days it's just slaying as usual:

Every once in a while, a routine task can turn into a wild goose chase:

Then there's the always invigorating surprise attack:

And of course, we can't forget about that one thing that can just ruin your entire day:

The point is the zombies just keep coming.

They can't be stopped.

They have to be dealt with.

And lately it's felt like we're at the bottom of the horde just doing our best to pick them off one by one.

Pretty soon, the pile will thin, and we'll be able to catch our breath ... just long enough to make out the shadows looming on the horizon.

Gotta run ... the zombies are a-knockin'.