Tuesday, September 30, 2014

With This Ring

In the months before Jeff asked me to marry him, we had talked about getting engaged. So it wasn't a total shock when he popped the question - though it was still very exciting.

We waited until after the engagement to pick out my wedding band.

I knew I wanted something non-traditional. I didn't want a ring with a diamond that stuck out on the top. Don't get me wrong - those rings are gorgeous. But they're not for me.

I wanted something smooth, something flush. Something that wouldn't get accidentally snagged on things. Something I didn't have to take off. Something just beyond plain - that sparkled - and I would feel comfortable wearing.

In case you can't tell, this was my ultra-practical side talking.

We went to the jewelry store, and I quickly found the section containing rings of interest. They were termed "anniversary bands." You can imagine the sales lady's confusion when she asked, "What anniversary are you celebrating?" and we told her we weren't yet married.

I searched the selection, not immediately finding something that caught my fancy. But after a moment, there, hidden among the undecorated, thin bands and the gaudily bejeweled sparklers - there it was. My ring. I just knew it was mine when I saw it.

I pointed to it, feeling a little like Indiana Jones when he finally locates the holy grail.

It had 10 small diamonds set in two rows in a wide, white gold band.

It was perfect.

But waaaaay too big.

It turns out, I have teeny tiny fingers. The sales lady measured my left-hand ring finger at a size 4 1/2. In fact, they weren't even sure they could size down the ring that small without damaging the integrity of the metal and popping out the diamonds.

Luckily, they could.

We bought the ring, put it on my finger, and I've worn it every day ever since.

Our next step was finding Jeff a ring.

And it turns out, Jeff has enormous fingers (which we still, to this day, refer to lovingly as "sausage fingers"). Each sample ring he tried on at the jewelers fit only to the second knuckle on his pinky finger.

In the end, we ordered a size 12 white gold ring with twisted rope detailing. He began wearing that ring the day we got married.

His wedding ring is the only jewelry he's ever worn. He didn't like wearing it much around the house (damn sausage fingers), but he always wore it whenever we went out.

Except when we went to the beach. He never wore it at the beach.

So he wasn't wearing his ring the day of the accident - which is probably good. One less thing for me to keep track of on that awful, hectic day.

I don't really remember how much time had passed after the accident when I finally came across his ring in the wicker basket by the front door - the place he always left it on the rare occasions he didn't wear it when he left the house.

But when I found it, I immediately put it on a chain, and fastened that chain around my neck. I wore it every day - every trip to the hospital. The heaviness of the metal clanked against my chest. As I would lean over Jeff's bed, I held tight to his ring with one hand, and stroked his hair with the other. Sympathetic nurses saw his ring on my necklace and smiled sweetly.

Jeff hasn't worn his ring since the day before the accident. He came home from work in the early evening on that Friday, skipped up the two steps from our garage into our house, took off his ring, and laid it in the wicker basket. Just like he always did.

Now that ring sits snugly in my jewelry box. We've talked about putting it on his finger when we go out, but we haven't done that yet. We tried it on him a couple months ago, but his fingers were so swollen that it wouldn't go beyond the middle knuckle. We can't take the chance of forcing it on because we might not be able to get it off. The last thing we need is a skin issue caused by a too-tight ring. Or the emotional heartache of a ring that has to be cut off his finger.

And so my wedding band is the only daily-worn ring in the house. I never take it off. And because of my ultra-practical choice in wedding bands, I never have to, even when I'm in the midst of hands-on care for Jeff. Because it's flush, and doesn't have a protruding diamond, it slips nicely under exam gloves. I never have to worry about it scratching his skin when I'm dressing him. It shines on my finger, and when my eye catches it, it helps to bolster the physical strength these size 4 1/2 fingers need to firmly grasp things like the handles of the lift I use to transfer Jeff from his bed to his chair and back. Or the bed sheets I tug on to reposition him. Or even his shoulders and knees that I push firmly to roll him from his back to his side.

One thing I've always liked about our two wedding rings is that mine can fit perfectly inside his. His ring surrounds mine - big and strong like fortified castle walls protecting precious contents inside. Kind of like it was when we used to hold hands. My hands always felt so tiny in his. His hands could crush mine easily. But instead, they were always protective.

Life has a funny way of turning the tables though. Because now it's my hands that have to do the protecting - the holding.

I still hold Jeff's hand, even though he can't feel it. Because I can still feel it.

And when I stroke Jeff's hands with my fingers, I miss feeling his wedding ring.

The ring he no longer wears on his finger, but always wears in his heart.

Monday, September 22, 2014


Sometimes I can't believe my husband is paralyzed.

Most of the time I can. I've gotten fairly used to this life in the relatively short amount of time we've lived it. How we have to expect the unexpected. How we can't just hop in the car on a whim anymore.

Our old life seems like a fuzzy dream at this point.

I think it's fair to say that we are handling things well. We've managed to emerge from the ashes of a former life and begin our journey on this new one. And I think most people we encounter who are interested in our story see us and are encouraged that we're doing so well.

And we are.

But underneath the smiles, the perseverance, and the positive attitudes is a layer of pure exhaustion interspersed with anxiety.

I've been struggling to find the right word to describe this new SCI-way-of-life, and the best one I can come up with is


It's a life in which we can never let down our guards. We have to pay extra close attention. Always.

Just yesterday, as I was tending to Jeff, I was pulling down his shirt and noticed faint red marks on his stomach. I checked under his collar, and sure enough the rash was creeping up his neck. A sign of rising blood pressure. After sleuthing about, we discovered his catheter was partially clogged. And probably had been for several hours. Slowly, persistently raising his blood pressure.

We caught it in time to avoid a serious complication.

And just like that, our morning routine was derailed with an unexpected issue.

We don't ever get a break.

We can't ever take a vacation from this injury.

SCI has taken up residence in our home - our lives - and it's here to stay.

Because tomorrow, when we wake up, my husband will still be paralyzed. Tomorrow, the next day, and every day for the rest of his life.

That's some seriously heavy stuff to deal with. Difficult to comprehend. Almost impossible, really.

Because every once in a while - just for a fraction of a second - I forget that he's paralyzed.

"Forget" probably isn't the right word. It's almost like I experience a time shift - a glitch in the matrix.

The last time this happened, it was early evening and Jeff wasn't feeling well. He was in bed, cold, and feeling lethargic, probably beginning the battle with yet another UTI. I tucked the blanket around him, up under his chin, and adjusted the fuzzy Charger beanie on his head. He smiled a little smile that told me he was relatively comfortable and just wanted to rest.

I checked on him a little later. He was in and out of dozing, and when he saw me, he gave me, again, a tired little smile. For a split second I thought to myself Poor guy. He's had a long day at work and just wants to rest.

BAM - reality hit me in the face.

Wait - he doesn't work anymore. He might not ever work again. He's paralyzed from the neck down. He can't move his body. He's on a ventilator. Oh my god.

It took less than a second for my brain to process all this. I smiled back at Jeff and touched his cheek. I didn't say anything. I just turned around and went back to what I was doing. But my heart was a little heavier. And my stomach was recovering from the flip it'd just done.

I wonder if this will always happen - these fleeting moments of thinking you're living the life you used to live only to be jolted back to reality a moment later.

I imagine it always will.

Because I will always have to feed my husband. Always have to brush his teeth. Scratch his itches, clip his fingernails, and wipe the sleep out of his crusty eyes.

He will always have to view the road from the back seat as I drive us where we need to go.

I list these things not only to vent them off my chest, but to share the heartbreaking reality that my husband can no longer do these things for himself.

Simple things that other people do so easily every day. Things we never think twice about - that we take for absolute granted. Not that we aren't thankful that we can do them but because there's too many of these things we do in one day, that counting them all would be next to impossible.

I hate that our independence has been stripped away by this injury. That we have to rely on others for so much in our lives. Jeff especially. Before the injury, we were a very independent family. And we mostly kept to ourselves. Not that we didn't have friends or see family. But we liked being just us three - and doing things around the house together.

Now our house is filled with "other" people. People we're grateful for, no doubt. But still ... another reminder of a life long gone.

* * *

And so this relentless life lives up to its name. It just keeps coming.

Like the ocean.

The goddam ocean that I can no longer look at with any kind of peace because it was there that our life was swallowed up by the waves, slammed into the sand, and spit up onto the shore.

What can we do? How can we get through this?

We can be just as relentless in our efforts to live. To push forward. To keep going.

God, it's hard.

So very hard.

But not impossible.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Green Shake

So... I'm trying to eat more healthy.

It's a challenge for me because I'm horrible at it. But I need to do it for my health. And Jeff needs to do it as well since he's none too happy with the way his weight has been going these days.

"I'm getting chubby," he says.

Weight issues are common with quadriplegics. The nurses at Rancho told us that once we got home, Jeff would start gaining weight. And that we would need to keep his weight in check.

So one way we are trying to stay healthy is by making fruit and vegetable shakes (or 'smoothies' as we sometimes call them).

Evie, not surprisingly, loves the "pink shakes" - the ones with strawberries, bananas, and yogurt.

She's not too fond of the "green shakes" - the ones with kale, kiwis, and other green stuff.

Here she is trying her first green shake.

The green shake has been resurrected in our family in the last couple months, and luckily, most of them taste better than Evie indicates in the above photo. You see, before Jeff's accident, we started drinking them. And one of our first experiences in making them is a hoot. 

If you haven't already heard the infamous "Green Shake" story, you're in for a treat.

* * * * *

About six months before Jeff's accident, he was getting in really good shape. His 40th birthday was on the horizon, he was planning a football trip with his brother to Nashville, he was jogging consistently, and was eating healthy.

During this time, he became interested in making kale shakes.

He did a lot of research online about the best blenders out there for making these healthy shakes. Even though he really wanted a Vitamix, the cost was a little too high to justify. So he went with a NutriBullet, which actually worked quite nicely. He made several shakes in that thing - even sending me off to work sometimes with an extra green shake in hand.

But he really wanted to make a shake that was super smooth in consistency - no little gritty pieces.

So one morning, he decided to use our traditional blender in a rather non-traditional manner.

He and I were both in the kitchen, and Evie was milling around the living room, doing whatever 4 year olds do in the morning while Mom and Dad are busy in the kitchen. I was making myself a sandwich for lunch, and he was loading up the blender with greeny goodness.

I heard the blender whirr to life as I spread the peanut butter on my sandwich.

Just as I was starting to spread the jelly, I heard the motor of the blender make a ... different sound. It was jumpy, as if the unit were being shaken.

I turned and saw Jeff holding the entire blender and base in both of his hands about two feet off the counter. One hand on the lid of the blender, one hand on the bottom of the base.  And he was shaking it - diagionally - in a furious effort to make this the smoothest shake ever.

Just as I was about to unnecessarily say "I don't think you're supposed to use it like that," the blender slipped out of the base, the motor made a wild whizzing sound, and green shake shot forth like a projectile. The bulk of the green goo thudded onto the tan carpet, and the force with which it hit the floor made it splatter up the white vertical blinds.

It looked like an alien was shot in our dining room.

We stared at the mess in silence. I clapped my hand over my mouth not knowing if I should laugh or shout an obscenity.

The empty glass blender was still spinning on the countertop.

Evie had made her way under the dining room table by this time, and after a few seconds, her quiet giggles broke the silence.

Before I could join in the giggling, Jeff looked at me and said, "You can just leave for work. I'll clean this up."

He was mad - at himself - probably for not just buying the Vitamix in the first place and now having to deal with the aftermath of a jerry-rigged blender.

I told him it would take him two hours to clean this up on his own. So we grabbed towels and set to work.

We had most of it cleaned up in 30 minutes.

I left for work still having not discussed the incident. He was still fuming.

It wasn't until I got to work that I could let my laughter out when I regaled two co-worker girlfriends with the story.

When I got home, Jeff was already hard at work with a rented carpet cleaner from Home Depot. He had the green spot almost entirely gone - and with a little extra work, he was able to remove the entire thing and rid the house of the aroma-o-kale. He assured me afterward that he was a professional at cleaning stains as he'd done it on several occasions in his youth when he spilled soda on his mother's white carpet only to expertly remove it in record time without her even knowing (sorry Linda!)

* * * *

Fast forward to 2014, and we're back on the green shake kick. This time without the mess, but with the addition of ...

a Vitamix!

My sweet Aunt Denise was visiting us last month, and for our 9 year anniversary, she surprised us with the much sought-after blender.

We were shocked at and so thankful for her generous gift. After lots of hugs and plans for making delicious blended food, Jeff and I looked upon the new blender with awe. We had wanted one for several years. And now it was ours.

Then Jeff looked at me with a little sadness. "I just wish I could use it," he said.

I gave him an understanding "I know" in return.

But considering what happened the last time he had his hands on a blender, it's probably best to leave this one to me.

Happy Blending!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Forget Wonder Woman

I've been seeing a lot of Wonder Woman lately.

You know, the Amazon princess chick with the magic bracelets, tiara that doubles as a weapon, and the strapless, superhero jumper that hugs her flawless curves in all the right places. (It's a wonder she keeps that thing in place as she fights off the bad guys!)

She seems to have made a resurgence in popularity as of late. I see her images on cleverly-worded graphics on Pinterest. I've even seen things like checks, notebooks, and wallets all featuring her likeness.

And I've also heard her name as someone you shouldn't "try" to be when you're in a situation like I am - caring for a loved one.

Don't try to be Wonder Woman and do everything yourself - ask for help.

The asking for help part, I certainly get. And like many, I've had to build up to that. And I'm still making progress in that area.

But the rest of that sentence - Don't try to be Wonder Woman and do everything yourself - seems to imply that Wonder Woman would be able to do what I do.

Now it's been a while since I've watched the old TV show from the '80s, and I have to admit I'm not a comic reader. But if I'm not mistaken, I don't necessarily recall that Wonder Woman knew how to change a catheter. Or knew how to recognize and alleviate the symptoms of Autonomic Dysreflexia. Or simultaneously managed her husband's injury-related issues, her daughter's kindergarten schedule, and her own full-time job.

On the flip side, I'm also sure she didn't have setbacks of serious sadness at a life she was forced to leave behind, or times of severe frustration at an injury that has bullied its way into her home and affected all of her family members, or even daily bouts of self-doubt on her ability to handle everything in her life.

Clearly, I am no Wonder Woman.

And I've come to the realization that that's okay.

Yes, my daughter hates vegetables, and she's had more fillings than I care to mention. But she's happy, and healthy, and her smile melts our hearts.

Yes, my house is more often messy and unorganized than it is clean and tidy. But it's our home where we are rebuilding our life and learning to live again.

I know I'm not the only SCI wife facing these issues. I've met so many other women who are in my situation - who find themselves in that lonely no-man's land trapped somewhere between being a wife and being a caregiver. Who are living in a world where household chores that used to be divided between two people now fall squarely onto their own shoulders. Some days we're defeated by the weight of this strange new world, and other days we rise above it.

We may not handle the daily struggles of our lives with the grace, strength, and poise that Wonder Women does. But the point is, we handle them. For me, it's often through tears, tantrums, and sometimes more than a few swear words. But also through love, determination, and lessons learned along the way.

So forget Wonder Woman.

I'll have to settle for just me.

Besides, I don't think I'd like flying an invisible jet anyway.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Day of Firsts

Last Wednesday, September 3, was a day of firsts for us.

The first "first" is that our Evie started Kindergarten.

She was sooooo excited. More excited than nervous, thankfully. And she couldn't wait to go to "real" school.

She and I went to Kindergarten orientation the day before her school started so we could learn what this whole school thing is all about. We decided that Jeff would stay home for both the orientation and the first day of school thinking that the guy in the tricked out wheelchair might be too much of a distraction for people. We'll save his appearance for Back to School night later this month. :)

During orientation, Evie got to see her classroom and meet her teacher. She even got to play on the playground while I joined the other parents to listen to the Principal and other school staff. I diligently took notes and listened to the rules on attendance, drop off and pick up times, and proper school attire.

Then the PTO President talked about all the fun stuff they have planned for the school year. Fundraisers, fundraisers, and more fundraisers.

In detailing some of the events, she said, "Last year we had a father/daughter dance, and it went over so well that this year we're going to have a mother/son dance."

I kept my gaze fixed on her, and tried to keep my expression steady. But I have no idea what she said after that.

My stomach did the flip it always does when I realize that Jeff and Evie won't have a "normal" experience at something like a father/daughter dance. And honestly, part of me was glad that that dance happened last year, and we wouldn't have to worry about one this year. 

I rallied mentally, and the rest of the orientation went fine. Evie and I met up on the playground afterward, then took a tour of her school farm (Yes, a real farm with sheep, chickens, goats, geese, bunnies, and turtles all roaming free).

By the time we left, Evie was super amped up for her first day.

She made sure to tell me to wake her up in plenty of time - so she wouldn't be late.

Here she is ... all smiles.

With a bit of a nervous hug goodbye, she marched with the other kids into her classroom, and I watched my little girl become a big Kindergartener.

I took the whole day off work and filled the hours she was at school with errands - to try to make the time go by faster.

By the end of her school day, I was on the blacktop again, feeling anxious as the teacher opened the door. Before I left to get her, Jeff (who was as nervous as I was) said, "Be sure to check her face to see if she'd been crying at all."

A few kids I didn't recognize were leading the way out the door. A little further back, I saw a hand spring up from the sea of kids, and heard a familiar, "Hi Mama!" No trace of tears on her face. She ran at me with a huge smile and landed on me with a huge hug.

Best feeling in the world.

Day one = success.

After we got home and Jeff and I grilled her (unsuccessfully) about her day, it was time for Jeff's massage appointment. So Jeff and I loaded up, and off we went.

Here's where our second "first" comes into play.

Jeff has had several massage appointments at this point, so it was a pretty routine trip. 

But on the way home, we had our first pop-off in the van (which, I can assure you is not anything as risque as it sounds).

I had just pulled into the left turn lane and stopped at the red light. We were the first car.

We were talking, like normal. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Then I heard the sound. The soft "whoosh" of air followed quickly by Jeff rapidly clicking his tongue against the roof of his mouth. That's the signal for "My vent popped off, and I'm not getting air." Because when the vent comes off, Jeff can't talk - AT ALL. His only way of communicating is clicking.

And he was clicking. In the car. Stopped at an intersection.

My eyes snapped to his in the rear-view mirror. 

"It came OFF?" I asked hurriedly.

He nodded again and again.

I slammed the van in park, 
hit the button to open the driver side sliding door, 
frantically searched for the hazards, not having ever used them before, 
unbuckled my seatbelt,
threw open my door,
leapt out-climbed in the back-and put the air back onto Jeff's trach.

All in about 3 seconds.

"You okay?"

He nodded. He was smiling, not nearly as freaked out as I was.

I flew back into the driver's seat, my heart thumping loud enough to hear, my hands trembling, and my breath coming fast.

"Did we miss the light?" I asked.

Just then, the arrow turned green. I put the car back into drive, then calmly made the turn.

"I can't believe we didn't miss the light."

* * * * *

Last night as I was getting Evie out of the shower, I asked her if she liked her new teacher. She nodded her yes. Then she said, "I told her about Daddy."

"You did?!" I asked with both happiness and curiosity. "What did you tell her?"

"That he can move his shoulders and his neck."

"Did you tell her he had an accident?"


I told Evie how proud I was of her, and how important it is for her to tell her teacher about Daddy. More than anything, I was proud that Evie told her without me asking her to do so. She did it on her own. I had written a note to her teacher telling her briefly about our situation since I know Evie often talks of it, but I haven't had the opportunity to tell her about it in person. It seems our Evie has already done that part.

In the note I wrote to her teacher, I explained how despite Jeff's physical disability, he and Evie still have a very normal father/daughter relationship. I like to emphasize that we really are "normal" though I know people don't see us that way.

So instead, I think I might start calling us extra-ordinary, but not in the sense that there's anything exceptional about our family.

What it comes down to is that we're a family with a few "extra" things to deal with. 

Other that that, we're pretty ordinary.

These two are pretty "extra" ordinary to me.