Sunday, December 31, 2017

Learning to Be Grateful

Being grateful in the face of adversity is no easy feat.

As 2017 comes to a close, I look back on this year and the many challenges it presented to us.

In truth, it was a tough one.

Jeff had three surgeries this year, which meant spending more time in the hospital that we would have liked. The toughest one to bear was his gallbladder surgery in May. We spent 8 days in the hospital - 5 of those days were filled with advocating, educating, and pushing hard for doctors to find the source of Jeff's pain. His surgery was on our daughter's 8th birthday. We were still in the hospital for her party that we had planned for months.

And even now, 7 months post surgery, he is still having residual stomach issues. It's something we deal with daily.

It's like another scoop of slop has been slapped onto our already overflowing plate.

And yet as I look back over this difficult year, I am finding things to be grateful for.

They're there - hidden amongst the muck. They're stained with tears and soiled with heartache. But I think that coating is what makes them the rare gems they are.

I am grateful for the deep, strong bond this injury has forged between my husband and me. We have gone through the darkest days of our life - we are still in them at times - and together we trudge forward.

I am grateful for the resiliency this injury has revealed in both my husband and myself. Jeff's patience is tried every single day. And he amazes me with his calm, logical approach to overcoming daily obstacles. I have developed both physical and mental skills that I never knew I could master. We treat every obstacle as a learning experience. And for that, I am grateful.

I could go on, but I don't want to paint a false picture. This life has also brought out the worst at times - especially in me.

My temper now resides at just below the boiling point. One extra issue - even a minor one - can throw me right over the edge.

My expectations of the able-bodied public - friends, family, and myself included - are extraordinarily high. Because when you live with someone who can't move any part of their body, you expect more of the people who can.

And my nerves are riddled with anxiety. Having already experienced a life-changing trauma, I worry that something else bad - something even worse - is lurking in the shadows.

And yet for all of the negatives, the positives still find a way to make themselves seen.

Though I had to make the choice three years ago to give up my full-time career (including immediate and future income and health benefits), I am grateful for the time I get to spend with my husband. And I'm grateful that we get to be home each day our daughter comes in the door from school.

Though my conveyor belt of responsibility is constantly pushing forward, I've discovered that I am good at multitasking. That I thrive best when I'm busy. That being productive is a positive force in my life.

And though this injury has been absolutely devastating for us, I am grateful for the opportunity to face adversity head on and rebuild a new life together.

Let me be crystal clear on this point, however: I am NOT grateful for my husband's injury. His daily pain combined with my overfull schedule of tasks I must complete to keep him healthy and keep our household running are overwhelming at best and suffocating at worst.

The fact that together we've managed to find a way to get through each day is what I'm grateful for.

And on those hard, suffocating days - even through the years where there were more tears than smiles - I will take a cue from a fellow quad wife who recently wrote this: "I will remember that good things can come from terrible injuries."

Happy New Year everyone!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

The Best Gift for a Caregiver

I haven't blogged much lately.

There hasn't been much time.

The holidays always seem to do that around this time of year.

But that sounds so silly, doesn't it? I haven't had enough time. Because time is constant. It's one of those things that no one has more or less of than anyone else.

But time is also one of those things that works like those complicated math word problems that boggled my mind in junior high

Two trains were traveling toward one another at the same speed ... 

Remember that?

If there's one thing I've learned about time since Jeff's injury, it's that time operates very differently in our new life compared to how it worked in our old life.

For example: before Jeff's injury, it used to take him, oh, probably about 2 seconds to get out of bed. He would sit up, put his feet on the floor, and stand up.

2 seconds.

Now, the equivalent of getting him into that same upright position (i.e., into his wheelchair) takes approximately 2 hours.

And that's not just 2 hours of his time. It's also 2 hours of my time. Collectively, that's 4 hours.

In our old life, we would have spent 4 collective hours doing things like: me doing laundry and Jeff vacuuming the house. Me running an errand to Target, and Jeff bbqing us chicken for lunch. Or me paying bills and Jeff taking Evie to the park.

Something we've lost in our new life is the ability to accomplish physical tasks simultaneously. 

Because when you live in a world where one adult takes care of another, tasks are accomplished in a very linear fashion.

Like a conveyer belt. One thing at a time.

And as a caregiver, my conveyer belt is always full. And always on.

And more often than not, I feel like Lucy Ricardo when she worked in the chocolate factory and the conveyer belt kept spitting out more and more chocolate than she could manage.

Only my conveyer belt isn't delivering chocolate.

It's delivering time-sucking tasks. I don't mean that in a negative way. It's just that so many things in our daily routine take up an enormous chunk of my time.

That's why time is one of the most precious commodities in my world.

It's also why time is one of the best gifts anyone can give me.

And today I got a great gift of time.

I ordered a new desk for Evie for Christmas. One of those desks that comes in a gazillion pieces in a box labeled HEAVY with a graphic of two stick figures doing a tandem lift stuck to the outside.

One of those pieces of furniture that takes time to build.

I told my in-laws that it was arriving over the weekend, and they immediately offered to put it together for me. That's kind of their thing. They have assembled nearly every piece of furniture in our house that's arrived in a similar box. They're really good at it.

And I always thank them for their time and their effort.

But I don't know if they truly realize just how much their time and effort mean to me.

Their act of putting together this piece of furniture means they've essentially plucked this item off of my conveyer belt. And this isn't an item that had been placed in line with all the other items. Oh no. This one had been stacked right on top of a few others.

So them claiming this task as their own has allowed me to keep plucking off other items so that they don't fall off and cause a massive pileup.

While they started work on the new desk, I was able to vacuum and clean the master bedroom and bathroom, do laundry, make lunch for my family, feed my husband, and get him ready for transferring out of bed.

Now that's simultaneous time management at its finest.


So here's a new math problem for you:

Question: How much time does it take for a caregiver to accomplish all the tasks in her daily routine?

Answer: More than she has.

That's why the gift of time is the most precious gift any caregiver could receive.

And I'm grateful for all the times it's been gifted to me.