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Posts Tagged ‘accident’

pile of rocks
 As Scoutmaster for many years, Ken spent a lot of time leading boys of all ages through the ups and downs of growing pains by helping them over some of the hurdles which would eventually lead them into manhood.  There was Scout Camp, overnighters, merit badges to earn, knots to tie, awards to receive and lessons to be learned – some learned high in the mountains of California.  After years of counseling at Scout Camp, Ken and his assistant Scoutmaster and a few volunteer dads decided to put their young men through another kind of challenge: 50 miles through the high Sierras in one week.  It was so popular it became a yearly event.  The boys, however, had to qualify by participating in several overnighters where they had to hike x miles into the camp site – with full packs. 
None was more excited than Mark, just 12 years old and a new scout, but he qualified right along with everyone else.  Typical of many pre-teen boys, Mark hadn’t had a growth spurt in a month of Sundays and was still a tad small, a bit on the thin side with knobby knees and colt-like legs; yet his enthusiasm was unmatched and an eager smile made up for any physical shortcomings. Years later Mark wrote about his first backpacking experience: a few paragraphs quoted below.

“I so looked forward to being included in the 50-mile hike the troop took each year.  Everyone prepared for it with mini trips, but there is nothing like the real thing, which took us into the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir area near Yosemite.

“We hiked 10 miles the first two days which was grueling as we made our way up the mountains ascending to heights which none of us were accustomed.  The switchbacks taunted us as we made our way back and forth and up.  It seemed my backpack grew heavier with each turn of the trail.  At the top of the last set, I discovered why it became more weighted every time we rested.

A few of the older scouts felt it would be amusing to see the expressions on the faces of the two 12-year olds as they discovered they had carried a few stowaway rocks up all of those switchbacks.  I laughed, but was secretly thankful for those rocks from that time forth.  After liberating them from my pack, I found I had no problem carrying the lighter load.”

Mark learned a very profound lesson early in his life, and he continued to apply the importance of eliminating excess baggage – rocks — from his journeys through life.  As caregivers we need to remember to strive on a daily basis to do the same.

After being away from home for three months following a horrific automobile accident, I returned to the familiar, yet the unfamiliar.  My life had been drastically changed. Ben was taking care of Ken, for which I was grateful.  Not being the same as I had been I wasn’t able to get back to status quo, nor was Ken the same.  His battle with Alzheimer’s now included him having to adjust to all of the new changes in his life.  Ben was new, the routine was different, his abilities had been greatly diminished, and my late entry caused him to become more confused.

Even with his AD I wanted life to be as it had been before the crash.  I knew where he was and right where the two of us had been in living and dealing with the disease.  Now I had to start my relationship with Ken all over again while still nursing my own hurts and injuries.  Consequently, my disposition was definitely wanting.  “Are you mad at me?” he asked one day during a lucid moment.  “No,” I answered, “I’m not mad at you.  Why?”  Sadly, he looked at me and said, “Your voice sounds as if you’re mad at me.”

That caught me off guard, and I thought about our conversations – minimal though they were – I realized he was right.  Whenever I spoke to him, whether he was Ken or Mr. Hyde or Buddy (his various personalities) I could hear the irritation in my voice. So I had to ask me if I was mad at him – angry with him — if so, why?   Thus, I was back to soul searching – which I have had to do every so often. Yes.  I was angry and I was taking it out on Ken, including his lucid moments.  Moments, so few and far between were being wasted with my irritation.

However, I was feeling anger because of all the time that was gone in being badly hurt and having to take more valuable time to heal and to go through physical therapy.  Angry because I couldn’t do all that I had done before.  Angry because I still wasn’t my old self, angry because I had continued discomfort and pain.  I was angry that Ken had Alzheimer’s, and angry that there was nothing I could to about it.  If he noticed the irritation in my voice, did I have the same irritation when I spoke with others?  I knew it was time for me to begin removing the rocks in my backpack, and in so doing I would also find some peace.

Nothing is instant – except maybe potatoes and coffee – and I knew it would take time for me to bring about my goals.  The first baby step was to stop taking out my anger and frustrations on other people – especially Ken.

As a caregiver, I cannot change anything with anger, neither can I undo yesterday, nor can I cure incurable diseases even with over-the-top anger. Being angry only adds a heavy rock to my already burdened life, and as Mark said, “After liberating the rocks from my pack, it was easier to carry the lighter load.”   Little by little I have managed to remove the rocks of anger.  I also lighten my load by striving every day to find something to laugh about with Ken – maybe not with him – perhaps with Ben or Criz.  We can laugh about something Ken does because at times he and other AD patients are funny and it is okay to laugh. If you haven’t laughed all day then read a funny book or rent a funny movie, but laugh. The more I laugh, the more I can let go of anger and any other negatives which are always nearby and ready to sneak into my backpack.

This past year plus has changed Ken a lot.  He seldom has lucid moments when he can manage any sort of conversation.  Whatever he jabbers it’s without logic.  His other personalities are gone.  There is no Buddy, nor does Mr. Hyde visit, but that’s all right.  They were both rather disagreeable characters.  What’s left is a small portion of Ken who makes little sense. We are where we are in this life, and I know I must strive to be continually accepting.  In doing so, I often remember the serenity prayer, which I’ve always liked.  It’s so applicable for those of us who journey together with our Alzheimer’s loved ones:   “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”  So now, let’s begin by liberating the rocks, including the tiny pebbles of negativity, from those heavy backpacks.

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“Ow!  That hurts my back,” I groaned, not knowing where I was, who was moving me or why.  Aware of bright lights, sirens and men’s voices, I heard someone say, while enclosing my neck in a brace, “Broken neck, possible broken leg.”  I thought, “Are they talking about me?  I don’t want a broken leg, much less a broken neck.”  I had no way of knowing what had happened, but suddenly the thought ran through my mind that I had been in some kind of accident.

Across the inside of my head stretched a blackboard which appeared to be blank.  Slowly, printed in white, as if someone were writing with chalk, there flashed a phone number.  Call my son,” I mumbled, repeating the numbers before me.  Then, as surely as I knew Keith’s phone number, I repeated both Ken’s and my HMO medical numbers.   “I have a pacemaker and my husband has severe Alzheimer’s.  Don’t let him wander away,” I added, somehow knowing they would need all of the important information.  “Can you tell me your name and birth date?” another voice asked.  I answered his question and gave him Ken’s name and birth date as well, then faded into an unconscious place.

Obviously, the driver of the maverick car did not correct as I had assumed.  Instead, his vehicle must have remained in the diagonal line aimed in my direction.  I was like a sitting duck in a shooting gallery, the trajectory of his set course was fixed on me.  He couldn’t miss.  In retrospect, who could have known he had spent the afternoon drinking and was drunk out of his mind?   Authorities could only calculate the speed of his car as it crashed into my SUV just behind the driver’s door.  Out of control, the maverick bounced off before slamming two more times into the rear of my vehicle, spinning it wildly before coming to a stop — facing in a southerly direction.

Inside, I had been unaware of  impact, the first blow no doubt knocking me out cold.  I can only speculate on what followed.  The seat belt, which I had buckled, failed.  I believe it retracted on impact, and in so doing snapped the metal-locking end into my lip, cutting it just under my nose at the same time knocking out one bottom tooth.  The air bag deployed, but without the seat belt holding me in place it was ineffective.  Lacking any restraint, I became air born and was somehow hurled through the window and onto the street where I lay until paramedics arrived. 

By comparison, Ken’s injuries were minor, but still required several days of observation in the hospital.  Restrained, confused, combative and unhappy, our concerned children insisted he be released for better care at home.

While my family waited and worried outside the trauma unit, I was finally stablized by a group of dedicated and extraordinarily skilled doctors following an hour and a half  of intense effort.  Medically, I was a mess.  The team of professionals battled various internal organs which threatened to shut down because of shock; there were cuts, contusions, blood loss, and massive bruising, broken ribs, a broken neck and head fracture.  They worried I could suffer a stroke or be paralyzed as the neck fracture was a top vertebrae pressing on vital areas and nerves which commanded life itself.

During a moment of consciousness I requested a blessing of healing from the clergy of my church.  Their anointing words of comfort, hope and promise fell upon me like a warm blanket on a cold night.  Finding peace among the turmoil I also found rest, allowingy myself to let go and let God further work His  miracles.  When awareness allowed me to ponder, I reviewed my broken and bruised body and while I will never dismiss the seriousness of my many and varied injuries, I am still amazed that I only suffered a broken neck, head fracture and broken ribs.  In actuality, I should be dead.  I can only believe there must be some part of my life’s mission which has not been completed.  Why else would Heavenly guided unseen hands cushion my descent to the pavement?

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For a generation or more we have spent Christmas Eve with our daughter  Julie and her family.   In addition to her brothers and sister, with their families, there has been other in-laws, friends, cousins and anyone else who needed a place to be for the Holiday.   In the past Julie’s house has been noisy, crowded and filled with merriment.  However, as children grow up, get married, move away and are caught up in careers or have other new family obligations, our traditions are in a state of flux.   

Last night there were only five little ones under 10 plus  an adorable baby, Rylie Ann, moving from the crawling stage to the standing stage, and two young adult grandchildren.  Their contemporaries were 800 miles away visiting their parents, brothers, sisters and extended family.  It was that distant house filled with the sounds of Christmas we had been so accustomed to hearing: the very joyful sound of lots of children and young people. 

Ken’s Christmas benchmark was noticable this year.  He has become somewhat frail looking, and moves like an older man with faltering footsteps and waving arms rather than the robust mature person he was before AD.   As we approached the steps to Julie’s house I noticed he was fearful of venturing onto the stone-laid walk.  Even though he was supported by two of his sons, he felt along the stones with his feet wanting to be certain they were solid.  Once inside the house, I noticed he was much more subdued during the evening — almost like a shy, clinging child in new surroundings.   It’s times like this when I say he is like Velco. 

Later on, Ken felt more at ease and decided to get a drink of water in the kitchen.  Carefully, he meandered his way between the glass coffee table and the couch.  He did well, but on his return trip, he took a quick right turn at the middle of the clear table top.  (He has macular degeneration in his right eye and his poor vision is now even worse.)  Blindsided and in the dim lights of Christmas he thought the way was clear.   Suddenly, he was falling right onto the glass and into the sofa on the opposite side.  I could see him grimace as he went down.  Immediately, I worried that he might have injured his artificial hip.  The men who were close by leaped to his assistance, but being the stubborn, independent man he is Ken wouldn’t allow the help.  Instead he struggled to right himself.  Although the glass is about three quarters of an inch in thickness we were all concerned it might be broken.  If it wasn’t, the possibility of more pressure on its tilted position  against the base might be the final insult causing it to break and really do him injury.   Still refusing help, he managed to climb over the glass and pull himself erect.  The men picked up the top placing it back onto the supporting base.  No damage and no harm done except for Ken’s shin bone, which was pretty well skinned.

Within a few minutes he had forgotten the accident and settled down next to me.  All evening long he asked,  “Whose house is this?”  Repeatedly I answered, “Julie’s house.”  Not once, but it seemed like a hundred times.    Comparing benchmarks, I could see considerable change during the past 365 days.

We had dinner, opened gifts, exchanged small talk and everyone went home.  As soon as I entered the house I slipped him two Tylenol PM tablets.  He had been sleepy in the car, but by the time we got inside took the pills and brushed his teeth, I could sense him slipping into one of his other characters.  It could have been 12-year-old Buddy, who guards the house like a stockade with the Indians circling.   It was midnight and I was so ready for sleep, but wanted to wrap a few more packages.  He began pacing, rattling the outside doors to make sure they were locked.  After three or four rounds, I lost my temper and he ordered me to leave.  When he does this lately, I lock myself in the computer room and let him pound on the door while I busy myself with “whatever.”    He finally settled down and I wrapped my gifts.   It was 3:00 a.m.

When I woke on Christmas morning, it was 10:00 a.m.   Feeling somewhat refreshed, I quickly got up, dressed and spread out a small morning buffet to munch on when Keith, Sabina, granddaughter Jessica, and Kenney and Peggy came.   I wondered if I would feel up to driving to Antioch with the gifts for Sean and Lani and family.  That decision would come later.  The late-morning visit with two of our sons, their wives and Jessica was lovely.  I was glad they came.  Jess is such a sweetheart and had made me several gifts. 

Approaching 3:00, my morning family had other places to go and friends to see.  A little late for us to be leaving for Sean’s, but if we left right then, opened the gifts and had a bite to eat, we could be home by 9:00.   In addition, we needed to be home when Tim (Julie’s husband) brought their three dogs for a half week’s stay.  They were off to Atlanta to visit their son Pete, ReNea and their four-year-old son, Mason.

It’s been about three  years since we lost our last dog.  Even though I miss not having an animal in the house, I don’t miss having to clean up the piles of hair that seem to float in the air landing on and under everything.  Nor do I miss the compulsory yard duty clean-up brought about by their presence.   It will be interesting to see how Ken does with three spunky dogs.  Meanwhile, Happy Holidays.

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