In 1996, my mother, Phyllis, passed away. The last two years of her life held several hospital stays and an every-lessening level of energy. My responsibilities as her full-time care-giver were minimal – mostly keeping the house clean, taking her places including the grocery store and appointments with her doctors. At 76, she had called me and asked me to try to get a hardship transfer to a nearby facility to help her out. My father, whose eyesight was diminishing because of Macular Degeneration and other vision issues simply refused to admit he couldn’t see well enough to drive any more. She felt the stress of riding with him to town for shopping and medical appointments was aggravating her condition. Her doctors all agreed.
There was just so much to think about as my 70th birthday approached! Now, I’m not saying I haven’t thought through all the same things before. You may have even begun really thinking about them the day that first AARP membership card arrived in the mail. But if you’re like me at all, the 70th birthday seems like quite the milestone and brings its own joys, changes, and possibly even a fear or two. No matter what order these things belong in to you, this age is a milestone for me. If you’ll take a look at a blog I posted on QuickQuillGroup a few days ago, you’ll see why I decided to create this blog.
A Joy: Why is joy a milestone for me? It starts way back when I was a child. Once a year I came down with something. Since most of the time it was un-diagnosable, it got called scarlet fever, then pneumonia, then spinal meningitis, then “female” issues, then hypochondria. Remember, I said I came down with something about once a year. That is, until I arrived at the first big change in life – my teens. I won’t go into the frequency at which the episodes grew. That story is not short enough for this blog. However, at 16, suddenly the doctors found something: E-coli – a nasty bug seemingly wanting to take complete control of my physical person. The point is this: sometime during the first semester of my junior year in high school, my parents were told I wouldn’t live past 16 if I didn’t have surgery to remove an anomaly – a third kidney on my right side full of e-coli.
Obviously, I survived the surgery. Then my parents were told I wouldn’t make it past 25 because of the damage to my system from 16 years of infection. Okay – so this one is obvious also. My joy is in living at all and having made it for so long since.
On my fiftieth birthday I managed, through family members and the AMA, to find both the Internist who diagnosed the infection and the Nephrologist who removed the darn thing. It was a pleasant, but oddly sad reunion by email and phone. One of the doctors had experienced a left hemisphere stroke and couldn’t talk with me. We communicated through his son until his death about three years later. He was 91. The other physician, the original love of my life, even though he never knew it, lived at home with a full time care-giver driving family and staff crazy with his love of swimming and watching Washington Redskins football.
They’re both gone now. Those conversations twenty years ago, limited as they were, created a joyfulness in me that I will remember until the last.
Changes: My life has been full of changes. Some of them I’m proud of, some I’m not too proud of, and some I hope will be coming (bucket list, maybe??). Since my first day, I’ve spent time in Pittsburgh, PA, San Juan, PR, Alaska (my favorite and longest home), Hawaii, Florida, North Carolina, Washington (state and DC), Arkansas, and Missouri. My folks weren’t happy in one place for very long – Alaska was the place they stayed the longest until Dad retired. After that, they spent their time in Arkansas, North Carolina, and Florida. One of the changes, I found out many years after it happened, was why we left Alaska when I was 13. That entire change happened because of my medical needs. Neither of my parents told me about this until many years later. My dad sacrificed his flying (the real love of his life) because the doctors in Alaska in 1960 didn’t have access to the high level of medical care I required. It’s very different now in the larger towns/cities of Alaska, but then the critically ill were taken to the “Lower 48”.
A lot happened between then and my 40’s. Somewhere in my late 40’s I went from the adult version of a spoiled only child to a care-giver. (That’s for another blog – maybe!)
At 47, I became a full-time caregiver. Now that was a change! This post is not long enough to go into the number of changes and how they affected my thought processes and live in general. Suffice it to say, it was a more comprehensive learning experience than I’ve ever experienced before. Within this one experience, I experienced the joy of knowing my parents would never have to go through the nursing home experience. I’ll talk about the “whys and wherefores” in future posts.
Fears: There’s a lot more detail that could be added to that story – pages and pages actually. I’ll let it go at that point so I have room to touch on the last part of this milestone – fears.
I’m never been exactly fearless, even if my parents thought I was a daredevil at times. At other times, they couldn’t understand my inability to act. For me, the form of internal fear has changed as I’ve grown older. Until I became a full-time caregiver, I fully trusted doctors and hospitals. I never questioned decisions on surgery, treatment, or medical advice. Now I have many reservations that guide me now in my decision making. I’ve come to realize the medical profession is full of people who care, but also some who are not in it to help the individual patient. When my Dad fell and broke his hip, his doctor made disparaging remarks about him to other employees of the hospital. It came home to me in spades that day – medical professionals work for us, the patients. I fired that doctor as publicly as he insulted my father. It took every ounce of strength I could muster, finely tempered with the anger at the man’s words, to break through my envelope and stand up for my father who lay in a hospital bed in excruciating pain with a broken hip.
Now the form of the fear is very personal. I’ve not always been cautious of my health even though I knew of the congenital heart condition my Mom lived with from her late 50’s until her death at 78. My grandmother had some of the same issues. Other women in my grandmother’s family had a similar issue. I just found out I have it, too. Time has allowed the creation of new ways of treating and controlling the condition, some medical, some homeopathic. That knowledge doesn’t totally alleviate the feelings of fear I feel when the atrial chambers of my heart start to shimmy and shake out of rhythm.
There are quite a few reasons for the fears now. I think, though, that I have learned from the past. From taking care of others, reading and writing about anything and everything that interests me, and researching everything I’m told about my health, I plan to work hard to be wiser about my health choices.
Although I have these fears, I also have things to look forward to and work for in my lists. One thing I don’t do is sit around and let them get to me. Okay, so there are times when the fears take over my emotions. Now I can admit that another change took place – the realization I can still fight back and enjoy life although it may not be at the speed of light any more. I just have to accept that life can still be fun at a slower pace.