Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Blessed are the Caregivers

Much attention is being given these days to the many auto-immune diseases cropping up. There seem to be new ones discovered everyday. When I was small, one of the frightening diseases that had an abundance of attention was polio. I remember it well. My mother first became ill with a little heard of illness back then called myasthenia gravis. Not many years later, one day she was hit by the dreaded disease of polio. I remember my mom and little brother having to go stay with my grandmother about an hour away all day everyday except the weekend. My mother was completely bedridden for several months. I was left next-door with my best friend's mother. She was such a good caregiver to a scared little girl. My dad was so grateful because he was finishing up college after getting out of the navy and I was in school. My dear friend's mother, Betty, was so tender with me and treated me just like one of her own. Although I was not sick, I was surely anxious about my mother being gone and all that was going on.

I waited for weekends when my dad would load me in the car with him and we would go so that we could visit my mother and he could take over the care giving. My dad was a rather stern man who wanted to be sure we children grew up to make him proud and I had never seen him so tender as he was with my mother. No task was too lowly. He didn't know how closely I was watching him and seeing a wonderful side of him that he didn't let show that much, the tender side.

Mom eventually moved to a wheelchair and later to a walker and a cane. My dad would drop us off to go shopping and it was always my job to be the lookout caregiver for my mom. In other words, I was to watch and make her sit and rest when she got tired and just help out with everything that she might need while out shopping. I loved shopping with my mom and I never knew that me watching out for my mom was any different than other kids did at that time. The older we got the closer shopping buddies we became. It was always a fun thing and never a chore for me.

But I was surely watching my dad and learning that he showed tons of love in his caregiving through the years. He showed his love by "doing" rather than by being a touchy, feely kind of dad. We always knew we were loved because he had a servant's heart.

Later when my oldest baby was 15 months old, he (my baby Bryan) and I were in a terrible car wreck. I was on my way to take him to my mom's so that we could take him to the doctor the next day because it was a bit of a trip. Suddenly another car appeared in my lane and all I could do was swerve into the center wall. That is all that saved us we were later told. The man that hit us was asleep and driving down the wrong lane. What a God-thing that Dr. Bill Magee from "Operation Smile" was on duty. Bryan had to have three hundred stitches in three layers of his head. You see Dr. Magee on the television often now but back then he was only well known on the east coast. When Bryan came home from the hospital, he and I stayed with my mom and dad while Bill went back to work. At night, Bryan's little head had to be held just so or the tubes in his head would be shut off, so my sweet dad slept every night with him in the crook of his arms. Boy, if you had trouble or needed care, my dad was the one to call.

While dad took care of Bryan, my mom was taking care of me. I had broken every bone in my mouth and left a few teeth in the steering wheel. She fixed meal after meal of eggs, egg omelets, soup, soft mashed potatoes. It was a long time and many surgeries later before I could eat normal food.

My wonderful husband would come over on weekends and do as much as he could do. He made a mean egg omelet. All of this while we didn't know we were learning for later when I would be the one who would be sick and he would be the caregiver. But we had great models in my parents.

In my late late thirties, I started having lots of pain and lots of it was in my neck and shoulders. It just wouldn't go away. Fortunately for me, my family doctor was an expert on fibromyalgia/chronic fatigue disease and all the host of other afflictions that come out of the Pandora's box called Fibromyalgia. It took years though to find good therapy. I was in pain clinics and trying all different things for the pain. As I got worse, Bill had to take over more and more with doing chores that had been mine to do. He had taken good care of me when I got home after the wreck but that was only a few months. That was only a taste of what was to come.

It finally got to where I was so tired that I could hardly do any chores or even do my favorite things such as shopping and playing the piano or standing to sing in the piano.
At this time, Bill is in a position to have to do most everything from cooking, to cleaning, to chauffering me. And he is a very unselfish and loving caregiver. I didn't want to be a person who needed my husband and parents to take care of me after I was grown. I wanted to be independent and healthy. After some years of teaching deaf children, I quit so that I could help my own children with their work and still accomplish some things. But God knew, I believe, even at that time, that the less stress I was under, the better off I would be health wise. That would certainly prove to be true. I continued to get worse.

On top of that I had two shoulder surgeries,knee surgery, back surgery and three kidney sugeries plus many, many injections for pain and to try and make the "trigger points" on my back less painful. Bill has had to literally carry me down long winding steps when we were in seminary because I bent over and couldn't get up. As he carried me down those steps, who should walk by but the president of the seminary. I'm sure that if it didn't give him visions of "Gone With the Wind" that it at least made him think that this aspiring young minister really loved his wife. We have laughed over that many times. Actually, he was taking me to the hospital where they gave me multiple shots of morphine so that I would be able to get on my feet and get home. Once Bill cared for me for nine weeks when
I was recovering from back problems and my Kristalyn who was less than a year had to be completely cared for by others. Bryan was only three years old. We were blessed to get a lady to come and stay while Bill was at work and then he would come home, cook and take care of us.

At this point of my life, I don't know if I will ever win the battle with this disease. Only my precious Father knows that. He made me, so surely He is the only one Who knows how He is going to be using me in the future years. I taught Bible studies for about thirty years until I no longer had the strength to do the preparation for those even though I could prepare a lot in the bed. I just could no longer depend on what my physical abilities were going to be from day to day so I had to take a break. At this point, I am doing some counseling and some writing. I always liked writing and won contests on essays in school but that was just not the calling God had for me at that time. Now it may be a door that He is opening. Sometimes, God calls us to use other gifts as we go along on this journey called life.

Now it may seem that I have jumped back and forth from illustrations of caregivers and care needers and you would be right on that. Of course all of the doctors, nurses and babysitters were wonderful, but they never had to take care of me on a full time basis. Bill, my sweet husband has advanced from making pizzas and hamburgers to chicken parmagiana and other dishes. If any of you have some simple dishes, we are a little tired of our recipes and need some new ones. I wasn't even in any shape to help him in the planning of the meals area. Through all of these years, I have thanked the Lord for the servant spirit in my full time caregiver husband, Bill. I had seen it modeled at home as a child but never when I was the patient and it seemed so long term and never ending as it seems we find ourselves now.

Let's face it: caregivers get tired. Most men don't grow up to be the main cook in the family especially if it were not by choice. He's cared for me after countless surgeries and done so much for me when I knew he was tired and bored from this never ending routine. He has many health problems, too, but he is the most physically able to take care of things. We were dreaming today that we had somewhere just to get out of the house for a week and go to the beach or the mountains. But most of our budget, in spite of insurance, goes to the medical industry and the grocery stores! We enjoy each other and that is a plus but sometimes both care needers and caregivers have to "get out of Dodge' and just have some different scenery for a few days. We are desperately in need of that, too, but if God thinks we need it, I guess He will prepare a way for that, too, for He is the greatest Caregiver of them all and He has enabled my caregivers to keep going even when it is tough.

So thanks to my parents, all of our doctors and nurses through the years, my sweet husband who has had me on his hands to care for during a great deal our 37 years of marriage. There has been a lot of joy but a lot of being cut off from things we would like to do and places we would like to go. So this is a gift to my parents and my sweet husband and all of you other caregivers out there. I'm sure that your reward will be great in heaven if you belong to Jesus Christ.

I dedicate this article to the caregivers in my life, especially in these last years to my husband, and to my Heavenly Caregiver who knows my frame intimately because He formed me it the first place.

Caregivers work hard and IF you are blessed, they do it so as not to make the person being cared for feel like a burden. Maybe you have a caregiver that you need to thank today!

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