January 9, 2011 | Leave a Comment

K sits askew in her oversize recliner. At 92, she is so small and frail that I am reminded of one of the characters Lily Tomlin played in Laugh-In—Edith Anne–she too was dwarfed by her chair. K is askew because her scoliosis bends the center of her body sharply forward so much that the back of her head does not touch the chair unless it is fully reclined—-and the severe and excruciatingly painful arthritis in her neck tilts her head 50 degrees to the left. There is a rolled up towel wrapped around her neck. I recently heated this up for her to ease the pain.

She is watching television. On it is a commercial for some weight-loss product. A middle-aged man is standing sideways in front of a mirror. He pulls up his shirt to reveal a too-large tummy. He frowns from the television screen. K giggles. I wonder what is running through her mind. Is it some of the thoughts of her late husband–now gone over 10 years? I glance at a picture of him and her taken over 60 years ago. She is dressed in a white, airy dress–he in his Army uniform. She is dazzlingly beautiful and has a small smile on her face. He is ruggedly handsome and looks to me like a man who is exceedingly proud to be married to this lady.

K shifts in her chair. This is a slow-motion exercise that involves placing each hand on the chair seat and pushing. She accomplishes perhaps a 1/2 inch change in position. My mind tells me to help her, then reminds me that I must let her do as much of what is left that she still can do. Don’t interfere. You will know when it is time to help.

I have been K’s caregiver for almost 19 months now. To accomplish this, I have left my wife and children on the mountain where we have lived for over 30 years. I have spent five and one half months renovating a two bay garage at K’s house to move my business here. Five and one half months with almost no income. I have not done all these things because I want praise, nor has my family suffered the endless strains created by my absence and by the need to be my logistical support, while taking care of K’s business affairs at the same time. I have done this–we have done this–because it is the right thing to do. My wife, K’s daughter, watched her father waste away in a nursing home for seven and one half years after his stroke. I watched my mother drift off with Alzheimer’s for 11 years. We are doing this because of those experiences and because it is the right thing to do.

K coughs, then swallows. This is the technique we have recently been taught by her Visiting Nurse speech pathologist. It allows her to swallow her food. More basically, it allows her to swallow, period, a reflex that has been dulled by her posture and several mini strokes. I remember how worried I became when this swallowing snafu reached the point that her food intake became much too small for survival. At that point, I had K taken to the hospital where, for a week, specialists did every conceivable test and found no cause. She emerged from that experience badly weakened, unable to walk without her walker and two people helping. For the first time since I came to help her, I was unsure of her prospects for survival. Fight it, fight it. Don’t let the downslide win. Beef up the meals. Increase their frequency. Puree better. More food, more Ensure. Exercise. Do the swallowing practice sheet. Think about any other possibly helpful things you could do and are not. Do this at three AM when your workday begins in the new shop. Think, think.

After two weeks, K gains some ground. She can now walk with her walker and one person. I point out this gain to her. She doesn’t believe it. I tell her believe it and keep fighting. At some point, some time, everyone is called home. This isn’t her time, not yet (I hope), not on my watch.

It is eight-thirty in the evening. The lady that comes to get K to bed has left. I walk down the hall to K’s room, take her hand, tell her I love her and will see her in the morning. Sleep well. As she does every night at this time, K thanks me for all that I do. I tell her that she is welcome, that it’s my honor to do so.

Goodnight K. The morning is coming so very soon.



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