Helping The Sick

20 12 2008

Jim and I have been home from the hospital for two months.   I remember being in a daze our first day home.  I knew that Jim could never eat foods that were high in sodium again.  I also knew that his fat intake had to be monitored.  It was not that we over indulged in eating unhealthy foods but sodium is sneaky.  For example one tablespoon of ketchup has 7% of one’s daily sodium needs.  Now who wants to waste 7% of one’s daily sodium on a tablespoon of ketchup.  Those were the issues that I had to become an expert at.  So I was very uptight that first day and was extremely happy when a friend brought over a nice hot lunch for us.  She was very attuned to Jim’s health needs and cooked accordingly.  The word “attuned” is key here to helping those who are sick.  The caregiver needs encouragement along the way and I want to share a few suggestions.

First of all,  I have had numerous phone calls from people who told me to just let them know how they could help.  I know that their intentions were good but I for one will never tell anyone what our needs are.  I would be hesitant to ask anyone for help–accept perhaps my own flesh and blood children.   I got very frustrated by those calls and notes in cards.  There are things people can do without asking the caregiver’s thoughts.

Very close friends will usually ask what type of food can be eaten. That is exactly what my friend Hope asked me about.  And Hope was also very sensitive to my need for time out at the hospital.  Twice she came and took me out for a meal.   If one is not that close to the family but still concerned–gift cards to grocery stores are greatly appreciated.  Also just gifts of cash go along way to help.  While Jim was at Vanderbilt–I received cash from several sources.  The cash was used to help with my meals and I also shared it with my adult children’s gas expenses in driving back and forth to Vanderbilt.  It doesn’t have to be a great deal of money.  A $20 dollar bill placed in one’s hand is greatly appreciated. 

Visiting the sick is also very important.  However, when one gets home from the hospital–one is very consumed with many details.  It is best not to call or visit until about 10:00 in the morning.  This gives the caregiver time to make sure the patient has been fed and bathed.  Also it gives the caregiver a little time to wash dishes , put a load of laundry in the washing machine and do a little straightening up around the house.  I well remember the pressure I felt when Vera, our daughter, was recovering from a bad fall.  It took a great deal of time to get her ready for the day.  We had a very rigid schedule all day and I was very grateful when people called first before a visit. 

In my situation now with Jim–I have the responsibility of taking care of our home and yard.  Jim will never be able to do any physical taxing home chores again.  In such situations as mine–a great gift would be an offer to rake leaves in the fall or cut the grass in the summer. Of course these would be one time gifts—as I would never expect any one to do these things on a regular basis.  However, just lifting the burden as a one time gift means a great deal to the caregiver.  Even though I’m not a widow–I’m a widow now in some ways.  Jim can never be the strong man of the house again.  Thus, thinking about the needs of widows and care givers of sick husbands in practical ways will be greatly appreciated.

Caregivers can use time out from their patients.  Offer to come sit with the patient so the caregiver can get out  for awhile.  In my case, Jim can be left alone now but in the beginning I would not have left hime home alone for anything.  Vera was a big help in being my co-caretaker.  Not everyone is so fortunate.

I’m also blessed with having my adult children who can step in and help in many situations.  For instance, our kitchen plumbing went bad.  We had an awful link under the sink.  Our son was able to put new plumbing in for us.  Not everyone has a son who can do those kinds of things.  Thus, asking if there are any household problems to be fixed is another kind thing to do for a home where a woman is taking care of a sick husband.

But let me not just dwell on the needs of the aging.  Children who are very sick especially with cancer–need all kinds of encouragement.  Gifts of stuffed animals, coloring books and crayons etc are always appreciated.  Again, gift cards to pizza or hamburger fast food restaurants are always exciting to a sick child.  If a child has a long lasting illness–again time out for the caregiver is a must.  Volunteer to take care of the sick child so that parents can have some time to relax. 

Be creative.  Think about things that you can do to help others.  The Bible teaches us that caring for the poor, the sick and the needy is the right thing to do.  The Holy Gospels are full of such admonitions.  When we learn to do for others–we grow out of our self serving habits. 

Jim and I have always enjoyed reaching out to others in their times of need.  In fact, during our two months home from the hospital–we have enjoyed reaching out to others who are in need.  It is just the right thing to do.  Do you have any other ideas about helping the sick?  I would love to read them.

God bless each of you!


The Story Of Vera And Her Family, Chapter 26

20 12 2008

Perhaps the biggest adjustment that my niece and I had was over safety issues for her baby daughter, April.  My two dogs were not used to children.  Lucy was a chow mix and had no tolerance for children.  Sugar was a beagle mix and she would growl at April.  I wasn’t about to get rid of my dogs that had been a part of our lives since l990.  April had a playpen–so I insisted that April be put in the play pen unless Jean was free to watch her around the dogs.  This idea did not go over well with Jean.  She told me that April was not used to being in a playpen.  I realized that I had made a big mistake in not talking over the dog issue before Jean even bought a ticket to come to our home.  It was an issue that tried my patience sorely. 

I had to be at work at 7:30 a.m. each morning.  There was no one in the house to check to see if Jean was following my rule about the playpen.  I prayed about their safety each morning as I left our home.  On weekends, I did have the opportunity to make sure that the playpen rule was followed.   Jean was fond of putting April in her high chair while she cooked.  I was not happy about that at all because I knew the playpen could be moved around our home.

The friction just never ended in my relationship with Jean.  We had different views about cooking.  Jean liked to cook and her skills of cooking were marvelous. However, she didn’t like to clean up after herself instantly.  I had the view that when one cooked–clean up was an instant thing.  I didn’t like pots and pans in my sink.  I didn’t like anykind of mess in my kitchen.  We also differed greatly in our choices of meals to be cooked.  I really didn’t like Jean using my portable dishwasher.  It had a flaw of not releasing the final rinse water.  I had to turn the dishwasher off and fidget with it to be able to release the water.  She misunderstood me and thought I was just being a snob.  I just knew that I was the only one who knew how to deal with the dishwasher problem.

Meanwhile, the stress level was rising with the lady that I worked for.  She had just moved into a retirement village.  It was a very different culture for Mrs. T.  This retirement village was made up of well to do people who liked to socialize.  Many of the families had been social with each other long before they moved into the village.  Mrs. T , although well to do, had been a blue collar worker all of her life.  Her entrance into this retirement village was mainly because her wealthy daughter paid for this retirement home.  Mrs. T’s home was on the market and that money would be given to her daughter.  However, Mrs. T got to move right away even before her home sold.  Mrs. T had been  friends with a group of women who had had jobs like she had had.  They had a similar understand ing with each other.  In fact, one of my jobs was to take Mrs. T to eat breakfast at a certain restaurant each Friday morning with these lady friends. She was completely out of her culture in the retirement village.  Each day over our cup of coffee and snack she would tell me that she just couldn’t make friends at the village.  My heart ached for her.

The village offered bus trips to do fun things.  They also had a potluck the first of each month.  Mrs. T would have nothing to do with any of those events.  And her dog was another problem.  Even though she was allowed to have her dog–everyone around was afraid of Bonnie.  I walked Bonnie around the village but I had to keep a close guard over her because she would try to lunge at others trying to walk along the same pathway.  There was plenty of gossip about Mrs. T’s dog.  And one time when I was not there–Mrs. T attempted to take her dog out.  Bonnie bit the hand of someone and Mrs. T had to pay for the doctor’s visit.  The directors of the village insisted that Bonnie could no longer go for walks without having a harness around her face.  We looked all over town for a harness for Bonnie.  It seemed useless.  We were having no luck.  Finally, we found something but it was almost impossible to put it on Bonnie.  It was like a wrestling match and I was the one chosen to do the wrestling.  Finally, Mrs. T got permission for me to walk the dog without the harness.  However, she never attempted to take the dog out ever again.

I felt sorry for Bonnie because she had been used to having her backyard to play in.  Now she was limited to walks only when I was there.  Mrs. T developed a system of putting down plastic and throw rugs for Bonnie to use the bathroom.  She was constantly washing these throw rugs.  However, that was the way it was going to be.  I tried never to give my opinion because it only caused Mrs. T to become irritated with me.  I did like Mrs. T and all in all–it was a good job for me.  It just wasn’t fun to go home and find out what Jean and April had been doing all morning.

I had welcomed Jean and April with open arms but I found that I was not a patient person at all.  I was disappointed in myself.  Why couldn’t I just overlook things?  Well, there were safety issues for one –that always haunted me.  Then there were issues with laundry.  Jean washed a great deal for just two people.  My water bill sored to almost a $100.00 one month.  Then if we had forgotten something at the store she would expect us to go get it—immediately.

To be fair to Jean–we did had some great talks and we laughed a great deal together.  The tension was mounting between taking care of Mrs. T and having Jean and April in our home.  I was failing as a person.  I didn’t like the horrible character traits that I was seeing in myself.  And it wasn’t going to get much better.

Some Harsh Realities

11 12 2008

Death, cancer, diabilities of all kinds, unemployment etc don’t often give a warning that they are about to happen.  Sometimes if we are extremely in tune to our lives we can often sense a warning.  I know that I’ve had many such times.  Even so–I’ve missed some real warnings in my life.  It is not good to be naive about the harsh realities of life.  Dave Ramsey likes to talk about how Murphy’s law lives in our guest bedroom.  In other words, if we don’t do some preparing about our lives–we are often left with very deep problem solving in times of real crisis.

Sandy’s ( my oldest daughter) father-in-law died this past weekend.  Sandy and her husband, Rob, were in Memphis for a marathon.  They received the call around 6:00 a.m. on Sunday morning.  They had plans to enjoy a leisurely morning before heading home.  Instead, they had to gather their belongings fast and get on the road.  Sandy’s husband is his father’s power of attorney and he had to get things moving fast.  Later that day–I talked with Sandy and she told me that the funeral would cost about $12,000.  Rob’s dad had plenty of insurance and that was not a worry.  Through Sandy , I’ve learned that all wills are probated and that  the death is published in the paper for all creditors to see.  The creditors get their money before any is dispersed to the family.  Rob senior’s situation is not going to be an easy one because there are five grown children who want their share of the estate.  Rob junior is going to have a huge job to deal with.   Rob senior’s death struck another one of those “planning nerves” in my body.  I thought that all of our life insurance policies were in our lock box.  However, when I opened our box up–I was shocked to learn that they were not in the box.  I had to go searching for them.  I did finally find them and placed them in our lock bos.  Our wills were in our lock box.  Jim and I took a look at them and although they are adequate–they are not the best.  Thus, sometime soon–we will work on updating our wills.

Death is costly not only in the painful emotions that those who are left behind feel but it is also just plain earthly wise costly.  Life insurance  should be bought when one is young.  That is when it is the least expensive.  The more health problems one has–the more costly will be the policy.  Jim and I locked into our main policy when we were still fairly young.  Then when I was 48–I bought another small policy for myself.  Because I was beginning to have health problems–I could only aford a $25,000 policy.  I’m thankful that we have life insurance.  I would encourage all young people to get busy and purchase life insurance. 

Cancer is another issue.  There are some financial advisors who teach that cancer insurance is a waste of money.  They say that if one is coverd by health insurance –then no other insurance is necessary.  However, health insurance companies these days are making it harder for all of us. For instasnce,   this past year–for the first time in 15 years we had what is called a “bridge” to complete.  In other words, the company gave us the first $2.000.00 dollars then we had to pay the next $2,000.00 before the 80/20 percent kicked in.  We had chosen the inbetween plan.  However, the top plan was not much better.  This coming year we chose the lowest plan because Jim is on disability pay.  We won’t have to pay any of the premiums like we did with the inbetween plan. But this year the insurance will only pay the first $ 1000.00 then we will have a bridge of $4000.00 to pay before the 80/20 percent kicks in.  The insurance companies do this so people won’t go the doctor’s for minor complaints.  And even though we have benefited greatly through having medical insurance–we pay the equivalent to a car payment in medical bills each month.

So getting back to cancer–the standard health insurance is not going to pay much up front.  The benefit is not seen until one has paid a great deal out of one’s pocket.  With my cancer insurance–I got a check for just being diagnosed with cancer.  They also paid a part of my hospital stay when I had my masectomy.  Lastly, they have paid a good portion of my monthly medicine.  I would never have been able to afford my medicine with out my cancer insurance.  Our policy which we started at my husband’s workplace has only cost us $25.00 a month.  We were able to take it with us even though Jim will never go back to work.  The price did not go up –it is locked in at $25.00 a month.  So if your compnay offers you a cancer policy and ours was from Aflac–grab the opportunity. 

My last piece of advice would be to be faithful to saving money.  When Jim had to be at Vanderbilt for two weeks–I was able to put a check from my money market into my primary bank.  Even though Jim was still getting paid–the extra money was a help.  I didn’t want our daughter, Vera, to be in a lurch as she was paying our bills.  We haven’t always been people who saved money.  We got a late start in our lives but late is better than never.  So get started on some kind of savings plan.

Now I realize that I have people from different parts of the world who read my blog.  Many live in the UK where all medical bills are paid.  My advice  on medical insurance won’t mean much to my UK friends but my advice on savings and life insurance is for all people. 

We have watched Rob senior be in and out of the hospital for a decade now.  He had many lung and heart problems.  However, he has always been able to get back to work.  In fact, he was dressing for work on Sunday morning and just died instantly.  Death, cancer and other kinds of  illness can take any of us by surprise.  So get a will, some life insurance, start a savings account and buy some cancer insurance.  Be prepared.

God bless each of you!

An Aorta Adventure, Part 7

3 12 2008

We had one more major hurdle to get through before Jim could leave the hospital.  He wasn’t feeling well at all on Wednesday morning.  He was having awful pain in his urinary tract and thus could not urinate.  By 11:00 a.m. –his pain had hit a peak.  Regular pain medicine didn’t help him at all.  The nurse had to give him a shot of morphine.  Actually, that didn’t help much either.  Finally, an ultra sound was ordered.  The ultra sound revealed that his prostrate was enlarged.  Jim was put back on the catheter and was given a drug to help him urinate.  Almost immediately, his comfort level improved.  The plan was for Jim to get the catheter out by the next morning.

The plan went beautifully.  Jim never had any more problems urinating.  However, the doctor bottomed his blood pressure so low that they had to hook him back up to IV’S to get his blood pressure up to a normal level.  The doctor’s kept emphasizing that his blood pressure had to be no higher than 100 on the top.  However, they were not successful with their efforts unless they bottomed my husband out.  I wondered how I was so supposed to deal with such a crisis when we returned home.

Anyway, the plan was for Jim to leave on Friday.  So we had a little party on Thursday evening.  We walked to the nutrition station behind the nurse’s station and got some cereal, milk and juice.  Then we walked back to our room to celebrate that we would soon be home.  I pulled out whatever junk food I had left for my snack.  This was about 10:00 p.m.  Silently I prayed that nothing would prevent Jim was going home.  It had been a long stay and we were both restless to go home.

I have to say the counseling we got for our discharge was topnotch.  Not only did we get all of our instructions in print but we also got an hour’s worth of oral instruction.  We had also requested the hospital social worker to come and talk with us about social security disability benefits.  He gave us some printed material and also answered all of our questions.  Somehow, Jim and I both had a gut feeling that he would never return to work.  However, we tabled our final questions for his scheduled follow up in November.

Finally, we were able to leave the hospital.  Sandy came to pick us up.  We ate lunch at the Alektor Cafe and Book Store.  This is our absolute favorite place to eat when we visit Nashville.  It is an Orthodox booksore.  Fr. Parthenios and his wife Pres. Marion own the cafe.  Pres. Marion cooks most of the food.  Fr. Parthenios is always readily seen working on preparing all of the food orders.  Before we left the cafe–Fr. Parthenios had some special prayers for Jim. 

Our arrival home was full of merriment.  We had stopped by Sandy’s neighbor to get our grandchildren.  The boys were happy to see us.  John wanted to go with me to the pharmacy to get Jim’s medicine.  At that time–we had about 13 prescriptions.  Although Jim was tired–he was able to sit and visit with everyone.  We knew that we had a long road ahead of us but being home would hopefully help Jim to recover faster than a clinical environment.

On Saturday, our friend, Hope, cooked us a wonderful meal.  Our son and his wife also came for a visit.  The first weekend was rather rough on all of us but we soon learned to adapt and figure out better ways to make Jim comfortable.

I began taking Jim to walk each morning at the public library’s river walk.  We soaked in the Indian summer sun.  I would take a little snack for him to eat while we walked.  Or sometimes, we would take a break and he would eat his snack.  We did this faithfully the first three weeks Jim was home.  The Indian summer is gone now and the weather is getting harsh.  So we haven’t been walking as much.

Jim’s brother came for a visit from Iowa the first weekend in November.  Jim hadn’t seen his brother in 14 years.  His brother’s wife had recently died from a four year battle with cancer.  It was good being with Jim’s brother.  We took a ride into another county to visit an Amish store.  It had been so long since I had been to an Amish store.  We all enjoyed that so much.  Then down the road was an Amish bakery.  On our way back home we stopped and showed Jim’s brother the home we had wanted to buy in Todd County.  I, especially, had wanted to move but the door was closed on us.  Shortly after that disappointment, I found out I had breast cancer.  Our final stop was to visit some friends who used to be Mennonites but left their order.  They now farm and run a bookstore from their home.  It was great seeing this family again.  The oldest son was working on the addition they were building to their home.  The other five children were baking goodies in the kitchen.  They had made up enough cookie dough to feed an army.  However, that is the way to bake when one had a family of eight people.  We bought a few books from them and headed home.

Shortly after Jim’s brother left–it was time to visit Nashville again for Jim’s followup report.  Again, we got good counsel–about 90 minutes worth.  They told Jim that he would never be able to work again.  We were not shocked because after having experienced open heart surgery twice–it was very evident that Jim would not go back to his factory job. 

We were up front with Jim’s employer about his not returning to work.  Thankfully, they told us that the disability benefit was still his.  Jim had three weeks of vacation pay and one week of sick pay coming to him and then the disability checks would kick in.  At some point, Jim will apply for social security disability.  I’m making plans to go back to work after Christmas as a substitute teacher.  I know we will make it because we have lived frugally now for almost seven years.  It has been wonderful to be able to be home and take care of Jim for almost seven weeks now.  He has many computer interests that he hopes to continue working on.  He is not a blogger like I am but he loved the computer.  He also loved to read.  I’m happy that Jim will be able to be home now.  As long as he can keep his blood pressure under control–he should have many more good years of life.  I hope my story will be of help to others who are struggling with similar problems. 

God bless each of you!