Continuation of Home Alone
Before Dan left on Wednesday evening, he said that I “could only have Barb through Sunday morning” since he’d planned a surprise birthday trip for her. Knowing I’d probably be acclimated within a couple of days, I said “Okay.” Additionally, I was cleared to go back to work part-time on Monday, so I knew I’d be busy the following week, commuting from my bedroom to my home office – a whopping 30 seconds – and most likely, tired from getting up-to-speed on work assignments.
It was a relief when it was just Barb and I in the house. I could “think” without distractions. But first, I needed to have Barb help me remove some of the bothersome items scattered throughout the house, like Rich’s Island Transit bag, cushion, and jacket in the front room, where weeks earlier he would have donned it in the early hours before starting his shift.
The rest of his uniform was in the bathroom by our spare bedroom. I could see his boots on the floor and knew the rest of his uniform was hanging behind the door. I asked Barb to stash them in a corner of a closet so they wouldn’t remind me of what was and could never be again. It was distressing to see them, knowing how much Rich enjoyed driving a commuter bus on Whidbey Island, and helping people when he drove paratransit buses.
A week before our accident, Rich had finally secured a fixed-route and wouldn’t have to call each day to get his schedule. He’d worked hard during the previous nine months to move off extra-board, in which he filled in for drivers who were on vacation or sick.
After gathering up and hiding Rich’s bus paraphernalia, I was ready for bed. The entire time I’d been home, I’d only seen one of our five cats. I was hoping they’d show up when I turned off the lights. After putting on my pajamas, I easily got into bed, relieved we had a single mattress on a low-bamboo frame.
When I broke my pelvis in 2007, Rich bought and set up a queen-sized bed in our family room. Consisting of a box spring and mattress on a metal frame. It was way too high for me to scoot myself onto. He had to remove the metal frame and put the box spring and mattress on the floor.
While I told Barb I was super tired, she kept coming into the bedroom and waking me up, asking, “Are you awake,” or “Do you need anything?”
I then smelled cigarette smoke, recalling the ashtrays I’d seen on the deck and patio of our Mount Vernon house. Normally, I wouldn’t be concerned, but Barb has severe glaucoma. Her loss of vision and inability to be in sunlit rooms (and especially outside) became readily apparent in the coming days.
It was frightening to think she was wandering across our lumpy lawn – with just the moonlight for guidance – to the edge of the bluff to smoke. If she’d fallen, there was no way I would have known or been able to help!
Equally troubling, after I got into bed, the cats started popping up from underneath, like prairie dogs, surveying the vista. A few ventured onto the bed, but every time Barb walked by or came into my room, they quickly scrambled. Grumble.
Attempts to remain calm during exacerbation
It’s important to preface that Barb is a cheerful woman with positive energy, interesting observations, and maternal instincts. Now in her 70’s, she used to oversee vocational training for high schoolers with special needs. She’s consequently very patient and finds humor in everyday occurrences.
I’m the opposite. I seek perfection with little tolerance for missteps. As Rich says, “I’m my own worst enemy.” I’m also rigid in how I want things done.
With her poor eyesight, Barb initially had troubles figuring out our kitchen sink faucets – one for tap and the other for filtered water. She kept turning on the faucets full blast, which is okay if you have city water, but not good if your water is from a well, and expensive.
She was equally confused by our stove, which is induction and requires tapping several buttons to turn it on. Because Lila and the other cats tend to walk across the stove, we keep it locked so they can’t inadvertently turn it on.
Using induction, the stove requires special cookware. Anything with a Teflon or non-stick coating won’t heat up correctly. Barb wanted to make me a grilled cheese sandwich, which can be challenging, using a stainless-steel frypan. We still haven’t figured out how to cook an egg without it sticking, let alone a grilled cheese sandwich.
I recommended Barb use the microwave, but she insisted on using the stove. She was successful, but not without using several tablespoons of margarine to prevent the bread from sticking.
Being unfamiliar with our kitchen, she kept putting hot pans on our granite countertops. With patches of crystals and lots of imperfections, our counters are prone to cracking and chipping. We therefore use silicon hot pads when putting something hot or warm on the granite, and wooden cutting boards for preparing food. This concept was confusing to Barb who was focused on cooking, and not coddling our granite counters.
She was more successful cooking a piece of salmon she brought; although, I had my doubt since she used mayonnaise. Nevertheless, it was delicious, and I ate half. The next day, I cooked some spinach from our garden, and wanted to put the leftover salmon on top. Barb, however, took out of the refrigerator – and proceeded to put on my spinach – the canned salmon meant for Jujube who’s become finicky in his old age.
Happily, I was able to wash off the spinach, and put on the salmon meant for human consumption.
The excitement continued. After removing some clothes from the dryer, I put the lint on the laundry room sink until I could wheel over and place it in the trash. Seeing the lint, Barb started “cleaning” the laundry room sink with it, perhaps thinking it was a sponge or paper towel.
Fortunately, I noticed what she was doing before she could coat the sink with lint.
Another time, she wanted oatmeal for breakfast, so I used my walker to hobble over to the pantry. Using two hands, I placed the large glass jar of oatmeal on the floor. I then inched it from the pantry to the kitchen, leaning over the walker and nudging it with one hand, then standing up and hopping on one leg. The effort took several minutes.
After seeing the jar of oatmeal on the kitchen island, Barb decided she really didn’t want any, but perhaps I did!
For most of the day, she poured, heated, reheated, and forgot about cups of coffee. She’d often take a cup outside, and I was convinced that after I recovered and went outside, I’d find cups throughout the garden.
The tour de force of lunacy was on the second full day of her stay. In the morning, she started complaining about being constipated, saying “This always happens when she’s away from home.” I encouraged her to eat something with roughage, such as an apple.
Throughout the day, she continued to lament her blockage. I recommended she drive my car to Red Apple, a small grocery store 5 miles away in Coupeville, and get a laxative. However, because it was early June when the days are long and the sun bright, she couldn’t drive with her glaucoma.
By late afternoon, exhausted with her complaining, I said I’d drive her to Red Apple. Using a crutch, I made it down the two steps into the garage, and then used my walker to get into the car. Fortunately, there was nothing wrong with my right leg or cognition to preclude me from driving.
Driving to the grocery store, I was surprisingly calm and confident. I stayed in the car while Barb shopped for what she needed. When she returned, I asked if Red Apple had a selection of laxatives, since it’s a small store. She replied, “I don’t take that crap.”
After getting home, I reversed the process, using the walker from the car to the garage steps, the crutch to get up the stairs and the walker, which I’d easily placed inside the door, to hop to the safety of my wheelchair.
Barb had placed her bag of groceries on the floor of the entry hall. When I passed by it, I noticed she bought a pack of Kool cigarettes along with a large container of prune juice.
Of course, the prune juice didn’t work, and until she left on Sunday morning, I continued to hear about her blockage. Imagine me, having to show empathy for Barb’s challenges while wheelchair incapacitated with a sizable metal brace on my left leg, emotionally and physically exhausted, and counting the hours until I can gulp two more extra strength Tylenol since I’d stop taking oxycodone a week earlier.
Going pee was a major undertaking, starting with getting unstuck from behind my desk by sharply turning one wheel of my wheelchair, and barely turning the other one, then going forward slightly, and repeating the process until I could easily roll out backwards.
It often took multiple tries to extricate myself with a tight fit between my desk – with my left leg restrained in a cumbersome, elevated footrest – and a wall of drawers and cupboards.
Once free-wheeling, I’d roll to the bathroom, position my walker in front of the wheelchair, set the wheelchair brakes, use my hands to lift my left leg off the footrest and put it onto the floor, pull myself up, using my arms on the wheelchair, and my right leg on the floor, reach for the walker, hobble into the bathroom, and then stand on one leg, lower my pants and undies, reach back for the “safety handles” recently installed on our toilets, and lower myself down.
Standing up from the toilet wasn’t difficult but pulling up my undies and pants could be challenging while balanced on one leg with one hand on the walker for balance. I’d then hobble to the sink to wash my hands before returning to the safety of my wheelchair.
It was no picnic, and hearing of Barb’s troubles didn’t ease my frustration, exhaustion and discomfort. Additionally, Barb often responded with “ugghhh.” For instance, she asked what the EMTs did and what happened in the emergency room. I couldn’t provide much detail beyond they put in IVs, monitored my vitals, ran diagnostic tests, such as sliding me through a CT scanner, and cut off my clothes. The latter produced an “ugghhh.”
I tried to explain sitting up and taking off my clothes while in blinding pain or keeping my clothes on while they tried to assess my injuries wasn’t an option, but she kept saying “ugghh” and how she wouldn’t allow anyone to cut off her clothes.
Equally “ugghh-worthy” were the multiple open wounds on my left leg, which needed to be bandaged daily with gauze and paper tape. Indeed, the deep puncture wound from my broken tibia crashing through the front of my calf was heinous, but the commentary on its appearance didn’t lessen the task of carefully monitoring it for infection and ensuring it remained clean. After watching Barb struggle, given her poor eyesight, to place the gauze on the wound without touching it with her fingers, I opted to care for the wound myself!
Spying brings comfort
Long before our accident, Rich had installed cameras throughout our house to spy on the cats. He’d check on them from his smart phone. It came in handy when we were sailing in Canada in early May. The pet sitter couldn’t locate all the cats, and we were able to spot them, viewing the cameras early in the morning or late afternoon when the cats were most active.
Once I got home from Providence Mount St. Vincent, I knew that Rich was using the cameras to watch me when I was in bed and in the office. I could sense his presence, even though I knew his understanding of what had occurred was limited. During this time, he was slowly getting back his memory and reasoning after his aneurysm surgery.
I didn’t tell Barb until Saturday, the evening before she left, that Rich was probably watching us via the cameras.
While she was taken back by this development, I was happy that Rich was able to observe me, even though his ability to carry on an intelligible conversation was temporarily compromised. I focused on “temporary,” even though the reports from Stacey were to the contrary.
When I first got home, Stacey reported that Rich may not be allowed to drive for six months because of his brain injury. I couldn’t fathom Rich tolerating being chauffeured by me or using Island Transit paratransit. Whenever we’d go anywhere, he was always the one who drove.
Another dire forecast was that Rich’s mental faculties might never return, and for the rest of my life, I’d be childminding a 6’3” man with the intellect of a 3-year old. Because my conversations with Rich continued to be scattered, there was no way for me to gauge his recovery, which added to my anxiety.
On several occasions, I totally “lost it,” screaming into the phone, crying hysterically, racing through the house in my wheelchair, or hopping around in my walker with little regard for my safety. I struggled to eat, sleep, and remain sane, overcome with the horror that I might be a pseudo widow, working, overseeing household and gardening chores, paying the bills, and in-between monitoring and caring for Rich.
When I got frustrated doing something, such as emptying, refilling, and placing the cats’ water bowl on the floor, using my walker, balanced on one leg with one arm on the walker, and one holding the water bowl, Barb would say, “Wait until Rich gets home. He’s so smart. He’ll figure it out.”
I wanted to scream – wait, I did scream – Rich’s brain is fried. His memory and common sense are in hibernation with no signs of spring in sight.
It came as a relieve when Sunday morning arrived. After three full days with Barb, I graciously thanked her for her help, humor and compassion, wishing her a fabulous birthday celebration and trip.
I will always be grateful to her for coming to my aid at the last minute. There was no way I would have been released to come home unless someone was staying with me. None of my friends, and certainly no one in my family, would be willing to drive (or fly) up to Whidbey Island to care for me. Almost all my relatives live in California.
Barb was a lifesaver who will always have a special place in my heart.
For the rest of Sunday, I napped with a pile of cats on top of me. All of them had finally emerged from their hiding spot once the house was empty of visitors. Later in the day, we migrated to the living room where we watched silly movies and I was inundated with their need for attention.
Sunday evening, I also had a great conversation with Rich, which fortified my hope he’d eventually be okay.