Would you like to know what it means to be a caregiver?
It means always…ALWAYS putting them first.
I’m sorry you had to see me like that today.
I try to keep that side of me hidden from the rest of the world. Well, except Matthew. He has seen it a few times. If only I had known you were going to walk in, I would have pulled it together before you saw me. You seemed shocked to see me like that.
It doesn’t happen all the time. Well, actually, that’s not true… it seems to be happening more frequently lately. Maybe it’s the holidays? Maybe it’s my birthday that is fast approaching? Maybe it is all the what if’s, the why’s, or the somedays….Trust me, if I could figure out how to get it under control, I would. I would do anything to numb this…to make it stop…I wish I could make it go away.
I wish I could describe what it is like. It is so strange, especially in the moment. One minute, life is fine and then, before I know it, I am just so angry. I didn’t mean to let it happen. Sometimes these emotions just seem to overpower me.
Today though…today was different.
I was so tired this morning.
I just wanted to sleep. Matthew wanted to sit up. It wasn’t even 6 o’clock in the morning. Then I remembered…the house was a mess and my list of to-do’s is piling higher and higher. I know, I know…I will always have so much to do, but today….today, it just seemed overwhelming. My wrists and hands were already aching..and I remembered that it’s a “Shower Day.”
Matthew wants to sits up, but less than ten minutes later, he wants to go back to sleep. I am sorry. I know I shouldn’t be complaining. After all, I can still sit up. He can’t.
I know. This isn’t about me. I am not the one dying….There is no reason for me to be so irritated, right?
Sometimes, with every little need, from him…from my children…from everyone around me, I feel selfish for wanting something for myself. I want to ask what happens to me when I need something? What then? But I shouldn’t think like that…should I?
I am the one who must get up, take his mask off…then wait till he decides if he wants to go back to sleep or not.
I am the one who has to reach for the cup to give him a drink.
I am the one picks him up and transfers him.
I am the one who helps him use the bathroom.
I am the one who feeds him.
I am the one who covers him when he is cold.
I am the one…
Today wasn’t any different than yesterday. And it won’t be any different than tomorrow.
But today, with each little need, and want or request, and with each thought of what I should get done: the shopping, the cleaning, the errands, the bills, the appointments, the kids, the animals, the cooking, the showering, rearranging the garage, finish the Christmas decorations, the homework….
It just seemed like so much.
And I snapped..
I never said a word. No outward reaction could be seen. But inside, I was seething.
I became so angry.
So angry, that if someone had said something to me in that exact moment…I could see myself going insane!
There was a big possibility that would have seen my face splashed across the newspapers, “Caregiver and wife of man with ALS has gone BESERK! Aggravated Assault and Battery Charges have been filed!”
I laid there, trying to force myself back to sleep. But soon the kids were running through the house, the doors were slamming,.the footsteps were stomping…and then with a quick kiss, they were gone.
Too quiet. Too easy to think, to remember, to analyze, to contemplate, and then over-react.
What was it my therapist told me?
“Anger is really just a mask for sadness and fear. It’s easier and more powerful to feel anger. Imagine when you finally admit what you are really feeling.”
I check with myself.
Yep, that is a whole lotta anger, ready to come pouring out of every cell in my body.
Instead of the rush of endorphins…the rage…instead, I realize…he is right.
I am not angry…I am sad
I am so unbelievably sad, and scared.
And just like that…I begin to cry.
I fall into a million pieces.
I am sorry that you walked in during the part where I was trying to put myself back together.
That probably wasn’t a pretty sight for anyone to have to witness.
It’s okay though.
I spent the day gluing all those cracks and crevices together.
I can’t say that I am back to my usual self. There were a lot of pieces today.
And I can’t say I am going to sit in the emotion of sadness anytime soon. Apparently, that is a powerful emotion.
Instead, I turned it back into anger.
Anger I can manage.
Anger I can control.
Anyway, I just wanted to tell you I am sorry. I hate when someone sees that side of me. It feels far too vulnerable, and too much to have to burden someone else with. And I just wanted to apologize for bothering you…
Let’s just pretend this never happened…what do you say?
❤ Matthew Wild
There is not much more he can do these days, but to wait.
He knew the disease would slowly take his ability to move. A few days after his diagnosis, every website that explained the disease in gruesome detail explained to him what to expect. He would steadily become a prisoner in his own body. There would be no cure, no treatment to slow this process down, and no one with answers as to why this was happening.
The days would pass, as they often do. Lives go on, people come in and out of his world, but still…he waits.
He is locked inside what was once a six-foot two-inch frame, of broad shoulders and the strongest of legs…legs that had easily ran up mountains, swam in oceans, and walked with confidence through any door. His fingers have curled, the tendons and bones are all that are left to show hands that had once caressed his wife’s body. His arms lay at his side. He no longer fights the urge to raise his arm to scratch an itch.
Instead, he calls out for someone to come wipe his eyes, to reposition certain body parts, to adjust and to maneuver.
And he waits…
His legs spasm, not in pain, but in the normal progression of the disease. He glances down at his feet.
There is nothing normal about this.
His toes are beginning to resemble his fingers as they too, curl inward. The disease has ravaged his feet. He stares at his toes, willing them to wiggle, to move, anything to prove that he hasn’t lost that small little ability.
Nothing. No movement.
He glances up.
Rolling his head from side to side, he feels the heaviness that is slowly taking hold. He knows what is coming.
Soon, the weight of his head will be too much.
He stares out the window.
There is a bustle of noise coming from the kitchen. Pots and pans clanking, the scraping of spoons as they are stirred by someone else. Someone else who can move easily from one task to another.
The familiar pang of sadness at his loss begins to creep into his consciousness. He closes his eyes.
He has been waiting. Waiting and wondering when the time comes that the smells that come from the kitchen become intolerable. He wonders how long he will have to wait before he can no longer chew the food that someone else places into his mouth. His jaw is already sore. It is getting harder to speak, and to chew.
Someone calls out his name.
The footsteps grow louder. The door opens.
He has been waiting.
Waiting for someone to come and wheel the metal arm closer to the bed. To hook each loop into the bar, and effortlessly pick him up.
He glances at the reflection in the mirror.
Legs dangling, a large sling wrapped around his body, as he hangs helplessly from the air. He looks away. He knows what he looks like. He is naked, in the most vulnerable way a man can be. There is no covering him. He is long past embarrassment, but the vision of seeing his reflection staring back at him and being incapable of covering his most private of areas, is difficult to see, even for him.
Someone pushes and grunts and pulls to maneuver his body back into his wheelchair.
He waits patiently for the metal arm to slowly place him into a sitting position in his wheelchair. A blanket has been laid gently on his lap, his teeth are brushed, and his pills have been swallowed. One of the pills catches on the way down, causing him to cough and choke.
Quickly, someone grabs the small machine and hose that is never far from reach. The machine is meant to simulate a person coughing.
He waits and tries not to feel claustrophobic as the mask is tightly pressed against his mouth and nose. He couldn’t protest if he wanted to. The machine forces air so hard into his mouth and lungs, his cheeks swell against the mask. A click of the machine, and the reverse happens, as the air is pulled, almost violently from his body. It is the only way his body can cough. Over and over again, this procedure is done, the machine straining, as it forces air in and back out again.
His airway clear again, he can breathe.
The momentary adrenaline rush at the lack of air moving fluidly through his body slows as his heartbeat returns to normal once more.
He is wheeled out into the kitchen. Someone has prepared dinner. His meal looks less than palatable. Soft foods so as not to choke again. He sighs…He waits while someone sits down next to him, grabbing a fork and begin to gracefully place the food onto the prongs and then lift it to his mouth. He opens his mouth…chews the food, moving it around his mouth, a bit of anxiety and hope that he can swallow this bite without choking again. Small bites. Slowly….he swallows.
He needs a drink. Watching, he leans forward with his head, lips outstretched towards the glass.
The effort is exhausting. He shakes his head. His jaw is tired. The water dribbles down his chin.
He waits for someone to grab a napkin and wipe up the droplets hanging, threatening to spill beside the bits of food he had been unable to hold in his mouth, that are now laying in his lap. He waits for everyone around the table to finish their meal.
He maneuvers back into the bedroom to watch television. Someone else needs to get ready for the day. The children are all running, a cluster of excitement as they get ready to leave and go about their busy lives. He positions himself in front of the screen.
He waits for everyone to say “goodbye” as they run out the door. A quick kiss to the forehead, and the door slams behind them. He listens to the stillness of the house.
The caregiver walks in. She swiftly picks up the remote, points it towards the wall, and clicks on the tiny buttons to the channels he prefers. The television has become his only outlet and escape from this disease. It is all he can do to pass his time now. He can lose himself in make believe for just a while. For just a moment, he doesn’t have to think about what he needs, what others do for him. He wants to go out. He feels trapped…trapped inside the house, and inside his body.
He watches the hours pass. Eight more hours before someone else comes to tell him about their day at work or running errands. Nine more hours before the kids arrive. Ten more hours and everyone will gather for another meal around the table. Twelve more hours and he can go back to bed.
He waits for a text message, an email, a phone call. Anything that shows that he is still participating in his life. He seldom hears from those who had once been so close to him. He wonders if they think about him. He understands that the world kept turning, he just isn’t turning with it.
He waits for visitors that never come. He wants to ask them to stop by, to sit and tell him about all the new experiences they are having. He supposes they feel guilty. He knows he makes them uncomfortable now. If, and when an old friend pops in for a visit, it is always the same. Big smiles to hide the awkwardness as they lean in for a hug. They complement him on his inspirational strength, but the smile falters. They fumble for words, for stories, and things to talk about. They feel guilty for still living, as they sit across someone who has so little time left. They glance at their watch. They need to go soon, but they promise to come again soon…But they won’t, and they both know it.
He waits for conversation…but the caregiver is busy taking care of him. The caregiver is not there for companionship. They sit out in the living room, staring at their phone. Too busy counting the hours before their shift is over so they can leave. He understands…he is counting down for their shift to be over as well.
He has to use the restroom again. He calls out for help. He waits until someone is finished doing their chores before they stomp in to help…again. He tries to hold it and tries desperately not to lose his patience. He hates asking for help, but there is no choice. He wonders what is taking so long this time.
He waits for hands to touch him, but the only caress comes in their efforts to be efficient. He misses reaching his arms around a loved one for a hug. He misses breathing in their scent.
He doesn’t want to ask for help again. It feels as if it is constant. The need for something, the constant requests for drinks, food, adjustments. He feels like a burden. Time is ticking by, and his requests grow more frequent with every passing day.
He wonders how his life came to this moment. The limbo of wanting to live but waiting to die.
He looks out the window…
“What was that?”
I lay there for a second, not really knowing what he is talking about. Matthew hasn’t slept all night, and I can’t figure out if he is just mumbling or needs something.
I hear it too…
I sigh…the familiar sound of the dead battery in a smoke alarm. I wait, secretly hoping it might stop, but thirty seconds later…
I decide I better take care of it before it wakes everyone in the house.
I groan…I am perfectly comfortable and all snuggled in. I don’t want to get up. For a moment, I just want someone else to take care of this. Matthew has already woken me at least 4 times in the last 3 hours. I didn’t want to get up. But as is the case in every situation in my life, there really isn’t anyone who is going to take care of this for me. I swing my legs over the bed and make my way up the stairs to where that offense noise is coming from.
There is no choice, I turn on the light in my daughter’s room to see what I am doing. She groans, and glares at me. I look around her room and moan. It is absolutely disgusting! Clothes, shoes, and makeup are strewn around the room. And old coffee cups, and mass quantities of old wrappers, and containers of junk food that had been snuck upstairs and kept hidden in a teenager’s room. I tell her she seriously needs to clean her room, even though I am sure this probably isn’t the time to be having this discussion.
I am fumbling with the smoke detector, trying to find where the battery is hidden. I rip the face off.
That wasn’t it. I finally flip it over and see the small slot that needs a screw driver to pry it open. I settle for a dirty fork from the teenager’s bedroom.
I pull the battery out.
Satisfied that it will shut up and everyone can go back to sleep, I go to step off the chair.
I quickly glance up.
I step back up on the chair. The mutilated smoke alarm is mocking me.
I understand just enough electrical to think I am proficient. I am proven drastically wrong in this moment. I pull out the small attachment of black and red wires still providing electricity to the dreaded alarm.
FIRE! FIRE! FIRE!
The entire alarm system throughout the house is suddenly screaming at me.
I am reaching above my head, my shoulders burning from trying to hold my arms up for so long, as I am trying to jam the wires back into the alarm.
I hear Matthew trying to yell downstairs.
“What’s going on?”
I run downstairs.
“I don’t know how to make it stop!” I tell him, as I walk towards him. He is stuck lying there, his mask on his face, mumbling.
I get my head closer to his.
“I have to pee!”
I groaned again…
“You scared the pee right outta me!” He is giggleing, but I don’t find the humor in this situation.
I grab the urinal and roll him over towards me.
I am feeling a sense of urgency, but am trying to be understanding to his needs..but I really just want him to hurry up and pee!
“Go find batteries”
Sure! Simple enough. I roll him back on his back, sit his bed up and remove his mask. If I have to be awake, then so does he!
I walk out to the kitchen. The dishes from the night before are stacked in the sink. Food bits are still stuck to the plates. The pots and pans are still on the stove.
The teenager had put the food away but didn’t help with the dishes. Nor did the other two. Oh well! The teenager had gone to school all day, worked and gotten home late. My mood is bad enough that I don’t feel like nit picking, and I was just as capable of cleaning the kitchen last night after all my running around adventures, and tuck ins and such.
I open the junk drawer. It is referred to as the junk drawer for a reason. Screw drivers, bit and pieces of miscellaneous things that will never actually be put back together are lying in there, awaiting the day I realize they belong in the garbage. There are more batteries than any one family needs in there. But do you think I can find the one size I need? Nope!
I look up towards the stairs…
Matthew is trying to yell from the bedroom.
“You need a D volt!”
I know this. I know he knows I know this. At this point, I am sure my children are all awake, so I yell from the kitchen.
“I know!!! And we don’t have any!”
“Look in something that has one, and take it out”
I go back upstairs, confused why the beeping is multiplying.
Teenager’s smoke alarm is beeping….and now another one is beeping!
I run downstairs, grab my shoes and tell Matthew I will be right back.
There is no choice, I have to go to the store and get batteries.
I jump in my car, in an over-sized mickey mouse t-shirt, yoga pants and my hair piled on top of my head. I assume there won’t be a soul around.
I assumed wrong.
There are at least 6 cars at the gas station
At this point, I really just want to get in and out!
I duck my head, run inside and grab four D volt batteries! Just in case!
Did you know those damn things are six dollars a-piece!!?
Why I am grumbling about the cost is beyond me, but at this point I am seriously irritated and just want the beeping to stop!
I drive like a maniac home and run inside.
I glance in the bedroom to find Matthew is falling over. I have to go and pull him to an upright position.
There are now three smoke alarms going off upstairs. I run upstairs and start replacing the batteries. I am patting myself on the back for being smart enough to grab several packages of batteries.
One smoke alarm, done!
Maybe I need to replace all of them before they stop?
Then I hear another one beeping downstairs.
Matthew is yelling downstairs…
“There’s another one down here going off!”
I switch two more batteries…
Still no change.
I run outside, and to the breaker box
I start flipping the circuits, trying to find which one is responsible for bringing electricity to the smoke alarms. No label…nothing…
I try the foyer, the bedrooms and bathrooms.
The beeping won’t stop!
I am Youtubing videos trying to figure out why. They are less than helpful. I am seriously at my wits end! I am texting some friends, apologizing for waking them, but at a complete loss of what to do. Poor Matthew is trying to give me advice, but he can’t look and see what I am doing, so he just tells me to do what I have already tried doing. Google! I attempt googling the brand. I am looking up the brand of smoke alarm. It says cut off the power supply. I can’t find the power supply!
If the batteries are replaced and they keep beeping, it means the smoke alarm is at “END-OF-LIFE”
Are you freaking kidding me?
Four smoke detectors are at the end of their life?
I didn’t even know they could die!
If I unplug them, the entire house starts screaming at me:
FIRE! FIRE! FIRE!
At this point, the kids just went back to sleep with a pillow over their head.
I am completely at my wits end…
I call 911…
I think this may be one of the most embarrassing moments of my life..
“911- what is your emergence?”
“Hello, this isn’t an emergency. But I can’t get my smoke detectors to stop beeping and I have tried everything”
I am pretty sure I am hanging my head in shame. The dispatcher makes me tell the entire story from the beginning. Yep, I feel like an idiot!
“I will send out a man to help now”
I hang up, feeling sheepish. Matthew tries to assure me that they see situations like this all the time.
Then I remember!
OH MY GOD! The dishes are piled all over, and I made salmon last night!
I don’t have a sense of smell. Yes, you read that right. I somehow lost my sense of smell in the last couple of years, but I am pretty sure the house probably wreaks like fish!
I scramble to start cleaning when I hear the knock at the door.
I go to open the front door, and there are two huge guys at my front door, and a massive fire truck parked right in front of my house.
I am literally groaning inside!
The beeping hasn’t stopped but to add even more chaos to the situation, I closed the door, but of course there is another fireman walking in! I now have three huge firemen in my entry way, and my two dogs are going crazy! My old dog, who would let a burglar come in and never make a move, is now vehemently snarling and barking at these men, as the other dog is yelping and barking as well!
I am trying to calm them, but they are going crazy!
Two firemen walk upstairs…while the other one is trying to calm the dogs. Then, one of the dogs decides to pee all over the fireman!
Between the constant beeping, and the dogs barking, and Matthew asking what’s going on, I am literally just turning in circles.
The younger fireman of course walks into my kitchen.
He wants to help clean up the dog mess with paper towels.
I don’t have paper towels!
I am pretty sure I can’t be more embarrassed than I am right now…
Then I look up and realize that two of the firemen have just seen my teenager’s bedroom…
At this point, I am pretty sure that if it is going to go wrong, tonight is the night for it to happen.
Suddenly, the beeping stops…
3:45 am – firemen leave…
4:00 am – I finally fall back asleep…
6:00 am – middle daughter wakes me up to talk
UGH! It is going to be a long day!
Long story, I know, but there is a lesson to be learned here!
Smoke alarms can actually die!
Three out of the four were seven years past their expiration date! My house is only 7 years old. That means the contractor put in old smoke alarms. Here is another helpful tip… put a carbon monoxide detector down low at an outlet. Carbon Monoxide stays low, and if the alarm goes off, it may be too late, as they are often installed too high to make a difference!
Another lesson learned…
Just do the damn dishes…especially if you cooked fish the night before. Those poor firemen. They were above and beyond polite, but inside, they had to be gagging!
I will be hanging my head in shame until the trauma of last night fades from my memory…but if it made you chuckle just a little…well, I guess there is that!
He said, “Wow! It’s nice to meet you!”
She said, “hello….”
He said, “We have a mutual friend.”
She said, “She invited me to come listen to the music with her.”
He said, “I am glad you could make it”
She said, “Thank you. I don’t get out often.”
He said, “Can I buy you a drink?”
She said, “no thank you”
He said, “Its been months, how are you?”
She said, “The summer went by too fast”
He said, “Can I buy you a drink this time?”
She said, “Sure, I would love a water!”
He said, “It’s loud in here”.
She said, “WHAT?”
He said, “Do you like live music?”
She said, “Yes, It’s my favorite!”
He said, “You came with her again?”
She said, “I’m her designated driver.”
He said, “Here is your water.”
She said, “Would you dance with me?”
He said, “yes”
She said, “You can DANCE!”
He said, “Wow, so can you!”
He said, “Will I see you again?”
She said, “Maybe…”
He said, “I haven’t seen you in weeks, where have you been?”
She said, “My life is complicated….
He said, “What do you do?”
She said, “I go to school”
He said, “would you like to go dancing?”
She said, “ok”
He said, “Are you seeing anyone?”
She said, “No…and I want to keep it that way!”
He said, “Why?”
She said, “I am recently separated.”
He said, “I was married for a long time too”
She said, “I have children”
He said, “I bet they are great!”
She said, “You aren’t my type”
He said, “I know, but can we keep dancing?”
She said, “Yes, I would like that…”
He said, “We have been dancing every month for almost a year now!”
She said, “I just want to be friends…”
He said, “I know…”
She said, “I’m not ready for a relationship.”
He said, “I understand. I am happy just being your friend.”
She said, “Thank you for being such a great friend to me”
He said, “Who are you here with?
She said, “I am here on a date tonight”
He said, “Do you like him?
She said, “I don’t know yet”
He said, “That guy shouldn’t be flirting with your friends”
She said, “I guess he wasn’t that into me”
He said, “He’s an idiot”
She said, “Thank you”
He said, “You deserve better!”
She said, “I agree..”
He said, “I like spending time with you”
She said, “I need to take things really slow”
He said, “Of course”
She said, “I think you are looking for more than I am ready to give.”
He said, “I have all the time in the world.”
She said, “What’s wrong with your fingers?”
He said, “Nothing, I am sure it’s nothing”
She said, “I am not ready”
He said, “I’ll wait.”
She said, “Please go to the doctor.”
He said, “Go to Cabo with me!”
She said, “I am a single mother, I can’t go to Mexico!”
He said, “It would mean so much to me!”
She said, “Will you go to the doctor?”
He said, “Of course, as soon as we get back!”
She said, “Its beautiful here!”
He said, “Thank you for coming with me.”
She said, “What did the doctor say?”
He said, “He wants to run some tests…”
She said, “It is going to be alright…”
He said, “I have ALS”
She said, “I know”
He said, “I’m scared.”
She said, “Me too”
He said, “Maybe you should leave?”
She said, “I promise I will stay”
He said, “Will you spend the rest of my life with me?”
She said, “Yes”
He said, “My legs are getting weaker…”
She said, “We need to find a new home”
He said, “I want to marry you and dance with you on our wedding day.”
She said, “There isn’t much time.”
He said, “I am sorry we are rushing things.”
She said, “I am sorry that the last time we danced was on our wedding day…”
He said, “I don’t want to use the wheelchair.”
She said, “It’s there when you are ready…”
He said, “I can’t lift my arms anymore.”
She said, “It’s okay, I am right here…”
He said, “Don’t worry, we are going to be alright…”
She said, “I don’t know how to ask for help”
He said, “Neither do I”
She said, “I don’t know if I can do this alone.”
He said, “I feel like a burden.”
She said, “You are not a burden.”
He said, “Happy Anniversary!”
She said, “It’s been 3 years?”
He said, “Its going by too fast”
She said, “I feel so alone”
He said, “So do I…“
She said, “I never get to go out or do anything anymore”
He said, “Neither do I”
She said, “I didn’t think it would be this hard”
He said, “Neither did I”
She said, “I miss being held.”
He said, “I miss touching you.”
She said, “Where did everybody go?
He said, “I don’t think they can handle this.”
She said, “I am so angry.”
He said, “I know.”
She said, “I had different expectations.”
He said, “I think it’s just you and I.”
She said, “You are my person.”
He said, “Thank God I have you.”
She said, “We still have so much to be thankful for…”