Friday, December 23, 2016

Goodbyes are hard

Christmas is almost here.  Tomorrow is Christmas Eve.  I am not ready, not even close.  Even so, I feel like I need to get this blog post out of my head.  Maybe it will help me to clear out things.

December 10th was a day that was supposed to be fun.  I was in New York City with two of my kids on a bus trip when the call came.  We were in Kinokuniya- a book store which was to be one of the main stops of the trip.  Top floor, at the Ghibli display.  I had just started to look at the selection.

I knew when I saw the number.  It was the 2nd floor nursing station at the home where my dad has been since March 2005.  I knew before she even started to talk.  You see... Dad had been sick a couple of weeks before, but had rallied.  He had pretty much come back to close to his previous self- well as good as it would get anyway.  His good days were pretty in and out.

Truth is, my dad had not recognized me for years.  He called me Barbara the last time he called me anything.  He mostly gave me a pleasant - "oh hello" if he greeted me at all, if he was awake, when I visited.  Visits were hard.  There was no conversation to speak of, he would mostly utter gibberish in between a sentence or two if I was lucky.  If he was awake.  This wasn't my dad- my intelligent, witty, annoying, cheerful dad.

This was some shell of a person that on the outside looked something like the man who used to be my dad.  But- this wasn't my dad.  Everything that was him seemed to be gone.  As a result, my visits became fewer and farther apart.  Hard to admit, but it was so damn hard to visit- and it just kept getting harder.  I struggled with this every. single. day.

That day at the book store, on a bus trip in NYC, when the phone rang, I already knew that it was going to be THAT phone call.  I had sensed the night before that it would happen, so I wasn't surprised when it came.  It didn't make it any easier.

"Your dad's condition has changed.  His breathing has changed and we think he may pass away this afternoon" was the message she gave me.  As I sank to the floor, I explained that I was in NY and would need to find a way home but that I would get there as quickly as I could.

My mind raced to think about the fastest way home and immediately I worked out what to do.  Make my way to Port Authority, hop the next commuter bus home and pray I make it in time.  My mom (obviously a saint) dropped everything to go and sit with him until I got there.  Not too many women would do that for their ex-husbands, but I appreciate her so much for what she did that day.  It gave me peace to know he wasn't alone until I got there.

The stars aligned and I only had to wait about 40 mins for a bus and I made it back in time after the two hour ride.

His breathing had certainly changed.  It was very apparent that he was in a different place than the last time I saw him.  It is so hard to see someone you care about suffer and I felt like he was suffering.

I stroked him and whispered to him.  After a while, I decided that maybe he would like to hear some music, so I played him some songs.  I queued up some songs on my phone and we shared my earbuds, one in my ear and I held the other to his ear.  I have no idea if he heard them but I have to think if he did, he would have loved Pentatonix's version of Hallelujah.  There were other songs as well, but that one is my favorite from that night.  It makes me cry.  It made me cry on the bus on the way there and it still makes me cry today- I suppose it always will.  I hope he found some peace in the music.

Most of the time I was with him, I just had the overwhelming urge to keep saying "I'm sorry".  I felt so sorry.  Sorry that I let him down in some way.  Sorry that I wasn't there for him.  Sorry that the people that kept coming in didn't seem to know who I was or felt that I wasn't there enough for him.  I felt like I wasn't enough to make this better even though I knew no one could.  There was nothing rational in the guilt I felt (feel) but it was (is) overwhelming.  It was compounded by listening to him breathe, or try to.

The palliative care wasn't cutting it yet.  His nurse was trying, but it wasn't enough.  He sounded like he was under water.  It was excruciating.  She gave him more medications.  More people came by as word got out that he would be leaving this world soon.  His aide of 7 years came by and chatted for quite a while- she had become family.

Finally, the medications and position changes gave him some relief.  Nothing would stop the process, but he was having an easier time of it.  This gave both of us the relief we needed.  About this time, my mom came back.  She didn't want me to be alone.

Gradually, his breathing became more shallow and the breaths came less frequently.  I watched for his breathing and pulse.

The end came quietly and peacefully.

I am glad he is no longer suffering, but the guilt and overwhelming sadness are still with me.  I am hoping they go away soon, or at least get better.

I know things will get better, time as they say....

A positive note-  I have the most amazing people in my life.  Those who sent cards, my aunt and uncle who sent the yummy Edible Arrangement and my amazing co-workers for the basket and card.  I am very fortunate to have such wonderful people to lift me up in such difficult times.  Most of all, my family who is dealing with me right now.  It isn't easy.  💗


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Priorities

What a difficult time we are experiencing right now.

Politically, our country has been torn to shreds.  We have just come through the most divisive Presidential election that I have ever seen.  I hope we never see one like it again.

The election is over, but the controversy continues.  People are not accepting the results of the process as it was designed.  While I was not hoping for the result we got- I respect the process and I wish others would stop the turmoil.  I am not expecting everyone to suddenly feel like they need to spew rainbows and unicorns, but let's just wait for the guy to screw up before we hang him for the crime.  The negativity can't continue.

His words before he was elected and before he is inaugurated are just that- WORDS.  While words hurt, they are like a sales pitch.  All talk.  Let's see what his ACTIONS tell us.  We have absolutely no choice in the matter at this point.  The choice has been made.

When I titled this post "Priorities", it was very intentional.  Over the past few months, my priorities have needed to shift.

Ultimately, there are checks and balances in place to prevent one person from totally screwing with the country.  I have to maintain hope that the greater good will prevail and I need to let this one go.  I have much bigger issues to dwell on right now, this can't consume me.  

Financially, we are living very carefully because we are down to being a one income family.  We have reordered our financial priorities to only those things that are absolute necessities.  So much for ordering out several times a month!  Even the things that seemed necessary a few months ago are now questioned and considered before putting out the investment.

Psychologically, I am living very carefully because there are too many stressors in my life for me to direct my energies to all of them at once.  Taking one day- and sometimes one hour- at a time has become my priority for getting through the day.  I can't dwell on the big picture- it is too overwhelming, so I just look to the next thing I need to think about and get through that.

Physically, these first two things are robbing me of my rest and relaxation- which takes a toll on my physical being.  This one I need to work on.  Sleep is difficult.  Dreams are a problem.  Restful sleep seems to be a thing of the past.

Without going into specifics, there seems to have been a parade of Negatives NoOnes marching down the sidewalk towards my house lately and I am ready for them to bring some Positive Pollys along for a balance.

The hopeful person that always lives inside me knows that "this too will pass" and I am only presented with things that I can handle.  Nothing can break me!  I would really just like to jump to the end of this chapter of the story now, ok?

Don't worry, I am still the positive person I have always been.  Just a bit more tired and worn right now.  I'll be back shortly after this little exhaustion break.

See you soon.





Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Gizmo

Our dog is a Keeshond.  I will go  ahead and assume that most people reading this have no idea what a Keeshond is, it's ok- I understand.  
Keeshonden (the correct plural form of Keeshond) are a gentle, intelligent breed of dog that has been bred for companionship and as watchdogs- they are not a working or hunting breed.  

They are fluffy and furry and have a never ending smile.  They shed twice a year and a bit in between.  They have a long outer coat with a heavy, dense undercoat.  

Here are a couple of photos of our Gizmo:



Our boy is a bit camera shy, so getting photos of him is a challenge.  

Lately, he's been down a rough road.  

In late September 2015, he started to lose his ability to hold his urine through the night.  Then he started to vomit.  We knew this wasn't our boy. He never had these issues.  

A quick trip to our favorite vet was in order.  Not such a quick trip this time.  He would be staying for a little while.  He had pancreatitis and, it turned out- our sweet boy had diabetes.  We had no idea.
How does this happen?  Yes, he was a bit overweight.  But DIABETES?  What did we do- did we cause it?  Was this our fault?  The doctor assured us that it probably wasn't something we did.  Reducing his weight would be a good idea, but in his case probably was not a contributing factor.

He probably would have gotten there no matter whether he had been overweight and 'well-loved' or not.  It happens.

We learned how to care for a dog with insulin-dependent diabetes.  I insisted on home testing.  I wanted to be able to tell if he was in crisis.  (control freak much?  yes)

We settled in to a world of prescription foods, twice daily shots and occasional testing.  He was great.  Such a trooper through it all.  He stabilized quickly.  For a while.

Then his sugar got too high.  So we adjusted up.  And up.  And up.  wow, this is harder than it seems. 

I learned how to do a 'Curve' test at home.  For those of you who don't know, this is testing blood glucose levels every two hours over a 12 hour period like clockwork.  Mess it up and you're sunk.  No pressure.  But I did it!  (I was proud of myself, but not anxious to do those all the time)

He stabilized again.

Fast forward to Fall 2016

Now we have the issue of being too low.  Too low is worse than too high.  Well darn.  He is at 29, so I put corn syrup on his gums.  Test again in a little while.  Put more corn syrup on his gums and give him some food.  Still not much higher.  (now I am convinced he is seriously just messing with me).  Wait a bit longer, it comes up a hair more.

Now, if you aren't aware- blood glucose levels should between 100 and 250 or so.  Higher than 250 would be much less worrying than lower than 100 is.  Low blood glucose can cause more problems than high blood sugar over a short term.  Readings of 29 and 30 were very worrying.

By day 3 of low readings, he was acting very off. He was restless and his facial expression was one of distress.  He was asking us for help.  

I should also back up for a moment....at the time when he went low, we added a new health issue to his mix- Hypothyroidism.  His thyroid doesn't make enough of the hormone to balance his metabolism.  This has caused his beautiful fur to fall out in huge amounts.  His undercoat is basically gone in most places and his long overcoat is much thinner than it should be.  Probably not connected to his sugar imbalance, but worth mentioning.  

A couple of photos to show contrast in his coat from the 'before' photos above:




So back to our story.

Gizmo's sugar was low, not coming up and we took him to our vet.  They decided he was unstable enough to need to keep him so that they could try to stabilize his levels and get a handle on what was happening.  In addition to the low sugar, he was losing weight.  His new diet brought his weight down to a healthy range previously, but now he was losing weight that he shouldn't be.  He lost 3 lbs over the past two weeks.  He has now lost 10 lbs over the past year.  Combining the weight loss with the loss of fur, he looks and feels thin.  

We admitted him to the hospital at our vet for stabilization of his glucose and to run some tests.  They were able to get him stabilized over the course of the day and we brought him home that evening with instructions to test and call before each meal/insulin injection.  

He now has insulin tailored to the test each time he gets an injection.  I don't know if we will be able to learn how to tailor it ourselves or if we will need to call every day (what happens on the weekend?)

We are watching for ketoacidosis, where the body doesn't have enough insulin to control blood sugar and the body creates ketones as an emergency fuel source.  This causes the body's balance of electrolytes to be off (acidotic) and creates a life threatening situation.  

So, I am waiting for a call back from the vet to see how much insulin we give today. Also whether we need to catch urine and what the result of his T4 test was, which will tell us whether his thyroid meds need adjusting.

Just another day in the life of a dog mommy.

What are your experiences with a special needs animal?   Feel free to share stories in the comments below!


helpful links:

Keeshond Club of America

PetMD- Diabetes in Dogs

PetMD- Hypothyroidism in Dogs




Friday, January 1, 2016

Welcome to 2016!

Well, here we are- we made it to another New Year.  Congratulations to all of us, right?

All in all, 2015 wasn't a bad year.

Most of the year went along as they do, work too much, relax too little, time passes far too quickly as it is known to do once you are over 40 (ok, 50...whatever!).

I learned a few lessons this year.


  1. Stop trying to do so much all at once.  Multitasking doesn't help anyone, least of all me.  
  2. Unplug.  There is something to be said for doing something that doesn't include a switch or require electricity.  I found my greatest relaxation without a screen.
  3. Learn to say no/Learn not to jump in to take every task on.  This one is tough.  You see, I think I am Superwoman and can do everything for everyone.  Can't say this one was 100% successful...but I am working on it.
  4. Love and appreciate the people who matter most.  I generally do this, but this lesson was thrust upon me with a very strong reminder at the end of 2015.  Let me explain....

December 11th 2015, I was awakened by a telephone call around 2:20 AM.  I saw the number was my parents' and knew it couldn't be good- they should be sleeping.  I didn't say "hello", I answered with "WHAT'S WRONG?"  Obviously something was wrong.  

I heard my mother's breathless voice on the other end of the phone "I think Herb's had a stroke, the ambulance is coming".  

This began a night/day that was more horrible and wonderful than I could ever have imagined even if someone tried to describe it to me.

For anyone who doesn't know me well enough, Herb is my step-dad.  He is a wonderful and caring man who looks like Santa Claus and is the love of my mother's life.  

He is also my father in most every way.  I do have a father, who I love, but make no mistake- Herb is my father as well.  I love him as if he were my biological dad.  He gave me a new family of sisters and a brother who I love as if we grew up together.  We are family in every way. 

Back to that day....

We essentially lost him that day.  His heart decided to forget how to beat on its own, suddenly and unexpectedly.  He didn't have a heart attack, it just stopped working.  If not for some very skilled paramedics and ER doctors- this post would be a very different one.  I am forever grateful to each of them.

The horror of the day was hearing the team trying to regain his heartbeat when it stopped in the ER.  We listened outside the curtain for 10 minutes as they worked to bring him back, with each minute feeling more sure it wouldn't happen.  But they did.  Angels were sitting on their shoulders that day.

The wonderful moments came later that day, when he came around and they took him off the ventilator- hearing his first words and knowing that he was still in there .  Seeing him move and hearing him speak were the most wonderfully unexpected moments- how could someone who had been down for 10 minutes be so intact?  Angels, I tell you.  

We call him our Christmas Miracle.  No better gift for Christmas this year.  

Hug those you love, keep them close.  Life changes in the blink of an eye.