Three Years in San Jose

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We also added a brother-in-law in 2020!

 

Hi everyone! It’s the end of June, which marks the end of our third year San Jose. Our life is radically different than I imagined when we made the hot (un-scenic) drive from Southern California three years ago. I imagined completing occupational and physical therapy with Kaiser NorCal’s elite therapists. Once my traumatic brain injury finished healing, I thought we’d explore our new city and integrate with the communities at Valley Christian Schools, Ivan’s new job, and  Hillside Church, where my dad is a pastor.

We found an adorable apartment five minutes away from my parents’ condo so Mom could help me while Ivan was at work, and I picked up therapy right where I’d left off in Riverside. So far, so good! But as most of you know, our “ideal” fresh start lasted only a couple of months. I developed a perplexing (and as yet unresolved) seizure disorder in October 2017, which transitioned into a hybrid seizure-migraine disorder last summer.

But as I reflect upon our journey over the past three years, I’m struck by how many blessings God has showered upon us, blessings we certainly would have missed if our lives in San Jose had gone according to plan:

  1. Ivan started his doctorate. He’s always wanted a terminal degree and hoped to begin one after finishing his masters, but we thought he’d have to delay that dream indefinitely when my accident transformed us into a single income family. But God opened some amazing doors soon after he started working at VCS, and he’s close to beginning his dissertation.
  2. I went back to school. Although my seizures make it extremely difficult to leave the house, they don’t impair my mental function. We decided to invest in my remaining abilities, and I enrolled in an online BA in English since I love literature and would like to write a book about our accident story. That program went really well, and I’m currently working on an MFA (terminal degree) in creative writing.
  3. I’ve laid the groundwork for a book about our accident story. The thesis for my MFA is a book-length manuscript, so I hope to get professional feedback on a first draft of my book. Using our story to share the hope Christ offers to those going through trauma has been on my heart ever since I started the blog in 2017. My degree is 4.5 years long, so the book is still a long way off, but it’s exciting to realize I could begin working on it soon.
  4. We’ve developed an unusually close bond with my parents. Most people think of their twenties as a time to enjoy independence and even a little recklessness, but it’s been the opposite for us. From midnight phone calls, to meal drop-offs, to Mom baby-sitting me after seizures (I wish there were a more sophisticated description of that one), they’re only a text or a five-minute walk down the street. Are there times I envy the twenty-somethings who do whatever they want, whenever they want, however they want? Absolutely. But I’m so thankful to the Lord for parents who never tire of providing the physical and emotional support we need, no matter how much or how often we need it.
  5. We’ve experienced unconditional love from our Hillside and VCS communities. Therapy taught me to compensate for my original TBI deficits, but we still haven’t integrated with VCS or Hillside due to my subsequent neurological disorders. That hasn’t kept them from embracing us, though. Whether through online interactions, short visits, meals, or other creative outlets, we’ve felt connected with them since we arrived in San Jose. Every time we’ve faced a crisis – and there have been more of those than I’d like to count – we’ve received an unbelievable amount of love, prayers, and gifts. We’ve also been humbled to realize that much of our support comes from friends we’ve never met in person.

So I may be writing this hunkered next to the window for natural light (our overhead lights trigger migraines), but I realize how many good gifts we’ve received after moving to San Jose in 2017. It’s hard to believe it’s already been three years, and yet in many ways it feels like we’ve been here much longer. What I know for sure is that we couldn’t have made it this far without God’s blessing, my parents’ commitment, and our communities’ support. These are unprecedented times for our nation and the world, but even amid global transformation I want to pause and commemorate God’s faithfulness in our lives. And as always, many thanks to our blogging family for your love and support!

A Second Chance for Daisy!

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Daisy doesn’t do selfies…

Hi Everyone! It’s hard to believe I’ve come to the end of my school break. As I said in my last post, my blog plans for this break changed drastically based on the current events of the past few weeks. I’d planned to spend the break posting updates and stories from the past quarter; given the seriousness and and momentum of our nation’s move toward socio-political change, I felt that my original ideas were best left for another time. That being said, I think that it can be good to step away from serious topics for a few moments to de-stress.

So keeping that in mind, I’ve decided to post one vignette from break before I go back to school. It’s not meant to detract from the significance of current events but rather to provide some uplifting entertainment for anyone who’d like a quick break.

***

“Great,” I wiped my nose with my hand. “I think she just went on my leg.”

“What? Are you sure?” Ivan’s eyes darted sideways even though he was driving. A tear slid down his cheek.

I shifted the blue vinyl pet carrier on my lap. Sure enough, there was a large stain on my right leg. It was moist, and it expanded as I tilted the carrier. “I thought this thing was supposed to be leak proof.”

“Well she probably hasn’t gone for, like, a day now,” Ivan sniffed. “Man. I’ve got to get myself together before we get there.”

 

That morning was to be Miss Daisy Mae’s last. Our beloved fur baby had been sick for a few weeks, prompting me to break my family’s rule of thumb: “Cats heal themselves.” We attribute this rule to Gi, my grandmother and a chronic cat owner. Gi has always been right, at least when it came to minor ailments. (I’m excluding parasites and serious injuries.) Given enough rest and TLC, our cats have pulled through and lived to ripe old ages. So far, my aunt’s cat Cilla holds the record at seventeen years old.

But not poor Miss Daisy. At barely three years old she was crying, eschewing the litterbox, and ignoring to the ministrations of her owners and baby sister Zelda. Off we toted her to The Vet. Five days of oral antibiotics later and…she was worse. Given that the more specialized treatments The Vet suggested over the phone were (literally) above Ivan’s pay grade, a trip to Cat Heaven seemed like the only merciful solution.

Ivan and I both burst into tears after I hung up the phone that morning. This might seem reasonable to all you pet lovers, but Ivan only burst into tears a couple of times in the initial days following my accident, and I have yet to see him cry about it since I woke up from my coma. He took the news about Daisy extremely hard, to say the least. We both did. She’s rescued us from ourselves countless times since we adopted my “therapy” kitten in 2017. My TBI causes separation anxiety as well as difficulty adjusting to any kind of change, and Daisy was there for me when Ivan started working full time. She’s still there for me when he works after school or on weekends. She sits with me during seizures and sleeps with me while I rest afterward. As for Ivan, suffice it to say he was NOT a cat person when Daisy arrived as a furry bundle of energy. But lonely nights when I was in the hospital and tense evenings studying for school soon convinced him just how much he needed a “cat buddy” for his own mental stability. I sometimes suspect she cuddles with him more than with me.

All that to say, neither of us could imagine life without our Daisy, but neither could we imagine life with her in her current wailing, litterbox-free condition. And so we wrestled her into her blue carrier (the fact that we were sobbing probably impeded the process unnecessarily), and began our ominous drive to The Vet.

 

“She’s getting worse, not better,” I tried to enunciate through my mask. I hoped the large, pungent stain on my leg would prove my point.

“Well, the tests on Monday were very unusual, and if she’s not responding to the antibiotics we could try…” He began listing the dreaded Unaffordable Treatments. I’d hoped it wouldn’t come to that. Some irrational part of me had hoped he’d intuit our plight and offer a ticket to Cat Heaven right away. But no. Now we would have to shout our tragic request through our masks and the six feet of requisite distance. I looked at Ivan.

“You see, that sounds too expensive,” he countered. Smart, I thought. I hadn’t considered easing The Vet into it. “Do you have anything else?”

Long Pause.

Thankfully Ivan didn’t crack.

“Well, we could put her on a special diet and an anti-inflammatory for a couple of weeks and just see what happens.” At least The Vet didn’t sound accusatory. I raised my eyebrows at Ivan, hoping he’d get my drift.

“Okay, I guess we can try that. But how long before it would work?” Yes! Dragging this out isn’t very merciful either.

“I’d say give it at least seven days. Then we could do more tests or the…”

“We’ll take to food and the anti-inflammatory.” I was proud of Ivan for holding his own, especially with Cat Heaven lurking just around the corner.

We were mostly silent on the ride home, but we were dry-eyed. The air was putrid now that the heat had ripened the stains on my leg and in the carrier. Neither of us complained about it, though. Daisy was also in that carrier. I glanced at the food and pills in the back seat. She might be on a ticking clock, but at least she was still in the carrier. “Well,” Ivan said finally. “I guess we should pray that the food and medicine work.”

 

It’s ten days later and Daisy is nowhere near Cat Heaven. Her “budget treatment” didn’t work overnight, but she stopped crying on Day Two and made friends with the litterbox on Day Three.  She’s also back to wrestling her sister, which is a plus for everyone involved. Daisy obviously needs physical activity but we desperately need someone to remind Zelda that she doesn’t rule the world. It’s amazing how quickly a kitten’s ego balloons when she goes unchallenged.

Daisy might not have healed herself per Gi’s mantra, but she is on the road to healing nonetheless.  We hope she has many healthy years ahead of her before joining the family Feline Hall of Fame.

 

Kind Words

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“Kind words are like honey—
sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.” ~ Proverbs 16:24

I spend a lot of time thinking about words since I’m a writer. I also spend a lot of time thinking about health since I’m disabled. This is one of my favorite proverbs since it links the two so beautifully – and so universally, even if you don’t write or face health issues on a regular basis.

My last post suggested I’d spend my June break sharing stories about our recent family developments, especially since I took a bit of a blogging hiatus during the spring. (This was partly to regain emotional equilibrium after Ivan’s fall, and  partly because it’s challenging to crank out blog posts and grad school assignments.)

But plans change, and our nation entered another crisis this past week. Unlike the health and quarantine topics in my COVID-19 posts, I feel that adding my opinion on current events would create more noise than content – especially given the plethora of words swirling in the media and on the streets. And so I’ll let my favorite proverb speak for me, for the time being. Kind words are the best words to bring health and healing.

A Month to Remember!

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Happy end of May, everyone! It’s been a hectic month for the Utomo/Crosby families, but it’s been a blessed one, and I’m glad to be back on the blog. 🙂

First and foremost, we’re no longer the Utomo/Crosby families. We’re proud to call ourselves the Utomo/Crosby/Stewarts after Anna and her fiancée Robert tied the knot on May 9th. Uniting their lives in my parents’ living room with Dad officiating and only three live witnesses (me, Ivan, and Mom) is the opposite of the church wedding they’d planned before COVID-19, but I’m SO proud of their maturity and God-focused attitude in the face of this trial. They never stopped smiling the entire day.

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On an adorable (but much less life-changing) note, Ivan and I added a new fur baby to our family a couple of weeks ago. Zelda Fitzgerald is a nine-week old Tortoise shell kitten and she has more spunk than Ivan, me, and Daisy (our other cat) combined. I named her after Scott Fitzgerald’s audacious wife and she’s taking her namesake quite literally. (Scott Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby as well as some other great novels and short stories.)

We – and the rest of California – are also excited as sheltering guidelines relax a bit and we begin the “new normal” other states have already implemented. The national revision of church closures is especially encouraging, and I’m proud to support Hillside which has complied with safety regulations throughout COVID-19. But regardless of your religious persuasion, please keep  prioritizing safety as we enjoy more flexibility in public activities and worship!

And that’s all for now. Look out for more detailed accounts of our recent adventures as well as future forays, especially since I’m on summer break!  In the meantime, I’m grateful for all God’s been doing in our lives, as well as the positivity I’ve observed in many of your social media posts. Joy and gratitude are choices – choices we can make each and every day. 

Special – Or Not?

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Celebrating feeling better with Thai takeout!

“I woke up to a world I never saw coming, and to medical and social communities that aren’t designed to meet my complicated set of needs. But I also woke up to a world where I experience God’s redemptive work in unique ways that would be unavailable to me if I were anyone but who I am.”

I wrote these words in the introduction to If I Should Die my capstone for the English degree I completed last August. It’s true. I’ve been the “special one” for the past three years, the girl who walks (or rolls, if it’s an emergency), into a healthcare facility and is immediately the top priority. With two strokes, seizures, and a semi-permanent migraine, how much more important could I be? Honestly, I wasn’t even too scared by COVID-19 since I was the special one. Any intelligent doctor would bump me to the top of their list if I happened to get sick.

Until they didn’t.

The week after San Jose’s sheltering order came out, I developed a dry cough. I called Kaiser, fully expecting a test since I was “high risk.” No test. Tests were for higher risk patients like seniors and asthmatics. When my seizure meds stopped working and my cough morphed into coughing fits, I called back. Obviously I was special enough to get tested now. No test. Now they were saving the tests for patients who were candidates for hospital admission. This time the doctor admitted that I’d be a special case under normal circumstances – just not at this point in COVID-19. I’d failed the “special” test for the first time three years. But not to worry, she said, most people like me got better in seven days. Seven days later my seizure meds still weren’t working, I couldn’t get out of bed, and I stopped breathing during my five-minute-plus coughing fits. But the pandemic had intensified to such an extent that even this wasn’t serious enough for a test, much less hospital admission. My doctor prescribed medicine strong enough to keep me breathing during fits and told me to hope for the best. Mercifully “the best” eventually arrived, albeit painstakingly slowly. Even more mercifully, Ivan never developed more than a mild cough. Praise God for His protective hand!

Getting sick was one of the best things that could have happened to me. God used it to remind me that I’m not always THE special one, in spite of three years of conditioning to the contrary. The truth? I didn’t need a test. Would it have gratified my need to feel important? Sure. Would it have helped me get better? No. I also didn’t need a hospital admission. There were moments when we thought I did, but my doctor was right after all. I didn’t need a ventilator or an IV to break a raging fever, and I would have just taken away a bed from someone who did. Thankfully prescription cough medicine sufficed, even if it didn’t always work perfectly. What I did need was to look around me. To remember that my doctor was treating patients even though she had a baby at home. To listen to the ambulance sirens wailing by our apartment every day. To read news articles about the outbreak already infiltrating New York. So many people were more special than me, in one way or another.

And that’s what I’d like to share as those of us in San Jose face another month of sheltering. It’s tempting to read about other states reopening and grumble, “What about us? Aren’t our financial and educational and social needs just as important as theirs?” Yes, our needs are certainly urgent. But there is so much at stake that we can’t see. Our leaders are looking at the big picture, while all we can see are our living rooms and the sky outside our windows. Local healthcare workers are still risking themselves daily to save lives, and if fewer people are dying or getting sick, it’s thanks to their efforts and the strict guidelines we’ve been following since March. So take heart and join me in supporting them and thanking God for our leaders, leaders who are trying to safeguard us even if we don’t always agree with their timeline.

“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established…For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. “

~Romans 13:1,4

 

 

 

Every Good and Perfect Gift

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A window to the world.

 

Politics, masks, vaccines, the economy. Are these the metrics of life as we know it? Life and death and everything in between have been on the forefront of our collective minds for weeks now. The stakes suddenly got higher and we now have so much more to lose.

Or do we? Death has always been around the corner–what are 80 or 90 years compared to eternity? Jobs, relationships, and health have never come with a lifetime warranty. But perhaps what has changed in the past weeks is our awareness of how fragile the pillars of our lives are, how little is actually within our control.

VCS has been on Easter Break this week, and so I’ve had extra time to think about all that’s happened recently. These verses came to mind:

O Lord, what are human beings that you should notice them,
    mere mortals that you should think about them?
For they are like a breath of air;
    their days are like a passing shadow.” (Psalm 144:3-4, NLT)

What does God owe us during shelter in place? What can we rightfully claim from the world and each other? How much of who we are, what we own and what we enjoy is only by the unmerited mercy and bounty of God?

Nothing, nothing, everything.

I find that I need to be careful not to feel entitled to things for which I actually have no entitlement. All the goodness to be found in life comes not from myself, or from others, but from God:

“So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession.” (James 1:16-18, NLT)

Hope during times of peace is an ideal; hope during duress is real.

Strength, character, faith, joy, peace, kindness, and a host of other godly virtues can be tested and revealed now in our lives in ways that simply would not have been possible before. Our losses during this time are greater–for some of us, immensely more so–but so is our experience of redemption in Christ.

Apart from Him, these days only serve to remind us how contingent our lease on life is. With Him, these days and all earthly days to follow are just the prelude to our true life.

And for that–for Who He Is and all that He’s done–there’s everything to thank Him for, coronavirus notwithstanding.

Sheltering Week Three: Time for SPIES

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Ivan’s students were getting on Daisy’s nerves this week…

We form habits in twenty-one days. Those of us in Northern California are beginning our third week of Shelter-at-Home, which means we’re solidifying our unusual lifestyle. If you live elsewhere, you might be beginning your at-home journey or watching the news and wondering if this chapter will reach you, too. But wherever you fall on the sheltering spectrum, we’ve all had to adjust to social distancing, reduced resources, and potential illness over the past couple of months. Hopefully you’ve been able to build constructive habits to manage our new limitations, but if you’re still looking for some tips, feel free to check out this post.

As much as that post is a great place to start, there’s still more to thriving at home than setting goals, making to-do lists, and working out. Thriving implies holistic wellness, which includes mind, body, and spirit. Ivan learned the SPIES evaluation technique during undergrad at CBU, and I overheard him sharing it with his students this week. I wanted to post it here since it’s a wonderful tool for evaluating holistic wellness and setting positive intentions.

First, give yourself an overall rating in each category on a scale of 1-10.  “1” = “not at all” and “10” = “excellent.” The questions help you understand how to rate yourself and also make your answers more specific.

 

SPIRITUALLY: Am I connecting with God each day? How much?

PHYSICALLY: Am I eating well and hydrating enough? Sleeping? Exercising?

INTELLECTUALLY: Am I challenging myself to learn/grow? How?

EMOTIONALLY: What is my overall attitude like? Why?

SOCIALLY: Am I staying connected/investing in those around me? How?

 

Now that you’ve finished the quiz, go back and pick at least one category you’d like to improve this week. Hopefully this can give some inspiration for Shelter-at-Home Week Three as you keep building positive habits. And as always, stay healthy! 🙂

 

Ready for Shelter-at-Home Week Two?

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Quick photo op before Ivan started “classes!” 🙂

“I can’t! It says my username is already taken!”

“Well, that means you need to make up another one.”

Spying on Ivan’s work life was my favorite part of Shelter-at-Home Week One. 60-minute online classes may be sprints compared to the 90-minute live marathons he runs on “normal” weeks, but even these sprints proved enlightening – especially to my homeschooler’s brain. Equally enlightening were exchanges such as the one above. A simple sequence like downloading an app and creating a new-user account perplexed some junior highers, the generation we’ve labeled hopeless technology addicts.

As to the technology itself, most of Ivan’s classes weren’t exactly Zoom-friendly. The choir kids produced zero appealing sounds during their single attempt to sing into their microphones, and the piano kids logged into class without expecting to actually play the piano. (Some don’t have a keyboard at home.) But “sheltering boredom” played to Ivan’s advantage. Video lectures and group discussions were suddenly much more appealing once students realized Netflix only goes so far in one day. Learning and recreation had effectively swapped places – or at least negotiated a truce.

But what about those of us whose grown-up diplomas are stuffed in tubes or displayed on walls? How did we process our Shelter-at-Home Week One? I’ve noticed three recurring themes as I’ve scrolled my social media feed: Creative indoor activities, rants about the new “rules”, and variants of “In these uncertain times…” As someone who’s “sheltered-at-home” for three and a half years and currently “shelters in bedroom” when Ivan turns on extra lights to teach his classes, I’d like to offer words of encouragement to both inspired and anxious shelter-ers. For those of you stretching your creative limits and spreading your success on social media, keep up the good work! Learning isn’t linked to age or education, and what better time to learn a new skill, recipe, etc., or revisit an old one, than right now? You never know how sharing your experience might encourage someone who is feeling isolated or depressed.

For those who might be feeling overwhelmed by multiplying government orders, distressing news reports, sick loved ones, or just plain loneliness…Our times are certainly uncertain. We’ve grown complacent about wars, natural disasters, and even sickness as long as it’s somewhere else. What makes COVID-19 so disturbing is that it’s right here. But so is God. And God is more certain than any vaccine or treatment plan. If surfing social media feeds your anxiety, perhaps consider stepping away for a couple of days. I ‘ve reduced Instagram/Facebook use during difficult periods of my own recovery journey, and benefited from each break. There are plenty of other ways to connect with loved ones (think texting, phone calls, and Skype or FaceTime) that don’t expose you to negativity. But no matter how you opt to keep in touch with family and friends, make sure to keep in touch with God first. Praying and memorizing encouraging Bible verses are great places to start!

Whether you’re working, studying, or exploring new ways to invest your time at home…Wishing you a safe and healthy Shelter-at-Home Week Two! ❤

 

If you’re not a Christian but you’re curious about what it means to trust God, you can find out more here.

 

COVID-19: Hunker Down Like a Pro

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Ivan took an art class for teachers shortly before VCS closed last week 🙂

I climbed out of bed reveling in the glorious “Ahh” feeling that accompanies any Spring Break, much less a Spring Break that magically produces a stay-at-home husband. But my “perfect break” reminds me just how un-perfect this week – most likely these next several weeks – will be for most of us. San Jose was put into “Shelter at Home” status starting at 12 am this morning due to COVID-19. For those of you living in areas that are less impacted by the virus, “Shelter at Home” means we have to stay inside our homes except for essential activities like buying groceries, caring for relatives and pets, etc. School, work, church, and other social activities are canceled…hence my stay-at-home husband. (For the record, he is still teaching his classes online 😉 )

Being trapped indoors for several weeks sounds daunting – perhaps even terrifying, depending on your baseline activity or anxiety level. However, I’ve been “trapped” indoors for around three and a half years due to my neurological disabilities and I’ve learned plenty of tricks to keep my days not just full, but meaningful. Some of these I learned in occupational therapy, some I learned from managing online school, and some I learned from plain ol’ trial and error. Hopefully they can help y’all relax and view this time as an opportunity instead of an obstacle.

  • Make a plan. I was never a to-do list sort of girl before my accident, but I quickly became one afterward. Writing out a list of things to accomplish each day keeps you from feeling bored and also gives you a mood jolt every time you cross something off your list. “There’s nothing to do” is a dangerous slogan. There’s always something to do if you look hard enough. Besides, the more you say something, the more likely you are to believe it.
  • Set goals. This goes hand-in-hand with your daily to-do list but is more fun since it gives you concrete markers to aim for. Is there a book you’ve been wanting to read? Give yourself a certain number of days to finish it, then schedule a certain amount of reading time into each day. What about that Spring Cleaning project you’ve been threatening to start? Now’s the perfect time! The great part about being inside for a few weeks is that you don’t have to tackle everything all at once unless you want to. Instead, you can spread projects over multiple days by scheduling just a chunk of time per project per day. The important part is to stay consistent. Ready for the fun part about goal-setting? REWARDS! True, your reward bank might be a tad limited at the moment, but I bet you still have some rewards you can enjoy when you meet your goals. Or, if you really want something exotic, make another list of rewards to enjoy once you can go out again.
  • Stay active. This is a HUGE one for me. I have to exercise around an hour a day due to residual physical deficits, but did you know the average adult needs 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 times per week? None of us will be going to the gym any time in the near future, but you can find plenty of exercise videos on YouTube. For those of us who are fans of walking or running on the treadmill, Spotify has exercise playlists organized by BPM. I’m trying the 140 BPM playlist for at-home walking (I can’t run)…my only disclaimer is I’d be careful about this option if you live on the second floor of an apartment complex! And friendly reminder, “Shelter at Home” doesn’t mean you can’t go on an outdoor walk by yourself or with a family member. Fresh air is always the best medicine…just stay away from strangers while you’re taking it! 😉
  • Set time limits. This one is both a “do” and a “don’t.” Scheduling activities to occur at certain points throughout your day and deciding how much time you will spend on each of them is a great way to make time fly. I’m frequently surprised at how quickly the time passes between my alarm ringing at 5:40 am (thank you, Ivan!) and my medication alert clattering at 5:30 pm. That being said, it’s a good idea to set limits on screen time as well. Vacations are notorious for Netflix and gaming binges, and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that. But we’re in this for a lot more than one week, and staring at screens for hour upon hour as you lounge on a lumpy couch is NOT good for your mind and body. So, enjoy your “guilty” pleasures but set a timer on your phone and make sure you’re getting up to stretch or…ahem…exercise. Even wiser would be investing an equal or greater amount of time interacting with those around you and exercising your mind through activities like reading or learning something new (podcasts are a great place to start!)

These are just a few of the tips and tricks I’ve discovered over the past few years. Feel free to comment below or on Facebook if you have some of your own that you’d like to share. It’s true that we’re in for a difficult few weeks, but I also think it’s an excellent opportunity to practice “making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:16).

 

 

Care Given to Caregiver

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This past week Ivan finally got some much-anticipated pho…it was pho-nomenal 😉

12:25 am. Harp glissandos fill the darkness – my alarm is ringing. I linger for a moment as I try to focus my eyes  before sitting up and groping for my phone in an attempt to silence the harps before they crescendo to an obnoxious fortissimo. Ivan is due for his next dose of Hycet at 12:30, followed by another at 4:30. I’m not qualified to administer either dose – it requires pouring an exact amount of the potent liquid into a tiny syringe, and I can’t even feel my left hand, much less help him push the narcotic from the syringe into his jaws, which are wired shut. The first night I spilled his medicine all over the bathroom sink, and surgeons are loath to refill medications that are hallucinatory and potentially addictive. I should know. I’ve been on it myself. But Ivan used to wake up not two, but three times a night to care for me, and he’s been my primary caregiver for the past three years. And so I insist on giving him his Hycet. Just as I flip on the bathroom light and begin squinting at the bottle and the syringe (and praying I drop neither), I hear a soft knock on our bedroom door. Mom and Dad pad in softly, bleary-eyed and concerned. Mom supervises me as I administer the medicine, and Dad will spot Ivan to the bathroom if necessary. They’ll be back for the 4:30 dose, too. The truth is that as much as I wish I could help Ivan on my own – even for just one task – I can’t.

I think that’s what I’ve come to appreciate (if that word is remotely applicable) about these past two months. It takes my brain longer to begin sorting traumatic experiences than most people’s, but I’m coming to realize that my stress as a temporary caregiver is a fraction of what Ivan and my family have faced for the past three years. True, I’m also more physically and mentally limited than they are, but I think the application is the same: no caregiver is an island, and no care given is as straightforward as it appears. At first I was embarrassed that Mom and Dad got up to check on me every time I administered Ivan’s midnight meds: cue me wasting an entire dose by spilling it in the sink. Plus, as I haven’t admitted until typing this very post, I take so much “sleepy” neurological medication myself that I easily could have slept through one of his doses. I can’t cook, I can’t drive, and I can’t do heavy housework, so my daytime “contributions” while we stayed with my parents involved sweeping, folding laundry, managing schedules, and keeping tabs on Ivan’s daytime needs (although my ability to meet those needs varied). As I watched my family work cheerfully with and around me every day, I realized they and Ivan had already been doing that for the past three years. I hope I’ve always understood that caregiving is a gargantuan enterprise, but I know I’ve never comprehended how relentless it feels, even for a few weeks.

God created humans to function in community, and while each member of my family contributed their part to the big picture, none of us was independently sufficient for this trial – especially me. Even we as a family unit weren’t completely sufficient, and remain incredibly grateful to all those who stepped in and provided resources when we found ourselves stretched too thin. I know this post reprises events from Ivan’s accident that we’ve shared before, but I wanted to contribute some final thoughts as a “care receiver” who tried on the role of “caregiver,” if only for a few weeks:

“A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” ~ Ecclesiastes 4:12