*Primary Progressive Aphasia, a degeneration of the part of the brain that affects speech.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

When the Caregiver Needs Care

So I’m on the appliance store’s website and thinking the 5 cubic foot  Frigidaire White Chest Freezer at $197 might be a good idea. I could fill it with the pack of 4 Palermo pizzas I spotted at  Costco, and dozens of packages of frozen vegetarian dinners that my husband likes. That way, when I go to the hospital for two days, and when I’m thumping around on crutches, or with a cane, or pushing a walker, Tommy can possibly prepare meals.

My hip replacement surgery is scheduled for Sept. 20, eight months after two orthopedic specialists said, “You’re limping. It’s not your back, it’s your hip.” X-rays verified arthritis had eroded the cartilage in my right hip and the spooky, “bone on bone” was the culprit.

“Do it sooner rather than later,” my neighbor, the physical therapist, advised. Others chimed in with supportive quotes like, “wish I had done it 10 years earlier,” “I feel like a teenager again.”

But thoughts of any surgery, hospitalization, and rehab bumped up against my care-giving responsibilities. How would my husband fare if I had to be gone from him overnight? How would he continue his three-times-a-week exercise routine at the Y if I couldn’t drive for at least four weeks? Laundry,  grocery shopping, and this-and-that, kept me postponing a visit to a surgeon.

When I admitted I could no longer walk even once around our neighborhood park, I booked the appointment that led to the scheduled date. The surgeon concurred, “If medication and injections no longer work, surgery is the only option to relieve the pain and get you walking easily again.” He penciled me in his hospital schedule, gave me instructions for the interim (continue my cautious workout routine), and told me his nurse would be in touch. My planning began.

I alerted dozens of relatives, neighbors, and friends to my due date. Their responses: “I can help,” “Count on me,” “Whatever you need,” eased my mind. And when I told my husband the September date, and assured him his routines would continue unabated, he gave me two thumbs up.

I relaxed even more when I replayed a scene in my head. It was the first meal Tommy made for me after we met in 1996. He had been a bachelor for 15 years following a first marriage.  I was separated from my husband of 30 years and living in a new townhouse a few doors from Tommy’s apartment.

“This is lovely,” I remember saying as I toured his place. I thought he must have spent time tidying it up for my visit, but now, after having been married to him for 14 years, I realize he’s an orderly person and his apartment was likely untouched.

Tommy was smitten with me back then -- I have letters and notes to prove it. “Sit here,” he had said, pulling out a dining room chair slowly so it wouldn’t scrape or shriek. There was a place mat, I’m sure, and silverware on one side of a dinner plate. (I have since demonstrated how they are separated: fork to the left, knife and spoon on the right.)

Our meal was broiled chicken, cooked squash, and... What was the starch? I can’t recall. But I so remember the squash because I have replicated his recipe many times since then. (Brown sugar stirred into the defrosted and cooked block.)

The other thing that sticks in my memory of my bachelor Tommy was his Friday nights at the laundromat. As he described his weekly routine to me,  I could see my middle-aged swain sitting on a chair next to an empty shopping cart, a paperback mystery in his hands. One load of his laundry is soaking and spinning.

When he moved in with me, just a few months after the chicken and squash dinner, I took him by  hand to my washer and drier. “No more laundromats,” I said. I was happy to declare this. “Terrific,” he said as he put his arm around my waist and kissed my cheek.

So, why am I stressing? My husband can no longer speak, but he can certainly cook a frozen pizza and place an Amy’s fake meatloaf dinner in the microwave.  And, although Tommy hasn’t had to tumble a load for 14 years, I bet he could follow the instructions permanently imprinted on the inside cover of the Whirlpools.

If I purchase the extra freezer I could include several blocks of squash in the inventory. My husband’s memory is intact; I’m certain he’ll remember the recipe. Brown sugar is the key.


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