It’s Been Quite a Year

I never dreamed of a year like this one when I was planning for retirement. I left Yale Law Library in October 2015 and within a week, left for Texas. Not long after I got here, I found myself redesigning the community church website and then working there for five years. Last August I left that job when I realized I needed all my time to concentrate on learning to walk and live independently. I was right that it would be a full time job, but it’s certainly not what I expected to be doing when I wasn’t getting a paycheck.

I had spine surgery a year ago today that arrested the severe spinal stenosis, but it didn’t reverse the damage that had been done. I was very scared of what the future would look like when I was in rehab and not able to even stand up or go to the bathroom without two people helping me. I didn’t think I would be able to go back to my brand new apartment or take care of my beautiful floofy kitties that I loved so much. I didn’t see any light in the tunnel at all much less a way to get out of the tunnel to something beyond that.

I learned that I need to do what I can for myself but also recognize when I need help and ask for it – and then accept the help that is offered. I’m stubborn and independent and am used to living on my own, without anyone to depend on to help with things around the house. I’m still alone but there are people right out my door who will come if I ask, who will notice if I don’t show up for things. There are sweet friends who took care of my kitties when I was gone for so very long. That I can hire people to help me with personal care but also therapists who can teach me how to do some of those things for myself. The day I was able to do a shower on my own was a great day indeed even if it took me an hour.

And I learned that I wasn’t limited to hoping I could stand up. I can walk again, thanks to my wonderful physical therapists Veronica and Grace. Oh, I’m still using a regular walker with its cheetah print tennis balls but have a bright red rollator ready when I have the balance and strength to work on using it. It should be an enormous help since I’ll have a place to carry things from place to place (which is hard to do in a wheelchair) as well as sit when I need a rest. I can walk about 3/4 of my hallway and back again without stopping, and am working up to doing the entire hallway soon.

But the reality is that I probably will not be able to ditch the wheelchair or walker. There is a lot of nerve damage from the stenosis that won’t reverse. I’m not as worried about it as other people seem to be, probably because I’ve been in the chair for a year now and know what I can do. Caring for the cats – food, water, litter, cleaning up vomit – is best done while seated, and while I might be able to do that with a rollator, I know I can do it from the chair. I love them dearly and need to be sure they’re not shortchanged by my limits.

I’m so grateful for my friends here at Meadow Lake and for its accessibility and spaciousness. I couldn’t have dreamed up a better place to be with my physical limits. And I’m especially thankful for the friends I visit with online and by phone if not in person, who keep me connected, interested, and engaged. You are my tribe and I love you.

One Year Ago Today I Moved

A year ago today I moved from my family home in Emerald Bay to an apartment at Meadow Lake. I hate moving and don’t do it very often if I can help it – all that sorting, packing, hauling, finding, unpacking, arranging, and rearranging of everything. But this move was necessary and timely, and I’m grateful beyond words that I paid attention when God kept opening a lot of doors one right after another last summer. Everything I needed was here, especially the cats. Emma did not want to get picked up and moved from the back of the corner kitchen cabinet, but we all made it safe and sound.

This has been a good place for me at the right time in my life. My home is spacious and comfortable – the largest apartment I’ve ever lived in – with a screened in porch for the cats and for me when I can manage it with the walker. I look out at grass, trees, a garden, and have blooming crepe myrtles outside my windows which make me happy.

I didn’t know when I moved here that I would be in a wheelchair within a matter of days, but this is exactly where I need to be. I have the tools I need to live independently – housekeeping, maintenance, lots of grab bars, wide doorways, roll in shower, and a medical alert system. Because I can no longer drive, I’m grateful that weekday transportation is available to doctors and grocery stores. We also get amazing meals once a day so I don’t have to cook much, though I have a full kitchen.

I’ve made friends here with residents and staff. Almost all the residents are much older than I am, but there are a few closer to me in age – and really, I don’t care. I’ve never been with a more friendly and welcoming group of people. In many ways it’s like living in a dorm and not apartments, because we all look out for each other. The hard part is the high turnover as neighbors die, move closer to children, or go to assisted living. There are nine apartments on my hall and six turned over in the last year, including mine.

Moving was hard but I’m glad I made this one.

House warming 9 months late

I had a house warming party yesterday, over 9 months after my actual move in August 2021. But what with rehab and covid, it wasn’t realistic to have it earlier. Meadow Lake made it easy, though, and provided a private lunch followed by photos and a visit to my apartment, which most of my friends hadn’t seen. It was hard figuring out who to invite since I know so many people and we picked a date that fell on a Monday when the club was closed to minimize conflicts. It was so much fun to see these dear friends and to have the chance to share some of my life with them. I hope those who weren’t able to make the open house are able to come at a better time for them for lunch and a visit.

Housekeeping came Monday morning and did a great job making things tidy. I spun around on the weekend and put away papers, threw out random stuff, and dusted everything – which isn’t particularly easy to do in a wheelchair. My neighbor came over and swept off the porch so there weren’t rolling balls of cat fur or dead bugs. The weather was perfect for having the door open, letting in fresh air, but the cats showed no interest in being safe on the porch when they could be running around under foot, in the closet, or under furniture. They didn’t escape and were happy to have the house to themselves again after everyone left.

And in the “That Didn’t Go Well” Department

I went down to the front desk late today to see if there was a wheelchair I could use instead of the crappy chair. They had two. One was too small and the other looked like it could work. But I transferred to it too fast and found myself stuck and unable to stand back up because it had desk arms, which are lower in the front with the higher padded part in the back. I need the padded part to be up front to get the leverage I need to stand. We ended up waiting for a friend on staff to come in and help. There was a great team of people keeping the wheelchairs from sliding back (both have brake problems) and one person on each arm to help me stand up.

I knew my legs would support me if I could just stand up. They did, and I was able to transfer back to my too-big crappy chair. I felt so stupid for not remembering to check the arms before I tried out the chair. I know better. But I am so grateful for the friends who came to my rescue, and for the skills I learned that helped me know how to facilitate that rescue.

Veronica at Olympic Center told me that it was my job to direct my care. To know what needs to happen and to tell other people what to do to make it work. I think I learned that lesson pretty well.

Therapy Notes – Friday, 8/27/21

Susan washed my hair today. It felt amazing, after three weeks, to have water on the scalp and fingers washing away grime. I’ve never appreciated a shampoo as much. It was the last part of my OT time today, after doing the arm bike and weights, and a round of practicing transfer from the wheelchair to a shower chair so I can have a shower next week. I still have trepidation about how it will work in practice, but at least I’ve practiced it twice. With practice comes more confidence. At least that’s the plan.

Yesterday in PT, Veronica had me practice standing with the parallel bars and letting go with one hand at a time. Today I had a chance to actually use that when getting dressed, standing in the walker and holding on with one hand and using the other hand to help pull up my clothes. I don’t think I would have been brave enough to risk doing it otherwise.

Today we started PT by walking with the walker. I did 30 feet on my first try and 35 feet on my second, to the applause of one of the other patients and her therapist. The rest of our time, I worked on transfers (again) and on how to get my legs up on the bed by myself. Yeah, easier to say than to do. And rolling. I kept trying to figure out how to apply this info to my own house, which is going to need to have some furniture rearrangement – and the bed is entirely the wrong height. Not sure how that is going to work. I miss my bed but I admit I love having something adjustable. Maybe Sleep Number has a good option for me but I’m not sure what I’ll do.

I had a little pity party on the table, trying to get my legs off the floor by myself. A wave of “Why do I have to deal with this? Why is this happening to me?” Tears and sniffles. I’ve mostly stuffed all that down because it keeps me in a pit instead of working to getting out of it. Whatever the reason, this is my reality now. I don’t have to like it, but I do have to accept it and learn work arounds for things that used to be so easy to do. I’m very grateful for my friends who are taking care of the kitties, and house things, keeping in touch with cards, texts, and Facebook. But it’s lonely here. We spend a lot of time alone, resting and recovering. I miss seeing people in person, and getting hugs. And I miss my kitty girls so much. I hope they will remember me.