Post-Fever Thoughts

I finally remembered to use my thermometer on Tuesday after days of increasing body aches, headaches, coughing, exhaustion, and mounting self pity.  It read 104.  Figuring I was either going blind or delirious and hoping it was an error, I climbed into bed for yet another nap.  When I got up, it was only 102.

There were a couple of days and nights that I left the house door unlocked.  Let’s blame it on the fevered brain (rather than a natural tendency to over-plan life/death matters), but I figured that if I did pass out (or on), hopefully someone would wander by to check on us before Dawny had to resort to gnawing on my leg.  It would be nice if Dawny’s rescuer could at least enter the macabre scene with ease.

Anyhew, I survived.  Dawny survived.  She sweetly slowed her pace to match my zombie marching band tempo, and we managed to fit in three small walks and a fourth nighty-night-hurryupandpee!!!-walk each day.  I also bundled up, complete with surgical mask to protect my lungs from the cold (and cleaning chemicals), and was able to do my workamping duties for a couple of hours each morning.  I took it slow, but I got it done.  The last thing I wanted was to have to somehow make up the time or risk being charged a nightly camping fee.

Today I felt almost great.  Although the cough hangs on like a convulsing scar still steaming from scalding burns, today has been wonderful compared to this past week.  So I did some laundry and housecleaning, washing away the germs that I can almost see crawling around my little house and everything in it.  I checked the water levels in my house batteries, the oil in my generator, and the air in my tires.  We are in good shape for a nice holiday outing to join family for Thanksgiving in a few days.  A week later, we will be back on the road en route to our next destination.

Yesterday I went shopping and restocked my shelves with items that I was so grateful to have had in my cupboards when I got sick.  Like a squirrel, I tend to hoard, worried about what might happen if I run out of something important and can not get more.  So, having had on hand three boxes of tea, two containers of honey, three six-packs of bagels, two jars of Airborne Super Vitamin C mix, plenty of aspirin and Ricola lozenges, and two asthma inhalers–even though they hadn’t been touched in years–looks like a flash of brilliance in hindsight.  Nah, just a silly squirrel flashing by . . . but thank goodness!

It’s never easy being sick.  It’s a bit harder when alone.  The challenge increases when you have to take care of someone and certain things, regardless of how you feel.  Take it from this crybaby, it’s ok if you curl up and cry for your Momma for awhile.  It’s ok if you are grumpy with those around you.  Do what you need to do, then get back to doing for yourself.  Drink your tea.  Take your medicine.  Get back to bed.  And when you are feeling better, be gracious to those who showed you kindness.

Fortunately I was never totally alone.  Something occurred to me about all those walks Dawny took me on.  Even though I lamented having to be out there at the time, as she lead me around on our leash, that movement helped keep the gunk in my lungs from turning into cement.  While tending to her feeding four times a day/night (yes, four–this is what works for her aging constitution), I was sure to not neglect my own need for the inhaler or tea or whatever.  It helped.  She helped.

Sometimes I think she knows a bit more than I give her credit for.  I am so lucky to have her.

A Village of Angels

Sounds pretty nice, huh?  A village of angels.

Well, that just happens to be what I’ve landed in!

You know the expression, “It takes a village to raise a child.”  Well, that works at the other extreme of our lives’ stories as well.  As we age, it often takes a village to love one another well, to get to really know and appreciate each other, offer support when needed and desired, and share with generous spirits when some of our lives veer off into sometimes cruel detours brought on by poor health or deep, aching loss.

I made it to the CARE Center (Continuing Assistance for Retired Escapees) last week.  CARE is unique.  It is the only place in the country (maybe even the world) that offers assistance to RV’ers who need to stay in one place for a time for medical reasons.  It is actually open to non-RV’ers, as well, but the vast majority of residents have RV backgrounds of one variety or another.

Residents live in their own homes.  Their RVs–which have ramps built next to them for safe access–surround the main facility that houses the dining hall, multi-activities room, and nursing and administrative offices.  CARE also offers a daily care (ADC) program for people needing more concentrated assistance.  For more details, you can visit their website at www.escapeescare.org.

But CARE is much more than you will ever find on a website or in a brochure.  Most of the residents share a common love of travel, of RV’ing and camping–some for vacations or extended travel and many for full-time living.  This common element is a special glue that helps to bond the program’s participants–residents, ADC, staff, and volunteers–together.  Honestly, in my former work I encountered a great many people in a variety of retirement and assisted living communities, and I’ve never seen this kind of cohesiveness.  People here truly care for one another, watch out for each other, and give of themselves to the best of their ability.

The angel in this picture was made by a beautiful, extraordinary lady who attends the ADC program.  Her name is Frances.  She gave it to me as a thank you gift for helping her during the bingo game–I was her lucky sidekick who helped break her losing streak with a two-game win.

But what she gave me was worth more than she knows.  For Frances has some major physical challenges that severely impair her movement, hearing, and ability to communicate–things most of us totally take for granted.  I honestly did not know what Frances’ abilities were when I sat down to help her with her four bingo cards, and I was nervous about doing too much or too little or talking too loud and not being able to understand what she was trying to say.

By the time the 90 minute tournament was over, I had a real sense of the woman next to me.  Her strength, her intelligence, her abilities that went well beyond what you could see from the outside.  We were in sync.  Mostly without words.

The words came later.

Later, in the dining room, I was talking to Crystal, officially the CARE Volunteer Coordinator but in reality the beating heart of the place.  Crystal saw Frances looking at us, trying to get our attention.  She went over to her and I followed.  When I bent down, for the first time I could understand everything Frances said.  “Thank you for helping me.  I want to give you something.”

She struggled to stand.  Dawn, a beautiful caregiver, helped her with her walker.  Frances went over to a table with crafts material on it.  She picked up this delicate, lace angel.  She gave it to me.

A village.

Of angels.

Of love.

Of generosity.

And incredible strength.

I only hope and pray that I can return in some measure the priceless gifts I receive during my time in this very special place.

Annoying

I had a client once, Mrs. D, who was deeply depressed.  Her son hired me to come into her retirement home, get her up from bed and into the shower, dressed, visit the nurse’s station for her meds, then make it in time to the transport bus which would take her to the local senior center three times a week.  Without such assistance, encouragement, nagging–whatever you want to call it–she would remain in bed with the covers pulled over her head.  As she followed my endless instructions and suggestions throughout the steps of our routine, she reminded me of deeply pained molasses.

A few years in, Mrs. D suffered what so many aging people dread:  a fall.  She simply fell while walking down the hall, and she hurt herself badly enough that she ended up in nursing home care.  One of her sons made plans to move her out of the area and closer to his home a few states away.

Knowing that I wouldn’t be seeing her any more, I paid Mrs. D a visit in the nursing home prior to her departure.  She was, as usual, very quiet.  Her speech was slow and measured when she did talk, her economy of words so strict that they barely survived the fall from her lips into the freedom of unstifled air.

But she was perfectly clear.  And honest.  And concise.  As I bustled around her room, seeing if I could get her anything or help in some other way, Mrs. D spoke:

“You’re annoying.”

. . .

It’s ok.  You can laugh.

She was absolutely right.

I often sympathized with Mrs. D’s plight.  Why couldn’t the son just leave his poor mother alone?  If she wanted to crawl under the covers and simply waste away, wasn’t that her decision?  I felt like a bully some days getting her to move along through the steps that eventually put her on that bus to spend her day with a bunch of people she did not know nor care to get to know.  It must have been exhausting for her.

But there were other times when I would be treated to a glimpse of a beautiful sparkle in her deep brown eyes.  Usually when her dry humor found some cause to justify an appearance.  Those eyes spoke volumes.  In them I could recognize the lovely woman who resided with her family in various picture frames carefully placed along the living room window sill.

I hope Mrs. D was able to find some pleasure after she moved.  If she has passed on, I pray she is at peace and knows joy.

If I could speak to her again, have a chance to redo my goodbye, I would thank her.  For I also recognized myself in her eyes.  Not just the reflection of my annoying, over-zealous, Pollyanna tendencies, but also the deeper me that so much of that noise and clutter is designed to keep at bay.  Keep quiet.  Hidden.

I would thank her for doing more than simply putting up with me.  For showing me what courage is.  That it often involves the tiniest of steps, the simplest resolve.  That sometimes strength is found in surrender.  Or the simple act of taking the next breath.  And that honesty, with ourselves and with others, is a gift–even though it can be one of the most difficult to give and to receive.

* * * * * * * * * *

When you are gasping

grasping

from the depths

for sustenance

survival

relief from the beast

that grips your heart

in a velvet vice . . .

Who dares judge your choice

of life preserver?

(CE 2/12/14)

* * * * * * * * * *

This post is dedicated to three very special, courageous friends and, of course, Mrs. D.