26 December 2023

Tender Mercies

It was not a Christmas to remember, but it is one we won't soon forget. And yet, there were so many tender mercies.

I completed CPR recertification for the first time in five years literally the week before I needed it. My employer paid for my training, even though I am not in the office the required "at least three days a week" they mandated. I volunteered to pay for it myself, but I was never billed.

While growing up, my grandmother taught me, via application, that Vicks Vaporub is the key to winter survival. She taught me, again, through how she tended to me and my two little brothers, that (pure, local) honey and lemon work just as well as any over-the-counter concoction. As does a warm salt water gargle. And vitamin C in almost any form, particularly pineapple. Oh, and steam. Breathe it in, breathe it in, breathe it in. Back then, Grandma would drape a towel over our heads as we stood on a kitchen chair to lean over a steaming (blue with white flecks) tea pot on the stove and breathe in the steam. I don't need a towel these days. My hair LOVES pretending to be a towel. And it looks pretty darned healthy and wavy after I finish!

Drugs prescribed to treat Parkinson's don't play nicely with over-the-counter meds, so natural remedies are just about the only way to kick the common cold. Thank heavens, one of my super powers must be my often unbelievable immunity. While growing up, I cared for my entire 9-member family through two bouts of "Hong Kong" flu without ever contracting it. I did steal Lizard's sore throat for two days a couple of weeks ago, but only after accidentally using his toothbrush. It's been so long since either of us was sick, I'd forgotten I ALWAYS replace our toothbrushes after we've had a cold or virus.

Steam. My goodness, who in the world would have ever expected me to be thankful for those pesky tiny black "no see 'em" bugs I couldn't get rid of, even after I gave away nearly all our houseplants? Back about three months ago, another gardener told me the best way to get rid of those mini monsters was not the dish soap/apple cider vinegar concoction I'd been spraying on the pots and soil for years, but to instead dump a pot of boiling hot water down each drain (where the vexing little bugs nest) every day for at least ten days. It worked. The steam also humidified the kitchen/dining room/living room of our house, and I wanted to make sure the little bugs didn't come back. So I kept doing it. I think that homemade humidity made our air healthier when we needed it most.

The prayers of friends and loved ones literally got us a next-day emergency appointment with the general practitioner, which prevented us from the likely hours-long wait Lizard would have had to endure at an urgent care center while I filled out mountains of paperwork then trusted his life to strangers who don't know his history and which meds he can take. Not to mention the potential exposure to more winter germs after he had just successfully recovered from 12 days of a common cold complicated by allergies. The week before Christmas! I expected we'd have to make that emergency room visit because no one would be able to squeeze us in until after the new year.

I didn't find out about the medical emergency until 2 a.m. Sunday. It would be 28 hours before I could call the family physician. (Yes, I tried the number, and was directed to call 911). The aforementioned CPR training (which no longer includes splinting or stopping bleeding, which I independently studied up on at the same time because these skills are as important to me as a caregiver as CRP and AED) was just what I needed just when I needed it.

2019 total knee replacement

Four of my bosses did not protest when I informed them Monday morning of our last-minute medical emergency appointment the following day. My fifth boss sent me one of the kindest emails I've ever received: "Deb, you do whatever you have to do to take care of your husband and get him the medical care he needs. Nothing here is as important as that." My sweet co-worker graciously volunteered to cover for me during the appointment, just as she did during the pandemic when I attended my dad's funeral and Lizard's step-sister's funeral. (Assigned coverage during time off in summer and fourth quarter requires months of advance notice.) The miracle of me being allowed to work from home is continually one of our most huge gifts.

Hardwood floors. They came with the house, and boy, am I ever thankful most of the house is not carpeted. Lizard dripped blood everywhere his restless legs carried him before he discovered he was bleeding. So grateful this Parkinson's-ravaged, often-confused and sometimes childlike sweetheart of mine noticed he was oozing before the bleeding began and took the time (fighting all-out achiness, given the nature of the looming medical emergency) to cover each seating surface in the house with a towel and an old bicycle T-shirt. Every single T-shirt he used now displays "war wounds" of the night neither of us will ever forget.

The ability to calmly and tenderly slow the bleeding and encourage coagulation while panic was banging on the door and screaming in my ears. The almost magical healing power of fresh air on highly irritated skin. The ability to keep cleaning and dressing wounds without violently displacing everything I'd eaten the previous day and everything I ate the next 56 hours. The power of hydrogen peroxide in removing blood stains in the tub. The ability to forget how much the blood in the tub scared me when I discovered it hours later. The ability to keep eating after some of the horrendous views I thought would haunt me for months or perhaps even years. The miracle of not dreaming about Lizard's suffering every time I close my eyes.

Hold on.  Pain ends.

The example of my sweet mother, who three times daily dressed the wounds on my diabetic father's legs for nearly a decade to prevent gangrene. The doctors told my dad all those years it would not be high blood pressure or cancer that got him. It would be the gangrene. Cancer won.

Dad, Mom, Princess and Me

The example of my friend Shonna and her husband the last four months of her life when she was the one bleeding and in agony as her bed-ridden body slowly succumbed to ovarian cancer. Shonna's closest friends would volunteer to sit with her eight to ten hours while her husband went to work to keep the medical bills paid. The first time I volunteered, I had never seen such suffering in person, and I was horrified. I didn't know if I could finish my shift. But sweet Shonna, between bouts of unimaginable pain, would ask me to massage her feet, which is how I learned to massage Lizard's restless legs. She would ask me to sing "I am a Child of God." And she requested I sing it at her funeral. (Yes, I did.) I think God helped me finish that first shift because there's no way I could have done it alone, even though I love Shonna with all my heart and wanted to do whatever I could to help ease her pain. The biggie, though, was watching her husband lovingly do the tender but painful necessary cleaning of highly sensitive skin as she screamed and moaned in pain. He would continually tell her how much he loves her and how everything was going to be okay. Not once did he shy away, and not once did he express any hint of negativity. I'm not sure he knows he taught me to do what I had to do for Lizard last week by teaching me how to do it for Shonna.

The miracle of sleep. For both of us. I had to work each week day of our trauma, and I was able to get sleep once Lizard was able to get sleep. Sleep allowed me to keep functioning, even when it seemed our whole world was being ripped apart at the skin creases. The miracle of healing. Lizard is mending. And he's still getting some of that precious sleep.

Christmas is a time of miracles. Our lives may not have turned out the way we dreamed, but we certainly receive enough miracles to make up the difference. All year long. Most especially, this year. Not a one of these tender mercy "gifts" was wrapped, but if we were able to pile them, I think the tower would be taller than the skyscraper I call work.

Last week was a nightmare. But I know Whose footprints are in the sand. And snow...

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