Positive Influence

Over the weekend I found out something that made me happy and that I wanted to share. During my walk with coworkers and friends, we ended our 6.7 mile walk at a small restaurant in a town called St. Joe. While we were all recovering and refueling from our walk I had the chance to talk to the director from the emergency room I used to work in. I saw him briefly last month at The Daisy Award ceremony for the nurse who took care of my dad in his final hours.

What I learned from him on Saturday made me even more grateful that I took the time to nominate this nurse and that she won. He told me that she is a travelling nurse from Japan and that she really wasn’t sure she fit in here or that she had made the right choice to come here. He told me that after she won the award that it made her feel like she had made the right choice to come here and that it made her feel more a part of the team. This means the world to me. I saw not only how she interacted with my dad and I, but with other staff members. She is truly one of those nurses that is one in a million.

Never underestimate how you can make a difference in the life of someone. I nominated this nurse because of the care and compassion she showed. I didn’t know a lot about where she was from or that she was a travel nurse here. I’m glad that my show of gratitude and appreciation helped make a difference in her life, as she did in mine. Things like this just make my heart so full and make me want to continue on this journey of finding a way to make a difference in the lives of others, while also allowing me to make my life more fulfilled. The next time you think a gesture is too small, but you still want to do something for someone, do it. You never know how big that gesture could be to the person and that it could be life changing for them.

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Power of Attorney

In life there are always many discussions that are hard to have, and one of them is being end of life discussions. No one wants to think about end of life, but we eventually all have the same ending. This may sound morbid or depressing, but we aren’t invincible. Knowing what your loved one wants when their time comes is super important. When I lost my mom, my dad and I had no idea what her final wishes were. My mom lost both of her parents at a young age and was never fond of doctors, so when my dad would try and have those discussions with her, it was always put off. Losing her suddenly was a shock to both my dad and I, but then trying to make arrangements without knowing what she would have wanted was even harder.

While discussions about end of life aren’t easy, they are necessary. My dad and I talked several times about this because of his health. We sat down one day and discussed what it meant to be his medical power of attorney, his living will, and about organ donation. Being a power of attorney for someone is a huge deal. It leaves you responsible to make medical decisions on a persons behalf, should they for some reason not be able to make those decisions because of their medical condition.

You truly don’t know how hard choices are to make until you are faced with making a decision on your own. This is what happened to me in 2015. The previous year my dad had gone through a colonoscopy due to having some blood where blood shouldn’t be. The gastroenterologist saw a few polyps that he was able to take care of and sent to pathology to make sure they weren’t cancerous. It was a huge relief when we found out they were benign.

In 2015 the cycle repeated itself, except this time it was much worse. My dad was hospitalized due to a gastrointestinal bleed. They did a couple of colonoscopies and things got really serious really fast. My dad was pretty much bleeding without it being able to be stopped. And because of the amount he was bleeding he had a large number of blood transfusions. He was also on a blood thinner because of his artificial heart valve and because of everything going on in his system, he also received fresh frozen plasma and vitamin K to bring down his INR. Due to the lack of oxygenated blood in his body, during this time he also had a minor heart attack. This is something that usually ends up having a poor outcome. At one point my dad was so unstable that they did a bedside colonoscopy and endoscopy, but the area he was bleeding from was in that perfect spot that it couldn’t be reached from either end, so the gastroenterologist tattooed the area in case my dad needed to have surgery.

The doctor came out and talked to me in the waiting room, as did a general surgery resident. Both doctors were fantastic and said that if his blood pressure maintained where it was at, they would wait for a couple of days to get him a little more stable to possibly do surgery. They both went back to his room to get things cleaned up and the surgical resident came back out and said that his blood pressure had dropped again, and that an emergency surgery needed to be done. Being the power of attorney for my dad, this was a choice that I had to make. My dad was so out of because of the amount of blood he had lost. I called one of my friends who is a nurse and she came and talked me through everything. I was able to ask several questions to the resident surgeon and once we found out who would actually be doing the surgery I signed the consent form for my dad to have an emergency small bowel resection.

I had some amazing friends come sit with me during the surgery and everyone was fantastic with keeping me updated every step of the way. The only thing going through my mind though once they called to say they had started surgery, was that my dad had always told me he did not want a colostomy bag. But I knew at that point, it was too late to change my mind on him having surgery. Thankfully once surgery was over, the surgeon came out and talked to me and my friends. She said that everything went well, that they removed 18 inches of small bowel, and that he did not need a colostomy even temporarily. My dad did well overnight and they started to wean him off of the propofol so they could extubate him. While he was still intubated he could hear me and the nurses, follow commands, etc. I asked him if he was mad at me for having them go ahead with surgery and he shook his head no and squeezed my hand. I was so relieved and had more confidence that if I needed to make another decision like that, that I would be able to.

Being a medical power of attorney is a powerful position to be in, but knowing who you’d want and trust to make choices for you if you are unable is important. No one likes to discuss death, but having the conversations while you are able to about who you want to make decisions for you and so that your loved ones know what your final wishes are helps tremendously when that time comes. Also, discussions about being an organ donor are just as important. Organ donation is a wonderful thing and my personal stance is if I can allow someone to live a better quality of life once I’m gone, then take what you can because I no longer need it. Losing someone is always hard, but knowing these things in advance makes some things easier on you because for the first few days you will be in a fog trying to get arrangements made, an obituary done, and notifying family and friends. Knowing ahead of time if your loved one wants to be buried or cremated, donating organs, and anything else, helps to take a bit of the burden off.

Things not to say to someone grieving…

In my life I have lost two of the most important people that anyone can lose, my mother and my father. My mom passed on 03/17/2011 at 54 and my dad on 11/29/2017 at 61. There have been other people who I have lost and who I’ve grieved for, but losing a parent is different than an aunt, uncle, grandparent. Of course you have a relationship with them, but the people who raised you leave such an impact on your life. In the last 6 years, 10 months, I’ve heard many different things that people have said to me or others grieving.

When I lost my mom people told me she was in a better place, some told me I needed to get over it, others said she wouldn’t want me to be sad. At the time I had others who called and asked me if Facebook posts they were seeing on her page were true. Some people may joke around about death or losing their parents, but I was not that way. Everyone grieves in their own way and while she is in a better place, telling someone that right after someone passes may not be the best thing to say, neither is telling someone to get over the death of a loved one because we will never be over no matter how much time passes.

Recently at some doctor’s appointments and other appointments, people told me my dad was in a better place, no longer in pain, etc. And I know him being in pain no longer is a huge relief for me because of his numerous health issues, and while his death came quick, I had a chance for closure with him that I didn’t get with my mom, but again with his passing I have heard comments from people again telling me he wouldn’t want me to be sad or cry, that he would want me to move on with my life. The most recent comment which hurt more than the others was when I recently went to a walk-in clinic for this upper respiratory stuff that’s been going around this winter. A doctor was getting a little bit of history on me, if I had siblings, my parents, what I do for work. When I told the I lost both of my parents and was an only child this doctor said, “So that makes you an orphan now”. And by the true definition of an orphan that statement is true, why would you say that to someone who had only lost their father five weeks previously?!

Some of the best things you can do for someone grieving is offer to go to the funeral home with them to make arrangements, take them out to lunch or dinner, spend a weekend day with them, bring over a home cooked meal so they don’t have to worry about cooking for a night, let them call you and listen to them cry if they need to, or just to vent. There are so many productive ways to help someone who is grieving rather than saying they are in a better place or they wouldn’t want you to be sad, because while that may be true, words can hurt even if they are meant in the best possible way. We learn to live without them in our lives, but there will always be things that trigger us and make us relive the day we lost them.

The toll being a caregiver takes

When you are thrown into the world of being a caregiver, you never imagine the toll it can take on your own body. It’s like all of your senses are heightened and you are always ready to jump up incase the person you are taking care of needs something. This is how my life was over the last six and a half years.

When I really started to have to put my dad and his needs above mine happened around the same time that I was in a bad work situation. The department I had been working in and loved most of the time, started to take a toll on me. I was being talked to about things that weren’t at all related to me doing my job and hitting all of my job related performance stats. It was during this time that I visited my family doctor and was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder from work related stress. I know this evolved into my anxiety being just as bad because of everything my dad was going through as well. I was out on medication that at first I thought was working, but when I realized it wasn’t, I went back to my doctor and I was put on something different that has helped. In total I’m on two anxiety medications, one daily and one as needed.

When I first started this journey as a caregiver I was pretty healthy. I was slightly overweight for my height around 160. There were times this would be higher and lower depending on how active I was while also trying to take care of all of my dad’s needs. Over the course of time that I was his caregiver, I began to let myself go even more. I really put myself at the bottom of the list and made sure he was always taken care of. By the time my dad passed on 11/29/17 I had hit a number on the scale I never wanted to see. I was, and still am currently over 200 pounds. Over the course of the last almost year I had put on almost 35 pounds.

It isn’t just about the physical weight I put on, but also the emotional weight too. Being a caregiver feels like you are carrying around an incredibly heavy backpack all of the time. Your body is always in this alert mode and your stress levels are so high. When I wasn’t home with my dad to know he was okay it was even worse. I was always so drained, but still managed to keep going at the same time. Even when my dad was in the hospital, depending on the situation and knowing he was in the best possible place he could be if something happened, I was still so stressed.

I could really see the toll this took on me by looking at pictures before truly becoming a caregiver to after. My smile in pictures didn’t look as genuine, I looked run down and tired. And because of all of the stress I started to get gray hair in my mid twenties. It’s so crazy the way stress can affect a body in so many different ways.

This Wednesday will mark six weeks since my dad passed. There are still times that I can’t sleep at night, like tonight, or should I say this morning. I’ve been up since about 3am. My cats Socks and Shadow are still trying to adjust and Socks is having a harder time. I know I’m still adjusting too, but I feel like I’m so much better adjusted than I was after losing my mom. I credit a large part of that to the fact that my dad and I had many conversations about end of life and his wishes. I’ve gotten myself back to a normal routine for the most part and in part of trying to take better care of myself I get up in the morning to make breakfast and lunch so I’m not tempted to stop at a drive thru or order out. I’ve been cooking more dinners and I’m getting back to the gym. I still miss my dad terribly and I know that I always will, however, it’s nice to also be getting my life back.

A huge chunk of my twenties was spent with dealing with the sudden loss of my mom at 23 and then my dad’s declining health. Getting to live my life for myself again is liberating. I’m looking forward to seeing where this year takes me. It feels like I have a world of possibilities now that I didn’t have before. Don’t get me wrong, I would do everything all over again with taking care of my dad. There’s no question about that, but for the first time in my life I’m truly on my own and I’m excited for the adventures that lie ahead. The two photos below are how I’m looking at this year. A week in and I’m still excited about all of the things to come. There are new incentives at work for making extra money, I’m doing the ShapeGoal40 with Shape and Jen Widerstrom, I’m planning my friend (sister from another mister) Katie’s baby shower, I’m going roller skating with Bri Tuesday nights, I’m planning on doing the Shape Half Marathon even if I have to power walk the whole thing, I’ll be going on Jen’s 2018 retreat, and am going to try to make it to Shape’s Body Shop this summer. This is the year I regain myself and my happiness.

A couple of easy(ish) years…

After all of the “fun” we had in 2012, 2013 and 2014 were a walk in the park in some ways, but also more challenging. Dad was in and out of the hospital for small things related to his congestive heart failure or cellulitis infections, but nothing too crazy health wise for him. Of course there were also routine appointments and tests as well.

Where things were really crazy over this two year period was with him not being able to work anymore due to his heart failure and the lymphedema in his legs. At first we thought it would just be a short term thing where he would be able to go back to work, but it ended up being a permanent thing. He applied for Social Security Disability and was denied the first two times around.

Things were tough financially over these two years because it was just my income and I was making less per hour than my dad had been. We somehow always managed to pay the bills on time. If we were ever short money, I would do donate plasma twice a week to have an extra $50 to make sure we had food to eat until payday, even if it was just bread, peanut butter, and jelly. There were times that I would also have to take out payday loans, and I don’t know how we managed those biweekly payments on top of all of the other expenses, but we managed.

Having those experiences where we pretty much had nothing makes me grateful for all I do have in life. I don’t know that people really take a step back to think about what would happen if one of their loved ones were not able to work anymore and then you suddenly have to become the sole provider. It’s really eye opening and helps you to truly know where your priorities in life are at. You no longer are concerned about the latest fashion or new shoes; you really become grateful for all that you do have.

Growing up as an only child I used to act like a spoiled brat and I’m not afraid to admit that. I would beg for something at the store and if dad said no, I knew I could always go to my mom and she would say yes. And if she didn’t say yes I would throw a tantrum and it didn’t matter where we were. As I got older of course some of that got better and some of it didn’t. At 23 after losing my mom and then having to suddenly grow up real fast to being the sole income provider and caregiver it really opened my eyes. I know there are people out there who have had it a lot worse than I have for sure, but everyone’s hardships work themselves out in different ways. This just happens to be my journey and I hope that these blogs in some way can help others to know they are not alone out there, no matter what they are facing.

 

#ShapeGoal40

I mentioned in a post I made a few days ago that I’m joining Shape Magazine and Jen Widerstrom doing their 40 day challenge. Being a caregiver so long I really didn’t take care of myself the way I should have. I ate like crap, gave into temptation sitting next to the person at work who is always bringing donuts, cookies, and candy in. As hard as these last four and a half weeks have been without my dad, I realize that this is a time in life where I get to rediscover who I am. I don’t have to constantly worry about my dad throughout the day or not get enough rest because he needs help with something in the middle of the night. Don’t get me wrong, I wish he were still here because he was the best dad I could ever have ever wanted, but I knew in the back of my head that I was putting my health on the back burner to make sure he was okay.

The timing of this challenge has been fantastic. Today is day five and since it started I’ve been cooking meals instead of eating out. I’ve been making chicken dishes, healthy sandwiches, eating salads, fruits, and going out of my comfort zone by trying new things like couscous. It’s amazing how in just five days I feel like I have more energy and that my body is functioning better because I am putting good stuff into it. I’ve also significantly cut back on soda, except for a sip or two to get medication down. When I was six I choked on a life saver and my mom had to do the Heimlich on me, so getting pills down has always been an issue for me, and the carbonation seems to help that. If you know of something else for me to try, let me know!

With the ShapeGoal40, there is a fantastic group of amazing people who are all supportive of each other from all over the world and many of us have posted our goals so we can all help each other stay accountable. I want to post that here on my blog as well, so that I make sure I am not only accountable for myself, but for anyone who may be doing this challenge who reads this, can also keep me accountable.

For the first time in almost seven years, I feel like this huge weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. I love my dad dearly, but now that he’s gone and truly seeing the toll it took on me that I couldn’t see, but everyone else could has been a huge eye opener. 2018 is going to be focusing on me and rediscovering myself and my joy. As I look back in 2017, I don’t know how I managed to do all that I did for my dad. There were times that I was pretty much at rock bottom, but was able to put up this façade to make it seem like everything was fine. I’m ready to conquer 2018. I’ve got big goals and plans for some of the most special people in my life. I really couldn’t have made it through this last year without Justin, Katie, Bri, Gina, Kelly, Jen and so many more.

Here I come 2018 and here are my goals below!

shapegoal40

Surgery after surgery

2012 was quite the year for my dad, and little did I know we’d have more tough roads ahead. After my dad recovered from his mitral valve he was able to go back to work, but that didn’t last long. After the mitral valve replacement he started noticing swelling in his legs and he noticed that it was getting harder for him to walk because of the swelling. We went in to see his doctor and found out that he had lymphedema. Lymphedema is caused by your lymphatic system not being able to return fluid to the body as it should. During that appointment they discovered that he had congestive heart failure and with having CHF that can exacerbate lymphedema. There were times his legs would be swollen so bad that fluid would weep from them.

After learning about the heart failure a good portion of the summer was spent with appointments at the wound healing center at the hospital. They have specialist that deal with things like lymphedema. We tried all kinds of things to help with the leg swelling from ted hose to Jobst socks and nothing seemed to work to keep the fluid build up down. There were days where it would be better than others, but overall his left leg was always larger than his right because of a vein they had to remove for his heart bypass.

As fall and winter came my dad had more appointments with specialists including cardiology. They did arterial venous duplexes on his legs and a carotid artery duplex. The results from those tests came back showing that he needed to have a femoropopliteal surgery and surgery on his carotid artery. His surgeon decided to do these surgeries two days apart. His carotid artery surgery was first because it was blocked about 80%, which if plaque had broken off could have caused a stroke. Two days later he was back in the OR to have a graft placed to bypass his bad artery to help increase blood flow to his leg. Both of these surgeries took place about a week before Christmas and thankfully dad was able to leave the hospital on Christmas Eve day.

At a follow up appointment we pointed out to the surgeon that the area where they had made the incision was not healing and looked infected. The surgeon took a look at it and did some lab work and it came back that the area was infected, which meant yet another surgery in early 2013. Before they took him back to the OR they said that surgery could go one of two ways, either it was a simple abscess that they could drain and debride or the infection had reached the graft and they would have to redo the whole surgery. Thankfully it was only an abscess, but it left a pretty big opening on his leg. This is really when I started to learn a lot about the medical field and really paid attention to things and absorbed as much as I could. I had to learn how to pack the area with sterile gauze (wet to dry) and measure the area to make sure it was healing. While it wasn’t a fun situation for my dad to go through it was a great learning experience for things that were yet to come.