Sunday, December 15, 2013

On the Holidays

It was September when I last wrote a post and boy have I been busy! Two trips to visit family eight-hundred miles away, a growing pup, and lots of time to avoid thinking of the coming holidays.

Yup. Avoidance. I am not looking forward to the extra emotions that are tied to Christmas and New Years Day. Christmas shopping/making/baking? Darn little. Christmas cards? Hah! I have letters that I started back in October that I just can't seem to finish, despite having time.  It is a good thing that I have the bills on autopay or I probably would be spacing those as well!

There is good news though, I have found a new normal. It isn't complete by any means, but it is stable. Link gives me a mandatory reason to get out of bed each day, as well as a pretty good reason to go TO bed as well (since I will be up in the morning when he needs to go out). Since we are in dog training lessons I also have to get out and see people at least once a week who are not in my core circle of friends. I even generally have friends over to play games on Sunday too, so I have planned engagements with friends.

The Holidays are Coming
I have noticed over the past couple months is that if I don't plan something concretely, then there is NO way that it will happen. "Eventually" doesn't cut it. Planning is no guarantee that I will do the task, but it at least ups the chances drastically. This means that I have to actually plan things that I would rather ignore: talking to yet more medical billing places, writing letters, calling people, working on the yard, getting/staying healthy.

One thing I have noticed since his death is hat I have no more problems eating... the opposite is true in that I just don't stop. Sure, I can blame it on prednisone, which does increase my appetite and keep me from feeling full. I could blame it on unhappy innards that just don't want to work right. But when it comes right down to it, I am the one who puts fork to mouth. I tend to eat when I am feeling under the weather or stressed, so combine those two and you have a recipe for thirty extra pounds from my lowest weight despite a fair amount more exercise.

This is Not Optional, so Get Ready
So here comes Christmas: a time of family get-togethers, food, and reminiscing. Bah Humbug!

Well...mostly. I did put up my little tree and three nativity sets last Friday, but those don't involve anyone but me and the dog. He tried to put away the packing paper... in his stomach. What a helper! I love my family--both sides, adopted and blood relatives--and they have all been a blessing for me time and time again. I just ... it's not the same and it is not going to be. This is all about finding a new normal. The two year old in me is screaming, "I dun wanna!" at the top of its thoughts, while the rational adult in me firmly chides, "Tough."

Luckily for me I have an out:

Thanks to this article over at Huffington Post I have full permission to take care of me this season. Why permission? Because my mother sent me the article; therefore, I have a get-out-of-forced-family-fun-free card. I am allowed to have plans--or not--as I choose, and that choice may change in an instant. It's okay. I am allowed.

Eventually I'll Get Past This Too
 So I have a method of getting past the giant Buffalo in my road of life: Plan, Change, Move On.

Then that just can become a new memory to add to the new normal. Besides, without new experiences you never get to try new things...

Like Link in Snow!
And by the by, the scrawny runt of a pup has gone from his 20 lbs. when I found him up to just over 47 lbs. as of yesterday. My brown eyed baby is growing out! (Well, he was too old to really grow up, so out will just have to work.)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

A New Companion

This is Link, named after a video game hero. He helps rescue the princess' kingdom, rescues the princess, and is also rescued by that same princess on several occasions. He is the bearer of couragepersevering despite the odds.

Here is our story.

I was having a really hard day on Saturday, September 10th. In fact the last month had progressively been getting harder day by day. Yes, my medical state was/is declining, but the mental doldrums were getting to be too much. I had stopped looking for a dog a while agolittle things kept getting in the way. The drive home from visiting my parents was very tearful. As I pulled into my driveway I was dreading another teary lonely night.

Then I saw what looked like a coyote at first glance, trot across my driveway and lay down under my other vehicle. Strange... coyotes don't usually go near running vehicles. I got out to investigate and lo and behold, there was a scrawny puppy that looked to be about 3 months old sitting there, looking at me and wagging his tail. I could see he had a collar on that was way too small for him, so I called him over. He was scared at first, but snuggled right up after he saw I wasn't running him off.

I looked for any tags or tattoosnothing outside of the over-tight collar. I put him in my back yard while I snagged a leash from inside and called the local pound. The pound was closed, but the leash was handy. He obviously had either never been on a leash or had been dragged by one because he immediately hunkered down into the passive-resistance-flop at the slightest tug. But he is a puppy, and all puppies like to play, or at least chase moving people with perky voices.

Bony ribs and hips--less visible than in person
I looked for any tags or tattoos--nothing outside of the over-tight collar. I put him in my back yard while I snagged a leash from inside and called the local pound. The pound was closed, but the leash was handy. He obviously had either never been on a leash or had been dragged by one because he immediately hunkered down into the passive-resistance-flop at the slightest tug. But he is a puppy, and all puppies like to play, or at least chase moving people with perky voices.

I figured the poor guy at least needed a home till Monday or Tuesday when I could see if he had anybody looking for him. I feed him some chicken, but I think he had been starving so long that his body didn't know what to do with itpoor dude was malnourished enough that you could see every bone on him including hips, ribs, and facial bones. He never once was the least bit aggressive despite me checking him thoroughly for ticks, removing cactus spines from him (including his face and paws), and giving him a thorough brushing. I saw that he had neither ticks nor fleas, so I brought him into the house and gave him a bath, which he put up with rather well. As it turns out, he was so tired and worn out I don't think he could have resisted if he wanted to.

He slept all Sunday, and I almost took him to the emergency vet an hour away, but he perked up considerably after dark. He slept on the floor by me, with only a quiet whine when he had a bad dream. Monday I went to the vet after asking neighbor's about the dog and coming up empty-handed. No microchip, no lost dog notices, just a very skinny dog in need of a home. The consensus was that if the owners WERE known they would be turned in for animal abandonment/cruelty. At that point I knew that I had a new puppy to love!

He got all his shots, I found out that he is more like 8 months (has all his adult teeth now) but so starved that he is only half what his weight should be (if that). He is most likely a boxer/shepherd cross and should be around 50lbs nowhe was 22.4lbs at the vet. Other than being scrawny and having minor allergies, the only thing wrong with him is a tail that broke and mended crooked. No heartworm or other problems that the vet could tell.

So now we are home, he is asleep on floor by me. He is adapting well to the house and is already mostly house trained (only thing he is lacking is the signal for "I need to go out", but I am just taking him at least every 4 hours and he is fine). He is a puppy, but a very mellow puppy with bursts of "play!" that are easily tired out if him. Good at walking even with just a day's training, and a great companion.
Car ride with his favorite perch on the dog sling
I have been taking him with me whenever I can and have used every opportunity for socialization possible (except for dog parks, since he is not neutered yet). This also means that I have been actually getting out of the house myself and not just sitting at home with fear/lack of motivation to go out. I have him crate trained for those times when I can't be with him, like for work or shopping where he is not allowed. My parents have even warmed up to the little dude and I bring him with me when I visit them.

After two weeks he is starting to fill out and be less bony, as well as learning commands and rules. Sit, lie, leave it, car, and go to bed are all pretty solid, but come and stay with distractions around is still very hard. He has blossomed into a wonderful companion, with enough energy to require me to stay thinking ahead of him, but not so much that I am completely worn out from the interaction. He also has learned to entertain himself with toys, play nicely with other dogs and people, and overall how to be a happy and well adjusted dog (with a bit of separation anxiety, but not bad). He is about to be even more well adjusted later this week when he will be broken"fixed" just doesn't seem like the right word.

I am starting to actually get fitI happily walked a mile without crutches for the first time in months! He is more than motivation, because the actual need of someone relying on me has put me back into the familiar role of "caregiver", though in a much less intensive and still rewarding fashion. For a while I worried that I could not handle the responsibility of caring for a dog...then I really thought about it and realized that my brain was talking nonsense again. My confidence has improved immensely, as has my outlook for the future. Yes, my wallet has shrunk considerably with vet bills, dog food, and assorted dog stuff, but it is well worth it.

Best part: the mopes have gone away. Even though I am getting up at odd hours and cleaning up after him, I have a purpose outside of basic existence. I was found, he knew I needed him just add much as he needed me. I hope that the awesomeness doesn't wear off!

There is a new guy in the house, and his name is Link.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Welcome to a Continuing Story

My name is Heather, and I live in the middle-of-nowhere New Mexico. I met my college sweetheart in 2004 and married him in 2009 a year after he was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforma brain tumor in his left frontal lobe. He proposed the first time when he was in the hospital for his first surgery. I got four proposals in total, so I knew that he really wanted to get married!

Just Married

He had just come back from a work travel trip and the morning after he said that he had a pounding headache and was nauseous, so off to the ER we went (after he uttered a phrase I will never forget: “Do I have to?”). That night the tumor hemorrhaged and he went into emergency surgery to remove a grapefruit-sized tumor. We were all amazed that he regained almost all of his functioning and lived quite well for four years. There were a few more surgeries and LOTS of different experimental and standard treatment.

We got married in 2009, knowing full well that he may pass at any time, but hoping for a miracle. A year later, in 2010 we went out for our anniversary-moon (honeymoon a year after we got married) in Kauai, Hawaii and had a wonderful time hiking, snorkeling, and overall just enjoying each other. We kept up hope that he would permanently this cancer monster, but could see that slow changes were there. We dealt with them as they came, no other way to do it!

In Kauai on our Anniversarymoon

The last year was pretty hard, with loss of a lot of speech and memory, but he continued to work half time until this past Christmas. He was doing fairly well up until December, when his health really started to decline. We spent Christmas with family–in three different cities across the nation. It was a great chance to say goodbye while he was still him.

By February I asked that his parents come down to help me with his care and got hospice care set up. Our local home hospice is very compassionate and nice. We had all sorts of family help all through the time of his decline. He was on so high if a steroid dose that he would regularly have rages for a while, but luckily those were brief, and nobody got hurt more than a few bruises and bruised feelings (for some reason he saved most of his real outbursts for me… I guess I was the safe person to lash out at since I knew what he was dealing with from the steroids).

By the middle of March he was bedbound and unable to communicate at all except to those who knew him well. It got to the point that he couldn’t even communicate with us at all, and I knew that he never wanted to be locked into a shell of a body. April was very difficult, as the family all got together to decide to take him off of steroid treatment. The steroids were keeping him alive, but he was unable to really live.

At the very end we made sure that everyone he cared for had a chance to say goodbye, even if it meant putting the phone up to his ear to let people talk to him in private. He got to hear from his best friend in the whole world the night he died..I wonder sometimes if that was the closure he needed. He passed very quietly, with no seizures or discomfort. His temperature just kept rising until he was gone. But he was ready and we had done everything we could to keep him comfortable.

I had two wakes for him, one right after the funeral and one in late July for those that couldn’t be here for the funeral. It took both fir me to feel that we were done. Also his dad and brother made his grave marker–a large wooden cross engraved and burned with his name. I went up and gathered rocks from the surrounding area and decorated it shortly after the funeral. (This is a large dessert lot, no grass and no maintenance fir the most part, but very peaceful overlooking the mountain and his old school.)

Anyway, I am enjoying having the house to myself but spend a lot of time up with my parents about an hour and a half away. My dad had been coming down a few weekends a month to help me around the house. Since he had lost his first wife at about the same time as I lost Jason. We have really gotten allot closer.

My health has been up and down, and I have had rheumatoid arthritis since 2004. I am, of course, trying to find a new normal, but had a little bit of extra excitement this past week. Couldn’t breathe while laying down on my back, crushing chest pains, and on Wednesday I decided I had had enough of that. I started out with a trip to urgent care (an hour away) on Wednesday that turned into a day-long adventure in the ER. All was fine except for swelling of the sacs around my heart and lungs. That was the culprit for lack of oxygen and chest pains lately. Still waiting to get approved for a new med after a month of fighting with the insurance company. I am pretty much out of options other than going back on old meds in the hopes that my body will have forgotten about the tolerance and work again.

So now I have the fun of 40mg prednisone for the next week to kick down some of the inflammation. Here is hoping that the pred-monster munchies don’t hit too much! (not sure how many of you have had the experience of steroids, but I don’t recommend it unless you really need them!).
I had dropped to 140lbs at the end of April, mostly from not eating while caring for Jason. By this month I had jumped back up to 165lbs and my joints were starting to complain. Since his death I have also been able to eat gluten, like the less stress and 6 years without gluten had reset my system. That is a slight problem as now I can eat all the foods that used to be of limits… croissants, pastries, pizza, bread, did I mention bread? So back on to watching what I eat and finding new normal.

My father is coming down this weekend to help me fix the house up and to get both of us some companion time since my mom works long hours at night. He also lost his first wife at about the same age due to health problems, so we have definitely gotten closer though this journey. My mom is my buddy too, but her hours mean that I go to see her (they both live in the same house, but both are working opposite hours).

I have lots of friends here at home that keep me going and social, even when there are days (lots of them) that I would rather just stay at home in bed and cry my eyes out. Without them and family I would be either institutionalized or worse. His side of the family has adopted me permanently too, so I have LOTS of people looking out for me.

So, hi there! This is me. This is my story. Or at least one part of it.