My Ideal Partner: Chapter 6

Chapter 6
Party Animals

Bill loved to throw huge parties as evidenced by the gathering he hosted in Fowler to celebrate our engagement. We decided to have a get-together to celebrate Bill’s homecoming and our anniversary. It was scheduled for the Saturday after he came home.
Because this was a spur of the moment decision, there wasn’t time to invite family and friends from far and wide so we came up with a list of about ten people including Dad, Grandma, my aunt and uncle, John and Diane, and a few other friends. I spoke to the manager of a local market that delivered our groceries and also did catering. He quoted me a reasonable price for feeding ten people. The menu would consist of barbecued beef sandwiches, baked beans, and potato salad, and it would be served outdoors. It was a relief not to have to worry about food preparation, especially since I wasn’t much of a cook. All I had to do was take care of Bill and entertain our guests.
The big day got off to a rocky start, and I wondered why in the world we’d decided to have a party on this day of all days. First of all, we woke up to rain, and it didn’t look like it would let up anytime soon. “So much for eating outside,” I said to Bill, as I got ready to take a shower.
“Maybe it’ll clear up,” said Bill, ever the optimist. I didn’t think it would, and I didn’t relish the prospect of cramming ten people around our kitchen table.
If that wasn’t bad enough, I soon found a leak in the closet. John came when I called and found another leak in the kitchen. We put out buckets, and he promised to see about getting the roof fixed. A year later when I was finally able to apply for a mortgage to buy the house, extra funds for the replacement of the roof were included.
The transfers from the bed to the wheelchair were going pretty smoothly, but we were still having trouble dressing, and it would be another month before Laura finally helped us figure out the easiest way to put on his shirt. In the meantime, it took us half an hour to get him dressed and ready for the day.
In the kitchen, Bill insisted on having oatmeal for breakfast. This was one of many dishes I would learn to cook over the next few months. When I was single, I heated instant oatmeal in the microwave, but Bill would have none of that. It had to be cooked the old-fashioned way.
Following his instructions, I poured a generous amount of oatmeal into a saucepan and added enough milk to cover it. “How long do I cook it?” I asked, after I’d placed the pan on the stove and turned the heat to medium.
“I don’t know, till it’s done.”
When Bill did the cooking, he must have had a sixth sense that told him when food was cooked, I realized, as I stirred the pan’s contents. A few minutes later when it seemed to be done, he said, “Ooh, I gotta pee. Oh it’s too late I wet my pants.”
With a sigh of resignation, I turned off the stove and took Bill into the bathroom. It took another fifteen minutes to remove his soiled jeans and underwear and replace them with clean ones. After I settled him back at the kitchen table and returned to the stove, I discovered that the oatmeal had congealed to the consistency of hardened cement.
I added more milk, turned on the heat, stirred vigorously, and served it up a few minutes later. It didn’t taste very good, even with added sugar, but we were too hungry to care. We ate in silence. Finally, I said, “Honey, maybe you should have married a woman who can cook.”
“Come here, woman.” This was what he said when he wanted to hold me, and I wasn’t within reach. I got up and walked around to his right side, and after we embraced, he said, “You’ll learn, sweetie.”
After breakfast, Bill said he needed to pee again. “Why don’t you just give me the urinal, and I’ll unzip my fly and do it that way.” Unfortunately, he couldn’t do it that way without soiling his jeans so it was another trip to the bathroom for more clean clothes.
That afternoon, I planned to attend a local writers’ group meeting but was unsure about leaving Bill alone. Knowing I needed a break, he told me he would be fine for a couple of hours and not to worry. When I was ready to leave, he was sitting in his recliner, listening to a talking book. I gave him the urinal in case he had to go while I was gone. I figured this would be better for him than trying to hold it until I got back, even if it meant another wet pair of jeans.
At the meeting, we talked about our annual Christmas party which was usually held at the home of one of our members. I remembered how much Bill had enjoyed the party the previous year. Since it was usually held in the evening or on a Saturday afternoon when our paratransit service wasn’t running, there would be no way to get him to the party so I said, “Why don’t we have the party at our house this year?” After I explained the situation with Bill, everyone agreed.
As the meeting wore on, my thoughts drifted back to Bill. I knew there was nothing to worry me. He was comfortably ensconced in his recliner with a talking book to keep him occupied. The phone was right there so if he felt lonely, he could call one of his friends scattered across the country. Thank goodness we had unlimited long distance. In case of a real emergency, he wore a lifeline necklace with a button he could push to get help quickly. Still, I couldn’t help feeling guilty for leaving him alone and defenseless. I finally left the meeting early, saying I had to get ready for a party we were having, and this was partly true.
It was only about a ten or fifteen minute walk home from the senior center where the meeting was held. When I got home, I rushed in the door and was relieved to find Bill still sitting in his recliner and glad to see me. After we embraced, he asked, “How was the meeting?”
“Great,” I answered. “We’ll be having our Christmas party here.”
“Good,” he said.
“I knew that would make you happy,” I said, as I kissed him.
“Yeah, now I wet my pants again. I don’t think I can use the urinal like this.”
This time, I took him in the bedroom since it was closer to the recliner. I laid him on the bed and changed his pants a third time. Because I put on his last clean pair of pants, I tossed a load of his clothes in the washer and hoped he wouldn’t wet his pants again.
An hour later, guests started arriving, and I found myself relaxing and enjoying myself, despite the stress of being a caregiver. One friend brought us each an anniversary gift, a soft, red lap robe. “A perfect gift for a day like today,” I said, as I huddled under mine while John got the furnace going.
It had quit raining, but the yard was cold and wet so we would have to eat inside after all. Fortunately, only half the people we invited showed up so we didn’t have as many people to cram around the kitchen table. Bill had a folding card table we could have used if necessary.
When the market manager and his wife arrived to cater our meal, they said it would be no problem. They could barbecue the beef outside and serve everything indoors. An hour later, dinner was ready.
We all sat at the kitchen table, laughing, chatting, and enjoying our meal. Someone brought a cake, and we had that for dessert with some left over for Bill and me to devour in coming days. I invited the manager and his wife to eat with us, but they declined. After serving us all we could eat, they packed up the leftovers and put them in the refrigerator before leaving.
A couple of hours later, the party finally broke up, to my relief. I could tell Bill was getting tired, and so was I. It had been a long, harrowing day. After the last guest departed, we embraced, and I asked, “Did you have a good time?”
“Yeah,” he answered. “It was a good party. Thank you, honey.” With that, he kissed me and said, “Let’s go to bed.”

My Ideal Partner: Chapter 5

Chapter 5

Thinking Positive

On Sunday, September 10th, 2006, Bill, Dad, and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary at the nursing home. We had a large piece of cake left over from the previous year which had been in the freezer until this occasion. I thawed it and took it to the nursing home, and the kitchen staff agreed to slice and serve it to us after we ate lunch. There was just enough for the three of us.
At one in the afternoon on September 11th, others were remembering loved ones who perished during the tragic events of 9/11, but this was far from my mind, as I paced the kitchen floor, casting anxious glances out the storm door, anticipating, yet dreading, the arrival of the nursing home’s van for the last time. Bill was coming home, not just for a few hours, but for good. Laura would not come with him this time. She would give us a day to settle in and come the next day to work with us. She had more confidence in me than I had in myself, but this was no comfort.
While I waited, I went over and over in my mind the details of the three major transfers I would perform: between the wheelchair and the recliner, between the wheelchair and the commode, and between the wheelchair and the bed. Laura would not be there to watch, applaud, and whistle when we performed the transfers correctly. I would be flying solo. Would I make it, or would I crash and burn?
My heart lurched, as I spotted the white van from the nursing home pulling into our driveway. It came to a stop inches from the ramp. With trepidation, I opened the door and waited while Suzanne, the driver, lowered Bill on the lift from the back of the vehicle and wheeled him up the ramp and into the house. “I’ll get his stuff,” she said after parking him at the kitchen table.
I said nothing when I approached him on his right side, but it was as if he could see me. His right arm encircled my waist, and all my doubts melted away. I put my left arm around his left shoulder, buried my face in his hair for a moment, then kissed him on the cheek and positioned my cheek in front of his lips so he could kiss me. We would perform this routine many times over the next six years.
“Here’s his luggage and his medication,” said Suzanne a minute later, depositing the items on the kitchen table.
“His medication?” I said, alarmed. I hadn’t given that any thought.
“Oh yes,” she answered. “The instructions are here in his discharge folder. If you want, I can read them to you.”
“That won’t be necessary. I can use my desktop magnifier. Thanks, anyway.”
After lunch, while Bill was at his computer, I unpacked his suitcase and then sat down at my desk to study his discharge information. Bill was prescribed a multitude of pills for pain and to control his blood pressure. A chart indicated when and how often he was to take which pill. Unfortunately, the information was handwritten which was more difficult to read, even with the magnifier. I wished I’d taken Suzanne up on her offer to read it to me, but since she had other nursing home residents to pick up and deliver, I would have hated to take up her time.
I figured out a schedule, mainly by asking Bill when the nurse gave him which medications. I then sorted the medications into three of the drawers below the sink in Bill’s bathroom so I would know which bottles contained which pills. When in doubt, I would always carry the bottle in question into my office and place it under my desktop magnifier to read the label.
The rest of the day went smoothly. When Bill got tired, I successfully transferred him to the recliner where he spent the rest of the afternoon listening to talking books and calling his friends and relatives to tell them he was home. He had to make one or two trips to the bathroom, and we performed these transfers without any problem. I worked in my office and did laundry and other chores.
At supper time, I put him back in his wheelchair, and we ate together at the kitchen table. It was as if our lives were back to normal, as we chatted and enjoyed chicken drumsticks and macaroni and cheese from Schwann. Afterward, it was back to the recliner for another couple of hours of reading and relaxation. I sat across from him in my easy chair with my own talking book but found it hard to concentrate because I was dreading the transfer from the wheelchair to the bed. Finally, Bill said, “Let’s do it.”
“Great idea,” I said, jumping to my feet.
Heart pounding, I wheeled him into the bedroom and positioned him between the bed and the pole. This transfer was more difficult because the bed was higher than the wheelchair. I locked the chair’s breaks, positioned myself between the chair and the bed with my legs apart, knees bent, grabbed his gait belt with one hand and his pant waist with the other, said, “One, two, three,” and we swung. As I feared, Bill’s rear end tottered on the edge of the bed before slipping to the floor.
Apparently, I hadn’t positioned the wheelchair close enough to the bed. I tried using my knee to lift him, but that didn’t work. All I could do was hold on to him, as he slid to the floor, lessening the impact. When he was down, I said, “I’m sorry, honey. Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” he answered, but you’d better get help.”
It was after ten at night. Although Laura had given me her home phone number and assured me I could call her anytime, she lived about twenty miles away in the small town of Big Horn. We would have had to wait a while for her to come, and I would have hated for her to make the long drive. As I stood pondering what to do, Bill said, “Why don’t you call John?”
Our friend and next door neighbor had offered to help whenever he could. I also hated to call him this late but figured it would be the lesser of two evils. I punched in his number and waited with baited breath while the phone rang several times. Were John and Diane so sound asleep that they couldn’t hear the phone? Were they even home? Just as I was wondering what to do next, John’s sleepy voice came on the line.
“I’m so sorry to wake you, but Bill’s on the floor, and I can’t lift him.”
“That’s all right. I’ll be right there.”
A few minutes later, John arrived, and between the two of us, we got Bill on the bed. After John left, I undressed him and tucked him in. I soon climbed in beside him, and again, his good arm went out and around me. As I would do many times for the next six years, I snuggled against him, burying my face in his hair, drinking in the scent of his shampoo, encircling his shoulder with my right arm. “This feels right,” he said. At the moment, it did feel right, but I was already worrying about the transfer from the bed to the wheelchair we would need to make the next morning.
Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well. I wasn’t used to sharing the bed with Bill since we had been apart for nine months. I didn’t have nearly as much room to stretch out, and I wondered how in the world I had managed before he had the stroke. I kept tossing and turning, trying to find a comfortable position, and eventually fell into a fitful slumber.
Every couple of hours, Bill needed to pee. He was eventually able to do it lying down without wetting himself, but at first, it was easier for him to sit up and do it. When he woke me, I got up, hoisted him to a sitting position on the side of the bed, and handed him the urinal. I then waited at a discrete distance while he did his business. Sometimes, it took him a while, and I ended up dosing in an armchair in the corner. The patter of urine flowing into the little jug was the sweetest sound I would hear over the next six years because it meant we could go back to bed or resume whatever else we were doing before he had to pee.
The next morning, the floor hit us again. Our original plan for dressing Bill was to put his underwear and pants on while he lay on the bed and then roll him over and pull everything up. This morning, however, Bill had another idea. “I bet I could stand up to the pole while you pull my pants up like I do in the bathroom.”
Eager to try anything that might have made the process easier, I put on his underwear and pants while he was still lying down and then hoisted him to the side of the bed, but as I put on the gait belt, I wondered if this was such a good idea. With the pants still down, I wouldn’t have the waist to grab for extra leverage. When I voiced my concern, Bill said, “Let’s try it, anyway. If worse comes to worse, I’ll just fall back on the bed.”
“Okay,” I said with a sigh. “but I have a bad feeling about this.”
I grasped the gait belt with both hands, positioned myself as before, said, “one, two, three,” and up we went. At first, he balanced against the pole, but to my horror, when I reached down to grab his underwear, his legs buckled, and he toppled sideways. I held on to him, as he slid in slow motion to the floor. “I’ll call John again,” I said, reaching for the phone. It was after eight so I figured he would be up.
“No, call Laura. We need more training.”
Bill was probably right. With a heavy heart, I punched in the nursing home’s number. When I explained the situation to Laura, she said, “Oh dear, I’ll be right there.”
“Maybe I need to go back to Sheridan Manor,” said Bill when I hung up.
I knelt beside him on the floor and took him in my arms. “Let’s see what Laura has to say,” I said. I secretly hoped this would be the case so I would get at least one more decent night’s sleep, but it wasn’t.
When Laura arrived, she explained the reason why standing up to the pole didn’t work this time. There wasn’t enough room between the bed and the pole for Bill to gain enough leverage. In the bathroom, there was more space between the pole and the toilet. We worked more on dressing and transferring, and she helped us figure out the best way to determine if the wheelchair was close enough to the bed for safe transfers. She even showed me how to move Bill over in the bed so I would have more room on my side, much to Bill’s chagrin since he loved being close to me. For the next six years, I would often accuse him of taking up his third in the middle of the bed, and he would laugh and accuse me of doing the same thing.
The rest of the day was uneventful. We ate, and while Bill either worked on his computer or listened to talking books in his recliner, I worked in my office and napped. Of course there were the occasional bathroom breaks which were accomplished without incident. When it was time for bed, I said to Bill, “Okay, we’re going to do it this time.”
“Yeah,” said Bill. Believe it or not, we did. The transfer went without a hitch.
When I later crawled in beside him, and he embraced me, I was relieved to know that in the morning, the aide from the senior center’s home health care program would be there to give Bill his shower and dress him, and that would mean less work for me. I snuggled against Bill and said, “I’ve got a man.”
“I’ve got a woman.”