The Learning Curve

Chookie Lou's PlaceI can’t believe it’s almost two months since I posted here. For a while there, I thought my life was about to be funneled into caring for the girl with little time for anything else. In January, we were given six months. Here it is August already. There are moments I can’t believe we’ve made it this far.

We had her birthday in June. We went to Valentines family restaurant. On our way out, she asked about Christmas. Some things don’t change.

Some do.

The Girl’s blood tests tell us that her liver is in ‘terrible shape.’ So what’s new? Her liver has been in terrible shape for I don’t know how long. Over the past six months, I’ve been hoping for the best, and expecting the worst. We’ve had periods of wellness followed by bouts of disaster which have been resolved back into periods of wellness. I’ve had some amazing support along the way. One thing I’ve learnt is that this is a journey that requires a lot of support. And good decisions.

So here are a few of the things I’ve learnt that help me deal with each day as it comes:

If mealtimes become difficult, don’t sweat it. Appetite is often the first thing to go. This time last year, the Girl would eat anything and everything—and often things she shouldn’t have. Nowadays, it’s hard to find anything she wants to eat at all. She’ll request roast chicken, then push it away untouched. She’ll demand toasted cheese and onion sandwiches, only to find she can’t swallow them. I made pork dumplings after she bleated bout them for an entire day, only to have her eat two, choke, and leave the rest.

For a caregiver, self-preservation is the key to surviving this journey. I’ve learnt to prepare whatever meals are easiest. If she doesn’t eat it, I’ll make something else that’s easy. Canned corn has become my trusty backstop. If that fails, it’s a meal replacement milkshake. Last week she had a Goody Gumdrops ice cream and a meal replacement drink for dinner. It played havoc with her blood sugars, but I’ve learnt that sometimes it’s about quality of life.

Pain medication has been another learning curve. Offering her stronger pain relief sounds like a no-brainer. What isn’t obvious is that pain treatment comes at a cost. The downside of her pain relief is constipation. With her liver functioning as poorly as it does, it can take as little as a day for toxins to build up in her system. If I give her Paracetamol with Codeine, I’ve learnt to follow it up with a laxative. I now administer Paracetamol and Codeine along with a laxative as a matter of course. It’s not always easy to work out her pain levels. She has a high pain tolerance. But despite the Girl’s lack of communication, I’m getting better at figuring out when she needs it.

I’ve learnt that because the Girl’s liver isn’t functioning properly, it doesn’t distribute glucose as it should. That means if her evening meal isn’t reasonably substantial, her blood sugars will drop overnight. If they drop in her sleep, she could easily slip into a coma. Now, I check her blood sugars at bedtime, during the night, and first thing in the morning. I also keep a jar of jellybeans on hand for times when it drops too far. I can’t tell you how many breakfasts a delighted Girl has kicked off with a handful of jellybeans.

I’ve learnt to accept help. This has been the the biggest concession for me. Up until recently, I thought it was my duty to soldier on; that because my Girl spent time in care, that she deserves it, that this is her time. She loves her home and her room. She loves her routine, her music and her Playstation. There have been times when I was under so much pressure, my stress levels rose and I felt like I was failing her. I’ve come to realize that if I’m to last the distance; if I’m to be there for my Girl, I can’t do it on my own. I have a lady who comes in three nights a week to sit over while I sleep. That’s funded by the state. I can’t say how grateful I am.

And finally, I’ve learnt that taking breaks is vital. Because the Girl is more at ease in her own environment, it’s easier for me to go away than to send her anywhere. This weekend, the Girl’s wonderful art teacher has offered to care for her while I spend three days with my sister, Chookie Lou. The picture above is from the front windows of Chookie Lou’s home. It’s not too shabby. I’ve stayed with Chookie Lou a total of three times this year. It’s not easy to leave my Girl behind. I’m reluctant to take time away from her while she’s well. I don’t want to miss any of the time I have left with her. On the other hand, if I’m going to stay the distance, I need to keep my sanity. Last Wednesday night, she wasn’t well. She dozed for an hour during the night and finally drifted off to sleep at 6:15 am. It’s not the first time. I wind up a zombie the following day. I know I’m a better mother and a better caregiver when I’m rested. It’s a wise decision to take the time away. But I miss her more than I can say.

Lessons have a habit of coming along when we need them. Some lessons are tougher than others.

If you’re caring for a terminally ill loved one, take the path of least resistance, grab any help you can, and take breaks when opportunity arises. Those opportunities may not come back. Looking after yourself doesn’t mean you’re weak. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed. It means you’re thinking rationally. It means you’re in this for the long haul.

And I applaud you for it.

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