Yesterday was Marty’s birthday, the 56th, the fifth birthday since her first stroke, the fourth since her 2nd. For Marty, every day is a victory, every birthday is cause for a celebration of living; for me this birthday is a milestone therefore a time for an historical retrospective.
Five years ago on the 23rd of August we had a birthday party celebrating Marty’s recovery from the cerebral aneurysm. While she had clearly lost part of herself to the brain injury she had made a remarkable recovery. We celebrated with friends, music, singing and tears. Somewhere along the line I had become a real crier. Marty was clearly different and cognitively diminished but we looked to the future with hope for recovery and I felt secure in beginning a search for my future.
Four years ago on the 23rd of August we looked back on the past year envious of what had been. What we lost with the 2nd stroke during those 365 days was huge. Marty was no longer able to walk or care for herself in any way. She rarely talked and never really initiated any conversation. She used very simple sign language simply to say yes or no. This birthday was a milestone, but it was devoid of hope and I was more focused on Marty dying than her living.
Three years ago on the 23rd of August we had marked time and seen some improvement. Marty was not as sick, but she was still ill and weak a good part of the time. We did some therapy, we learned to watch for signs of illness and we established a remarkable rapport with Marty’s doctor and his staff. We had finally found excellent caregivers and we had learned to live and work in tandem with them. Death did not seem as close. We again celebrated Marty’s life, not just her birth, but her continued life with family and close friends.
Two years ago on the 23rd of August we had the celebration at our home with family. For Marty’s birthday we had a photographer come and take family portraits. This photograph now hangs over the mantle in our lake house as my personal ode to narcissism. It reminds me of something the Cartwrights of the Ponderosa would have had on their wall.
The year was marked by another very close call in November and for the first time our doctor, Great and Wise, asked me the question, “Do you know what her wishes are?” Not a question you want to be asked, but it is a question where you better have already talked about your answer with people who care. I hated the answer.
We, meaning me, had learned several critical procedures over the previous year. I learned how to better care for Marty; the chief lesson, how to deep suction. It’s an awful procedure but one that allows Marty to fight infection better. While we spent some time in the hospital, we had finally found a rhythm to our life, I was finally seeing how we could live and enjoy our life instead of waiting for an inevitable death.
Last year on the 23rd of August we had a party at our new lake house. It was a great gathering with family, friends, a pregnant daughter-in-law and an improving and reasonably healthy Marty. That year we lost Andrea, but added Erica to our caregiver stable of Nikkie and Renae and we found great comfort and peace in strong, reliable women helping us through our life. These three women are one of the biggest improvements in our lives. We had to kiss a lot of frogs to find them…..actually, maybe they found us.
This August 23rd was a scaled down day-of party. Being the domestic god that I am I did cook the requested chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes and cream gravy. The CFS was great, the potatoes were perfect, the gravy was thick, heavy and not really white, I’m still in training. We will have a bigger birthday bash with the whole fam over Labor day. We have a raft of birthdays in August and September; apparently our family likes to procreate in the winter months.
Over the past 12 months I have continued to learn, I have continued to become a better caregiver. We have all gotten better. We experienced one devastating seizure and equally devastating broken arm which drove us to new meds and new methods of care for Marty. We have learned new things about infections and maybe, just maybe have turned a corner on the frequency of said infections because for the first time ever we have gone three months, a quarter of the year, antibiotic free. That’s a really, really good thing.
Our progress over the last five years has been nothing short of amazing, but then you have to know I married an amazing woman. We have gone through the proverbial peaks and valleys of life and I suspect we have more hell and heaven in our future as we continue our journey. I think when we look back, when we look at our history, when we see the tracks we have made we gain perspective on that journey. As I look back and see how Marty has gone from a woman barely able to talk and constantly under a death watch to my wife who clearly sees, feels and enjoys significant parts of her life I can see how amazing our journey has been. I have moved to hopeful.