Monday, March 12, 2018

Leave No One Behind

It was another one of those calls.

My elderly father had just had another serious medical "event," resulting in CPR and an ambulance ride to the hospital. I needed to go be with him and my stepmother.

I opened a drawer in the early morning semi-darkness and grabbed a pair of jeans. I dressed quickly and quietly, trying not to disturb my sleeping husband. I pulled on the nearest pair of socks and my most comfortable shoes, not knowing how long I would be at the hospital.

I pretty much lived in those jeans for the next few days.

One day, during a conference with the medical team caring for Dad, I suddenly became aware that my jeans felt short. I looked down and saw red deck stain blotches on the front of the denim. Then came the moment of realization: I had pulled out a pair of old denim capris that I wore last summer for painting projects outside. As a finishing touch, the cuffs had come unrolled, hitting just above the ugly black socks that stuck out of my tennis shoes.


The worst part is that I didn't even care. My husband and I are already caregivers for a quadriplegic son. I take care of all of the nursing needs, and my husband stays up all night, every night, to ensure that our son is safe while he sleeps on the ventilator.

I have lots of days that are fashion fails. Caregiving is our life, our normal. We have done it for over two decades and are happy to do it. But it leaves little strength or emotional energy for anything else.

And 2017 was full of anything else. Health issues with my father and stepmother dominated the summer months, along with their major move to a new home closer to family and medical care. Our daughter was hit in two separate auto incidents that were determined not to be her fault. The second one totaled her car.

Then December hit with a vengeance. 

Our son developed two infections, and it took all our strength to keep him out of the hospital. Just as he began to recover, Dad passed out in -conveniently- the doctor's office. He was revived with CPR on the floor of the examination room and taken to the hospital by ambulance. He was admitted for observation, and we began the familiar juggling act to keep everything going at home and staying by my dad and step-mom's side. Our daughter navigated caregiving, a job change, and her own health issues.

Then, as the old year closed and a new year dawned, new and darker challenges assaulted us.

Here we are, in March, still deep in trial and work and sorrow. I cling to hope, believing against the crush of circumstances that God will deliver us as He always has. But these trials have reminded me in a profound way that I will not make it without Him. This old warrior is tired.

This is the reality of caregiving. 

If you're a caregiver, you probably walk a similar path. Sometimes it's a smooth, blessing-filled journey. Other times, it's all-out war, a battlefield filled with smoke and blood and the weeping of the wounded. This is the place where fashion fails and platitudes and casual Christianity are meaningless. Here the offers of prayers are taken seriously, where a simple act of kindness can literally help save a life.

Here, nothing much matters except to see the Deliverer coming over the horizon.

If you're a caregiver today, remember that your service to your loved one and to God is a sacred sacrifice. It's not a glamorous job, but it's a vital one. If you can relate to anything I'm feeling on any particular day, remember you are not alone. In fact, we're not meant to do this alone. Send me your prayer requests, and I will pray for you.

Caregiving is an often lonely job. But collectively we are the army that surrounds and encourages those who fight for others. Let's make sure no one is left alone on the fields of faith to struggle alone. The soul of any nation rests on how it treats its most vulnerable, both those who are wounded and those who care for them.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Vaccines and the Moral Dilemma

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate is a moral dilemma for many.

A New Vaccine for Shingles

In October of this year, Children of God for Life announced that the long-awaited, morally produced shingles vaccine has received FDA approval for licensing in the US. Shingrix, made by Glaxo SmithKline pharmaceutical company, is produced using a yeast cell line. Previously, people had only one option for vaccination against shingles: Merck's Zostavax which uses aborted fetal cells.

"Until now, people wanting to have protection from shingles have had to either use Merck's aborted fetal version or abstain entirely," stated Debi Vinnedge, Executive Director at Children of God for Life.  "We are absolutely thrilled that GSK has finally given the US a moral option!"

Shingrix has also received FDA recommendation as the product of choice and is also recently approved for use in Canada. Clinical trials have proven Shingrix to be a superior product to Zostavax, making it a generally more attractive vaccination choice for the prevention of shingles. 
Shingrix is 97.2% effective in people over 50 years old and maintained 90% efficacy in those 70 years old and above. After four years, those vaccinated still maintained with 95% immunity, compared with Merck's Zostavax, which is only 38% effective in people over 70 and maintained only 40% duration of immunity after four years.

To Vaccinate Or Not to Vaccinate? The Dilemma for People of Faith

In a recent case that highlighted the difficulties of vaccination for people of faith, a young mom landed in jail for refusing to vaccinate her 9-year-old son with a vaccine produced from the cells of an aborted fetus. She and her husband were not in agreement in the decision, and after initially agreeing to a court order to have the child vaccinated, she couldn't go through with it. A judge ordered her to serve seven days in jail, and she served her time, effectively creating a criminal class of parents whose conscience is violated by the use of aborted babies to create products for human consumption.

Today all common childhood immunizations are created using aborted fetal cells. Parents wanting to get their child immunized against measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, chickenpox, and Hepatitis A are faced with the choice of either using a version that is repugnant to their moral convictions, finding an ethical version for those that have one, or take the risk of leaving their child unprotected. 

All fifty states in the U.S. now require at least some vaccinations for school entry, and updated vaccinations or proof of acquired antibodies to disease are required for healthcare workers across the country.

It is hoped that the success of the new shingles vaccine will encourage the development of other new, morally acceptable alternatives to current vaccines. Since Zostavax is a weakened version of its chickenpox vaccine, it is hoped that Glaxo Smith-Kline will produce a new version of the chickenpox vaccine using a weakened version of its shingles vaccine.

Perhaps soon people like the mom from Michigan will no longer have to choose between violating her conscience or putting her child at risk and breaking the law to properly care for those they love.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Is Your Phone Making Someone Sick?

At a busy doctor's office recently, I got in line to check my son in for a routine visit. Instead of the old-school clipboard they used to update patient information, the receptionist handed me an electronic tablet. I took it reluctantly, scrolled through the prompts with the stylus, and confirmed the information on the display. I stood back in line and handed it in.

Then I went to the bathroom and thoroughly washed my hands.

Am I paranoid about getting sick? Yes, I am. As a caregiver to a son with high medical needs, I can't afford to be sick for even one day. Although we have grown children who help us a lot, I am the only one who does all the skilled nursing treatments required by my son's high-level spinal cord injury. And because we operate a certified nursing home to care for our son, regulations define who can come in to assist us.

Our son's fragile respiratory status, his father's commitment to watch him every night while he is on the ventilator to sleep, and our youngest daughter's struggle to juggle caregiving with a full-time job, makes the health of our household a vital concern.

A cold for others is an inconvenience. For us, it is a disaster.

According to a recent issue of RN Idaho, a magazine published by the American Nurses Association of Idaho for Idaho's nurses, my concerns about mobile devices are well-founded. In the article, "Mobile Bugs: Are Pathogens on Your Devices?" the authors assert that mobile devices are, indeed, potential reservoirs for pathogens.

Every year more than 90,000 people die in the United States from healthcare acquired infections, also known as HAIs. HAIs are infections acquired during a stay in a hospital. Researchers have found that up to 95% of phones in hospitals were colonized with bacteria, of which 5% were pathogenic. Some pretty nasty bugs were found on them, including MRSA, E. coli, Acinetobacter, Enterobacter, Klebsiella, and Pseudomonas. Viruses like rotavirus and adenovirus were also discovered.

The most disturbing news was that most healthcare providers reported that they didn't regularly clean their mobile devices. Although a direct connection between contaminated mobile devices and HAI's has not been established, it should be treated as a real possibility.

And even though research has concentrated on HAIs in a hospital setting, common sense would suggest that community settings - and especially ones in which sick people are concentrated - should be treated as potential infection pools, as well.

Prevention from infection can be as simple as regularly cleaning our own mobile devices at home and those we use on the job. It should, of course, become a habit to wash our hands before feeding or otherwise giving care to those in our charge. And we should speak up when we see a healthcare provider forget to wash up before providing care to us or a loved one.

Breaking the cycle of infection is an important way to keep ourselves and those we love healthy.

Callegos, Cara; Hong-Engelhard, Cindy; McDuffee, Veronica; Boeck, Caitlyn (2017, August, September, October). Mobile Bugs: Are Pathogens on Your Devices? RN Idaho, 5.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Living Thankful

"I don't know how you do it."

We hear that every so often from others when they learn about our story. People often wonder how our family has been able to survive and even conquer the challenges of caregiving for so many years. My response is always to give God the glory for His keeping power over one of the most difficult seasons of our lives. We couldn't do it without Him.

But I know that any work of any value that accomplished in this life is done in partnership with the Sovereign. He has the plan, but we are His hands and feet and voice. It's His power displayed through our effort.

Caring for others is hard work.

It's easy to get in a rut. It's really easy to feel sorry for ourselves when we're tired and feeling overwhelmed. Complaining takes a lot of emotional effort and drains us of our joy.

That's why cultivating a thankful heart is key to successful caregiving. It takes work, for sure, but it's key to breaking old thought patterns that feed a sour disposition.

I'm always amazed at the joy with which our spinal-cord-injured son faces life. Sure, he has bad days, too, but he generally faces most days with a truly grateful heart. He's suffered so much that he's just glad to be alive and well. He lives without bitterness. He accomplishes what he can each day. He looks forward to the future.

I, who can move and breathe without disability, often shuffle through the days with a grumpy attitude. That makes both me and those around me miserable. So, for this Thanksgiving, I'm sharing a few things for which I should be grateful every day of the year.

For this, and much more, I'm grateful:

*The gift of Life 
After watching my son learn to breathe again, I'll never take even the next breath for granted.

*Good health
I'm so thankful that, even in my sixties, I'm still healthy and able to care for my family.

We have just emerged from a brutal election cycle. But I'm still amazed how this country can come together and move on in a generally civilized manner. I thank God that the citizens who peacefully disagree with those in power aren't hauled away to jail or beheaded on a beach. And I'm deeply grateful that those who are disabled and aged aren't forced to give up their lives for the supposed greater good of society. I pray that never happens in this country.

*The faithfulness of God
He is good to me, even when I'm not good to Him or others. His grace blankets our family with peace.

*The loyalty of my family 
We were always a close family, but it took a disaster for me to see how devoted they really are to each other, and how they make sure that their relationships stay solid, even in the worst of times.

Especially in the worst of times.

*Daily miracles
We were told that if would be impossible to care for our son at home. He was told it would be impossible to go home. Every day, for two decades, we have lived the impossible!

*Answered prayers
If there's anything I've learned in the last year, it is to NEVER quit praying, unless I know God's answer is no. I've had prayers answered in the last year that I had prayed for years, seemingly without an answer.

Trust in God's timing. He does hear.

*Financial provision
We never have too much. But we always have enough. The bills are paid, and there is food on the table. There's even enough to share with others and have some fun. I'm very grateful to the federal and state agencies that work hard to help us care for our son. Sometimes, when I'm feeling irritable at some regulation or bureaucratic snafu, I try to remember just how much they have done for us. They are human, too, and are trying to help, even when the red tape seems counterproductive.

I could go on and on...

There is such an embarrassment of richness bestowed on our family that I could spend the bulk of most days in an attitude of thanksgiving. Instead of waiting for the annual Turkey Day,  my heart should be on its knees saying grace every single day. Because for us, life is good.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Leaving the Shadowlands Behind

When our son Kevin was injured in a fall nearly two decades ago in another country, all I cared about was keeping him alive and getting him home. Once his condition stabilized, he was flown to a hospital in the States. We nearly lost him twice in the ensuing days. Eventually he again stabilized enough to be transferred to a rehabilitation hospital. The staff there told us what to expect when he came home and prepared us to deal with his extensive medical needs.

Learning to cope with the emotional and spiritual cost was more difficult. We struggled through long seasons of despair and loss as we cared for Kevin year after year. We slowly learned to surrender our dreams in exchange for God's plans. We eventually moved from denial to grief to acceptance.

Finding joy was a surprise.

Everyone told us caring for him would be impossible. No one told us that caring for him would bring us joy. In the years since his injury, we have learned much about courage in the process. Kevin has fought for his faith as valiantly as he fought for his life. He built a 3-D graphics studio with his brother and founded a popular Christian music website. He lives each day with trust and without complaint.

Certainly these years have been hard. But when I see Kevin laughing as he races us in his wheelchair on a seaside boardwalk, taking his dog for a stroll, working with press agents and music companies and recording artists, or rolling down the aisle to be his brother's best man, I am reminded of all the beauty no one told me to expect.

Today, if you're a mom or dad or grandparent or spouse to someone who needs a caregiver, I want you to know this:

Caring for others is the most important job you will ever have.

The life of another human being is in your hands. Your work is important, unseen, and sacrificial. Your dreams for tomorrow have been set aside for the realities of today. You endure incredible daily stresses, often alone. Sometimes it feels like no one cares for you, and it would be easy to let the night fall on your faith.

But you can leave the shadowlands behind, because Someone does care for you.

There is no place so dark that God can't find us. 

I know, because I've been there. But He wouldn't let me stay in the shadows. Thank God for giving me renewed hope and light for the journey! May He grant you light and joy for yours.