Thriving Again After Surgery

Following a long hiatus, I have returned to blogging. Don deliberated, prepared, and finally underwent surgery for his Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm August 5th. His doctor made an incision that ran upright over Don’s entire abdomen and attached an upside down, “Y” shaped, Dacron graft that extended from his aorta at the level of his kidneys down into both legs. This was a big deal. We are so grateful Don came through it amazingly well.

Don slept a lot for a month and has since resumed getting out with friends. He is still a bit more tired than usual but is progressing back toward his normal. This past week he had several episodes of nose bleeds that took him to the clinic three times and once to an ER on our trip to ND.

Don handled these two medical concerns, but they temporarily shut both of us down. Now it appears Don is thriving again, so we have concluded he has more to accomplish in life. We speak at a stroke support group next week.

What helps us cope and gives us hope:  We are thankful for the extremely competent medical care Don has received recently and for the fact that we have insurance. We have coped by allowing ourselves some slack and resting when we need it.

Questions for our readers:  Do you get wiped out by medical issues beyond your stroke or brain injury diagnosis? How do you cope?

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Another Challenge

Don faces another challenge this summer. For perhaps ten years, doctors have watched his abdominal aortic aneurysm slowly grow. That means the wall of his main artery descending to the lower half of his body is weakened and bulging. It has now approached the stage where the risk of rupture will surpass the risks of surgery.

We have faced this probability at each of Don’s annual and now semi-annual checkups. This is a big deal. Risk and improved health are in the balance. Don’s life is in the balance. He has debated if he wants to choose the surgery with its risks or to let it go and live until he dies.

This process has consumed emotional energy, and we have both had coughs that have knocked us down for a few weeks. However, Don has now chosen to go ahead with the surgery, and we are relieved to have scheduled it in August.

What helps us cope and gives us hope: Don has come close to death before and our older son died from cancer. Because of Don’s faith, he believes his after-life will be much better than the struggles he has now. However, Don’s surgeon is one of the best for this procedure and he feels confident surgery is the way to go. Also, numerous people have recently told Don how much he means in their lives.

Questions for our readers: Have new challenges piled up on top of your stroke or other health issues in your life? How do you cope?

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Don Can Still Drive

We wondered what Don’s doctor would say. Would he sign the form the Department of Public Safety periodically requires, that allows Don to continue his driving privileges? With meds, he has been seizure free for over twenty years, so that is not the issue. But, the form came just after we heard Don’s abdominal aortic aneurysm has again grown. Would that affect the doctor’s choice?

Driving adds immensely to Don’s quality of life. But we knew we had to accept his doctor’s judgment. So as we waited for Don’s appointment this morning, we had both worked it through in our minds  to trust the doctor to make the safe and right choice. We were both relieved and happy to see him sign the paper. Don can still drive!

Don has a few more tests, and then next week he will visit the vascular surgeon. The doctor today reassured us he had already talked with the nurse practitioner we saw in Vascular Surgery last week.

This morning we heard the answer to the lesser of our questions. Next Tuesday Don’s surgeon will discuss the bigger question about what may need to be done about the aneurysm. We are fortunate to have excellent medical professionals care for Don at an renowned medical institution.

What helps us cope and gives us hope: When we face looming news or decisions, we try to mentally wrestle until we can accept outcomes at either end of a spectrum of possibilities.

Questions for our readers:  What helps you cope with impending news or decisions? Do you recall a time when you wrestled through a spectrum of possible outcomes?  How did that help you or not help you cope?

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Sobering Options

A fellow caregiver emailed me, “How is your health? Do you have days you feel lousy and don’t really know why?”

Recently I have had days I felt completely lazy and unmotivated. I have been tired but shouldn’t have been. I’ve had less self-control with eating and using my time. This evening I found some insight.

Don has an appointment next week to check the growth of his abdominal aortic aneurysm. For several years, these appointments have come around every twelve and more recently every six months. Each time, we wonder if the aneurysm has enlarged enough that Don will need surgery.

This is big for Don. He is a poor surgical risk for various reasons and could die or have profound complications from the surgery. As he approaches his appointment, he has been mulling over sobering options. Like some people who receive a grim cancer diagnosis, Don wonders if he should choose treatment with its risks, or if he should instead decide to “live until he dies.”

Tonight Don said, “I think I’m leaning more toward having the surgery. When I think of you and the grandkids…” This marked a change of thought from recent weeks.

I know this issue has weighed on Don, but I didn’t realize or admit until tonight the effect on me. It now makes sense why I have felt lazy, unmotivated, tired, and lacking in self-discipline.

What helps us cope and gives us hope: Family members and friends have listened to Don’s sobering deliberations and supported him. Their love and our love for each other, along with prayers for wisdom, give us confidence that when the time comes, we will know what to do.

Questions for our readers: What sobering inevitabilities sometimes weigh you down? What helps you cope?

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Relief from Pain – Physical Therapy

Since his stroke, Don has frequently developed back pain from his uneven gait. A while ago, he developed severe back and leg pain after a long car ride. On many days over two months, he could not even get out of bed. We both became discouraged and started to lose hope.

When narcotics and a steroid injection failed to help, we found a physical therapist who relieved Don’s pain during his first appointment. He relapsed a bit, but after several therapy sessions, plus stretching and strengthening exercises at home, he is now virtually free of pain. We are so excited to have hope again. Relief of his pain is a huge motivation for Don to follow his PT’s instructions.

Don has progressed in therapy from slowly walking a short distance to walking on a treadmill for many minutes without triggering pain. He has increased his flexibility by stretching and has isolated some muscles in his leg that he didn’t know he could use. Each week he is gaining more strength and improving his gait.

What helps us cope and gives us hope? When Don’s back pain debilitated him, a physical therapist knew how to relieve the pain. She has turned a discouraging decline in Don’s health into hope and actual improvement. We are so grateful we found her.

Question for our readers: Have you struggled with pain that has taken you in a discouraging decline? What has helped you cope and given you hope?

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The LightSpeed System has adjustable straps attached from a stable frame to a lower body suit. They relieve part of Don’s weight as he walks on the treadmill and give him buoyancy and security as his therapist helps him improve his walking technique and endurance.