Walter became my caregiver following my spinal cord injury. Here is my tribute to him.
| Promises Made, Promises Kept!
By Donna Lowich
November 18, 1973. “. . . for better, for worse, in sickness and in health…” On that day, our wedding day, Walter and I pledged ourselves to each other for all the days of our lives. What seemed like an abstract promise and a vision of things to happen in our later years came all too true just twelve short years later.
On December 2, 1985 I had spinal cord surgery to relieve pressure from herniated disks in my neck that was causing me to have a stiff left knee. I woke up in the recovery room only able to shrug my shoulders. The surgeon went back, unsure of the cause of my complete paralysis. I returned to the operating room early the next morning.
While we never got a definitive answer on the cause, I was left paralyzed. After nearly six months of hospitalization ad an extended stay in a rehab facility, I was able to begin to move my arms and started to stand up and take some steps. Both Walter and I knew it was going to be a long road back.
After my stint at the rehab facility, I arrived home to a more comforting and familiar setting. But it wasn’t any easier dealing with my difficulties in my home than it had been at the hospitals. In fact, in many ways it was far more difficult than I had ever imagined.
Things that didn’t pose problems in the hospital now became major obstacles to getting through each day. How was I going to dress myself? Cook? Go back to work? I had a myriad of questions. Unfortunately the answers were in short supply.
I was in the hospital until mid-January. I was then admitted to the rehab center where I remained until mid-June. During that time, I asked those questions of my doctor, nurses ad therapists. Each time, they responded in a similar manner: wait until the family conference and we’ll have answers then. The family conference is a meeting of the patient, family and the medical team that is held just before the patient is discharged home.
When it came time for my family conference I asked my oft-repeated questions. Imagine my shock when they still did not have any answers! They were going to send me home with no nurse and physical therapy as an outpatient when they knew I had no way to get there. I insisted on answers that were going to help me, so I was able to receive therapy at home and a nurse to help five days a week.
It was a good start but for all the times the nurse wasn’t there, Walter was. He helped with dressing and became my chauffeur to work and doctor appointments. Sometimes, he also filled in as cheerleader!
Needless to say, it was a very difficult time in many, many ways and for many, many reasons. But I do believe that good things can come from bad situations--kind of a "that which does not kill you makes you stronger" philosophy.
From the depths of my needs when I returned home from the rehab hospital came all the help I could use. It was freely given which made it at least a little easier for me to accept. Family and friends, when I eventually went back to work, all pitched in, in various ways to make whatever we were doing go as smoothly as possible.
With Walter’s help, I returned to work. He helped me to dress in the morning, got breakfast for our son, Jeffrey, age four, and then drove me to work before ever getting to his office. He reversed the order at the end of each day. Such was his schedule day after day, five days a week from November 1, 1986 until September 23, 1989 when I finally was able to drive myself. Driving again helped, but still the rest of his schedule remained intact.
Despite my best efforts to remain positive, every once in a while, I couldn’t help but verbalize what I was feeling. “How are we going to do this?” I would ask.
Recently, I asked the question yet again after I fell and broke my shoulder, bringing on a whole new round of caregiving. Walter replied now as he did all those years ago.
“We’ll get through this just like we get through everything else, just as we’ve always done.” We’ve been married so long I can finish the thought for him. “Together.”
Walter has been my hands and legs for the past twenty-five years. But he’s been my heart for many years before that.