Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Together for the duration even as life has its challenges

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I remember the moment like it was yesterday. I’m seated at the kitchen table working on the week’s crossword puzzle. The phone rings. John, reclining in front of the TV not five feet away, picks up. Without trying, I overhear him negotiating his next appointment with the local VA out-patient clinic. “Sure, that’ll work. Tuesday at 11.” Hmm. Is it time again for his annual physical? How time flies! (Here we are, facing spring again, after months of thinking winter would never end.) Anyway, John kept that appointment only to be scheduled for a cardiac stress test two weeks later, followed by another, this time for cardio-angioplasty at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center with the request that I drive down with him.

“Unusual,” I think to myself. John insists that it’s “routine”. My instincts say otherwise.

Donned in blue paper bonnets and booties, the VAMC doctors, rather nonchalantly, explain the procedure. They’ll be looking for “arterial blockages”. If they find anything, they’ll be able to insert stents, fixing them right then and there. Wallah!

I offer a quick kiss good-bye and he’s wheeled away to the OR. It’s 10 a.m. I find the coffee machine and then locate a private corner to hang out with my book. The next ninety minutes speed by before I’m called to the recovery room. John is lying under warm, white cotton blankets. “So how did it go?” I ask anxiously. “Well, no stents.” Great! “Then no blockages?” I ask. “No stents,” he replies, “but they want me in two days for coronary bypass surgery.” OMG! I’m not sure how to react.

Many readers out there know the stress of meeting doctors, absorbing complicated medical information, reading and rereading pre-op instructions to make sure we are reading it right, and those anxious hours spent in waiting rooms and at bedsides, hoping. Then once home, recliner now serves as hospital bed. We’re busy monitoring medications, bodily functions, and the ups and downs of the healing process that seems so endless while in it, but now looking back, was stunningly short lived.

Once John felt like he was getting stronger, he posed the next important question to his doctors, “Am I able to endure ankle surgery?” Part Two of this saga also began in January 2018, when I made a call to Twin Cities Orthopedic Clinic.

John had long suffered with intense foot and ankle pain. He logged for over forty years toting a chainsaw and pulling skidder cable, “old school” as they say. There was no question that all that wear and tear had taken its toll on his lower extremities! I’d read an article about a surgeon listed among the five best in Minnesota and renowned for his skills fixing feet and replacing ankles. I made the call and sadly learned that there were “no openings” until January 2019! I took the first available appointment.

Having all the unexpected cardiac issues to distract us, the long wait didn’t seem so long, and it very likely reduced his risk facing ankle surgery. We really knew the gods were working with us when the cardiologists cleared John for his initial orthopedic evaluation. On February 25, he had a complete ankle replacement. We’re still waiting on physical therapy, so we can only hope for success, his chance to walk again, hopefully pain free!

John will admit that it’s been a long and difficult road. But, surprisingly, during another one of those inadvertently overheard conversations, I heard him say, “but not as hard as it’s been for Kath. She’s had to do everything!”

Yep, it’s been a challenge for me, too. I’ve had experience caring for others, but I’ve never had to wait on my hubby. Of course, I understand the necessity of teamwork. Isn’t that at the heart of being partners? We know there’s nothing like having another person at the other end of the ladder. But this has been different! Over these past many months, I’ve had to learn things I’ve never had to before, and now looking back on the experience, I don’t think I’ll ever regret it!

Turning back pages on the 2018 calendar, there were some highlights. By late June, our 40 x 140 foot garden was already planted and definitely taking root. I realized early upon my return home from the hospital that my time would be split 50-50, nursing John and nursing many rows of home-grown vegetables. And soon enough, I was fully engaged in “on-my-knees combat” with purslane, one of those infamous invasive species from hell that threatens the “nuclear option” to finally eradicate! With John’s armchair expertise, I learned to run the water pump, fix the rototillers, and solve just about every other problem that appeared. Happily, by harvest time, he was ready to help in the kitchen! Come winter, the pantry was full.

And by February, following John’s ankle surgery, I had discovered the downside of outbuildings — too many roofs to save from collapse. I’d never shoveled that much snow because I’d never before had to do it all myself! Luckily, with foresight, we’d stacked the firewood close to the house, so no problem staying warm. But most important of all, I got to know us in a new way.

For “a person who never went to the doctor”, I watched John adjust to dialoguing, pampering, and scolding from strangers who really did know more than him! Back at home, it was tough to watch me taking charge and believing that I could get it done. I faced similar challenges on the flip side — listening, struggling, doing, redoing, pushing myself, and believing in myself and our partnership.

This year together, day-in and day-out, has tested both our mutual and self-respect, the ability to relinquish control, change roles, and grow. And perhaps most valuable of all, to practice patience at levels not required since raising our teenagers! Whew! And, guess what? We agree, we’re not done yet!

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