Serendipity

Serendipity means discovering something valuable and unexpected when you’re looking for something else. According to today’s edition of The Writer’s Almanac, the word was first coined on this day in 1754. Corn Flakes, chocolate chip cookies, viagra, and penicillin are all products of serendipity. Julius Comroe, (1911-1984) a teacher and researcher who began his medical career as a surgeon and developed the Cardiovascular Research Institute, is quoted by the almanac as saying, “Serendipity is looking in a haystack for a needle and discovering a farmer’s daughter.”

Ten years ago when I subscribed to Newsreel, a cassette magazine now available for download in a recorded format, I was looking for information and ideas from other blind and visually impaired listeners. I found a husband. On this day in 2006, sometime between six and seven in the evening, Bill suffered his first stroke. Thus began six of the most difficult and rewarding years of my life. Around every corner, surprises wait when you least expect to find them.

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

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Winter Travel Tips

If you have good eyes, you probably don’t think too much about getting around during the winter. On a cold, snowy morning, without giving it another thought, you bundle up, go out, and start your car. As the engine noise and gasoline or diesel fumes permeate the frosty air, you scrape your windshield, shovel the driveway and sidewalks, then get into your nice, warm vehicle, put it in gear, and off you go.

For those of us who can’t see, winter travel can be a pain in the anatomy, especially if we don’t have transportation. There are times when we have to get out and walk in the snow and ice, and that’s all there is to it. Fortunately, there’s help. Marilyn Smith, author of Chasing the Green Sun, offers helpful tips for traveling during the winter on her blog. Marilyn is also blind so she knows what she’s talking about.

Some of her advice would be helpful to anyone, not just those of us who can’t see. For example, one trick she suggests for removing ice from driveways or steps is to dump a bucket of hot, soapy water on the spot. Dawn dishwashing detergent works the best. I haven’t tried this but plan to the next time the need arises.

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

Chasing The Green Sun Revisited

A while back, I reviewed Chasing The Green Sun, a collection of stories, poems, and essays written in calendar format. The author, Marilyn Brandt Smith, now has a Website where you can read more about her book and purchase it in paperback or Kindle formats or download it in recorded format for free. You’ll also find more information about Marilyn, and you can read her blog and subscribe to receive updates via RSS. Check it out!

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

Aprons

Believe it or not, these garments played interesting roles in our lives. As small children, we wore them because we hadn’t yet developed proper eating habits, and our mothers didn’t want our clothes to be soiled. They tied around the neck and were called bibs. As adults, we wore them tied around the waist when cooking to protect our clothes from splattering food. Nursing home residents are often given clothing protectors. These are similar to bibs in that they fasten around the neck, but they cover more of the front. The following poem from How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver illustrates the role aprons played in my life.

 

Aprons

 

 

 

Flimsy white cloth garments

with either black or blue stripes on the bottom,

strings that tied at the neck,

these we put on in elementary school

because we were blind children who wore half of what we ate.

 

In eighth grade, we made them in a variety of colors

from one yard of tightly woven cotton fabric

with strings that tied at the waist.

Someone helped me make mine

because I was a blind girl who couldn’t sew.

 

When I’m old, unable to care for myself,

I’ll wear a shirt protector,

a soft terry cloth garment

with a Velcro fastener at the neck.

 

What role did aprons play in your life? Do you remember wearing them when you were a small child or as an adult when you cooked? Did you ever make your own? Please share your memories below.

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

Life with Clara

Life with Clara: One Caregiver’s Journey is the title of a book I just finished. Michele Bertanini describes her eight years of caring for her mother-in-law. She starts by talking about how she and her husband decided to build a house with a separate apartment for Clara so they wouldn’t have to take care of two houses.

At first, Clara only needed help with grocery shopping and transportation since she couldn’t drive. Then her eyesight started deteriorating. Clara was never one for going to doctors, but  Michele encouraged her to see an eye doctor so she could continue reading, an activity she enjoyed. The doctor thought she had diabetes and referred her to a specialist.

Michele also encouraged her to see an internist, and she started insulin injections. Because Clara neglected her condition for years, her kidneys were failing, and she would soon be on dialysis. Clara reluctantly learned how to give herself the insulin injections so at first, all Michele had to do was prepare the syringes, but when Clara fell and broke her arm, the real care giving began.

Michele describes how for eight years, she bathed Clara, cleaned up after her, helped her get dressed, drove her to and from dialysis and other appointments, and prepared her meals. She talks about the frustration of regulating Clara’s diet because her mother-in-law kept snitching food she wasn’t supposed to have. Although Clara was a sweetheart most of the time, she insisted on getting up, eating, taking a nap, and going to bed at certain times, no matter what Michele’s schedule was, and she wasn’t flexible. I won’t even mention the butt cream incident. She also wanted certain foods at certain times and rarely settled for anything else. Besides caring for Clara, Michele also had a husband and two sons to cook for and clean up after, and she explains how such family events as her older son’s high school graduation and wedding were more stressful than they normally would have been because she had to worry about caring for Clara during those times. It was also hard for the family to take vacations because arrangements had to be made for Clara’s care in their absence.

When her older son was injured twice as a result of sporting accidents, Michele was taking care of him and Clara. Because the older son was just as demanding as his grandmother when he was laid up, she was tempted to put them both in a nursing home. Who can blame her?

After eight years, longer than her doctor predicted she would live on dialysis, Clara started deteriorating. She got so weak that Michele could barely help her stand. When she fell in the shower and broke her leg, she was rushed to the hospital, and it was then that fluid was found in her lungs. She soon died after complications from surgery to repair the broken leg.

Besides the funeral, Michele also describes life after Clara and coping with the loss of her mother-in-law and the fact that she was no longer responsible for her care. She suffered from nightmares, sleeplessness, and panic attacks, but in time, these subsided. She ends with a humorous piece of advice for other caregivers. “If you ever find yourself in a position of washing your aged parent after they have soiled themselves, please remember, and keep the washcloth out of their reach!!!”

I like Michele’s writing style. She has a way of making you feel like she’s telling you about her experiences instead of you reading about them. I was right there with Michele, whether she was driving Clara home from the hospital through a snowstorm or on her hands and knees cleaning her up after she soiled herself and ended up with a mouthful if dirty water because Clara grabbed the washcloth and started wiping herself.

You can read excerpts from Michele’s book on her blog. There are also links to where it can be purchased from Create Space. I recommend this book to anyone, not just caregivers. It will open your eyes to what life is like when you have to care for a loved one.

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

Happy New Year

My family has never done much to ring in the new year, but I remember one time when we lit sparklers indoors while watching the descent of the ball on Times Square in New York City on television. My brother was about five or six and I seven years older. Mother and Dad were there, but it was still a wonder I didn’t set the house on fire. With my limited vision, waving a lighted sparkler around wasn’t the safest thing I could have done.

On January 1st like clockwork, my mother took down the tree and all decorations. It’s funny, but when she was ready to decorate the house for the holidays, everyone was willing to help, but when it was time for everything to come down, I was the only one who pitched in because I was the only one home, and it wasn’t hard for Mother to drag me away from whatever I was doing to help her. My dad and brother had places to go, things to do, and people to see.

I’m making two resolutions this year. For the first time in six years, I need to lose weight. I found this out when I went to the doctor on Monday following Thanksgiving. Right after a holiday food fest may not have been the best time to go to the doctor, but when I made the appointment, I didn’t give it a moment’s thought, just like last year when I arranged to have a colonoscopy two days after Christmas with leftovers in the house. Anyway, the doctor said that my weight gain was probably due to stress and the fact that I’m not as active, now that Bill is gone, and I’m no longer caring for him. She said it was no big deal, just to increase my activity and watch my calorie intake. Because diabetes runs in my family, I’m probably making a bigger deal out of it than I should.

The second thing I’m going to try and do this year is write a memoir about my six-year experience caring for Bill. I’ve been reading  a similar book by Michele Bertanini, Life with Clara: One Caregiver’s Journey, about her eight years of caring for her mother-in-law. You can read excerpts from the book on her blog, and I’ll post more after I finish the book.

Meanwhile, please click on the link below to hear me sing a song associated with this holiday. I hope your new year is safe, happy, and prosperous.

 

Auld Lang Zyne

 

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author of We Shall Overcome and How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver