Life Lessons Learned in a Wet Bathing Suit

At English Bay at sunset

At English Bay at sunset

Last Saturday, Nick and I were expecting company for the weekend.  Typically, we don’t have much time to do more than basic housework during the week so the bulk of our cleaning is done on Saturday.  This Saturday was no different except that the previous weekend we had chosen to go through all kinds of stuff that we had been keeping in cupboards and boxes and on bookshelves and in junk drawers which meant our usual amount of cleaning didn’t happen.  You can probably imagine what our house looked like.  Sty would be a kind and generous description.  So, by 9am we had finished breakfast and our coffee and we were well on our way to putting a dent in the long list of what needed to be done.

Stop here.

Before I go any further, for you to understand the situation in its entirety, you need to know that both Nick and I hate housework.  With a passion.  With every fibre of our beings.  And the more housework there is to do, the more we both hate it.  Thus, we started to do our cleaning on opposite ends of the house so that neither of us commit murder with, oh say, a vacuum hose, or a melon baller, or a doily, because…oh yes…given the right circumstances, we could.  So Nick started to work on our bedroom.  Now, to give Nick credit, he does an amazingly thorough job of the bedroom.  It is just shining like a new – wait, it can’t be penny – they stopped making those in Canada – nickel!  Yes, just like a shiny new nickel by the time he is finished.  In the meantime, I began by putting a load in the laundry.  Then I cleaned the dining room, filing and sorting all the considerable mail that had just been tossed on the table, recycled the unread newspapers, wiped down the table, window sills and chair arms and swept the floor.  Then I hung the laundry on the line and started the second load.  Then I unloaded the dishwasher, loaded it with dirty dishes, put everything away that had been left out, scrubbed down the countertop, stovetop, and sink and swept and washed the kitchen floor.  Then I took out some frozen meat to thaw for dinner, hung more laundry on the line and started another load.  Next, I tackled the bathroom.  I cleared everything off the vanity, washed the mirror, wiped down the vanity and cleaned the sink.  I put everything back on the vanity after wiping each item down.  I scrubbed the toilet, wiped down the windowsill and scrubbed around the edge of the tub.  I took the bathmat out to shake it.  Swept the floor.  Collected all the towels for the laundry and replaced them with fresh ones.  Just as I finished the bathroom, Nick chose that moment, having finished cleaning up the bedroom, to have a shower.  I hung more laundry on the line and threw the towels in to the washer.  I started tidying the laundry room.  Just as I finished sweeping the floor, Nick walked in and says, “Do you know it’s raining?”  Shit.  I ran outside and pulled in three loads of laundry off the line and laid it all out in our sunroom to finish drying.  I went back into the main part of the house.  Nick was laying on our bed playing with his iPad.  At this point steam started to come out of my ears. Looking in the fridge, I made a list of what we still needed if I were to feed our guests…oh yes, I almost forgot, I needed to make a lasagna to take to our favoured political party’s campaign office to feed the volunteers.  I threw a frozen lasagna into the oven (I know, I know, but frozen works when you don’t have enough time).  I stomped into the bedroom and announce coldly to my supine husband that I was going to the grocery store.  He looked up from his iPad and smiled and said “Okay.”

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Now, going out to the store was probably the best thing that I could have done in that moment because that thing I said about the vacuum hose?  It was about to happen.  But getting away from the house gave me some perspective.   Had I asked him to help me?  No.  Did he even know what I had been doing while he cleaned the bedroom?  No.  Could he read my mind?  Again, no.  I laughed at myself, gave a quick moment of thanks that I hadn’t said anything that would have been hurtful or would have started a fight.

Fast forward to the next afternoon.

Our houseguests had gone out to tour the area and Nick and I decided to go to the pool for a swim.  After a nice swim Nick and I sat in the hot tub for a few minutes – not long and certainly less than the recommended ten minute maximum.  Nick excused himself to make a trip to the washroom and I sat back and enjoyed the heat soaking through my arthritic neck and shoulders.  I closed my eyes and really began to relax when I heard the lifeguard whistle blow.  Now, I spent my university years working as a lifeguard – long enough to know whenever a lifeguard blows her whistle it never means anything good.  I looked over to where the guard was crouched over a supine figure on the floor.  I couldn’t see the face of the person on the deck but I recognized Nick’s signature baggy blue swim trunks.  I rushed out of the hot tub thinking that Nick had slipped and fallen.  Once I got to his side, my anxiety rose when I saw the lifeguards strapping oxygen to his face.

“I’m his wife.”  The head guard pulled me aside to get a history.  That’s when she told me that Nick had lowered himself to the deck and then passed out.  By this point his eyes were open again but he was still dizzy, and the guards had called 911.  My anxiety abated a bit to hear him speak and answer questions coherently.  The guards got him up into a wheelchair and wheeled him to the side of the pool to wait for the EMTs.  I began to relax.  Nick’s colour was coming back.  The guards assured me his pulse was normal and he seemed to be okay.  Then everything turned on a dime.

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The lifeguard asked Nick if he felt tired and Nick said yes.  Don’t ask me why, but I thought to myself, ‘Uh-oh.  That’s not good.’  I looked at Nick’s face closely and all the colour that had returned was draining from his face.  “Look, he’s gone white.” I said to the guard.  I stared into his eyes and my stomach dropped.  His pupils had become so large that the hazel of his irises was no longer visible and they looked completely vacant.  I panicked.  “Look at his pupils, look at his pupils!”  Nick’s head lolled to one side.  I grabbed his arm and started yelling, “Nick! Nick! Wake up!!!”  Beside me the guard blew his whistle and then got down on his knees beside me and started yelling at Nick as well.  I was sure he’d had a stroke.  The other guards came running and lifted Nick out of the chair and carefully placed him back on the deck with his feet raised up above his heart.  Slowly, Nick came back.  I was holding his hand tightly.  He looked over to me and said, “I fell asleep.”  “No, sweetheart, you passed out.”  He frowned a little, and then said, “Everything went white.”  I squeezed his hand.   Someone stepped up and started checking him for signs of a stroke, which oddly, I found comforting.  Nick’s colour started to come back again but his skin was still clammy and cold.  I was so relieved when the EMT’s arrived and loaded Nick onto their gurney to take him to emergency.

I followed the ambulance to the hospital and was asked to sit in the waiting room.  It felt like I was waiting half the evening but in fact it was only 20 minutes.  The nurse ushered me in behind a closed curtain.  Nick lay on the bed shivering.  I took his hand, “Are you okay?” “Yeah, I’m fine.”  “But you’re shaking!”  He gave me one of his sardonic looks, “I’m wearing a wet bathing suit.”  “But, you’re really okay?” “Yes, yes, I’m fine.”

And in fact he was.  Two days before, our doctor had changed one of Nick’s medications, which had caused his blood pressure to drop to the point that he lost consciousness.  The EMTs had put in a saline drip IV and so by the time I saw him in the hospital he was perfectly fine.

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This was one of the most terrifying moments in my life.  Just how important Nick is in my life was outlined in stark relief for me in the moment I saw the vacant look in his eyes and I was sure he’d had a stroke.  All my anger at him the day before seemed foolish and I felt ashamed that I was so angry at him over something as unimportant as housework.  As I drove him home, I was giving prayers of gratitude to the health gods that Nick was going home with me perfectly healthy.

There was another prayer of gratitude that went up from me alongside the first one.  I was so grateful, not just for the wonderful lifeguards and EMTs who were amazing, but also for all the other people who stepped forward to help – two level three First Aid workers, a nurse and a family doctor all of whom were just there to swim.  If I ever had any doubt that there is goodness amongst the people of the world, that experience wiped it all away.

So, tonight I am sitting next to my darling husband, watching our favourite talk show – Craig Ferguson, and feeling grateful every single moment.

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Life Lessons from a Descent into Dementia

Life Lessons from a Descent into Dementia

This is my favourite photograph of my Mom. It was the last time I saw her happy. It was April of last year and it was her 91st birthday. My mother has dementia and as I have watched her descend into confusion and paranoia and anger, it has forced me to examine my own life, emotions and motivations. Her dementia has taught me a few things:

1. No resentment is worth hanging on to.
2. Life actually is pretty good, if I choose to see the good bits.
3. What I used to view as people doing things “to me” was incorrect. People do things, even cruel or unkind things, out of their own motivations, history or pain. I have very little to do with it – I just happen to be in the way.
4. Just because I feel something uncomfortable, I don’t need to act on it. Guilt, anger, sorrow are just feelings that will pass.
5. I don’t need to act on other people’s expectations of me.

It is not easy to be a care-giver of someone with dementia and it has not been easy for me. While I would never wish this disease on anyone, I am grateful for the lessons I have learned. I wish my mother had learned these lessons before she was hit with Alzheimers. I believe it would have made her final journey now, a little easier for her.