Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Caretaker wear and tear

I went for my first appointment for physical therapy yesterday. I blew out my shoulder last October from a fall. I was attempting to help my ole pal Alex down the front steps as he was recovering from a seizure. He got down the steps just fine; I, however, slipped and fell, hearing an actual "rrrrrrrrip" when I landed on my left shoulder.

Xrays were negative but the pain was quite bad. Did some home therapy, ice, rest, you know the routine. It still bothers me so I went for an MRI a month ago and it revealed a labrum tear along with a misplaced bicep tendon. Great.

Surgery is likely but the surgeon was open to trying PT first to see if I could get some strength back and minimize the pain.

The therapist I've got is a woman who looks to be about my age. In great shape, of course. She asked many questions but one of them got us looking into each others eyes with a great sense of knowing.

When she asked what my goal was for PT, I answered "To avoid surgery for as long as I can. I have too many people and dogs who need me right now."

Without saying a word, she understood. I said, "You know. You're a woman." She smiled and nodded.

When the surgeon told me that surgery was the only way to repair the damage for good, my first thought was not of myself. It was of my elderly dogs. How will I get them in and out of the car for appointments if I can't use both arms? Then I thought of my parents.

I have chronic fatigue syndrome which is at its worst during times of physical and emotional stress. This means my recovery from surgery will likely be more involved and take longer. My folks are at the point in their lives where they sometimes have to rely on their "kids". What if they end up needing me and I can't be there for them?

It's all crazy, I know. Others would help where I couldn't. But most women I know would have the same reaction as me. It's our job (and our purpose in life) to be there for others. We're last in line on our own list of priorities.

I think back to my childhood in trying to understand why I subvert my own care for others. My mom, like most moms of that era, didn't work outside the home. Their jobs were to be mothers. They were the ones who raised the children (dads did what they could on nights and weekends), took care of the family pet, helped neighbors in need, and shuttled elderly relatives to and from doctors appointments. In a nutshell, they handled all the emotional and physical caretaking.

It is that example that still has power over my generation. I don't think it's a bad thing to "suck it up" when someone else has a greater need. I actually view that type of inner strength as a badge of honor. But it has its price. In the PT waiting room was one man - and six women. 

I wonder if those women answered the therapist's questions the same as me. And received a knowing look in return.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


I read this article in today's Boston Globe with much interest. It's been my theory that once people establish an opinion, no amount of facts could change it. Or so it seemed to me after spending some amount of time on local blogs having my IQ challenged when I dare interrupt someone's rant with facts.

From the book "A Nation of Victims: The Decay of the American Character", by Charles J. Sykes, comes one of my favorite quotes: "You can't reason someone out of something they didn't reason themselves into."

I use that line often when discussing/arguing things like politics and religion. (I know they're supposed to be taboo subjects but I hate boring conversations as much as I hate the Yankees.)

The article in the Globe makes the point that offering challenging facts to someone who has a pre-set opinion usually gets that person MORE entrenched in their opinion. You would think that it would be the opposite but here's where human nature comes into play.

People don't like to be wrong and they consider an inconsistency of opinion to be a character flaw. R.W. Emerson said: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." When I read that in college, it changed how I argued.

We all hold certain beliefs as a sort of personal truth - and don't confuse "truth" with "fact". One of my truths is that I believe that the death penalty is justified in some instances. I can't imagine anyone ever giving me enough information to change my opinion, and so it stays.  

However, I try to not hold those 'hobgoblins' in my mind and am at least aware of times when I do. Changing an opinion given more information and especially experience is a sign to me that the person is smart and strong. This is what always pains me during political campaigns. That a politician cannot change his mind - ever. Once (s)he says something on the stump, it has to be etched in stone for all time.

I fear that we are a country that is becoming too black and white. And that somehow, personal growth and introspection have become signs of weakness.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Blue moon dog

I love every dog that's come through my house. Foster or otherwise. But anyone who's had dogs knows there are one or two that somehow manage to be more amazing than the rest. And that's the case with my Springer Spaniel, Brittany.

We don't call her Brittany much anymore, in fact, we never really did. She-of-a-thousand-nicknames has always been way too silly to be called such a prissy name. Her names run the gamut from Snuggles to Psycho. Poopyhead to Wigglebottom.

We adopted Brit when she was 2 (or so the vet guessed) and had come into Springer Spaniel Rescue after being hit by a car. Her family didn't want her back and didn't care that she was a) in pain, and b) would likely be euthanized.

Luckily a local vet in CT where she was found did some major surgery pro-bono because she was so special. The ACO that brought her into the vet called Springer Spaniel Rescue who then called us (the recently approved adopters). We were so taken by her personality that her inability to walk after surgery did not scare us away.

Brit was our first dog together. Ron had cats when he was a kid, but never dogs. I had dogs but my mom was always the main caretaker. Adopting Brit - especially given her issues - was a huge leap of faith that has changed my life.

She was a lot of work when we got her. Traumatized both physically and emotionally, we struggled to get her well. She rebounded from her hip surgery quicker than she did from the terrible anxiety that overwhelmed her at times. Even today she doesn't do well with change and seems to still fear, 10 years later, that she will be ditched again.

At heart, she is a fun, silly, happy, affectionate, and intuitive dog. The only "trouble" we've had with her is her love for chasing (and sometimes even catching) little furry creatures outside. An invisible fence kept her contained but two years ago, her hip started to act up again. It was then we found that her knees were an issue also and surgery isn't an option.

Most of her days are spent inside now. A retired racehorse of sorts. We take her on walks when her joint issues aren't too bad. We control the pain with meds and she is on a regimen of holistic treatments to attempt to keep her comfortable and rebuild some strength in her hind quarters.

However, lately some of the positive effects from treatments are being lost and we are faced with the reality that her mobility and pain may result in a life-ending decision. We thought that since our unhealthy Springer Alex made it to 15, surely Brit would too.

It's been hard for me to come to terms with this reality. Brit is my best friend, my constant companion, and "my little girl". Lots of emotions are tied up with her and I'm dreading the day when a decision has to be made. I also wonder if I will be capable of making one since letting go of her will be the hardest thing I've ever done in my life.

Last night, when she was dawdling with her dinner, I thought it was due mostly to her not being able to stand for long to eat. So I indulged her by sitting with her and feeding her by hand until she was tempted to start eating on her own again.

As always, she was as interested in me as anything else in front of her. She'd take one bite of food for herself, then lick my face. Another bite, then lick my fingers holding the bowl. She seemed to figure out early on that I love her as much as she loves me. And that will never change between us.

I've decided that I will continue to let her know just how much she means to me until I have to let her go. Don't say dogs aren't tuned in to how you feel. They know you better than you know yourself because they're not fooled by the words that come out of your mouth.

They read your heart and judge you by your actions. At least my Brit does.