The Best Way to Say Thank You

Ever hear the old joke about something being “as useless as screen doors on a submarine?”  I don’t find that one-liner nearly as funny as I used to.

I haven’t been blogging much lately.  I would like to tell you that I have been busy with fun summer stuff.  The truth is I haven’t been busy with much of anything.  About a week and a half ago I had surgery to remove bone spurs on my heels and repair both Achilles tendons.  I spent the better part of 20 years working on KC-135 aircraft.  The wear and tear involved in maintenance and dogged pursuit of supersized value meals took their toll. 

I won’t go into the specific reasons that made having both ankles done now the best choice for us.  it involved logistic, financial, medical and family considerations.  Having this type of surgery is never convenient.  However, figuratively “ripping the Band-Aid off” now and getting it over with made sense.

So here I am.  Both ankles are in splints, I can’t put weight on them.  I am confined to a downstairs bedroom because I can’t get up the stairs by myself and this is as far as my family could carry the body. At this point I am contributing only my wit and good looks to my family’s collective well-being.  I am that screen door on a submarine.

I guess I am feeling a little sorry for myself.  Actually I know I am feeling sorry for myself.  This is where it gets a little complicated.  I am lucky.  I am lucky because I get to feel sorry for myself.  I have that luxury because every aspect of family need is covered.  Those needs are covered because I have a support system consisting of three remarkable women.

When half a parental team suddenly disappears adjustments need to be made.  I know that there are lots of single parents out there.  I was one for a time.  However suddenly yanking a wheel off a bicycle doesn’t make it a unicycle.  Adjustments need to be made.  When half of the team goes to bed for a month and needs around the clock attendance, major adjustments have to be made.

My wife’s aunt stepped up when we needed a major adjustment.  She lives in Maryland.  She is retired, sort of.  She is constantly busy.  She is involved in a leadership group for her home county, she volunteers, still does some business consulting in her former field, participates in several clubs and was recently named president of her local Rotary Club.  She dropped everything and came to Alaska. 

She put down her Rotary gavel and came here to watch Charlie, cook meals, wash clothes, feed me and empty my bedpan.  Yes I said it . . . close our mouth . . . I went there . . . bedpans.  I am not sleeping in the bathroom and my bodily functions haven’t stopped.  Nature still calls and , at least for awhile, I need help answering the door.  I am not trying to ruin your lunch, I am just trying to explain what this lady bought into when she got on the airplane.

Every morning she brings coffee and opens the blinds in my room.  She brings breakfast and sits and chats.  Then she feeds Charlie and herds him to his closet to get dressed.  She cooks the family meals, which is, in itself, an adjustment.  We recently started a vegetarian lifestyle.  When she arrived at our house she came with a suitcase full of vegetarian foods and cookbooks.  These things aren’t, in and of themselves, remarkable. They become remarkable when you consider the fact that she didn’t have to do them.

My mother-in-law is a nurse.  She went to nursing school, got a degree in nursing and holds advanced degree’s in multiple nursing disciplines.  But it is more than that.  Intellecutally she has been trained, but in her heart she is a nurse.  It’s who she is and what she is.  If somebody is sick she is there.  She is always there for us.

Other aspects of Mom’s personality compliment her abilities as a nurse.  She is part mother tiger.  Actually, Sarah Palin’s definition of “hockey mom” comes to mind.  Instead of lipstick this pit bull comes with an AARP card, maternal instincts and an excellent working knowledge of medicine.  A few years ago she went with me to a doctor’s appointment for neck pain.  I was given an injection in the arm.  Apparently this medicine at that dose should only go in the hip.  Mom said as much.  The nurse blew her off.  Mom fumed.  We left.  Calls were made, Heads rolled. Nurses were educated. 

After the surgery, I spent some time in recovery and then I was free to go.  Mom and her sister put me in the car.  I am guessing it looked like a weird  gangster movie with two ladies in their 60s stuffing a body into the back seat.  Before the loading process Mom asked if they gave me a transfer bar.  I guess the quizzical, narcotic induced stare I gave her answered her question.  When we got home I went from the car to wheel chair.  We were fine until we got to my room.  The wheel chair was too wide to get through the bedroom door. 

“Did they ask you how wide the doors in your house were before they gave you the chair?”

I blinked.

“Seriously?”  Mom donned her fume face.

Mom spent the rest of that day and night with me.   I don’t mean just at our house, I mean with me.  Late in evening I saw her folding blankets and placing them beside my bed.  She had some pillows as well.

“What are you doing?” I asked.  I don’t know why I asked.  I knew.

“I’m going to sleep here,” she said.  “I’ll be fine.”

“Mom, I can’t let you do that,”  I protested.  “You can sleep on a bed.  You’ll be close.”

“I’ll be fine,” she said in a tone that told me the matter was closed.

I don’t know that she slept.  Throughout the night I could feel my feet being adjusted and my face being checked for fever.  I knew she was there.  She is a nurse.

In the morning she got on the phone.  Complaints were made.  Heads rolled.  Later that day the medical supply company delivered my new, narrower wheel chair.  The next day I got a a transfer bar for getting in the car and a new bedside toilet to replace the bedpan.  That is  good because using a bedpan is like pouring wet cement into a beret.  I’ll let you get your own visual.

I thanked mom for her help.  “It’s ok,” she said with a smile.  “I just hate it when people screw with my kids.”  Her kids.  I didn’t fix the semantics.  I like it this way.

My wife has born my incapacity with a smile and a shrug.  Well. there have been a few exasperated sighs and one particularly long “You-So-Owe-Me-Buddy” stare.  But mostly smiles and grace.  Tired smiles.  She is doing things alone that we used to do as a team.  Mom and her Aunt are very helpful, but the boys are used to one system and now that has changed.    My wife leaves work, picks up Eli at school and is home about 6:30 pm.  Dinner, a few moments with me, then baths, and bedtime.  Bedtime for my boys is equal parts track meet, debate and goat rope with a dash of chaos.  There are a few more moments with me then she sits down and works for a few more hours.  In the morning she reloads the fun gun and pulls the trigger.

My wife’s organizational skills are on par with Noah’s.  Actually, he had it a little easier.  He just had to make sure the animals with the pointy teeth didn’t live next to the ones with flat teeth.  My wife balances work, my care, the boys care, pre-school, soccer practices, more work and our overall scheduling.  When anybody asks a question, they ask her.  She is in charge all day at work, then she comes home and takes charge again.  I used to help out with that. 

I have the easiest job of anybody involved.  I just sit here and heal.  In a few days I should get a walking boot for my left foot.  That will allow me very limited mobility.  I should be able to get up stairs.  That means I can witness the chaos that I have been hearing. 

So, if I want, I can feel sorry for myself because three strong women have everything else covered. Instead of feeling sorry for myself, I thought it might be more appropriate to say thank you.  It’s funny.  We say thank you to cashiers and complete strangers who open doors for us, but we don’t always thank the ones close to us.  That is not a mistake I will make.  We also tell people we love them, but I wonder if we think about what we are saying.  I wanted to tell these women that I am forever thankful for what they are doing and that I love them.   This seemed like a good way to do that.

Thank you ladies.  i love you.

Thanks for reading.  I have some time on my hands so we’ll talk again soon on This Side of the Diaper.















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