When Patient Becomes Caregiver

It was bound to happen at some point. You don’t prepare for it—you never do. But when my wife Laura was told the newly discovered lump in her breast was growing quickly and needed to be removed immediately, our roles as patient and caregiver were violently upended. Funny, I recently was featured on WebMD talking about, of all things, the importance of caregivers. Now, without warning, I was forced to become one. Gulp.

Breast cancer runs in Laura’s family. Her grandmother was diagnosed with it in her 40s. Her wonderful mother tragically passed away from it at the age of 66. This was no joke. And that was a problem. As I mentally cataloged all of my potential skills as a caregiver, which took all of a few seconds, I concluded that my greatest caregiving asset was… humor. Jeezo.

I wasn’t going to relieve the stress of her lumpectomy surgery with lame bosom jokes (What did one boob say to the other boob? You are my breast friend. Groan.) Physical humor was out, too, because if I accidentally hurt myself joking around—something I am quite capable of—Laura surely would assign me the task of purchasing a doghouse… when we don’t have a dog. (At which point, I probably would have brought up some silly trivia about the phrase “in the doghouse” and how it was a type of sleeping shelter on an old sailing ship that was notoriously uncomfortable. And then I’d pick out sheets that matched the living room couch and make myself comfortable.)

Fortunately I discovered my caregiving skillset was deeper than I anticipated. Maybe not so much in the physical sense—other than rewrapping her dressings and getting the occasional glass of water—but I could support her in so many other ways. And yes, I did manage to make her smile without getting into too much trouble, although getting her to agree to be photographed prior to surgery was a bit of a stretch.

How did it all go? Swimmingly. My biggest challenge as caregiver was making sure I didn’t fall onto her needle-prepped chest kissing her good luck before the surgery. From there things just got easier. Her recovery was swift and she was a perfect patient. Ah, but of course—she must have learned from the best! Please note that previous sentence drips of sarcasm.

And the tumor? Benign. It feels so good to breathe again.


Perils of Furniture Surfing

If you’ve ever had walking issues due to multiple sclerosis, you are bound to have experience in the sport of surfing, specifically furniture/wall/appliance surfing. One engages in said sport by eschewing practical walking aids—a cane, a walker, forearm crutches, etc.—in favor ricocheting off of solid objects in one’s home.

Here’s how it works. Say you decide you want another beer … yet you find yourself sitting on the couch eating Cheetos while cursing your wonky legs. “I hate you, wonky legs,” you mutter (with or without expletives). Then for reasons unknown, you opt to step over your cane—conveniently resting aside the couch—to channel legendary surfer Kelly Slater. Off to the kitchen you go! Couch armrest to end table to wingback chair to family room wall to fireplace mantle to dining room wall to dining room chair to dining room table to kitchen wall to pantry doorknob to countertop to sink (nice hand holds!) back to countertop, and then finally to refrigerator handles. Cowabunga! You just rode that barrel and exited the green room unscathed! Now simply open the fridge, get your beer, and resurf your steps, which is cake since there is now a fresh smear of Cheeto orange all over your house.

But, as veterans know, shooting the tube can be gnarly if surfing is not done smartly and safely. To avoid being a Barney, aka a lame surfer, you have to keep your eyes peeled for potential perils, like men in gray suits—in other words: sharks. House sharks are things you should not grab for support. Floor lamps. Recliners that rock. Christmas trees. Lightweight tri-fold Shoji screen room dividers made primarily of paper. The horns of poorly mounted faux animal heads. Yes, the list of “sharks” is practically endless.

Alas I discovered after a recent mishap, there also are degrees of Barneyism, from mildly dorky to full-on moron. For example, after you cook a slab of bacon and move the hot pan off the even hotter stove, DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES then use the convenient cast iron grate of said hot stove for support. This dawned on me as rather obvious while I was running my left hand under cold water for 15 minutes as Laura fetched my cane while trying not to injure her neck due to repeatedly shaking her head in exasperation.

Yes, even though I typically avoid furniture surfing (and even warn against it due to potential mishaps), I went full Barney. No, I’m not proud of singeing my palm or freaking out my wife. But it could have been worse. I could have pulled a Barney while hanging eleven (uh, Google at your own risk). The lesson here: wade carefully into such waters and always use your walking aids. Or just blindly ignore my advice. Surf’s up!