Saturday, March 16, 2013

The WB Family Holiday Part II

In my blog posting part I, I left off as most of the family was on the side of a rural Iowa road waiting for news about grandpa from the EMT's.

Time seemed to stand still for us as we all waited in our cars parked on the side of the highway. At times, really only in minutes, I felt my heart pound and could literally feel the agony coming from Steve in the seat next to me.  As I wrote about earlier, I knew it was important to let him take the lead on the next steps. Whether that meant that we would wait, rather than approach the EMT's exit the vehicle to seek answers.

Without much notice the EMT's from ambulance #2 emerged.  One of the EMT's met with Kevin in the lead car to let him know that grandpa was still with us after treatment and to follow ambulance #1 to Sioux City, Iowa hospital.

In what seemed like another long drive on Thanksgiving afternoon, the family met up again in the Emergency Room at Sioux City hospital. There I saw the pale and stunned faces look back at me as we all looked at each other.  I walked around the room and tried to keep think of encouraging things to say and to pass out a hug or two to those who really looked like they needed one.

Mom, Steve and Kevin were in with grandpa as he was being treated.  Again, the rest of us found ourselves waiting for word and prognosis. It would be a couple hours before there was any news, but what we did know without hesitation is that grandpa would be admitted for care.  When I think about it now, none of us ever realized in those moments in the emergency room that grandpa would never return to the family farm he built, where he's raised his family and lived with his wife of 56 years for a period of over 40 years.

I call dad grandpa because for me he represented the name very well.  Not only with his own grandchildren, but in many ways, he reminded me of my grandpa.  Growing up, I never really had a father figure type in my life, so I found myself always relying on my grandfather on my mom's side of the family for conversation and advice when I needed it.  Regardless, over the last several years with the WB, I was able to have great conversations with Steve's dad, Robert, 'grandpa',' as I refer to him in this story.  While not realizing it then, most of those conversations with him, whether on the farm or at our home in Wisconsin, I would learn would be some of the best 'life' advice for me to learn from.

I'm really not sure how much time had passed while we waited in the emergency room, but the football games we were watching or listening to were over for the most part, or were really not our focus anymore.  It must have been after 6:00 p.m. when we learned that dad/grandpa would be taken to his room.  Suddenly, as I looked around and witnessed the exhaustion and solemn mood in the room,  I checked back in with reality and realized that Thanksgiving dinner was still out on the table and that Jake and Mattie were still home alone. Since I was not the one who secured them, I wondered if they were free to run the house and at least they would be able to partake in a Thanksgiving feast.  While I was assured that they were in the bedroom downstairs, I was not sure that the door upstairs was closed. It could be an interesting trip back to the farm...

Lisa and I conversed and rallied a plan to return to the family farm to clean up the mess left from the dinner that we never got to have, as well as the mess left from the emergency team caring for dad and all in the dining room and kitchen.  We both knew that mom could not come home to any of the mess, especially the later.  A quick request for volunteers to come with us to help Lisa and I with the clean up not surprisingly produced ONLY one willing and wonderful young lady, Kate.  The youngest of Robert's grandchildren.  In silence, I was pleasantly surprised.

Lisa, Kate and I arrived back at the farmhouse about 6:30 p.m.  I immediately went to care for the pets first, while Lisa went upstairs to create our plan of attack for the cleanup.  When I got to them, Jake and Mattie were trembling, as they had no clue what had taken place six hours before.  Nevertheless, they quickly got back into their 'Bonnie and Clyde' routine of playfulness and looking for their next chance for a bit of trouble.

In a matter of only a few moments, I found myself upstairs, pets in tow, and began with the cleanup.  When I looked at the table, still set with the full plates of food, somehow I could still see the medical emergency that took place at the head of table still fresh on my mind. I quickly shook it off when we realized that none of the food could really be saved.  It has been sitting out too long and the last thing we needed at this point was for anyone to end up sick from the already tormented  family Thanksgiving feast that never was.

We made great headway with our cleanup in under two hours.  During this time Lisa, Kate and I talked about the day.  While I never asked, I knew that talking about it would help the young Kate deal more with the future unknown that would shortly follow.  In these slow moments in time, I found myself bonding more with Lisa.  I felt close to her already, but I could feel our 'family' relationship blooming even more.  I got to know Kate more and was very impressed with her and completely grateful that she helped us clean up.

During the cleanup there were a few calls made back and forth with the family still at the hospital to check on grandpa, to see how mom was doing and to develop a plan for returning to their homes in other rural towns in Iowa. We nearly had everything cleaned up when Randy (Shelly's husband) and all the other Wingert grand kids returned.  The decision was for everyone to return to their homes in Panora and Ames, Iowa and wait for further word before returning.  Lisa would drive her car home with her kids and Randy would drive home with Zack. Kevin, Shelly, Steve and I would stay with mom.

As everyone was preparing to leave, I could see the same look on KC's face (he is the oldest of the grand kids) that I had on mine as he looked at the now clean Thanksgiving dinner table.  He too could still see everyone at the table and voiced that "...he could never sit at the table again and perhaps never step foot in the house again without remembering, vividly the 'tragedy' that ensued, rather than a family Thanksgiving feast..."

Nothing else was said after KC's comment.  While a bit drastic to 'never return to the house,' I'm sure that everyone felt the same way on some level; I know I did. The family packed up and got in their cars and were gone in what seemed like seconds. As they were driving out, Steve called me to check in with me. Really I believe that he needed to take a moment to breath and I knew that.  He asked me to come back to the hospital to be with him while they waited.  I didn't hesitate, I told him that I would care for the pets and be on my way very soon. I made sure that 'Bonnie and Clyde' knew they were loved and put them in the downstairs bedroom. They curled up to one another and I headed out to be with Steve, for what would be a very long night Thanksgiving night. 

Stay tuned for Part III of the WB Family Holiday coming to you very soon.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

WB Family Holiday Season 2012, Part I

The WB Family Holiday Season 2012 was very different and quite rocky to say the least.  Another unexpected long break from blogging, but it was important to ensure my time and focus was spent where I was needed at the time.

While the season dealt with family loss, it's important to qualify our family holiday, as one where we really invested in the meaning of the season, of family and giving thanks to God.  Something many of us have lost sight of over the years because the holiday season has become so commercialized.

The beginning of this story is all over the map, but when I think about it, the real start was with our family Thanksgiving in Iowa with my partner, Steve's family.  While we may have missed one or two Iowa trips over the last seven years, we try to make the 8.5 hour drive to Iowa from our home in Wisconsin each year to celebrate this holiday with this side of the family.  This was an important year for Steve, as his father's long fight with Alzheimer's disease had reached its dangerous peak.  I haven't blogged before now about the affects that this disease has had on our family over the past several years, not only to protect the medical privacy of my father-in-law, but because I felt it was a story that, while it needed to be shared, timing did not permit me to share my feelings from its eventual wake in my blog.  I'm sure I don't need to share with everyone here how difficult living with and being affected by this disease can be on a family, let alone over a holiday season.

Regardless, we usually arrive the Wednesday evening before Thanksgiving in order to take part in the preparation festivities with mom, and to ensure that she has the correct number of hands for both the preparation and the all adult cleanup that follows. Just try finding a young person who wants to help you clean up after a big family meal these days...Our arrival on Wednesday evening was later than usual because of the weather and holiday traffic out of Chicago.  Exhausted as we arrived and dad asleep, we said our hellos, set a schedule for the next day, Steve stayed up to catch up with his mom and I hit the sack to prepare for the family entourage to arrive the next day for Thanksgiving dinner. 

Happy Thanksgiving.  While Chenin, Sean, Megan and Brian could not make this trip with us. I was happy that we brought our dogs, Jake and Mattie with us, as they offer me exercise, playtime with them and it was important to me that they were not home alone.  But, you can imagine how it adds to the long drive to Iowa.  It is so worth it to me to have them with us. I digress. It was an early rise to the smell of pie and Turkey and suddently a big thud upstairs.  The thud was alarming, as we'd heard the shower running upstairs, which either meant someone fell in the shower or dad was alone by himself while mom was getting herself ready before everyone got up. We were quick to get upstairs to investigate the noise and from first inspection everything seemed to be alright.  Mom was in the shower and dad was up and about himself.  While dad didn't know what he was doing or who anyone is most of the time, this time he seemed more alert than usual.  He was almost "giddy" a couple of times, which really seemed out of character and a bit alarming to us as well.  Regardless, while we were all a bit guarded, the morning cooking and preparation continued.  During all of the chaos, I noticed that dad, while not understanding all that was going on around him, seemed to be a bit more active than usual.

During a short early breakfast break, mom sat dad down in his regular spot to care for him and provide his medications, her regular daily care givers and devoted and loving wife regimen.  Dad seemd to become angry and spat the meds back out almost as if he was gagging on them.  On some level it seemed as if he was being defiant and rejecting them, all the while he was laughing through the process.  It seemed freakishly weird to me and while not verbally shared by Steve, his mom and now his sister, Shelly, I could tell they too were concerned.  Nevertheless, he finally took what was needed, he went to rest and the holiday morning progressed as more family arrived. By now, we have Steve's sister and brother and their families at home anxiously waiting for the early afternoon Thanksgiving feast. While odd for me, I left Steve, his mom and sister in the kitchen to prepare the meal and I spent the time with dad and the other family members in the living room.  Dad was again wandering back and forth in the hallway and it was as if he was trying to speak to me, I could tell he wanted to, but finally, I understood that he wanted to sit in his rocker and Kevin (Steve's brother) and I got his situated in his rocker.

Dinner is served.  Mom and Steve alerted the family to assemble for dinner.  Kevin and I got dad to his seat at his usual spot at the head of the table.  Everyone was seated and Grace was shared.  The food was making its round around the table.  Some had just begun to eat, as others were still loading their plates.  All eyes seemed to be on dad who seemed as if he could not get comfortable.  Suddenly dad gasped, yanked back in his chair and it seemed as though be began to choke.  In a very quick and what seemed to be a frozen moment in time, I took stock around the table at the shock on every one's faces and then I broke my frozen state and shouted to get dad to the floor, mom yelled for someone to call 911.  Without initially saying a thing, I quickly identified dad's situation as a seizure.  I helped Kevin get dad lowered to the floor, place him on his side and clear his airway.  He was not breathing.  I felt panic over my body, and said to myself, "please God not today at Thanksgiving while the kids are all here watching." 

I scanned the room and everyone seemed to be in shock and frozen in place, Shelly was an emotional mess, the dogs were panicked and the kids crying and/or very upset, in a nutshell there was chaos. Steve was on the phone with the paramedics, he was highly emotional and relaying orders to us that Kevin and I already been able to do.  While shallow, dad was breathing.  Somehow I knew I needed to help get more control over the situation.  I managed to get mom to the floor to be with dad.  It helped her deal with the moment in time. I was able to calm Shelly some and over to her husband, she needed to be held. I ask the kids to get the dogs downstairs and those upstairs to pull the dinner table back and clear the living room to allow the medics room to care for grandpa.  They needed to be distracted. Kevin's wife, Lisa and someone I consider a wonderful person and friend helped achieve a sense of order back into the situation. She is simply amzing!

Medics were caring for dad and now it was time to secure the home and get everyone rounded up in their vehicles for the ride to the hospital.  Dad was in the ambulance, Kevin, Lisa, their kids and mom in one car, Lisa and her family in their car and Steve and I in ours. We were missing the kids now and for a moment wondered if we should call.  We chose to wait for more informaton. The Alzheimer's journey was beginning its end for the Wingert family and I wanted to be there to help hold them all together.

After about 2 miles down the dirt road from the family farm and just as we turned on to the highway, the ambulance suddenly stopped at the side of the rural Iowa highway on a cold and windy Thanksgiving afternoon.  It was about 2:30 p.m.  Not sure where the last 90 minutes went, but the next 20 minutes with all of us parked on the side of the road would seem like an eternity.  Finally, another ambulance pulled up on the other side of the road.  The EMT's were running emergency equipment back and forth.  Kevin was the lead car and Steve and I were the last.  We waited and waited and I when I looked over at Steve, I could see the fear of anticipated loss on his face.  The "what ifs," and the "why didn't I's" were all there in that moment all over his face. My role was immediately switched from Drill Sergeant to Caregiver for my partner, the other half and best part of me. 

What I will share in the next two parts of this family story, will solidify what it means to be a family, having hope in your hearts and God on your side.  Stay tuned for WB Family Holiday Season, Part II very soon...