Warning: Battery Critically Low

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What I learned in helping my elderly father navigate the transition from totally independent human being to end of life care in 2 months or less:

Being in control of another human’s life choices, all of them, is a responsibility too great for one person to bear, especially if that human is a family member.

Being in the hospital all the time for months on end is not good for anyone’s health, not even a really healthy human.

For an elderly person who is very sick in the hospital, things can deteriorate exponentially fast. Light-years happen in minutes.

While you are in the hospital, being a caregiver in the hospital, especially when you are nearing the “possible end of days” and you sometimes start to feel short of breath, your stomach is in knots, you can’t control the tears streaming down your face and you don’t know how you’re going to make it past the next few minutes- life goes on normally outside of the hospital. Your friends still go out to happy hours and go dancing and have fun. Life continues. Bills are due. Library books are due. Your children have to magically be taken to and from school every day. Your house plants still need water. Your car still needs gas to take you places. You still have to figure out how and what to eat for dinner for you and your family. It’s strange but true. The world keeps spinning outside regardless of what you are experiencing inside.

Having a doctor in the family helps navigate the “backstage” part of the hospital issues. Even if your “doctor in the family” is not of a specialty you might need. It still earns him “med cred” and if you’re lucky, your attending hospitalist might even extend the courtesy of sharing chart information with your family member. Who can then translate the reality of the situation to you instead of the garbled vague things the nurses have been telling you.

Charge nurses, nurse managers, and social services can either make or break your deal.

Insurance dictates what kind of care and what length of care your family member will have. Not medical necessity. So if your family member made a crappy choice of insurance providers, it may be up to you to clean up the mess and pray you have time to reverse some of the damage.

“Skilled Nursing Facility” often is a euphemism for “crappy nursing home” if your family member belongs to said crappy insurance plan.

When things start to get really hairy, suddenly you’ll see lots and lots of white coats coming in and out of the room often throughout the day, many not telling you much but handing you business cards saying “if you need something don’t hesitate to call” without bothering to tell you exactly what it is they do or how they can actually help you.

Most of these white coats are just covering their asses and really don’t give (much of) a shit about your family member. But sometimes if you’re lucky, 1 or 2 will, and will actually show you compassion and give you a glimmer of useful information.

You will learn more medical jargon in this short time than in your entire lifetime. And if a nurse of doctor uses a term and you don’t know what it means, pretend you do so you can get the most information possible, you appear informed, take mental notes, then google it later. Or call your family doctor person.

When you get home at the end of the day, you can never get the hot shower hot enough to shake off the hospital coldness.

It doesn’t matter that you look like shit, your hair hasn’t been washed or brushed in days, or your clothes don’t match. If you’ve managed a (somewhat hot) shower, to breathe, and a few minutes of meditation- you’re golden.

Some I.V. antibiotics smell like fish, and it’s nearly impossible to get that stink off.

Your cellphone battery drains exponentially faster in the hospital room and there is never an outlet that is not colored “DANGER RED” within easy reach for you to plug into.

The people you imagined would be helpful to you sometimes are not, and the people you never would have thought would rally around you or for you will.

5 year-olds are still 5 year-olds and will have melt downs, often, even though you don’t think you can handle another thing.

Your 5 year-old will suddenly get up multiple times a night again, not allowing you a solid night’s rest.

Both you and your 5 year-old may feel energetically linked to your ailing loved one, sometimes literally feeling the same pain they feel in the same places, and at the same time they are experiencing it. Which often happens at night. So again, you can’t sleep.

When you think you can’t handle 1 other thing, 3 other things will pop up at the same time and you will find the strength and resilience to somehow manage it.

Running around being Power of Attorney and taking care of all manner of other non-medical things that are urgent regarding your family member will sometimes bring you a strange sort of peace, because it means you don’t have to sit in the hospital room watching them wither away, at least not for those few hours.

This event can bring you closer to your spouse than you ever thought possible.

Family is family, and when it comes together in times like these, it’s a beautiful thing.

Slowly losing a loved one is damn hard, but slowly losing your own life must be even harder.

The Magic Formula

The universe is ALWAYS speaking to us, sometimes in subtle ways, other times, more like a bonk on the head. That is a given, there is nothing we have to “do” to have it speak to us. We do, however, have to take the time to LISTEN. Which often means being more aware, creating space for that awareness by being still, pausing, listening, and being open to what is being said.

The week before last for me was a doozy. I didn’t plan it that way. It just kind of happened. I was diligently and with painstaking detail putting together a new PowerPoint presentation for a Peaceful Parenting Workshop I was giving on that upcoming Saturday. I had previously given this workshop a few times using my own notes, but it was time to kick it up a notch and make it pretty and use visuals to get the points across.

In the midst of working on that, beside my usual responsibilities, I somehow crazily (over)scheduled myself to see 4 doula clients in 1 day. No problem, I can handle that! There are plenty of hours in 1 day! Besides, that was on Wednesday, and left me 2 more whole days to put together everything I needed for the workshop. Plenty of time!

Then the Universe bonked.

But let me back up. About that formula. One of the tools I teach in the Peaceful Parenting world, which is easily applied to any relationship, and actually to every single thing in our lives, is how important it is that WE be at peace and as present as possible in every moment. How real/inner peace can be attained no matter what our circumstances, no matter what storms are raging around us. We have a huge say in what our world really looks like to us, we have immense power. We often fear that power and therefore prefer to play the role of victim to our circumstances. But the truth is we do have the power, to a great extent.

So what’s the formula, you ask?

EVENT + RESPONSE = OUTCOME

It seems very simplistic. But it really finally made sense to me and hit home with me about a year and a half ago. I guess I was finally truly ready to hear it and grasp it. It’s a game changer. But you have to be ready for it. Because it means taking responsibility. You really need to be in a good mental space to have it work it’s magic, otherwise, it will have the opposite effect & you will fall flat on your face. Because you see, no matter WHAT event is taking place, be it not getting that raise you were hoping for & counting on, a tantrum your child is having, a cup of spilled milk, a serious illness, no matter WHAT the “it” is, it is YOUR REACTION/RESPONSE to it that will greatly impact the outcome. It can literally change the course of history in that moment.

Take milk, for example. Let’s say you are in a hurry to get out of the house in the morning to drop your kids off at school and make it to work on time for a meeting. So everyone is a teeny bit on edge because just maybe you’re a little stressed about the time. Then, let’s say your highly sensitive 5 year old son, in his haste to finish up quickly, accidentally spills his cup of milk all over the table and the floor. He then looks up at you in horror, with huge round eyes…..waiting…….an eternity…..for your reaction. Because he knows you’re already stressed, and this could put you over the edge. You could yell, scream, say all sorts of choice words to him and about him, or instead perhaps start slamming things  about and possibly then hurt yourself, which could lead to tears (both you and him possibly), him yelling back because he feels hurt (not to mention guilty), a struggle to get in the car, more fighting in the car, a longer than usual wait at car line, an accident causing extra traffic on the way to work….etc. Catch my drift? Because the universe is so in tune to you, it will provide you more of whatever you are putting out there energetically.

But what about the flip side? What if, instead of getting upset and going down that road, you CHOOSE instead to take a moment, pause, then take it as a cue to slow down and not take things so seriously.  Instead of getting mad, you take a deep breath and then say to your son “Hey, no biggie, let’s each grab a rag and work together to clean it up. We can pretend we are robots and make our best robot noises!”. Chances are, that will be met with a lot more joy, cooperation, and a more peaceful exit out of the house as well as a more peaceful commute. Most likely, that energy will continue to permeate your day and smooth things out for you in all aspects of your day.

Because really we are 50% of the equation, and the outcome. We can choose to see everything in a positive or a negative light. Its not always easy, I know, I get that. But it’s like a muscle. The more you work it, the easier it gets.

So back to the Universe bonking me.

The night of my 4-clients-in-one-day-while-preparing-my-upcoming-workshop, when I finally got home at 9:30pm…I got a phone call that my 83 year old father, my “Papi” (who has a myriad of serious health issues to say the least) is being admitted to the hospital and needs immediate gall-bladder surgery the next morning. 1 hour away from where I live. This wasn’t a complete surprise as we had been dealing with his delicate gall-bladder issue for 6 weeks now, but careful measures had been taken to delay having the surgery as long as possible, to make it as smooth as possible since he has so many other issues that impact him undergoing surgery with general anesthesia.

So off I went the next morning….after dropping off my son at school, the 1 hour commute to the hospital in Miami rush hour traffic….to meet him to prep for surgery. I was nervous of course, he’s elderly, sick, and he’s my Papi. But from the moment I got the news I made a choice I was going to be positive about this and trust that all was happening as it should, and all would be well. I tapped into the peace inside me and let it ride. It was a smooth sail to the hospital. Things that morning sort of just clicked. I got there in time to meet the orderly who was wheeling him to the OR prep/triage room (who happened to also be Cuban, as are we. My Dad takes great pride in it). My aunt/his sister was also with him. The kind orderly asked my aunt & I to wait outside in the OR waiting room and promised someone would give us updates along the way. So my aunt and I prepared to hunker  down and wait.

Not 4 minutes later, a nurse came out (Russian, gotta love living in an International melting pot!) calling my name, and told us we could come on back. She let us in to the prep/triage room to wait with my Dad while they started on all the prep necessary for surgery. Papi was in good spirits, cracking jokes. I was also trying to keep the mood light and positive for us all. We could hear everything going on in the adjacent “bays” in the room (each separated by paper thin curtains) as others were also getting prepped (and prodded, and poked). And it was taking a really long time. Like for real, not like just because it’s happening to you  it just feels like a  long time. Other patients were coming in and then moving on. More nurses (Cuban) came to prepare him, kindly flirt with him, and ask more of the same questions we’d already answered at least twice previously. Anesthesia (American, maybe?) came and talked to him, then the surgeon (Cuban). He explained there was a need to possibly transfuse blood/plasma as well as this possibly turning into more than just a  quick laproscopic surgery. So prep would take a little while longer than usual.

I’m still choosing to remain calm and at peace, even while reading between the lines of everything he was saying.  I will say that I did have a moment just then of a little panic and doubt. I took a moment and tried to go within, to ground and center myself, to ground the staff, everyone present, the room. I breathed. I felt the need to stand up and stroll a few steps away from my Dad and towards the exit leading to the OR. And there it was, my message. My reminder. Clear as day, big and bright, on a bulletin board (Really? In an OR triage room?) no less:

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EVENT + RESPONSE = OUTCOME!

What are the freaking chances??? I literally laughed out loud, am I’m sure sounded momentarily psychotic to the nurses around. Then I snapped a picture on my phone and almost got kicked out of there. I had to explain to the nurse in charge that the message on the bulletin board was EXACTLY the message of my upcoming workshop, how that same equation was literally the last slide in my PowerPoint and how meaningful it was. Luckily, she smiled and got it and it sparked a conversation between us and then we were good.

I (silently) thanked the Universe for the message, and I was all good again. I knew then no matter what transpired with my Dad, all would be alright. That no matter what happened in life, period, it would all be alright. I had faith. I felt supported. And I was reminded by that not so subtle detail on the bulletin board. My perception makes the difference.

I then took a moment to take in the bigger picture, to look for more signs (why not?). Then it hit me, we were the only family members in this triage room for the last 3 hours. Not 1 other family member. All the other patient’s family members were all outside in the waiting room. Why had the nurse come and gotten us to come and stay with my Dad when no one else was allowed/invited back there? Why only us? There was absolutely no logical reason.

Funny what we realize when we take that moment of pause. Everything becomes illuminated.

In the end, the operation was way more complicated, they had to do a lot more than anticipated. It took twice as long as they had said, they had to call in an additional surgeon, make quite a large incision, transfuse plasma, rewire some internal connections in my Dad, but he got through it all with flying colors. He even came out of the general anesthesia and was breathing on his own way quicker than normal, despite all his other medical issues and concerns that had delayed this surgery so long in the first place.

So yes, I was bonked. I spent the next 2 days driving back and forth, 1 hour each way, to spend the day with my recovering super-hero of a father. I did NOT have any time at all to further prepare for my workshop as I had originally planned on. But in the end, it didn’t really matter.

Turns out, I had everything I needed all along. And luckily, and most importantly, I still have my Papi.

 

Our BIG Night

 

Every night we have a routine. It has pretty much been consistently the same, with a few slight variations  since my son was about 3 months old. Relaxing music on his iPod plays in his room, we do bath time (I must restrict the number of Hotwheels cars he is allowed to bring into said bath to 7, don’t ask), I, or his Dad, or both,  put on his pajamas, we read a book or two, I “help him” brush his teeth and comb his hair, we snuggle in bed, exit stage right. Sounds beautiful, right? Except sometimes it’s not. Many times, it’s not.

We went through a whole phase (at least 2 months, I kid you not) where we (my darling husband and I) had to sit around on the floor with him after we put on his pj’s,  which was a HUGE battle, and make up stories using Hotwheels cars as characters. We ALL had to make up a unique adventure story that had to meet certain random criteria which changed nightly….. that phase passed eventually.

But still, it’s SUCH A STRUGGLE most nights!!!! From one transition to the next, usually SOMETHING triggers a need in him to NEED TO DO SOMETHING ELSE. And believe me, I’m zenmamalove, the self-proclaimed “Mama Lama” herself. I’ve got mad patience. I really do. But lately, and at certain ages and stages, it’s like pulling teeth, and by the time we get to “tuck into bed” I am tense, jaws are clenched, and I’m just dying to get out of there. Like last night. It was a disaster. I don’t remember the details, but I do remember losing my shit at the end, and telling him, in a not-so-great a tone of voice, that I was SO TIRED OF THIS STRUGGLE EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. That I hated going to bed angry and tense, and that’s how most of my nights were ending, and I hated feeling that way. I was completely honest with him about how I felt. And it must have somehow struck a chord.

Because tonight, the strangest thing happened. After his bath (which only required 5 Transformers), he got out WILLINGLY, and he asked me to help him then take off his bathrobe. Then he told me to close my eyes and ears and stay there until he called me, and he left the bathroom. He said it might be awhile but he promised he wasn’t playing around. Hmmmmm……my curiosity was killing me. But I stayed put, eyes closed, praying for the best. Time passed. I heard (of course we both know I could still hear what was going on) a rustling of clothes and it dawned on me…..he was trying to surprise me by getting dressed himself! This is huge! I know to most of you, you probably think “big deal, he’s 5  right?” But to this mama of a highly sensitive, sensory challenged boy, this is a HUGE deal.  We’ve been working on this skill for MONTHS. Sticker charts, incentives, you name it. Hit and miss. Most times I still have to be in his room, reminding him to stay focused, but distracting him with conversation enough that he doesn’t realize he’s actually getting dressed. Because God forbid his arm gets caught in a sleeve or a leg goes in the wrong pants leg, that the sock seams are uncomfortable or the shirt hangs the wrong way…..it could mean disaster and the end of trying for the day.

But tonight, my sweet, wet boy put on HIS UNDIES AND HIS PAJAMAS, all facing the right way I might add, BY HIMSELF, and sauntered back into the bathroom with the BIGGEST smile on his face, showing off his accomplishment, beaming with pride. I made a HUGE deal of it, I was honestly so flattered and touched, it was amazing. I thanked him profusely, told him how happy it made me feel…..then he said “What else can I do by myself now?” Well, shit, I’m going to roll with this!

“How about go find a pair of socks and put them on by yourself?” (do I need to mention how I had to abandon practicing that skill every morning on the way out to school because it just wasn’t worth the torture to both of us?).

“Okay!”. Pitter patter of wet feet down the hall to the basket by the front door, he puts on his socks WITHOUT A PROBLEM OR COMPLAINT and returns smiling.

WHO IS THIS CHILD AND WHAT DID HE DO WITH MY SON??????

So we head into his room to start story time and he says “Be right back!” and runs away, promising he needs to do something important, but not play.  A few minutes pass and I honestly have no idea what he could be doing, so I yell out to him “WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” to which he responds “MAKING A DRAWING FOR YOU!”.

Now? At bedtime???

Okay, I will remain calm and patient and let him finish his very important task and be grateful he is being so kind and caring instead of rushing him. He eventually returns with 3 of his latest works of art, all which read “I ❤ Mom” (he started writing this on his own only 2 days ago and it has become a trend….I have quite the collection now). It is so sweet, it is honestly. I show him my gratitude and try to get him into bed to read our bedtime books. But he surprises me AGAIN and proclaims “Tonight, I am going to read you a story”. So he digs out the very last, hardest BOB book, Volume 1, which he hasn’t even cracked open let alone master, and proceeds to sound out every letter on every page and turn them into the proper words with very little coaching at all (that’s my boy!). This is the best reading he has ever done, mind you. He allows me to read the second book for the night, 4 pages of “The Children’s Encyclopedia of the Human Body” which we have now read from cover to cover officially. Nothing like some light reading right before bedtime….”But Mom, what is the pituitary gland exactly and what does it do again?”.

After books, it’s time for teeth brushing and hair combing….aka THE FINAL BATTLE SCENE. He says he’ll do it all by himself, no worries. I stay in the bedroom. He does it. WTF? Then he comes back into the bedroom to show me he has, and asks if he can comb my hair for me. Well, why the hell not?!?! Let’s just see how far this can go for the night! So he combs my hair a little till its “Perfect!” and then puts the comb back in the bathroom where it belongs (!) and comes back and TUCKS HIMSELF INTO BED WITHOUT A PEEP.

And then it hits me- one day, he seriously is NOT going to need me to help him at all with ANY of this. He will be grown, have body hair, be slightly smelly, and will do these things on his own, with very little prompting. No wrestling him into is pajamas, no reading 2 books before lights out and snuggling together in bed….none of it. And I realize how bittersweet these “battles” are. I also realize how much of the “battle” has to do with his sensory issues, transitions,  maturity level……..and my reaction to his BIG NEEDS at the end of a long day. How much my own thoughts and words plays into it. I get just a little taste of what it will be like when he is older and some of these things have worked themselves out…..and it’s such an odd sensation.  I am thrilled he CAN do all these things by himself, and a teeny weeny bit glad he still needs me still a little.

Okay, a lot.

We will see what happens tomorrow night when it’s time for bed. But for tonight, I am proud of my “big boy” and his many accomplishments. And I will bask in all it’s glory for as long as it lasts 🙂

Felix pajamas

Dads & Doulas & Stuff….by Jeffrey Lerner

peanut birth

The following is a guest post from my incredibly insightful, loving husband, who is my best friend, ally, and a BIG believer in the power of Doulas. It came up as we were speaking the other day about Dads and their ideas (usually) when Moms say they need to hire a Doula to be there for the birth….I hope you enjoy!

There are all kinds of fathers out there in the world today. Big ones, small ones, skinny ones and fat ones.
Smart ones, dumb ones, short ones and tall ones.
Fathers that want to be in the room for their baby’s first breath, and fathers that want to be in the waiting room with a whiskey and a cigar. (Ok….maybe that was just in the old days.) Fathers that are tricked by their wives into hiring a doula, and fathers that don’t know that a doula has nothing to do with the medulla oblongata. (Which for your information is located in the hindbrain, anterior to the cerebellum…Duh!)
I find it incomprehensible as to why the father would not want to be present for such a momentous occasion. In fact some 92% of fathers do take part in the birthing process. What the hell are the other 8% of men doing while their beautiful wives are trying to give birth to a something the size of a watermelon? I for one am so thankful that I was present and accounted for during my son’s birth. It truly was the highlight of my life so far.

Because my wife was planning on giving birth naturally, she decided early on to hire a doula. I must admit that at the time I was completely ignorant about what a doula does. But what I quickly learned at the hospital was that I was out-gunned and needed some serious backup.

The word “doula” comes from the ancient Greek word meaning “a woman who serves” and that is a good way to put it. Our doula not only supplied emotional support to my wife and I, but she helped us navigate through all of the pressures of having our baby in a modern hospital. Let’s face it, the nurses and doctors at a hospital dont always support the plan that you have in place. Our doula helped us through the entire birthing process. Not to mention she gave excellent backrubs………to my wife too 🙂 .

Sometimes a birth can feel more like a battle. Would you go into battle without a good, experienced soldier to help you through it? Why would you go to a birth without a doula? Giving birth is an emotional rollercoaster where things can change in an instant and most likely will. Why wouldn’t you want someone there with you who has been there before?

So if you are a father on the fence about hiring a doula or not, take it from me and do like Nike says…just do it. In fact, if we ever have another child, I would hire my own private doula just for me. No seriously……lattes…..chocolate…..backrubs……more lattes….oh and maybe some doula type stuff too.