Story Time-Our Wedding Day

The Big He and I get to celebrate our anniversary for two days. I know, you are asking yourself, how is that possible. Well, 31 years ago, we eloped on the island of Guam, which is a day ahead of the US. Guam was the Big He’s first Duty Station. We had planned for me to visit for the summer of 1990 and would marry later in the year. Well, as with any good love story between two very young kids, fate had us marry earlier than we thought.

A few days after my last college final in May 1990, I was on a plane to visit the Big He on the island of Guam. I had a return ticket for the first part of August. I would have two whole months, sixty consecutive days to be with him. By this point in our relationship we may have had a total of 45 days we were physically together and keep in mind they were not consecutive.  Let me just say, I had the best time with him on the island. I was, for the first time in my life, off on my own-okay I was with the Big He but it still counts. I was on a tropical island with the most gorgeous man AND he was in a uniform. Who knew I had a thing for smart-ass and uniforms. In mid-July, the Big He was preparing to go off island for an exercise. He would be gone for 30 days. We had only two choices for what I could do. I could go home early or stay. So, we got married July 30th, 1990 which was about one year after we went on our first date. I was twenty years old and he was twenty-one. I had no job and only 2 years of college under my belt. He was just an Airman First Class and on the day we married, he had negative $80 in the bank. He had bounced a check for a microwave of all things. Of course a bounced check could not stop love!

You would think finding out you were negative $80.00 would be the worst thing that could happen on your wedding day…it wasn’t. You ready? Here is the story…

We had arranged for two friends of the Big He to come with us to be witnesses and also because one of them had a vehicle to get us to the Justice of the Peace (JP). There was actually five people in the vehicle that went that day. At the JP’s office, we did have to wait a litte bit. In those minutes before our time to get hitched, my stomach was a ball of nerves. The Big He and I could barely look at each other. I knew I wanted to get married, but man was I scared. Standing in front of the JP and looking into the beautiful green eye’s of my future husband, the best I could mumble when asked if “I take him to be my…” was not “I do” but “Yea”. WTH??? Such a romantic and traditional way to express my desire to cheris this man for richer or poorer or in sickness and in health. The look on his face…he has yet to let me live that down.

After the ceremony, which there are zero pictures, we headed to McDonalds because everyone was hungry. Remember I said the Big He had bounced a check…yep no money to eat. After McDonalds we headed back to Base. On our way back, we were pulled over because the driver was speeding. After getting a ticket, we took off once again towards Base. About a mile down the road, we had blowout. Not a big deal until we realized there wasn’t a spare. The blowout occured on a back road to Base and in the middle of no-where. There was however a small house on the edge of the boonies or jungle line. I was voluntold to go knock on the door and ask to call the Law Enforcement Desk. Oh, hey, did I mention that all the people in the truck were cops but I was the one that was supposed to knock on a stranger’s door for help. One of our brave USAF LE’s did come with me and the LE Desk would be sending a patrol car to come get us and sending a tow truck as well.

As we waited in typical tropical island weather, we had on again, off again rain events. Y’all know I have naturally curly hair right? It does not do well in hot, rainy, humid weather. The tow truck was the first to arrive. My new husband and our friend Daryl, my man-of-honor, jumped in the truck and off they went to Base. Yes, if you are asking yourself, did she say new husband left with Daryl, that would be correct. I was left alone on the side of the road with two people, none of which were not my new husband! The two LE’s decided it was probably a good idea to start walking back to Base in hopes the patrol car would get to us soon. Yep, that didn’t work out very good. The patrol went out the wrong gate which took him around the island before he caught up with us…only a few miles from Base at this point.

Once back on Base, we were dropped off at the dorms, where my new husband was waiting for me, freshly showered and I swear he took a nap cause he look rested. Me on the other hand, had wild crazy curly hair, sweaty and my pretty white heals were worn flat from walking on the road which had a coral base to it. Once I freshened up, we went to have a wedding dinner at the NCO club…cause we had no money and he knew if he took me to the Mac T I would kill him. The only thing left that late in the evening was steak, potatoe and salad. They also had a few slices of cheesecake for dessert so that was our meal. One we have eaten every year since. Steak, potatoe, salad and cheesecake for dessert.

The day wasn’t picture perfect but that is not really what a marriage is about is it? It’s about the people. We actually laughed most of the day and night about what had transpired. The Big he and I have always found reason’s to laugh. We just love being with each other and truly enjoy each other’s company.

Since it is already July 30th in Guam, I am taking the opportunity to wish my beloved a Happy Anniversary. Love you more!

All my love,

The She

Struggle Bus

Riding the Struggle Bus
Photo by João Jesus on Pexels.com

This morning, it was the whining of one of the dogs that woke me. It was time to wake up and start the day, at least for them. Before I could let the puppers out, the Big He needed to be suctioned. Once the Big He was taken care of, the dogs were let out and a big cup of coffee in one of my favorite mugs, my Red Hidden Heroes, was made. Walking back to the bedroom my eyes are immediately fixed on the Big He to ensure he wasn’t in any distress, which thankfully he wasn’t. He was just reading the morning news and checking on his investments. This is how our first 15 minutes of our morning starts, hopefully. As I wait for caregiver B to arrive, my mind starts spinning with the things that need to happen today which started with a call to our VA nurse case manager to follow up on a concern I have regarding obtaining physical therapy. Once B arrives, we remove pillows that support the Big He, switch ventilators, remove the feeding tube, move the communication device, grab the motorized ceiling Hoyer and move him to the shower chair so he can use the bathroom. Once done, we reverse what we just did to get him back to bed and in a comfortable position.

At this point, B starts the rest of the morning routine like breathing treatments, crushing meds, getting food and water loaded into the feeding pump, and trache care. I will typically go check on the Little He, grab another cup of coffee and stand in the middle of the kitchen and try to figure out what is next. This is where I struggle. There is NEVER a lack of things to do but still most days I cannot do what needs to be done. The Big He is physically paralyzed and I am mentally paralyzed. Fear. Anxiety. Depression. They all play a part. It’s worse if I have had little sleep or if the Big He is having a hard time. My mental and emotional health is on a never-ending roller coaster ride. I try and hold it together for the Big He and the Little He but there are days. Days that I am only functional enough to do caregiving duties, but I am of little real use to them or myself. There are days that I choose to just sit on the couch over taking a shower. There are days I can’t find the energy to call or text someone back. Some days I look around the house and see the mess but I honestly don’t care. Then my mind races to the fact I should care or the thought of how I should have the house clean just in case…just in case we need EMS to come in or what if he dies and a host of people will be flooding the house. Of course, those thoughts are quickly replaced with “Fuck it”. So I go back to staring at the blank TV, watching the dogs just be dogs, or mindlessly watching TikTok until I am called to help the Big He out. My energy is reserved for the Big He. That is what being a caregiver to someone that needs total care is your life melts from one crisis to another, one breathing treatment to another, one load of laundry to another until you realize that there are days that you live your life on the struggle bus and you come to accept it because that is what being a caregiver to someone that needs total care is about.

T is for Trust

Trust and Love

There are so many layers to caregiving. These layers include the relationship we have to the care recipient, the physical aspect of the care, and the emotional and mental impact that caregiving takes. The base of all these layers needs to be strong to support the heavy load that caregiving can bring. While early on in my caregiving life I would say without question, love was where the strength to our foundation came from, but now I think it is trust and love. Can you love someone without first trusting them? After the Big He was put on the ventilator I would tease him that I was his Boppy. That was the term we used for the Little He’s security blanket when he was a baby. This was because when the Big He would get anxious or scared, he would want me close. I was becoming his security blanket. He trusts me and knew if I was there I would protect him with everything I can. Even on days when I am not his favorite person, he still trusts me. He trusts me to ensure every aspect of his life runs smoothly. Heck, sometimes he trusts me so much he thinks I can read his mind. For this post, I wanted to start with the foundation for our caregiving journey. As I post throughout this month you will understand that even when an ugly layer of this journey is exposed, you see it for what it is, just a layer and it is in those moments we rely on our strong foundation.

All my love,

The She

Twofer

In the advocacy world, May is a twofer for veterans with ALS. Not only is May the month of the military caregiver but it is also ALS awareness month. Lucky us, right?! This month I am going to do my best to share with you the real story. Not the one I polish just enough for prime time or where I use humor to soften the blow of what living an ALS life looks like from the perspective of the wife and caregiver.

As I pull back the curtain, let me give you the highlights of the last six months to show you what has been going on:

November 2020-As if dealing with ALS and Covid wasn’t enough, the Big He developed a kidney stone which sent us to the emergency room due to the pain.

December 2020-The pesky kidney stone was still causing problems so we went back to the emergency room where an MRI showed the stone had not moved. The Big He was admitted to the ICU because that is the place you put people on ventilators. The ICU has several pods and we were placed in the one that did not have active Covid patients. The Big He had a procedure to remove the stone which went well until he developed sepsis. He got sick, like really sick. It scared me. It scared him once he came back to the living and was able to understand exactly how sick he had gotten. Two days after the scariest part of the sepsis we were sent home. Not because he re-bounded so well, but because we needed to get out due to the increasing Covid cases.

January 2021-The Big He developed pneumonia. We were on it very earlier and were able to avoid a hospital visit but it was pneumonia and he already has a weakened immune and respiratory system so it was another scary moment.

February 2021-Winter came and she was called SNOVID. Texas was hit hard. We did good regarding electricity because in early Fall 2020 I had a natural gas whole house generator installed as a “just in case”. Never in my wildest dreams (and I have a crazy imagination) did I consider losing power to winter. Our part of Texas does not have a real winter. It may get cold for a day or two but not multiple winter storms in a row. We had to get help from neighbors to ensure we had enough distilled water for the Big He’s humidifier that is part of his ventilator circuit. The paid caregiver help we use, for the most part, could not get to us except for a few days and only for a few hours. So the Little He and I were it. Emergency services were limited and no guarantee they could get to us if something did happen. I spent my days and nights scared. Scared something would happen that I would not be able to handle.

March 2021-This was the month of the broken down caregiver. During March I had to go to the ER due to fever (101 plus) and belly pain. My trip to the ER could not happen until the Big He’s care was covered. Luckily this all happened on a night that we would have skilled care. After five hours in the ER I was released. I had developed acute diverticulitis. WTH??? It took two good days for me to feel well enough to start really helping with the Big He again. The infection took me down hard! Maybe two weeks after the ER visit, I made another ER visit. This time because I had sliced my wrist while doing dishes. Four staples and helluva lot of pain, I was home. The paid caregivers had to really step up along with the Big He to allow me the chance to let my wrist heal…you know so I didn’t pull any staples out. Which did happen. Well not out but one staple was so twisted I had to remove it just a few days after it was placed.

April came and went without issue, well not huge like the previous months. I did realize though that the past several months had really traumatized me in the sense that I am not as prepared as I thought I was. That you can “what if” and prepare all you want and you are really not ready for what life throws at you.

All my love,

The She

Just one week

Since the Big He’s diagnosis we have wanted to bring awareness to not only the disease ALS but the prevalence in the military community. We have written blogs, did Facebook and Instagram posts and Tweeted, I wanted to do something a little different. Instead of writing something, I wanted to show you what one week looks like. For time sake, I did not include our whole week…just the highlights. Besides what is shown in the video below is the non-hands on care that occurs. It’s things like keeping an eye on supplies. Making sure they are ordered and received before we run out. I must find homes for the constant Amazon boxes and VA deliveries. The time and energy spent on the phone facilitating care for the Big He happens behind the scenes. In this particular week, I needed to secure a Dentist which was not an easy task. Working with the VA on this and the support we would need took a toll on me. You sometimes need to talk to multiple people before the game of “telephone” ends and everyone figures out what was originally said or requested. It actually took me three days to recover mentally and emotionally. While we don’t deal with emergency dental procedures every week, every week something is going on.

ALS is not for the weak for sure. We are warriors and we will fight this enemy every. damn. day.

ALS-Just one week

All my love,

The She

Coming back from Pneumonia

Coming back from pneumonia has been incredibly difficult. ALS has weakened not just what you can see in the Big He but what you can’t. His breathing has been impacted from what seems like the beginning of this journey. His diaphragm, a muscle, has been weak since before we started our second year into this disease. It started with not being able to breathe lying down so we raised our adjustable bed. Then raising the bed didn’t help so he was given a non-invasive ventilator to wear when he slept. Slowly over the last year, he has required the ventilator more and more. When he slept, took naps or just had a hard time catching his breath. We use to focus on how many hours he was on the machine, but now we look at how much time he can come off the machine. While in the hospital, he was on his ventilator for the most part 24/7. He tried to come off, and did for 10 or 15 minutes but something new would happen and back on 24/7 he would go.

Now that we are home, the Big He is still on his ventilator. He has been having these horrible coughing fits. What is really happening is issues with moving mucus from the lungs up. In other words, he can’t cough anymore. The residual effects of the pneumonia along with the natural mucus produced is causing him hell. To the point he needs some serious medication to get through these coughing fits. It is this lack of mucus management that will bring us to the next phase of ALS. That is, the need for a trach. This is an incredibly personal decision. One that is not made lightly. One that many with ALS choose not to have. The Big He, as of now, has chosen this as his next step. He is not done living this life. He has more memories to make with the Little He. When will this happen. Some time in the near future. This will hopefully give us more years together as a family as well as give him a better quality of life, cause the coughing is tiring him out. This decision will require us to hone our caregiving skills. We will need to open our home to more people as it will take a village. Family and friends help as they can, but the Big He and I know that moving forward we may need to hire care so that we can ensure we are covered. It’s not just for him, it is for me as well. I have been going day in and day out and only this weekend was able to have a full 8 hour break. I slept through the night since the Big he went into the hospital. The Big He’s other caregiver came in and spent the night, giving me a much needed full nights sleep.

Along with the greater level of care that the Big He currently needs, I am or should I say, I was trying to get a hospital bed for him. It is common practice for the VA to supply durable medical equipment (DME) to veterans in need and we knew that a hospital bed would be provided, but what we didn’t realize was that there are different types of beds for different types of needs. Getting a hospital bed, especially for diseases like ALS requires a specialty bed. While in the ICU, the Big He had a special bed for pulmonary patients. There were only a few in the ICU and the Big He qualified for one. As I learned more about the bed, I learned that it had special features not found on other beds. This was and amazing bed, so when the Big He was ready to be discharged I just assumed the VA understood the concept of the right bed for the disease, but they did not. I learned that a more one size fits all approach is what our local VA leans towards. Requesting the appropriate bed for the Big He was met initially with resistance. It actually took multiple emails from me, a congressional inquiry from a Congressman and a Senator, an email to the Secretary of the VA in Washington DC, a call between the sales rep for the bed the VA wanted to give me, a call between the sales rep and the bed I wanted for the Big He and finally me reaching out via social media to other veterans with ALS regarding the types of bed’s being provided by their local VA to finally get the right bed for the Big He. That’s a lot huh? All this while taking care of the Big He and his immediate medical needs, ensuring the right clinicians where coming to the house and being a mom to the Little He. Ensuring my husband had the right bed should have been a no brainer for our VA, for those that work with ALS Veterans. It scares and angers me that other veterans with this horrific disease or being provided DME that is not suited for this disease. They are provided DME based on someone that has zero idea what ALS is and what the needs of the patient are. That DME is provided based on a cost savings approach instead of a quality of life standard.

While I am beyond thrilled that the Big He in a few short days will be sleeping in his new, appropriate bed, that joy was short lived. This weekend, we needed to move our king bed out to make room for the new hospital bed. We actually moved the king mattress, one adjustable base and our headboard to storage. I bought a twin mattress for the other base so I can still sleep in the same room as the Big He. As I was stripping sheets and moving things around the grief hit me. In fact, my breath was taken away once. The hospital bed is the end of us sleeping together in the same bed, sleeping as a married couple. There is no coming back from this. There is no rehabilitation that will happen. We both know what moving our bed out means. I also know that when the bed comes back into our room I will have unwillingly exchanged my title of wife for that of widow. The memories of the love we had for one another will only be known to me when the bed returns.

With ALS, there is constant grieving. Grieving for things you never thought would be an issue. I did not once think that I would be hit with a wave of grief getting ready for the bed I fought hard to get for the Big He. I didn’t think I would grieve the loss of not being able to touch him as I slept or roll over for a good morning kiss. The snuggles just before we drifted off to sleep or the conversations of our day or our future as we got ready for bed. The little things you don’t think of until they are gone.

Yep, coming back from pneumonia has been hard on all of us.

Tonight, if you share your bed with a loved one, savor the goodnight kiss, enjoy the cold or warm feet, commit to memory the feel of having someone next to you.

All my love,

The She


Storm is coming…

This phrase, Storm is coming, in my family is actually my Daddy’s way of getting rid of all the kids. Even when the sky is absent of any clouds, when we hear Storm is coming, we start packing up to head home.

Tonight, that phrase popped into my head but for a completely different reason. That reason, Alpha Lima Sierra. Tonight, we are in Houston because The Big He has ALS clinic tomorrow. For those not in the ALS know, Clinic is an all day event. You meet with a Neurologist, Pulmonologist, Respiratory Therapy, Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Nutrition, the wheelchair vendor, and various others that do research into this disease. For many, going to clinic means hearing how much you have progressed. There is no rehabilitation for this disease. Most pray for a plateau in their progression but for many this doesn’t happen.

The storm I see heading our way is progression. Some progression is like a breeze, you feel it but there is not much to see. The storm of progression that is approaching us will change things, will leave a path of tears and fears in its wake. The Big He is getting weaker. His ability to breath on his own is becoming harder. He is losing his ability to do those things we take for granted like standing up, eating dinner, showering, and talking. Tonight, we had to quickly figure out the transfer from wheelchair to shower seat. Unfortunately I was not able to get a room with a roll in shower. We got an accessible room with a tub and bench. The difference is HUGE when it comes down to taking a shower. He was frustrated with me, I was scared that I might drop him when I helped him get up…in a split second I was running the “what if’s” in my head and what I would nedd to do if he fell. All is fine now. He is in bed, mask on and trying to get some sleep. The drive, dinner and shower exhausted him. That’s ALS. Tonight, I felt the fear and anxiety of this upcoming storm. This next change in the progression will be drastic. It will be a huge shift for the Big He, for the whole family. He will become more dependent on others.

I hate this disease. Nothing is holding back this storm. We must just watch. We are helpless when it comes to the progression. We know all we can do is try and stand as strong as possible to withstand this storm. We also know the calm will also come. We will adjust to the changes that come. We will get back to a routine…until the next storm.

A storm is coming. I can feel and see it. Our faith and love will keep us strong.

All my love,

The She