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Today was better…

Small victories, today I had no urine soaked anything to clean up.  Today I did not have to pick my husband up off the floor after yet another fall.  Today we talked a little bit and we cuddled for awhile.  Things are different for sure but laying in each others arms makes things feel a bit more normal and the bad a little easier to face.

Some things are starting to fall into place – We are going to an SCI clinic where he will get 3 days of  assessment and help planning for the future and what that may mean for us.  The wheelchair ramp is ordered and should be here in 3 weeks.  They are also installing a seat similar to this to our truck so I can get him in and out of the truck much easier.

Still so much up in the air but after a series of very bad days it was nice to have one that was not horrible.

 
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Posted by on October 4, 2014 in Daily Living

 

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A new low for me…

bitch

Today I found myself in the men’s room.  TWICE.  First time at the VA when my husband pulled the call button for help and a shrill alarm started sounding outside the door as well as flashing lights.  I went in to check on him and we turned off the alarm, but it rang for nearly a minute.  Sadly no one else showed up so those alarm buttons in the bathroom at the VA?  Don’t expect much.

The second time we were at Outback for lunch.  He insisted on walking in rather than me getting out his wheelchair.  We get from the truck to our table (about a 15 minute excruciating process) and then he says he needs to go to the bathroom.  Of course it is in the very far back of the restaurant and so he starts making his way there an inch at a time with his walker.  I know this is not going to work and he is not going to make it.  So I leave him moving at a snails pace toward the bathroom and go out to the truck where I retrieve the bag of extra clothes and his wheelchair that he should have been using.

Soon I find myself in the men’s room at Outback, on my hands and knees in the men’s handicapped stall helping him get his wet jeans, underwear and socks off.  Helping him clean up and get clean underwear, socks and sweatpants on.  While I am on my hands and knees in the bathroom stall someone else comes in.   Once upon a time in another life I may have been a bit of a wild girl for a year or two, but this was definitely a first for me.

Even my husband had to laugh as I said “when you picture me on my knees in the men’s room I bet this was not what you had in mind…”

At least we can still find humor in this messed up life.

 
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Posted by on October 1, 2014 in Daily Living

 

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Striking a balance

These days I am feeling more like his mother than his wife.  I have to tell him to eat, serve him every meal.  I have to do 2–3 loads of laundry daily.  I have to remind him to use his walker, over and over and over.  I have to help him shower and dress.  I have to put my foot down when he is being ridiculously stubborn.  I feel like I am chastising too much and yet these things are essential to his health and well being.

I am trying to find the balance, to speak kindly, to keep him in the loop on all that is going on with the doctors and appointments and assistance that I am requesting.  I try to carry on like it is a discussion even though he cannot keep up his end and I know he won’t remember.  I try to make him feel part of the decisions.  I try to remember to be his wife and not his mother.

It is very hard sometimes.

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2014 in Cognitive Loss, Daily Living

 

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Status Quo

The status quo has changed around here for sure.  The latest attack that my husband has had really altered his personality.  He is pleasant, laughs at everything (lability) and has not been getting angry at anything.  This is very much out of the normal for him as he tends to be pessimistic and angry a lot.

He also can’t really walk very well, the stubborn part has not left him and he refuses to use the walker 90% of the time.  This means that he frequently falls. Thankfully he has not hurt himself with these falls.  YET.

He is not able to drive.  I made that decision due to his slow reaction times and the number of things he hit and people he nearly ran over the last few times out with his power chair.  His truck keys are very well hidden and I am firm on this.  After a visit with his neurologist on Tuesday the doctor agreed that hiding the keys seemed like a wise choice.  He asks for them occasionally and I have to say no.

He is midway through his second course of steroids, first one was 2 weeks ago.  Only moderate improvement after the first course of steroids, hoping for a bit more dramatic improvement this course, but of course only time will tell.

His neurologist put in a non-formulary request to start my husband on Tecfidera a new oral med for MS, he said that usually takes about a week, so sometime in the next week he should receive his initial supply and we get to try another MS drug.  Hoping for the best here.

In the meantime I continue to work 3-4 evenings a week for 5 hours at a time.  For the first 2 weeks following this attack I had arranged for people to sit with him, to make him dinner to make sure he doesn’t fall and get hurt.  But the available people have dwindled and we did a few trials with him staying home alone.  He was fine.  I made him keep his cell nearby and he was on strict orders to reply to any text messages I sent or I would start calling and then I would come home if still no reply.

So still praying that this is not the new normal but also not really hating how easy going and agreeable he has become.

 

 
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Posted by on September 26, 2014 in Cognitive Loss, Daily Living

 

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Falling out of love…

Some of the search results that bring people here are interesting but this one caught my eye today:

“my wife has secondary progressive ms and i have fell out of love with her but i do love her”

 

I personally don’t believe that love is a place you “fall” into or out of.  Love is a choice.  Love is work.  Love is hard.  Love can be very rewarding.  If I did not make the choice to love each day I could easily claim to “fall out of love” with my husband.  I know many people don’t see marriage the same way I do.  Many people walk away when the going gets tough.  Til death do us part has no meaning to the masses.

I was raised different.  Love is not some place that you fall but something that you do.

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”  I Corinthians 13.

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2014 in Purpose

 

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Our NEW Normal…

I can’t tell you how many times what is “normal” for our day to day lives has changed due to this terrible disease that has stricken my husband.  But the big dates stand out!

April 2007 – his balance and gait became so unsteady and uneven that he could no longer walk normally or go any distance without fatigue.  Our future trips to some of our favorite places – fairs and amusement parks – now required a wheelchair rental.  And after pushing him around a few times I realized it required a motorized cart rental.

October 2008 – his cognitive issues became too severe for him to continue to work full time or at all.  The short term memory problems and the confusion that had crept in meant he could no longer do the job he had done for years and learning the new skills required to keep up with technology in his field was not possible.  After quitting his job because he confusedly thought he had another one lined up as a contractor (and did not actually have it yet) we spent 6 months trying to get him employment but after each interview he heard nothing and when I quizzed him about how the interviews went it was clear that he was not meant to be employed.  We applied for VA Disability in April 2009.

July 2009 – I lost my job.  Between all the calls and faxes I was receiving to support the VA claim for my husband and the calls I was getting from him sometimes 4-5 times a day because he was home and bored and concerned about what was happening.  Well they decided that I was not suited for the company and let me go.  So now we are both unemployed.  I was able to collect unemployment but at a fraction of what I was making.  Now we had all these bills and no real income.  I decided that since I knew my husband would get VA disability for the rest of his life and it was a sure thing he would be approved that we could cash in his 401K’s to keep us afloat in the interim.  We survived nicely.

November 2009 – VA Disability approved, paid back to April giving us a nice big check.  I am able to drop my husband from my COBRA saving us hundreds each month.  Things are looking up financially anyway.  He was only approved at 90% though and we knew he was unable to work so we claimed Individual Unemployability immediately and waited another 12 months for that to be approved.

April 2010 – my husband’s social worker at the VA Spinal Cord & MS Clinic asked if he received SSDI and I said I didn’t realize he could get both?  She said YES and so began that process, everyone told me to hire a lawyer that no one gets approved the first time.  But I filled out all the paperwork and submitted all the doctors records that we used for the VA claim.  It was pretty cut and dried, he was approved in 3 months time and without having to see a disability doctor at all.  Thankful I didn’t have to pay a lawyer a chunk of that since they paid him back to February 2009, over a year of payments.

November 2010 – Individual Unemployability APPROVED!  Also awarded permanent and total meaning I was eligible to get my health insurance from the VA program called CHAMPVA until I was old enough for Medicaid at age 65.  No more COBRA payments was a huge load off.

June 2012 – in October 2010 I tried going back to work full time.  I got a job doing on the road sales for a local newspaper and even though I hated the job it brought in enough money to really pad our budget and my unemployment was not going to last forever.  Again I received a ton of phone calls but since I was on the road and they were to my cell which was personal my employer was none the wiser about this.  But we live 50 miles from the VA and my husband really could not take himself there.  At first I only worked 4 days a week and so I would arrange my schedule around his appointments to be sure I could drive him every time.  But then in March 2012 they moved me to a different territory and told me the job was now 40 hours, 5 days.  I got my dad to drive him sometimes and we used VA transportation a few times but things just were not going smoothly.  One afternoon when he had been sitting at the VA for 4 hours after his appointment waiting for a van to bring him home and he had called me for the 12th time it felt like I decided it wasn’t working.  I left work to go get him and bring him home and I gave my notice the next day.  My business career was effectively over.

September 2014 – since they put him on a drug holiday in April things had been smooth sailing, until September 7, he stopped being able to walk, he was struggling to talk, his personality changed.  He went from being rather sullen and angry at times due to depression, to seeming rather mellow and happy.  Where before he would get angry when I told him he could not do something and tell me he would do it if he wanted now he just smiled.  When I yelled at him for not using his walker and falling down again, he laughed.  He stopped smoking cold turkey over night and has not shown any signs of withdrawal at all.  He eats what I make and stopped being picky.  Don’t get me wrong it’s nice to not have a grumpy, picky man acting like a child but it’s just not him.  Due to his changes in physical status and the falls, and his cognitive changes and ability to make good choices (like using his walker?) I am unable to leave him home alone.  So if I want to go to work my part time job 2-3 nights a week for 5 hours at a time, I have to get someone to stay home with him.  So far my parents have done it three times and my neighbor once.  I had to give up a part in a show with a local Community Theater as I cannot ask people to sit with him for something as frivolous as rehearsals.  I’m praying hard and often that this is NOT our new normal.

 

 
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Posted by on September 19, 2014 in Cognitive Loss, Daily Living, History

 

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Drug Holiday…

No it has nothing to do with a vacation in Central America or any other type of vacation that involves recreational drug use.  For an MS patient a drug holiday is a time when they are taken off all disease modifying drugs.  For my husband his current drug holiday started in April when he stopped taking Tysabri.  The doctor had a wait and see attitude about it, thinking that it is quite likely that Pete is secondary progressive at this time and the drugs may not really be helping him anymore.

I have been keeping a close eye on him since that time for changes in physical strength and cognition.  Physically he has good and bad days but had not been losing significantly until this past weekend.  The weather has been very hot and humid and he was slowing down noticeably.  I attributed this to the weather, heat does sap his energy and strength and to add to this we drove 3 hours stayed in a hotel and spent all day Saturday at an amusement park riding roller coasters.  He should be tired.

But he has been having another symptom, he seems out of it, slow to speak and respond to questions. Sometimes he doesn’t respond at all, as if in the effort to formulate a response he grew too tired to bother to spit it out.  His quick wit was gone and also his irritability was gone.  I know that might seem like a blessing BUT it is not normal for him to be this mellow.

I emailed his doctor on Sunday afternoon filling him in on the behavior changes and asking what he wanted to do.  He wants us to come in tomorrow to see him.  I am hoping he has something in mind that can help stop whatever is happening, he had mentioned IV steroids as a possibility.  Pete hates those BUT they do help sometimes.

Wish us luck.  I can’t believe I am saying this BUT I am hoping this quiet mellow Pete is not the new normal.

 
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Posted by on September 8, 2014 in Cognitive Loss, Daily Living

 

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Today…

Today is a day when I am reminded just how much my husband has lost.  Today I had to help him figure out how a hard drive went into a PC.  Today I had to try and diagnose why his laptop will no longer connect to the internet and when I couldn’t figure it out I had to back up his files and re-install the operating system on his laptop.

Why does this make me sad you might wonder?  Well because in 2007 before the exacerbation that started this whole chain of events my husband was a Computer Network Engineer.  He was a master PC Tech.  He could build a computer from scratch and was a pro at diagnosing networking problems.  Before 2007 I would go to him when I couldn’t figure these things out and people paid him a hefty salary to keep the network for an entire hospital running 24/7.  He was good at it, VERY GOOD.

Today he could not remember how the hard drive fit in the case so he could screw it back together.  Thank GOD he remembered how to plug it all in because I really am no good at hardware at all.  Today he could not diagnose a problem with ipconfig (and neither can I which is why I chose to perform a fresh install of the OS and start over).

In 2007 he was one of an elite group of MCSE Certified Networking Professionals.  Today he can’t even set up his own email.

Life is not fair.

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2014 in Cognitive Loss, Daily Living, History

 

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What dementia means to me…

Many moons ago when I was much more naive and innocent I thought the word dementia was reserved for very, very old people, with Alzheimers. I never thought it would affect my life in any way.  I thought dementia had to do with memory loss and aging.  Again I had no clue.

“Dementia is a loss of brain function that occurs with certain diseases. It affects memory, thinking, language, judgment, and behavior.”

Memory – yes my husbands short term memory is shot, he can tell you in great detail things that happened 20 years ago but if you ask him what he ate for lunch today he may not be able to remember.

Thinking – wow is this ever an issue, his thinking is really messed up.  A man who used to be so logical it made my creative mind hurt has no logic left in him at all.  For example he thinks it is perfectly logical to drive 100 miles round trip to save $5 on something that we could buy locally.  It’s cheaper in the city so it makes perfect sense to drive 100 miles with gas at $3.59 a gallon to save $5 to him.   I have more sinister examples but perhaps another day for those.

Language – he can’t think of words, his vocabulary is shrinking, the words he does use are more crude at times, he struggles to spit out his thoughts.

Judgement – let’s just say he has none – tell a dirty joke in front of your sister’s 7 year old daughter?  Sure why not?  Tell same dirty joke to mother-in-law’s church lady friends?  Yep again why not?  Carry on illicit conversations with ex girlfriends on facebook where in you tell blatant lies about yourself and your wife?  Again his judgement tells him that this is a-okay.

Behavior – to me this all goes together with judgement.  If you have no judgement and can’t think clearly or logically than your behavior is bound to be deplorable.  And his is at times.

So how do I cope – well some days not very well.  My husband is 47, I am 44!  Dammit I’m not supposed to be dealing with this for another 40 years at least.  But here we are.  My family treats him as they would anyone with a mental disability or mental illness – to say they don’t call him out for most of his behaviors or words, but also do take anything he says or does seriously.  I have a harder time with it, especially with people who may not know about his disability.  The physical disability is obvious but the mental part is not so obvious and many people may think he is just a jerk when he starts in, or sometimes he is terribly charming and they find him endearing but often he does or says something that ends this.

I used to cut in and try and stop him but that just angers him and then he yells at me calling me horrible names at times and in front of friends, family, strangers, anyone really it is just mortifying.  So mostly I let him go and if these are people I will have to interact with again I be sure to privately fill them in.

Dementia…. it’s not just for great grandparents anymore.

 
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Posted by on August 18, 2014 in Daily Living

 

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One of the posts that started it all…

This was the post that inspired the name of this blog, six years ago – so much has changed since then but here is a bit of history.

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 20, 2008
Married to the MonSter…
Lisa of Brass & Ivory asked me to talk about being the spouse of someone with MS and what it means for my life.

When I met my husband in December of 1997 he was already diagnosed with MS – had been on Avonex for 7 months and had recovered from his first diagnosed MS attack which was a doozy that hospitalized him for about a week. He was handsome, had a runners body still, muscular thighs and six pack abs. I was intimidated by how “in shape” he seemed.

I knew about MS – a close friend of the family had a severe fast progressing case and she went from being fine to being in a wheelchair and then finally to being unable to breathe on her own within a decade. It was pretty scary stuff. I also knew a friend’s mom who sometimes walked with a limp when over tired but was fine most of the time. This was the extent of my knowledge about MS when I met him.

There were those who warned me about getting involved with someone with MS. My family was concerned. Friends worried that I was setting myself up for heartbreak and maybe I was but I fell in love and I took the risk.

My husband has R/R(relapsing remitting) MS – he has had a lot of relapses in the last decade but many times his symptoms would reverse themselves after a course of steroids. So the day he woke up unable to control his left leg at all and had to use a walker just to get around? Well 3 weeks later he was walking like nothing ever happened. For us MS was a day to day reality in his energy level but the real serious stuff was usually a passing inconvenience.

The MS was sometimes at the forefront and a very real reason why he could not do something or go somewhere, but many times it was an excuse too. I don’t want to go I have a headache. No way to prove or disprove that, I take him at his word. Sometimes he would go out in crazy heat to do things he wanted to do knowing it would drain him and other times he’d beg off due to heat when it really wasn’t hot because he just doesn’t want to. I find that MS makes a nice tidy excuse to get out of things and yet I never want to accuse him of that because what if this time I’m wrong?

I have never known my marriage without MS as I said above but I did know it before MS was there in our faces daily changing everything. I miss the times when the MS was something that boiled up occasionally and then went back to a slow simmer. About 2 years ago this labor day he had the start of an exacerbation – he had the steroids to halt it but this time they didn’t work. He had been on Betaserone for nearly 4 years at this point but it no longer seemed to be helping. He was not seeing a specialist and his general neurologist was way out of his element here. But he didn’t admit defeat and send hubby to a specialist, he kept puttering around talking about new possible therapies but not doing anything about it. Finally after almost a year of indecision and inaction on his neurologists part my husband was fed up and asked his primary care physician for a referral back to a specialist. This doctor immediately started the process to get him on Tysabri and took him off Betaserone. He sent him to a physiotherapist to try and regain some of the lost function but it seems that it’s gone for good.

My handsome husband with the runner’s build has lost about 25lbs of muscle over the last decade. His thighs are thin and much weaker, his abs are no longer rippling. He has a drop foot on the left, no balance at all, and a seriously unbalanced and uneven gait. He can only walk a few minutes at a time before he needs to rest and he staggers as he goes. I admire his resolve to not give up and sit down in a chair and just let it go. I also wonder at times WHY he fights so hard – use a chair sometimes it is just to save your strength. But he is a stubborn Italian man and give up is not in his vocabulary.

He has been on Tysabri for 8 months now. His doctor says he is showing improvement in involuntary reactions. I wish he would show improvements in balance and walking ability. He doesn’t feel like he’s getting better. I do think his memory loss is better. For awhile he couldn’t remember from day to day things that happened or people said. And he wouldn’t admit it was him instead accusing the other person of not having told him. This rarely happens these days – if that is the Tysabri I do thank it for that much at least.

I feel like an outsider sometimes. I know more about the disease and treatment than he does because I take the time to educate myself. But no matter how much I know the one thing I can never know is what it feels like, or how it makes him feel. I know how it makes me feel – scared, helpless, alone – and I don’t have the disease.

I love my husband and I HATE what this disease has taken from him and by proxy from me. He is still R/R and there is still a chance he could turn around and start getting better but I fear that the best we can hope from the Tysabri is to stop the disease from taking any more. Because it has already taken so much it just doesn’t seem like enough. I worry that he will cross over and become secondary progressive, if this happens there is no approved treatment and the insurance would no longer pay for Tysabri. At that point it becomes a wait and see game as in “wait until he dies” basically.

For the overwhelming majority of people with MS it is not a life threatening disease. I worry all the time that the man I married is not in the majority. I keep that worry to myself.

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2014 in History

 

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