“What to write about?”

Nurse assisting senior woman at nursing homeSenior woman walking in the nursing home supported by a caregiver. Nurse assisting senior woman.

           For the past several months, actually since the first weekend in October, I’ve been experiencing some of the most excruciating pain a back injury can offer, or at least it feels that way. Mary and I love to take walks and on Saturday mornings during the summer and into early fall, we like to walk to the farmer’s market near our home to buy our week’s supply of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, onions, corn, and jostle and bump our way through the crowds of people on a similar mission.

            On this particular October Saturday morning, I woke refreshed, got dressed, had my cups of coffee, and with my large green reusable cloth bag folded under my arm, headed off to the market with Mary. As we have many times in the past, we filled our bags with healthy goodies and started our trek back to our home. As we approached the not-so-steep hill that leads to our house, I began to feel a gnawing pain in the lower part of my back. The further up the hill we walked, the worse the pain became.

By the time I was at the top of the hill, I could barely walk.

            For the remainder of the walk home, even though it was on level ground, every step I took triggered a sharp pain in my back that was now radiating down my leg. I was able to make it home on my own accord, but by then my back felt as if someone had hit my back with a baseball bat. My leg was cramped and felt as if it was on fire. Confused as to what was happening to me, I wondered how heavy were the bags of vegetables? Yes, they were much lighter than other things I have carried. I concluded that I must have pulled a muscle.

            The long and short of it is, I did not pull a muscle, confirmed by weeks of physical therapy and then finally an MRI. The MRI clearly showed that a synovial cyst had formed in the lumbar region of my back and was pressing, without mercy on the nerves of my spinal column. The images of this offending “alien”triggered visits to the pain management clinic and a consult with a neurosurgeon.

This story is far from over, as I have a long way to go.

             After ten weeks of enduring this pain, the recent transforaminal epidural steroid injection has provided me with some modest relief, while the scheduled surgery to remove the cyst is still several weeks away.  It’s been a long three months. Standing is still very painful, and walking is even more painful. Getting from the couch to the bathroom and back to the sofa is quite an accomplishment for me these days as is any of the other activities of daily living that I need to perform.

          Through this experience, I have learned how to create coping strategies.For example, I have a countdown timer on my phone set first to the date of the epidural injection (now complete) and now set to the time of my surgery. Also, I have forced myself to continue to work, teaching online courses and writing. Fortunately, I work from home. And finally, I have used my sense of humor to lighten the atmosphere to what could be a very dark time for Mary and me. But what has struck me the most is what I am learning as a care-receiver. Not being able to do things for myself at the drop of a hat is a real eye-opener. Becoming dependent is a humbling experience. Mary has been a real saint through this time making sure that I have what I need, in addition to her caring for our home.

          So, today, as I was thinking about what to write, it occurred to me that I would share my experience with you but then go on to ask you to remember the many, many people living in our communities, that are living in nursing homes, that are depending on someone to care for them. And with that said, I would ask you to remember the men and women who are providing that care.

I would ascribe to them the title as I have to Mary, “Saint.”

           Through this holiday season, while many of us will be in our comfortable homes enjoying the company of family and friends, and good food, the people working in nursing homes will be on the job. They will be selflessly caring for people who have little choice but to depend on them for their day-to-day needs. It makes me wonder what that level of dependency feels like and it makes me grateful for the “saints” who are willing to make sure we have what we need.

           If you know someone who works in a nursing home, I will encourage you to thank them for what they do. For just as I went from being independent to being dependent during an ordinary morning’s walk so might that be with you. Who will be there to care for you? And how grateful might you be for their help?

          If you work in a nursing home, then please accept my heartfelt gratitude for caring for our loved ones living in nursing homes and I wish you the very best for the coming year.

Author: Paul Falkowski

Dr. Paul Falkowski is an advocate for  expanding the role of volunteers in long-term care settings. Using state-of-the-art training techniques, Dr. Falkowski has trained and placed hundreds of volunteers in nursing homes in Omaha, Council Bluffs and Lincoln.  Paul has recently moved the training program online to make the training accessible to anyone. He has a passion for life and living, he values owning our responsibility to others and having the courage to do the right thing. His vision is discovering volunteers as a work-ready resource to enhance the quality of life for people living and working in nursing homes.

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