By early winter, walking in our town became difficult. Cold snow fell for several days. Sidewalks were clogged with dry powder higher than my boot tops. So, I walked in the street where slicks of ice lurked.
Storm front after storm front flowed from the west and collided with frigid air stalled in the high desert of eastern Oregon. This weather pattern dropped anchor in the Columbia River Gorge. We were blocked in but prepared for the tough conditions. Christmas celebrations approached and we anticipated a new grandson’s arrival in January.
Then suddenly, the general tenor of winter darkened. My wife’s sister, Janet, suffered a right-brain hemorrhagic stroke on December 21st, the winter solstice.
Her home is in San Miguel, Mexico. There, her husband is a resident at a care facility outside of town. He is physically and cognitively incapacitated by Lewy Bodies disease. She looks after his affairs and supports him with regular visits. She’d come to Oregon this winter to deal with routine ongoing medical conditions of her own.
Bad weather caused her doctor’s appointments to be postponed. So, her stay in Portland extended beyond its original intentions. We shared dinner together in Hood River on the 14th. Janet looked good and appeared happy and healthy.
She returned to Portland and was finalizing her health affairs co-incident with the occurrence of her stroke. Friends, with whom she was staying, called an ambulance. When notified, my wife left immediately to be at her sister’s side. She was joined, shortly thereafter, by her brother and other sister. Seven weeks have passed. During that time, my wife has made just two brief trips home.
Meanwhile, I remained in Hood River. I had cancer treatments to manage and holiday events to share with our son’s family. Considering Janet’s situation, I can hardly complain about my health issues. Janet needed surgery to clean out the brain bleed. Had this stroke occurred in Mexico, it is likely she would have died. That’s not because the quality of care is lacking south of the border. But, any delay in the approvals for surgery could have been fatal.
Early on, turmoil ruled. Eventually, she graduated from the ICU to a step down unit. Then, she left the hospital for an acute care nursing facility. Permanent deficits as a result of the stroke have not been determined. However, independence sufficient to live alone has evolved from doubtful to maybe.
The three sisters, Marilyn, Janet, and Linda along with their half-brother Nick are remarkable individuals. Their parents did a good job. Compassion and empathy runs deep in these four. I am proud to be included among this clan. There are no children to care for Janet in her time of need. So, it falls to this consortium of family affection. Janet’s siblings must supply the long term support. And, they have willingly responded.
I am reminded, once again, how close we all are to the other side and how precarious life is as we step onto the slippery surface of aging. Who, we wonder, will be there when we stumble? Families remain the source of our greatest joys … and most heart wrenching pain. Each one speaks a unique language that tells its own tale. Ours is that of resilience and we speak it fluently.
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