No matter how brave I am, how calm I am, how resolved I am to make the best of a difficult situation, things along my widow’s journey can jump out of the woodwork and bite me, hard- -things I can’t do yet.
The day I’m writing this blog, January 17, 2019, is one month after Bruce came home. That day, I left the hospital ahead of him to tidy up the house, move the living room furniture to accommodate a hospital bed and wait for the delivery of hospital equipment, the arrival of Bruce (via wheelchair transport) and the Walla Walla Community Hospice admissions team. It was a crazy day that left me mentally soggy, fire hosed with home health care information. Also, it was a huge relief to have Bruce here, with me and the 4-legged kids.
Days before, I’d feared he wouldn’t make it home at all. It was shocking to, in a matter of hours, adjust Bruce’s goal from seeking treatment that might buy him a few more months of life to “this is it.” Making it home became the sought-for miracle. He made it, and we shared one precious week together.
Getting him home and keeping him comfortable was hard work, but it was work I could do. I’ve managed the “after” business with the funeral home and have met with a lawyer to initiate the process of closing Bruce’s estate. Though my emotions are near the surface during these types of chores, they are not the things that have made me break down. It’s the little things, things that I can’t do yet, that are the buggers.
One such buggery thing chomped me this week: subcutaneous hydration for Friday, my cat with renal issues. It was my second attempt doing this at home- -putting IV fluid under his skin to help his kidneys function better. Bruce used to do the “doctor” work while I held our patient. in recent weeks I’ve taken Friday into the veterinary office for treatment, all the while thinking I should be able to do this myself. So I asked the vet techs for instructions. They showed me the process, something I’d seen many times at home but couldn’t quite hold in my brain, and loaned me something called a “cat sack” for containing legs, tail and claws.
My first at-home attempt was a dismal failure. I didn’t make it as far as the hydration procedure but spent several minutes trying to wrestle Friday into the “cat sack” (it looked so easy when they did it at the vet’s!). We were able to get an appointment for later that afternoon, including another instruction session for me, this time watching the procedure and noting the things that make it possible to perform, single-handed. These are not hard things, but they need to be seen to be known. After copious “Aha!” moments for me and 200 milliliters of IV fluid for Friday, I was confident I had the right stuff to try it again and succeed.
This week, I changed the needle at the end of the IV hose, embarking on the procedure with extreme calm and confidence until I poked my own finger. Twice. Shrieks of “I can’t so this!” accompanied by tears echoed around the bathroom as I applied bandages to my wounds. Tears. More of them than I’ve cried since November 27, when we first learned that something suspected but not yet confirmed was really, really wrong with Bruce’s pancreas and liver. Tears, over something I knew I could fix by making an appointment at the vet’s.
I righted myself and resolved to go on, changed the needle again without further maiming myself and scooped Friday up from his napping spot. He settled onto the towel in the bottom half of the cat carrier while I tested the flow of saline solution (perfect) and proceeded to poke him. Attempt one poked in and out again, sending a stream of saline solution all over the kitchen window. Poke two seemed to go in okay, but the saline solution didn’t appear to be flowing. Same for poke three, after which I praised Friday for being a good, patient kitty and called the vet. They scheduled us for 8:45 the next morning.
In one of the exam rooms a kind and compassionate vet tech guided me through a hands-on subcutaneous hydration of Friday:
Make a BIG pinch of skin. See the pocket that forms over his shoulder blades? Push the needle in there. Harder, it’s not all the way in. Quicker, too, so it hurts less. If it’s impossible to keep him still, if you get most of the recommended fluid in he should be okay until next time.
Given my track record with needle replacement, I took home a half-dozen extras.
The good news is, I don’t have to try home hydration again until next Thursday. I’m hoping there is no bad news (fingers crossed). Home hydration is difficult for me, I think, for two reasons:
- I’m afraid I’ll hurt Friday (and can now add that I’m also afraid I’ll hurt myself)
- Home hydration is something I strongly associate with Bruce, something we took care of together since last September, and years before that, for our long-departed cat Arial. It’s spooky and sad to be alone on “his” side of the table, doing his job.
I’m sure things like this, things I can’t do yet, will crop up along the way. How not? But I’m carrying some lessons forward:
If it’s a hands-on job, have someone walk me through it while I do it myself (this was something I had to deal with when learning how to apply Bruce’s fentanyl patch, too).
If another person or an animal is involved in the process, concentrate on doing the job right instead of worrying that I’ll cause harm.
Most things work out. If they don’t, time and practice will see me through, eventually.
Being one person working alone does not necessarily mean I can’t do a job once performed by two people joined as one. It just means I have to do things differently; that, and to keep asking Bruce to help me from the other side.