The words "30 days of thanks" in cursive writing on a green square.

A Week After 30 Days

It has been just over a week since my last 30 Days of Thanks post. As I do after each blogging challenge, I have been reflecting on this experience and trying to gather my thoughts into something worth posting. Although this is my third time completing this challenge, there are still lessons I am learning along the way.

1. Guests are Great!

This was the first year I asked others to consider taking part in my 30 Days of Thanks. I’ll be honest and admit I did this for selfish reasons. Guest posts meant less content I had to create myself. I am taking a memoir writing course this year, and the daily writing required for the course takes up time I would have otherwise used for my blog posts.

Thankfully, several of my friends took me up on my invitation to write, granting me the privilege of sharing their amazing work to my loyal readers. Reading their work also caused me to stop and think about their writing, how they crafted their messages, what devices they used effectively and how I might try to incorporate these in my future writing. I am grateful for their generosity, but embarrassed to admit…

2. I Left Out a Post.

Early in my blogging life, I connected with a delightful writer, Lily. This year, Lily branched out and started writing about daily random acts of kindness on a new blog. I asked her if she would be willing to write a piece for my 30 Days of Thanks. Lily wrote a very insightful piece, thanking a man who broke her heart. I was honored she offered it to me and scheduled it (I thought) to appear in late November. Then, two days before it was to post, I realized it was not in my list of posts. What’s more, I couldn’t find the email and file containing the post. I panicked. I searched late one night then went to bed, promising to do it first thing in the morning. Only, I didn’t do it because work, Personal Assistant illness, life – you pick it. I forgot. I forgot to fix my mistake, and I never ran Lily’s post. I have apologized to Lily, and I hope she will forgive me and let me make it up to her. Now I’m owning up to all of you, because I feel like I’ve let Lily down and I dislike being the cause of anyone’s disappointment.

3. “Not All Rock Stars Play Guitar.”

Prior to last month, I averaged 50 blog visitors per post. The largest number of visitors to DeeScribes in one day occurred in September 2015 when I wrote the post, I Never Said He Wasn’t Being Kind. Two hundred seventy six visitors read that post, a record which held until November 22 when I wrote this post about my friend Mike. Within two hours of posting, I had 50 visitors. The post was shared by multiple people and then Mike shared it. After eight hours, it had been seen by over 200 people. I knew before I went to bed that night it had broken my prior “daily record” and was approaching 290.

I can never predict what will resonate with readers, and what will appeal to a large number of people. I am convinced if you put a photo of an attractive man in uniform with your post, your blog stats will improve for the day. I told Mike I planned to use his photo with a random post just to test my theory sometime. He’s the one who gave me the quote at the start of this section, as well as the story for an amazing day on my blog. Thanks again Mike. You and the other officers are definitely getting cookies this year.

4. People Like to be Surprised with a Thank You Note.

Before I write and share my 30 Days of Thanks posts, I always ask the subjects of my posts if they will permit me to share my thank you note to them on my blog. Only one person has ever refused, and of course I honored her wishes. This year, for the first time, I wrote posts about each of my sisters without telling them in advance I planned to feature them individually. Once the first post about Sandy went live, Donna, Susan and Caroline knew their own posts would be coming. But, I did not share my posts with them in advance. They all responded to the memories I shared, and sent me delightful notes or comments in return. I’m glad I took the time to write separate posts for all of them as gifts for all they do for me.

Thank you to everyone who supported me and my guest bloggers through my 30 Days of Thanks challenge. I am grateful for your comments and shares. I hope you will continue to practice daily gratitude for the people and blessings in your life. And if you have time, send someone a thank you note. It will make their day.

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30 Days of Thanks Day 3 – Sandy

In the past, when I have written thank you posts to my sisters, I have always written about them as a group. This year, I decided they each deserve their own gratitude post. Prior to this post going live, they did not know I was planning to do this. Susan, Donna and Caroline – you’ll have to wait your turn. Sandy gets to be first this time.

I am close to all of my sisters, but Sandy lives the closest to me so I see her the most frequently. She is listed as my emergency contact most often, and is usually the first person to get a phone call if something happens to me.

When I fell in January, Sandy was the first person I called. At least, I tried to call her. She had her cell phone turned off. Lying on my bedroom floor, writhing in pain as I waited for the ambulance to arrive, I attempted to search my contacts for Sandy’s work phone number. Who memorizes phone numbers these days? After two minutes of unsuccessful searches, I gave up and called another sister.

Caroline, I need you to call Sandy. I fell, and I think I broke my leg. You need to reach her and tell her I’m going to St. Peter’s. Please, just call her and tell her to meet me there.

Thinking over our relationship, I often call out for Sandy knowing she’ll come to my side if she can. Since I moved to the Albany area twenty-five years ago, there have been far too many of those phone calls.

I took my medicine and it’s making me fuzzy. I don’t think I can safely stand to finish getting dressed. Can you come over early to help me before you take me to the dentist?

My child language development class needs kids so we can practice administering tests. Would you let us test the boys?

My wheelchair stopped working in the middle of the intersection of 7th Avenue and 33rd Street. David helped me make it to the train at Penn Station, but can you meet me at the station at Albany to help me get home?

My PA isn’t able to help me go to bed/get out of bed/go to the bathroom/take a shower. Do you have time to help me please?

I have to bring cookies to my friend’s party. Can you help me bake tomorrow night?

I can’t stand being home alone. I’m driving myself crazy wondering why he said it’s over. What are you doing tonight?

Here’s the thing about my wonderful sister Sandy – she never turns me down. Even when I have a broken leg, and I can’t stop crying, and I keep snapping at her because I’m scared and in pain. Sandy is always there, doing whatever she can to make things better.

When I was admitted to the hospital in January, I was initially put on the orthopedic unit. Unfortunately, the electronic beds on the unit did not have controls mounted where I could reach them. I asked for a handset to control the bed, knowing I would need to move frequently to try to be as comfortable as possible and to reduce the risk of pressure sores. It was late at night and I was told I would have to wait until the next day to get a handset so I could operate the bed independently.

While I started getting angry, protesting this restraint, Sandy calmly asked the nurses for a recliner. She spent that first night in the hospital next to my bed in a plastic hospital recliner so I would have someone instantly whenever I needed to move or reposition my body. If I had to guess, I woke her up at least every twenty minutes to move my legs, my head, my foot, my arm, the pillow – you get the idea. I also cried, complained, and whined about the pain. I doubt either of us truly slept that night, but my memories of the exact events are rather fuzzy because I took as much pain medication as was allowed. The one thing I am certain of is that Sandy’s presence made it possible for me to make it through the night with fewer tears and less discomfort.

About ten years ago, Sandy and I started having discussions about our healthcare wishes. Knowing Sandy was listed as my emergency contact, I asked if she would be willing to act as my health care proxy if at any time I was unable to make my wishes known. At the time, I don’t think either of us suspected she would be called upon twice in the next ten years to be my advocate and relay my wishes to medical providers. But both times, Sandy did exactly what I would have wanted her to do even if it might not have been the choice she would have wanted to make. I couldn’t ask for anything more from one of the people I trust to act on my behalf should I be incapacitated.

Sandy has been a source of strength and positivity throughout my life, but I have appreciated it even more this year. She has been with me every step of the way as I worked to recuperate from my injury and regain my independence. Sandy brought me junk food when I was craving a burger, and homemade soup when I had a cold. She drove me to our hometown for family gatherings even though she really doesn’t like driving my van, and learned how to transfer me in a new way in case I needed her to help me at home.

Sandy continues to be one of my roll models, acting as an example of the kind of woman I want to be when I grow up. She juggles many balls – work, family, volunteer activities, friends, and more – but rarely do any of them drop. I’m sure she’s rolling her eyes now as she reads this, thinking she has me fooled.

The truth is, Sandy does a great deal to make life easier for those around her. I’m blessed to count her as not just a sister, but one of my best friends. Sure, I probably would have made it through this year if she were not a part of my life. But, I would not have laughed as much, dreamed as big, or reached for higher goals.

Thank you Sandy, for always being there, for letting me be me, and for loving me even when my clutter gives you heart palpitations and my lack of organization makes you crazy. I love you.

The author and her sister Sandy. Sandy is seated on the left, wearing a blue v-neck sleeveless dress and a pearl necklace. On her right sits a woman wearing glasses, an aqua v-neck sleeveless dress, glasses and a black necklace.

30 Days of Thanks Day 2 – Staff of McAuley 2

My earliest memory revolves around a stay in the hospital. I was three years old, and spending time at Upstate Medical Hospital in Syracuse, NY for a muscle biopsy and neurological testing. I remember the tortuous spinal tap, waking up in the operating room, and walking to the playroom with my sister Caroline. I am certain those early memories, combined with later experiences in hospitals, are responsible for the dread I feel whenever faced with a potential hospitalization.

I spent two weeks in St. Peter’s Hospital in January after my femur fracture and the surgery to repair it. For the majority of my stay, I was on McAuley 2. During my stay, several staff asked me about my writing once they saw me blogging on my cell phone. I promised to write a post about them and today I dedicate my gratitude post to the wonderful nurses and patient care techs who cared for me during my stay on McAuley 2.

I am what most medical professionals label a “total care” patient. Put me in a bed and I lose the ability to move without assistance. I can’t lift my arms up to my face, which means in January I was unable to blow my nose, wipe my eyes, or feed myself while in bed. And I happened to have a sinus infection for the first week of my stay.

I was a “10 pillow patient.” Every time I used the bedpan (which happened every 45 minutes when I developed a urinary tract infection on day 4 of my 14 day stay), the patient care techs and nurses spent several minutes adjusting the many pillows required to prop up my legs, arms, head and shoulders into tolerable positions. Frequent repositioning also happened because I was at risk for developing pressure sores.

Because I was in the hospital for 2 weeks, I developed routines and rapport with the “regular” staff. Tan came in each morning, full of energy and enthusiasm for the day even when I just wanted to stay in bed and wallow in my pain. Keri worked with me to find the quickest and safest way to use a Hoyer mechanical lift when I was finally allowed to get up into my wheelchair. Antoinette and Chris were the team who came running every hour on the overnight shifts to help clean me up once the laxatives started working. Gentle, quiet Santos became my advocate, chastising other staff if he felt they weren’t being cautious of my swollen knee or contracted joints.

Many people performed small acts which made huge improvements during my hospitalization. But Claire, who only worked with me once, did the one thing that made me feel most human. She washed my hair.

Claire came to my room at 1:30 AM, wondering why I was awake. I was capitalizing on the quiet, taking advantage of some pain free moments, and working on this post.

How’s everything going? Is there anything I can do for you?

I jokingly asked if she had the ability to help me shower. I was not allowed to get my incision wet, so bed baths were a daily routine. I didn’t feel dirty, but I was self-conscious of my greasy long hair which had not been washed for 11 days.

I could at least wash your hair if you’d like. I’ll come right back after I help your neighbor to the bathroom.

Which is how I found myself sitting upright in bed at 2:15 AM with a hot sudsy shower cap on my head, Claire scrubbing and massaging my scalp. I warned her I might moan with pleasure like those shampoo commercials. It was either that, or fall asleep. I managed to stay awake as we chatted through the next five minutes.

Throughout the world,  nurses and patient care techs in hospitals like Claire, Tan, Keri, Santos, Antoinette, and Chris, help their patients feel more human every day. The staff of McAuley 2 who tended to my needs were compassionate, attentive and encouraging – a difficult task when I was cranky and in pain. They did their best to make my healing as comfortable as possible, and I am thankful for their kindness and professionalism.

30 Days of Thanks Day 1 – Dr. Czajka

Stretched out on the hospital gurney, awaiting the results of my x-ray, I stared at my sister Sandy with dread. I knew the doctor was going to tell me it was broken. A broken bone meant surgery.

I was terrified of surgery. The last time I had “routine” surgery prior to January of this year, I almost died and spent four days in a coma in the intensive care unit. My respiratory status makes me a higher risk for complications. So I was nervous when the orthopedic resident, a handsome twenty-something who flirted with the nurses and told me to call him Chaz, was not confident I would need surgery. Rather than argue with him, I asked to see the orthopedic surgeon.

I was high on pain medications and don’t have clear memories of the first time Dr. Czajka came to talk to me. Knowing how I react to medical professionals who think they know what is best for me without taking the time to listen to me, I have no doubt I was obnoxious and petulant. Thankfully, Dr. Czajka is a veteran surgeon, and knows that a patient with a broken femur who is under the influence of narcotics is probably not functioning as her most reasonable and level-headed self. Because Sandy and my friends know me well, they grilled him with the questions they knew I would want answered. I know they made an impression, because every time I saw him for follow up he asked me about my sisters.

My respiratory status, combined with my progressive neuromuscular disability and the lack of bone density in my legs, made my situation a complicated case. Dr. Czajka was honest and told Sandy he would do his best to repair the fracture, but even with the images he wouldn’t know exactly what he was facing until he got inside my leg. He was hopeful my bones would tolerate the hardware he wanted to use to put my leg back together.

My memories of heading into surgery are fuzzy. I remember the anesthesiologist and I arguing over which side of my neck would be better for the central line (I wanted the left, he won and it went on the right). Dr. Czajka was matter of fact.

Relax – I’m the one who has to do all the work! You just have to lie there.

When I woke, two things registered: 1) I was alive (yeah!) and 2) I was cold (I’m ALWAYS cold). Dr. Czajka was standing at my feet, his gruff voice cutting through the brain fog.

Your leg was a mess, but I think we got it all back together.

I had not been extubated from the ventilator yet, so I was unable to use my voice. Dr. Czajka smiled at my eye roll, and shouted a warning as he walked away.

Try to be a good patient until I see you tomorrow!

Someone, most likely Sandy, had warned him I tend to be non-compliant. When you’ve grown up in the medical model of disability, where medical professionals try to insist they are more of an expert on your body than you are, you develop proficiency in non-compliant behavior.

Two days later, when I was more coherent, Dr. Czajka came to my room to monitor my progress. After asking about my sisters (three of them had been there over the weekend), he warned me about the force of their advocacy on my behalf.

You’ve had to deal with them all your life? No wonder you’ve got an attitude!

We talked about the surgery, about my pain, and when I could expect reduced swelling. I questioned him about the hardware I now sported, wondering when I could see the x-ray of my repaired leg. He flashed a cocky grin before telling me what he had used to put my leg back together.

You need to be careful with that leg. It’s held together with a plate, screws, some chicken wire and bubble gum.

He never gave me the exact ratio. When I finally saw an x-ray, I asked him to point out the wire and the bubble gum.

Sometimes that’s hard to see on film.

Two months after my surgery, I went to Dr. Czajka’s office for a follow-up appointment. Once again, he started by asking about my sisters and almost looked disappointed when I told him I was there on my own. Then, Dr. Czajka surprised me with what he said next.

You’re lucky. You have some great friends and family who you can call on to be “Johnny on the spot” if you run into trouble. How do I get on that list? Because you’re going to fall or break the other leg eventually. And when you do, you need to call me right away because I don’t want you to waste your time with someone who is afraid to operate on you if surgery is necessary.

I tried to make a witty comeback about how I didn’t know we had progressed to that state in our relationship. He cut me off, turning serious.

I mean it. Just call me. But don’t do anything stupid. You break my work, I’ll kill you.

Believe it or not, I have been a somewhat compliant patient. I haven’t tried to stand on my leg since surgery. Well, at least, not on land. I’ve been standing on it in the therapeutic pool in water up to my shoulders so only ten percent of my body weight is on my feet. As grateful as I am to Dr. Czajka for performing surgery, I can only be so good. But, I think he’s secretly proud of my determination. Even if he likes my sisters more than me.

Thank you Dr. Czajka for performing surgery when others were hesitant. Because of you, I was out of bed and working with therapists to rehabilitate my body within a week, instead of being bed-bound for months after my femur fracture. Your number is now programmed into my phone, and I promise to do my best not to break your work. Once is enough for me!

November Already?

Here in the United States, we celebrate Thanksgiving on the last Thursday of November. A few years ago, I started using my Facebook page to be thankful all month. For the past two years, I have used the month of November to participate in 30 Days of Thanks with my blog. Last year, I used the month as a way to thank everyone who made my 2015 return trip to Australia a reality. Boy, that seems like a lifetime ago.

This year has been a difficult year. If you are new to my blog, you may want to read this post and this post for information on why I have struggled with life since January. If you had asked me in January what my November would look like, you would have had a very different response on January 10 prior to my leg fracture on January 11. Unfortunately, as soon as I landed on the floor on January 11, I knew instantly this would be the path I would have to take.

While the year has been challenging, there have been many moments of joy. I have found myself surrounded by friends and family who solved problems, helped me devise creative ways around barriers, and encouraged me to continue to find gratitude throughout dark times. I am blessed to have such a loving and caring support network.

In August, I decided to use this year’s 30 Days of Thanks to spotlight the people who have helped me make it through 2016. Also, I decided to offer my writer friends the opportunity to guest post as part of 30 Days of Thanks. My writer friends kept me focused this year, and were a constant source of strength and encouragement. Giving them the chance to share their writing on my blog will help expose them to a new audience, and maybe help them get some new followers.

I am excited to have the opportunity to share my gratitude once again with my readers. If you are interested in 30 Days of Thanks, I hope you will consider using your own social media platforms to express your own gratitude publicly. There has been so much negativity in my social media feeds this year, and people really do respond more to positive posts than negative posts. Try it and see for yourself!