Monday, April 18, 2011

When the caretaker becomes the patient

As we all know, I need a keeper.  Not just because I'm normally outrageous, but because I am now unable to take care of even the simplest of tasks.  Bud has willingly jumped in and taken over the job.  He manages to take care of me and pamper me and see that all my needs are met without smothering me.  I couldn't ask for a better caretaker.

Except, now, for the second time in a year, he has been admitted to the hospital under emergency circumstances.  We have now had to open our eyes to the fact that his health is far from splendid and unless we make some serious adjustments he just might not be around to keep me safe.  The big problem in that is I am so limited in the things I can do to help him.

The first scare, last summer, wasn't as bad as it might have been, because we have some truly dear and wonderful friends.  During his hospital stay, our friends made certain I had transportation to and from the hospital and groceries and other necessities to tide me over until he was home again.  When he came home requiring additional nursing and wound care, I was not able to properly care for the wound so our friend Ann dove right in and volunteered to clean, pack and treat his wound daily.  After six weeks or so, the wound was healed and our lives returned to normal.  I shudder to think what would have happened if she had not been such a loyal friend.

But Bud's latest hospital visit is far more serious.  As a result of long term exposure to methylene chloride and recent overuse of NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug), his liver is seriously damaged and scarred and barely functioning.  This condition is known as cirrhosis, and is common among abusers of alcohol, but Bud's condition has nothing to do with alcohol.  He was a social drinker, which meant he drank some red wine whenever we were out for dinner.  Rarely, he'd drink some scotch or bourbon when he was with "the guys".  But for the most part, alcohol was rarely consumed.  Now, it will never be consumed.  Not because he abuses it, but because it will seriously harm him.  He can no longer take simple medications like Tylenol, Aleve, Advil, Motrin, aspirin.  They could kill him.

And so we learn new rules to live by, but the key word here is live.  He is not so far gone as to be put on the list awaiting a donor liver for transplant, and I plan to do everything I can to make sure he never gets that far.  We already had some dietary restrictions because of his Type 2 Diabetes.  We don't add salt to anything (well, I sneak some into my grits).  We seldom have sweets of any type in the house.  He tries to limit carbs (me, not so much, though I really should).  Now, he also has an ulcer, which is probably another side effect of all those over-the-counter pain meds.  So, we'll be selecting foods that aren't gonna cause the ulcer to flare.  I guess it's karma or something because he always said "I don't get ulcers, I give them."  Well, that certainly came back to bite him in the butt.  Still, I think he'll continue giving ulcers to those with whom he fails to see eye-to-eye.

Bud's new best friends are the people in the Gastroenterology department at our family heath group.  They will monitor him regularly and try to keep him on the straight and narrow as far as living with cirrhosis is concerned.  It is necessary for those of us closest to him to monitor him regularly looking for noticeable weight gain (could be water retention), confusion and/or delusion (could be toxic build up of ammonia in his blood), changes in sleep patterns (could be other toxins building up) and various other little signs that should signal us when he is headed for trouble.  I'm not much of a nurse.  I do a whole lot better with logic, mathematics and technology.  My sister, Cathy, is the medical person. And believe me she has a boatload of medical knowledge.  She couldn't figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up, so she went to nursing school and became a Registered Nurse. Nope, that wasn't what she wanted.  So she went back to school and became a Registered Pharmacist. Nope, that wasn't it either.  Finally, she went back to school and became a Medical Doctor. Bingo!  And she's a damn good doctor.  However, I'm here and she's not, so I guess I get to be the poor example of nursing for my ever tolerant husband.

It's a bit like the patient running the asylum, but we'll get by.  How can we lose?  We've got love and we've got each other.  Nothing can beat that!

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