Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Respite: Let’s Do This Again

Richard and I have cared for Robert for ten years and five of those have been in our home.  Robert loves to say “cheers” at dinner and usually says “cheers for our drinks” or “cheers for a good dinner” but recently threw out “cheers to family.”  He didn’t stop there: “cheers to a great family.” 

It is those moments that make up for the challenging ones when Robert’s medications are changed and he gets grumpy or when the physical demands of caring for him wear me out.

Those moments are precious and I wouldn’t trade them for anything but I have come to realize that a real respite is needed in order to refuel. 

Caregiving is one tough job and we need to be as physically and mental fit as possible to do it.  Respite is hard to come by and shouldn’t be as tough to get as it is but it is definitely worth fighting for. 

We were fortunate to be able to take a cruise to Alaska. I understand just how lucky we are to have been able to take such a spectacular trip and hope you don’t mind my sharing our respite days with you.  The trip is in a couple of parts so your eyes don’t glaze over with our vacation pictures.  You can read part one here. 

Day 6 (Tuesday).  We are heading into Glacier Bay today!  Richard seemed to sleep okay – only waking up a couple of times.  I didn’t hear him at all but woke up at 5:00 because somehow his watch alarm went off.  Grr.  Oh well, I can always go back to sleep.  I was wide awake for some reason so actually didn’t go back to sleep.  I felt fairly well rested after seven and a half hours but woke up a little grumpy.  I don’t know what if it was because of the alarm or because I miss our regular routine or something in the air.  I went for a walk on the ship a little earlier than usual and walked six and half times around (the extra half was so I could get closer to the entrance that brings me to the elevator leading to a cafe).  It was raining but not pouring and it didn’t really matter as I have a hood on my sweatshirt (otherwise known as Richard’s sweatshirt since I didn’t bring one.) 

I went to get a caramel latte for Richard and a decaf mocha for me after my walk.  Starbucks hasn’t quite infiltrated the ship but there is a café that makes espresso drinks so this is not the trip to break that habit of ours.  On my way back to the room, a woman got into the elevator and said what a miserable day it was. Oh no!  What a shame!  I asked what had happened (I am thinking something terrible happened to her this morning: getting bad news, falling, something).  “It’s raining.” 

Ahh.  I mumbled something about it not coming down too hard as I exited the elevator.  Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who woke up a little cranky.  Maybe it was something in the air. 

Richard and I got ready for the day – I showered; he wrapped his leg and then we went to the regular ship restaurant for breakfast.  We had been frequenting the buffet every day but wanted to try something a little different.  We enjoyed a nice breakfast and then made our way to the spa for our hot stone massages. (We treated ourselves and I am loving this spa!)  We should be entering Glacier Bay just about when we are done with the massages. 

The Universe is looking out for me because my massage therapist used to be a physical therapist who worked with stroke victims.  We talked about my stroke and she gave me hope that my numbness would actually go away (yes, I still have numbness).  She said in her experience it takes six months to a year to go away.  That is similar to what my neurologist had said (“weeks to a year to never”) so it was nice to have that validated again.

Of course, she tried to sell me some products after the session but they all do that and I politely declined.  She did talk me into getting another massage later in the week but I’m not sure if I will keep the appointment.  On the one hand, I would love to splurge and treat myself (I get massages at home but never twice in one week!) but it is costly and would be oh so indulgent!   We’ll see. 

We spent the day in Glacier Bay and were able to see all kinds of wildlife. We saw a brown bear on the shore, sea otters, sea lions and even a splash which was an indication of the possibility of a whale. 

We had our second anniversary dinner at the dining room.  This is supposed to be our 20th Anniversary cruise but we actually celebrate 21 years next week (we couldn’t come last year).  We even got Happy Anniversary balloons on our room door, a glass of champagne at the dinner and a special tiramisu cake.  All the servers even came over and sang a happy anniversary song to us (I only know this because I recognized the word “amore”) and the table next to us raised their glasses to toast us!  It was very special. 

Day 7 (Wednesday).  Today we docked in Sitka!  I slept seven and a half hours and woke up on my own just before 5:00 a.m.  Richard’s alarm went off again at 5:00 – he said he silenced it so we’re not sure what is going on. 

Richard slept okay.  He was up a couple of times but not in excruciating pain.  Today will be a day in town so there will be more walking again.  He plans to bring his scooter to help alleviate some pressure on his leg.  I hope that helps.

Sitka was a spectacular day!  Apparently, it rains most of the year yet our day was sunny and 65 degrees.  It was fabulous!  It is such a beautiful area, too. We hadn’t pre-purchased any excursions but bought one once we were in town.  Before heading out for the tours, we walked around the town and visited the local shops and found a place for a mocha and cappuccino. They had frozen yogurt but it was too early for that.  I miss our FroYo runs with Rachel!  I hope our little local shop hasn’t gone out of business since we’ve been gone – we give them a LOT of business. 

Our tours were a trip to the Fortress of the Bear and the Raptor Center and driven by a very nice (and funny) man named Lionel.  We saw more bears but these were in a rescue center that takes care of bear cubs after their moms were killed.  The Raptor Center showed us more bald eagles than I will ever see again!  Beautiful creatures.  This center also rescues injured or starving birds and releases them back into the wild once they’re fixed and in good shape. 

We lunched on fantastic chowder before heading back to the boat.  Richard was hurting and very tired so we stayed in the room for the night.  He suggested room service which was a good idea.  I really was so full I didn’t think I would eat but we had a light meal from the Japanese restaurant on the ship.  Richard had to order dessert (he had to!) but I could only choke down a bite!  I am not usually too full for dessert so that’s saying something!

While sitting on the deck of our room when the ship pushed off from Sitka we were fortunate to see sea lions and even a whale!  I couldn’t get a picture fast enough before the tail disappeared into the sea but, oh my! 

We went to sleep around 10:00.

Day 8 (Thursday).  I woke up around 5:30 and Richard was asleep, sitting on the couch.  His leg must have been hurting through the night.  I dreamt about Taz – more of a reality dream than anything.  I was making dinner, dished up a plate and left it on the counter, walked into the next room and glanced over to see him with paws on the counter eating off the plate.  Yep, that’s my boy!

We do miss our dogs!!

I went for my daily two mile walk around the ship and watched as we docked at our next port, Ketchikan.  I tried to get a mocha but the café wasn’t open yet.  I returned to the room, showered and we got ready to disembark.  It will just be a short time in town before the ship heads out again toward Victoria. 

We had coffee and bagels at a local shop and then walked around the town before our tour.  We made our way to the Visitor’s Center so we could check in for the tour.  We were super early so Richard sat to rest his leg and I walked around the shops a bit more.  The tour included watching a gentleman work on carving a new totem pole and he gave a talk about how he carves them and makes his own tools.  He was an interesting character and a seemingly gentle soul - very kind.  Richard and I talked to him after the presentation and we learned more about him.  Justin has had three strokes (two small and one more devastating).  He couldn’t walk but now has regained his mobility and can still carve.  He said the medical care in Ketchikan was terrible but he finally got a referral to a doctor in Seattle.  He said he has a couple of tumors in his brain and his sinuses and he doesn’t know what all will happen.  He said the stroke changed him and he talked lovingly about his family. We told him how much we enjoyed visiting with him and left to finish our tour.  I left even more grateful to live in an area that has good healthcare. 

Our next stop: salmon!  We saw salmon swimming upstream in a beautiful stream surrounded by woods (and a bunch of ship people, but that’s okay).

Our next stop was another stream under a bridge where we hoped to see a bear.  Lucky for us, there actually was a black bear looking for fish.  He caught a salmon and we watched him lay on the grass eating his lunch then wander back into the woods, oblivious to the throng of people watching him. 

A local resident lived next to the stream and, apparently, had a deal with certain tour companies allowing them on to the property for a fee.  Good entrepreneurship!

Our last stop on the tour was a totem pole area which was interesting and rich in history.  Apparently, Abe Lincoln’s Secretary of State owes these people a huge debt and they have not forgotten that!  It has been great learning so much about Alaska!  Not to show too much of my ignorance but I didn’t realize there were rain forests in Alaska.

Richard was thrilled to see a fishing boat that is featured on one of the Alaska reality shows he watches (“Time Bandit”). I took photos of him near the boat since we didn’t choose that tour – that will have to be good enough! 

We were back to the ship around 12:30 – just before the deadline!  The line was long to board so I left Richard and ran back to one of the stores to get some candy Richard had wanted.  Luckily, I didn’t miss the deadline to be back on the boat or those would have been some costly sour gummy worms!

Today Richard is going to play bingo while I get another massage.  I do feel very indulgent but I have to stock up and refill my caregiver bucket!  Plus, I’m hoping he wins at bingo so I won’t feel so bad spending the money. 

I keep thinking about Justin, the carver.  Talking to someone local who had a stroke made me realize (more than I had already) just how lucky we are to have access to good healthcare.  The small towns we’ve been in do not have great accessibility for people in wheelchairs; many homes have steep stairs leading into their homes.  What happens after surgery for them?  What about anyone with mobility issues?  To think people have to travel to Seattle for specialty healthcare is quite unnerving.  Not everyone would be able to do that.

Day 9 (Friday).  Victoria was our Canadian stop and we only have a few short evening hours.  Before leaving on our trip, I found a cute restaurant near the pier and thought we could have yet another anniversary dinner!  The ship docked late due to some high winds so I was worried we wouldn’t make it in time for our reservation but it worked out fine.  The dinner (and, of course, desserts!) were fabulous at Il Covo Trattoria. I was determined to wear heels for this dinner so got a little dressed up and donned a pair of boots. 

We wanted to walk around downtown Victoria after dinner and were told it was “just around the corner.”  Suure.  Two miles later, we finally saw it in the distance!  I left Richard on a bench and walked up a hill to visit some touristy shops and got a bargain on some sweatshirts.  After finding Richard again (I made sure to make note of some landmarks since I am notorious for getting lost) we unanimously voted to take a taxi back to the boat.  Between his painful leg, sore back and my feet (the heels are cute but not made to walk two miles) we were ready to head back to the ship.  Victoria might be better seen in the daytime with more hours to spend and maybe some sensible shoes. 
The ship will dock in Seattle by the time we wake up in the morning.  It is hard to believe this is our last day but we are both ready to get back home and see the dogs, Carol and Robert (not necessarily in that order, in case Carol or Robert asks).   

I cannot even find the words to say how much Richard and I enjoyed this trip (although I found plenty of words for this post and am sure my joy is evident).  I am so grateful to everyone who helped make this happen (Robert’s medical care team, Courtyard Health Care Center, Rach, Matt, Rich, Carol, Joelle and Richard’s brothers). 

We are so, so appreciative and, maybe, just a little greedy because I would love to do something like this again next year. 

Something for me to remember:  Respite isn’t just good for the caregiver but also for our loved one.  It was a relief to know that Robert had a great time at the facility and was well-cared for and I will share more about that in another post. 

In the meantime, I am going to do my best to not let this after-respite glow disappear any time soon.

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