Health

My sister-in-law Rachel’s daughter, Cassie, and her husband Chris, gave birth to a baby boy named Lucas Rae exactly 6 months ago today. Little Lucas was not given good odds early on in the pregnancy. It all began shortly after they were told that they would have a son. Joy soon turned into concern as the doctors explained that baby Lucas was smaller than he should be at that point. It was determined that he had an intestinal blockage, a 1 in 8 million chance, that was causing him not to be able to absorb nutrients properly. They were also told that in addition to the surgery shortly after his birth to clear the blockage, he had three holes in his heart that would need to be addressed at some point. They were also told that it was likely that Lucas had Down’s Syndrome. It was a huge blow for a young couple to take, but they faced it head on, determined to win. Prayer requests were immediately sent out.

Cassie was due to deliver Lucas about August 3, but that was not to be. It was important to deliver him early so the blockage could be removed and he could begin to grow, but delivering him early also presented problems, given his small size. Still, the early delivery was the best option. So on July 3, 2011 at 11:51pm, Lucas Rae was born by Cesarean Section in Denver. He weighed 2 pounds 7 ounces and was 16 inches long…4 inches longer than the doctors expected…the first miracle. He was on only oxygen at that point because of immature lungs. They had to wait on the surgery because Lucas was having a little bleeding in his brain, but it was not a stroke or tumor…the second miracle.

Finally, the day came for the intestinal surgery. Lucas had gained a little weight, and the bleeding had stopped. The surgery went very well, and Lucas was soon on the way to much needed weight gain. About this same time they were told that one of the three holes in his heart had healed in its own…a third miracle. Finally Lucas was able to go home, weighing 4 pounds 9 ounces. His favorite place to be, other than in Mommy or Daddy’s arms, was his swing. All too soon, the time came to return to Denver for the heart surgery. After a successful surgery, Lucas was finally able to come home for good…a fourth miracle. He was such a “little trooper” through all of this as his Grandma would say.

Today is Lucas Rae’s 6 month birthday…a day that the doctors weren’t sure would ever arrive, but God and the prayers of faith knew different. He is still pretty little, and looks a bit like a baby doll in some of his pictures, but he is happy and smiley, and much loved. While I, like most of his Casper family, haven’t had a chance to meet Lucas yet, we already love our sweet little miracle man very much.

Sometimes…when we least expect it, or maybe when we just weren’t looking, it occurs to us that those we love are getting older. Little problems begin to present themselves, that throw us for a loop. We begin to wonder how we could have missed the fact that someone is really in their early 80’s. I mean, we know their chronological age very well, but somehow their physical age sneaks up on us, and takes us very much by surprise.

That is exactly what happened to me last Monday, with my father-in-law, and we spent the rest of the week with him in the hospital, while we waited to see if the racing heart rate that his foot doctor caught was going to be problematic, or just a result of the Pneumonia that he was also diagnosed with. Like my own dad, my father-in-law had always seemed much younger that his years, so suddenly being faced with something that could be a life or death situation, just about knocked me over, as did the possibility of losing the first line caregiver for my mother-in-law.

The diagnosis came, and we will be dealing with A-Fib for the rest of his life, but since my mom has that, I know it is manageable. The Pneumonia is pretty much gone, and he came home from the hospital today. He would like to think that he can just go back to life as usual, but for me, much has changed. Yes, he was on oxygen before, and weak in that way, but the rest of him was always strong and able to handle the majority of the care of my mother-in-law, but now…I have to consider that the stress of caring for an Alzheimer’s patient might be too much for him. Still, he has not come to a place where he is ready for her care to take a different turn, and we will honor his wishes concerning that decision. And, we aren’t ready for that change either.

So, we will modify the plan for now, until we know where we stand in this situation, and home health care will help with the day to day care for both of them. And we will see where the future will take us. In the case of my mom, the meds control her A-Fib quite well and she can do pretty much what she wants to. I pray that my father-in-law will be with be the same, and that the sudden changes that have come about will be able to return to at least some semblance of normalcy.

Thanksgiving is a time to remember all your blessings, and where they came from. As I looked at this picture of our family at Thanksgiving, so long ago, is occurs to me just how blessed we are. This picture shows a pretty small group, but the reality is that our family has exploded with growth since that time. Most families do grow and change over the years. Children grow up, get married and have children…the blessings continue to grow. We have so much to be thankful for. Most of us live in the area, and have had the chance to stay very close. Our children know each other, and their children do too. We go to church as a family…taking up 3 rows of chairs these days.

Yes, there are some who have gone home to be with the Lord…Dad, Alyssa, Laila, Nancy, Marlyce, as well as grandparents and some aunts, uncles and cousins, and we miss them very much, but we are thankful that we will see them again, and that the Lord comforts us concerning those have gone home, and gives us the strength to move forward, in spite of the pain. And, I am thankful that my mom and my in-laws are all doing well, and I pray that continues for a long, long time. And I’m thankful that the rest of the family is also in good health. We are so blessed in that way, and I thank God for that.

So often, we dwell on our problems or disappointments, and forget to notice our blessings. Today, I want to focus on all the positive things in my life, and all the loved ones I have been blessed with. I want to focus on the freedoms we have, simply because we live in a country that values those freedoms. I am thankful for the men who have fought and died to win those freedoms. And mostly, I am thankful for my savior, Jesus, who came and died for me so I could have eternal life.

We all have so much to be thankful for. It is my hope today, that all is well with you and yours, and that you never take your blessings for granted. I wish you all a very happy Thanksgiving.

When my girls were little and in grade school, I used to volunteer to do throat cultures at the school they attended. Throat cultures aren’t done anymore, so for those who don’t know, it was and still is a way to test for strep throat, but it isn’t done in the schools anymore. Anyway, every Monday morning I went into town and my friend Pat Neville and I made the rounds at the school, swabbing throats.

Now my last name is not the easiest name to learn for little kids, and even most adults have trouble with it. So I was not surprised when on one particular Monday morning, when I came into the nurse’s office to get my throat culture cart set up, and two little kindergarten girls had a little trouble with my name.

As I entered the nurse’s office, there were two little girls sitting on the bed waiting for the nurse to come in. I don’t know if one was hurt or what, but that didn’t end up being the most important part of my story.I thought they knew me from throat cultures, because they started talking to me like they recognized me, and I guess they did…sort of.

The first little girl asked, “Are you Amy’s mom?” My first thought was ok, now I have been relegated to being just my kid’s mom, but that thought didn’t last very long, because the other little girl asked, “Amy who?” Then, everything became very clear. The problem wasn’t that they didn’t know my name, or that I was just somebody’s mom. It was my name.

That fact was made perfectly clear when, in answer to her friend’s question, the first little girl said, “You know…Amy Sugarberry!!! Inside I laughed and laughed, because I figured that if someone were going to butcher our last name, that was the best way to do it. With the last name of Schulenberg, I had heard every possible way to butcher my name, but this was by far the sweetest!

My sister-in-law, Debbie was injured at work about 10 years ago, when she fell while carrying a heavy crate. She has had back problems and multiple surgeries in the years since that injury, and has been unable to work or stay in one position for very long. It has been a long, hard road for her, and her family, all of whom have helped her through this ordeal.

On August 30th, the day after his 82nd birthday, my father-in-law, Debbie’s dad, was struck with Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV). While BPPV is not life threatening, it is seriously problematic. BPPV is a condition that brings on dizziness…the kind that makes it almost impossible to locate a safe place to sit down. It also brings with it, nausea that will quickly bring a strong man to his knees. The condition comes and goes throughout the day, and is the worst right after standing up from a sitting position, making its victim a serious fall risk.

Immediately after the first episode, I recruited the family to take turns staying with my in-laws, until we could figure out what to do about this. We heard from my mother-in-law’s respite care giver, about the Dizziness and Balance Clinic at Wind City Physical Therapy. We made an appointment with them, and a wonderful therapist named Kathy, did two treatments on my father-in-law. She showed me how to treat him at home, and we are now in the midst of daily treatments to fight off the dizziness…and it is working well. In the interim, however, my father-in-law has fallen twice, and we just can’t leave them alone safely at this time. It is hard for people who work to be caregivers during the work day, and that is where my sister-in-law, Debbie comes in.

Debbie came down from Powell for a doctor’s appointment in Casper.  She usually stays with my in-laws. She came to town last Saturday and was to leave this Saturday, but after seeing how bad things were here and knowing that everyone needed to go back to work, she has not only stayed all week, but will likely stay until Wednesday of the coming week. While it is hard for her to do a lot things, she has really stepped up and set aside her own pain to do many things for her parents, so that my father-in-law will not have to try to get up and down too much. Many people might not think that cooking and straightening are a big deal, but my father-in-law is normally the one who does all the household chores, since my mother-in-law can’t help with things like she used to. Debbie has also taken on the blood sugar checks, day time meds, and helping her mom with grooming. The things Debbie has done, are monumental in the situation in which we currently find ourselves. I want to thank Debbie for her sacrifice. She has been a tremendous help in a time of serious need. Love you Debbie!!

When my oldest daughter was pregnant with her younger son, Joshua David, she had been given a due date of October 15th. That September, Bob and I were going to Denver for a Rockies Baseball game. I told Corrie that she was not to have this baby while I was gone, as I had been at the births of my other three grandchildren, and didn’t want to miss this one. I didn’t exactly expect Josh to come while we were gone, but I did have a sense of unease. Our trip to Denver was going along just fine, when Corrie called to tell us that she was in labor, and that they were trying to stop the labor. If Josh came at that time, he would be 5 weeks early. Some babies do ok that early, while others have problems.

Of course, my first thought was that she was kidding me, since I had told her that she was not to do this, but it quickly became evident that she was serious. I asked how much time we had, since it is a 5 hour drive home from Denver. She said that they were trying to stop the labor, and to wait just a little bit. We waited anxiously for the call to come that would tell us whether or not to race home. The decision was finally made to go home, as the labor would not stop. We headed out about 4:oo am and I was on pins and needles all the way, not to mention praying constantly.

I could not be on the phone with her constantly and that tore me up. It is hard to watch your daughter go through labor and birth, but far worse to have such a premature labor and you are 5 hours away. Every mile was excruciating. We did make it before Josh’s arrival, but not by much. I was so thankful. God saw to it that we got home safe and in time.

Joshua David arrived at 11:57 am on September 9, 1998, he weighed a pretty good 5 pounds 6.5 ounces, but plans were quickly made for him to be flown to Denver. His lungs were immature and he needed help with his breathing. It was decided that Kevin should accompany him on the flight. It was one of the hardest things the kids have ever done. Corrie was a wreck because she wanted to go, and Kevin was a wreck because she couldn’t. We assured them both we would bring her to Denver as soon as she was released.

Josh was placed in the Neo-Natal ICU at Presbyterian St Luke’s Hospital. His weight dropped to 4 pounds 3 ounces. Sometimes, as was the case for the kids, they had an available room on the nursing home side of the hospital where Corrie and Kevin could stay. The nice thing about that was that the kids could go over and see Josh, 24/7, and that is comforting to a parent. Josh was monitored constantly, and given superior care, for which we are eternally grateful to the staff. His weight began coming back up, but as they got close to coming home, he had a couple of Brady’s, which is when the heart skips a beat. It is normal for that to happen, even in healthy adults, but they won’t let the baby go home until it has been more that 24 hours, so they had to stay longer.

Finally the day came when Joshua David got to come home. We were so excited. His lungs had taken 2 weeks to mature, and he was healthy enough to come home. It didn’t take him long to make up for lost time once he got home. He quickly gained weight and grew into a wonderful little boy. We are so very blessed. God had provided a miracle for Joshua!! We love you Josh!! Happy birthday!!

All too often, there are people in our lives who work hard, help others, and sadly, get very little appreciation. They just do what they do, because they are needed. My sister-in-law, Brenda is one of those people. She has a job that requires her to put in many more hours than most people work…sometimes from 8 in the morning to 10 at night. That in itself would be enough to exhaust most people, and it exhausts her too, but when she gets off work, her first concern is her aging parents. She also calls them several times throughout the day to make sure they are ok.

Her mother, my mother-in-law has Alzheimer’s Disease and Chronic Bronchitis, and her dad, my father-in-law has Emphysema. They still live at home, and my father-in-law is my mother-in-law’s primary caregiver. With his own problems, he cannot do this alone, nor would we want him to. We have a great group of family members who help out, but today I want to talk about Brenda. She spends as much time as possible helping them, and I know that they greatly appreciate it.

With her busy schedule, trying to find the extra time for caregiving can be a huge struggle, and that is just the time struggle. There is also the emotional struggle…wanting to be there and yet needing to have your own time too. How do you live with yourself, for needing that time? It is the question that every caregiver lives with every day, because every moment used on self makes you feel guilty, even if you desperately need it. And yet, your body and mind are screaming for a few moments to just stop.

When the times occur that require extra time, it is even more tearing because you know that you are giving all you have, and somehow you will need to dig deeper, to find more. And…you want to because you love them. So the struggle comes when you need to give more time, but there simply is no more time to give. Sometimes, no solution exists. We just have to keep on keeping on. And that is what Brenda does. In the face of the hardest struggles, and the total exhaustion, the guilt over time for self, she just keeps on keeping on.

I had to take my father-in-law to the doctor today for a followup visit after a hand injury. With Alzheimer’s Disease, we cannot leave my mother-in-law home alone, so when we have an appointment where I can’t easily take both of them in, we have someone come in to stay with her. Since her sister, Margee retired, she has been able to come over and sit with her, and often she brings he granddaughter, Stasi along. Stasi enjoys coming for a visit, which is such a blessing.

Teenagers don’t often want to go visit the elderly, much less help out, but Stasi loves coming over to visit my in-laws, and even when I get back with my father-in-law, she is often not really ready to leave. She is always willing to help my father-in-law out, by doing whatever is needed. She has pulled weeds for him, a well as many odd jobs around their house. And this last week, when my niece Machelle was painting window frames, Stasi was right there to help her. Stasi is very simply a very sweet girl, and one who likes to be a blessing.

Stasi, her brother, and her Dad live with her grandmother, Margee, my mother-in-law’s sister. Stasi’s mom passed away in 1998. Stasi helps her grandmother, just like she does my in-laws. She shows a kindness toward others that would make her mother very proud of her. It is hard to lose a parent at any age, but when it is at such a young age, very often life goes on without really missing that parent, but Stasi has never forgotten. Perhaps it is because of grandparents and her dad to keep her in remembrance of what a special woman her mother was. Whatever it is, Stasi has never forgotten and strives to live a life that would make her mom proud of her.

As I said, Stasi often helps out her grandmother, who is on oxygen and has a hard time getting around. It is a monumental task for a young girl to take on, but as I am finding with Stasi, it is one that she does well with. And yet, she still takes pleasure is coming over to my in-law’s house, her great aunt and uncle, and help out with whatever they need. She is a wonderful young lady, as anyone who knows her will attest.

It takes a village to take care of the elderly at home, and the longer I am in this situation, the more I have learned to notice and appreciate those who happily and willingly give of their time, resources, and mostly themselves to make the later part of someone’s life be a little bit better. It is a gift that can never be repaid. How do you thank someone for their kindness and sacrifice in the service of others? You can’t. It is impossible. All you can do is hope that in some small way you have made them aware that you see their kindness and sacrifice…that it has not gone unnoticed…that while you can never repay, you most certainly do appreciate all they do.

Since 1995, Bob and I have been hiking in the Black Hills. Our first hike, was up Harney Peak, and while we were pretty unprepared for that hike, it whet our appetite for hiking, and we have been doing it ever since. It is challenging, but beautiful. And when we get to the top, and have lunch, it’s like eating at the top of the world. From the top you can see 5 states. Harney Peak is and probably always will be our favorite trail. We try to hike it every year.

One of our favorite easy trails is The Mickelson Trail, which runs from Edgemont to Deadwood and is 109 miles long. This trail is part of the rails to trails system. It is a great way to get off the main streets of the Black Hills and get the feel of being close to nature without going too far from civilization.

We have walked sections of the Mickelson Trail several times, but a couple of years age we decided to make it our goal to walk the trail in it’s entirety. When we are done, we will actually walk the entire trail twice, because we walk part way up and then back to our car. In 2009 we completed the Custer to Hill City section. That is 31.2 miles total, going up and back. Then add Harney Peak, and it gave us 37.2 total for that trip. In 2010, we walked the Hill City to Mystic section. That is 29.2 miles up and back. We also did a 4.5 (9 total) mile section south of Custer. With Harney Peak we did a total of 44.2 miles last year. This year we plan to walk the Mystic to Dumont section, which is 17.9 or 35.8 total and with Harney Peak a total of 41.8 miles. We usually spend 5 days hiking.

I know…a lot of you think we are crazy, and even our friends and family have told us that too. I don’t know, maybe we are, but we really got hooked and we totally love it. We are able to see things that most people will never see, because they are off the main roads. It is a very cool experience. Yes, we come away with sore muscles and tired feet sometimes, and sometimes it is really hot out there, but every ache, every pain, and even the heat is worth it. There is no other feeling quite like it. We will keep doing this as long as we can…and I’ve heard of hikers at Harney Peak in their 80’s, so we have lots of time left.

We all do it. Many won’t admit it, but it is true nevertheless. We all hear voices. They are the voices of our past. Our parents, grandparents, teachers, friends…whether they are living or not. Our mind is a big storage facility, a flash drive if you will, that holds the things we have heard, read, seen, tasted and smelled. If you think of a favorite food, that taste will suddenly appear, not as strongly as if you were eating the food, but you know the taste of your favorite food. You know it’s smell. You remember events of your life. Things you have seen, good or bad. They are burned into your memory. You remember stories you have read, or text books, maybe not word for word, but the knowledge you gained is still with you today. And you remember the voices, can even hear them very clearly, of loved ones who have gone on before you, or friends you haven’t seen in a while, teachers from your school days, parents, grandparents, speakers, singers, movie stars and even just the passerby who said something that struck you at the time.

The lessons my dad taught my sisters and me still ring strongly in my head. He told us things like, “Never let the sun go down on your wrath” and “go to church” to teach us the right things to do in life, but the things I remember even more, now that he had gone home to be with the Lord, are the teasing, funny things he said. He would do something, like tug on our hair and then pretend he hadn’t done it. When we would “retaliate” by flicking him with our finger, he would look at us in mock innocence and say, “You struck me!!” We would answer, “I wonder why??” He was an incorrigible tease. He thrived on it, and so did we. His teasing filled our lives with laughter. He never lost that…never. I can still see him coming out of their bedroom in the mornings and the teasing would begin. I would say, “Well, it’s about time!!” And he would shake his finger at me, looking shocked the whole time, that I would say such a thing. Our lives were filled with teasing and innocent pranks. I wouldn’t have it any other way. The pictures they create and the words I hear are with me always. He had an amazing imagination, and you never knew what he might come up with next.

I can also hear the things my favorite teachers said, as well as others who had an influence on me. Sayings with a positive impact are forever tied to the person who said them. I can repeat lines from movies and picture the scene, vividly. Songs I like run clearly through my head, sometimes over and over. Yes, like everyone else, I hear voice…every day. Voices from the past, as well as the present, run like a movie in my head, reminding me of right and wrong…of where I came from…and where I want to be. I would never change the fact that I hear voices.

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