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In Real Life: Wisdom Versus Hindsight and My Personal Pledge

08.21.13 By //
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It’s hard for the heart to heal when you feel like the problem might have been solved. Perhaps that isn’t the case at all, but it certainly feels this way. I hope you all hear my pleas regarding how important hydration is and that you never experience my personal heartbreak surrounding it. Drinking water is such an easy way to keep your body functioning properly and your loved ones healthy and happy. It can be so detrimental when ignored, so I hope you join me in taking the Pledge for hydration, and while you are at it, you can enter to win some amazing prizes. Go to the Nestlé® Pure Life® Purified Water Facebook page and visit the Hydration Movement tab. Pledge to drink more water and sign up to join the Hydration Movement. When you take the Pledge, you will have the option to enter the Sweepstakes for a chance to win the grand prize trip for four (4) to Universal Studios Hollywood or Universal Orlando Resort, or one of the 100 first prizes of a one year’s supply of Nestlé® Pure Life® Purified Water and receive a downloadable coupon to save $1.00 on two (2) .5-Liter or 8 oz. Multi-Packs of Nestlé® Pure Life® Purified Water (15-pack or larger).

Now I realize this blog focuses mainly on DIY + Design, but occasionally I share some snippets of my real life with you, and I think that’s important. It’s not something that I do very often (frankly I’m not that interesting), but sometimes it’s important for me to share some of the moments in my life that I think we all experience, and to keep it real. From being a mom and trying to balance work and life, to dealing with loss and tragedy, or how we live from day to day and what we are up to, I feel like I never want to suggest that everything is always picture perfect and want you to know that my family deals with life issues just like all of yours do. Blogs have a way of accidentally portraying only the happiest and the most beautiful aspects of our lives, and that can leave a normal person feeling deflated and inadequate. Knowing that I too fall into that trap of only sharing stylized snippets of my home and life hurts my heart a little, and so today I would like to share with you some of the heartbreak I carry with me, some details of my very long year, and my very strong advice for anyone willing to listen. This article is long, so if you are with me for the long haul, pull up your bootstraps and hang on tight…. it’s going to get personal, and very long winded.

The image above might seem familiar to those of you who have been around for a while. It’s image from My Week In Pictures for the 3rd week of March, earlier this year. More specifically the week we moved, the week my Grandma passed away, and Easter weekend. I talked then about my heartbreak and the important story that surrounds my Grandmas death. There is much to be gained from all that transpired. The wisdom I have gathered and the lessons I have learned, I will carry with me till the end of my days and do my best to pass on to my children.

High on that list is the importance of adequate hydration. Dehydration was a major contributing factor to my Grandmas death and all of the medical problems she experienced that lead up to it. You see, she comes from a generation of people who embraced soda products and smoking with gusto. Water wasn’t something that they drank if they could help it since coke was so much tastier. Unfortunately she never really adapted to a healthier way of life as she aged, even though the importance of staying hydrated was readily proclaimed by everyone around her over the course of the last 25 years. Your body doesn’t function well if you consume nothing but sugary foods and dark liquids, and that is essentially what she did.

So, a little less than a year before her passing she was supposed to meet Blake and I for breakfast. She was running late – extremely late actually – which was out of character for an old gal who normally arrives 20 minutes early. Of course in true grandma fashion she wasn’t answering her cell phone when I tried calling, but that wasn’t particularly out of the ordinary. That darned thing was sitting in her purse with a dead battery 90% of the time, or stuck on the charger with the power turned off so I can’t say I was expecting her to answer but I tried anyhow while I waited, to no avail. When she finally arrived, I noticed the side mirror on the driver’s side of her car was flapping in the wind. When I asked her about it and if that was why she was late she shrugged as though it was no big deal. In fact I think she responded with something along the lines of ‘she could fix it right up with a little Duct Tape’ which was ridiculous, of course, given the extent of the damage. Still this was not that odd for my Grandma who, probably much like myself, tends to be a tad on the weird and eccentric side. She was an original DIY’er, to be sure, but seriously no amount of tape was going to get this particular job done, and it seemed strange that she wasn’t even bothered by what had happened. Her car was relatively new and very well kept, and this was a decent amount of damage that would be costly.

We sat down to eat and she ordered orange juice with her meal. It was an odd choice since she has only ordered orange juice at a restaurant maybe a handful of times in her life, and she hates it every time. But like I said, the gal was an odd duck (one of my favorite things about her) and acting out of character is hard to pin on someone who acts out of character most of the time. She seemed tired or distracted this particular day which again wasn’t that strange since she frequently wakes during the night and has trouble going back to sleep. Some of her medications mess with her sleep schedule so this happens on occasion. She was ‘staring out in space’ a bit so I asked what she was thinking about, and again she just shrugged and said she wasn’t thinking about anything. It’s awfully hard to not think about anything, so I asked if she was tired and hadn’t slept well, she said she slept like a corpse (her usual and completely morbid response to this kind of thing).

We finished our meal and I took Blake to the bathroom while she went up front to settle our bill. When I came out she was still standing at the register, so I asked if she still needed to pay. She looked at the cashier as if she was waiting to sign her receipt and the gal behind the counter said ‘nope she’s all paid’. I figured she was just waiting on us but it was odd she didn’t move out of line for the next person. Social niceties weren’t always her thing. As we were walking out she said her pants had fallen down. At this point I actually noticed what she was wearing and it was definitely a bit out there. Laundry wasn’t so much her thing as she had gotten older, it had become hard for her to do. So seeing her in a strange getup was typical when she got to the bottom of the clothing barrel. She was wearing purple pajama type pants that tie at the waist, and a red top (that wasn’t buttoned correctly). With her colored glasses, lavender always looks light blue which to her is a neutral so I could see how she was making the stretch there. When she said that her pants had fallen all the way down around her ankles and she was standing there half naked I felt so badly that she had that embarrassing experience and we walked her to her car on our way out. She got in her car and I was chatting with her about our plans for the next day and she wasn’t looking directly at me. She tends to be soft spoken, so with her head turned to the side I just couldn’t hear her and I kept asking her to repeat what she said. I was getting frustrated and finally asked her to look at me while she was talking so I could hear her and she continued to look at me for a second and turn away. It was like she couldn’t focus on the task long enough to complete it.

Suddenly alarm bells were going off in my head like crazy and I am thinking she has perhaps had a stroke. Since she was still talking with me and wasn’t necessarily ‘out of it’, I wasn’t sure she had, and in truth I had no idea what to do or how to tell…but I didn’t want her driving, just in case. I gently suggested that I thought something might be wrong and that I should drive her home. She argued with me for a bit and finally agreed to come with me. I was thinking she should head to her doctor and see what was going on so I tried in vain to find my phone and call my mom or my sister, (she was staying with them at the time), but my phone had fallen under the seat where I couldn’t reach it. I drove her home as fast as possible and figured I would see what they thought, since her behavior was only a hint of something amiss, and not a dead giveaway. By the time we got there her mouth was drooping on one side and there was no question that she had had a stroke. We called an ambulance and followed behind as they took her to this areas hospital and stroke center. After they ran some tests they found that she had not one but 5 mini strokes, and had in fact had 3 prior strokes at some point in the previous years. The doctor said that she was lucky to have been with us because most people don’t recognize stroke symptoms at their onset and often dismiss them as peculiar one time things. For example stumbling or falling down and taking a second to shake it off can actually suggest a stroke, and frankly something as mild as that isn’t generally obvious to anyone as being a major medical issue. Even though I just listed a number of strange things that she did during our breakfast, not a single one on it’s own or even combined with a few of the other things was obvious to me as being a stroke. And let me tell you that I am a walking internet research database when it comes to medical stuff. And I am very detail oriented and notice nuanced behaviors in people, and still… not obvious until she almost drove away. Can you imagine if she actually had? She could have killed someone in her car or died herself. It could have been a major tragedy. I urge you all to do a bit of research on strokes. It only takes a minute and you could save someone’s life. At the very least, I can tell you that the earlier you catch it, the more likely the doctor can reverse the damage. Our doctor said that strokes caught within 3 hours of their occurrence have the highest reversal success rate and best recovery possibility.

Anyhow, this started a long and windy road of rehabilitation for her that focused primarily on the difficulty she was having with swallowing and walking or moving around. She had very little muscle mass and what she did have was not strong. She was very clear of mind and though she was relatively quiet from that point on, when she spoke she was sharp as a knife. She had no difficulty with memory and was very aware of her surroundings. The damage that had been done was mainly to her mobility, aside from the swallowing thing, which was a major problem as she was now unable to eat anything without the inherent danger from choking. She was released from the hospital after 10 days and was moved to a nursing facility (Eskaton) to continue her recovery. While she was there she did begin to hallucinate a bit, which we were told is not uncommon after brain injuries (which having a stroke is similar to), and they had great hope that this would recede as she rehabilitated.

A major portion of her continued treatment was nutrition based and was to ensure she consumed enough protein to rebuild her muscle and enough water to help system function and deliver those nutrients throughout. A lack of these things for most of her life led to her debilitated state and caused difficulty for her heart to function properly and she developed irregular heartbeat. That was likely the cause of her blood clots that led to her strokes.

Over the next couple of months she recovered miraculously with occupational therapy and nutritional therapy with a focus on swallowing and functions of the mouth. She worked her way back to eating normal solid foods and water, from purees and thickened liquids, and from a wheelchair to fully walking using a cane just for a bit of added balance. She still retained her hallucinations but they were mostly of strange animals she would see in the trees, like bears, large snakes or badgers, none of which live in this area. Since her logic sector had been damaged she wasn’t able to reason with us to understand that she was seeing things that weren’t there, that wouldn’t ever even be there, and that we weren’t in fact in imminent danger from a family of bears hanging out in the trees.

It was frustrating process sometimes but a drop in the bucket compared to what she had overcome and what could have been. We had a nurse come daily to help with her daily needs and Blake and I were there almost every day so she could watch him run and jump and play. He was her true love and nothing made her happier. I was pregnant with the bird, so while it was hot outside we swam there almost every day and everything was heading in a positive direction.

Now my mom, my sister, and I all have fairly strong personalities and are very mothering – perhaps even smothering after a while. After months of us harping on her to drink her water and eat her food or exercise her legs and deny her candy and coke, she began to resent us. She felt like we were watching her every move and she wanted her freedom. She had lived alone most of her life and this was miserable for her. She wanted her cola and her frappe’s from McDonald’s and didn’t want to eat anymore chicken.

She decided she wanted to live down the road at this beautiful assisted living facility and have her own apartment there. Meals were in a restaurant type setting and she could order as she wished, anytime she wished. And that is precisely what she did. She ate candy, drank coke, and consumed lot’s of things with salt literally poured over the top. She was drinking absolutely no water whatsoever, and it began to take a toll. She was happier and ‘living her life how she wished’ but her health began to decline almost immediately.

We began to have issues with her wandering out of the facility and trying to cross a busy street so they put a wander band on her, which sounds an alarm if she exits. Her hallucinations morphed into full conversations with nonexistent people and even a full fledged romance (in her mind) along with some adopted children and RV road trips, with them regularly. Within 3 months of her moving to this place, she was no longer bathing, no longer able to go to the bathroom ‘in time’ and wearing adult diapers. She was unable to get down to the dining area without being pushed in a wheelchair. She was still having occupational therapy and eating protein on occasion so the culprit was most easily linked to her lack of water. Her organs weren’t functioning well, her body not getting nutrients and blood flow, and her brain began to bleed. She developed congestive heart failure and she could no longer process the fluids she did drink. She was moved into hospice care, which is considered end of life care, and she was in danger of complete heart failure.

She moved into the home in August and passed away the following March. She had come so far over the previous summer after her strokes, and was virtually stroke symptom free. To lose her after such an amazing amount of effort by everyone (including her amazing helpers at the assisted living home) to help her heal and make those important life changes (like staying hydrated) was to me the greatest heartbreak of all. It was so obvious that her choice to live as she wished for the remainder of her years, was ultimately the cause of her not living for any longer than a few months.

I’m so grateful she was with us when the bird was born, and for those few months after, but I know she would have been sad to know she wouldn’t be around to see him grow, like she was for Blake. She was such a big part of Blake’s life from the time he was born and her loss has affected him so terribly. I still have trouble wrapping my mind around the fact that she is gone. Every time Penn reaches a new milestone, like saying mama or crawling, I reach for my phone to call her. She was there for almost every single one of Blake’s milestones for the first 5 years of his life, and to have her miss something like the first day of Kindergarten feels shattering.

It’s hard for the heart to heal when you feel like the problem might have been solved. I hope you all hear me… it’s so very important to stay hydrated and the consequences of dehydration are dire especially if you are a high risk candidate for heart problems. I realize this was the longest article in the history of articles, here on TDC, but it hits so very close to home. I hope that the 2 of you who might have made it all the way to the end take the Pledge for hydration with me. I give you a virtual high five if you do and a great big squishy hug. No more loss for problems easily solved.

Disclosure: This article is brought to you by Nestlé® Pure Life® Purified Water, all stories of heartbreak and hydration are 100% my own. 

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