Slice of Life

In time of need, friends are there with advice, help and hugs

ktanner@thetribunenews.comFebruary 26, 2014 

Kathe Tanner

When we were wrestling with insurance problems after Husband Richard’s stroke in December, friend P.J. Webb reminded us, “I have been there.”

A longtime caregiver for recovering spouse Warner Leighton, who died in 2005, P.J. recalled of their insurance woes, “I did not ask the right questions. It cost us a lot over a long period of time … you are especially hard hit when you are in a rural area with not a lot of participating providers.”

She remembers that caregiving is complicated, exhausting, time consuming and very rewarding, as you try to keep the patient safe while tending to medicines, meals, dressing, showering, therapy and so much more, 24/7.

P.J. urged me to “be extra careful during this time not to lift anything too heavy, not to be distracted while driving, (or while) going up and down stairs.” She said that, in her caregiving days, she “was terribly distracted by everything going on, and I had to bring myself back into the present to keep myself from having an accident or tripping.”

Her advice was golden and timely, as were comments from other friends with caregiving and medical experience.

Most people, including us, only discover the details about a serious physical condition after someone they love is faced with that diagnosis.

Caring Cambrians, who provide the heart and soul of North Coast living, have taught us a lot about strokes, caregiving and life. They bring us chicken soup and cookies, keep us grounded, lavish us with kindness and give us hope and smiles when there’s not a lot of either to spare.

Each call, email, card or posting on social media was a loving hug in disguise, wrapped in offers of help. Shared stories and advice about similar experiences have been enlightening, encouraging and spot on.

Connie Jordan was a caregiver for her husband, Richard “Buck” Jordan, for 28 years until his death in 2012. They’d been married for more than a half-century.

She gently assured me that things “will get better,” and said that, from her caregiver’s vantage point, “the whole experience really was a pleasure. He was a marvelous patient. We always felt he was going to get better. And many times he did.”

Ruth Flemming said caregiving taught her what’s important and what isn’t. “It’s amazing the things you thought were essential that you really don’t have to do,” she mused.

And we’ve learned so much.

If heart surgery now is considered a plumbing job for people, then stroke recovery is human rewiring, as the brain finds other paths for transmitting information — such as, “pick up your feet or you’ll fall down.”

After a stroke, those messages take longer to connect, rather like a phone call from Connecticut to New Mexico that goes by way of Oregon, Maine, Florida, Paris and Rio. The brain’s original lines are down, so to speak, and new ones must be strung.

Dear friends with medical backgrounds — Gail and David McBride, Gloria Cusamano and others — advised us and urged us to insist on having intense physical and speech therapy for Husband Richard as soon as possible, since the early stages after a stroke are when the brain does the most efficient “rewiring.”

Others also offered help, sympathy, prayers and hugs. My newspaper colleagues gathered ’round, with one couple even offering me a key to their San Luis Obispo home, so I’d have a nearby place to rest or nap, whether they were home or not. We even heard from former associates from our long-ago bakery days, such as now-retired florist Barry Karlskint, who had a stroke 14 years ago and shared his experiences and insights.

On this exhausting journey, we’ve also uncovered helpful little hints for all of us. For instance, swallowing problems made it difficult for Husband Richard to take most medicines. But put the pills in applesauce and zip! Down they go.

I’m no dummy, so recently, when it felt as if a pill was stuck in my gullet, I ate a big spoonful of applesauce. Guess what? The pressure and pain quickly vanished.

This has been an extremely humbling time. So many wonderful people. Such enormous kindness. Such helpful advice. You’ve made a difficult situation so much easier, and we can never thank you enough.

Help for caregivers

Find information and assistance at:

  • The Cambria Connection, 927-1654, www.thecambriaconnection.org.
  • Cambria Adult Resources Education and Support (CARES), 927-4290, and the Cambria Senior Nutrition Program, 927-1268, both at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
  • Area Agency on Aging/Senior Connection, 541-0384, www.centralcoastseniors.org. Ask for the Senior Information Guide.
  • San Luis Obispo Senior Services, 627-1760, and Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program (HICAP), (800) 434-0222, www.centralcoastseniors.org.
  • Coast Caregiver Resource Center, (888-488-6555), www.coastcrc.org, based in Santa Barbara, but with some support groups in San Luis Obispo.

Kathe Tanner is a reporter for The Tribune and The Cambrian. Her column appears biweekly. Email her at ktanner@thetribunenews.com and follow her on Twitter @CambriaReporter.

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