My role as a caregiver was subtle at first.

But in week three her right femur and right hip broke, and during surgery her spine collapsed. Now, I don’t care if you’re a seasoned caregiver or a novice like I was, that was a real nightmarish event.  But I think what happened after the bone breaks, will make you smile. A chain of events started, instigated by Annie, that encouraged me to go against every grain in the book, but, you know what, it all worked out  in her favor. And this is a perfect example of what a caregiver should not do. We got lucky.  When her oncologist, Dr. Moore Sr. showed up at the hospital the next morning, somehow he heard the story of how we got to the hospital, laughed out loud, and said that was the craziest thing he’d ever heard of. The following event was so typical of Annie. As bad as it was, we laughed and we loved– all important ingredients to Annie’s well-being.

 July 16, 2008: When I woke up this morning I was feeling a bit uneasy, but wasn’t sure why.

As I fixed her some breakfast and gave her medications to her, a strange feeling came over me. Over the past few days I had become increasingly aware that we were now approaching the end of the first month post prognosis, and pushing the limit of what science gave as a reasonable expectation of her life expectancy.  It was as if a lingering fog was all around us and not willing to dissipate. My senses were on high alert, but I didn’t have a clue what I was looking for. It seemed for the moment we were living day by day, or perhaps hour by hour.

Annie had a 1:00 P.M. appointment this afternoon to see Dr. Lucas for a follow up on her hand.  I wasn’t too worried about it, as I had cleaned and bandaged it several times. It always looked good and appeared to be healing well.

It was around noon when Annie decided to go upstairs and get dressed for the appointment. Due to all the pain medications she was taking, her fractured femurs, and her low platelets, I walked up the stairs with her to make sure she didn’t fall. I held onto the rail with my left hand, keeping my right arm around her waist. When we arrived upstairs she went into the bathroom to have a quick shower. We had a chair in the shower stall where she could sit and get washed. When she was finished I helped her out of the shower and wiped her dry.

With Annie wearing a draped towel, we walked over to her walk-in closet where she picked out a nice outfit, then sat on the bed while I helped her get dressed. When she got up, she walked over to the foot of our bed with me by her side. I was standing beside her at the foot of our bed while she was looking in the mirror and combing her hair. As she turned to the right, she didn’t pick up her right foot. She tried to slide it on our plush green carpet. I heard a snap then heard Annie scream. I immediately grabbed her and held her steady.

She was crying out, “Oh no, I didn’t need this!” Her voice was very audible, and then she said, “This can’t be happening to me!” “What am I going to do?”

I helped her onto the bed using pillows to take the pressure off her right leg and hip. I remember saying in a soft voice, “Don’t move Annie, I’m going downstairs to get you some more pain medication.”

Andre was sitting at the dining room table, and didn’t know what to do. He heard the commotion upstairs and asked me how he could help.
I told him to stay put for a few minutes, while I ran back upstairs with three 15 milligram immediate release morphine tablets, and gave them to her with some water. I knew it would take about fifteen minutes for the pills to start working.

While waiting for the morphine to kick in, a couple of things were running through my mind. I’d been trying to keep her off her feet as much as possible due to her fractures, but as soon as I turned my back, she would be up moving around. She knew the potential consequences of walking, but being an extremely independent lady before the cancer she misguidedly thought she would be fine, and I suppose I did too.

My position as her caregiver was not to bark orders at her, but to guide her as best I could based on my understanding of what we were dealing with at the time.

I’d learned many lessons from Dr. Moore Sr., and knew the potential consequences of this event. With her bone marrow being over eighty percent myeloma, and being in stage three with her cancer, she could very well be in “End-stage multiple myeloma.” It was a horrible thought, and was now becoming part of my natural thought process. I knew if it were to be the case, her bones would just start breaking, and chemotherapies, blood transfusions, and life-sustaining medications would just stop working. That was a real possibility, but it really didn’t matter what I or anyone else thought.

Annie was on an unchartered journey, with a strong will to survive, and in my heart I knew she had only just begun to fight.

I purposely waited for the morphine to take effect before calling the paramedics. She was already on plenty of pain medication, but when the bones broke she needed more. I wanted to make sure her pain medication had taken full effect before EMS arrived. I knew when they started moving her it would be very traumatic and painful for her.

When I told her I was going downstairs to call the paramedics, she said, “I don’t want to go to the hospital!” She indicated that she wanted to go see Dr. Lucas and make sure her hand was okay.

I looked at her and said, “Are you serious?” She was very serious.

I tried explaining to her that I couldn’t get her down the stairs. It would be 11 steep steps down, a right turn, and then 3 more.

Her tears were flowing when she said, “Please Bobby, you can do it, Andre can help.”

Right or wrong, I just wanted to respect her wishes.

At this very moment, I sensed Annie’s life was reeling out of control. Every day just seemed to get worse. As for me, it was just a deep heartfelt pain seeing the woman I loved for so many years suffering in such an unimaginable way.

I agreed, and gave Andre a shout-out. He ran up the stairs and into the room. Luckily, he’s a tall and very strong English lad. When I asked him to help me take Annie downstairs, he looked at me like I was out of my mind. I told him I knew what he was thinking, but we were going to get her downstairs, into the vehicle, and take her to see Dr. Lucas.

I could see the pain in his eyes as he stared at Annie. He lowered his voice, and in a barely audible whisper said “Okay mate.”

I called my daughter Melissa, who was her mom’s nurse at Family Medicine East, and worked for Dr. Terry Klein, Annie’s newly assigned family doctor. I told her about her mom’s accident and that I suspected some bone breakage. When I said we were taking her mom to see Dr. Lucas she was a bit resistant at first, but when I told her it was her momma’s wish she immediately got on board with the decision.

I called the receptionist at Dr. Lucas’s office and told her of the situation. She told me to get her there as quick as possible and to be very careful while moving Annie.

Caregiving Doesn't Come With Instructions | The Caregiver Space Blog

Annie, giving us a big thumbs up

I should have known Melissa would use her job to network this event. Dr. Lucas was waiting for Annie and seemed to know the whole story when we arrived.

My strategy for moving her down the stairs was to gently help her stand on the floor with no weight on her right leg. Her right arm would be over my left shoulder, while her left arm would be over Andre’s right shoulder. Getting her to the stairs was relatively easy; but getting her down the stairs was a whole different issue. When we got to the stairs I looked down, then looked to my left at Andre. His eyes had an expression of apprehension, but I knew he was okay. Still, I got the sense that this was going to be a daunting task.

As we navigated our way down the stairs, very slowly, one gentle step at a time, I hung onto the rail tightly with my right hand, which gave us all a sense of stability.  The further we went down, the more confidence we gained with every step we took. We were able to move her with minimal pain, and surprisingly everything went okay. I knew once we got to the bottom of the stairs it was a simple left turn, then about five feet to the front door.

From that point on it wasn’t too difficult getting her to the car.  What I failed to realize was that we had a large Toyota 4Runner that sat very high off the ground. Getting her into the vehicle would have to be thought out very carefully.

When we arrived at the vehicle the first thing I realized was that I didn’t have the keys. I had Andre put his right arm around her waist and hold her stable, so there was no pressure on what I thought to be a fractured leg, while I ran in the house and grabbed the keys.

When I got back to the vehicle it took me less than a minute to plan a strategy. After we positioned Annie with her back to the front seat, I held her in place while Andre climbed into the back seat. He reached out over the front seat and put his hands under her arms at her shoulders. He was able to lift her just enough that she could place her good hip on the seat while I gently lifted her legs into the vehicle. It wasn’t easy, but we were able to get her in the vehicle without much pain. During this process I knew we had to be very careful as her good leg had a fractured femur too, but fortunately it was holding up.

It was a six-mile drive to Founders Circle, and I think she felt about every bump along the way. When we arrived I was able to park in front of the doors and go inside to get a wheelchair. Getting her out of the vehicle was just as hard as getting her in, and this time all the pressure was on her broken leg. It was challenging, but we managed fine.

Once inside, I filled out a couple of forms, then took her straight back to where she was put inside a patient’s room. A nurse came in, took her vital signs, and asked a few questions.

A few minutes later Dr. Lucas walked in, sat down in front of Annie, and started removing the bandages from her hand.

He said, “I understand you have hurt your leg.” Before Annie could even reply, and before he finished unwrapping her bandage, he instructed the nurse to take her to the X-ray room.  He wanted an X-ray of her leg and hip immediately.

I pushed Annie down three short hallways to the X-ray room, escorted by the nurse.  From that point the nurse pushed her into the X-ray room and I followed.  The X-ray machine had a very long and hard flat surface. With her diseased bones and fragile condition, I knew it was going to be very difficult for her to lay down on that hard surface. The two X-ray technicians and I managed okay, but it was very painful for her.

I saw it as simply another sad reality of her cancer.

I’m sure the technicians had no idea what to expect, but I suspected it wasn’t going to be good as I had heard the bone break. As it turned out, it was very serious. The socket on her right hip, which the femur was attached to, had completely broken off taking some of the hip with it. Her femur was cracked down toward her knee. The X-ray technicians, obviously seeing the seriousness of the injury, didn’t move her off the table until Dr. Lucas and an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Pence, had a chance to look at the X-rays. From that point on things started moving rather quickly.

It wasn’t long before they brought a bed into the X-ray room. At that point I started focusing on making sure her transition to the bed was completed without making her injury worse. The bed was lowered to the same height as the X-ray table, and the two X-ray technicians and I worked as a team to get Annie on the bed with as little pain as possible.

She was then moved to a separate room where they started IV fluids to keep her hydrated and to help stabilize her body. The nurse came into the room and told me that Dr. Pence had been in consultation with the hospital and Dr. Moore, Sr. As soon as a room was available, Annie would be transported to the cancer ward, Eight Tower, Wesley Medical Center. While in the room, Dr. Lucas brought in Dr. Pence and formally introduced us to him. He told us he has known Dr. Pence for a long time and that he is an excellent orthopedic surgeon.

It was then that Dr. Pence showed me a paper copy of the X-ray of Annie’s hip. It was shocking to look at!

A part of the femur up near the top was broken off and had jagged edges protruding out near the surface of the skin. The top part of the broken femur was still attached to the hip socket, which had broken off and still had a small part of the hip attached.  The femur and socket were leaning away from the main part of the hip and seemed to be suspended by air. Not long after they left the room, the paramedics arrived and transported Annie to the hospital while Andre and I followed in the car.

I probably should have called the paramedics, but as it turned out, we did the right thing. EMS has a protocol and always straps the patient to the gurney. That would have been very painful for Annie, as no one knew the extent of her injuries.

Being moved around by two guys that loved her as much as Andre and me, she was never in danger of getting hurt.

Emergency rooms are very busy, and in Annie’s condition, being moved from bed to bed, as patients often are, would have been very difficult and painful for her. Our lack of understanding of how bad the situation was allowed us to take our time and handle her with care. I was starting to learn that I might have many difficult decisions to make, and once made, I needed to stay the course. Sometimes, what seems to be the wrong decision turns out to be a good strategy.  We were very fortunate that, in this case, it worked for Annie.

Written by Bob Harrison
Bob Harrison was raised in the heart of the Redwoods in the far northwest comer of northern California. The little town of Crescent City, California was located near some of the world’s tallest trees, with the west shoreline being the Pacific Ocean. Bob spent most of his time fishing the two local rivers where some of the finest Steelhead and Salmon fishing is located. He was also well known up and down the north coast as an avid motorcycle racer, winning several hundred trophies, and one Oregon State title. Bob graduated from Del Norte High School with the class of 1966, then spent a one year stint at the College of the Redwoods, before having a strong sense of patriotism and joining the United States Air Force. After three years of service, Bob met Annie, the love of his life, and they got married in England in 1972. Bob’s love of country pushed him on to what turned out to be a very successful career, retiring in 1991. Bob’s last military assignment was Wichita, Kansas, a place he and Annie decided to call home. Together they developed and ran two very successful antique businesses until the stranger knocked on their door and changed their lives forever; “Because of Annie.”

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