What would you do if you woke your wife up one morning to get her washed and dressed for the day–“And she was blind.”

Welcome to my world! Annie was fighting a nightmarish battle with an aggressive cancer that was not only taking her down, but beating me down too. We were struggling on a daily basis just to get through each day. And if anything could go wrong, it did!

Part One Of–“What Has God Got To Do With It” is full of love and takes care giving on my part to a whole new level. I was so upset–making decisions as fast as I could and without any reliable understanding of what I was even dealing with. That was a tough time for the both of us, but our only choice was to keep moving forward…What else could we do?

August 15, 2008

Annie and I had been moving along, struggling through each day. Today the perfect storm seemed to hit. Events were about to unfold, that would leave Dr. Moore Sr. scratching his head in dismay, and it appeared the tide was starting to turn in a way, that I’d never have thought possible.

I rolled off the sofa around 7:00 A.M., woke up Annie, put the coffee on, then went to her closet and picked out a couple of outfits for her to choose from.

The past few days she’d been feeling worse than normal, but with no fever, congestion, or obvious symptoms, I assumed it was from all the radiation and chemotherapy. This was to be her tenth and last day of radiation.

I walked over toward her hospital bed, and from a distance of about 10 feet away, I held the two outfits up and asked her which one she would like to wear today.

She looked my way, staring at me, but not saying a word.

I said, “Annie, are you okay?”

She simply said, “I can’t see them.”

I responded, “What do you mean you can’t see them?”

She said it once again. “I can’t see them.”

As I walked over to the bed, I could feel the anxiety flowing through my veins.

I asked her if she could see them now, and she said, “No.”

So I laid each outfit out across her lap and let her touch them, explaining what they were.

She said “Bobby I can make out the color, but I’m not sure what they are.”

I don’t remember the top, but she picked her yellow track pants out to wear, which were nice and very comfortable.

That was one of the few times over the thirty months she didn’t have a morning wash. I got her dressed and into the wheelchair. By then, it was around 8:00 A.M. I pushed her to the dining room table, made her some toast and placed it on a colorful plate thinking she’d be able to see it better. I set the toast down in front of her with a glass of milk, and while making my toast, she asked me for her milk.

I said “Annie, it’s right in front of you.”

Her little hand was moving around trying to locate the milk, but she couldn’t see it, or find it. Alarm bells were going off everywhere in my head, but I had no idea what was going on.

I decided that after breakfast, we’d go to her appointment early as her radiology/oncologist was Dr. Rine. He had an extensive knowledge of blood cancer, and my thoughts were he’d know what to do.

At approximately 8:45 A.M. our doorbell rang. It was a nurse from the home health agency making a well-being check on Annie. She’d been over a few times before.

After she walked through the door, she walked over to Annie at the kitchen table saying “Hi Annie.” Annie sat in her chair quietly, motionless, and didn’t make any attempt to communicate with the nurse. The nurse sat down in one of the dining room chairs to the left and beside Annie.

She said to Annie, “Do you remember me?”

Annie replied: “No.”

I spoke up telling the nurse that she probably can’t see your face well enough to recognize you.

The nurse asked me what I meant, so I told her about the clothes and milk.

The nurse and I were having a discussion about her condition when Annie abruptly said, “I don’t want to go to the hospital!”

The nurse told her she probably should go get checked.

Annie looked her way saying, “But I don’t want to go.”

For whatever reason, the nurse went against her own better judgment and said to me, “Why not give it until Monday, and see how she’s doing then?”

I was shocked at her request, and said something to the effect; she can’t even see you, surely you see the seriousness of this event, knowing her illness.

The nurse then asked Annie if she would go to the hospital for Bobby.

I was very vocal when I said, “For me, this is not about me! Annie is very ill.”

At that point I basically dismissed her saying, “I will take care of Annie.” This was a Friday, and knowing how fast blood counts can drop, I was concerned that it was a blood issue, requiring immediate intervention. I felt bad for dismissing the nurse, but she had to know in this case Annie’s wants were secondary to her needs.

Around 9:15 A.M., we left to go get her last radiation therapy. Annie was pretty limp, and weaving in and out of consciousness, but with some difficulty, she still responded to my commands. It was tough getting her in and out of the vehicle as we were still dealing with the diseased bones. With her head hanging limp against her right shoulder area, I had to hold her head up with my left hand and push the wheelchair with my right hand. That worked okay inside the hospital with the hard floors, but outside I didn’t have the strength to do that on rough surfaces, so I used my left waist line as my left hand. This was just another one of those sad realities of being a caregiver.

It seemed, as I crept further into the world of cancer, I was literally being schooled on just how cold and cruel the world of cancer can be.

As Annie’s caregiver, I didn’t expect much help from others, and as a rule didn’t ask for it. But I was learning just how important of a role caregiver’s play in caring for cancer patients. In Annie’s case, I was now her eyes, ears, and voice to the world. I was aware that I had made some mistakes over the past two months. However, my role as her caregiver would not be defined by a mistake; but it could be defined by lack of trying, or caring for Annie. I wasn’t going to let that happen.

When we got inside the radiology clinic, a nurse took one look at Annie and moved her straight back to the treatment area. When she returned, she said they’d made Annie comfortable, and Dr. Rine would call me back to the treatment area when he was done.

I was sitting in a large waiting room, staring out a wall of windows at people coming and going. I saw one couple holding hands and loving on each other. At that moment, I felt the first signs of grief coming on. At this point, I knew with certainty our lives were going to change forever. All I could do now, was to care for her, and give her as much love as humanly possible. While my mind was wandering, I was relieved to hear the nurses voice and then see her arm motioning me to come over, so she could escort me back to the treatment area.

She took me through a couple of large doors, into a room where Annie was waiting, bundled up with a blanket, her head hanging limp, and sitting in her wheelchair. Dr. Rine was standing a bit to her left, arms folded, looking down, and staring at her. He was a tall man and had a strong presence about him.

My words were quivering when I looked at him and said, “I think she needs some blood.”

He answered back, “I think it’s a whole lot more than that.”

I could see the concern in his eyes, and hear it in his voice. He asked me if I’d like him to call the laboratory and get her blood drawn for analysis. I told him we had a 11:15 A.M appointment at the cancer center for laboratory work and I was going to go ahead and take her there.

We left radiology and drove to the cancer center, which was only a couple of minutes away. When we got there, she was basically non-responsive. I struggled, but got her out of the vehicle, into the wheelchair and wheeled her into the cancer center, where we took the elevator to the third floor.

Shortly after I checked her in, we were directed back to the treatment area. It’s a very large area and has many rooms that will hold two or three folks at a time, while taking chemotherapy or other treatments. Annie was placed in a room by herself, where she was immediately surrounded by nurses.

As luck would have it, Dr. Moore Sr. was off that day. A group of nurses looked at Annie and told me to take her to the emergency room immediately.

I said “no!” I wanted them to draw her blood for a CBC, and show me her blood counts as she was at her scheduled appointment. My concern was, that if her white count was down, being around a bunch of sick patients was very dangerous for her. It was only two weeks ago when her white count was under one, that she essentially had no immunity to germs. It can take a long time to see a doctor in the emergency room and it’s always full of people with various illnesses.

One of the treatment nurses walked down the hallway and asked Dr. Moore Sr.’s nurse to come visit with me.

When nurse Jenny arrived, she stooped down beside Annie’s wheelchair and said, “Annie, do you know who this is?”

Annie said in a low whispered voice, “Sandra, Sandra,” who’s one of Annie’s sister’s in England.

Nurse Jenny said to me, “She doesn’t know who I am.”

I responded by saying, “She doesn’t know where she is either.”

Jenny looked up at me with puzzled eyes, then stood up and started walking down the hallway to placed a call to Dr. Moore Sr., who immediately ordered a CBC on Annie.

Her blood was drawn a few minutes later, and having an independent lab on the hallway, we’d see the results within fifteen minutes.

In the hospital or emergency room even under extreme conditions, it can take over an hour to get the results back.

When nurse Jenny received the results she took immediate action and called Dr. Moore Sr., informing him that her blood counts were terribly low. Her HGB was 5, while the normal range is 12 to 16. A number that low, would indicate the vital organs were probably not getting enough oxygen to sustain them over a long period of time. Her platelets, blood-clotting mechanism were at 2,000, whereas the normal range is 150,000 to 450,000. She was at high risk of bleeding or having a brain hemorrhage. Her white count was very low too, which elevated her risk of infection. Her potassium and magnesium levels were well below normal. She was also extremely dehydrated, which is an emergency and can become life threatening over a short period of time. Annie was in trouble and we all knew it.

Once I heard the results, the words I heard this morning from the Home Healthcare nurse could not be erased. I couldn’t even imagine the consequences of leaving her in that condition over the weekend. I couldn’t have lived with myself if I had kept her home and something happened to her. I sensed she was very ill, but I had no idea it was this bad.

After Dr. Moore Sr. received the results, he had the nurses scrambling. They got her on a bed and attempted to start IV fluids. The first nurse tried to start the IV, but the minute she put the needle in, the vein collapsed. She tried a couple of times, but the veins wouldn’t hold. The next nurse that tried was unsuccessful too. They called another nurse over, who was said to be one of the best when dealing with difficult IVs, and she was successful. Those three nurses were highly skilled nurses and starting IVs is part of their daily routine. Sometimes, when a person is badly dehydrated, this is what happens. Veins can collapse as fast as the needle goes in and once the magic line of being too dehydrated is crossed, it can be very challenging, bringing a person back.

I learned something that morning, something I shall never forget. You cannot drink your way out of dehydration and must have IV fluids. Without the immediate intervention Annie received, we may have crossed the threshold of no return within the next few hours. The consequences could easily have been fatal.

Just after the nurse got the IV started, Melissa showed up. I’d called and told her what was going on, while requesting her presence as soon as possible. After we spoke for a few minutes, I dismissed myself and went outside the cancer center and sat on the lawn in front of a big oak tree. I called my friend Darrell, and cried like a baby. I always called him or his wife Jan, when I was struggling. By this time, it was afternoon and with all the anxiety I’d just been through, I guess I needed to have a good cry to release some of my emotions.

It’s very difficult watching someone you love continually living on the edge, especially when you don’t know which way they’re going to fall. My mind was on overload due to my limited understanding of the disease, and seeing the affects it was having on Annie. She had already lived past her prognosis and I knew her situation was bad. So the question, “Is this it,” was always on my mind. It was becoming apparent that cancer sets the scenes for many emotional traps. I was starting to understand how well I dealt with them would define my success or failure as her caregiver. And I truly believe, in my mind, failure was not an option.

Part Two Of–“What God Has To Do With It” will follow a few days after part one. And then you will see an event unfold that if I had not been there, I would never have believed it. Annie was a lifelong atheist.

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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  1. As I deal with my wife of 45 years and her dementia I can see a coming time when I will have a body that my wife no longer lives in. At that point I will have a crisis of belief. As a retired minister I seek God in everything and He has always been there when I needed Him. Where can I go when there is no hope, I can go to my faith and hold onto that anchor to help me navigate the deep cold water of dementia caregiver. I look forward to the remaining parts of this article, because I can see me one day sitting under a tree crying and calling out for help and hope in my hopelessness. thanks Bob.

    • I’ve tried to respond to your reply many times. Finally I can. Willie your reply is inspiring and sad at the same time. You know where we seek shelter form the cold, faith. We turn it over to a higher power and he will carry the burden for us. Speak to her in your old familiar voice, play her some of the songs you shared together. When the time comes she just might surprise you. Willie, the hope lies in eternal life, which I know you believe in. But dementia does test ones faith, which is what it’s supposed to do. There was a period after Annie died that I didn’t care about heaven, I just wanted her back. But once I accepted her death, just like dementia, I was okay. Although dementia is much more complicated than death. knew where she was, and I hope to see her again some day. Two weeks ago I started teaching Sunday school classed for the preschool kids. Going okay, so far, I give them a short lesson then we play. I know as a retired minister, your way advanced over me on the matters of Christianity, but I know what I know. Got my training wheels on.


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