It has been a while since I posted anything, but I was involved…
spinal xray

I work with a lot of different people to help bring attention to the disabled in our area and to especially shine a light on the caregivers that care for the disabled.

But it the midst of doing for others and caring for my wife, I was knocked down myself. I fell into an open manhole at a City of Albuquerque Recycling station on July 27, 2014. That started a new kind of life for me. I went from being able to pick my wife up and put her in the car and to lift her from bed to her chair and countless other tasks to laying beside her in our bed and hurting—–a LOT!

The fall did some damage to my spinal column and one vertebrae slipped a small amount to start putting pressure on the nerves to my legs. The pain was excruciating! I suddenly found it hard to walk without gasping at the sharp jabs travelling up my spine. I also found I could no longer lift my wife into her chair or move her in bed or a myriad of other tasks that I would do before without any effort.

I not only sustained a severe injury that eventually  caused so much trouble for me that it required surgery, but both my wife and I sustained a severe blow to the quality of life that we had enjoyed before. Our joint mobility was damaged as much as my mobility was restricted. Things that we had been able to accomplish before in spite of my wife being wheelchair bound for years are no longer possible. What is worse, there is no magic extra cash flow to cover the cost of hiring a caregiver to come in and assist us.

As a result many of the things we enjoyed are gone and we are still working out ways to regain lost mobility nearly two years after my accident.

Being an older man, did not snap back from this injury like a young man would. I had some complications during the surgery that was done to correct the damage from the fall. In the entire time I have been disabled and unable to even function normally on most days, I also have had near zero income except for when I could sell tools that I had formerly used on my jobs.

I very quickly went through the small amount of cash reserves I had, and along with the need to purchase medications and to see doctors, specialists, and therapists, I also still had my share of the bills to pay to keep the household running. We are not wealthy. Just like all of you, being a disabled person and a caregiver married, we are running just above empty most of the time.

But we have adapted. We have grown in our consideration and love for each other. We have learned that in spite of our disabilities and setbacks, we are by no means the worse off. I spent nearly a month in hospitals after the surgery. First I had the surgery on October 8th of 2015, but I had lost over 700 CC’s of blood. That required I have transfusions, which led to other issues which included blood clots which caused a stroke. I went from a walking wounded person to a wheelchair bound person. It was not a new experience. I have had times in the past when serious accidents put me in a wheelchair. But this time, I did not really have the use of my right side due to the stroke. It complicates things. I was placed in a Rehab hospital for a few weeks to help me regain some control of my body and to be able to up and apout on my own.

My therapists said that I needed to get back on my feet to care for my wife. They used this as a motivator to inspire me. For one of the things that happened was a severe depression hit me. Perhaps partly from the stroke and partly from a lot of meds as well as the very restrictive effect of the sudden disability. I could not get myself out of that hole! I wanted to get back to writing, to do artwork and to at least doing something for my wife, but I couldn’t get unstuck!

Human Services of New Mexico determined that I was eligible for medical assistance through Medicaid at least for the time I am recovering the use of my body, so I didn’t have to worry about my medical needs as much, but there is still no compensation for the loss of income and the huge increase of other costs to replace my contributions I formerly made to the household. And to complicate matters even further, I am scheduled to meet surgeons again as it appears scar tissue is growing in to restrict the nerve channels in my spine again.

I had a fusion in the surgery on October 8th, and there are now rods and screws in my spine just above my hips. It is different to not be able to bend as much. For one thing that area is stiff. Not that I want to bend because the pain is unbearable. But I also wear a brace that prevents me from bending to much. We cannot afford to have the bone implants and the rods and screws pulled loose or crushed by me moving too much before healing is complete. So I wait.

I am working again a little. It is not much, but I paint small little ceramic figures for a lady who runs a arts and crafts business and does quite a volume of business. My therapists were very excited about the ‘job’ because it is helping me to revive a nearly unmoving right hand and bring it back to life and use again. The pay is per piece. It adds up to less than a 50 dollar bill per week. But I am not doing it so much for the money as I am for the fact that it is working wonderfully to restore the use of my hand. My insurance only covered a specific amount of therapy so I had to find ways to continue the process on my own. When my therapists found that I wanted to recover and I did not want to sit around feeling sorry for myself and quit living an active life, they gladly found ways to use my former job tasks to revive my damaged nerves. They described something called nerve memory. After an accident, our bodies will ‘remember’ all the movements we did before an accident or stroke. So if we can duplicate those moves or even just try, sometimes our brain and nervous system and muscles ‘remember’ the movement and the brain rewires and reroutes signals and new nerves may grow in the damaged area as well as some existing nerves will heal, bringing at least some of our movements back.

It is March. The Occupational therapist explained that we have come to the end of the window where the plasticity of my hand, arm, and leg are still good and likely to fully recover. But I can still recover some more movement, it will just take a lot longer and will require an acceptance of some long term disability. In my case, a comparison between where I am now in terms of mobility and ability between now and before the accident is like a car sitting in a scrap yard fit only for salvage and a vehicle on the road that starts and runs flawlessly.

The week just prior to the accident I was working for a large commercial property manager and was able to carry up to 180 lbs on my shoulder either from my van to a place where I would be working or even up a ladder. Contrast that with not being able to even climb stairs now unless there are handrails and especially wide and shallow steps not requiring I have to lift my foot very high.

It is a huge difference between before and now. It has required that my wife and I be creative. We need help now which is partially provided by my wife’s 24 year old daughter. At her age she should be dating and going to school somewhere and building her life. But she is staying with us and filling in the gap at least to some extent. A girl that weighs less than 11o lbs is not able to pick up a woman her own size or heavier than her without endangering damage to her own back.

I wrote this article to let you know I have not quit writing, but to take a breather first of all. I needed to adjust. And I also needed some me time. I have been working hard for several years. I enjoyed the praise sometimes gushing praise of employers who insisted I could walk on water, and make no mistake! I can walk on water when it is frozen! LOL but I suddenly went to a dead stop. Emotionally and mentally it was very difficult. I can drive streets in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Los Alamos, Las Vegas, Espanola, and other cities and towns and point at buildings I repaired, houses I repaired or built, roofs I put on, signs I painted and when I was drilling water wells I set records for drilling the cleanest and most wells per week while working for a Well drilling company based in Santa Fe/Espanola area. I was urged by building inspectors to increase the size of my operation, go into business for myself and I was labelled the Master builder in one town, the  Craftsman in another, and the Do anything or miracle worker in other areas. I was the trouble shooter and the do anything guy that everyone turned to as a last resort and I could work a couple hours per day to make the money other guys had to work 8 to 10 hours to earn so that I could be available for my sweetheart when she needed me. I donated wheelchair ramps and home remodels to disabled and repaired wheelchairs and vans for handicapped people who could not afford to pay the shops and contractors to do the repairs. And life was hard, very hard, as it always is for caregivers, but we managed. And then it all collapsed and I was sitting in a wheelchair in a hospital and I could not walk without a walker and a nurse holding me up. The end of an exciting and satisfying and fulfilling construction career that I had enjoyed as much as I enjoy any other activity.

We have survived, but we have struggled a lot to do so. The refrigerator was often nearly empty or empty. We often looked at nearly empty pantry shelves. and we counted pennies and nickels and dimes and quarters at times to find the money for copays for my wife’s meds. But we survived, just like you do, because there is nothing else we can do. Just keep going on and keep striving to gain a little ground each week.

I would have given up a few times, but I have an excellent doctor and above average surgeon’s staff and pain and spine specialists, and I have some great therapists. Plus one of the finest Psychologists I could ever have found. So I made it. Not out of the woods yet. But I am back. Looking for ways to get this pair of tingling numb legs to continue to recover, and for ways to keep the process going to wake up my right hand. Part of the credit if not most of the credit for my recovery goes to some great people at a Presbyterian Rehab Clinic on Southern Blvd in Rio Rancho New Mexico. Thank God for people like them! The medical staff members we all depend on are often the only reason why the people we care for are doing as well as they are, and when we go down for the count, they help us get back to where we can be the proactive caregiver again.

Glad to be back! I have a lot of new articles rattling around in my head begging for ink and paper. So I will get to writing again.

Written by David Waterman
I am a spousal caregiver. I have had a lot of serious accidents in dangerous construction jobs. My recovery has not always been smooth but I did learn how my wife feels when she is bed bound for long periods. With similar experiences in our past I have a better understanding of what she needs to be comfortable. I also spent years involved in Christian ministry and the principles of Christianity apply so well to this life I lead now and give much needed stability when all other things are so often in the air.

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5 Comments

  1. Thank you..for putting on paper

    Reply
    • You are very welcome. It hopefully will encourage others to hang on and continue to press on.
      David

      Reply
    • You are welcome

      Reply
  2. David- As the primary caregiver for my adult son, this is my biggest fear. I wish you the best on your recovery. When my son had more use of his hands, an occupational therapist had him stringing macaroni on a string. He felt it was very childish. I went to a craft store and bought him supplies for bracelets and necklaces. Instead of macaroni- he was making beautiful jewelry for gifts and then as a small business. It helped him with his fine motor skills and he made some beautiful things!

    Reply
    • I like how you combined a useful task with the rehab exercise for your son. This reinforces feelings of accomplishment and self worth no matter how minor the task might mean to the outside world. To the invalid it is huge and means far more than people will ever realize unless they are ever in the same place. I know the fear you talk of. I had it constantly before the accident and when the accident happened many of my fears turned into reality.
      David

      Reply

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