22: Dry Her Tears

22: Dry Her Tears

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Caregivers

Dry Her Tears

Tears are the safety valve of the heart when too much pressure is laid on it.

~Albert Smith

Dani could not dry her own tears as she walked off the airplane trailed by the flight attendant carrying her backpack. I was allowed to go to the gate, which is unusual in this day and age, to pick up my 23-year-old daughter.

There she was, wearing flip-flops, gym pants, and a tank top. Never mind that in Springfield, Illinois, it was winter; she was coming from balmy Florida. These were the clothes her friend found that fit over her two broken arms, heavily encased in casts.

Sometimes small slips have large consequences. In Dani’s case, it was literally true. Dani was an event planner. While helping a caterer bring in trays, she slipped on wet pavement and fell backwards. Both of her arms were fractured.

I helped her into the car and covered her with blankets. The ride home, after hours of flying, was excruciating. Looking in my rearview mirror, my mind raced with panicked thoughts of “How are we going to do this?” as I calmly told her how glad we were that she was home and that we would take good care of her.

The “we” in this case was an exceptional word. Thankfully, I was on very amicable terms with Louis, my ex-husband. It meant that we would work as a team.

Once home, I helped her to the couch and really started assessing the situation. Her left arm was cast from above the elbow, hanging straight down the side of her body. The other arm was cast at an angle toward her right shoulder, but she could not reach her mouth.

I thought, “Straws are the first thing on the shopping list.” It took about two seconds to realize that Dani was as helpless as a baby. She would not be able to feed, wash, or dress herself.

We found a routine that worked for us, but those first days were filled with adaptations. Solutions had to be found to the challenges we all faced in caring for a handicapped person. Fortunately, Dani was instrumental in being able to help us learn how to help her. What a reminder for me that survival issues do not apply just to the sick and elderly! I salute people who care for those with physical and mental disabilities day in and day out.

It was obvious to her father and me that Dani could not be left alone for any length of time after she awoke in the morning. I sent substitute plans to school for the first few days, while Louis arranged to take vacation time from work. He would come to the house around 10:00 and leave soon after I came home. What a relief it was that he was able to feed her lunch, take her to appointments, and keep her company. We joked that television with Dad was watching the Food Network. Television with Mom was catching up on past seasons of Grey’s Anatomy.

It was very difficult to dress Dani. The lower body was easy. Her arms, however, were at strange angles. Like a contortionist, Dani moved this way and that so I could get a sleeveless tank top on her. Ponchos that slipped over her head were our clothing salvation.

Soon after arriving home, we braved the cold, snow, and ice to get her to an orthopedist. I took one of my winter jackets and made cuts in the sleeves so she would have something warm to wear. The orthopedist recast one arm into a more comfortable position. She could wiggle her fingers, but not enough to hold a food utensil.

Dani had abdominal muscles made of steel. Hours of ballet had really paid off in developing core strength. She could lift herself up from a seated position without using her arms. What most impressed (and scared) me was that after a bath, when the water flowed down the drain, she would rock back and forth and stand up. Her first bath felt so awkward to me. My daughter accepted that I had to help her, but I was very self-conscious bathing and drying her the first few times. Together, we adjusted to an uninhibited manner of dressing and undressing. At night, instead of getting her ready for bed, I would dress her for the next morning so all she would need was shoes and socks when her dad came. We made arrangements with a hairdresser to have her hair washed every two days.

It was a very difficult time for Dani. She was in physical and mental pain. Thankfully, she could walk, talk, and think, but could do very little for herself physically. She could use her fingertips to dial an oversized speakerphone and to slowly tap out keys on the computer. She tried to be very brave through it all, but it was an ugly day when her boyfriend sent her a computer message breaking off their relationship. I was in the kitchen hearing the tap-tap of the keys and sobbing. My heart ached because I wanted to give her privacy, but I knew even in her misery she could not blow her runny nose.

After that event, she was in such a state of nausea, pain and anxiety that she lay on the bathroom floor and could hardly get up. It was as though a portion of her soul had splintered apart. After what seemed to be a long time (but was actually less than an hour), I took her to the emergency room. Once there, she was given medicine that dulled some of the physical pain, nausea, and anxiety.

It was very late when we got home, and I put my daughter to bed. As I gazed at her face, her eyes spoke volumes of silent communication. I knew I could not leave her room. Dani’s raw vulnerability brought out a depth of tenderness and love that had been dormant in me since she was very small. I sat next to her on the bed so I could stroke her hair. I have no words to describe the energetic bond that took place as I held my vigil until she fell asleep.

A month passed, but Dani was not yet physically ready to return to her job as originally anticipated. As time passed, shorter casts were applied to her arms. She wanted to be able to brush her teeth and comb her hair before she returned to Miami. After a few weeks, she had to go back to Florida to coordinate a work project that was due. She could brush her teeth, but not her hair. When she flew back, she was able to stay with very close friends whom we all trusted to see her through the rest of her convalescence.

When people hear stories about the time Dani broke her arms, they ask how we managed it. I say it was difficult, but I think to myself that this experience was one of the most sacred, healing times that we had ever shared as a family.

~Jean Ferratier

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