47: Help Line

47: Help Line

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Family Caregivers

Help Line

You can’t live a perfect day without doing something for someone who will never be able to repay you.

~John Wooden

Hot tears seared my eyes. I clutched the phone like a lifeline. “Tom, can you come?” In desperation, I was calling a family friend for help. For three months, my husband had lived in extreme pain. After shoveling two feet of snow off our driveway, Gene had injured his back. He had seen doctors and specialists. They ordered X-rays, bloodwork, MRIs, and physical therapy. They prescribed pills. Nothing relieved my husband’s agony.

Each visit to the doctor involved taking more tests, waiting for results, and scheduling yet another appointment. Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. Now Gene could barely stand. He had lost more than 30 pounds. Nights were filled with long hours of prayer since sleep was impossible. An avid reader, Gene no longer had the strength to hold up a book. Because he could barely sit up, I was feeding him by hand.

Our bedroom looked more and more like a hospital. A full-body back brace, an electrical stimulation apparatus, a cane, a walker, a portable commode, and now a wheelchair transformed the area into a steel jungle. The end table held a pharmacy of painkillers, muscle relaxants, and antibiotics.

Both of us were discouraged. For months, I had tried to handle my husband’s health needs by myself. Nothing seemed to help. I was not strong enough to move Gene by myself. One night, I spent almost an hour helping him walk from the living room to his bedroom, a distance of only 20 feet.

At my wits’ end, I punched Tom’s number into the phone. Our children had married and moved out of state. Tom was like an adopted son and still lived nearby.

Strong and capable, Tom was a tree I could lean on in a storm. Just hearing his voice on the other end of the phone was good medicine. I felt even better as I heard him say, “I’ll be right over.”

Twenty minutes later, Tom stood grinning at our door. Under his arm was a stack of DVDs, treasured movies from his childhood. He greeted Gene and then set up the laptop next to his bed. Together we watched a film that transported us all to a world far from our troubles.

Over the next weeks, Tom helped me get Gene in and out of the car as we went to medical appointments. He listened not just to Gene’s pain, but to my sorrow as well. When I needed to go out of town for an overnight, Tom volunteered to stay with Gene.

At last, after Gene spent more than a week in the hospital, the orthopedist discovered that Gene had a staph infection hidden deep inside his spine. No amount of painkillers or physical therapy would ever have cured the infection. For six more weeks, Gene traveled daily to the hospital for infusions of high-powered antibiotics. I drove him there and back during the first weeks, but by the end of the time, Gene was well enough to drive himself. After six long months, the dark curtain over our lives slowly lifted. Today, Gene is able to do everything he wants… except shovel snow.

And Tom? He performed no delicate surgery. He offered no miracle drug. But the hope and encouragement he infused into my caregiver’s heart were better medicine than any prescription written by a doctor.

All I had to do was call.

~Emily Parke Chase

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