It had been a very productive year. I was getting stronger and healthier. I had just returned recently from a vacation in Mississippi, where I had gained even more confidence. But I had one concern: my brother Jonathan had recently invited me to Texas for Thanksgiving. While I was excited about coming down for another family vacation, it worked against my financial plans. I was on track to be three months ahead of my bills by the end of the year. Because I had worried about finances since the stroke, this had been an important milestone on my path to peace of mind.
Having very little control over my income, I really felt like skipping Thanksgiving. I was tired of feeling like a charity case. I wanted to come into 2020 not having to ask family to lend me a thing. But what created the dilemma for me was knowing how important it was for Dad. While I was in a coma, Dad had told my brothers how important it was to see us all get together as often as possible. He was now approaching 80 years old, so seeing us become closer had become even more of a pressing desire for him.
Jonathan knew my finances were tight and offered to buy my ticket. But I told him that it wouldn’t be necessary. I could afford to buy it myself. It would mean that I couldn’t pay for things as soon as I had planned, but I could fit the ticket into the following month’s budget. I would purchase the ticket at the end of October, then the following check could be used for vacation spending. Even if I were to fritter it all away, my bills were already satisfied through the end of the year. Telling Jonathan that I could pay for my own ticket made me realize that I was already as independent as I sought to be.
One of my primary worries before moving into my own apartment was whether I would be able to take care of my dog. Over the months, I had taken Mary out three times a day virtually without incident. I had especially feared bending down to pick up after Mary and falling over, but I did it on a daily basis without losing my balance. I also worked on my leg religiously. It became stronger, leading to even greater confidence.
I had proven myself to be capable of handling Mary’s daily needs The only question was whether I could take care of her health needs. Her health insurance was automatically withdrawn from my bank account; I had to take her to the vet twice a year in a community car that I rented by the hour. The same neighbor who drove me to the vet also helped me to administer Mary’s pills.
Then one day, the neighbor started having schedule conflicts. After a week, it was past time for me to give Mary her monthly pill. So one morning, I decided to pill her myself. I punched out a pill and called her over. I pried her mouth open and released the pill down her throat with the same hand. As soon as I thought the pill was safely in her digestive tract, I clamped her mouth closed. After I was satisfied that she had probably swallowed the pill, I released her mouth. She coughed and spit it out. I was a little dejected, but I scooped up the pill, dried it off, and tried again. This time, I shoved it even farther down her throat. I clamped her mouth again. After a few seconds, I released it. This time, she she yawned a little bit, but she didn’t spit it back out. I felt so proud.
It snowed the next day. Although snow can be a challenge for my footing, I wanted to take Mary out to the backyard so she could play in it. I’m usually not able to go out into the backyard once there is a lot of snow because they don’t shovel anywhere but the front of the building. But there was only a dusting on the ground, so I was able to go out.
Once Mary reached the basement door and saw white stuff on the ground, she became very hyperactive. I worried that she would get too excited and pull me down, so I kept her leash short and walked towards a table. The patio wasn’t too slippery, but I didn’t want to risk falling. Once at the table, I secured myself by holding the back of a chair. Snow had frozen to it overnight, leaving me no choice but to sit on it.
After I was safely seated, I let Mary’s leash out. She rolled around a little, but she didn’t seem to be enjoying herself that much. It was probably just the fact that she could tell that it wasn’t much snow.
I was much more confident walking onto snowy ground to pick up after her than I had been last year, but I still had some anxiety. I set my cane down, pulled a plastic bag out of my jacket pocket, spread the bag over my fingers like a glove, then walked over to the spot where she had pooped. The waste was clumped together and sitting atop the thin layer of snow, making it easier to scoop up than it would’ve been in warmer weather. I spread my feet, went down, and gathered it up in one scoop. I stood up and walked very carefully. I didn’t feel as though I was going to fall, but I didn’t want to grow overconfident and slip. I threw the bag away and walked back to the building, breathing a sigh of relief once I made it back inside.
Soon my flight was a week away. I made a list of a few things to do so I didn’t forget anything. It was all pretty mundane stuff – which days I wanted to shave my head, how many blog posts I needed to write, how many groceries to buy. A lot of people would describe me as being “anal” for actually putting all of these on a calendar, but this was a way for me to maintain a sense of order. I scheduled when I was going to hand Mary over to the dog sitter, what time my ride to the airport was supposed to arrive at the building, what time I was scheduled to arrive at the airport, and my flight times. While I didn’t think it was absolutely necessary to schedule every event of the week leading up to the trip, doing so would alleviate my anxiety. Knowing that I could cross items off a list would give me one less thing to forget every day my trip drew nearer.
With everything I needed to do typed into my calendar, I was able to relax and enjoy the days. I went out to eat at my favorite Caribbean restaurant; my final workouts became more intense yet more satisfying; I even planned out my workout goals for the rest of the year. Knowing that every event was accounted for freed up my time because I always schedule twice as long as any event will actually take. Even though there appeared to be more to do each day, Mary and I spent much more time together and went out as many as four times a day.
Reducing worry about my schedule probably seems silly to the average person. But consider this: I almost died of a stroke due to high blood pressure. Then I gained about thirty pounds of fat. My doctors put me on an aggressive diet and prescription plan. While I was doing physical therapy several hours each day, it was nothing like the amount of exercise I was used to getting. I was now cutting calories and exercising on my own again. Reducing stress factors such as worrying about whether I was going to get x, y, and z done before flying out was just one more way to ward off a potential stroke.
As I had done before, I found an elderly resident to take care of Mary while I was gone. It allows her to stay in a familiar building, and it gives retirees companionship. To make sure he was going to have no problems with her, I took her to visit his apartment and had him walk with us a couple of times. Since Ron doesn’t use a cane, he was able to walk her places I could not. I felt this was also important in helping her to enjoy her time without me.
The evening before my trip, Ron and I walked Mary in the backyard one last time. I let him do all the walking while I handled the cleanup. He fed her turkey meatballs and let her wander up and down every hill. The last thing we did was climb the steps to the upper patio. We sat down at one of the patio tables and let Mary root around in a pile of leaves. There was the rustle of the leaves, the sideways red-orange light of the evening sun, and the unseasonably warm November breeze. I wouldn’t need to worry about a thing. For a moment, it was perfect.