Sunday, December 29, 2013

Success Begins with Baby Steps

I don't usually share personal stories on my blog, but today I wanted to share a story that taught me the importance of celebrating the small accomplishments needed to reach a big goal. From this experience, I learned that we should never give up hope, even when it seems there's no hope at all. It's an amazing story about my father who wasn't expected to live long enough to see the new year ... but who is still with us and becoming stronger each day. At the end of the story, I'll share a simple motivational strategy that helped my dad - a strategy you can use to encourage your students and help them reflect on their own accomplishments.

Dad's Story Begins
You may have noticed that I've done very little blogging recently and I've had several guest bloggers here on Corkboard Connections. The reason I've been absent lately is that I needed to take some time off to help my father whose health has been failing in recent years. My dad enjoyed vibrant health for over 75 years and even at the age of 76 he was still mountain climbing, rock climbing, and doing 40-mile bike rides over hilly terrain. In fact, when he came to visit me a few years ago we did a zipline adventure together! Here we are on one of the platforms as we waited our turn.

Shortly after this trip, he began to experience tingling and burning in his hands and feet that eventually spread throughout his body. It was similar to diabetic neuropathy, but he's not diabetic so doctors were baffled. His symptoms got progressively worse causing him to visit doctor after doctor, but no one could figure out what was going on and how to stop the progression of his illness. He also began to experience hives and rashes when eating certain foods, especially sugars and starches. To make a long story short, he was eventually diagnosed with leaky gut syndrome which he feels was caused by over-use of NSAIDs like Aleve and Ibuprofen. He had been taking large doses of these drugs to relieve his arthritis pain. The term "leaky gut" refers to the intestines becoming damaged and allowing toxins to leak into the body. However, even though he finally had a diagnosis, the prescribed treatments didn't seem to be working. Leaky gut is not recognized by many doctors and it's difficult to find reliable information about it. Eventually his condition progressed to the point where he could not eat anything without intense pain and burning throughout his body and the neuropathy pain was so severe that he felt life wasn't worth living. He had lost over 40 pounds and was completely defeated.

Dad lives in California and I live in North Carolina, so I had been making regular visits to see him but had not visited for an extended period of time. When his condition took another turn for the worse, I got my affairs in order and flew out for an extended stay. His goal at that point was to get Hospice to accept him as a patient and provide some comfort until the end of his life. When I arrived and saw how weak he was, I honestly didn't think he would make it to Christmas. He was no longer eating and was getting weaker and weaker. A few days after I arrived, we celebrated his 79th birthday and I don't think anyone present had any hope that he would make it to age 80. We were having trouble getting Hospice to accept him because he didn't have a terminal diagnosis, but a few days later his condition became so critical that I called 911 and he was taken to the emergency room. At that point he wasn't even able to drink water and could not get any pain medication down so he was in agony. The folks at Hospice finally stepped in, and they took over that very day.

Beginning with Baby Steps 
Amazingly, this story has a happy ending. Hospice is all about comfort care, and in one day they were able to do something that his doctors had not done for him in 2 years. They figured out the right combination of drugs to give him relief from his constant pain. They administered the medication with liquids that are given "sublingually," or under the tongue, so he didn't have to swallow. After one dose he slept peacefully for 4 hours. When he woke up, he said, "Wow! I never thought I would feel this good again." As soon as I heard him say those words, I felt hope because I knew he wanted to live and wasn't ready to give up. With the pain under control, he was able to consider trying to drink water again. The nurse gently suggested that he start with just a few mL of water from a syringe squirted into his mouth so he could let it trickle down his throat. He tried that and was able to get it down, then he took a little more later. He told her he would just take it in baby steps, and that's exactly what he did. He later sipped from a straw and then started drinking from a cup. We had been doing research on what foods were needed to help heal a leaky gut, so we started him back on chicken broth and worked back up to a diet of mainly meats and veggies with no processed foods, grains, or sugars. Occasionally he experiences some itching when we introduce a new food, but his terrible rashes and hives have gone away with the proper diet. We realized that a big part of his problem was the large doses of Gabapentin he was taking, and we suspect it was wreaking havoc in his body due to the leaky gut problem. Now that he's on the right medicine and eating the right foods, he's gaining weight for the first time in 2 years and is actually able to walk a bit on his own now.

Recording and Celebrating Baby Steps
As you might have suspected, he did experience a few setbacks in his recovery, especially within the first week. Even though he was making progress, it was so slow that it was almost hard to tell that he was getting better instead of progressively getting worse. We had been keeping a journal with information about his medications and the foods he was able to eat, so I suggested we add a page called "What I Can Do Today That I Couldn't Do Yesterday." He loved that idea, and we immediately began thinking of all the little things he was able to do that day that he had not been able to do the day before. He came up with the ideas, and I wrote them down in the journal. We recorded things like "Walked up 4 stairs," "Picked up a book and read a few pages," and "Played chess on the computer." All of these were actions that he had not been able to do when he was at his lowest point.

It's been amazing how much this "baby step" journal has helped him. We have kept it going for over a week and filled up 2 pages with tiny print about the details of the things he can do each day that he couldn't do before. It's become a sort of game each day to come up with new things to record in the journal - he continues to try to challenge himself to accomplish something new to record at the end of the day. Usually there are many new things he can do that we can record. When visitors come, we pull out the journal and share some of the small successes he is experiencing.

I'm actually back at home in North Carolina for a few weeks now. I stayed with him through Christmas but decided to return home to spend time with my husband and two daughters, all of whom have been wonderfully understanding about why I needed to stay with my dad for such a long time. I'm planning to go back in January for another few weeks to help him on the path to full recovery.

Celebrating Baby Steps in the Classroom
Even though I retired from the classroom, I still think like a teacher! I've been reflecting on how this "baby steps" journal idea could be used in the classroom to motivate students who need encouragement. Sometimes when kids are struggling in school, they don't see the progress they are making even though everyone else sees it. Keeping a daily journal might be too time-consuming, but you could easily have students keep a weekly journal to record accomplishments. Each Friday afternoon, wrap up the week by having students jot down something new they learned and/or a skill they were able to accomplish during the week that they weren't able to do the week before. Give students time to share what they wrote with a partner or in cooperative learning teams. Talk with them about the importance of taking "baby steps" to reach a big goal. Or introduce the famous quotation from the Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." I'm guessing that you and your students will find this to be a very positive and motivational experience.

Rainbows and Renewed Hope
Finally, I want to thank everyone who has been offering prayers for my father over the last month. I'm normally a very optimistic person, so I'm ashamed to say that I had given up all hope that he would recover, mostly because he had given up all hope. He had been to so many doctors and was in so much pain that I could not envision him ever being healthy again. A miracle occurred on December 11th when the angels from Hospice took over and helped him begin his recovery. When he realized Dad was getting better, he joked, "Hospice is supposed to help you die and they saved my life!" I truly believe that this miracle happened as a result of all of the prayers on his behalf, and I feel blessed to have so many friends whose faith helped make this possible. I learned that you should never give up hope, because miracles can happen!


Rainbows symbolize hope, so I wanted to share with you this beautiful panoramic photo that my daughter Amy took from my father's backyard in Benicia, California. Dad's hopelessness has been replaced with hope, and we continue to celebrate each baby step along the path to recovery. I'm confident that he will once again hike the hills of California and experience all the joys of nature!



December 7, 2014 Update: It's now been almost a year since I wrote this and Dad is still recovering. Today is his 80th birthday and we are so grateful that he is still with us! Several months ago he was diagnosed with Lyme disease and we are hopeful that he will continue to recover.

27 comments:

  1. Laura,
    I'm so happy your dad is doing better! We will continue to lift him and your family up!
    I think, as teachers, we can all identify with needing to take "baby steps" ourselves. I think I might start one myself, especially as we get closer to that dreaded Texas standardized testing.... What did I get accomplished today? Who improved even a little? Who had a lightbulb moment? Instead of focusing to the finish line, I'm going to focus on the joy of the journey!

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    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me. I agree that it's helpful for us all to think about taking baby steps when we face difficult times and a goal that seems out of reach.

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  2. I love everything about this post...the healing, HOSPICE, faith...and the baby steps that lead to success. I am so very thankful you shared this with us. I will continue to pray.

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    1. Thanks so much for sharing with me. It took me all day to write this post, so it's gratifying when readers leave comments such as yours!

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  3. As I read your father's diagnosis, it made me wonder how many others have the same issue but don't have doctors who recognize that medical condition. I'm glad you shared this, and can bring awareness to leaky gut syndrome. God knows precisely what we need, and it sounds like in your father's case it was the gentle natured hospice nurse. I will keep your family in my prayers. Believing God will continue to strengthen your dad's body and reveal to you the best treatments for his condition.

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  4. Oh wow! Laura, I can hardly contain my tears.... I am so thankful that your dad is doing so much better... God's grace and mercy is new everyday and I give Him the Glory for all of those "baby steps" and for all the baby steps that your dad will continue to take on his road to a full recovery.
    I am so blessed by your testimony! You can't imagine how much!!! It is just what I needed to hear as I get ready to go back to school after our Christmas break.
    This year I have been struggling so much with my special ed. classroom, with implementing the common core, with my students, and their lack of progress. I feel overwhelmed at times. I also feel ashamed that I feel like I have lost hope in myself and my students.... At school I'm known as the "Faithful One" who motivates and encourages the other teacher regardless of the circumstances. But lately, I feel like I have failed my kids and my colleagues. I so needed to read your words of encouragement..
    Thank you for sharing your story. I plan to have my students write down their daily accomplishments in a journal. I am going to write mine down as well. At the end of the week we are going to celebrate those accomplishments and REJOICE in the fact that we are stepping FORWARD.... even if they are baby steps!

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing this with me! It literally took me all day to write this, so it really means a lot to hear that it has inspired you and others. I'm sorry that this has been a difficult year for you and that you feel overwhelmed. I know that focusing on the little steps they are making will help. It will also take you to help them see the little steps and believe in themselves.

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  5. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this and share with us. Your story is so inspiring. I went to church today, and then I came home and read this. My bucket is full today. Thank you so very much! Prayers are still being said on his behalf. Blessings for the New Year!--Melissa Hunt

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    1. Thank you Melissa! Your words mean so much.

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  6. Laura,
    What an amazing story! It is such a tough time for family when our loved ones are ill and cannot care for themselves. I have been through a similar story with my mom who has Lewy Body Dementia. It feels like you've come up from the bottom and you finally have air. Not an easy thing to go through. Your Dad sounds like a wonderful man and he is sure grateful to your idea to chronicle babysteps. As others have written, HOPE is such a big thing. When your life is full of purpose you have hope and it's such a good feeling. Wishing you many more blessings with your dad.
    Shelley

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  7. Inspirational and heart touching!! Smiles and stop by anytime!

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  8. Laura, this is a beautifully written post…so many thoughts going through my mind. I lost my father to an 18 month battle with cancer. When hospice came, they were literally angels. My admiration and respect for the hospice care workers is so great. I am so glad, very glad, your father experienced this miracle! I know that my father fought to the very end and never lost his will to live, but the pain took its toll on his desire to live with all the pain and suffering. What a beautiful rainbow…makes me tear up. I love the journal idea, and I think I will use it not only with my 2nd graders but as a weekly reminder to myself! My motto with my students and with TpT, blogging, teaching, life…is Slow and Steady Wins the Race….One foot in front of the other. Sending my love and continued prayers for your father, for you, and your family. Thank you so much for sharing your heart with us. xo Becca Anderton -Teaching First

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  9. Hi Laura. I'm glad your Dad is getting better. My wife suffers from a very sensitive and easily upset digestive system and I want to suggest a product that our MD/Naturopath highly recommended. We call it "dirt powder" because it's brown and isn't the tastiest thing you'll ever drink, but leaky guts love it. It's called Glutagenics by the Metagenics company. A little pricey but it works wonders when she has a relapse. Something to consider.

    Here's the link on Amazon:

    http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0049YYYMS/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pC_nS_ttl?_encoding=UTF8&colid=1PA0W44N99V3B&coliid=I35WZKTWRE3WMR

    Scott

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  10. Laura, this is such a wonderful post. I'm so glad your dad is making progress and feeling comfortable. Those are definitely things to PRAISE. Thank you for sharing your struggles as well. It certainly helps people to see the person behind the post. :)

    This has been a challenging year for me and I am looking forward to starting my own "baby steps" journal in the new year. What a wonderful idea! Thank you for sharing it!

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  11. This is a heartwarming story about hope and not giving up on life. I think Hospice should be sent a link to your post. The people who work for Hospice are truly amazing people. I have had my own struggles and your journal idea is fabulous. I have a box I can put my accomplishments in as I notice them and can go back and read them when I have my setbacks. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

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  12. I'm sitting in my sister-in-law's room in a skilled nursing facility in Reno, Nevada, and am in tears after reading your story. Three years ago she was a healthy, vibrant woman, and a cardiac episode left her brain damaged and unable to do anything for herself. Sometimes it seems as if all her family is doing is waiting for some "end". Laura, your story has once again reminded me that miracles can and do happen. As we prepare to make the long drive home to Burbank, CA, I'm going to make two plans; one for my sister and her family, and one for my fifth graders. Both will involve documenting the small steps that lead somewhere, hopefully to a positive result, but keeping in mind that the journey should be a learning one. Blessings to you and your dad. Keep the faith, thank you for all you share, and wishing you a very happy amd healthy new year.

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    1. Thanks so much for sharing this with me. I will be praying for you and your sister-in-law.

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  13. What an incredible story! I know many of us have watched our parents struggle with their health. I watched both my parents suffer. It's great to hear this sort of story can have a happy ending! I'll keep sending prayers your way.

    Sally from Elementary Matters

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  14. Thanks for sharing your Dad's amazing journey back to "life" again. What a story! I've been praying for him - and you. Take care!
    Susan in Vance County, NC
    susanlulu@yahoo.com

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  15. What a poignant story! Your dad is truly blessed to have such a devoted daughter. I truly believe that you are a testament to your Dad. No doubt, that your beautiful "baby step" journal helped your father, but I bet that your love and commitment to him was some of his best encouragement. May the blessings continue to roll your way ~Sonya

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  16. What a touching and inspirational story! Prayers are with you, your Dad, and the entire family. Miracles do indeed happen. Love the idea of taking this to the classroom. Parents and students will benefit from seeing the "baby step" progression that teachers are ever aware of!

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  17. WOW...what an incredible and inspiring story! You and your family did indeed experience a Christmas miracle! Sometimes I think we lose hope just to cope with the situation in front of us...but it's stories like these that remind me that trust in God's will is where my focus is best placed in tough times. Best wishes to your dad - and safe travels to you!
    ~Deb
    Crafting Connections

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  18. What an inspiring story! I will continue to lift your family up in prayer! Stay strong and know that God is definitely a miracle worker!

    Blessings!
    Farrah Shipley
    Mrs. Shipley's Fabulous Firsties

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  19. Thanks for sharing this post Laurie. This is very inspirational and encouraging for so many to read. It is very important for all of us to understand that we need to take baby steps to accomplish anything. That's the problem with so many - they want to rush to where they are going and most of the time misses their goal. Great post.
    I also love your website. There are so many ideas that I can use when I complete my degree and start teaching my own class. I've been a Pre-K paraprofessional for 21 years now and will be completing my degree this December as an elementary teacher for grades K-8 w/emphasis in Early Childhood. Can't wait..... Thank you for sharing your ideas.
    Robin

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