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
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!