Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Day Out!

My "patient" was getting restless, so I took him for a day outing on Tuesday to one of our favorite places—Nissley Vineyards (just four miles from our home!). The drive is gorgeous and one that Mark traveled often on his bike when he trained for triathlons. The drive on the winding backroads reminds me of our old stomping grounds—Napa Valley, California. I’m always amazed—shocked really—at all the beauty we have right in our own backyard.

It takes planning, but Mark is able to ambulate to the car with his walker and once I get him in the front seat, it’s all “downhill” after that.

Mark took me to Nissley Vineyards for my 50th birthday (a few years ago!); he blindfolded me so I wouldn’t know where we were going. There was a 50’s band playing that night and everyone brought picnic “dinners” and enjoyed music, dancing, and amazing food until the stars and moon mingled into midnight. Some folks came as far as New York, Virginia and New Jersey for the weekend. And believe me when I say “picnic”—I’m talking candelabras with linen tablecloths. It’s definitely not your “grandmother’s” picnic!

On Tuesday, our lunch consisted of cheese, crackers and grape juice. I called it our “communion” picnic (that got a laugh out of Mark!).

We sat under the huge oak tree on the “hard” benches (Mark reminded me just how hard they were), but I distracted him with the gorgeous view that surrounded us: the stone-arched buildings, the farmhouse, and the rows of neatly cultivated vines waiting for harvest in the fall.

The perfect ending to the day was naptime when our cat, Bianca, finally rested on Mark’s lap for the first time since the accident. She was afraid to come near him (I guess that’s why therapy dogs are used in the hospital!).

Bianca’s purring put my patient right to sleep and no doubt he was dreaming about his first day out!

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

My Time-Out Chair

When my boys were little, I had a time-out chair for when they were naughty! It was used for those occasions when they didn’t obey me, and the timer was set for 3-5 minutes—depending on the severity of the “crime.”

Thankfully, I didn’t have to use it that often, but it became a refuge for me (although they didn’t quite see it that way!). Being able to separate my child from the action was important to me, and those three minutes allowed me to gain some much needed perspective. The chair wasn’t as much for them as it was for me!

Now that my “boys” are all grown up, I still use the time-out chair, but for a different purpose. I go to my chair to gain spiritual perspective and renewal. I have an inside chair for the fall and winter and an outside chair for spring and summer, but I "love" my outside chair the most because I have a view of our garden.
Recently, Carol VerBryck, author of Thee Prayer Chair Club e-mailed me and asked if I had a chair for journaling and I said, “Absolutely!” Thankfully, my chairs serve two purposes: journaling and prayer. My time-out chairs continue to be an ongoing source of rest, relaxation, and spiritual renewal.

Do you have a time-out chair? If not, go out and grab one…you never know when you may need it!

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Chasing Rainbows

When the rain comes and the sun filters through the clouds, an amazing thing happens…a rainbow.

For years, I have been trying to capture the perfect rainbow on film. Yesterday while driving home, it happened…sun, clouds, rain, and a magnificent rainbow formed. I swerved off the side of the road and clogged my way into the corn field, only to realize, I didn’t have my camera. Duh!

Was I disappointed? Just a little, but I do what I always do under such circumstances, I pull on my right earlobe and take a mental shot. I stood knee-deep in mud and relished the fact that in the midst of yucky conditions, I was enjoying the view!

And then I realized that’s what life is made of, a series of events called “rainbows.” But it takes a concoction of special ingredients to create the rainbow effect: sun and rain. The bittersweet combination makes for a kaleidoscope of color—not just one but seven colors to be exact. Seven is the “perfect” number. And not to get too personal, but my husband’s bruises are also made up of the seven colors of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.

The last twelve days have been quite a journey and I’m so thankful for the bittersweet moments that have made up our “rainbow”: neighbors bringing in meals, my sons pitching in to mow the lawn, to give Mark a shower, to do the laundry, and carry in groceries. And now a neighbor is landscaping our front yard so Mark has a beautiful view out the living room window. Cards and phone calls pour in daily to keep Mark’s spirits high, and the non-stop bouquet of plants, flowers, and fruit baskets fill every room in the house.

This morning it rained again and the sun filtered through the clouds—perfect conditions for a rainbow to form. I grabbed my camera and went chasing after the rainbow, but there was none to be found. Funny how that happens, when we go chasing for rainbows…they disappear.

And then I realized, I already had my rainbow…it was right outside my door! A picture of my son mowing the lawn in the rain.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

New Hardware

Today is day eleven after the accident and I have to show off my hubby’s new hardware. When the surgeon pulled up the x-rays on the computer, I nearly passed out—seeing the before and after shots. The photojournalist in me snapped pictures of the “pictures,” and the surgeon reminded me that I could have radiology burn a CD of Mark’s x-rays for no additional cost (smile!). And I said, “Do they come with iTunes?” Isn’t it great when you can make a surgeon laugh?

It was pouring down rain today and maneuvering Mark in and out of the car was no easy feat. On the way out, I bumped another patient in a wheelchair, tripped over Mark’s chair, and ran into the car. The woman next to me asked if she could help me (she had two broken legs!), I laughed so hard I nearly doubled over. We were the “Three Stooges,” minus one!

Life is all about hurrying up and waiting and today was no exception. I counted my blessings that I was able to park the wheelchair without damaging more people or cars. Actually, there was method in my madness, I tried to divert Mark’s attention so he wouldn’t notice when they took out the staples. He has eight incisions in all, starting at his hip and working down to his knee.

The Steri-Strips are holding everything together now (hope that glue holds!). After his appointment, I treated Mark to Starbucks (the same place where I received the news on Mother’s Day of Mark’s accident). I had to let them know that everything was okay (sort of), and that my “patient” was waiting in the car. Mark got a free mocha frappuccino because he was still “alive.”

As we adjust to all the new hardware, we are thankful for God’s goodness in allowing us to enjoy even the simplest of pleasures, like the bunny that was waiting for us on the front lawn when we returned home.

Tomorrow’s another adventure, I can “hard-ly” wait!

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Caring for the Caregiver

Sunday is usually reserved for napping in our family and today is the perfect day: it’s raining and the sound of water tapping on the window, the swooshing sound of tires making their way through water-clogged streets, and rain gutters spilling their contents outside the door are all welcome sounds.

It’s almost blissful.

It’s day seven of caretaking. Mark is starting the uphill journey of his long recovery (see previous post). Yesterday, I was in Philly for the Mid-Atlantic National Speaker’s Association and received my pewter microphone award. It was bittersweet because Mark wasn’t there. Initially, we had planned to spend the day together at King of
and eat at the Cheesecake Factory to celebrate.

Instead my weary mind was on hubby. Did he remember to take his pain medication? Did I remember to mark his med sheet? Did I leave enough water within reach? Is his walker by the sofa?

The presenter was excellent, Sharon Bowman, and her topic was based on her book, Preventing Death by Lecture. She touched on one point and I laughed out loud (the only one in the room who did!). Sharon talked about the “reticular activating system or reticular formation.” You know the feeling. You are driving on a stretch of road and end up at home. And you say to yourself, “How did I get here? I don’t remember the drive from A-to-B?” That’s because your brain went on auto-pilot. We do it at boring lectures or when another part of our brain is occupied (like trying to be two places at the same time).

So while I was at the National Speaker’s Association—although physically present at Valley Forge at the Radisson Hotel—my thoughts were at home with Mark. I was miles away from the table which was interactive in nature—learning all the techniques to make our speeches come alive and memorable. So what was happening?

Caregivers are in a unique role. I’ve been on the receiving end and have done some caretaking of friends who were going through the cancer journey, but never 24/7. As a writer, I’m in a unique position to record my thoughts, which are “blank” most days because I’m on overload.

So what does a caregiver do? Here’s the list: grocery shopping, house cleaning, cooking, shopping, paying bills, giving medicine, toileting, bathing, dressing, eating…to list a few.

Did you realize that 75% of women are caregivers? And most caregivers are between the ages of 35-64. I’m 52—soon to be 53—so I’m right smack dap in the middle. I’m a baby boomer caretaker for the next six months.

So how do I know if I’ve been stressed out in my duties, here are some signs: sleeping problems (too much or too little); change in eating habits (weight gain or loss); feeling tired or without energy; loss of interest in things you normally enjoy; easily irritated, angered or saddened; frequent headaches, stomachaches or other physical problems.

Yep (I checked all of the above, and it's only day SEVEN!).

My mom said to me last night, “Wow, you’re talking much better today. For the last two days you sounded irrational!”


I love my mom, so I evaluated my speech patterns over the last few days and realized, “Yes, I’m sure I did sound irrational.” I tend to get upset easily when my husband can’t walk, talk or toilet himself!

So what’s my care plan so I can care for me: Find out about community care giving resources, ask and accept help, stay in touch with family and friends, find time to exercise every day (even if its climbing the stairs at home), prioritize, prioritize, prioritize; join a support group for caregivers; eat right; take a multivitamin, and “take one day at a time.”

That’s Connie’s care plan for the next six months. So what about writing and speaking? I’m keeping a daily journal of my days, and writing the humorous and not so humorous moments. I’ve now added a new speaking topic to my list of keynotes which will be interactive: “Caring for the Caregiver: A Basic Plan to Stay Sane.”

If you know someone who is caring for someone full time, drop them a note and say, “I’m praying for you and by the way…here’s what I plan to do for you this week.” You may list as many things as you wish: run errands, drop off a meal (note I said “drop” it off!), mow the lawn, and pick up some groceries.

More tomorrow on the journey of caregiving!

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Friday, May 16, 2008

What a Difference a Day Makes!

We celebrated Mother’s Day on Saturday May 10, 2008 at “Mark’s” favorite restaurant! Jer and his girlfriend, Danielle, joined us. Jon was at Grove City studying for finals, but we certainly thought of him while we were enjoying our crab fest!

On Sunday, May 11—Mother’s Day—Mark decided to do his long cycle run for the triathlon he had been training for which was to be held at Mt. Gretna on May 24. Since it was “my” day, I decided to spend the afternoon at Starbucks writing a speech, “What’s Humor Got to do with It” for a group of oncology nurses. The weather was picture perfect, except for a slight wind that picked up around 12:45 p.m. I remember the exact time because my cell phone was on the table when they called out my “name”—green tea latte, tall, extra foam. I grabbed my green indulgence, along with a cobbler muffin and started to pull out the chair when my cell phone rang.

“Mrs. Pombo this is Hershey Trauma Center, we have your husband…” That’s all I received of the message when Verizon dropped my call.

My body fell limp, the latte spewed across two tables and landed on the floor, and the muffin went flying…final destination unknown. I let out a guttural scream, “Nooooooooooooooooooooooo. Please God let him be okay.”

I clutched my laptop and ran out of Starbucks. An elderly woman grabbed the back of my sweater and said, “Can I help you? I don’t think you should be driving.” I stared at her, but nothing came out of my mouth. Instinct took over and I drove to Hershey Trauma Center. The tree-lined drive is gorgeous in the spring. Twelve years ago I received my cancer treatment at Hershey Medical Center and actually looked forward to the travel time in the car. But this was different; I didn’t remember the trees or even walking through the entrance of the hospital.

When I approached the receptionist and asked about my husband, she greeted me warmly and said, “Please take a seat; I’ll call the chaplain.”

“Whaaaaaaaaaaaat. Why do I need a chaplain? My husband is hurt and I need to be with him,” I explained.

The sound in her voice made me realize, things were far worse than I had imagined. ”Is he alive? Please just tell me that?” I pleaded.


When I turned around, there was a young man with a blue name badge that read, “Hospital Chaplain.” He spoke softly with a southern accent, “Mrs. Pombo, your husband is en route. Why don’t you wait here for a moment while I check on his status?”

The next few minutes stretched into hours as I realized just how desperately I loved this “triathlon” man of mine. My world collapsed between the time I heard “trauma center” and “I’ll check on your husband.”

When I walked into the trauma ER, I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. The image of my strong hubby laying lifeless on the gurney is seared into my frontal lobe. A part of me wants to erase it, but the other part wants to remember what I almost lost.

It seems like a lifetime since the accident. Kindness has poured in from unexpected places: a marine corporal who almost lost his leg brought my husband his “therapy” dog for a day; a neighbor brought over a meal; UPS sent so many floral arrangements and fruit bouquets, I can now open up shop. And my “boys” have been the greatest blessing of all. Jer—the teacher—has been over every evening and even gave Mark a shower—helping him upstairs (it took 45 minutes in his walker). Jon has answered phones, cooked meals, washed dishes, and stayed up the entire first night to make sure his dad was okay, while I finally got some much-needed rest.

The clicking of Mark’s walker is now a familiar sound, and when it stops I run to see if he’s okay. When Mark sleeps…I rest. When he’s awake, I run errands and do laundry. When he screams out in pain, I grab the pain pills and say, “How much?”

Each morning, I cringe as I watch Mark give himself the Lovenox injection in his stomach to prevent blood clots.” I ask, “Does it hurt?” His face tells me the truth I don’t want to hear.

I have been on the receiving end of caregiving many times and I have to admit it’s so much more difficult being the caregiver than the patient. Mark’s official diagnosis is a comminuted right intertrochanteric fracture with intramedullary rod and nail. It’s the medical term for a broken hip.

A pothole in the road caused my husband’s bike to flip and throw him 20 feet in the air where he landed on his right hip. Fifteen minutes later, he was found by two other cyclists, one of whom was an orthopedic surgeon and the other was a trauma care nurse. They provided emergency care and put Mark’s bike in the car with a note, “We wish you well and pray it’s not what we think it is.”

Last night Mark called “Michael and Lisa” to personally thank them for saving his life, but together we praise God for the divine physician who heals all our wounds and makes us whole again.

Mark will be off work for six weeks and possibly longer. His triathlon days have come to a bittersweet end, but right now he’s thankful to be hanging up his bike.

He’ll be joining me in my aqua aerobics class—one more thing we’ll have in common.

Together we say, “What a difference a day can make!”

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Clean Teeth?

Did you ever use someone else’s toothbrush?

I did.

We just got home from the Weekend of Hope in Stowe, Vermont (more on that later), and I was just too tired to unpack. I parked my overnight bag on the floor in the bathroom with all my “essentials.”

Before we left for Vermont, we had a major leak in the basement and we had to call the plumber (can’t wait to get that bill!). My first thought at the time was, Oh no, I need to clean the bathroom before we leave.

It’s a woman thing: we need to clean the bathroom before the plumber comes even though the basement and bathroom are separated by three floors.

There’s no logic there, but it was important to me. My hubby still can’t understand what the basement has to do with the bathroom, but I told him I’d explain it to him on the way to Vermont (it was a nine-hour drive—just enough time to convince him that it was crucial that the bathroom was clean before the plumber arrived!).

I’m passionate about cleaning bathrooms. I get down on the floor with a toothbrush in hand and get in and behind all the nooks and crannies, including around the toilet (a trick I learned from having all “men” in the family).


Ten minutes later I had a sparkling clean bathroom and I was content. I put the pink toothbrush back in the pink plastic cup, laid it on the counter, and we were off to the green mountains of Vermont.

When we returned late Monday evening, I was exhausted. I grabbed the pink toothbrush, squeezed a generous portion of Crest toothpaste in a nice straight line and brushed my teeth. While I was brushing, I looked down at my overnight bag on the floor and saw another pink toothbrush staring back at me.

Noooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo. Please tell me it’s not what I think?

I spit. I screamed. I gargled with Listerine.

The "toilet" toothbrush was in my mouth!

And then I remembered what one of the presenters at the Weekend of Hope shared about the “tragedies” of life: “In light of everything, what’s the worst thing that can happen?”

I started with the worst outcome first: bad breath, amebic dysentery, cholera, and death.

No problem.

I had faced all of them before and I lived to tell about it.

No big deal, right?

This is day two and I’m still alive. Except I have put the cleaning toothbrush back where it belongs (under the counter), and my pink toothbrush for my teeth (not the toilet) is back in the toothbrush holder where it belongs.

All is "right" with my world. And no one has died…yet!

I’m still passionate about a clean bathroom. Only this time, I learned to put things back where I found them and NOT to use someone else’s toothbrush—even if it’s my own!

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