Seeing through the woulds
By Dan Digmann
Birds are chirping. Breeze is blowing. Mourning doves are, uh, mourning.
And I’m that man sitting on the deck typing.
I’m writing what seemingly are assorted random thoughts, but that’s not fair to say. They’ve been brewing in my mind for months, I’ve just never had the time to spew them in silence. I suppose I now have this once-elusive silence, sans chirping birds, blowing breeze and doves mourning.
I really don’t have the time. I’m instead making the time while turning my blind eye on the two graduate courses I HAVE to complete this summer so I can graduate this December. But it’s barely the middle of June and they’re both independent study courses. So I’m sitting here on the deck typing as I claim my independence a few weeks before the Fourth of July.
This is what I had hoped for more than 15 years ago when I first was diagnosed with having Multiple Sclerosis (link to: http://www.healthline.com/health/multiple-sclerosis/facts-statistics-infographic). Fearing the unpredictable nature of the disease, I initially anticipated the worst when I went for a walk in the woulds: Would it rapidly progress? Would I still be married? Would I still have a job? Would I still be able-bodied? Would I be able to handle all the curve balls it threw at me?
Over a decade and a half later, here I am. I’m that man, typing on the deck.
Oh yeah. I’m also drinking a beer after a long day of work at the same place I was employed when I was diagnosed with MS in 2000. A workplace that has promoted me twice since then, despite my having MS.
I’m on the deck of the house I share with the love of my life, Jennifer. She truly is my rock in fighting this disease. It’s not only because she is my spouse who vowed to love and support me in health and in sickness.
She’s been there, done that with this whole MS thing. Jennifer has a more progressive form of MS (link to http://www.healthline.com/health-slideshow/types-of-multiple-sclerosis) and has lived with it for more than two years longer than the 15 years I’ve put into it.
But Jennifer’s nowhere near at this very moment.
She’s up at the local pizzeria with her girlfriends for her monthly book club meeting. They’re discussing their reading reviews there because The Cabin serves up some of the best pizza and cheese-filled breadsticks in our close-knit Central Michigan University community. The book club also chose to meet there because it’s handicapped accessible to accommodate Jennifer’s power wheelchair.
That’s the last thing they see when they see Jennifer. They see her, not her disease. And much of this has to do with how Jennifer carries herself. MS is part of her. She is not part of MS.
Looking at the two of us together, people often mistakenly think I’m the caregiver in our relationship. That’s only half true. For as much as I care for her, she cares equally as much for me.
Together we continue to help each other wander through the ever-changing woulds of MS. It’s like we serve as each other’s trail guide and companion as we venture into our dense MS forest.
In addition to braving the “what-if” woulds, we are in the thick of the “in-our-face” woulds; such as would you give me my shot? Would you help me put on my shoes? Would you skip this event because I don’t have the energy to go out tonight? Would you rub my feet? Would you get the Hoyer lift to help me off the floor?
Would we be able to manage our life together if we got any worse with our respective disease?
This is our daily question and our every day reality. But the true reality that we’ve discovered is you never know the true answer to these questions until you’re in the thick of the woulds and are required to respond.
That’s the beauty and the key to caregiving, whether it’s as a spouse. A sibling. A parent. A child. A friend.
We always are serving as the helping hand when the other falls, both literally and figuratively, into unforeseen dips and valleys. Blazing ahead and warning of the potential pitfalls we experienced when facing similar situations in our own journeys.
So I’m that man sitting on the deck typing as my wife is at the pizza joint with her book club. And I’ll go pick her up in about 20 minutes not just because her MS makes it so she no longer can drive.
It’s because I’m her caregiver, and I said I would.