04 September 2009

Sharing the load

Today I was able to get A down into the 'paddock' (the poor quality of grass growing there hardly merits calling it a 'lawn'). This is the first time since he came home from hospital two months ago that A's been down to the bottom of the block. There's just no easy way to get him down there that doesn't involve too many steps or walking on reasonably steep and slippery grass. So until now he and his walker have been confined mainly to the garden around the house.

I did 'walk' him down half a dozen steps earlier this week to the middle level of the block, where our fruit trees are growing. This was so he could join me in picking the first mulberries of the season, always a happy occasion and especially so this year as the tree has grown a lot and is fruiting very well. My recent landscaping in that area (levelling out a narrow terrace and creating a path near the pump house) plus heavy summer mulching of adjacent garden areas must be providing more favourable conditions down there, because as well as a lot of growth for this tree and a big crop of mulberries, we also had monster grapefruit and dozens of juicy oranges on two other nearby trees that had never been very prolific in past years. Now I'm hoping that this run of luck will extend to a good crop of mangoes. My four mango trees are a mass of flowers right now but it's too soon to tell if these will fruit as well as they're flowering. The ground begins to slope down toward the dam under all of these fruit trees, including the mulberry, and several times I thought I might lose A or his walker, as he tottered dangerously in the direction of the slope while reaching up for another handful of berries. So today I thought we'd play it safe and drive down in the Subaru, but not to pick berries (I already have plenty in the fridge so I'm letting the figbirds have a go). Today I had a more utilitarian purpose in mind – as well as a therapeutic one.

For almost two weeks now my trailer and its heavy load of clay pavers has been blocking up the driveway's small turning circle. The pavers are a donation from daughter Z & son-in-law B, who had a large stock of these new pavers left over from another job. I am bringing these from their Brisbane home back to our place in several stages on Mondays. This is the day each week when we travel to Brisbane for A's weekly Aphasia Clinic at the University of Queensland. On the way home from clinic, we collect another load of pavers. Once I have the right amount, the fellow who has mown and trimmed our paddock for nearly 15 years is going to lay a new path from the stairway that leads down from the front terrace of the house, over to the pool entrance gate. The current path was made of an inferior type of sleeper and over the years these have rotted. Today my plan was to unload the first batch of pavers somewhere down near the path site so that the trailer is ready for our next trip to Brisbane on Monday.

There isn't much that A can do to help in this job, as he really hasn't sufficient strength to lift and carry pavers or enough balance to walk safely over the rough surface of the paddock, where I'll be unloading and stacking them. But if he rides along with me he can at least feel he's part of the day's activity – plus get a look at the dam and lower paddock for the first time in more than six months. (Even before his operation in March, He hadn't been able to get down there for some time and certainly hasn't been able to since coming home). But there's another reason I especially want him to feel involved today.

Yesterday, I was unloading the first few pavers and stacking these on the topmost terrace, right outside the house. This was to lighten the trailer sufficiently so that I could turn it around manually in the driveway, face it in the right direction and hook it up again to the car, ready for me to drive it down to the lower garden level today and offload the rest of the pavers nearer the path site. I looked up while stacking these first few pavers on the terrace, and there was A standing right next to me. He had come out onto the terrace with his walker and was watching me work. And he was crying. I immediately thought perhaps he'd had a fall or hurt himself in some way. But when I asked what the matter was, he said: "You shouldn't be working like that."

A has always been very active around the house, doing all sorts of odd jobs and putting to good use a lifetime of building and problem-solving skills acquired while he worked behind the scenes in theatres all over Australia and New Zealand. When we lived in Tasmania, with the help of a friend he converted an old garden shed into a lovely little studio which he used as his writing workspace (he was writing ABC education scripts for radio and television at the time). He repainted our Hobart house and then restructured two rooms of the house to make one larger one. Once, after he made some shelves for my then-single sister, I remember how jealous she was that I had all those skills permanently 'on tap'. One of my favourite photos from Hobart is of A perched atop the roof of that Hobart studio, leather apron full of tools, busily getting on with repairing the roof. Our kitchen windows in the Hobart house overlooked a narrow side path that offered the only access to a small back garden. On any weekend day when I was standing at that window, washing up or preparing a meal, I could expect to see A's head bobbing along as he went up and down the path – carrying tools and materials for his latest backyard project – some oregon pine for a pergola, sandstone paving for a little courtyard, old pine lining from a recycle yard for the interior walls of his studio.

When we moved to Brisbane, A's handiwork continued unabated. He fitted endless sets of shelves into the many nooks and crannies in our old 'Queenslander' style house, rejoicing in the fact that every wall and ceiling was made of wood, so drilling in a screw never resulted in the cracks that would sometimes be the outcome of drilling into the plaster in our 100-year-old brick house in Hobart. Yes, he was always a terrific handyman. So it didn't surprise me that he felt bad about not being involved in today's backyard project. But I should have been even more ready for that reaction after something he said earlier in the week that really did surprise me.

A few days ago, A and I were having a quietly reflective conversation about his recent health problems and his longer-term battle with aphasia, a condition first diagnosed more than three years ago. I asked him what part of his 'illness' he found most difficult to deal with. His answer surprised me. He said what he regretted most was the his inability TO DO THINGS. He went on to explain that he hates not being able to just get up and do whatever needs to be done, or what he wants to do – in other words, his biggest regret is his loss of physical dexterity. That surprised me because I suppose what I value most in my husband (and, I guess, miss most) were things like the expression of a keen intelligence, a lively wit, the ability to recall the names and contents of books and movies, a wide general knowledge and the ability to make connections between new information and old experiences – in short, mental adroitness. I would have expected A, too, to regret most the impairment of all these mental faculties – not to mention speech and the general ability to communicate easily – much, much more than the inability to just get up and 'do things'. And of course, he does regreat losses in all those areas, and worries what further losses may lie ahead. But our conversation reminded me that as well as focusing on therapies intended to help maintain a high quality of mental activity, we must also make sure that A continues to feel part of each day's physical activity around the place, no matter how much (or little) he an actually do of the work involved.

So today, instead of barrelling along on my own to complete a set of planned tasks on a day set aside for just that, I made sure to include A in the day's activity. Really, it was much simpler than I had expected. Indeed, it made the job seem easier, even if all A could contribute was good company and a bit of advice. (I had no fear he'd be anything but willing as, just before he went to hospital, he very patiently taught me how to operate a new cordless drill we bought. And then quietly talked me through the installation of my own first set of bookshelves!) Today's work didn't take much longer than it might have if I'd done it on my own. What's even better, I didn't notice the time it took because we stopped often to talk about this and that. And as he was with me the whole time, I didn't have to worry all afternoon about whether or not I'd hear him calling to me from the house if he needed me.

When I had finished unloading the pavers from the trailer, I was able to cart down to the bonfire site a number of trailerloads of dead palm fronds and heaps of discarded pandanus 'leaves', neither of which breaks down very successfully in compost. So as soon as the fire bans are lifted, we can look forward to a lovely evening of slow burn-off down there, with a couple of beers, the setting sun and the glow from a slow fire. Later I'll plant more Australian natives in those burned areas of grass.

Not a bad (joint) effort for a Friday!

1 comment:

bou said...

Enjoying your blog greatly. Wanted to post a comment to make sure you had some feedback...Keep it up!

About me

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I started this blog in 2009 when I became a full-time caregiver. My husband had been diagnosed a few years earlier with primary progressive aphasia. Over the next four years until his death in 2013, we went on a journey of discovery about this rare condition. My blog is about what I learned, how we both coped and how the journey deepened our love and appreciation of each other. Allen’s journey is over, but mine goes on.