When Caregiving Took A Harsh Turn

Gracie and I recently made a hospital visit to see family friends struggling with a significant health crisis.  Standing in their room next to Gracie in her wheelchair, I couldn’t help but recall the reversed roles from a dozen years prior.  This same couple visited Gracie and I as she recovered from one of her many surgeries—in the same room.  Leaving Gracie to sing for this dear man who roomed with her father in college, I stepped out of the room and noticed long ward.

During her many years of surgeries, I recalled events that happened in each of the rooms on this particular floor.  “5-D” for many years served as the orthopedic floor, and the sights, smells, and sounds all flooded back on me.  None of those memories, however, equal the intensity of what happened in the room adjacent to where Gracie voice could be heard singing “His Eye Is On The Sparrow” for our friend.

This event is recounted in HOPE FOR THE CAREGIVER below, or the audio of a recent interview with Dr. Chuck Betters

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From HOPE FOR THE CAREGIVERA book for the journey of caregiving

A “Flash-Bulb Moment of Caregiving

The bitter taste of old coffee filled my mouth as I hunched over a stack of medical records, while I fought against gagging from the nauseating stench of my wife’s fresh vomit still on my clothes. Caffeine and stress fought against me as I tried in vain to steady my shaking hands and calm my heart down after watching her endure a seizure. Ignoring the looks of nurses and staff, as well as the beeps of countless machines and various announcements over the hospital’s intercom system, I sat halfway down the dimly lit ward with my back against the wall and scanned over charts, lab reports, and doctors’ notes in the massive folder that bore my wife’s name. Despite three years of marriage, that night served as my first opportunity to review the file that had steadily grown since Gracie’s car accident at age seventeen, on November 18, 1983.

How Bad Could It Have Been?

After her wreck and lengthy recovery, Gracie returned to Nashville’s Belmont University where I first met her. Mutual friends felt us a perfect match, and, from the moment I first saw her, I agreed.

“Peter, she’s wonderful, but you need to know that she had a serious car accident that left her permanently hurt,” one of Gracie’s friends warned.

Several others, including her family, repeated the admonition as our relationship grew, but with no frame of reference as to what the caution meant, I plunged ahead. Nodding my head with an understanding I lacked, I assumed that no matter what her injuries, I still wanted to meet her. My limited understanding led me to think, How bad could the car wreck have been? After all, she’s back at school, and others were trying to set us up.

“Good Lord, Girl, What Happened To You!?”

As she walked toward me, I swear to you that the sun followed her every step. Although noticing the limp, it didn’t detract. This girl was beautiful in ways that I could not express. A nearby friend offered a squeegee to help with the drool flowing from my open mouth as I watched her head my way. Surprising me with her forthrightness, she walked right up to me, stuck out her hand, smiled, and said, “Hi Peter, I’m Gracie Parker. I need to sit down. May I put my feet in your lap?”

Plopping her misshapen feet into my lap, we sat with a group of friends in the courtyard by the student center. Noticing the scars extending above the ankles and disappearing under her cropped jeans, I “smoothly” blurted out, “Good Lord, girl, what happened to you?!”

With a direct look, her frank but understated remark was only, “I had a bad car accident.”

A whirlwind courtship and three years of marriage later, I sat outside a hospital room in the middle of the night, following my wife’s grand mal seizure. This time, I directed the same question to the pile of medical documents in front of me.

“Good Lord, girl, what happened to you?”

Recognizing The Devastation

Not even her family had read what I now studied. Poring through doctors’ notes, I realized Gracie’s accident was unlike anything I imagined. This was no fender-bender resulting in a broken limb that would simply serve as a weather indicator for life. Turning the pages, one word just kept flooding my mind: devastation.
Tears hit a few of the pages, as I hung my head in grief and hopelessness. For the first time in my life, I felt a despair that would hover over me for the next dozen years—and one that still requires my vigilance to guard against. Reading until dawn, I closed the massive folder and sadly noted that the cover stated, “Volume 4 of 4.” Before converting most of her records electronically years ago, the volumes grew to seven—for just one of the twelve hospitals where she’s received treatment.

A Lifetime Impact

The events of that night forever altered me, along with the way I view life, hospitals, doctors, other people, my wife, and even God. Although immature, I was devoted. My sincere desire to care for this extraordinary woman led me to begin this journey. I never imagined, however, that the road would contain such suffering, loss, heartache, self-sacrifice, failure, and love.

Fueling the Mission

Staring down that hallway where I spent so much time, and so many tears, I felt my resolve increase.  How many more individuals trudge wearily to and from hospital rooms while plagued with despair and other dark thoughts?  Who speaks to them? Who speaks for them?

God continues to graciously allow me to address this vast need with my lifetime of experience.  As I sat with Gracie for the picture above, I’m grateful that it helped soften the “Flash-bulb” moment of nearly thirty years ago.

Clinging to a Rope in The Darkness

For all too long, I listened to my own dark thoughts. But when I started speaking out loud the things of God, things changed.  That was the rope in the darkness that i could cling to, and it helped me get to solid ground where I could catch my breath. (Play the clip below)

This is our mission to family caregivers. We are committed to strengthening and equipping those who find themselves in despair as they care for a suffering or impaired loved one. While the need is unprecedented, our focus and resolve remains clear and embedded in this verse from the Apostle Paul.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.  2 Corinthians 1:4