Hard Lessons

To paraphrase a Bruce Springsteen song, life has been giving me some hard lessons lately, about pain, loss, disability and hope. Years of chronic pain, my mother's death, my hearing impairment and other serious medical problems have sorely tested me. When I finally found a doctor who took my pain seriously, he asked me why I had checked "suicidal thoughts" on my new patient questionnaire. I told him, "I have 30 years ahead of me if I live as long as my mother did. I refuse to live in pain for another 30 years."

In all that I've learned and written since then, the most surprising discovery has been my ability to remain optimistic about my life and my future. If you hear despair, anger, frustration and fear in what I post here, please don't turn away. All is not dark, and eventually a glimmer of hope will light the path ahead.

Saturday, March 23, 2013


At the moment, we have 11 dogs and 3 cats. Nine of those dogs spend time inside the house; the others (who are just too big) are outside dogs. The oldest of them is our French bulldog, Georgie. He is 13 years old and aging fast. He often seems lost and confused (and no wonder, with so many other dogs coming and going). He is incontinent most of the time. He knows he needs to go outside to pee, but the urine leaks out as he hurries to the door. Lately he has lost control of his bowels. The whole incontinence thing is hard to deal with. I suppose we could put doggy diapers on him (assuming he would cooperate and that the other dogs would leave the diapers alone). It may yet come to that.

One of the hardest things for me is that Georgie's incontinence reminds me of Mom's. Like all the women on her side of the family, she had always had an irritable, small-capacity bladder. It wasn't altogether surprising when total urinary incontinence came upon her. The harder part, though, was bowel incontinence.

Mom had been this strong, capable person all my life. Hard-working, controlling, no-nonsense. One day when she and I were "visiting" (her listening to me talk about the dogs; me listening to her talk about the Dutch girl in an old painting on her wall, a girl with whom Mom said she had walked the beach somewhere), she suddenly said, "I think I just shit myself."

The surprised expression on Georgie's face when his bowels let go reminds me of the expression on Mom's face when she made that announcement. I can't say that Mom's loss of control of her bowels was any easier or harder on me than her loss of control of her mind. It's still inconceivable that such a super-competent person should become so lost, helpless and demented. And I wonder if the same fate awaits me.

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