Leaving LoRayne

With a dab of perseverance and a dollop of faith, My Aunt LoRayne proved to me that in the worst of circumstances, all things are possible with God!!

The worst nine months of my life? Possibly. Mostly because I have fibromyalgia, a little known illness that sometimes includes chronic pain and debilitating fatigue. The doctors back then had told me to stay stress free. Oh sure…

Actually, I was doing okay until my Aunt LoRayne was found lying on the church lawn a block from her home, having suffered a heart attack. Alan, my husband, and I drove the hour and a half to Williamson, LoRayne’s and my home town, only to be told her heart was too weak for an operation. I arranged for her to see a specialist in our capital city of Charleston, West Virginia, Dr. K.C. Lee.

Dr. Lee was compassionate, but honest: LoRayne had a 50 percent chance of surviving the surgery because of her deteriorating heart.

Faith in hand, LoRayne, or Lo, as we called her, didn’t hesitate to let Dr. Lee know who was in charge. “God didn’t let me survive to let me die,” she told him. “Between you and God, I’ll be fine.” She dismissed her grim odds. Remarkably, she did much better than expected and came to rest and recuperate with Alan and me after her surgery.

The counselors were emphatic about her diet restrictions, particularly one: “Feed her no sodium.” Not to worry. Because of my own health, I was sensitive to medical instruction. I scoured the aisles at the local grocery and made her meals from scratch. I wasn’t staying stress free, but God would see me through. It won’t be that long and she’ll be able to care for herself, I told myself.

Two weeks later, a thud in the middle of a restless night jarred me fully awake. I found Lo bunched up on the bedroom floor. We rushed to the hospital by ambulance, where an Emergency Room physician quizzed me as to why there was no sodium in my aunt’s system.

“Well they told me not to…”

In my zeal, I had overdone my job and almost killed my aunt. I called the hospital. “You distinctly said ‘NO sodium!” I said.

The voice on the other end was incredulous. “Nobody omits ALL the sodium!”

It was a relief of sorts: a fixable solution and we could finally go out to dinner! LoRayne and I were both ecstatic. She was as tired of eating bland meals as I was of cooking them.

Alan allowed me to sleep in the mornings, checking on LoRayne before work and sometimes fixing her breakfast. My sharp-minded aunt and Alan discussed news and political events, religion, and even one upped each other with sports statistics. The patient was doing better than the primary caregiver—me!

We joked about the sodium incident each time I cooked. Maybe it was because of that episode that I wasn’t overly alarmed when I found LoRayne disoriented and teetering in the bathroom. I remember thinking: It’s probably a deficiency of something.

A quick phone call and Alan informed me she had been alert and capable when he left.

“Lo, let’s get you dressed.” She responded with gibberish and could barely walk. As I prodded her arms through her blouse, fearing the worst at that point, my words consoled: “Some enzyme must be out of whack. We’ll get it fixed, darling.”

She had a routine appointment that morning with a Primary Care physician she’d briefly seen in the hospital. I decided it might be best to keep it rather than risk a long wait in an emergency room. The glaze over her eyes frightened me and I hauled a mostly incoherent, babbling woman into his office, only to be told her condition was common among the elderly—dementia. He might as well have told me she was the bride of Frankenstein.

“It’s not possible,” I kept repeating. “Last night she recited a recipe from memory and we played gin rummy after dinner. Dementia doesn’t come on like the flu!”

But, he wasn’t her regular doctor and didn’t know the intelligent, take-charge woman who had suffered a heart attack just a few weeks ago. Telling us nothing could be done, unbelievably, he sent us away.

Frustrated and more scared than I’d ever been, I drove to her cardiologist’s office, where I rigged her arms around my shoulders and dragged her inside. Hopeful though I was, he told us the same thing. “She has dementia. She’s old!” Yes, but…

People stared as I lugged LoRayne through doctor’s buildings. Haven’t you ever seen a drooling, old person being towed by a hysterical middle-aged woman?! With only one option left, I asked if she had enough energy to visit her surgeon, Dr. Lee. She nodded yes and I knew she was as scared as me. Oh Lord, why didn’t I call an ambulance this morning?

“I’m so sorry LoRayne.”

She shook her head lovingly, but the glaze scared me. What if Dr. Lee turns her away? I knew we were both thinking the same thing.

Dr. Lee saw her immediately and after a few word and sight tests, he knew she’d had a stroke, a diagnosis I’d figured out by then. He would admit her to the hospital. Tears flooded her face and I fell sobbing in a grateful and exhausted heap into his chair. Every muscle and bone in my body ached.

The right side of LoRayne’s body was paralyzed and her speech was garbled. They told us she’d probably never speak clearly or walk again. Lo rolled her eyes. “We’ll see about that!” they said. Having survived countless operations during her life, she and God were up to the challenge.

My caregiving was now replaced with rehab visits.

Several weeks later, she left rehab shuffling on a walker and talking, some words garbled, a few understandable. Her progress was amazing, but she had a long way to go. Alan and I worked with her and she continued therapy. Every day marked a small milestone. She was my sidekick and though the stroke had made her emotionally dependent on me, she insisted her goal was to live independently.

After months of home therapy and care, amazingly, she felt ready to live on her own with a part-time caregiver. And she wanted to go home, to Williamson, back to her church and friends. We sold her house, found homes for the stuff she didn’t need, and found an apartment in a high rise for the elderly, a short walk into town. Perfect. Within weeks she was set up for housekeeping, complete with caregiver. She was excited and scared and so was I. Add to that totally exhausted. It had been nine long months and some days I felt near total collapse.

Not so for Lo! She was excited about her new living arrangement and the wonderful women who shared the seventh floor. “God put me in the perfect spot,” she informed me. She made it sound more like a sorority than an apartment.

Still, she was emotionally dependent on me; we talked on the phone several times a day and always before bedtime. I was excited for her, but the responsibility for her finances, the detailed care, the selling of her house, and the parceling of furnishings had taken a major toll. My fibromyalgia flared to a new level. And then depression set in. Alan suggested we take a month and drive through the Rockies. I loved the West, but it seemed too soon to leave LoRayne. Plus, the repercussions to my own body might upset the plan.

“We’ll be laid back,” Alan assured me. “We’ll stop and go as you want and sightsee at our leisure.” A perfect plan. I worried about broaching it to Lo, but after telling her, she seemed okay. However, the day before we left, she cried into the telephone: “I can’t believe you’re leaving me!”

My heart dropped. “I’m not leaving you, Lo, I’ll be gone a few weeks, we can still talk on the phone, and if there’s an emergency, I’ll fly home.” That seemed to satisfy her.

Two days into the journey, however, LoRayne cried into the telephone again: “Don’t leave me! Please don’t leave me alone!” I listened in disbelief and tried to reassure her. “You’re not alone, Lo. You have a wonderful support system of friends, a caregiver, and you have God.” But each call was the same. By the time we got to Kansas I told Alan we should probably turn back.

Alan was my angel. “I’ll do whatever you think best, but you need to think about your health, too,” he said.

Prayers and tears came easily that night. “Dear God,” I prayed, “please show me what to do, because, Lord, if LoRayne is the same tomorrow, I’m turning around.” It was probably after 2:00 a.m. when I finally dozed off.

I told Alan what I’d prayed without much enthusiasm about the possible result. However, when I called Lo that morning, she said, “I’m so sorry, Karyn. Please don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.”

I was stunned! Thank you, Lord! When I found my voice, I asked, “What happened?”

She had prayed to Father God and had spoken to her caregiver; both had told her what she already knew—she was acting childish and selfish. Her words. My aunt had never been either. Emotionally she had to untie the rope and set herself free and with Father God’s help, that’s exactly what she did.

It started out harrowing, but Alan and I had a wonderful vacation and Lo gained a new sense of independence. She’d been told she’d never walk or talk again, but in less than a year, God rendered a different verdict. We serve an awesome God!

When I look back, I see that the impossible was made possible with God. He was always there—prodding, helping, and carrying—serving as caregiver to both Lo and me, giving each of us what we needed at precisely the right moment.

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