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Friday, January 22, 2010


I have never availed myself of the therapeutic services of a psychologist, though in the past few years our local public health service has given me the opportunity if I need it. Who has the time when you are a full-time caregiver? When I do have time off provided by the same public health service, I prefer to go out and do something fun instead or even just deal with household chores, also therapeutic, allowing me to feel I am controlling at least small aspects of our lives.

So on a recent Friday I took one of my therapeutic respite moments and met an old friend. We were going to see a movie that afternoon but she had heard about a psychic fair she really wanted to attend. Did I think we could do both? Well, my time was limited and on thinking it through I realized that going to a movie wasn't the best use of our time. After all we'd be facing a big screen for two hours and would have to be quiet, a tall order for us when we get together. I suggested we do lunch instead and then, if there was still time, go to this fair that opened later in the afternoon. It turned out I could only manage 30 minutes at the fair but it was enough time, I hoped, to ease my friend into it.

I am not a follower of psychic phenomena. It's not that I don't believe in it; I have had too many of my own interesting experiences to discount it. I feel it can be dangerous territory for someone who is vulnerable and suggestible; some information to a troubled mind could be difficult to process and might be misinterpreted. I know that in my case, signs that I have been certain of have turned out to be nothing more than idle fancies. But I was willing to tag along and I was curious.

As I had only a short time and my friend was undecided which psychic to choose (there were over a dozen at the fair making all kinds of claims) I said I would go first, pick the first psychic who wasn't busy and my friend could sit in and observe, this being her first time too consulting a psychic. For me it had all the feel of playing Ouija board with my friends as a kid, summoning up the names of the boys we would marry, or the time at boarding school at the age of 13 when my roommates and I had a seance with the lights dimmed and a fluorescent clock in the middle of our circle as our "candle" (no flames allowed in the dorms for obvious reasons) . That experience scared the living daylights out of me because we had a very convincing girl serving as our "medium" and she fell into the role with great gusto. I swore off the practice right then and there.

So it was with this attitude that I sat down for my reading. I was going to offer no clues to this woman who asked me to shuffle the tarot cards before she laid them out on the table. Her brow furrowed as she announced my relationship with my husband was troubled and that I had a very great need to make a trip to British Columbia. Well, at the mention of BC she had my attention.

A trip to BC has been on my mind for years ever since my sister became so ill five years ago with cancer. We had been trying to get out there for the past three years but preparation for a possibly life-changing surgical procedure Michael was to have took two whole years to finally unravel. We had stayed close to the phone all that time awaiting word on a date for this operation called Deep Brain Stimulation only to be kept in the dark and finally told that he was no longer considered a good candidate. We had wasted all that time. When I heard in September that my brother-in-law, my sister's primary caregiver, was also ill I immediately booked a cross-Canada train trip to leave mid-October, finally feeling we had the freedom to do so. I had only an inkling how ill poor Fred was and he wasn't to be diagnosed with terminal cancer until late November just a month before he died.

It was to be my first visit back to my beloved BC in thirty years. Finances, four children and my morbid fear of flying had prevented an earlier visit. Besides, my sister and her family had come out to visit us regularly every year until her latest illness so at least we were not deprived of their company.

That train trip never happened. At least not all of it. We made it to Winnipeg after two nights on the train but we had to abort rather dramatically and fly home because Michael's illness suddenly worsened and it was obvious that a continuation of the trip would be disastrous. My options were to carry on with the trip or return home, but given how sick Michael was, I knew I needed to get him home immediately and I couldn't inflict his illness on two already very sick people. At that difficult moment climbing aboard an airplane was the only option so I had to swallow my fear and just do it.

I was heartbroken at not seeing my sister perhaps for the last time. What I didn't know was that it would have been my last visit with Fred too. So when this psychic mentioned BC I was suddenly all attention. What she did not know at that point was that Michael is so ill and the tension between us is simply the tension that exists when a spouse has to slip out of the role of wife and become the nurse. Certain aspects of an intimate relationship must change but there is certainly no animosity between us. As for BC, I had long ago made my peace with not going out there, at least not yet and probably not before my sister dies.

The psychic continued to insist on my troubled relationship with my partner and spoke of an imminent separation between us, that my husband would go away and his departure would spell financial difficulty for me. At this point I offered that Michael is chronically ill but gave no further details. Her furrowed brow cleared and she suddenly seemed to understand. She told me my husband would need to go to a long term care institution and that would be the cause of our financial strains. This decision would cause me a great deal of stress, she said, because he would live a long time and this would be a long term commitment.

During Michael's most recent crisis and hospitalization, he was convinced he was dying. A doctor said that even though there were no physical indications to back this up, sometimes a patient has a sixth sense about these things. All of us braced ourselves for this; we did a lot of grieving in anticipation. In fact through the past three years , with Michael's TIA and heart attacks we had long ago accepted this possibility and had many occasions to prepare ourselves. So when Michael came home from the hospital this time and in worse condition than ever, we were convinced his time was limited. I immersed myself in his care, resumed my role as his sole caregiver with only a few hours of respite a week, feeling I could manage this at least in the short term and would reassess my capacity when things settled down.

But the psychic was speaking about very long term care. Up to that point I had not really given it much thought, not being able to think that far ahead. With advanced Parkinson's Disease caregiving is a very in-the-moment kind of commitment. You never know what the next hour will bring, let alone the next year or more.

Now, I do not put much stock in this woman's predictions but what she offered me was the opportunity to face the very real possibility of a much longer commitment to this disease. I had to face my inadequacies, my probable inability to carry on with the level of care I have already been providing and I had to come to terms with the very difficult decision I might have to make about handing over his care in the not-so-distant future.

I came home feeling rather shaken at such a prospect but the way I deal with any problem or crisis is to come up with a feasible plan. That night I sat down and looked critically at our financial situation and devised a strategy that would allow me to pay the heavy costs of institutional care and, at least in the short term, keep my living circumstances as unchanged as possible. I felt confident that it could be done with careful management. The emotional toll of having to let go of his care would be a more difficult proposition but as I have learned in the past, having a plan and a sense of control over a situation, no matter how small, can go a long way to easing the emotional response to a crisis.

Whether I believe this woman's prediction is immaterial. I do believe that she is an intuitive and, with my supplying a few key details, was able to mine the depth of my subconscious concerns that I had not yet faced. By the end of the day I had steeled myself for the long haul recognizing my limitations and acknowledging that at some point I might have to let go of Michael's care and by doing so face the difficult consequences. I felt gratitude to this woman whose name I cannot even remember. She provided me with a much needed therapy session that gave me a sense of control over the few things that a person can hope to control in this life. In the meantime, back to the task at hand.

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