Some Things Can’t Be Fixed – Disabilities And Emotions

Some Things Can’t Be Fixed – Disabilities And Emotions

I don’t remember the particulars of the exercise, but years ago when I was working in the corporate world, we had a workshop where the people managing it were trying to change how we worked together. Somewhere in the exercise we were presented with a problem we had to solve. It had something to do with folding shirts which was ironic because I was one of those OCD people who owned a flip-and-fold to get my shirts folded just right. So that was my solution to the problem, a device to correct it.

When the presenter heard that, he declared I was a “technologist” – I felt like technology held the answer to all problems, and I don’t think that was far off from the truth. I have always been a problem solver. If someone gave me something that was broken, I wanted to fix it. I might not excel at the mechanical, but I could use the internet to find someone’s repair guide to fix so many broken devices. My parent’s appliances lived far beyond any expected date because I would search for the problem, find the broken part, and my father and I would fix it. Not the norm these days when the cost of a repairman coming out often comes close to the cost of just buying a new one!

The same mindset got me through years of working in technology in the corporate world. I didn’t per se love what I did, but I loved figuring out what was wrong and what the solution was. It was a challenge not unlike solving a complicated picture puzzle.

Some Things Can't Be Fixed - Solutions for Disabilities and Emotional Difficulties

And that was what made the past year so hard for me. I’m used to arriving at solutions. And last year I was dragged kicking and screaming to the reality that there are some things that can’t be fixed. My father’s disabilities from a stroke was the first real speed-bump I hit in life. Before that, there was always a flip-and-fold hiding in the wings somewhere. There was some Deus ex machina that solved every glitch if I dug deep enough. Until I was faced with someone with badly damaged eyesight and virtually no use of one half of his body.

He only lived nine months after his stroke but it was nine months of me learning to accept that there was little I could do besides being there for him. Early in his fitful attempt at recovery, I bought him an android tablet. The main reason I went in that direction was because he had several Android smart phones over the years. I hoped that his familiarity with the operating system would help him. This was before I learned fully how badly his sight was damaged in the stroke. I still have a hard time imagining what his world looked like. It was only when I saw him attempt to read and bits and pieces of the wrong words ran together that I began to figure out this wasn’t minor visual disturbance. Sure enough, the neurologist worked with him a bit and confirmed that half of his visual field was gone and it was a brain injury that is almost always permanent. He might have been able to get special glasses and learn to adjust to it but his condition never stabilized enough to get to that point.

Every route I tried failed. He couldn’t see well enough to use the tablet. He couldn’t speak clearly enough nor time his responses well enough to use any of the voice apps we tried. He spent the last months of his life utterly dependent on those of us around him to be his eyes, his ears, and often his voice. And although I still had fits of trying to fix small problems, I realized only a few months in that I could spend time fighting his symptoms or I could simply spend time being there for him. That probably sounds so simple to many of you, so obvious. But for someone who is used to problem solving, it was an incredibly bitter pill to swallow. And I saw the same in a lot of my relatives. Whether learned behavior or what, I don’t know. But so often when family visited, they offered solutions to the problems they observed. And I felt like a broken record explaining what we had tried and how fruitless it had been.

After his death, I learned that it’s not just broken bodies that are hard to mend. He and my mother had been together from their early 20’s into their 70’s. And she has been devastated by her loss. She has been the more feeble of the two for years now and has said often since his death that she never expected to outlive him. Although his health turned out be much worse than hers, it never seemed that way. He was one of those men who never sees the doctor until it’s too late. And although I blamed him (in my thoughts) for some time after his stroke, as I learned the magnitude of the things facing him, I decided I was glad that he didn’t spend the last years of his life feeling sick. He felt healthy and was active until the stroke. Months later he was gone. Not as good as going suddenly in your sleep, but at least he never had time to dwell on which specific ailment was going to be his undoing.

My mother has always had anxieties mixed with depression. From early in my childhood, I learned that there were things that would panic her. And I guess we were all lucky that I learned not to push her buttons and drive her nuts. Now, with the rock in her life suddenly gone, she has found herself adrift. And what started as simple grief has morphed into an inability to accept his death so strong that I have found her on her way out the door to see him in the nursing home – having utterly forgotten he died there peacefully months ago.

She is seeing a psychiatrist who I hope can help her over this big speed bump in her life, but it’s another example where I’m left unable to push a button or buy a gadget that will fix things. Another simple example where all I can do is be here for her and hope for the best. It’s taken a lot of my life to arrive at such a fundamental lesson in life!

Welcome to middle age…

What simple truths have you learned? When did life throw you a curve ball that you realized you couldn’t hit?

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