The extension ladder is old and not very stable.  The years of very little exercise have stiffened this sixty-six year old body so that moving up and down a ladder is not such an easy task any more. Lifting the ladder off the hooks in the garage tested my wheelchair lifting muscles.  Then there was the matter of moving the ladder every few minutes along the gutter so that I could climb up with my bucket, hook it on a rung and grab handfuls of smelly rotted little seeds from the neighbor’s trees.

I am not much of a ladder person.  Heights are just not my thing.  I suppose I am sort of acrophobic.  I don’t mind riding in an airplane, although recent news events may change my opinion on that.  On Youth trips to a beautiful camp fifty miles northwest of Colorado Springs called Lutheran Valley Retreat, I joined in the climb up Cedar Mountain.  I still remember my first time.  I was terrified.  As a pastor and counsellor on the trip, more than ten years older than the oldest of the Youth, I was too embarrassed to admit it.  The way I got through the climb that first year was to convince myself that if thirteen year old people could climb it, at thirty, I ought to be able to climb it.  I decided that in spite of my insides being less sure of it, I was safe.

Other than the year the lightning almost got us, I felt safe from then on.  After the first year I was a seasoned pro, climbing with bravado.  Still, if I am not completely confident that I am secure, heights are very unsettling to my insides.  I will not walk to the edge of a very tall building to look out windows if they are floor to ceiling.  Vertigo sets in.

As I was climbing up the ladder to clean out the gutters yesterday afternoon, the issue of my safety came to mind.  The ladder sometimes slipped at the top toward one side or the other as I climbed up.  I started thinking about what I would do if it fell, where I would land, what way to jump if it started going.  It was not a particularly scary thought to me, just a matter of fact analysis of the situation.

As I was analyzing the dynamics of falling, it popped into my mind that hurting myself would not just be a matter of getting fixed whatever broke, arm, shoulder, knee, or something worse.   What about Mary Ann.  She needs me to do the most basic daily tasks with her or for her. Hurting myself would hurt her.  She counts on me. If I were to do something stupid, our ability to maintain our little world would be gone, at least for a time.  She would certainly be mightily irritated with me.

The way I responded to that realization was to become very methodical about setting the feet of the ladder, making sure it was flat against the gutters.  I stepped up the ladder more slowly.  I caefully hung the bucket for the sludge.  Thinking about my responsibilty to Mary Ann as Caregiver translated to more care of myself.  

What happens to me is not just about me.  Those of you who have children are likely to have come to the realization that the choices you make do not just affect you.  Riding a bike without a helmet, ignoring the seat belt, driving twenty miles over the speed limit (under ten is okay, right?), smoking like a chimney, whatever puts you at a significant health risk is more than an issue of your freedom to do as you please.  It is no longer just about you. 

There is also a frustrating flip side to the matter of keeping safe for the sake of our care receiver.  What would be fair, if fairness were an option, is for the one for whom we are caring to have the same concern for keeping safe.  It would seem fair for the Care Receiver to avoid taking risks so that their Caregiver would not have an even tougher time trying to deal with the consequences of their risk-taking gone bad. 

I hesitate to bring this one up again, but it is one of the most difficult areas in our relationship as Care partners.  It seems that one of us in this partnership is intent on taking risks no matter how likely the risk is to produce more work for the Caregiver.   The truth is, there is no thoughtful intent to make work for the Caregiver by taking unnecessary risks.  The kind of thinking that would be needed for that intent is no longer available.  The risky actions are just the reflex actions of a mind and body with the simple need for the freedom to move at will and do the same things that have always been done.  There is no fully conscious awareness that the disease process has taken away some freedoms. 

Nonetheless, it is very difficult to watch a Loved One assert that independance without regard for the consequences to herself or her Caregiver.  It is just part of the reality within which we live now that Parkinson’s and Parkinson’s Disease Dementia have joined us in our journey.  Fairness is irrelevant to matter of safety. I need to keep myself safe so that I can continue to care for her.  She is free to do whatever she can no matter the risk. 

Nobody said life is fair.  If it was fair, she wouldn’t have to deal with the ravages of the Parkinson’s in the first place.  It is not fair, it just is.

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