Sleep, Stretch, Ski: One woman's search for satisfaction in Central Oregon | Local News | Bend | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon
The Source Weekly’s reporting is made possible by the power of your support. Be a part of it!
Pin It

Sleep, Stretch, Ski: One woman's search for satisfaction in Central Oregon 

I'm no Elizabeth Gilbert, and when my life changed dramatically a few years ago I didn't set off for Italy to eat, India to pray, or Indonesia to find love. I didn't have the money or the resources. My husband died in September 2006 and it took me six months to put one foot in front of the other, to figure out finances, and to adjust to not being a full-time caregiver. It took another year for me to realize that I needed to head for Bend.

Twelve years before his death, my husband Ralph had a devastating bicycling accident that left him a C-4 quadriplegic, unable to move his arms or legs, incapable of eating or voiding on his own. One minute he was an amazingly fit athlete training for the California Land Rush, a 400-mile, two-day road bike sprint from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and the next he was flying over the handlebars of his Italian racing bike, about to plunge into a reality neither of us was prepared for.

I knew that our lives would never be the same that first night in the intensive care unit when a sensible nurse told me that if my husband lived I would have to learn how to clean his ears and brush his teeth. Two months later Ralph was released from the rehab center where I had been taught the proper way to move his extremities, and how to give him a sponge bath. A kind nursing assistant helped me tie him with old bed sheets into the front seat of our Honda Civic. We weren't going skiing, biking or rock climbing together again. We were headed home to a hospital bed in the middle of our Oakland, California living room. Ralph was told to concentrate on his breathing. No one suggested out loud that his wife needed to get a new attitude, but it was clear to everyone that she did.

Ralph, a nuclear physicist by training, tackled the situation pragmatically, like the brilliant scientist he was. He looked only forward, concentrating on the things he could do, not on what he'd lost. While I floundered around feeling sorry for myself and our situation, Ralph learned to manipulate his electric wheelchair and to use a computer by tapping the keyboard with a mouth stick. He got very good at allowing others to do for him what he could not do for himself. He let go of the past. I had no choice but to follow his lead.

I gave up cycling, skiing, and climbing. Despite our limited finances and insurance coverage, I had to find full-time, live-in caregivers to assist with Ralph's 24-hour needs. It was not a job I could do alone. The people we hired were not professional nursing assistants but folks we could afford: undocumented aliens, guys just out of prison, single mothers desperate for a place to live, former (and sometimes current) drug addicts. It was a world we knew nothing about, but that we embraced. We had no other options. We needed their help.

Every day was a new learning experience. We