“Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.” ~Zen Proverb
My experience at the Myotonic Dystrophy Conference on Saturday, October 22, reminded me of this Zen proverb. The morning was full of hope as the doctors and researchers enlightened us about the progress they are making. In their work, they chop wood and carry water looking for a cure. Their excitement is contagious as they move closer to their goal.
Then in the afternoon family sharing group, I experienced almost immediate discouragement as we began to share our experiences of chopping wood and carrying water. While we wait and hope for a cure, we deal with many frustrating day-to-day challenges caring for our loved ones.
Nothing discourages me more than the overwhelming challenge of interfacing with or hearing others’ stories of interfacing with a callous bureaucracy that doesn’t understand or seem to care about our needs. I’m not sure I could take it all in, but this is what I remember from the group meeting.
Painful memories were triggered as I listened to parents share about challenges I faced in the past:
- Two mothers of preschool children shared their challenge in finding a school with a suitable special needs program.
- Parents shared their concerns about their children’s difficulty making friends and being bullied at school.
- Several shared their challenges receiving social security disability and other vital services.
Fear surfaced related to current challenges Nicole and I face:
- One Ohio mother shared that they have been on the waiting list for a medicaid waiver for ten years. Ten years. We just applied in July and knew it could be months. But ten years. I may not even be alive in ten years. I think I was the oldest parent there.
- The difficulty finding suitable housing for our disabled loved ones. The facility where we applied told us about three weeks ago that it could be years before there is an opening.
Sorrow arose related to our fears for our children’s future:
- We all worry about what will happen to our children after we are gone.
- Because cognitive impairment, emotional blunting, and social apathy are features of the disease, our children manifesting these symptoms have little contact outside of their immediate family. We worry about who will love them after we are gone.
- Who will care for them the way we do now after we are gone? That is why I held such hope for being granted a medicaid waiver. Then Nicole would have an aid and a case manager who would help her with the things she can’t manage that I take care of now. Apparently, if she hasn’t received the waiver before I die, my death will create an emergency that will generate approval. I wish we could be proactive so these services were in place before I die. Then, at least, I could die in peace.
- One father related his fear that if they don’t leave their child enough money, she will be forced to live in inadequate and scary public housing.
I am so grateful that MDF has broadened their base beyond just looking for a cure, as important as that is. Talking with Pam Speer Lewis after this support group meeting helped lift my spirit. MDF is now advocating for easier access to the services that meet the day-to-day challenges DM families face. They have added “Care” to their mission of finding a “Cure” as their bracelet conveys.
I looked around our circle and felt such admiration for each person. Despite all our challenges, we keep chopping wood and carrying water, putting one foot in front of the other and doing whatever we can to make life better for ourselves and our loved ones.
Our last activity was responding in small table groups to two questions:
- What do you struggle with the most?
- How can we be of more help?
When I shared the responses from our table, I emphasized the need to support caregivers because some of us experience our own health challenges related to the stress of caring for our loved one. A much younger caregiver than I am at our table had experienced a recent stroke. Thankfully, he is recovering nicely.
As the conference was breaking up, a man who has adult onset came to me to thank me for advocating for caregivers. He told me a bit of his family’s story. He deals with his own challenges with DM as well as serving as a caregiver for family members experiencing a totally unrelated healthcare crisis. He knows both sides of the coin. My heart went out to him.
I could not help but notice what rare resilience each DM Warrior in that room demonstrates — those who carry this rare genetic neuromuscular disease, those of us who love and care for them, and the doctors and researchers who won’t give up until they find a cure. We are quite a community.