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Suddenly our life had changed

Would you be prepared if serious illness affected a family member?

Close up of a nurse touching hand of a patient

People talk about life-changing moments. Some are good, like the birth of a baby; others are hard, such as the death of a family member. Over the years our family has seen a few but never as intensely as May 4, 2016 when my husband started getting ill. It was nothing remarkable. Our whole house, one at a time, had come down with a horrendous flu virus. This one would be different.

Over the years our family has gone through many, many challenges. Looking back, my two children we farm with and I, recognize that we have been groomed for what is now upon us. This virus caused my husband to develop a rare autoimmune condition called Miller-Fisher Syndrome.

The symptoms mimic stroke. The virus triggers the body to mount an immune response upon the nervous system and the myelin sheath of the eyes. My husband went from a functioning person to a man who could not walk, properly focus his vision or use his hands. We learned about CAT scans and ambulance drives. We learned about MRIs and waiting, facing the reality that for at least the foreseeable future, my husband would no longer be able to work.

This syndrome is treatable with intravenous immunoglobulin that helps to fight the overactive immune response, but it is also dangerous, with some people ending up in ICU on life support. A nurse sits with the patient and closely monitors their respiration and heart while the IV is administered because the patient can suddenly go into full respiratory arrest. Thankfully there were only five of these treatments.

People tell us that we should just focus on the patient, but as farmers, we know we cannot. We also had to calve cows, kid goats, and finish lambing. We are also trying to relearn our financial world and figure out how to hay with only one man. Everyone talks about succession planning, but nobody talks about emergency preparedness planning.

My husband and I are joint owners with both of us having signing authority on all our accounts. This is very important. Financially, his off-farm work is now ended. This means that we have a lot of work to do to replace that income as well as being short staffed. The lesson learned is to make sure both people have the ability to use all the accounts with only one signature. It is also very important to know the other person’s passwords. Where do they keep the safety deposit keys? Do they have appointments that need to be cancelled? At a time of financial restructuring a family does not need to be paying for missed dental appointments.

All of our government accounts, such as GST, are also easily accessible by me because our farm is registered as a non-documented partnership.

Another helpful tip is that when a family member is hospitalized far from home the ability for them to have calls to stay connected is invaluable. We had a phone paid for by another family member which allowed daily, sometimes hourly, calls to the hospital. It allowed my husband to remain connected to his life. He was able to tell us where he had left off repairing the electric fence, for example. Yes, we could have figured that out, but he needed to feel connected and not isolated.

We have also learned that it is very important to let others help. We knew that the family simply couldn’t be at the hospital that often so we requested our church and neighbours to help with visiting, and we are talking with people about help with repairs and teaching us how to do things. The main thing that we have learned is that all we really have is today.

This year as we get ready to celebrate Father’s Day it will also be without my dad, who died quite suddenly the day before my husband was taken to the hospital. My father-in-law passed a few years ago, so I am grateful that my children will still have a father to celebrate with.

A quote from poet Percy Bysshe Shelley says, “Fear not for the future, weep not for the past.” We have learned from farming that along with the seasons there is change but we always adapt.

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