Lovler: Inside lessons on caregiving

Ronnie Lovler with flowers
Ronnie holds "get well" flowers at Oak Hammock. (Photo courtesy Ronnie Lovler)

Early September should have been the start of a wonderful month with lots of great things happening. It is my birthday month, and we took a family trip to Savannah. I was scheduled to go to a conference on Amelia Island right after I returned, which would have given me time for sunrise strolls on the beach. 

Instead, September turned into a dark month marked by two falls, which required two hospital stays, three surgeries—including one partial hip replacement—and two extended stays at a skilled nursing facility. None of it was fun.

Ironically, all this began just as I was about to start work on a series of Mainstreet articles on aging and caregiving. My intentions had been to report the story, not to live it—at least the caregiving side of things. I’m already 74, so I knew something about aging, but now I understand a lot more.

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I had been scheduled to drive out to Amelia Island for a regional conference on Sept. 11. I opted to wait it out a day because of pain from a fall. I thought if I just left Monday morning, everything would be OK. I was wrong! 

That evening I got stuck in my kitchen and everything went awry. My hip moved out of place. I couldn’t budge—or even take a step to grab my phone off the kitchen countertop. I had on my Apple watch and, fortuitously, my son’s number was at the top of my call list. I called him and he came running. Soon Alachua County Fire Rescue was at my door.

The pain was unbearable. I never really knew unbearable pain before that day. Not even when I was giving birth to my two sons. I don’t have words to describe it. I screamed. I sobbed. I couldn’t move my leg, not even a fraction of an inch.

ACFR carted me away to the emergency room at HCA Florida North Florida Hospital. I hurt a lot. I don’t remember much except the pain. I know I spent hours on a stretcher/bed in the emergency room, scans were taken confirming a broken femur, and very early the next morning I underwent surgery. I don’t remember much of it except holding my son’s hand and then groggily coming out of anesthesia. I was broken, but it seemed I would be fixed. 

I spent a few days in the hospital, then was transferred to Oak Hammock Skilled Nursing Center, the place that has recently become my home away from home. I immediately began rehab to continue the process of learning to walk again. It seemed to be going well. I got some hands-on training to maneuver a walker and took some strides down the hall, always in the company of a physical therapist. 

I was doing well, they said. Well enough to walk around my room and adjoining bathroom on my own. I got cocky, and I fell again. Seems like one fall wasn’t good enough for me. Back again to North Florida Hospital—and to surgery. 

My timing could not have been worse. My second fall happened at the same time  Hurricane Ian was targeting Florida. I spent 16 hours in the emergency room before being scheduled for surgery the next day. I was miserable. A partial hip replacement and four days later it was back to Oak Hammock. I didn’t laugh when the transport driver said to me, “Hey, didn’t I pick you up just a few days ago?”

On Oct. 5 I recorded the first entry into my Pain Journal. A relative suggested I keep a journal of the pain, but I had not done it because the pain kept me from concentrating. It hurts to stand with a damaged hip. It hurts to inch forward with a broken hip. It hurts to do anything with a hip in repair, even to just lie down. And I couldn’t concentrate or focus on writing, not even to record my pain.  

On October 11, I jotted down more thoughts and feelings. I attempted to eat a bit of breakfast but was unable to get anything down. I was constantly on the verge of tears and was full of anxiety. My legs were swollen, and none of my shoes fit. I was told that I might need to do another Doppler scan to check for blood clots. The first one hurt a lot, so I was scared. 

I listened to bits and pieces of conversation from nurses and nurses’ aides in the hallway. Are they talking about me? Probably not, but still… I feel forgotten and abandoned. Am I hopeless? Helpless? Will I ever get better? 

Ronnie at Oak Hammock’s rehab facility.

I felt like nobody told me anything. I am not talking about a discharge date. I just wanted someone to talk to me and give me some information about me. About what my next steps are—if there are any. My sense of panic and depression took over. I was not a patient patient. 

I have wonderful friends and family, people who really do care. But I didn’t want to talk to anyone. Physical recovery is exhausting. It may look like you’re sitting or lying around doing nothing, but that is not the case. Your body is hard at work, mending and fixing what’s broken. Talking to people diverts your energy.

As I healed, I worried about the stories I had committed to doing for Mainstreet. I was concerned about my inability to focus and write. 

Thankfully, I am now regaining my mobility and learning to walk again. I currently depend on a walker, but I am looking forward to transitioning to the use of a cane, and perhaps even walking unassisted again. I do have an obsessive fear of falling and it might take me a while to overcome that. 

It was not my intention to embed myself in the care industry when I first came up with the idea of looking at caregiving in Alachua County. I thought I would just be doing it from the outside looking in—and I wish that had been the case.

But the silver lining to my experience is that I now have a much better idea of how things work and the difference caring caregivers can make to one’s recovery. 

I look forward to applying that during Mainstreet’s Aging Matters series coming soon. 

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Mallory O'Connor

What a great story! Talk about using lemons to make lemonade. Personal experience is a wonderful “teacher” and Ronnie’s story has all the intensity of something observed first hand–not just from a distance.

Mary Ann Ferguson

Ronnie. So sorry to hear this. I’ve lost count of my falls. Started in 2010 faceplate down a flight of cement steps, ruined retina, numerous eye surgeries, depth perception gone. Twice in LA. Twice in Minnesota, numerous times on campus, several on farm, big scar over eye, hip replaced, wrist broke and then had to be rebroke with implant. I’m scared to death of falling. Use cane, avoid stairs, tried balance therapy, wear a call button. This is hell. I wish you all the best of luck. Be careful. Everytime I’ve fallen I was rushing.

Blanca Martir

So sorry to hear about your ordeal! Glad you’re getting better. Sometimes we go through things to gain knowledge and experience so we can share and help others. Please call some time so we catch up.
Take care
Blanca