The last five months have been great and action-packed for the Dallas Martins.
We made our first family trip since Claire’s accident in late September. My youngest sister was getting married in southern California and everyone was in the wedding except for Tiffany. Poor Tiffany. We made it a week-long trip, took the girls to Disneyland and introduced Tiffany and my brother to Northwood’s Inn and their exquisite wall art. The highlight – as always – was being with family and goofing off together.
We’ve added some new members to our family as well, by Claire’s choice, and I mention this because they were ever-present during our trip in California. Phineas and Ferb, of Disney Channel fame, are daily visitors. Claire is slow to wake up in the morning, albeit a little on the cranky side. Phineas and Ferb make short work of that disposition each day. They worked wonders during while navigating the patchwork highway system in California: we’d bring multiple fully charged iPods and iPhones on each trip pre-loaded with Phineas and Ferb episodes and end the day with energy depleted for both the electronics and the parents.
Phineas and Ferb have come to the rescue in other areas as well. As Claire has continued therapy, some exercises have gotten a little more intense than others. Claire has also shown muscle fatigue which makes her more disposed to pain during stretching and therapy sessions. She doesn’t hesitate to tell us when she’s uncomfortable and a small whimper soon turns to uncontrolled sobs if a stretch is held too long or she has to stand up for a prolonged time. We’ve found that if she can fight through the initial pain and doesn’t work herself up over having to do the stretches, she can benefit from longer exercises, like standing in her stander for more than 15 minutes. Phineas and Ferb have provided the optimal distraction. Even if Claire has worked herself up, we can bring out Phineas and Ferb and they have the power to help her moderate and calm down. We don’t go anywhere without them anymore.
Three-and-a-half inch screens, however, weren’t cutting it anymore, so we used some of the funds donated to Claire to purchase an iPad 2 in October. We’ve been able to download a number of therapy apps as well that require reaching out and touching. Tiffany has started using Phineas and Ferb episodes as a way to get Claire to reach as well: “You can’t start watching unless you reach out and press play.” It’s the reward approach to motivation and it works. Most of the time.
We lost some continuity through the holidays for a number of reasons. Multiple drivers impact Claire’s therapy schedule. Weather is the determining factor on horse therapy since Claire rides in an outdoor – though covered – arena. Dallas has head an up-and-down three months including heavy rain – finally – and dipping temperatures. Pair this with the seasonal bugs floating around and sticking with a schedule has been a tough prospect.
A big interruption came last month as well. Tiffany and I celebrated our 10th anniversary with a trip to northern California for eight days. We spent four nights three hours north of San Francisco in Mendocino County and wrapped things up with three nights in San Francisco. Our intent was to get away from the noise for five days before slowly easing ourselves back into the bustle. It worked well.
Our drive up to Mendocino was fantastic, stopping briefly in Sausalito for lunch before making our way toward vineyards and redwoods. Our drive took us right through some state protected land with trees guarding both sides of the two lane road. Now when I moved to North Texas, it took me a while to get used to some of the smells that can assault your senses: they’re not pleasant. In the northern Californian forests, however, the smells are sublime. I could get used to them. Tiffany and I took a brief walk through the forest as the light cast cookie cutter shapes on the floor. It was grand.
This jaunt inspired the first picture of the trip for me. Tiffany is in the bottom left hand corner, dwarfed by the trees.
Twenty minutes after exiting the forest Tiffany’s breath was taken away. We came over a bluff and in to full view of the Pacific. I’m not prone to superlatives, but it was stunning. The coastline was our guide to where we were staying. Alegria Inn is a family run business that operates a handful of cottages and rooms in Mendocino proper. They have a private beach and loads of character. The innkeepers, Elaine and Eric, are originally from the Bay Area and have been operating the Inn for more than 13 years now. We ate at a lot of spots in and around Mendocino, however, the best food we ate was at Alegria. Every morning Elaine prepares a full breakfast for the guests. It was wonderful, including the edible flora.
Tiffany and I stayed in the Cove Cottage which has its own private pathway down to the beach on Mendocino Bay. We arrived in Mendocino in time to catch the sunset and it set the tone for our stay on the coast.
We got a lot of exercise walking the beaches and headlands around Mendocino, particularly during the morning and evening when we wanted to take pictures. On our way back from a trip north of Mendocino, we pulled off to see a small lighthouse. The views were great and we filled our memory cards with images. The temperature was brisk as you can see in our selected garb.
The temperature kept dropping as the wind picked up and the sun approached the horizon. Tiffany has convertible gloves that switch from fingerless to mittens and she was using the mittens: when that happens, I know she’s ready to call it a day and flee to warmer environs. As we began our half mile walk back to the car, however, we turned for one last look at the lighthouse. It was one of those times when we knew that if we didn’t turn around again and go back, we’d kick ourselves for being lazy. We’re glad we went back.
It was a great trip. It was the first time Tiffany and I traveled together since our honeymoon, just the two of us. We were uncertain how we would do on the emotional front, but that proved to be a fleeting concern. Skype helped assuage any attachment anxiety with Autumn, Heidi and Claire. My mom came down for the first few days with the girls and my dad joined her for the last few. Our good friends the Barnes again stepped in and helped shuttle the girls to school and take my parents and the girls to see Christmas lights one night. It was easy to escape knowing our daughters were in such good hands.
Our return meant resuming right where we’d left off and trying to make up for some lost effort. Being out for a week emphasized the importance of Claire’s therapy sessions. The eight-day therapy vacation was evident in her tight shoulders and hips. But it was worth it. The recharge we received from the time off was felt equally by Claire. It helped us recognize for Claire that there are times when doing nothing is important.
Claire’s vacation was well-timed as well. We started moving Claire off Baclofen in October, hoping to see that she no longer needed it. We gave it a strong go for about six weeks and at the end of the experiment, it was apparent that Baclofen is helping Claire, particularly with sleep and therapy. The good news is that when Claire went back on Baclofen it was at 33% of what she was prior to our attempt. More important, her limbs are loose again and she’s sleeping better. When we left on our trip, Claire has just finished going through this effort and was exhausted: so it was a welcome break.
Overall, we haven’t seen any monumental, big steps with Claire’s recovery in the last several months. She continues to make progress, though it is getting harder to distinguish between what is new and wishful thinking. We rely on the opinions of others – friends, family, therapists – a lot more now to keep our hope kindled. They see changes more than we do. Of some things we are certain: Claire is seeing better, she’s responding to requests more and eating pudding like snacks each day. We remain optimistic and hopeful that this continues to be just a matter of time before Claire is talking and walking again.
Autumn and Heidi are being troopers. They are sad that their holiday break is coming to a close. They feel a little shortchanged that Mom and Dad were absent for a portion of it and want to extend the break to make up for the lost time. They’re precious girls.
As always, thank you for the continued prayers and support. We understand how much people continue to hope and pray for Claire, particularly when we start hearing that our friends and family are itching for an update. Thank you for your patience and we hope 2012 brings you closer with family and friends.