Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Final Post

Well, here it is. This is going to be my first and last entry on this blog. Actually, I am writing this probably around 30 thousand feet in the air! Matt is passed out beside me (I am sure that won't surprise any of you who know him!). We were bumped up to first class so that it would be more convenient for me (oh the hardships of being in a wheelchair! Ha!). Steve and Lori's church flew me and Matt down to surprise the two of them for Christmas and it couldn't have worked out better! The two of them were definitely surprised! (Watch the video) We had an amazing time. We left Mom and Dad home alone for Christmas, but they claim that they behaved themselves the whole time. Somehow I find that hard to believe...

One of the best parts of Detroit was the total lack of snow! It rained once or twice while we were there but I didn't mind because I will take anything over snow! I might just have to take another vacation to get a break from this weather before winter is over...

I really wanted to take Kilian (Steve and Lori's dog) home with me but I wasn't up to attempting to fit a dog that weighs more than I do in my bag! I was starting to get used to having a dog who can just lay his head on my lap though! Maybe that will be something for me to take a look at when I get back...

Anyways, I just wanted to say thanks to everyone who wrote comments and well wishes on this here. I still can't believe how many people showed their support through this blog. I can still remember having my Mom sitting beside my bed reading everything people wrote, while I laid there in traction. That seems like it was ages ago! Luckily life is now basically back to normal. Thank you again for all of your prayers and support you gave throughout my recovery. I wish you all the best in 2007!


P.S. A special thanks to my brothers who came up with this blog (I would have never thought of that!) and for all of the entries them and my Mom threw on there!

P.P.S (From Mom)
Yes, that was Mike's final post to the blog but I thought I might add a
postscript to update you on what was happening in the Barker household.
January, we moved into our house in Sherwood Park amidst the flurry of construction and ongoing unpacking. In spite of the fact that Mike had only a shower and toilet in his bathroom at first, he patiently waited for us to continue tiling, painting, and, thanks to Grandpa Dickau, install a custom-made cabinet. We needed a vanity that was high and wide enough for Mike to get his chair under, yet still have drawers on either side for storage. Thankfully Grandpa and Grandma came to our rescue because we had very specific needs! Not only did Grandpa build the bathroom vanity, he also built Mike a night stand, complete with drawers made to measure for his supplies, a slide out board to extend the surface area when needed and even a shelf which sits above the night stand but will swing out over his bed. Grandpa builds the furniture and Grandma stains and paints. Needless to say their "workshop" was busy!
The elevator has worked wonderfully although we still have some cosmetic things to finish i.e. trim and thresholds. Mike enters through the garage and can either come up a few feet to the main floor or go down to the basement to his bedroom, bathroom and rumpus room. The whole basement is laminate flooring which makes wheeling easy. I'd like to say that Mike's room is kept clean but he promises to do it….tomorrow!
Mike got his van, a Buick Terazza, a few weeks ago and takes full advantage of his independence. He drives up the ramp out the side door, "ties" in his wheelchair, transfers to a 6-way power chair which swings around and then forward to the steering wheel. He is making up for months of not going shopping by going to West Edmonton Mall numerous times on his own. Nice to see he hasn't lost his shopping skills! He still drives to the Steadward Centre at the University three times a week to work out and use the FES rowing machine. There is talk of a summer job and Mike plans to go back to university in the fall.
Neil and I went to Detroit in February. Neil was able to stay for one week but Steve and Lori managed to put up with me for three weeks. Von (the most beautiful, contented grandchild in the world…unbiased opinion) and I had lots of time to bond! Mike stayed home alone and managed just fine.
Life has returned to 'normal' and we are enjoying being settled. Steve, Lori and Von came for a short visit and, due to the fact that Matt moved home, we were all under one roof again. Could it get any better?

Mike and I were talking this morning. One of the guys staying at the Glenrose while Mike was here became a paraplegic while doing a "jump" on his quad. I commented on the fact that this fellow had such a positive attitude saying he'd had his accident while doing something that he loved. Mike replied, "Me, too! I had my accident doing something I love and am good at….sleeping!" Yep, some things never change!!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Going with the flow...

The house – Neil has been spending every spare moment at the house trying to get things ready for the elevator installation.  Framing the shaft is complicated by the fact that vacuum pipes, water lines and electrical wires need to be moved.  Though it seems like a long, arduous process, we heard the other day of a man who has been waiting a year to modify his house for his elevator installation!  A few months seems high-speed in comparison!  Ideally we would be able to work on the renovations full time but somehow Neil’s full time job keeps getting in the way!  These are good days to “go with the flow”…

The rowing machine – Mike’s assessment went well.  We assumed that he would be doing the actual assessment on the rowing machine but all they did was attach the electrodes to his legs to see how much movement they could get.  Apparently you work your way slowly up to the using the machine.  They seemed positive about getting Mike into the program but we haven’t heard any more details since then.

The power chair – right now Mike is trialing a power chair here at the apartment.  A couple of chairs were brought to our house and Mike narrowed the search to one which was brought here to try downtown and at the university.  Once the chair is ordered, we will sit down to talk about vehicles. Though Mike’s primary chair will be his manual chair, having a power chair will be a necessary back up, especially for school.  One down side is transporting it.  A manual chair can be taken apart and put into most vehicles.  A power chair cannot be taken apart, therefore, the need for a vehicle becomes critical.

School – Mike has decided to wait until September to take more classes at the university.  A number of factors have influenced his decision i.e. no vehicle, he is learning how to maneuver in snow, we don’t know when we’ll actually be moved into the house, etc.  It’s one thing to get to classes on time but there will be note taking, assignments, research, etc. and Mike faces a new and often slower way of doing things.  Most people with his type of injury will take a year for “transitions”.  By September, some of this will be old hat!

Other than these highlights, we keep pluggin’ along!  Mike continues to charm others with his smile and generous nature.  Now if only he was better at cleaning up the kitchen….

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A Rowing Machine

Michael has been on the waiting list for the FES machine at the Steadward Centre at the University of Alberta. The FES (Functional Electrical Stimulation) is a specially adapted rowing machine which uses electric current to stimulate the legs of those with spinal-cord injuries allowing them to get a good cardiovascular workout. Mike can exercise the upper part of his body but this would allow him to work out his lower limbs. Because the waiting list is long, we were excited when Mike’s name came up. On Friday he will go to the University to have an assessment and we will see if he qualifies and if so, what his schedule will be.

Winter weather has taken on a new meaning for us this year. Wet, slushy snow means wet, dirty wheelchair tires which means a wet, dirty car and trunk, not to mention wet, dirty gloves and pants! Even plowed roads and shoveled sidewalks can leave deep ruts and inches of snow to maneuver. If Mike doesn’t use his “road” tires, the smooth tires of his wheelchair give no traction. However, the road tires soon balloon up collecting snow in all the nooks and crannies. Thankfully we have a lot of tile at the house because a carpet would soon carry a wheelchair tire design (much like Matt’s house is getting when Mike goes to visit!).

Friday, November 03, 2006

Finally a report!

My apologies to those of you who still faithfully follow this blog! It has been awhile since I have written.  The last few weeks have been somewhat hectic and action packed to say the least!  For us as a family, we have sold our house in Lac La Biche and had the movers come to load up our “stuff” (after 27 years we certainly have accumulated lots of “stuff”!) which they deliver at our house in Sherwood Park today.  Neil has been hammering out concrete in order to put a new foundation down for the elevator.  He still has to cut out the cement in the wall of the garage for the elevator door and build the shaft before they can come and install the elevator.  Meanwhile, he is also hammering out the cement in the bathroom so he can re-pour the floor with a slope for the wheel-in shower.  We will enlarge the bathroom, re-do the plumbing and tile the whole room.  This seems like a daunting task and it is!  Contractors are hard to find because the construction business here is booming but if anyone knows Neil, they know he is made of “why pay someone else to do the job when you can do it yourself”!  I’m hopeful that we will be living in the house by Christmas…

Mike finally had his drivers test and passed!! Now he starts the next leg of the journey which will be to get a vehicle.  We are certainly more conscious of the weather and the fact that it’s been cold and the snow is staying on the ground means wheeling outside isn’t always easy.  Hats off to those who faithfully shovel their sidewalks!  Mike continues to have “firsts” - the most recent being a fall from his wheelchair.  He was meeting someone at the university and took the LRT.  While getting off the train, he misjudged the gap, jammed his front tires and fell forward.  A couple immediately came to his aid and he was up and wheeling within minutes but it was a humbling experience.  Mike took it all in stride and his comment was “Well, I’ve gotten that out of the way and it wasn’t so bad!”  Having the ability to laugh at yourself and take life in stride is one of his greatest strengths.

One thing I have noticed throughout this experience is the strength of the bond between the brothers.  Steve and Mike talk regularly on the phone (sometimes for hours!) and Matt will often come to hang out with Mike when he is not in touch by phone.  They look forward to living together again once we are all settled at the house in Sherwood Park.  It feels good to know there is strong “cement” holding this family together!

Friday, October 13, 2006


Thank you again to those who continue to write in.  Your comments are encouraging and a reminder that Mike is being prayed for and thought of often.  

Mike has his own wheelchair!  Though its arrival was much anticipated, Mike had gotten used to his loaner chair and had to adjust to a “new” chair all over again.  This chair has two sets of wheels.  One set has a smoother tread and is great for smooth surfaces and the other wheels are more like bicycle tires and great for outdoors.  Imagine my surprise the other day when Mike changed his wheels while still in his wheelchair! He held on to the couch and balanced the wheelchair while changing the wheel…takes guts and a good sense of balance!

Next on the agenda is taking his driver’s test.  Somehow we thought this was going to be a quick and easy process but the delays continue.  Sometime next week, Mike hopes to test drive an Uplander.  Because Mike will also have a power chair, the vehicle will have to have a ramp so he can wheel into the vehicle.  He will lock his wheelchair in and then transfer to a swivel driver’s seat.  One observation – I’ve mentioned before that we now pay much more attention to wheelchair parking!  When you have a vehicle that has a side ramp, you need at least 10 feet beside your vehicle.  Most handicapped parking stalls are not wide enough and if someone parks too close to your vehicle, you are stuck waiting for that person to leave before you can get into your van!  

We have been trying to speed up Mike’s morning routine.  Some things can’t be rushed but others will get easier over time.  Once we get possession of the new house, we will be renovating his bathroom.  We plan to put in a wheel-in shower so that he will not have to transfer to a tub bench.  It will be a “major” reno but worth it!

Things are settling into a comfortable routine.  Though the days are relatively quiet, most evenings and weekends are spent getting Matthew’s house ready for the market and once we get possession of the new house, we will be madly getting that house ready for Mike.  I’m starting to wonder if there is life beyond house renovations!!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Bringing you up to speed...

More transitions for us as we moved from one apartment suite to another.  We were quite spoiled by an accommodating staff and found things to be somewhat different at the new apartment.  Not only were we given a different suite than was promised, Neil ended up changing the shower head to a hand held shower by himself since no one seemed to have the proper tools to do the job!  We also had to have Mike’s adjustable bed moved from one apartment to the other and the crew moving the bed broke a wire so the bed would not work!  Naturally this happened at 4:30 on Friday afternoon so nothing could be done until Monday morning.  Fortunately Neil is also an “electrician” as well as a “plumber” so he was able to remedy the problem before Mike went to bed.  Mike still hasn’t received some of his equipment including his custom wheelchair so we “patiently” await their arrival.  Emotions seem to run close to the surface and it’s sometimes difficult not to let them overwhelm us at times.

Mike is still unable to wear a shoe on the foot with skin grafting.  The pressure sore on his heel has healed(!) but there is one spot on the top of his foot that remains open.  It is small but simply refuses to close up which means we have to be so careful with transfers, showers, etc.  There is always the risk of infection and it is difficult to keep the foot protected.  This is one part of his recovery that has been frustratingly slow.

Having shared some of our struggles, I must also add some of the highlights.  Last week Grandpa took Mike out to explore the world of vehicle modifications! For the first time Mike seemed excited about getting a retrofit van and was eager to get started on the process.  Because of the wrong fax number, the motor vehicle branch had not received Mike’s medical report until today (even though it had been sent 3 times!) so we should be able to set up his road test very quickly.  Once Mike has passed the test, we’ll be on our way!  It could still take months for everything to come together but it will mean much more independence for Mike.

Last night I was reading in bed before going to sleep.  Mike came into the room, “hopped” onto the bed and we lay there talking just like we used to in the “olden” days.  And just like we used to, we eventually had to kick Mike out because our mornings start much earlier than his!  These are golden moments and I wouldn’t trade them for anything!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Things are becoming normal

Life is actually starting to feel normal again. We have more of a routine and have been adventuring out to do more things. Some of the highlights over the last week…

  • Mike went out on Friday night with a friend. Though getting around is a little more complicated, some things never change. I’m sure it wouldn’t take you long to figure out which movie they went to see…
  • We had a mini reunion on the weekend while my brother and family were here from Vancouver. More people to witness Mike beating Grandpa at arm wrestling!
  • We went for retail therapy yesterday at West Edmonton Mall. Not only did Mike find some hoodies, I think I discovered how to get him to sleep at night instead of during the day – shop ‘til we drop!

Mike and I are definitely finding our way through the transition. Though it is hard for a morning person to be patient when the days seem to begin painfully slow, I am learning to let go of my schedule. It is obvious how much Mike is trying and how difficult it is to make his new “body” cooperate. He does this without complaint and without resentment. I was amazed at his character as I watched him recover in ICU, make progress in the University Hospital and then grow stronger and more confident at the Glenrose but seeing his attitude as he struggles through his daily tasks humbles me and makes me proud. Now if only I could get him to clean up his room…

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Digging Deep

Sorry for the delay in writing but we don’t have the computer set up at the apartment so it is difficult for me to keep you updated regularly.  Hopefully that will be remedied soon!

Mike’s out for good!!!  What a treat to know that we are finished this leg of the journey.  The long anticipated day did not go as smoothly as planned...

…I had to wait for Mike’s commode and tub bench before coming to the hospital.
…Mike’s wheelchair has not arrived so we had to make adjustments to a “loaner” before we left.
…I couldn’t fill Mike’s prescription at the drug store because they didn’t have WCB approval so I had to go back the hospital for enough meds for the day.
…Meanwhile, the drugstore got approval so I had to return to the store to pick up Mike’s meds for the month.
…We had to coordinate sticking around the apartment because the adjustable bed was to arrive in the afternoon.

But, in spite of the hurdles, it was rewarding to know that we didn’t have to go back to the Glenrose.  That’s not to say we won’t miss the staff and other patients there.  We made many friends and it was hard to say goodbye.  We were excited to find out that one person we’ve come to love and appreciate will be our neighbour!  What a blessing to have someone living so close who understands intimately the struggles our families face.

Today Mike and I shed a few tears.  Some of the equipment that Mike planned on using isn’t going to work or will need some adjustments.  Nothing seemed to go smoothly and it appeared that everything had a glitch or hiccup.  Maybe it was just pent up emotions over the last few days but it was good to talk things through. As positive and optimist as Mike is, it is hard to face the fact that nothing is easy, everything takes longer and it’s hard to find the balance between doing it yourself and asking for help.  There are days when you really have to “dig deep”!

(Thank you so much for your encouraging words.  They definitely lighten the load!)

P.S.  Mike wasn’t able to do his driver’s test because they couldn’t fit him in but we’re hoping to do it soon.  I’ll keep you posted.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006


As Mike’s discharge nears, I know we will enter a new phase.  Until now, weekends have been a welcomed retreat from hospital life.  We lounge around and though we often have a few items on the agenda, we do not have a demanding schedule.  However, being at home “for good” will probably bring up issues for us to wade through.

Before the accident, Mike was living on his own but will now be living at home.  That alone can bring up challenges in relationships.  When you’ve been independent but now have to rely on others for some of your basic needs, it can be difficult and depressing.  What should be my role as a mom?  My natural tendency in the past few months has been to look after Mike but I have to be careful not to create a dependency.  I have to find that balance of helping to provide a safe comfort zone and yet still continue to prod and push one out of the nest.  Many of these things we have talked about, trying to anticipate those hurdles but we will learn as we go!  One positive thing about this experience is that we, as a family, have always been able to talk openly about our feelings.  (Hmm…I’m even talking about it online!)

Just one more of the challenges to come!

Monday, September 11, 2006

Keeping You Posted

Thank you for your encouraging comments.  I even received some supportive phone calls (though getting ahold of me can be a challenge!).  Matt showed me this morning how many people view the site each week and I was humbled and amazed.  We feel blessed!

Only 8 more days to go!  Today Mike is having another session with the driving instructor and hopes to do his driver’s test at the end of this week.  He had no problems adjusting to the hand controls but part of it is being comfortable with the whole practice of driving after being in the hospital for so long.  It will still take months to get a vehicle but we should be able to start the process soon.  It will certainly bring much more independence to Mike because, at this point, he can only transfer to our car and must depend on us to be driven anywhere.  Once Mike builds up more upper body strength, he may be able to transfer to the van (the height of the seat makes it difficult for Mike to transfer) and that would mean we wouldn’t have to take apart his wheelchair each time.  We haven’t tried public transportation yet but we’ll attempt that adventure once Mike is discharged! Mike will still be getting a power chair and at that point it will be important that he has a vehicle that will accommodate both chairs.

Last week Mike and I watched the wheelchair rugby team practice at the Glenrose.  If you’ve ever seen the movie Murderball, you’ll know what I’m talking about. This is not a sport for the weak of heart!  Only quadriplegics are allowed to play and you are assigned a point depending on your hand function.  Only so many “points” are allowed on the court at one time so it becomes very strategic.  During a break in the game, the players came to meet Mike.  As soon as they found out that he was a quad, they no longer looked at his face but eagerly examined his hands and his hand function.  It was hilarious!  I was ignored and they enthusiastically tried to recruit him, although they did say that he should wait until a year after his injury to make sure that he was “stable” and they did mention that his doctor would probably not be happy about him playing at all.  Small matters when you love to play competitive sports and it was evident that these guys loved what they were doing!  

We went bed shopping on the weekend.  Mike will be getting an adjustable bed.  This will make night-time “caths” so much easier when he can raise the top of his bed. Though the bed was for Mike, Neil and I, as responsible parents, made sure we also tried out each one.  Needless to say, they were starting to look more and more attractive as the afternoon wore on and we may be fighting for the use of the bed once it’s delivered!

Thanks again for following this site.  I’ll keep you posted…