‘Hard Fall’ cushioned by outpouring of support

To read Misty Williams' Personal Journeys feature "Hard Fall," go to www.myajc.com/personal-journeys.

A weekend respite at a North Georgia inn. A home cooked meal or groceries delivered to our door. Heartfelt words of encouragement and advice.

Last Sunday The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran my Personal Journey "Hard Fall," about my experiences caring for my severely injured boyfriend, Jason Massad, after he fell four stories from the balcony of our Dunwoody apartment. Since then, the outpouring of generosity and support we have received from readers has been overwhelming.

Some readers wrote to offer help with every day errands. One generous man in Dawsonville offered a room at the inn he runs if I ever find myself in need of just getting away. Others shared their own stories of being thrust into the role of caregiver — the tears, the exhaustion, the fear.

Dorothy Moore has taken care of her husband, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, for more than a decade.

Moore wrote in response to my story: “Yes, my husband’s illness did ‘take over my life’ and I did feel more like ‘Nurse Ratched than Florence Nightingale’ sometimes, especially when there were so many things to get done. I thank you for putting your emotions out there in print, as they are the kinds of guilt-ridden thoughts that added even more mental pressure as I was out running errands or trying to go to sleep at night.

“We are not bad people just very, very tired and worn out people sometimes.”

Her words brought tears to my eyes as I read them while sitting in Atlanta Medical Center’s basement cafeteria Thursday afternoon. You see, just before my Personal Journey story was set to publish, the staph infection struck again.

Jason’s orthopedic surgeon had given Jason the OK only days before to finally start putting pressure on his foot after successful reconstructive surgery last fall. He could begin physical therapy. And we excitedly planned to get him behind the wheel of his car again, so the Misty Williams taxi service could close up shop.

We even splurged on dinner at a fancy restaurant that weekend to celebrate the good news and his birthday. But less than 48 hours later, we were back in Atlanta Medical Center’s emergency department. Two surgeries to clean out the infection followed. The IV antibiotics are back but now have to be given more frequently, every four hours, and for longer, eight weeks — minimum.

Back to square one. The feelings of discouragement and frustration are overwhelming.

Being a caregiver is often incredibly isolating, so the words of encouragement from Moore and others who have dealt with similar challenges have helped to bolster me when I think there’s no possible way I can do this all over again.

Laura DeMarcus wrote about her own challenges caring for her husband who suffered severe injuries when a porch he was standing on collapsed. Years of surgeries and rehabilitation followed. Like Jason, her husband will never be 100 percent and they are constantly on the alert for signs of infection.

“As I look back on everything we went through it blows my mind. How did we get through all of that? You do what you have to do,” DeMarcus wrote.

I do what I have to do, and so do tens of millions of Americans who care for sick loved ones day in and day out. They care for aging parents with dementia and spouses injured in devastating accidents. They become patient advocates and nurses on the fly. DeMarcus joked that the closest she got to receiving any medical training was being a flight attendant for 20 years.

Some struggle to keep up with their new roles for months, others for years. It’s a long road for those who give and those who depend on them.

Scott Shearer of Morrow wrote to share with me some of his own medical challenges and the support of his partner of nearly 33 years who cared for him. After a back infusion in 2008, Shearer suffered kidney failure, battled a staph infection and faced challenges for months afterward.

He wrote: “Today we are fine … aging, but fine. I cringe when I think back upon the months it took me to regain my health, and I know my partner must have felt much like you have felt during Jason’s recovery. Time is a great healer … blah blah blah, but sometimes you think it isn’t on your side. Someday you will both look back upon this time and marvel at the way you both got through it all.”

I hope that’s true.