By Dave Sevart, caregiver
Forty plus years ago, my then fiancée, Rita, asked if it bothered me that sometimes her hands were shaky. I said, “No,” as I figured that was going to be the “in sickness and in health” part of our wedding vows. Forty years later, the marriage vows should have included “ET service person.” With ET in the marriage, you’re both in ET-mode for life!
About eight years ago, when her tremors got worse, Rita would have to ask me to help her as I did not know that she needed it. One of the hardest things to remember was to let her try to accomplish the task on her own. I had the tendency to see her start to struggle, take it and do it for her. Sometimes, she would throw things because of the frustration. I now let her try until she asks for help and we have a “no-throwing” policy. These days, I can almost instinctively know what her needs are at any given time.
The coping skills we share are described in the following situations:
We enjoy cooking together. Besides opening bottles and jars, I crack the eggs and measure any liquids for the recipes. When it’s time, I place the items in and out of the oven. I also do most of the slicing and dicing, so we can keep all our fingers.
At mealtimes, I make sure she has a straw for her drink. I also steady the glass on the table, so it does not move around. At home, we use silverware that is a little heavier and I cut her food into smaller bite size portions.
If we go out to eat, I take the plate from the waiter and place it for her on the table. Again, I make sure we have a straw for our drinks and cut up her food. If straws are not available, we carry one with us. At a buffet, I go ahead of Rita with her plate. She tells me what and how much she would like. After we return to our table, I go back to fill my plate and then rejoin her. We changed to this after I dumped both plates in the buffet line at a charity fundraiser. If she is carrying a glass or cup to the table, she might be able get it to the table, but may not be able to set it down. I will take it from her so that she can release with both hands. Then I set it down for her.
Eating on an airplane has its set of special needs. We take a travel cup with us. The attendant or I pour the drink in the cup. If there is food service, I take the tray and place it down on the eating tray. I also hold onto the tray so that Rita can eat without everything sliding around.
As Rita’s tremors affect her writing, I write the checks for the household. She must sign for herself on legal documents, but I put in the date or any other information. I also sign cards and name tags for gifts, but she and I share the gift wrapping.
When she’s using the computer, I can see her level of frustration build. If she can’t type, I take over and have her dictate to me. She once was a fast, accurate typist, so the slow pecking really tries her patience and the “no throwing” went into effect for the phone, tablet, and laptop because of this. I try to help before the frustration gets to anger, but she says sometimes she needs to release that tension, so she’ll pound her fist on the table.
It takes both of us to handle life with essential tremor. As life goes on, we may find other ways we need to cope with ET. We joke about a vest for me that says, “Don’t pet the service person. He’s working.” After 40 years, I’ve earned my vest and I’m ready to wear it proudly.