Let me introduce myself. I’m Earle; my wife’s name is Sierra.
I’m chronically ill. I’m obese, I have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Sierra is the healthy one in our family. She almost never goes to the doctor, is rarely sick, and eats a healthy, balanced diet, while I’m the original junk food junkie.
On October 2, 2013, Sierra had a massive stroke. Her blood pressure was off the scale (over 300), and she burst blood vessels in her brain. She was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center, where she underwent emergency surgery to remove part of her skull and cauterize bleeding blood vessels. Testing revealed evidence that she had long standing problems with high blood pressure. As one surgeon said, getting your blood pressure tested once a year is not diagnostic, it doesn't tell you anything except that at that particular moment you do or don't have high blood pressure.
There are several ways to find out if you have high blood pressure. One is to go see doctor. That is what Sierra did, once every couple of years, and her test results were always normal or “pre-hypertension”, 120’s to 130’s. A better way is to use the free testing machine that is available in many stores. Every time you walk past one, stop and sit down for a few minutes and test your pressure. If your top number is over 135 more than once, you need to check with a doctor, sooner rather than later. They may not do anything until it is over 140, but you need to get busy controlling it. Another way is to spend $15-$20 and get an inexpensive automatic wrist cuff blood pressure monitor. They are not terribly accurate, but if you take it with you when you see your doctor or when you use a tester at the store you can compare readings, and if you test yourself daily at the same time, you should be able to keep an eye on your blood pressure.
Sierra came out of the ICU 10 days later paralyzed on the left side, but able to speak and see and hear and comprehend what was happening. Good thing too.
You see, Sierra and I had only been married a bit over 2 years. Because of my health issues, when we were married I made sure that Sierra was listed as my next of kin, as the beneficiary on my policies, etc. But we hadn’t worried too much about her paperwork, after all, she is healthy! And Sierra had a legal name change when we got married (her name was not ‘Sierra’), and much of her paperwork still carried her birth name on it.
Sierra recovered enough to be able to give me a Durable Power of Attorney, to file paperwork to make me her beneficiary on her policies. We started getting her name changed on all of her paperwork, and adding my name onto her accounts.
After a couple of months, Sierra passed away on December 19, 2013. As I write this, I have had a month of working on finishing up all the paperwork. I’m still finding things that need to be taken care of, but I have all the paperwork that I need to complete it.
So why am I writing this? Like many people, we had not adequately planned for the future. Almost daily we passed a sign on our street advertising “Aging Options”. We joked with each other about what kind of options there are, after all, you grow old and you die, right? And we were planning on going together, one wasn’t supposed to leave without the other. We had light conversations about what to do if something happened, but we never sat down and looked at “what if” scenarios. Sierra was barely 51, I’m a couple years older, we are still young. We don’t need to worry about this stuff right now, plenty of time later. And we both knew better; we both had attended, separately and together, seminars put on by our employers dealing with this subject. We had even talked to her parents about putting together a plan (they did). But we never did anything ourselves! We talked about doing something (“next Saturday we should sit down and talk…”) but something else always came up that was more important at the time.
We were, however, prepared for one thing. We knew where she was going when she died; we knew that she was going to heaven, to be with her Master and Savior. You see, Sierra had repented of her sins and asked Jesus to be her Master. The Bible says that “All have sinned and fallen short”. All of us have broken at least one of the 10 Commandments. All of us have at some point in our lives considered some “thing” to be more important than God. All of us have worshipped something other than God, whether it was money or things or other people. Most of us have not shown honor to our parents at least once. Most of us have not committed murder, but Jesus said that the intent of the law included anger, and most of us have been guilty of that. Many of us have not committed adultery, but Jesus said that the intent of the law covered lust, and there are few who can say that they have never lusted after another. Do I need to continue? Who has not coveted what your neighbor has? Or stolen a pencil?
Sierra had repented of her sin. This is more than just saying “I’m sorry” and paying penance. There is no penance great enough to pay for any sin other than a life. Yes, God demands that you pay for your sin with your life. Death is the penalty for sin. Repentance is admission of your sin to God, and a determination on your part that you will not commit that sin again. And when you repent, you can accept the gift that Jesus gave of his life. Jesus had no sin, the only person to have ever lived in complete obedience to the commandments. And he died to pay the penalty for our sin, but ONLY if you accept the gift. And the gift is a conditional gift. The Bible says that we are slaves to sin, but when we repent, we become slaves to Jesus. And Jesus does not accept grudging slaves, he only accepts willing slaves, slaves that obey him out of love.
Sierra didn't have a religion. She had a relationship with Jesus. She loved Jesus, and wanted to please him more than anything else. She wanted to please Jesus more than she wanted to please me, more than she wanted to please herself, more than life. She was looking forward to being with Jesus. Some people have the idea that heaven will be boring. Sierra knew that heaven would be exciting, because she would get to be with the one person who she loved more than anything else. She was looking forward to going home.
Sierra loved “Action Points”; here they are:
1. Check your blood pressure. And I would add, check your cholesterol and hbA1c. Many drugstores now offer the blood test for as little as $35 each. The Cholesterol and hbA1c tests give you a summary of the condition of your blood, for most people once a year is sufficient unless those tests show a problem. Personally, because of my health, I get mine tested every 3 months or so.
2. Sit down with your spouse or significant other or son or daughter or whoever will need to make decisions should you become incapacitated. Make sure that they are OK with those decisions. Write a document that details what you want done under certain circumstances. I was totally blind-sided when I discovered that I needed to make decisions for Sierra when she was in a coma, and I just “winged” it. Not a good place to put someone. Sit down with them, talk about it, write it out. Make sure that they understand and are OK with your instructions. Perhaps you do not want extraordinary measures done to keep you alive. Will they be OK with telling the doctor to “pull the plug”? If you are incapacitated then you need to be confident that the person you designate will follow your instructions.
3. Have you written and notarized a Durable Power of Attorney? A “fill in the blank” form is available online, just search for the one for your state. Sierra’s employer required a specific one for their files, we did that and also the state generic one. And it must be notarized. We had to have a notary come to Sierra because she could not travel, that cost $60. But you can get a form notarized for $10 if you go to your bank, or to a mailbox store, sometimes free from your employer. They usually charge once per document, so if you make 3 identical copies of the Durable Power of Attorney at one time they will charge you one fee.
4. Review your insurance policies. Have you updated your beneficiaries?
5. Review your emergency contacts. Sierra’s employer called her brother, who then called me when she had her stroke, because I wasn't the emergency contact.
6. Get your life right with God. A good place to start is by reading the Gospel of Mark and the book of Romans. You can read these online at www.biblegateway.com or at https://net.bible.org. Find a believer, visit a church. Talk to me.