The unit nurse knew we were going out, so she had prepared Jacquelynn with a nice top and (HUGE HELP) a leg bag for her catheter rather than making us go out with a big bag of urine hanging off the back of her wheelchair.
Jacquelynn had sort-of-forgotten but was very excited as soon as I reminded her what we were doing. She’s gotten pretty good at cooperating and helping with the wheelchair-to-car (and back) transitions and managed it smiling, still excited about the evening.
After some no-short-term-recall-related “bickering” about where to go, I drove us to the local Panera Bread, where she gleefully let me wheel her up to a table and sat smiling while I ordered dinner.
The simple “artisan” grilled cheese and chips made Jacquelynn SO happy as she absolutely savored every bite I fed her while she guzzled her way through 2 refills of peach-mango tea. She even enjoyed a sample of my tuna salad enough to smile broadly yet again.
We chatted as we ate, taking our time like lovers do on a date. But she was chilled in the heavy air conditioning of the restaurant and I hadn’t brought her wrap, so I bussed our table carefully and we made our way out. Unlike on the way in, someone actually jumped up to help with the door as I clumsily maneuvered her wheelchair backwards one-handed while trying to hold the doors myself. Thank you, kind lady.
Next stop, after yet another flawless chair-to-car move, was Cincinnati icon Graeter’s Ice Cream. With no wheelchair ramp at the front of the store, (I think there may be one toward the rear, but didn’t look), getting in was a bit more difficult, but it’s an aluminum chair and she weighs 90lbs, so pulling her up over the curb is not the greatest of burdens. Again, she was chilly in the shop, but we loitered over a couple dips of mint chocolate chip in a shared bowl. She grinned and giggled at a baby at a nearby table and lovingly savored her dessert. Leaving, we decided it was still pretty early, so we slid across the street and into a handicapped parking spot (no, I don’t have a placard yet, but the lot was almost empty and I was loading her into and out of a wheelchair) in front of Homegoods/Marshalls. Riding the elevator up and spending 30 minutes or so touring the store was a great capper to a truly fun evening. Jacquelynn was tiring and ready to return (but still cheery!), so we headed back.
Returning her to the unit and saying goodbye was typically difficult, as her mood tends to deteriorate as I leave, but she did thank me and tell me she loved me as she was spiraling down for the evening. But I had left the dog home alone for long enough, and I had to get home to let him out for a spell before bedtime.
All-in-all, a very successful and wonderful evening out together. Much to my surprise, she remarked on it at breakfast the next morning, too. She was still jubilant and smiling about the good time we had together as she ate, although most of the details had slipped away. It must have truly made an impact on her as it has been many months since she recalled anything pleasant from a previous day.
I would see precisely the same phenomenon two days later, when a late-afternoon appointment with our regular physician led to dinner at the new BBQ joint across the street from her office. The food was outstanding, and Jacquelynn asked for ice cream again afterward, so we stopped by Graeter’s again (they do have a ramp at the back entrance!) on the way back to share a bowl of Black Raspberry Chip. A less formal and more impromptu date night for sure, but again the next morning she was savoring the memories before they disappeared completely, even licking her lips as we discussed making the pulled pork and mac-and-cheese a semi-regular event. That’ll be quite easy to do, as they’re on my way to the nursing home; I’ll just preorder it and pick it up on the way in once every other week or so.
I feel that these dates are a second chance of sorts. We don’t have unlimited time before us like we did twenty years ago, but I can work to maximize what we do have and spend as much time as I can re-bonding with her and emphasizing the love, in ways I couldn’t while she was still at home. With less of a spectre of her hurting herself or me hanging over every moment, and others filling all the caregiver roles which so antagonize her, I can (as the nurse at the hospital told me almost two months ago) finally be the husband again, and my lovely wife seems eager to allow me to be.
For that, I am eternally grateful.