Handsome cowboy’s care team helps put wife Emily at ease

Emily Combs blogs, Skypes and frequents Facebook. Her most cherished connection is spotty, though, because her husband only sometimes knows who she is and always needs support from others.

Married for 64 years, Emily recently helped Edgar move to a memory care facility able to focus on his dementia-related needs. The Combs benefit from another kind of care—palliative care—which focuses on Edgar’s quality of life while giving Emily permission to continue living hers. (Sadly, Edgar passed away more than a year after this story published.)

“Every time I talk with people on Edgar’s palliative care team, they share my burden. I wanted to care for him myself," Emily said.

"They wanted what’s best for both of us."

Carle Palliative Care recently added outpatient services for patients who benefit from palliative care’s thorough assessment of the whole patient to treat physical, social and spiritual problems related to serious but not fatal disease.

Edgar has Lewy Body Dementia, which impairs his memory and affects his body.

When Edgar still lived at home, Emily managed her time away from him carefully to make sure he was safe. Choking wasn’t an issue then, so she’d give Edgar three cookies to keep him occupied and know she had just enough time to shower.

“I didn’t know what palliative care was, but I now know it can be a road between health and hospice. And it’s a safe road to travel,” Emily said.

And no one travels it alone.

“The entire palliative staff really touches the patient at some point,” said Rachel Walton, RN, BSN, Care Management Services & Palliative Medicine manager.

“In addition to the physician, we have advanced practice providers, a registered nurse, a social worker, a chaplain and an office coordinator who all get involved.”

The steps the team helps Emily and Edgar take are working. Some are simple. For example, Edgar now takes anxiety medication, which in turns allows Emily to relax.

In some ways, Emily insists Edgar is still the quiet, sturdy force she fell in love with soon after getting to know one another at revival meetings where she led the singing. The first moment she saw him is one she’ll never forget.

The tall and rugged rancher ambled in and deftly tossed his cowboy hat so it landed right on top of a nearby lamp “like he’d done it a hundred times before.”

That swagger evolved as their family grew.

Emily can still see Edgar carrying their first child “with a bottle in one back pocket and a diaper in the other," she said.

"He was in charge."

Decades later, how much he was changing struck Emily soon after Edgar asked her to handle their taxes. He wasn’t able to make the numbers make sense anymore.

At the time, the Combs lived in Arkansas. They moved to Champaign-Urbana to be closer to family just months after Edgar’s dementia diagnosis.

Then and today—a pillar of positivity—Emily asks herself what she always does when something new comes along: how hard can it be?

The real answer is some days are harder than others.

When Emily visits, she brings Edgar’s requisite black tea with milk, applesauce and, of course, cookies. And she tells Edgar about what she’s been doing, about family and friends.

But she misses the back and forth with her cowboy, the father of their four grown children.

Much to her surprise and her everlasting gratitude, though, writing and maintaining her blog Emily's Snippets satisfies some of the connections she misses.

Through her words, she inspires others and in turn finds peace.

“It’s what keeps me going,” she said.

Learn more during November, National Hospice and Palliative Care Month. For more information about Carle Palliative Care inpatient, outpatient and home-visit services, please call 217-383-6744.