By Lauri Sheibley
Press Enterprise Writer
When Elaine Hinde could no longer navigate around her home in a wheelchair, her husband Ralph bought land and built a new, handicap-accessible home.
When Elaine lost control of her hands and legs, Ralph quit his job to care for her.
When Elaine's disease progressed, Ralph planted a strawberry patch in front of the window along with a bed of tulips -- his wife's favorite flower.
Since Elaine was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1989, Ralph has never faltered by her side.
"Quite frankly, I don't think I'm doing anything outstanding," Ralph said. "I'm taking care of my wife, who I love, who I made a commitment to 28 years ago."
But the National Multiple Sclerosis Society thinks Ralph is doing something very outstanding. It honored him at a dinner at the Hershey Lodge and Convention Center on Friday. Ralph received the Central Pennsylvania's MS Care Partner of the Year award.
Ralph called on God to give him strength, and make him able to care for his wife. He never considered leaving her.
"She was concerned about that early on," Ralph said. "I had to assure her I wasn't thinking of splitting. I was thinking how we can get through this together."
With Ralph at her side, Elaine battled on as the disease claimed more of her mobility. She became confined to a wheelchair, then lost much control of her hands. She now needs assistance in the most basic of human functions: taking a bath, getting dressed, eating and drinking.
"Being a Christian, I kept my focus on God," Elaine said. "I never asked, 'Why me?' It's just something I'm dealing with. I know there are a lot of people that want to blame God. But that's not me."
Elaine, 61, and Ralph, 64, both have children from previous marriages, but none of the children ever lived with the couple.
"It's just the two of us," Ralph said. "We've had to support each other, and become each other's best buddy."
Married in 1975, Ralph and Elaine are still "best buddies." This year on Valentine's Day, Elaine was in the hospital with pneumonia. Ralph showed up with his barbershop quartet to deliver a singing valentine to his sweetheart.
Multiple sclerosis attacks the central nervous system, and it has no known cause or cure. The disease eats away the protective covering on the nerves, called myelin. When the nerves are exposed, they don't carry signals, and patients lose the ability to control bodily functions.
The diagnosis shocked the couple. Elaine said she felt deflated.
"You think all kinds of things, but you never think MS," Ralph said.
Many multiple sclerosis patients don't have severe problems, but in Elaine, the disease progressed quickly. Elaine used a cane, then a walker, then a wheelchair. She lost her driver's license.
"It was a bitter pill to get to the point where I needed a wheelchair," Elaine said.
When it became too hard to maneuver a wheelchair in their house on West 11th Street in Bloomsburg, Ralph searched for a new house. They tried several Realtors without success. So Ralph bought a patch of land in Scott Township. He contracted for a unique home made-to-order, with big hallways, a walk-in closet and shower, low countertops, special handles, and not one single step.
'Tide is turned'
From her wheelchair, Elaine could still move around the house and have a hot dinner waiting for her husband when he returned from work. But when Elaine lost that ability, Ralph donned an apron and started cooking dinner and preparing Elaine's lunches.
Ralph, a quality assurance manager at Gould's Pumps in Ashland, told his boss the next day he wanted to quit his job.
Before Elaine became ill, Ralph had no clue how to cook, work a washing machine or dryer. Elaine had taken care of the house for years.
"Now the tide is turned a bit," Ralph said. "It's my turn."
Ralph has now earned the title of cook, nurse, housekeeper and supporter.
Every day, the alarm clock rings at 6:30 a.m., and Ralph gives Elaine her first dose of medication. The medication helps control her spasms, but also makes her sleepy, he said.
"She's either a zombie with no spasms, or alert with some spasms," he joked. "It's a balancing act."
Elaine lets the medicine kick in, and around 8 a.m., she is ready to be moved around. Ralph bathes her and dresses her in bed, then uses a lift to move her into the wheelchair.
"We try to let her do as much as she can, because it's a terrible feeling to be totally dependent," Ralph said.
Ralph checks Elaine's blood pressure and temperature several times a day, and makes sure she gets enough to drink. Elaine spends a lot of time playing solitaire on the computer, Ralph said. It's good therapy for her hands.
They go to church every Sunday. And they go grocery shopping every Thursday, with a volunteer from Shiloh Bible Church pushing Elaine, and Ralph pushing the cart.
Together, they attend baseball games, go to the mall, see movies.
"That relationship we share together, the faith has sustained us through these difficult times," Ralph said.
Ralph and Elaine were reading MS Magazine when they noticed the society was taking nominations for caregiver awards.
"I jokingly said, 'You ought to put my name in,'" Ralph said. "Well, she did."
Elaine wrote a letter about Ralph and sent it to the MS Society. Ralph received a letter of congratulations in May, and the couple was invited to a dinner in Hershey on Friday.
The dinner was a fundraiser attended by contributors and sponsors, including a long list of notable athletes and coaches. Elaine was called to the front, where she read her letter of nomination.
"Sundays are a special day," Elaine read, as Ralph held the microphone.
"He makes sure that my Sunday best clothes are on and my makeup is applied
before we go to church ... through his love and devotion to me, I am able
to enjoy being home."
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