Caregiving: Intimacy and Exhaustion
In Part 1, I talked about Carlin’s slip on the wet sidewalk and subsequent events of her hip surgery. Here I would like to talk about caregiving. For those who have done full-time caregiving for a loved one, you know how rewarding and exhausting it can be. I had never been a full-time caregiver before. The only thing that came close was taking care of our daughter Angela when she needed surgery on her cleft palate when she was one-year old.
It has been more than fifty years since I was up nights with Angela. After her surgery she was terrified to sleep. I think it brought back trauma, so she fought sleep like it would kill her. So, we took turns singing to her, rocking her, walking with her, even driving around (it seemed to be the only thing that put her to sleep, but she’d wake up as soon as we turned off the engine.)
If you’ve gone a few nights without sleep, you know how it impacts our emotions, thinking, and overall brain function. It can be debilitating. One of our biggest challenges has been to get back in a normal sleep pattern. For Carlin it has been most difficult. She went from a special bed in our upstairs bedroom to a hospital bed set up downstairs in the living room. She would usually watch some T.V. until 10:00 or 11:00, get to bed, and I would wake her up at 7:00 AM. My schedule was slightly different. I would go to bed at 9 PM, read until 10:00, then lights out and up in the morning at 5:00 AM. Getting our routine back on schedule has been a major challenge.
The first night I brought Carlin back from the hospital on Saturday, March 30th. I got her settled in her new hospital bed which was delivered and set up in the living room after getting four strong neighbors to move out the huge dining room table that had occupied the site by the front window.
Our son, Aaron and his wife Jen, wouldn’t be arriving until the next day, so I sat with Carlin until she was ready to sleep. A neighbor had brought a bell she could ring if she needed help, but I was afraid I might not hear her from the upstairs bedroom so I reclined in my office chair downstairs where I knew I would hear her if she rang the bell we had gotten for her. She slept soundly, me not so much.
Aaron and Jen were with us for ten days before returning to their home in Alabama and I became the full-time caregiver. Change is always difficult until we develop a new structure and get used to the new normal. We’re still in process, but damn, I never realized there was so much to do and so little time in the day to do it all.
The days weren’t so bad. I immediately devised a system to keep track of the 18-20 medications the doctor ordered, some old ones, many new ones. With Jen’s assistance, I numbered each bottle and we put them all in pill boxes with morning, evening, and bedtime pills, along with their names and what they were for. Carlin always wants to know what she is putting in her body, and though she trusts me and the doctors, she still knows she is the ultimate one in charge of her own health.
Then there were the follow-up doctors’ appointments along with lining up help to assist me in getting her in and out of the car. Luckily Home Health Services were available within the week so I talked to and scheduled physical therapy, nursing follow up, and speech therapy. Carlin can’t bath yet due to the hip surgery, but with the help of a special in-tub chair and some great women friends who both help her in and out of the tub, help her wash, Carlin is getting support with the basics we most often take for granted, until we don’t have them.
We’ve been blessed with lots of friends who are bringing dinners (enough for lunch then next day), but still there is shopping to do, dishes to wash, including dishes brought with the food that needs to be washed and put outside in a collection container where people can pick up their washed dishes. Yvonne and Lu-Ann have been particularly helpful in helping organize all that is needed and giving Carlin regular showers.
Plus, I still work full time as a counselor, writer, and therapist. I’ve cut down on a lot of it to take on the added challenges of keeping up on all the house duties—washing clothes, doing dishes, paying bills, cleaning floors, bathrooms, etc. A lot of these things Carlin used to do, but now fall to me. It can be overwhelming at times.
We don’t have any family living close by so friends are stepping up big time. Everyone wants to help and be supportive, but some are more helpful than others. Most of the focus is on Carlin, which is the way it should be, but few people tune in to me and my needs. I’m doing a pretty good job at reaching out, yet there are times I wish there were a few more people tuning into me.
Luckily my men’s group has been supportive. These are guys who have been together for 44 years and are like brothers to me. As an only child, I’ve longed for sibling support and these guys have always been there for me, as I have been for them. The problem is that we are all getting older. There were seven of us when we started. I was the middle one in age, three older than me and three younger.
Each of the elders died in order of age—John, Dick, Ken. Now I’m the “old man” of the group, and there are three younger than me—Tom, Tony, Denis. I will be 80 in December and the younger guys aren’t far behind me.
I have some other men friends who are local and younger that I’m calling on for support. When I can stay in the present moment and not ruminate about the future, I can deal with what I have to deal with day by day. I got a good night’s sleep last night. Today is Easter Sunday, and the season of Passover and Ramadan. I’m Jewish by birth, with roots in our cultural history, but not religious. Today, it is supposed to be sunny and warm. Carlin and I are looking forward to getting out of the house, maybe a drive in the valley, and a walk around Haehl Creek area near the hospital.
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