Thursday, February 17, 2011

Caregiver panic has set in! What’s caregiver panic, you ask. That’s when you wake up at midnight (as I did last night) in a cold sweat over where you’re going to get something called a “gate belt”. (Later found out it's a gait not gate belt.) No, it’s not the same as a belt of fine Irish single malt (though that would have been most welcome). It’s a device that helps you steady a person who needs a bit of assistance with their mobility. Mom’s physical therapist says I will need one when she comes home from rehab next week.

For those of you who don’t know, my mother took a tumble over the front door sill back in November, breaking her shoulder and cracking her pelvis. Since then she’s been in a rehabilitation facility eight miles south of here. They’ve taken fabulous care of her, giving her physical therapy three times a day to get her strong enough to come home. And now the time is almost upon us! Medicare cuts her off within the next week and she’ll be “kicked to the curb” (aka sent home).

I’ve cleared out her room to make way for a hospital bed and wheel chair, painted the room, wired it for cable tv and internet and put up new curtains. I’ve provided special grab bars etc in the bathroom. I’ve sent for a fancy portable access ramp, rounded up a wheel chair, and ordered a cute sort of panic button thingy Mom can push to summon me from the kitchen if she needs a drink of water.
But the panic has, as I said, set in. I’m going over and over in my mind every possible scenario. The what-ifs are driving me nuts. What if she can’t manage to climb in the bath tub? What if she has trouble getting out of her chair? What if, what if. What if she needs something in the middle of the night? And then the HOWs set in – how am I going to get out to buy groceries if I can’t leave her? How will I teach my Wednesday night yoga class up at the church if I can’t leave her? How will I manage to get out for two hours for writer’s workshop on Fridays? How do other caregivers manage????

I’ve done a lot of things in my rather checkered life but NEVER have I ever been in the role of caregiver. Well, except in the early days when my son was young but I was younger then too. Younger, stronger, more laid back. It’s quite a different matter caring for an elderly person. With a kid you can always drop him off at daycare or take him along with you if you have to run up to the store for groceries. What do you do with a frail elderly woman? One who still thinks of YOU as “the kid”?

Oh the joys of being a Baby Boomer! An entire generation is learning how to “parent” their aging parents. At least it’s a comfort to know that I have lots of company in this process. I’m fortunate that my mother is mentally keen and has managed to keep her sense of humor throughout her recent ordeal. She’s recovering well and should be just fine before too long. She’s doing better than I am in many respects. I’m the one getting up at midnight to shop for a “gait belt”! (Which I found, by the way. Less than $15 with two day shipping!)

There are no doubt many considerations that have not yet occurred to me. There will be many more sleepless nights because I want to do the best I can for her and am not at all sure I’m up to the challenge. It’s scary to be responsible for someone else’s physical welfare. No doubt about it. I think of all the millions of people who routinely and gracefully care for vulnerable family members and I’m in awe of them! How do they do it? Do they ever wake up in the wee hours of the night in total mind-numbing, gut-churning panic???? I’ve decided that for my own peace of mind I will assume that they do, that we are all in the same leaky boat and bailing as fast as we can. There is a certain comfort in that.

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