I wrote in September about my 91-year-old mom’s fall and subsequent hospitalization. She suffered two compression fractures in her back, causing her a good deal of pain and significantly limiting her ability to do things for herself. After she left the hospital, she spent two weeks in a rehabilitation facility. She then came home. The rehab staff thought we should hire an in-home caregiver for four hours a day, every day. Mom wasn’t convinced she needed a caregiver at all. My sister and I prevailed on her to accept additional help; she had a caregiver come to the house six days the first week. Now, four weeks later, we’re down to three hours a day Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I have been staying with her the last four weeks and have helped her when the caregiver isn’t present.
I’m thankful that mom can do as much for herself as she can. She can dress and undress herself, walk using a walker, move herself into and out of her bed and chair, and take things from shelves or counters that are waist-height to head-height. She isn’t supposed to bend, twist, or lift things more than a few pounds. I discovered in her first few days home that her stamina was much less than it had been. She tired easily, and, when tired, there was much more risk she might fall. Thus, I tried to be around to not only do for her the things she couldn’t do but also do some of what she could do but would exhaust her.
There were some other things I had to look after as well. I made sure her doctor knew what was going on, picked up new medications that had been ordered, requested that other medications get ordered, and monitored the schedules of her caregiver, occupational therapist, and physical therapist. I handled some of the communication with family and friends. After a couple weeks she developed a lung infection, and I had to arrange for that to be diagnosed and treated.
Since I work only part-time, I thought I would be able to get all these things done and still read and write a little, attend Bible Study, and continue volunteering a few places. I found that I had less time than I expected. I’ve done hardly any reading or writing, skipped Bible Study, and even with an abbreviated schedule barely managed some days to fit in everything.
What happened? I think that the problem wasn’t just the extra things I needed to do; it was also that I had become more mindful of mom’s limitations and that awareness intruded into my consciousness even when I was trying to do something else. I would work to help mom prepare a meal, for example, and while she was eating I would go in the next room to read, check emails, or do a bit of yoga. After about 10 minutes, I would have the thought that she may need more to drink, or need something reheated, or need to have some dishes cleared away. I would stop what I was doing to go check. This sort of thing would happen again and again throughout the day. I didn’t have many unbroken stretches of time to concentrate on anything because I was constantly interrupting myself to check on mom or address some problem.
Back a few years ago when I was providing care for my dad, mom was helping him, too, so I often had long periods of time when I didn’t have to think about his needs. Now, other than when the caregiver we hired is here, there is no one else to provide help. What’s challenging for me hasn’t just been the amount I’ve had to do; it’s also that I’ve felt I had to be vigilant most of the day in order to solve problems or prevent them from happening in the first place.
I’ve only been vigilant like this for a little over a month, since mom came home from rehab. She’s now doing better, and we are reaching the point where I only need to check on her occasionally. Sometimes a spouse or child is the sole caregiver for an ailing older adult for months or even years. Do they have the same feeling I’ve had that they can’t go more than a few minutes without either checking on how things are going or getting up to take care of some issue? That must be a terribly draining way to live! My heart goes out to all the vigilant caregivers out there, always on the alert. May they have strength to endure, support from friends and family, and most of all breaks from the constant burden of responsibility.