Studies have shown that the stress from caregiving can weaken the immune system and cause illness in caregivers, sometimes leaving them in almost as bad a shape as those for whom they are caring. Given the support I receive from my husband and Mom’s PACE program, and the flexibility and understanding offered by my employer, I am generally able to maintain a healthy balance. The past week toppled me over.
Mom was admitted to the hospital through the ER on Monday night. After catching up a little on my sleep, I spent a good portion of my time at the hospital, except for a couple of afternoons I spent at work, trying to not let things get too stacked up. She was released on Thursday for transfer to the rehab center. I transported her so we could get over there sooner, and arrived there around 5 pm, just in time for them to provide her a tray for dinner. I was there until 8 pm, when she went to bed. Since she kept asking me to pull her walker over in case she needed it in the night, I waited to leave until I had watched them set the bed alarm.
The next day, Friday, I took over her clothes (all labeled, including the hangers and hamper), before heading to work for the afternoon. I went back that evening, and found that she was already in bed. The aide said that she had only just lain down, so I sat on the side of her bed and we talked for almost an hour, about all kinds of things. I think it was the longest conversation we’ve had in over a decade.
On Saturday morning, I gathered up her gowns and slippers, which I had forgotten on Friday, and arrived after lunch was over. She was sitting in one of a row of wheelchairs near the nurses’ station, slumped over asleep. This is not unusual for her. She naps off and on all day when she’s at home, slumped over or nodding away on the couch, with the TV going. But it just looked so much sadder in the tile hallway, in a row with half a dozen other slumped sleepers. I put her gowns and slippers in her room and then woke her up and wheeled her down the hall for another chat. But Friday night’s must have used up all the chatting she had in her. We communicated with the white board for a few back-and-forths, and then she asked me to help her lie down for a nap. I remembered how to set the bed alarm.
And Sunday morning, I woke up coughing and feeling terrible. I had wanted to see her PT session that day, but decided coughing around sick, elderly people was probably not the best plan. I called to tell them, and to ask PT to call me, but they never did. I couldn’t call Mom, since she wouldn’t have heard the phone ring, anyway. If there is even a phone in her room. I don’t remember because there was no reason to look for it.
Today, the day I had hoped would be my first full day back at work, was instead spent napping and dosing myself with herbs, vitamins, elixirs, teas, and chicken soup. I had stopped coughing by mid-afternoon, and decided that I felt well enough to take Mom her Valentine present (a stuffed bear holding a heart) and, more importantly, a piece of pie.
When I arrived, she was already seated in the dining room with two table companions, waiting for dinner to be served. She was napping, so I patted her arm and she opened up her eyes long enough to smile and greet me pleasantly. She had no idea who I was. I bent over to speak very loudly in her ear, only to find that I could not do so. I guess I croaked loud enough for her to understand me, though, as she agreed that I was, indeed, Kay, before nodding off again.
She was very happy to have her pie after dinner. She thanked me politely for the Valentine bear, but I could tell it was not nearly the hit that the pie had been. We chatted a little via her whiteboard and she showed me a few of the leg exercises they had given her to do.
I wheeled her out by the nurses’ station and told her I would be back tomorrow. We said we loved each other, and good night. She never once asked about when she’d be coming home.