CARING FOR THE CAREGIVER

My Spring visit to the inimitable Doctor Amos Shirman provided a wake-call. I’m pretty much back to where I was last Spring, health wise. And I was doing so well before Mom’s fall last Fall! As Doctor Shirman pointed out I haven’t been taking very good care of the caregiver. Stress, worry, and lots of comfort food has taken its toll. So the “Doctor Shirman’s Orders” list has gone back up on the refrigerator door. No added salt, no butter, watch the red meat and cheese, pile on the veggies, get back to yoga class, drink lots of water, get more sleep. The usual.

He is right, of course, in getting tough with me. If I fall apart, who takes care of Mom? Which is more of an incentive than the fact that I’ll be able to zip the jeans. Mom is doing pretty well now. She’s been home almost three weeks and is getting around the house with her borrowed walker. Still pretty weak but gaining in strength every day. We have had a steady parade of physical therapists, occupational therapists, social workers and personal health care aids. It’s gotten so that I really need a bigger calendar for all of her appointments! It is enough to wear out a pro football player.

Check out the photo of Mom and our friend Mary sitting down to St Patrick’s Day supper. Hard to believe Mom was deathly ill a month ago. She’s one tough cookie. That’s how you get to 96.

Still, it would be short-sighted of me to think she won’t need my assistance for the foreseeable future. It’s easy doing your duty by someone who needs your help – not as easy to pay attention to your own needs. Women tend to think they are being selfish if they take time for themselves, are taught that they’re a good mom or caregiver only if they sacrifice themselves. It’s something we must get over. Martyrs by definition don’t thrive – not to mention that no one likes being in the same room with their self-destructive behavior. I’m keeping that in mind as I round up a crew of “mom sitters” so I can get back to yoga class once in a while.

It’s been a pleasant surprise how many resources are actually out there for caregivers. At first I was so totally overwhelmed, feeling that I was doomed to house arrest 24/7 while I looked after Mom. That was before the army of social workers began showing up at our house (Thanks Gerry, Stephanie, and Selena!). I learned there are many services that provide respite care – as well as support groups where caregivers may vent and regroup. Through Medicaid, Mom qualifies for household helpers who can spell me off a few times a week. Sure, I’d heard the horror stories about how Medicaid takes away your home etc. Happily those stories seem to be urban legends. Yes, if you have to go to a nursing home your assets are tapped after you die to repay the system for your care – but assisting you to stay in your own home is so much cheaper! Thus, the in-home care programs that cost the client little beyond, in some cases, an affordable co-pay. I’m beginning to believe I can do this without killing myself in the process. Who knew?

Oh, almost forgot to mention: the dandelions are up in the yard! Already harvested and ate the first “crop”. Doctor Shirman would approve – they are wonderfully jam-packed with vitamins and minerals. Yum. Called my son Paul, inviting him for lunch. He had some sort of lame excuse why he couldn’t make it. Go figure.

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