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Confessions of a Sometimes Caregiver
By Emily Cooper

(Page 2 of 3)

During the drive, I also have a talk with myself about taking care of me while I’m taking care of Mom. Usually, in these situations, I become Super Caregiver—that amazing and tireless woman who handles rude nurses, bodily fluids and insurance forms with equal aplomb. A lot gets done, but “little me” gets lost when that mission-driven woman takes over. This time, I’ll try to keep a bit of time for myself and remember that I don’t have to be the perfect caregiver. Perhaps there can be room for Adequately Competent Caregiver and me.

I arrive at my mother’s home on Saturday night, and we have all day Sunday to catch up, pack her bag, and talk about her hopes and fears. Early Monday morning, Mom checks into the hospital, and we spend some time in her room before the orderlies come to wheel her to the OR. I think a lot of “last time” thoughts: last time to tell her I love her, last time to hold her hand, last time to hear that she loves me ... I’m painfully aware of the possibilities. After the surgery begins, my brother and I sit together in the waiting room making small talk and looking up every time somebody walks by. Finally, several hours later, the surgeon comes to the room and tells us that Mom is fine, and my brother and I breathe simultaneous sighs of relief. (Whew. This is not the “last time.” Thank you.)

The next few days are a blur of long hours spent sitting by Mom’s hospital bed, fluffing her pillows, giving her water, calling the nurses, straightening her blankets, entertaining her visitors, walking her and her IV pole and catheter bag up and down the halls, and making quick trips to her house for meals and sleep. Mom does well in spite of minor complications and sleepless, noisy-hospital nights. Each day she’s a little more energetic, and each day I’m a little more tired. By Thursday, she’s well enough to come home and I’m nearly exhausted. But I have only two more days to spend with her, and I want to enjoy the time and get as much done as possible before I go.

Once Mom comes home, my adjunct care becomes primary and hands-on. She needs help with bathing and toileting and things get a little messy, so I put on my “this doesn’t bother me” face and clean up. I know she thinks I can handle anything (after all, I used to work on an ambulance), but inside I’m reeling a little. I’m glad she’s not embarrassed in front of me, or maybe she’s just putting on her “this doesn’t embarrass me” face. If she can give up her modesty, I guess I can put aside my squeamishness.

Right now, we don’t have the luxury of indulging in either.

Before I leave for Colorado, I make arrangements for home health care: someone to help Mom with bathing, housecleaning, grocery shopping and meals. Her nieces and nephews call to check on her, and I imagine I hear disapproval in their voices when I mention outside care. One offers to take Mom to her home and I am both touched and a little offended. Does she think I should do more to help her? Does she understand that I can’t stay here indefinitely and that Mom couldn’t—and wouldn’t—come home with me to stay in Colorado?

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