By Emily Cooper
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.”
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
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