If you have read my earlier blogs, you know that my wife received her first diagnosis related to memory issues approximately 12 years ago. Since that time, I have functioned as her primary, at home caregiver.
At first, there was not much caregiving for me to do — she could be counted upon to handle most duties and chores with little or no assistance. However, as the years passed, I found myself needing to take on more and more responsibilities. This process proceeded apace until, eventually, I became responsible for all day-to-day tasks.
In November 2019, my stepdaughter and I moved my wife into an assisted living and memory care facility. Once again, my responsibilities as a caregiver changed. I became more of a liaison, part-time chauffeur, and guardian, rather than an actual caregiver.
In August 2020, she was moved again; this time to full-time nursing dementia care. With the global COVID-19 pandemic in full swing and visiting privileges restricted (and in some cases, suspended entirely), I became a caregiver who had no physical access to the person for whom I had been caring and restricted access, at best, to the health care professionals who were caring for her.
Taking Time for Myself
Unable to visit and care for my wife, what was I to do with myself? Taking a short vacation to relax, calm down, and unwind seemed like a great idea. But, like many good ideas, it was not without its challenges.
Taking into consideration the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and restricted travel guidelines, I chose a place within driving distance that my wife and I often liked to visit together – Ocean City, Md. Bad idea. I started my vacation with lunch at a lovely tavern in Easton, Md., that my wife always enjoyed visiting. The grief hit me as I began diving into the onion soup. Later, as I headed to the hotel, it hit me again on three separate occasions. I don’t think I need to explain how hard it is to drive with tears in your eyes and labored breathing.
At last, I make it to Ocean City and check into my ocean view hotel room on the Boardwalk. I find my grief compounded as other issues begin to arise. There are problems with the room phone and problems with my “smart” phone. Finally, I am able to address those issues only to find myself hip deep in caregiver paperwork problems. Day one is a bust.
Turning Over a New Leaf
Fortunately, my short getaway began to turn around the next day. I visited with friends I had not seen in years. That evening, I enjoyed a nice dinner and viewed the Winterfest Christmas lights display. On the third day, I took in the sights of the Boardwalk and beach, and spend some time enjoying the arcades (SkeeBall!) and caramel popcorn. The next morning, I checked out early and drove straight home. While the drive back was easier than the drive down, the grief still hit me hard once or twice. Next time, I promise myself to go somewhere new.
The moral of the story returns to the caregiver’s mantra, “You can’t take care of them if you don’t take care of yourself.” Even if your loved one is in assisted living, nursing care, hospitalized, or hospice, YOU are still their caregiver. The tasks may be different, but you are the guardian. You make the medical, financial, and life-or-death decisions. You are NEVER not the caregiver.
Although in nursing care, my wife tested positive for COVID-19 and was moved into quarantine at midnight on Jan. 3 — just after I’d returned from my sojourn. My first experience back in the “real world” on Jan. 4, was the telephone awakening me with the news. After spending 10 days in quarantine, she was successfully moved back to her regular room. She was also recently scheduled to receive the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
Stress, ill health, and infirmity can all impact your ability to make rational decisions for those loved ones in your care. Never underestimate the importance of taking time for yourself to ensure that you are at your best when faced with decisions that will impact their well-being. Always remember:
“You can’t take care of them if you don’t take care of yourself.”
Thanks for all you do.
Thanks for reading,