Monday, March 23, 2009

Caring for the Caregiver

The Husband was admitted to the hospital on Saturday after six hours in the emergency room. This came after about a week of illness. Fortunately, he is now home and continuing to heal.

But this is a tough time for people with chronic illnesses: when our caregiver needs care. We find ourselves in the position of being the caregiver.

I learned from his last stay in the ER with a kidney stone that I needed to do these things when I take him or anyone to the ER:

  1. keep a bottle of water with me

  2. take snacks with me (hospitals are big and require a lot of walking and the vending machines are not always easy to find)

  3. take a good book (there is a lot of waiting around and it distracts me from being worried)

  4. find the bathrooms and places to rest like the chapel

I did all those things pretty well this time. But what I didn't do so well was manage my energy or ask people for help outside of the hospital.

The Husband contracted a nasty bacteria (C-Diff) and I needed to disinfect the bathrooms, linens, and anything that he touched at home. This required me to really deep-clean and disinfect the house. However, I usually do housecleaning in very small chunks to manage my energy, so this was hard on me. Looking back, I should have asked for help in cleaning the house.

The MSAA Life Coach program is scheduling some workshops on Asking For Help. I'm going to use this situation as an example of a time that I needed help but was reluctant to ask. I didn't ask for housecleaning help because I didn't want other people to be exposed to any bad bacteria. The Husband was admitted on a Saturday so I didn't think I could get a cleaning service quickly enough. Now he is home and still needs a bit of care.

This is my next project: compile a list of people who will be able to do specific tasks for me, like come to my house to clean in an emergency, or pick me up some groceries. I have a good pool of people to draw upon - my minister was checking on me, for example. So why didn't I use those good resources?

I'll be considering this quirk of mine for a while and look forward to your thoughts and suggestions and ideas.



  1. I think all caretakers have the same problem - we are gereally "can do" people who are more likely to offer help than ask for it. It isn't until AFTER we have completed the tasks and are worn to shreds do we slow down and think through the problem.

    You are on the right track - making a list of friends you can call in such an emergency. And at that, caretakers are often so directed to solving the problem we forget to check the list. We are goal oriented and the immediate goal gets the action.

    >Now the problem deserves an answer or at least a suggestion. When faced with such problems we need to stop, take a deep breath, have a cup of tea and get out the old yellow legal pad and draw that line down the middle of the page. Title one side "GOTTA DO" and the other "BEST WAY TO DO." While you are drinking your tea (or whatever drink you prefer) you start your list. It gives you time to take a breath and then start to think.

    Now, YOU can take it from there. I'm a good one to talk. All those years I was taking care of my mother I refused to "give up my responsibility" because I was sure no one understood her and her problems like I did. And I was probably right. But, on the other hand. no one knew that we had probems and could have used some help. In my case, hind sight is 20/20 and all I can do is share my experience and thoughts about what I should have done.

    >And as always, suggestions offered are merely options to consider. If you don't consider yourself and take care of yourself, you are not going to be an able caretaker.

    >I just want to let you know I'm thinking about you and Tedd. This may be a long road toward his recovery. Both of you- take care. Love to you both, Pat

  2. I have a personal theory about why we don't ask for help, and why it simply doesn't occur to us to ask for help. It's because we're not accustomed to "being helpless." Of course, we aren't literally helpless. But when I got sick, the one and only thing that got to me was feeling Helpless and/or Not Useful. I never knew how tremendously important that is to my own unconscious sense of self-worth to be Useful and Helpful to Others.

    So, we adapt, and learn that to ask for help does not mean we're Helpless. I'm so grateful for my 30 years in the Navy, and for the camaraderie I have with other master chiefs (that's "navy speak", so don't worry if it makes no sense at all!). We have been indoctrinated to succeed by living this little creed: Improvise, Adapt, Overcome. It's the same mantra that the Marines use on the battlefield. Asking for help is simply part of our improvisation and adapation on the road to overcoming obstacles, difficulties, and changes.

    That "overcome" part gets modified for us disease-people, and it sometimes means learning to get the most out of the 85% (or whatever) functionality we have left. Hey, how many non-sick people actually accomplish 85% of things they want to do? If we can find the means to live our lives at the top of our functionality, we're already ahead of 99% of the general population.

    Asking for help when we're the helper is kind of like math when we learned about exponents. It's the same thing, but exponentially more difficult. (Peggy)