From Dr. Jane's Notebook
Dr. Jane: "I'm having a super-sized Thanksgiving!"
Not long ago, my Father became
very ill following a prolonged sinus infection and was eventually sent to the
hospital. Upon hearing this news, life as I knew it was literally put on hold. I
left town within hours, cancelled huge blocks of time from my schedule, and
became totally immersed in my parents’ struggle to survive. Without a doubt, I
knew that if there was ever a time when my parents needed me, this was it. And
so, for the next 12 days, I divided my time between caring for my Father in the
hospital and caring for my Mother at home. Gratefully, at this writing, Dad is
back home and recuperating. Here were a few of my thoughts along the way.
- It’s not supposed to happen this way. Wait a
minute. My Dad is the healthier of my two parents. He’s the one who cares for
my Mother. He’s robust, he’s athletic. He can’t possibly be sick. Even my
Mother maintains, “he’s never been sick a day in his life”. Unfortunately,
this kind of thinking caught us off guard. Such silly mortals are we.
- When Love-Givers become Care-Givers. On
my way to catch the plane, I grabbed a magazine from my stacks. The cover
offered the promising topic, “Being there for aging parents”. Inside, writer
Katy Butler described the complex role that evolves when love-givers become
care-givers. In other words, when a parent, spouse or child becomes the
care-giver for someone in the family, first they were love-givers, then
they became care-givers, and now they are both. As with my parents,
things became more much complex when one love-giving spouse needed to provide
physical care for the other as well.
- When Care-Givers become vulnerable. Caring for
another human being is tantamount to becoming a conjoined twin. Suddenly or
progressively, you begin to think for two, decide for two, make plans for two,
and so on. As with parenting a young child, you can no longer make plans for
yourself without making arrangements for someone else. And because the needs
of the “patient” come first, it is easy for the needs of the love-giver to
fall through the cracks. And because stress is part of this package every day,
it can easily take its toll on one’s mental health, immune system, physical
health and even our social health.
- Take time for yourself every day. During my
12-day immersion in the very stressful situation of love-giving and
care-giving, I made a pledge to do something good for myself (walking,
reading, Yoga, a bath) at least once a day in the effort to maintain my
balance. Because the truth is that it is exhausting to care for a loved one.
It is not selfish to take some time off to do something active or just to
rest. In fact, if you want to be patient, pleasant, loving and optimistic
tomorrow, you must take time for yourself today in order to
counter-balance the build-up of stress and strain. Care-giving is a very long
marathon which requires that you preserve your motivation and continually
renew your strength. Unlike professional care-giving which operates in 8-10
hour shifts, caring for a loved one goes on every day around the clock and
hopefully, the love-giving never stops!
This year, it feels like
Thanksgiving began a lot earlier for me. Life does look a little different after
you have stared death in the face. But at that very vulnerable time, I began to
feel thankful for every gesture of support from our family, friends,
professional care-givers and medical folks. Literally, simple words of kindness
easily brought me to tears. I began to value small acts of courtesy from
members of the hospital staff, from neighbors, and even from courteous drivers
on Florida highways! But of all the memories from that long two weeks, the one I
am most thankful for is the moment when I was able to bring my Father home from
the hospital and reunite my parents. For more than two hours, they simply sat on
the couch holding each other like two long lost bookends. Like I said,
Thanksgiving arrived early for me this year. There’s so much that I feel
©Copyright, 2007, Jane R. Rosen-Grandon. All rights reserved.
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