Monday, March 13, 2006

Overdose of Caregiving

I couldn't drag myself over to Ocean View Assisted Living today.
On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays I try to cover the 2-5 pm period when Mom has no private caregiver. I usually arrive about 2:30 pm, figuring she will sleep in her chair for a while after Jona has left.
But today I didn't get there until 3:30 pm. Nothing in particular delayed me, except the thousand and one things I need to get done, things that didn't get done while I was out of town for a week and while my college kids have been home for spring break.
I arrived to find that Mom had wriggled down in her recliner with her back on the seat of the chair and her legs hanging off the footrest, but she was okay.
I took her to the toilet, mainly to change her Depend, which was sodden. She didn't want to walk there using her walker--the wheelchair is easier--but I insisted, and she laughed.
"Things are always funny when we are together," she said, remembering the hysterical laughter last night.
Nothing seemed funny to me, though. I was focused on getting to Sav-On to buy more Depends and other products, then getting her back so I could leave as soon as possible, maybe by 4:30.
Every simple activity seemed to take so long: I couldn't slow down to the snail's pace of life at Ocean View.
"You didn't put powder in," she said, as I pulled up her Depend. Today this complaint was not funny.
After I parked the car at Sav-On, I said what I always say: "I'll be right back."
Mom said what she always says: "I'll time you." Today she added, "It will probably be an hour."
Somehow this didn't turn into good-humored banter. It just felt like another complaint. I can get in and out of Sav-On in ten minutes on a good day, and I usually don't mind the shopping.
But today my mood was low. Instead of offering any kind of gratitude, Mom times me on how fast I can do the shopping.
Actually there was another factor weighing me down. Earlier today I had agreed to take time on Thursday morning to drive a wheelchair-bound older friend to Fantastic Sam's to get a haircut. I should have said no when she called with this request, but she had never asked any favor before and, taken by surprise, I didn't know how to refuse her.
After hanging up the phone, I told myself, "Great, Anne. Why don't you make a career of this? Driving older people on their errands. While all your other work doesn't get done, you agree to do things like this. You do elder care for free while your husband goes to work and earns money. Congratulations, stupid."
"You took 25 minutes," Mom reported when I got back to the car. I threw some of the items into the car angrily and drove back to Ocean View, where I unloaded Mom from the car to the wheelchair, hung all the plastic bags off the handles and piled two of them on her lap. We went up the first elevator, around the U-shaped building, up the second elevator, and to her room.
I didn't offer Mom a bathroom trip. Instead, after unloading the items, I started her on walking to the dining hall with her walker. She did well, and I left.
Diagnosis: overdose of caregiving.
All the books--like The 36-Hour Day--say to take care of yourself. Don't get too worn out.
Instead I put in 15 hours yesterday and agreed to drive to Fantastic Sam's on Thursday.
The result is not good.
Resource: The 36-Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for Persons with Alzheimer Disease, Related Dementing Illnesses, and Memory Loss Later in Life by Nancy L. Mace and Peter V. Rabins (New York: Warner, 1981).

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