Most often, I write about understanding the experience of aging from my Dad’s perspective. That’s what caregivers do: think mostly about the “them” and not so much about the “me.” I wrote the following email to a friend whose husband had a mini-stroke, based on my remembrance of how I felt when my Dad had a health crisis in January:
There are really TWO crises when you’re the caregiver and something bad happens to the one you love. Their crisis is some onset of scary symptoms. But the caregiver has one, too. Your heart beats faster, your eyes probably dilate and there you are rapidly assessing what the hell is going on:
“Is this something that is going to escalate right here and now? Should I call 9-1-1? Or if it subsides will it wait until a doctor’s appointment tomorrow? How will it affect my loved one to be dragged somewhere in an ambulance and wait hours in the hospital for testing and evaluation, in an uncomfortable ER bed? If I don’t do anything, will it be my fault if it turns out this was a stroke and I could have prevented permanent symptoms by making sure he/she got that shot? Was has he/she told me he/she wants, and doesn’t want, and how does it relate to this situation? Oh, shit, who’s going to take care of me? Can I handle this?”
Then you get in the holding pattern, where you are afraid to leave the bedside for a minute lest you miss the ER doc or a chance of some snippet of information.
And then there’s coming home when you are so, so, so exhausted and your family member still needs you – in fact needs you more than ever. “Tired” just doesn’t cover it.
Sometimes it’s scary being a caregiver, no matter how grown up and skilled we are. We have to give ourselves time to recover after a crisis, too…