Written by, Katie Wilson Ferguson
My mom arranged for my stay by setting up a bedroom for me on the west side of their house. She cleaned out another room nearby for my home office. I had the closest bathroom all to myself. I liked telling people I occupied the West Wing. My mom wanted me to be comfortable, and I’m most comfortable when I have my own space.
Before the surgery, my mom’s friend and neighbor Michelle offered to bring food and find other neighbors to bring meals while my mom recovered. Not wanting to be a burden, my mom declined. Michelle texted me with the same offer, and I happily accepted. We had dinner brought in by friends and family for eight nights and many of those meals gave us leftovers for the following lunch. This helped alleviate stress as I adjusted to my new responsibilities. Michelle often checked in with me after my mom’s surgery knowing I would be more likely to accept help if we needed it.
My mom’s surgery was scheduled on a Tuesday morning. I moved in the Sunday before so I could set up my office and be ready for work on Monday, plus shadow my mom for a day before caring for my dad without her help. Although I’d seen her care for him since I was seven years old, it was the first time I watched with the intent of doing it myself.
My Aunt Dianne drove my mom to and from the hospital while I stayed home with my dad. The surgery was successful, but she was miserable with nausea for the first 24 hours. My Uncle Steve came to visit and decided to stay overnight so he could take care of her while I took care of my dad. Just as a harness once secured me to a zip line so I couldn’t fall, my uncle was my harness that night.
I woke up the day after my mom’s surgery feeling more overwhelmed than I had expected. My husband wasn’t there hitting his snooze button. My energetic Jack Russell Terrier wasn’t there sniffing my face to make sure I was alive. She wasn’t there for me to take on a morning walk. I knew my dad was down the hall waiting for me to get him dressed, out of bed and fed.
For the first time in my life, I felt the weight of knowing another person was relying on my care. It didn’t feel like a burden. It felt like going into a job interview. I wanted to be there, but I was nervous I might not be good enough to fill the position and do a good job.
I got my dad dressed, up and fed. My Uncle Steve checked in on us before leaving for the day. “Did your dad get his pills?”
I slapped my forehead. “No! I forgot! I woke up this morning and realized why I’ve been so nervous to take care of my dad. I’ve never had someone depend on me to get them out of bed or to feed them or make sure they’ve had their pills. I’ve been so worried I’d forget about my dad’s pills. I can’t believe I forgot on the first day.”
“Hey, it’s okay. Take it easy on yourself. You don’t have to be perfect.” Uncle Steve always has a knack for knowing how to make me feel at ease.
Because my dad has a poor short-term memory, he is no longer capable of taking his own medicine correctly. Years ago, he got confused on the day of the week, thinking it was Friday when it was actually Thursday. He saw he had pills left in his box so he took a double dose of everything that day. The overdose caused a two-day hospital stay. Overdoses are dangerous, but so are missed doses. One missed dose increases his likelihood of seizures and blood clotting.
My parents and I felt an outpouring of love for the next several weeks. Family and friends checked in with phone calls, text messages and personal visits. Some loved ones sent my mom cards, flowers and gifts. Not only were people asking my mom how she felt, but they were also asking me how they could help. I’ve heard the saying “It takes a village to raise a child.” I think it takes a village to conquer many of life’s challenges – including caregiving. My parents and I are blessed with a strong village of support.
My full-time caregiving adventure didn’t always go smoothly, but we had a lot more successes than failures. My mom understood when I forgot to give my dad his pills. My dad forgave me when I sat him on the armrest of his wheelchair instead of the seat. My dad’s response to every apology was “no prob.” I heard that response a lot.
My dad’s patience amazes me. I almost dropped him several times while transferring him in or out of his wheelchair. I’d stand him up and start to feel his knees bend and his waist drop before I was ready to sit him down. “Stand up! Stand up!” I yelled in frustration. I hurt him a few times (without causing serious injury). He never lost his patience with me.
My dad is a pleasure to serve because he’s one of the most appreciative people I know. There were days I got tired of saying “You’re welcome.” Then I’d remember it was a blessing to help someone who acknowledged every good deed.
I’d like to follow my dad’s example of appreciation by thanking my village of support. Without the help I received, taking the plunge of accepting caregiving responsibilities would have been even scarier.
It’s been six weeks since I moved back into my own home. I hear my husband’s alarm clock every morning again. I start each day walking my dog. I went back to my usual routine without missing a beat, but with a deeper understanding.
So, here’s to all you caregivers: You wake each morning knowing someone else depends on you. Who knows how many mornings you’ve had to drag yourself out of bed after a long night of helping your loved one or cleaning up midnight mishaps? Who knows how many times you’ve felt at the end of your rope? Yet you choose to hang on for the person you love.
And here’s to those of you who rely on the care of others. You have to wait for others to assist you day after day. You’ve endured extensive testing and rehabilitation. You’ve been deprived of abilities others take for granted. Perhaps you endure hardships few people understand and maybe it’s difficult to express how those hardships affect you. Perhaps you endure physical and emotional pain no one can heal – yet.
Caregivers and care recipients alike have spent endless hours waiting at doctors’ offices. Together, they’ve experienced unfamiliar territory and anticipated the unknown. Their relationships have been challenged beyond arguments of whose turn it is to wash the dishes and where the toothpaste tube should be squeezed.
You caregivers and care recipients have been given a weight few people have the strength to lift. Thank you for lifting that weight and carrying on. I learn from your examples and admire your strength. I believe you add an exceptional level of beauty to the world. I hope you feel you have a village of support. I appreciate my mom for increasing a village of support through the worldwide endeavors of this blog.
Thank you Katie for your insights and words. I appreciate you sharing your experience and grateful for your help. Thank you Eldin as well. You were a marvelous help when Katie wasn’t able to be here and a great support while she was here. What a wonderful addition you are to our family. We also enjoyed Lizzy and the great cleanup job she did after every meal. I enjoyed watching her wait patiently by Mark’s chair for the food to drop.