Sunday, May 18, 2008

Caring for the Caregiver

Sunday is usually reserved for napping in our family and today is the perfect day: it’s raining and the sound of water tapping on the window, the swooshing sound of tires making their way through water-clogged streets, and rain gutters spilling their contents outside the door are all welcome sounds.

It’s almost blissful.

It’s day seven of caretaking. Mark is starting the uphill journey of his long recovery (see previous post). Yesterday, I was in Philly for the Mid-Atlantic National Speaker’s Association and received my pewter microphone award. It was bittersweet because Mark wasn’t there. Initially, we had planned to spend the day together at King of
and eat at the Cheesecake Factory to celebrate.

Instead my weary mind was on hubby. Did he remember to take his pain medication? Did I remember to mark his med sheet? Did I leave enough water within reach? Is his walker by the sofa?

The presenter was excellent, Sharon Bowman, and her topic was based on her book, Preventing Death by Lecture. She touched on one point and I laughed out loud (the only one in the room who did!). Sharon talked about the “reticular activating system or reticular formation.” You know the feeling. You are driving on a stretch of road and end up at home. And you say to yourself, “How did I get here? I don’t remember the drive from A-to-B?” That’s because your brain went on auto-pilot. We do it at boring lectures or when another part of our brain is occupied (like trying to be two places at the same time).

So while I was at the National Speaker’s Association—although physically present at Valley Forge at the Radisson Hotel—my thoughts were at home with Mark. I was miles away from the table which was interactive in nature—learning all the techniques to make our speeches come alive and memorable. So what was happening?

Caregivers are in a unique role. I’ve been on the receiving end and have done some caretaking of friends who were going through the cancer journey, but never 24/7. As a writer, I’m in a unique position to record my thoughts, which are “blank” most days because I’m on overload.

So what does a caregiver do? Here’s the list: grocery shopping, house cleaning, cooking, shopping, paying bills, giving medicine, toileting, bathing, dressing, eating…to list a few.

Did you realize that 75% of women are caregivers? And most caregivers are between the ages of 35-64. I’m 52—soon to be 53—so I’m right smack dap in the middle. I’m a baby boomer caretaker for the next six months.

So how do I know if I’ve been stressed out in my duties, here are some signs: sleeping problems (too much or too little); change in eating habits (weight gain or loss); feeling tired or without energy; loss of interest in things you normally enjoy; easily irritated, angered or saddened; frequent headaches, stomachaches or other physical problems.

Yep (I checked all of the above, and it's only day SEVEN!).

My mom said to me last night, “Wow, you’re talking much better today. For the last two days you sounded irrational!”


I love my mom, so I evaluated my speech patterns over the last few days and realized, “Yes, I’m sure I did sound irrational.” I tend to get upset easily when my husband can’t walk, talk or toilet himself!

So what’s my care plan so I can care for me: Find out about community care giving resources, ask and accept help, stay in touch with family and friends, find time to exercise every day (even if its climbing the stairs at home), prioritize, prioritize, prioritize; join a support group for caregivers; eat right; take a multivitamin, and “take one day at a time.”

That’s Connie’s care plan for the next six months. So what about writing and speaking? I’m keeping a daily journal of my days, and writing the humorous and not so humorous moments. I’ve now added a new speaking topic to my list of keynotes which will be interactive: “Caring for the Caregiver: A Basic Plan to Stay Sane.”

If you know someone who is caring for someone full time, drop them a note and say, “I’m praying for you and by the way…here’s what I plan to do for you this week.” You may list as many things as you wish: run errands, drop off a meal (note I said “drop” it off!), mow the lawn, and pick up some groceries.

More tomorrow on the journey of caregiving!

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Flea said...

Y'know, my mom was a caregiver to my dad for years. We didn't have a relationship at the time, and I felt his situation was self-induced, but she still wound up caring for him long-term. After 14 years apart, I first saw her again at his funeral and she looked beaten. It's taken a couple of years to regain her sense of self.

I can't tell you how good it is to know that Mark will recover, and fairly quickly, all things considered. Yay! Yay God!

Connie Pombo said...

Extrovert--ya think? BIG SMILE!

You're right, Flea. It's been a week since the accident, and Mark can stay awake until 7:00 PM with naps in between. When he's awake, I run to his side and talk, talk, talk (then he falls back asleep). Am I that boring?!?

I didn't get my nap today (I cooked and cleaned instead). I need to go back to the newborn mode (you know...sleep when they're sleeping!).

Greg C said...

Connie I am praying for you and your husband. I pray that he recovers quickly and that you have the strength to put up with him. I know it is difficult and even someone you love can get on your nerves if you are a caregiver like you are. Hang in there because it will strengthen your relationship.

Connie Pombo said...

Thanks Greg for the encouraging thoughts! I've learned a lot about caregiving in the last eight days, and as writers we turn what we learn into valuable information for others. I'm taking copious notes on what people have said and done, and what not to say and do. Now I'm off to buy a "pill cutter." Some pills aren't scored and my hubby can't take a whole pill sometimes. I've been using a paring knife (not good or accurate!). So I've added that to my list of "gifts" to buy for the caregiver (smile).

One thing that hasn't surprised me because I learned it when I was going through cancer: the people you think that will be there aren't and the people you never suspect in a million years to be by your side are there in a heartbeat.

I have a theory on that, but I'll share those thoughts later!


Let me give you the other side. I had to be in bed for a couple of weeks and could do nothing for myself.Then on a walker for a couple more weeks. So useless. I do not like having to ask anyone to do things for me much less very personal things. It was a time of learning for me. It is very hard to realize that you can not take care of yourself and in case of an emergency you are at the mercy of another no matter how much you love the other. I can only imagine how hard it would be for a man to be in that position. It will not be easy for either of you. Don't feel guilt for needing some help or a little time away. And be patience when he seems grouchy and you can't figure out why. It will take a lot of strength for him to not get depressed. As well as for you. But you will both learn a lot during this time. Be good to each other and it will be a very special time. Just some "not asked for advice." connie from Texas

Connie Pombo said...


Thanks for the much-need perspective. I realized one of our greatest fears is not being able to care for ourselves. My hubby is fiercly independent, and this is so humbling for him. From triathlons to a walker is quite a "stretch," but we're learning to take each day as it comes. This weekend will be difficult...the day of the triathlon Mark was supposed to be in. My son will be in it by himself now, and I will be on the sidelines. Mark will be home alone, so I may need to rethink this one. to be two places at the same time?!?!