My mother fell and broke her hip. I got the call from my brother as the ambulance was transporting her to the hospital. I’ve been rehearsing this scenario for months now: what to do when I get the call, how to pack, how to travel to Georgia to be at my mother’s side in the hospital. Chris asked how I was doing. “I’m fine,” I replied. Of course, I wasn’t fine. I was just running on automatic at that point.
Five hours later I arrived at the hospital, and the next day she went into surgery. It was quickly determined that, at 97 years of age, she could not tolerate the therapy schedule required to stay in the hospital’s rehab program. She could barely hold her eyes open, and cried out in pain whenever anyone touched her. After six days, we requested a referral for hospice, and she was discharged home with hospice and around-the-clock care from Home Instead’s CAREGivers.
During those six days in the hospital, I felt both hope and hopelessness as I watched my mother struggle with physical therapy. I felt anger when she simply wouldn’t try. I was bewildered when she woke and thought that I was her mother, my grandmother. I felt relief when she survived the surgery to repair the broken hip, and then frustration when she repeatedly wished she could go ahead and die. I felt relief, and a little disappointment, when the hospital’s rehab program said they wouldn’t take her. I felt peace about bringing hospice into the equation, and sadness that my mother really is at the end of her life. It might be months, or even years now, but hospice brings a sense of finality to my mom’s story.
As a Family Caregiver, you are on an emotional roller-coaster ride on the best of days. One hour might be bright and wonderful, and the next might be painful, frustrating, or terrifying. And Family Caregivers who live at a distance from their loved ones are always waiting to receive “that phone call” that might tear them from their daily routines and send them into new landscapes of care. Whether you care for someone daily, or from a distance, you need a toolkit to help you remain strong through the toughest of times.
Your first tools are the things we’ve been talking about over the last few weeks. Taking care of yourself physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally will prepare you to manage the situation when it becomes challenging. You will be better equipped to manage the stress in your life and think clearly and with focus when you need to do so. Think of yourself as an athlete in training. You are a Family Caregiver in training for the crisis moments that will present themselves at the worst possible moments. Daily preparation helps the athlete perform at his or her best whenever the opportunity presents itself. You will be able to do the same. If you haven’t already, start today!
Next, you need to educate you on possible challenges and potential outcomes related to the person for whom you provide care. What is the best-case scenario, and what is the worst? Talk with an expert to help you gain a thorough understanding of the prospects, and to help you make a plan for best outcomes. Educate other family members and gain their commitments of support for your plans.
Third, learn about local resources that can help you manage the situation. This might include involving Home Health, Home Care, or Hospice Services. It could mean making a decision to move your loved one to a facility if you can no longer provide adequate care at home. It might mean enlisting other family members, neighbors or friends to help you manage things like household maintenance, meals, lawn care, laundry, or even just to give you a break. And remember, this time can be used to sleep, eat, exercise, or socialize with friends. You still need to be taking care of yourself while you are caring for your loved one.
Finally, embrace the fact that you are not in this alone. Accept that you need help, and get it. Also accept that the help you get might not look exactly like you want it to, but if it can give you back your balance and sanity, then allow and appreciate it. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or request slight modifications, but also don’t micromanage a hired caregiver, healthcare worker, neighbor or friend who is there to help you and your loved one. Move to a mental place of thankfulness and resist feelings of guilt for letting someone else care for your mom. It’s what I had to do.
I mentioned earlier that my mother came home yesterday with around-the-clock care from Home Instead. Last night the overnight CAREGiver arrived at 8:00 pm. My mother asked why she was there, and insisted that she didn’t need anyone overnight, because I was there to care for her. I stuffed down the rising guilt inside of me, and spoke up. “Yes, Mama, we do need her here. I need her here tonight so I can get some rest and know that you are being looked after.” My mother slept well last night, with a Home Instead CAREGiver by her side. And I slept well also, knowing she was cared for.