Accepting the fact that you can no longer care for your loved ones without help is one of the hardest things a caregiver has to do. I was instant messaging last week with a cousin who is the primary caregiver for his mother. She has Alzheimer’s, and as her condition worsens, he is dealing with caregiver burnout. We talked about alternatives, including residential care options, and I sympathized as he worked toward making a decision. I remember vividly the moment when I realized I could no longer put off that decision.
It had been a long, trying weekend. Saturday, Dad fell in the shower. I heard the thump, and being sensitive to his modesty, I peeped through a small crack between the folding doors to see if he was moving. He was, so I called out.
“Dad, are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah, I just can’t get up.”
“Do you want me to help, or do you want me to go get David?”
“No, I’ll do it.”
“Get on your hands and knees. You can get up easier from there.”
I continued to watch as he followed my directions and struggled to his feet.
“I’m up,” he said.
“Great. Are you okay? Do you think you broke anything.”
“Nothing’s hurt. Just my pride.”
I breathed a prayer of thanks and went back to drying Mom’s hair, listening closely for any further catastrophes. When he emerged from the bathroom a few minutes later and settled into an easy chair in the living room, I breathed a sigh of relief.
Sunday morning, he was fine except for a little soreness from his fall, but Mom wasn’t doing well. I had trouble waking her, and once she was conscious, she was totally out of it. She was in the middle stages of Alzheimer’s, so confusion was normal, but this was way beyond normal. I got her out of bed, but she moved very slowly, shuffling to the bathroom and leaning on me for balance. She didn’t seem to be in pain, and she didn’t have a fever, so we continued through our Sunday routine, making it the church and back without incident.
Monday morning, she was no better, so I called her doctor’s office. It was after hours that evening before I got a return call. When I explained her symptoms, the doctor was concerned.
“It sounds like she has some kind of blood infection. You need to take her to the emergency room now.”
So much for dinner plans. I gathered jackets, medication lists, and other necessities and herded Mom and Dad to the car.
“Do you want me to come with you?” David said.
“No,” said Super Caregiver. “I’ll be fine.” Famous last words.
I spent the next several hours explaining why we were there, reassuring that the doctor would be with us soon, and holding Mom’s hands so she wouldn’t pull the IV out of her arm. She was finally diagnosed with a kidney infection, hydrated with intravenous fluids, pumped full of antibiotics, given a prescription, and released.
After a quick stop at the pharmacy, we arrived at home, and chaos ensued. Mom seemed a little steadier on her feet, but she was still wobbly. I supported her onto the porch and told her to hold on to Dad’s walker. I turned to unlock the door, and I heard her hit the cement.
“Mom, are you okay?”
She moaned in reply.
“Dad, get back.”
“I’m going to help her up.”
“Dad, let me do it. You’ll fall, and I’ll have two of you to deal with.”
“I’m not going to fall.”
“You just fell in the shower Saturday.”
“I’m going to help her up.”
Thank goodness for cell phones. Holding Dad at bay and comforting Mom, I grabbed mine and called David.
“We’re on the front porch. Mom fell. Help!”
We got her on her feet, kept Dad on his, and got them to bed without further incident. Mom was bruised but not broken, and by morning, the medicine was working, and she was back to normal. But I wasn’t. After breakfast, I picked up the phone and called my brother.
“Jim,” I said, “I can’t do this anymore.”