Over the holidays, the little caregiver who could cries “Uncle!”

Holidays are normally a bit stressful and an illness can crank up the stress levels. That’s what happened to us this holiday season.

My mother experienced a breathing emergency on December 2. She called me, and I called 911.The ambulance took her to the hospital where she would spend eight days: most of them in ICU, several of them intubated due to respiratory failure.

I called all of my siblings to let them know mom was hospitalized and although her condition was very serious, the doctors wouldn’t say it was life threatening. Family started arriving that night from Modesto, Sonora, Sedona, and Atlanta.

Eventually my brother and his partner; my sister, her husband and godchild; my daughters and their children would find their way to my home expecting to stay with us. If there was a flat, vacant space someone slept on it. The rest of the family slept in their homes, but camped out at the hospital or came over to visit and eat.

The first day it was easy to keep the seriousness of mom’s illness from John. But once the gang started to arrive, he realized something was really wrong and wanted to see my mom. It proved to be a difficult visit: she was unable to talk and that reminded him of his mom’s final days in the hospital. As I had suspected it would, the visit left him feeling sad and anxious.

We agreed that he should probably stay home and “hold down the fort” while I tried to balance the medical needs of my mother with the emotional needs of my large, extended family.

As she slowly recovered, people started to leave. My sister and a daughter helped bring mom home to my house for recuperation. Good thing, because I came down with a nasty bug that sent me to bed for a few days. But soon they went home too.

Ironically everyone was here when mom had 24-hour medical care, now I found myself alone with John and mom to care for and a job I had to return to for a week before I would be able to take a break for the holidays. With little choice, I left them to take care of each other.

John made mom lunch and watched TV with her. My mother was left with strict instructions to call 911 if she felt out of breath, and me if she felt John needed help. My hourly calls were met with, “We’re fine, don’t worry.” John found purpose in taking care of her and mom was able to tell me what he does throughout the day.

During my two week break from work, family popped in and out for quick visits with my mother, but mostly her well-being was in our hands. Through a service we arranged for a nurse to stop by every other day to check her vitals as well as a physical therapist who visited twice a week to help mom regain her strength.

After six weeks, she is well on her way to returning to her home and life. Just in the nick of time because as a caregiver, I’m tired. This little engine that could, doesn’t want to anymore.

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