Confessions of an Imperfect Caregiver: Part I

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“Hey, give me my medicine. It’s mine. Give it to me now!” my father-in-law called from the top of the stairs.

I groaned inside. Not again. How many times do I have to tell him the same thing? Dear God, please make him shut up.

I reversed direction, and instead of reaching toward the shelf to put away a glass I’d removed from the dishwasher, I filled it with water and drank deeply, trying to drown the words before they could escape.

Don’t say it. Don’t even think it. My face warmed from the rush of adrenaline coursing through me as I struggled to get my emotions under control. The deep, undeniable anger I was struggling with came out of nowhere, and I couldn’t understand why it was surging through me now. We had been through hell the past several months, but all of that was over and things were getting better.

This is so wrong. What’s happening to me? The concept of “fight or flight” popped into my head. But what happens when you can do neither? Sudden tears coursed down my face and slid off my chin to mingle with drops of icy water I’d spilled on my pajama top.

“Do you hear me?” my father-in-law repeated, shuffling toward me. The swishing of his worn slippers on the floor punctuated every word. Suddenly I hated that sound. “I can take my medicine by myself. It’s too much trouble for you.”

“I heard you,” I answered.

I heard you this time and the last time and the time before that. I heard you yesterday and last night and at least ten times every day since you came home from the hospital, I thought. I hurried to dry my tears on my sleeve before he saw them.

It’s not as if he’d notice, the mean little voice inside my head chided. He lives in his own world and you exist only in relation to his needs. He doesn’t even like you. You heard him talking to the nurses. You were useless. All you did was sit and stare at him all day. You fed him like a baby and nagged him all the time.

“I can’t let you take your medicine on your own anymore, Rodger,” I explained yet again. “We let you do it before and you fooled us. You spit it out and got very sick. You almost died. I can’t let you do that again.”

“Yeah?” he challenged.

I stayed firm. “Yes. You were in the hospital for a long time.”

“I remember,” he said confidently. “I had pneumonia.” I didn’t know if he actually remembered or not. His memory was so spotty and his determination to hide it so strong that it was impossible to tell what he recalled and what he pretended he knew.

“And before that you were in the psychiatric ward with the crazy people. Do you remember that part?” I asked.

“When I lived in Pittsburgh I went berserk one time.”

“You went berserk here too, and that’s why I give you your medicine now. I can’t take a chance you’ll get sick again.” I handed him the small cup of applesauce containing his mid-morning dose and watched carefully as he swallowed every bite.

“I know you don’t trust me,” he said as he headed back upstairs to his room. “But think about it. I’m okay now and I can take my medicine by myself.”

No you can’t, I thought to myself. And maybe I can’t take care of you either. Why in the world did I ever think I could do this? I’ve made so many mistakes in my life. I failed at my first marriage and made huge mistakes as a mother and a daughter. Hell, my own father chose a new family over a relationship with me and hasn’t been heard from in years.

“God help us both,” I whispered as the memories came flooding back.

******

“They both nag me all the time,” I overheard Rodger say from the hallway as I approached his room. He was unaware I had come back to the hospital to feed him dinner. “But she’s the worst. She thinks I’m a baby. She’s no damn good. I know all about women like her. And look at the crap she brings me—flowers and cards and this damn thing.”

Just then the little teddy bear I hoped would cheer him up sailed through the doorway of his hospital room and landed on the floor in front of me.

Susie, his daytime nurse, came out a moment later and scooped it up. “He didn’t mean that,” she said, walking over and putting a hand on my shoulder.

“I know,” I answered, surprised by the hurt his angry words had caused. “He’s been through a lot in the last year.”

“From what I read in his charts, you both have,” Susie sympathized. Rodger had been in the psychiatric unit for eight weeks and then came home for two days before returning to the hospital with pneumonia. He spent a week in the ICU and now here he was in step-down, still recuperating and undergoing more tests to find out if his swallowing problem was caused by a small stroke.

“I see you here every day,” Susie continued. “Your father is lucky to have you. Many of our patients have no one. Just remember that you have to take care of yourself too,” she urged.

“I will once we know he’s going to be okay,” I replied. Then that pesky, resentful voice in my head took over for a moment. “And, for the record, he’s my father-in-law. He came to live with my husband and me when my mother-in-law passed away last year. Caring for him is now my full-time job.”

“Well, he’s lucky to have you,” Susie reiterated. “God bless you and your husband—and don’t let him fool you. He’s glad you’re here, even if he won’t admit it.”

Before I could comment either way, Susie was off to tend to her next patient.

Continue Reading: Confessions of an Imperfect Caregiver: Part II

Bobbi was the in-home caregiver for her mentally and physically ill father-in-law, Rodger, for seven years. Issues they dealt with included Parkinson’s disease, schizophrenia, heart disease, dementia and severe dysphagia. She wrote the book "Confessions of an Imperfect Caregiver" and also blogs about the realities of caring for a loved one.

The Imperfect Caregiver

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40 Comments

It is just not fair to allow one person to destroy the lives of everyone else in the family. No matter how much you feel obligated to help him, I truly believe patients belong in a residential facility of some sort when they start to negatively impact the lives of people around them. Your life is just as important as his. Place him in a good facility, know that you have done the best for him that you can, and try to live your life a little before he makes you sick too. Being a caregiver myself, this is my plan of action when my family member gets to the stage where yours seems to be. Call me cold or uncaring or whatever, but that is the way I feel. Sacrificing your life to help someone else doesn't really help anybody.
It seems to be an honest account of one caregiver's struggle to maintain balance in the often out-of-balance world some caregivers inhabit when they know they shouldn't take unpleasant words and attitudes things personally, but are still in touch with their own humanity and can't escape the pain.

Thank you Bobbi for addressing this part of care giving, I agree completely, I took care of my dad when he broke his hip, then I took care of my mom when she had a stroke and felt I could never really please her, then my sweet husband has recently gone into care and he is so unhappy and when I visit all he can say is I'm getting out of here and I'm not staying here, very difficult to hear every time, over and over….but I too was suffering burn out. Friends all say take care of yourself too but rarely do any come over to give you a break when you so desperately need some me time, and then the guilt about your negative thoughts and some times even your body language is enough for them to know how angry you are about cleaning the bathroom for the 5th time in one day or so many other things.
Now Magentasunrise…I felt the same way when our oldest son was making family life miserable, I felt cull the black sheep to save the flock, believe me I did all I could before I got to that stage, but our parents or spouse, as a spouse, I vowed to be there for better or worse and in sickness and in health, it is my job to take care of him as long as I can and then hopefully make the right decision when more care is required. I sacrificed my self for him and now maybe I will find myself again, no one knows the life of a care giver unless they too have been there. Many Hugs go out to all you care givers doing the best you can, we all need hugs…