Archive for December, 2011


After years of taking care of our own place and primarily my husband looking after his mother’s house, we starting talking about finding a place where we could all live together.  My husband talked to his mother, explaining how difficult it was caring for two homes and two lawns and told her of our idea to build a house with an in-law apartment for her.  Clara, my mother-in-law, was always eager to please her children, and agreed to this plan.  When she moved in, she really just needed help getting groceries.  My mother-in-law never learned to drive, yet still she was mostly self-sufficient.  After the first five years, it was obvious her health was beginning to deteriorate, but she had refused to go to the doctors for the previous thirty years.  Getting her to agree to go to a doctor would not be easy. 

Clara loved to read, especially looking through the gossip magazines, and as her vision failed, she missed that.  When I suggested that I take her to an ophthalmologist so she could read again, she reluctantly agreed.  The day of her appointment she was so nervous that she didn’t sleep all night.  Little did I know what we were in for that day.  The doctor was completely rattled and became unglued as he examined her eyes, which heightened Clara’s nervousness.  She was unable to see even the largest E on the eye chart, and the doctor could not believe how the back of her eye looked.  Her retina was filled with so much blood and was continuing to bleed.  He kept saying in a hyper tone, “Oh my God, oh my God.”  At this point, I was a bit rattled myself.  I was completely floored when he asked Clara if she was diabetic and she admitted that she thought so.  Both her mother and brother died of complications from diabetes, and I learned that day that Clara suspected that she had developed diabetes about ten years before, but was too frightened to go to the doctor for treatment.  She had never uttered a word of this to us. 

The eye doctor insisted we see a retina specialist that day and finally, Clara’s fear of poor health was greater than her fear of seeing another doctor.  Off we were to her emergency visit with the specialist.  This doctor remained calm as he was examining Clara’s eyes, but bluntly told her there was nothing he could do until she got her diabetes under control, and recommended an internist.  On the way home, I asked Clara if she would let me take her to this internist and she agreed.  At this point she was so scared; I think she would have agreed to anything.  When I called the office, they did not have any openings for weeks for a new patient.  I pleaded as I explained Clara’s situation and I was told they would see what they could do.  I was fearful that if I didn’t get her to the doctor immediately, she would lose her courage and change her mind.  Within hours, the doctor himself called to find out first-hand what Clara’s situation was.  After explaining what was said by the ophthalmologist and retina specialist he agreed that Clara needed to be seen immediately, and offered to meet us at his office on Sunday morning since there were no appointments available during regular business hours.  Once there, he discovered that diabetes was only one of several significant health problems Clara had.  Clara was close to fainting when the doctor told her he would have to take some blood for testing, she was so afraid of needles.  Once this can of worms was opened, there was no turning back.  Each visit resulted in more tests, procedures and referrals to other specialists. 

In less than one year’s time, I had taken Clara to more doctor appointments than if she would have gone once a year for a checkup the previous thirty years.  As I learned Clara’s family history and her own history, Clara would defer the responsibility to me to explain her history, symptoms and all of the medications she was now on.  When it came time for Clara to start giving herself insulin injections she plainly told the doctor, “Michele can do that.”  I was grateful when the doctor referred the both of us to a nurse at our local hospital for lessons and this nurse demanded that Clara attend the session too.  In my eyes, this nurse was awesome; she had dealt with the likes of Clara before.  The nurse firmly and authoritatively told Clara she was not leaving until she learned how to give herself insulin injections.  Inside I was cheering, because I did not want the stress of being the sole person responsible for giving her insulin.  Clara resisted, but the nurse refused to take ‘no’ for an answer.  Then the nurse informed me I had to give myself a practice shot so I would know how it felt, and then my attitude changed.  Now internally I was nervous, but acted calm.  I knew I could not expect Clara to do something I was unwilling to do, but I was not prepared for this!  Clara finally submitted and gave herself a practice shot of saline solution, and then announced, “That wasn’t bad at all!” and we all laughed.  Personally I thought my self injection hurt, so I was quite pleased with Clara’s response.


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The Caregiver ‘Club’

Most of us have observed either in real life or on television two older men meeting for the first time with a bit of awkwardness.  Once it is discovered that they both are veterans, an instant rapport appears.  No matter how different their lives are or their backgrounds, there is a commonality between them.  Someone that may stumble across these two men minutes after their initial meeting could easily assume they have been friends for years by the ease of their conversation.  These men that just met could share stories and experiences that they may have not even shared with their own family members.  I have never served in the military or have fought a war, but I have experienced a similar phenomenon because of my role as a caregiver. 

When I would meet a fellow caregiver, an instant rapport appears.  As a result, I could candidly speak of the range of emotions that I’ve experienced as a caregiver without fear of being judged.  To try to have that same conversation with someone that never had to step into that role, there are too many things you have to try to explain.  If you talk about your frustrations, it is interpreted as whining.  Often a conversation with a non-caregiver about the rigors of being a caregiver, results in the non caregiver offering sympathies to you for a role they wonder if they are capable of fulfilling.  That same conversation with a fellow caregiver, often results in laughter as you swap your ‘war stories.’ 

Through my own experience, I learned things about myself that at times made me feel proud and other times ashamed.  I used to think that anyone could be a caregiver, it was just a matter of stepping up to the plate when needed, but I’m not so sure anymore.  You do not have to be a superwoman to be a caregiver, but you do have to be willing to put portions of your own life on hold.  At times I could do that cheerfully, other times with resentment.  The funny thing is, I never liked the scary rides at the amusement park, and the most dreaded to me was the rollercoaster.  Those few times I was coaxed into getting onto the rollercoaster, I would have to keep telling myself it would be over in a couple of minutes.  Yet, here I was in the role of a full time caregiver, daily riding a rollercoaster of emotions with no way of knowing how long it would last.  Some days I felt braver than others.

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Hello, I’m taking over for Sara.

My name is Michele.  My mother-in-law lived with us for 13 years, the last 8 years, I was her full-time caregiver.  I was fortunate enough not to have to deal with the emotional trauma of Alzheimer’s disease.  My mother-in-law had a great fear of doctors, and as a result had an advanced case of diabetes by the time I could finally get her to even agree to go to the eye doctor.  Neglecting her diabetes for so long ravaged her body, resulted in blindness, end stage renal (kidney) failure.  She died a few years back.  So while I am not currently in the role of a caregiver, I lived through it, I survived to tell my story!  I have a supportive family and a number of friends that I consider blessings in my life.  Still, there were times I felt very alone in processing my varied emotions.  When others would see how much of my life needed to be devoted to the care of my mother-in-law, despite having two teenaged sons at home, I would often hear, “I could never do that.”  I firmly believe that you do what you have to do, when you have to do it!  (Say that 3 times fast!)  For many years I naively thought anyone could be a caregiver, it was just a matter of stepping up to the plate.  I no longer believe that.  That is my brief introduction.  Looking forward to an interchange….

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