The Unexpected Present

Caregiving Is Not Free

field of plants

Today, Labor Day 2021, I’m taking stock of how far I’ve come through Yuri’s ordeal and thinking about the transformations I’ve gone through this year. So far, it’s been the most unsettling time as I fell into the rabbit hole of primary caregiver during an intensive, and in those early weeks, an extremely dire situation that lasted for what seemed like an eternity. As in the documentary, Dog Doc, Dr. Ruskin noted, “you don’t know how you’ll handle a situation until you are in that situation.”

At the time, not knowing what was happening was bad enough, then later coming to the realization that it was bad, very bad, made very clear that I had to be, and in many ways still am, the decision-maker. Each time I’d arrive at the hospital, I was scared to death that the worst was happening. I was so focused on Yuri’s health condition and situation, I didn’t realize how distressing those ICU visits were, what I was advocating for regarding the care he did or didn’t get, or what was in store for us when I got him home.

It was such a sudden, traumatic change in our lives, such a significant switch from normal life to what has become a long, and winding five-month road to exactly this day, September 6th. Sometimes it was so overwhelming I can hardly believe it happened. From the hospital ER admission five months ago to post-ICU, post-hospitalization, post-rehab, post-home care, now a month into outpatient physical therapy and continuous follow-up doctor visits who seem to have no clue as to what we have gone through.

Suggesting to put this behind us does not necessarily alleviate the emotional trauma. That these memories could possibly haunt me makes me wonder how other caregivers handle it. Is caregiving finally going to get the attention as a public health issue where the public policy needs of families could be addressed and social services can quantify the impact of one of the largest unpaid workforces in our society?

The most common type of caregiver is the family caregiver i.e. someone who takes care of a family member without pay. Duties and responsibilities include home management and care planning, prescription medication management and doctor’s appointments, help with personal hygiene, assisting with meals and nutrition, help with mobility, transportation, home maintenance, bill paying, and housekeeping. It’s part of everyday life. I lived through this once before when I became the primary caregiver for my father. Not everyone understands this as I once heard that I was living with my father for free. Nothing was for free except when I freely took on the caregiver responsibility. I learned so much about what to do and what’s most important. Dignity and being home, not hospital.

In any case, one of the reasons I fell in love with Yuri (there are so many, let me count the ways) was the way he took on the commitment of caregiver for his uncle after years of caregiving for his father. We compared our experiences and both knew that we would be there for each other no matter what may come. Therefore, when it came time to step up, it was a no-brainer. The rational, logical portion of the cerebrum took over the emotional, and I could count on a calmer, more focused resolution within sight. Through it all despite it coming mostly from the thought processes, because everything seems to fall on one’s shoulders, it could turn into a formidable, physical issue. For me, it’s going to our chiropractor once a week for treatment of inflammation of both rotary cuffs. It helps a lot.

So what are classic PTSD symptoms? Hearing of another similar situation could trigger the sights and sounds experienced there, as well as the uncertainty and severity of the situation, may be relived through dreams and flashbacks. There were days and nights when I felt overwhelmed and had to stop myself from being constantly over-cautious and worried. I felt tired, irritable over stress weight gain, feeling sad and angry that certain persons, once very close, cut ties with me purposely cancelling us out of their lives. It happens. As a very wise Professor once told me, “in time you will gain perspective and it will be put into its rightful place.”

Happily, I have gained the perspective needed to overcome the unsuspecting moments that trigger stressful memories. I am so grateful for the nonjudgmental friends who stay connected offering spiritual and emotional support. Yuri is getting back to being the loving, caring and most generous person I am happy to be living with and loving every moment. We share the decision-making for what is affecting us currently and regularly discuss what happened to him allowing me to express my experiences thus calming the anxiety I endured all those months.

Instead of saying I’m worried. I say I have concerns. By consciously activating the frontal cortex, the rational, logical part of my brain I can acknowledge that I feel threatened or stressed and that the flight or fight has been activated. I can stop the worry moments. Calm the amygdala – that almond-shaped mass of gray matter inside each cerebral hemisphere expressly for experiencing emotions– and Be In The Getting Better Moment. Reduce Anxiety. Regain a Sense of Control Over The Situation. One Day at a Time.

According to my Aries Daily Horoscope – September 6, 2021: The energies today are excellent for taking stock of how far you’ve come and thinking about any transformations you’ve gone through this year so far. As much as you may have accomplished, there could also be some resolutions or goals that are still sitting on the back burner. Time to write the book.

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