Walking the caregiving balance beam.

As my longtime readers know, I spent a lot of time worrying about my mom, especially after she first moved here. Heck, the first night we left her alone in her new apartment, she fell and I found her on the floor the next morning. Not off to a rousing start.

But eventually, after a long time, I believed people when they told me that at any given moment, Chiquita was probably fine. The data proved it. USUALLY, she WAS fine.

How silly it is to WORRY so.

But sometimes, she’s not. Like this weekend.

I talked to her on the phone at 9:30 am Saturday morning. She got stuck on the couch at 10:00 am.

I went on with my day. Big Sis and Mr. Hoagie went to a birthday party. I took Little Sis to the playplace at McDonald’s and ordered myself an iced mocha. As I sipped my fancy-ass coffee and flipped through my Real Simple magazine (pining for an easier life), Chiquita was trapped in her own apartment with no way to get help.

I suck as a “caregiver.”

I called back to check in at 4:30 pm. No answer. It was completely possible that she’d left a few minutes early to go down to dinner at 5:00 pm. I told her in the message I left that I’d call back later that night.

I never did.

Why not? I got busy. The kids came home, we had dinner, opened Little Sis’ birthday gifts (two days later), watched a movie, put the kids to bed, and then ourselves to bed.

11:00 pm Saturday: “Oops. Forgot to call Mom back. Oh well. I don’t want to wake her. I’ll call in the morning.”

This is not unusual at all. Normal day. Stuff happens, you know?

So I called at 9:00 am. No answer. Cheerful message.

9:15 am. No answer. Another cheerful message, but call me back please, Mom.

9:20 am. “Mom, I’m coming over to check on you.”

She was stuck almost 24 hours. It makes me sick to think about.

She was on the floor…undressed, shaking a little. I didn’t know if it was from being cold or from not eating for so long.

“Mom, are you okay?!?” I don’t remember all the details, but she looked at me and talked to me (something about how she wondered how long it’d take me to figure it out), and I burst into tears. The panic, guilt…it hit me like a metro bus.

I got her a glass of water (she hadn’t eaten or drank anything since Friday night) and sat her up. I pulled the cord so a nurse would arrive.

How can she possibly forgive me? How can I forgive myself?

Why the hell isn’t there a pull cord in the MAIN ROOM of the apartment?

Why couldn’t she just learn to use the damn cell phone I bought her last year? I made her promise to keep it on her at all times in case of something like this. Course, she couldn’t even figure out how to turn the damn thing ON. This from a woman who did other people’s taxes for a living: she’s still sharp as a tack, people.

So now I’m looking into a medic-alert-type device to wear as a panic button around her neck. She had one at her old place near Chicago, and used it a handful of times.

If I worry too much, it’ll kill ME. But if I don’t worry enough, it just might kill HER.

So I guess it’s a fine line.


About Kathleen

Kathleen Heuer is a serial arts advocate and volunteer. She is the mom of two beautiful girls, wife to a brilliant nuclear engineer, and referee between her golden retriever and her hissy 18-year-old cat. For more, go to http://about.me/kathleendheuer.
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7 Responses to Walking the caregiving balance beam.

  1. Stacy says:

    It is a fine line for caregivers — the worrying too much or not enough part. This most recent installment of your caregiving journey reminds us all that things can change quickly, dramatically.
    And, how while one person suffers a tragedy, the rest of us are going on with our lives whether at McDonalds or at work.
    I hope your mother is supportive of your efforts to carry on normal activities with your family. She’s blessed you live close enough, so you can check in when she doesn’t return a call.

  2. Colleen says:

    You do NOT suck as a caregiver and by the way, you aren’t a mind reader either. After all, you do have a family and yourself to care for as well. We do what we do based on past experience and when things changes, we make adjustments.

    Give yourself a break, OK?

  3. Sandwiched says:

    Thanks…it’s just hard to think about the fact that I had the power to stop it and didn’t/couldn’t.

    I’ll just vow not to let it happen again.

  4. Colleen says:

    No, just vow to do the best you can with the time and information you have. That includes providing your mom with a monitoring device but remember, it will be up to her to use and use it properly.

  5. Maura says:

    I take care of my mom, too, and I have to agree with what Colleen says. You can only do the best you can.

  6. You most definitely do not suck as a caregiver. I’m so sorry that happened to her, but I’m especially sorry that you have so much guilt over it. It sounds like a great idea to get her a panic button. I’m surprised that when she didn’t show for breakfast, lunch or dinner that somebody at the facility didn’t check on her. Isn’t she in assisted care?

    Please be kind to yourself. It’s done it can’t be changed. No amounts of shoulda, woulda, coulda will change the outcome. Learn from it, which you are by checking on the panic necklace.

    Big hugs to you! You really are taking very good care of her! You are doing more than most people would do for their parents in this day.

  7. David Gillaspie says:

    The caregiver never does enough, but it is more important than what anyone else does. If your loved one knows this, and you show them how important they are, you will rest easier.

    We’re not professionals working from classroom lessons. We are the loved ones of our loved ones. And we know our parents better than any clinician. You reaching out is bigger than any meds on the table.


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