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Second Generation Caregiver

It would seem that as of this week, my daughter has officially become a caregiver thus establishing a second generation of caregivers in our family. In reality, she has been a caregiver for many months now, but with the hospitalization of her son, my grandson, it now seems official.
Eli will be one year old on Memorial Day. He is full of energy never wanting to stop exploring his world.  He notices everything and remembers what he sees.  He’s becoming independent crawling wherever he wants to go with determination.  He pulls up and walks around things holding on so it’s just a matter of time before he takes off running across the floor.  He has a smile that will light up the room.  He LOVES people.  He has never met a stranger (yeah, that means we will have to watch him closely) and he makes whomever he sees feel as if they are the most special person around.  He’s adorable.  He also weights only 15 pounds (he weighed eight at birth) and is the size of a 5-6 month old.  He stopped growing around five months.  While most children by age one are eating finger foods and sucking down 7-8 ounces of milk, we’re lucky if we can get 3-4 ounces in him at a sitting or 1-2 teaspoons of level 1 baby food.  He just won’t eat and what he does eat, he burns off.
Until last week he was classified as “failure to thrive” with stunted growth.  He grew a little in height but did not put on any weight and was then reclassified as mildly malnourished. With malnutrition, if it progresses in severity, it can result in organ impairment or collapse and brain damage–all serious stuff.  So he’s now in the hospital with a feeding tube trying to boost his nutritional status.  If he doesn’t drink at least 3.5 ounces at a feeding the rest is added by feeding tube.  At night from 9 p.m until 7 the next morning he gets a continuous flow of formula (about 2.5 ounces per hour).  The process seems to be working.  He has put on 2 ounces since he was admitted on Thursday; however, he still does not take the food in himself so that tube is going home with him.
Since Eli was born, he has had difficulty with his feeding.  When very young his cried a lot and could not be calmed very easily.  Then he realized he could refuse to eat.  Now he takes in just enough to no longer feel hunger (or so it seems) and then he clamps those little lips like a vise–so something is wrong but what, we do not know. Therefore, Sarah, his mom, has officially become a caregiver.
All moms (and dads), of course, are caregivers–without them children would have a difficult time living very long; however, when a child develops special needs, that caregiving challenge doubles or triples.  Like me, Sarah rarely gets adequate sleep. Eli does not sleep well and needs assistance to fall asleep (we now know that is probably due to acid reflux causing him discomfort).  She breast feeds so every night around 4 a.m, she has to pump to make sure he has enough to eat since breast milk is his only nutrition.  Since he’s so active, he needs constant interaction and observation even with the help of baby safety devices (it’s amazing how he gets around those things). She has to fix him special formula to supplement her milk.  Feeding him takes 1-2 hours to get 3 or 4 ounces in him. Then once he has finished with milk, she has to try the baby food.  Once that is done, it’s time to get the next bottle ready, so on and so forth.
Eli will likely be in the hospital for 1-2 weeks while they see if he continues to gain weight and while they try to determine why he won’t eat in the first place.  Once he comes home, Sarah will be managing his feeding tube.  If he pulls it out (which he has done every day he has had it) it will need to be reinserted.  That takes two people.  Since I have had more experience inserting feeding tubes in my former nursing career, I offered to do the insertions for her (which she gladly accepted). It’s going to be very tough on us both because it’s not fun for him or us trying to get that tube through his little nostril, down his throat and into his stomach and not his lungs. Being nurses, we both know if it comes out while he’s feeding, he will likely get aspiration pneumonia which could be critical.  There is also the trauma associated with the people you trust holding you down and forcing a tube down your throat.  That’s traumatic for us all actually.
As a second generation caregiver, Sarah knows how her life will be centered on her charge.  She will eat and rest only when her patient does not need her.  Her first priority will be her patient; her child; and ensuring that he gets the care he needs as safely and expertly as possible.  All this she will do while at the same time probably neglecting her own health.  She found out the Monday before his admission that she has osteoporosis.  She has already broken three ribs just by bending over things. If she falls, she could break something else that will interfere more with her life.  They currently have no idea why she has developed osteoporosis at 28 years of age so it’s important for her not to ignore this.
That’s where I come in.  I’ll be her backup caregiver for Eli as she is now my backup caregiver, (along with Lynn’s son, Eric) for Lynn.  We will be the other’s support system and resource.  While I never wanted my child to have to become her child’s caregiver, I know he’s in good hands.  I also know that God will give her the help she needs to make it through this.  She has a wonderful, supportive husband and other family members she can also call on for support so though it won’t be easy, she’ll make it though and hopefully this will be a short ordeal without long-term consequences. 
I hope so.  Having one full-time caregiver in this family is quite enough….

Whom Do I Choose?

I am feeling so frustrated tonight because my good sense tells me not to do something I really want to do but my heart is longing to do it.  Here’s my dilemma.  I want to be a caregiver to two different people (actually three) and it’s tearing me up that I can’t.
My grandson is very sick tonight.  It probably won’t amount to anything but he’s only six months old and has a very bad upper respiratory track infection.  He can hardly breathe, his mucus drainage is so thick he’s choking on it, and he can’t drink (he’s only had nine ounces of milk today) so he’s becoming dehydrated.  His mother (my daughter) is scared to death. Her husband’s cousin died at this same age of an upper respiratory infection and she’s afraid it will run in the family so she doesn’t plan to sleep until he can breathe.
She had him in the emergency room last night unable to breathe and she’s had him to herself all day today so I’m sure she has not slept since yesterday.  That means whether she wants to sleep or not, she will at some point and when she does she needs to make sure that little Eli is safe.  I’ve coached her on some tricks-of-the-motherly trade to try to help her with the approaching night (everything from poweraide for hydration to sitting in the shower steam to open up his head).  I’ve any suggested using the carry sling to hold him against her tonight so when she falls asleep, the baby will not fall off her chest.  I’ve offered prayers and my limited experience to her over the phone, but what I really want to do is to go over there and keep him for a while so she can rest. But, I can’t do that…
With MS, one of the big risks is contacting infections.  MS is an autoimmune disease meaning that the immune system does not function properly.  People with MS must avoid getting sick because it’s more difficult for them to recover.  Lynn, for example, will take a month to recover from something most people are over in three days.  His lung capacity is compromised due to weak diaphragm muscles.  Therefore, if he gets a cold he has a more difficult time coughing up secretions and keeping from getting pneumonia.  Therefore, we don’t go out much in public during cold and flu season to limit his exposure.
We were already exposed to Eli all weekend.  I kept him Saturday afternoon and then again Sunday morning.  At those times he wasn’t eating much but he did not appear the least bit sick.  He was happy, breathing well, and sleeping without any congestion.  I was very surprised when his Mom called to warn me he was sick and Lynn had been exposed.  Oh well, you can’t avoid everything.
But here again, MS gets in the way of what I want and need to do.  I want to help my daughter and grandson but I can’t because Lynn is my first priority and responsibility.  I worry about my responsibilities getting in the way in meeting the needs of my other family members too.  My parents are around eighty years old.  They are very healthy still but every time the phone rings, I’m afraid I will hear that one of them is sick or injured.  I will want to go to be by their side but what will I do with Lynn? If I take him with me, his wheelchair can’t go into their home. He couldn’t stay alone at a hotel because he can’t do anything for himself.  I could maybe get someone to stay with him but no one in the family really knows how to care for him 24 hours a day and besides, everyone works or has other responsibilities.  I could have my parents brought here but I know they would not want to leave home.  It bothers me a great deal because I’m torn between who I get to help when I want to help them all if they need it.
So I deal with it by not thinking about it.  (visions of Tara and Scarlet O’Hara run through my mind…”I won’t think of it today.  I’ll think of it tomorrow.”) I know one day I’ll have to make a choice but that day is not today.  I just pray I’ll make the right one; the one where I can do the most good and the least damage.

Quiet Time

One of the rarest privileges I have as a caregiver is quiet time.  When I’m awake, I am always listening for his,”Hey, Sweetie,” call that says I’m needed.  During my work day if I’m not taking care of his needs in some way, I’m working.  From the moment I get up…no actually, twenty-four hours a day, I am being called on to either meet his needs, work, or care for our home and personal needs.  Twenty-four hours a day EXCEPT for the time between 10:00 p.m. and when I wake him for dinner around 1:00 a.m. (though tonight I’m letting him sleep longer so I can write this.)
Those three hours are my escape time.  For those three hours, I know (most likely) I can do whatever I want without being interrupted.  During that time I usually finish whatever work is still waiting for my attention, I cook dinner, prepare his meal for the next day, make smoothies for the next day, clean the kitchen, take a shower, eat my own dinner while I listen to a book (my primary form of entertainment) and occasionally throw in a few other chores.  He used to get annoyed at me for letting him sleep so long but he’s finally realized this is MY TIME.  I don’t otherwise have any period of the day where the time is my time and mine alone. 
My time alone is very precious to me.  I don’t want to share it by making phone calls (not that too many people are up socializing that time of night anyway).  I like the opportunity to finish what I’m working on.  I like being able to finish a complete thought without being interrupted.  It’s time I have control of and I can use as I see fit.  Granted I am usually working, not relaxing, but just having control of the time is so much better than the frustration of constant interruption. 
I realize parents maybe thinking that it’s the same for them but it’s not.  With a child, they sleep better and longer hours (I’m up every two – three hours all night every night) and children often go to a friend’s house to play or be handed off to the other parent (if one is in the house).  Not so for me.  Even when others are here, I’m still the primary caregiver and still working around his schedule and needs so it’s not my time.  Therefore, when he talks about making me promise to get him up after two hours, I just can’t bring myself to do it.  I think he’s finally gotten the message that these three hours are my sanity time.  If I didn’t have them, I might actually be bald from pulling my hair out or have had a break with reality.
He’s been asleep now since 10 p.m. so I really do need to go get him up for dinner plus I will get up too late in the morning to have a full day if I don’t get this last job of the day done… so I have to bring this to a close…but I love this time so much that it’s really difficult to bring it to a close.
Oh, well,….

Time or Just One Continuous Move Forward?

Are you the type of person who keeps a calendar and checks their watch several times a day?  I am.  Since I can remember, I have been a clock watcher. I always had a sense of what time it was and what day.  Not that I was always punctual but I always had my schedule somewhere in my subconscious. 
I’ve found that keeping track of time is one of the things that seems to be “slipping” as a priority now that I’m a full-time caregiver.  I don’t even wear a watch anymore! When I first started taking care of Lynn full-time (meaning doing almost everything for him) I tried having a schedule. I even wrote out a treatment schedule and recorded when I gave certain treatments and when I did catheterizations, breathing treatments, etc. After a few weeks, I found that was a task that was just not necessary. Things would get done when they got done.
Why this change in philosophy?  Mainly because being flexible is essential to survival.  When we get up is contingent on when we go to bed and how often he gets up at night. When we go to bed is determined by how many times I was interrupted by him during my work day which influences whether I stop working at 7 pm or, like tonight, at 11 pm.  When we eat depends on what needs to get done when and how hungry we are.  Sometimes I get up and shower, fix his breakfast and supplements, then fix my breakfast, help him with his exercises and then help him with tolieting.  Other days events happen in the reverse order.  Sometimes it takes two hours; sometimes more than three.  If I try to keep a schedule, it just produces stress and frustration.  I’ve actually started setting a timer if I need to call in for a conference call at work because I often have no concept of what time of day it is.  I guess that happens, too, when you actually, truly, never stop in a twenty-four hour period. 
Work twenty-four hours?  Everyday?  How can that be?  Well, when you think about it, the only time I’m not working at either being a caregiver, employee, or housekeeper, is when I’m asleep but I only sleep two 1/2 hours at a time usually before I have to get up and be a caregiver again.  I take a series of naps instead of sleeping straight through the night–sort of like being a new mom.  Sometimes I’m only up for 15 minutes; other times it’s 30-45 minutes.  Lately it’s usually just 15 or 20 so I’m getting more sleep than I used to but if you can’t go to bed and sleep straight through the night does that count as an actual night’s rest?
I know I get rest but I still feel like I’m on duty all the time.  I guess it’s like being a medical resident.  A medical resident works all day then is on call all night.  How much sleep they get is dependent on how much the patients need them.  They might catnap or they might sleep a couple of hours but they are always “on” and when the next morning rolls around, they are back to work, the same as if they had a full night’s sleep.  That’s me!
So for a caregiver, time is irrelevant.  It doesn’t matter what time of day it is or what day of the week; you are “on duty.”  Weekends are just another day, more or less; and 3 a.m. will often catch you doing what you did at 3 p.m. ….so who needs a watch?