Caregiver Perspective: Home Alone
If I’m going to be away from home for any length of time, I try to arrange for someone to stay with Lynn for most of the time that I am away. I sometimes have to leave before the person staying with him can get there or they have to leave before I can get back. That was the case this week. I had to go into work. The person staying with Lynn was coming at 11:00 and leaving at 2 so I knew he would be home alone for at least an hour and a half since the meeting I was attending ended at 2.
When I left at 11, my “back up” was not here yet. Therefore, rather than just turning over his care to someone, I had to plan for “what if.” What if she has gotten stuck and can’t make it? Just in case that might have happened, I organize things to be “in reach,” make sure he has water and his urine drainage bag is empty. I have to leave the front door unlocked so the person can get in, make sure everything is turned off or on for safety and then head out to work with instructions to “call if she doesn’t show up.” I didn’t get a call so I assumed all was well.
Once I’m at work, I’m focused there. Much going on; much to do; no time to check on Lynn. As often happens, everything takes longer than anticipated. The clock is now running beyond the time he and I had planned that I might be home. I finally leave work but have to make three stops on my way home and my drive home is an hour long. I send him a text to tell him when to anticipate I will be there and to say I still need to go back out to the grocery store after I get home. I assure him I will run home first, get him liquids, something to eat if he’s hungry, empty his urinary bag and get him settled before I run out again to the store. By the time I get there, he has been home alone for three hours. That’s the longest I’ve ever had to leave him alone.
Every time I leave the house I have to make a calculated guess on how much risk I will take with his safety and comfort if I have to leave him alone. In many ways, leaving Lynn home alone is like leaving a toddler at home (except a toddler can get into more trouble). When no one is around, Lynn cannot access anything that is not within his immediate reach. If he drops something, it’s as good as gone. He often does not have the strength or dexterity to lift or move items left for him to use; we never know how his fatigue and/or weakness may limit his strength. Therefore, if I’m leaving the house, I have to:
- Leave a thermos of hot tea and one of cold water within reach. He needs both because sometimes he is very hot and needs to cool off or just the opposite; very cold and needs to warm up.
- Have a snack available if I’m going to be gone a long time (must be able to be eaten with fingers; he can’t hold utensils).
- Leave an empty catheter bag.
- Arrange for entertainment and leave a charged cell phone nearby.
- Make sure he’s comfortable and he has access to his medical alert necklace.
When I leave Lynn home alone, I’m taking a calculated risk that a fire, equipment failure, break-in, illness or injury won’t occur which Lynn would have to handle without assistance. Though he assures me that if the house caught fire, he would manage to get loose from the restraints used to keep his feet in place on his peddler, I have visions of him dragging the peddler behind him as he attempts to get out only to be blocked in by a door he cannot open.
Although that image is frightening, I cannot stay home all the time. I have to go to work periodically for my job and I cannot always predict when I can get back. I need supplies and food from the store. There are times I have to “go” when there just is not anyone around to stay with him. So I take the calculated risk and hope for the best. Most of the time, nothing happens and my worries are for nothing. Sometimes I come home and find he has spilled his drink and has been thirsty for hours or some other accident has occurred; then I feel guilty and find it more difficult to leave the next time.
I’m thankful that Lynn still has the ability to be home alone for short periods. However, with this as with everything else, nothing is automatic anymore. All actions have potential consequences so all I can do is pray for his safety and leave him in God’s hands because sometimes, he just has to be home alone.