Caregiver Perspective: I Can't Just Get Sick

I had a scare this week thinking that I was about to experience the joy of food poisoning. As I was giving Lynn his bath, I started feeling really nauseous. Then my stomach starting burning and feeling crampy and I started sweating—all the tell-tale signs of food poisoning when you’ve recently spent hours sampling leftover food as you clean up from the day’s festivities. As it turned out, it did not develop into the dreaded torture of food poisoning and probably was a reaction to eating too many rich food products the same day on top of eating them several days previously. However, the experience brings into focus that as a caregiver, I can’t just get sick. As I’m preparing to be sick, I have to prepare Lynn for me to be sick. Let me tell you; that just does not seem fair….

No one likes to be sick or at least no one with a healthy mind-set likes being sick. However, the added dimension of taking care of someone while being sick just doesn’t go over well with me. As my nausea was getting worse, all I wanted to do was to stop everything and crawl into bed. I wanted to either make a bed in the bathroom on the cool floor and wait or curl up under my blanket and pray that it would go away soon. But, doing ether was just not an option until I knew Lynn was safe in case I did become sick.

I’ve had food poisoning a few times in my life so I knew what to expect. I also knew that I had very little time to spring (or in this case drag myself) into action. As I took inventory of my symptoms and how quickly they were progressing, I started planning ahead. What did I have left to do for the day for him and what part of that was essential versus non-essential? He had already had his bath and was lying in bed but he had not had his medicine for the night, his wound care, or gotten dressed. He also had not had dinner and he would need to urinate during the time I might be unavailable. How was I going to do all that when I felt like I could barely stand up?

  1. Conservation of energy: I could dress him and do his wound care at the same time. I sectioned off the activities that I needed to accomplish and rested between each activity. I also got a bottle of ginger ale to keep close by to help settle my stomach. It took three times as long to get him dressed and wound care done but it was done.
  1. He HAD to be out of bed while I was unable to care for him. Since he cannot move on his own, I insist that he always be in his wheelchair unless someone is here to move him from bed to wheelchair. If there’s a fire, he can plow though the French doors if he needs to get out if he’s in his power wheelchair. If he was in bed, he would burn to death because he could not get away. Same principle applies to all other emergencies. Therefore, I cautiously moved him from bed to wheelchair. I got to admit though; that was tough on a tender stomach.
  1. He needed to eat. I had no idea how long I might not be able to help him but it has already been several hours since he last ate. On the other hand, the thought of preparing food and feeding him was more than I could “stomach” (pun intended). Solution? I gave him a smoothie. I keep several made up for him as snacks so I gave him a smoothie and some nuts. Neither have offensive or strong smells so I was able to assist him in taking in that form of nourishment. Maybe it wasn’t the most nutritious but it would do.
  1. He had to have a way to empty his bladder. Solution? I inserted an indwelling catheter to be used for the duration of my incapacity.

With the above measures in place, I knew he could survive for several hours without me. If I became worse or it seemed like it might be long term, I would call his son or my daughter to come stay with him till I could manage or if I could not make the call, he would use his emergency response button to call for help.

As much as I first resented having to think about him first when I thought I was getting sick, I pushed those thoughts aside. I realized that was the “sickness” talking and not me. He can’t help the fact that he needs help and he sure can’t turn his needs on and off at will. He did his best not to ask for much from me during that time and to wait patiently when he did need something. After I got him up, dressed, cathed and attached to his electric exercise peddler, I laid down. A few hours later, the crisis had passed and I was able to put him to bed. I dodged a bullet on that one. Just hope I keep being so lucky.

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