I interrupted my guitar playing to escort Cindy to the bathroom. The timing was early but she had a look about her. Sure enough, she had an accident. No big deal, that happens almost daily at this point. While she is in the bathroom I put a new pad on the chair and fetch for Cindy a change of pad and pants, allowing her time to “finish the job.” From the next room I hear her voiding a little bit more and figure she is done..
After helping Cindy finish up I escort her to our bedroom for her range of movement exercises. This takes less than 15 minutes, Then we start down the stairs to get ready for the farmer’s market, where I will give rides with Cindy in the pedicab to anyone who wants one. We only get down a few steps, me supporting Cindy and moving each leg one step at a time, when I feel that the back of her leg is wet. She had another accident. We reverse course back up the stairs and I change both her pads and pants yet again.
Now I was angry. Not specifically mad at Cindy, that would be illogical; I was mad and frustrated at the situation, of having to do the same unpleasant task twice in fifteen minutes. Once down the stairs I sat Cindy in a chair and silently went about the preparations for the pedicab and anything else that needed to be done before we left. I did not bother to put on music; I did not say a word to Cindy. In a sense I was punishing her, venting my frustration without overt confrontation, yet at least providing the advantage of speeding up the preparation for us to leave.
I could feel Cindy looking at me as I moved quickly and purposefully around, pleading in her eyes for me to indicate everything was alright, give a sign that my love and care for her was no less. I am not proud of “punishing” someone with dementia, though neither am I ashamed. I am only human. My means of “punishment” gave me time to collect myself before approaching Cindy. By the time I got the pedicab and everything else ready I was able to grab hold of Cindy’s hands, lift her out of the chair and cheerfully announce “let’s go to the farmer’s market” as if nothing happened. No harm done, at least as far as I could tell.
Because I am only human there have been other times when I became really angry, never at Cindy, but no doubt our situation contributed. One such time was when my brother Ernie came over to sit with Cindy while lending his car for me to donate blood. I made an appointment but, to make a long story short, a series of illogical and unfortunate events led to the Red Cross not taking me until an hour after the appointment, taking people who came after me before me. As time passed I started steaming, aware of the increasing chance that Cindy would have an accident before I returned home, leaving her sitting in a soiled pad while my brother would feel helpless to address the situation.
When I got home I thanked Ernie and immediately returned his keys though, significantly, both of us soon forgot that. Sure enough, within the extra hour’s time I spent away Cindy had an accident. I escorted her upstairs to the bathroom, where she was sitting when Ernie called up for his keys. Damn! I left Cindy on the throne and frantically searched inside and outside the house. I felt bad about stranding Cindy while I searched, but felt even worse that I responded to my brother’s generosity by losing his keys. I swore loudly at myself. I kicked empty boxes around.
Ernie lives within walking distance and started home without his keys. I went upstairs to help Cindy; as calm restored I concluded that I likely gave Ernie the keys when I first arrived. He came back in the house a few minutes later to confirm that. I must have provided quite the spectacle in the meantime, but I am only human. I think Ernie for one understands that, even though he witnessed a meltdown, even though I might have future meltdowns, overall I am doing fine as a caregiver.
Ah, but there are wonderful perks to being human. We gave quite a few pedicab rides to friends at the farmer’s market, our main social activity. I take a short route up and down Maple Avenue; considering some of our excursions this is easy for me, extremely easy, even as others marvel at the difficulty. We draw many smiles of appreciation, fondness and mirth.
Smiles are a tonic for the soul, that is part of being human. Cindy was happy at the farmer’s market; I was happy; people were happy. I recall now with a smile the arc of one little girl. She approached with trepidation her first ride, hopping on board only because her Mom came along. Then later on she enthusiastically went on a ride with Cindy by herself. Then she could be seen encouraging her young friends at the market to take a ride. Such a delightful experience, all because I am only human.
I’ve dwelt on being human in response to recently being called heroic as a caregiver once again. I fully understand that there are some things I do that not everyone can. Indeed, there are some things related to movement that Cindy could not do if our roles were reversed, simply because I am bigger and stronger and, for the sake of both my wellness and Cindy’s care, I keep myself in great condition. Not the good condition from moderate exercise which contributes to wellness; the great condition from vigorous exercise that maximizes wellness. Vigorous exercise alone separates me from most people my age who might have to tackle the caregiver role.
I appreciate the acknowledgement of a pursuit well done that being called heroic implies; I really do. I also appreciate that not everyone can do this because of differences in nurture or nature. Yet I also realize that our society is geared towards convincing people that they cannot do this even when they can. Furthermore, our society’s way of life discourages vigorous exercise while encouraging stress. Consequently, successful caregivers in our society should be viewed as heroic. Civilized societies in general thrive on propping up heroes that do the things the rest of us rather not, but I prefer the Taoist view that “when life was full there were no heroes.”
Yes, I am only human; I have meltdowns. This situation drives me crazy at times, but also provides the contentment of a worthy pursuit for a loved one. The same could be true for more of you than society encourages, than society allows.
I must come across as harping about wellness and caregiving lately. Please understand that both Cindy and I ardently wish the lessons from our journey benefit others. I suspect what drives me now are the prospects of the end being near and, with that, the opportunity for this blog to provide information and inspiration for others to find wellness and success in a caregiver role. Wanting to help others is only being human.