A Crash Course in Caregiving

Living with a chronic illness often dramatically changes the way you manage routine activities and responsibilities. You might need assistance to keep up with home chores or may need accommodations to extend the time you can remain gainfully employed.

Giving Care and Receiving Care

Since being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis, my mother and my husband have served as my care-partners at various times. Between the three of us, we manage to keep up with meals, dishes, laundry, and occasional yard work. Thorough cleaning of the house often takes a backseat.

I have also served as my mother’s caregiver, particularly since her chronic illnesses progressed in recent years. I have joked at times that if you add our abilities together, we might collectively equal one healthy individual.

Being a 24-hour caregiver

Recently, I’ve learned more about what it takes to serve as a 24-hour caregiver. My mother-in-law had knee replacement surgery and has needed a lot of assistance as she is recovering and slowly getting stronger.

Right now, our goal is to get her to a point where she can become independent once more. On that path, she spent a week in a rehabilitation facility after which she began receiving in-home healthcare services. I have basically moved in with her for now.

She has sessions with a physical therapist, occupational therapist, two nurses who have come to the house for different reasons, and a home health aide who is great with showers. I have helped with dressing, meals, clean-up, laundry, shopping, safe climbing of stairs, bandage changes, coordination of services, and general companionship. My mother-in-law loves to talk. When she transitions to outpatient services at the end of this week, I will need to add transportation to PT and doctors’ appointments to the list.

I have traveled to my own home for a few hours each day to teach lessons only to return to my mother-in-law’s home to continue taking care of things. Somehow I even managed to mow our yard when it stopped raining long enough to do so.

Although my advocacy and writing work can be done from anywhere, as long as I have my computer available, I’m finding that it is really difficult to stay focused and complete assignments when there are constant interruptions. So I am basically forced to take time away from work to help out with my mother-in-law’s acute needs for the time being.

To be honest, I’m relieved that this is a short-term arrangement. I’m learning that I’m not prepared to be a full-time caregiver. It has been really hard on my body and mental outlook, but I am once again recognizing that I am stronger than I ever thought.

It takes a village

Based on this experience, I have been contemplating what it is like for other people who both need help taking care of themselves as they take care of others. It’s not an easy situation to be in and I’m glad that I don’t have to do it alone. After a significantly increased commute, Rob takes the evening shift and my mother has served as company when neither of us could be present due to prior obligations. I can hardly imagine how a single family member who has a job could possibly do this alone. It has taken three of us to cover 24/7 needs during this critical first week at home.

I am eternally grateful that I don’t have to do this alone and that we have each other to lean upon during this increased time of need. I will be equally thankful when my mother-in-law has regained her independence. I’m sure she is looking forward to that as well.


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