Life has been pretty stressful for me lately. More so than usual. A few weeks ago, my dad went to see a dermatologist about a sore that he’s had on his neck for at least a year. Being that he is the full-time caregiver for my mom, who has Alzheimer’s, he has a tendency to put off doing things for himself. After a lot of nagging from me and my sister, he finally saw his primary care doctor in January, who referred him to a specialist. The specialist had a six-month-long waiting list for him to get an appointment. So anyway, he finally had this appointment with the specialist a few weeks ago. She took one look at the sore on his neck, as well as another spot she noticed on his face, and decided that she needed to do a biopsy on each location. A week later we found out that both spots tested positive for skin cancer. The one on his neck was a less serious kind, basal cell carcinoma, while the one on his face was melanoma. They both needed to be removed by a surgeon.
Being the dutiful daughter that I am, I insisted on going to both the consultation with the surgeon and the actual surgery itself. The consultation was at the local Delaware office, but the surgery was at Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia. Aside from this, my dad and I have recently been meeting with an elder care attorney to discuss my mom’s future and to hopefully get her qualified for Medicaid, which should have probably been done a very long time ago. We just so happened to have an appointment already scheduled with the lawyer the same week as both of the appointments with the surgeon.
As any Alzheimer’s caregiver would know, you can’t just leave your loved one at home alone in order to go to appointments. My dad currently has an aide for three hours a day, four days a week. My aunt also helps out for a few hours one day a week. That’s it. All of the other hours of the week are on my dad. I still help out from time to time, but I was planning on going with my dad to all three appointments. So, my dad had to ask both of my aunts to help out on the two days that he needed extra coverage for these appointments. This alone would be enough to stress someone out to the point of having a nervous breakdown. And, there was still the actual surgery and recovery to have to get through. Three appointments with my dad in three days is enough to make me rip all of my hair out. I knew that we would get through it, but I also knew that it would stress me the fuck out.
Well, I was right about both. We did get through it, but it did stress me the fuck out. The appointment with the lawyer was painful and stressful. I left there feeling so bad for my dad and what his life has become. The consultation with the surgeon was a breeze and he had a plan to get my dad’s surgery done in one day, knowing that my dad had extenuating circumstances at home. The day of surgery was a nightmare. I wanted to kill myself driving through the city with my dad. He kept insisting that my GPS had us going the wrong way. He kept insisting that I go a different way, so much so that I finally gave in. Well, his way led us straight to construction and a road closure, which added at least twenty minutes to our trip. When we finally got to our destination, parked, and walked to the building, I was so stressed out that I felt like screaming at my dad. I just wanted to leave him there and go home.
But then, I saw how nervous he was about the procedure. I saw this little old man sitting in the chair, waiting for the doctor to come in and start cutting shit out of his neck and face. I felt so bad for my dad in that moment. I just wanted to cry. Once the surgery was over, my dad came out into the waiting room with big packs of gauze on his face and neck and blood all over his undershirt. I have never seen my dad look so vulnerable. It killed me. The whole way home I just kept thinking about how awful it was that now he had to go home and take care of my mom for the rest of the day and night. But, I had already been with him for seven hours. I had to pee. I was starving. I had to get home to let my dogs out. Luckily, my aunt and my sister were both at the house when we got there. I didn’t even go inside. I just dropped and rolled. I felt like I was going to burst with a range of emotions. I just couldn’t wait to get home.
As if my week hadn’t been emotional and stressful enough, I was supposed to take care of my mom for a few hours that Saturday. My husband had arranged for a group of the guys in my family to go out on my dad’s boat with him. My dad has a beautiful boat that he never gets to use because he doesn’t have enough time away from my mom to use it. This had already been planned before we knew about my dad’s surgery, so there was no way I was going to make them cancel it, unless my dad wasn’t feeling up to it. My dad was more than feeling up to it. He was excited about it and had been really looking forward to it. As much as I loved my husband for planning it, I was not at all looking forward to taking care of my mom by myself for a few hours.
Saturday came and it wasn’t all bad. I took my mom for a nice walk in her neighborhood and we sang songs the whole time. I gave her lunch and we sang more songs. I let her chatter on and on about nothing because I was just glad that she felt like talking for once. We sat on the porch, listened to the birds, and practiced spelling some words. In the middle of all of this, I had what I will only refer to as a very traumatizing incident in the bathroom with my mom when she had to poop. I won’t go into details because I don’t want to embarrass my mom, but it was bad. It was awful and traumatizing and no daughter should ever have to see her mom that way. I got through the day and the week, but I was depleted. I had nothing left to give.
On Sunday, my husband and I were supposed to go out to the movies and dinner. Well, I just completely ruined the whole day and we ended up doing nothing. I had such a stressful and emotional week that I was letting it take over everything. I had a mini breakdown Sunday afternoon and just sat sobbing on the couch for a while. It ain’t pretty, but hey, it’s real! After I had gotten it all out, my husband gave me a talking to. He said some things that really made sense. He said that what I’m going through with my parents sucks and it would be hard for anyone to handle. He admitted that he doesn’t know exactly what it’s like, but he knows how I feel because he watches me go through it. He said that as much as it sucks, I shouldn’t let it take over my whole life. I shouldn’t let it ruin the potential for having a good day.
Then he said something that really stuck out to me. He said that aside from my mom’s illness, we actually have a pretty good life. We have a good, strong relationship. We have two adorable black labs who love us very much. We have a nice house, in a nice neighborhood, and plenty of money. For the most part, we can buy what we want and do what we want. I recently fulfilled my goal of publishing my first book and he fulfilled his goal of becoming a helicopter pilot. He said that we are really lucky to have my dad to take care of my mom so that she doesn’t have to live with us and we don’t have to be her full-time caregivers while in our 30’s. We can still live our lives and we should. Plenty of people are far worse off than we are and we should appreciate the good life we have.
I hate it when he’s right.
I realized that I have a hard time letting things go. I let my emotions get the best of me and sometimes it stays that way for days. Instead of waking up and hitting the reset button, I allow my bad days to turn into bad weeks or even bad months. A bad day should be just that, a day. It should not linger on and on and turn into a bad life. Like my husband said, I have a pretty good life. While I do know that, it can be hard for me to remember when I’m having a bad day. I tend to just focus on and wallow in the bad. Everyone is going to have bad days, not just caregivers. Instead of letting them become more than just a day, I should learn to wake up and reset. Tomorrow is a brand-new day and it will always have at least the potential of being a good one. I shouldn’t ruin it by thinking about the bad stuff that happened yesterday. Instead, I should think about all of the good stuff happening in my life. I shouldn’t just focus on the bad parts. I should focus on the big picture. And when I do, I realize that it’s only a bad day, not a bad life.
I hope that you will learn to do this with me. We will be better caregivers, and better people, because of it.