GUEST COLUMN: Respite on the Run

By Lynn Wood

About three months ago, at 2:30 in the afternoon, my phone rang. The dreaded words that I had been preparing myself for happened. My father was being admitted into the hospital. It was serious, but the situation was caught early enough so it was treatable.

My father seemed fine with the admission, but there was one important issue: my father is a caregiver to my mom. My mother is a three-time stroke survivor. She has weathered a heart attack and a broken ankle. She had a colostomy bag inserted and then reversed—all within a five-year time frame. As the daughter, I try to make sure that my father is taking care of himself. As someone who works with those caring for and living with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, I know that my father has a 67 percent chance that something will happen to him, meaning that I would have to step in. I was not wrong. So, on a Thursday afternoon, I met my husband of two and half years at the door, grabbed a hastily packed bag, and went to my parents’ house. 

I had given my dad a break from caring for my mom in the past. I had an idea of the daily tasks, what she liked for breakfast, what medicines she took, and when she was to have a shower. If we are being honest, by caregiving standards, my mom is pretty easy. At times, I would show up and send my dad to the barn to tinker around or stay with my mother if he had to repair a piece of fence. My father and my uncle sometimes play music for assisted living community residents and senior centers. Sometimes if they had a night function, I would stay with my mom so that dad could enjoy his time away and not worry or feel rushed.

When the call came, I was ready. I felt confident in my abilities and I knew what was needed. Or so I thought. Turns out I was wrong. I was exhausted after two days. My mother got up six or seven times every single night. She argued about how I prepared her breakfast, which clothes were clean, and even questioned her medication. On one occasion, I ended up calling my dad in the hospital so that he could speak to my mother. He had to assure her that I was dispensing the medication correctly. Now, just for a reminder, I educate and train caregivers. I talk with caregivers and provide helpful tips for caregiving. Every day I recommend that caregivers need to take a break. In this moment, I found myself praying to the all-powerful that I would never have to provide caregiving again. I asked myself, how on earth does my 79-year-old father provide this type of care every day?

Six days later my father came home. I could not get back to my house fast enough. Now that I have real caregiving experience under my belt, I can say more than ever, if you are a caregiver, please take a break. Call a friend, take a walk, read a book, plant a tree…something. You deserve it! I am in awe of your dedication, patience, and ability to stay focused, loving, and in control during times when there is disruption and chaos all around you.

I guess, in the end, I did not fail in caring for my mom. However, I do know that my mother and I both have a better appreciation for my father. I can also now understand why he was not that upset with having to be admitted into the hospital. He needed the rest.

Lynn Wood is a Certified Dementia Specialist who works as Caregiver Support Coordinator with Mental Health America of the MidSouth, a non-profit organization that has been providing services to Middle Tennessee for over 70 years. The organization's Caregiver Support Program has been active for more than 30 years and provides information, materials, and other resources to those caring for someone with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.  For more information, call (615) 269-5355 or visit mhamidsouth.org.

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