Caregiving vs. Self-Care

When you’re taking care of someone, it feels much like being their parent. You worry about them more often than not. If they don’t feel well or are having a rough day, you feel like they do. And when they admit their fear about what’s happening to their body and their life, you feel just as frightened.

This weekend has been another rollercoaster ride for my household. Our son had his wisdom teeth out on Friday and yesterday he was just ok, but this morning he was in pain and had been up most of the night. Wal had gained 2 pounds overnight, which is not a good thing when you’re a heart patient. He also didn’t feel very well much of the day. I didn’t feel good when I got up, but I kicked into crisis mode after realizing my son was hurting and my husband wasn’t well. Got the kid on a pain med schedule and my husband already took the medicine he needed to work on the extra fluid in his body. So although I didn’t feel great, I went for a run in the heat and humidity anyway. I needed to physically put one foot in front of the other so I could do it figuratively when back at home.

At one point this afternoon, both my husband and son were napping. It reminded me of the times when my boy was a baby and although they always said to nap when your baby naps, I would always clean. Which is exactly what I did today. I listened to an audiobook and swept and mopped and cleaned bathrooms and did laundry. I get like this. It’s like I’m preparing for the next crisis, so maybe my house will be clean when it arrives and I won’t feel as much stress.

Folks talk about self-care and have really been driving that home to me over the past two weeks. And maybe I should have rested when my family did. But in my own quirky way, cleaning the house was taking care of myself. I love that when I walk on my kitchen floor now, my socks don’t stick to it. 😉

Once my son was awake, he felt a bit better. I gave him some yogurt and he planted himself at his computer desk to play a video game. I checked on my husband, who was still napping, then made myself a margarita at 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Might not be the best choice of things to do, but I curled on the couch with a book and my drink and relaxed for 15 minutes. It was pretty fantastic.

But then I got up and checked on my husband again. He had been sleeping for nearly 2 hours at this point. I watched his chest to make sure he was still breathing—-just like I used to do with my son when he was an infant. Wal started to stir and caught me staring at him. I asked if he was ok and he said yes and wanted to know the time. I told him and he said “ok” and rolled over. I figured he’d get up in a few minutes, so I went to the kitchen and started making a salad. An hour later I went to our bedroom again. I was trying not to freak out. He woke up this time and we both wondered aloud, “Is this ok?” Is taking a long nap alright? Does it mean something besides being tired?

We are stumbling along this path, not fully understanding where to go or what to do. Everything keeps changing. His blood thinner meds have changed every few days because his blood wants to clot and right now that’s not a good thing. We weren’t really sure how much sodium he’s allowed to have until a friend whose husband went through this last year gave me an idea of what the amount should be. And just today I found the answer in his pile of paperwork he came home with. (I thought I had read it all but obviously didn’t take it all in.)

This all still feels…surreal. Exhausting for sure, and unfamiliar yet a bit familiar at the same time, but not enough to actually know what we’re doing.

For now, we’re doing our best to take things one day at a time and one issue at a time. We’re also still trying to enjoy the little things that bring us joy. Whatever they are. I hope you do the same, friends. Live in the moment if you can. ❤

Anger Management

This past week has been filled with nearly every emotion that exists. Fear, surprise, sadness, guilt, frustration, grief, joy, and anger. These were all felt by everyone in my home and they continue to ping pong from one to another in each of us every day.

On Saturday, I spent the morning with my husband at the hospital. I crawled into his hospital bed, we held each other, and I cried for the first time since he had his heart attack. They were tears of relief but also fear of what the future will bring, and even grief for what he has lost. His life, our lives, have begun to change, and the changes can be difficult. But necessary.

The husband came home on Sunday afternoon. As we waited for someone to bring us a wheelchair, I scrounged the hospital floor, found a chair with no owner, and snagged it. I was done waiting and this guy needed to be home! It was kind of fun–like we were breaking out of prison. We laughed and waved to the nurses and enjoyed the moment. But on the way home, I could feel little bits of anger escaping. I snapped at him for telling me where to go then again when he said I didn’t pick up one of his meds when, in fact, I did. “You wouldn’t know because you were in the hospital!”

Oh.

Then I went to the pharmacy to pick up his new medications…10 of them. TEN. The pharmacist wanted to speak with me since these were all new. We had gone over all of them with the nurse so I basically knew what to expect and what he had to stop taking at home, but as the pharmacist started to tell me how Wal can no longer take ibuprofren for aches and pains and if he does need to take a nitroglycerin that the package is only good for 3 months after you open it and he (or I) would need to put it under his tongue…I started to cry. Could this be any more overwhelming? The pharmacist looked at me and said, “I know. It’s a lot. I had to do this with my father, too.” I just nodded but inside I was scoffing and yelling, “But it’s my husband, damn it!!” She went on to say I should probably keep a list of his meds and I said that yeah, I had done this with my mom so I was good.

I was so not good.

Once we got home, Wal went directly to a rocking chair we have in our library where our son has his computer. They sat together and we all talked. It was ok. We were ok. But as the evening went on, both my son and I were harboring feelings of anger, maybe resentment that Wal had put us through this again? I’m just speculating because I really don’t know what I’m feeling sometimes. I know that our son was being kind of a dick and I was flying off the handle at the most foolish things. And yet I was also trying so hard not to yell or upset my husband at all. But I could not be calm. I think I had kept my cool throughout this entire event (thanks to the support of my friends) but now that he was home, I could truly lose it…for a little bit.

But I felt so incredibly stressed and overwhelmed that night. What was he going to eat? What could I cook for meals? I put together a few snacks and salads for all of us, then realized he can’t eat leafy greens or broccoli because of his blood thinner. He can only have 8 cups of liquid a day, so let’s make a little chart for that. He’s diabetic so needs to eat as few carbs as possible.

Oh. My. God.

I spent the rest of that night cooking meals ahead for mostly my son and I and making snacks for my husband. I tried not to hover, but any kind of noise he made I asked him what was wrong. I didn’t sleep well that night because I was afraid he wouldn’t wake up again.

I needed to work all day on Monday, so after running my husband to the lab to have bloodwork done, I went to work but called home 4 times just to check on him. He is sad and scared and frustrated, too. Facing your own mortality must be some scary shit to deal with. He wasn’t awake or very aware of that fact last year, but this event is completely different. He felt himself dying this time.

Yet when I took Wal to our doctor on Tuesday, one week since his heart attack, I found myself getting angry again. He doesn’t think he needs to have a biPAP machine (he was not able to get one before he left the hospital). Since he’s slept well for a few nights, he thinks it’s ok. I did tell him that, in fact, he stopped breathing the night before, which why I had been awake since 4am. This has been a near daily occurrence for the past umpteen years, but since he nearly died the week before, I’m hyper aware of every little sound or movement his body makes…or doesn’t make. Once our doctor insisted that he seriously think about getting a biPAP did Wal concede that it might be a good idea.

*insert silent scream here*

Each day this week and part of next, I’ll take Wal to various appointments, work when I can, and will take our boy to have his wisdom teeth out. Most of our meals will be made by various friends, restaurants and an online premade meal service. It’s one thing we’re hoping to stop stressing about, at least for a few weeks. We’re all trying to find little things that bring us joy or peace. Our son had a friend over and they played video games and talked to other friends and just enjoyed themselves. My husband has been watching YouTube videos about camping…he has no desire to camp anymore but loves watching others do it, and playing Space Engineers where he gets to build his own space stations. That brings him a sense of accomplishment and happiness. I have been taking walks when I can while listening to fun podcasts and started running again after taking a few weeks off. Typically reading calms me and lets me escape, but I haven’t been able to concentrate on much. Today was the first day I’ve been able to get at least a few pages in and actually enjoyed it.

As we go about our day, none of us seem to be at the point where we forget Wally nearly died. Our groceries look different, the calendar is covered with appointments, and our phone rings more often with check ins and reminders of said appointments. And even the mail. Today’s mail was a lovely mixture of kindness–an encouraging card for both Wally and I from a dear friend–then a letter from the hospital with a different type of encouragement–to make an Advance Directive. That little piece of mail was such a kick in the ass. First because…holy shit. If anything can remind you of your mortality it’s someone telling you to get your shit together before you have another heart attack. And second, because the man already has one and they should have had it on file!! (I had to bring it to the hospital last year when he was in a coma.)

Thanks to all for your incredibly kind and uplifting words and thoughtful gifts. We have a long road ahead of us– physically, mentally and emotionally. I will need to work harder on trying to support my husband and to understand what he must be feeling. I am also aware that I need to take care of myself. I haven’t been great at it before, but I think I’m getting better. I am finding little moments that I take as mini vacations for my mind. Like these photos:

As I waited for my husband at an eye appointment today (yup, he can’t see well out of one of them due to diabetes), I found this little garden hidden behind the office. Pretty sure it was meant for the staff, but no one was there so I took the opportunity to sit in the sun, read a bit, take a few photos and just breathe.

That’s the key, right? Find those moments you like and suck every bit of life and love and joy from them.

So go hug, kiss, touch someone you care about, then find a few of those mini vacations for your mind.

We have to keep living one day (or moment) at a time. We just have to.