I always tell caregivers they need to carve out respite time for themselves. Do I listen to my own advice? Not always.
These days, I’m more of a care manager than a caregiver. My wife Elaine has lived in a memory care setting for 2½ years. I visit her every day that I’m in town and can see she receives excellent care. Knowing that the staff handles Elaine’s personal needs in such a skillful and patient way, you’d think my mind would be relaxed.
A couple of weeks ago, I landed in the hospital with intense intestinal pain. Don’t worry, I’m OK now. Doctors made sure of that, ordering a full battery of tests and having me monitored around the clock. For four days, I was tethered to tubes that made leaving the hospital out of the question. So, I wasn’t able to visit Elaine. Out of necessity, I was completely hands-off in terms of her care. On the work front, my office staff handled countless details for me. They definitely had my back.
Well-rested. In a hospital. Go figure.
The most interesting thing happened while I was in the hospital. I slept more – and better — than I had in many nights. Therapists forced me to get out of bed and move; the layout of the hospital allowed me to walk a lot. By the third day, dragging my IV pole, I was able to walk a mile at one time. I hadn’t walked that far in a long time. My meals were nutritious and brought to me on a regular schedule. It was almost like a spa vacation. Got to admit, when I’m home on my own or traveling around for presentations, I rarely exercise and I don’t always eat healthy.
Once the doctor told me I was cleared to go home, my thinking shifted quickly to Elaine and how wonderful it would be to see her again. After all, this was the longest I’d gone without seeing her since she moved to assisted living. The day after I was discharged, I eagerly drove to the memory care facility. But something unexpected happened when I walked into the building. Almost instantly, I felt … different. That well-rested, well-fed fellow couldn’t walk 30 yards down the hall before feeling tired and sad.
Later that day, I called my nurse and described what had happened. Her theory matched my own fear: my body’s response was rooted in anxiety. Ugly, unwelcome anxiety.
I long ago accepted the fact that Alzheimer’s is slowly killing my wife. I thought I was doing a decent job managing my health, but obviously that wasn’t the case. Meeting with fellow caregivers energizes me, but that’s not enough. I’ve got to build some respite time into my calendar. I’ve got to do better. With the help of my Alzheimer’s Association counselor and the health experts, I’ll get there.