Obsessive compulsive caregiving – that's what I'm about. Nothing is ever too much to make sure each of my elderly charges, as well as my two children (one with multiple health issues) is doing well. For years, I’ve been a human example of the elder care version of the popular computer game Carrie the Caregiver, if it is not played well.
Carrie the Caregiver is an Internet game that’s drawing a lot of attention. Carrie works with babies in a maternity ward. As you play the game, more and more babies are added for Carrie to care for and chaos ensues if she doesn’t do things right. Higher levels get harder with more babies, more challenges. Carrie must feed the babies, diaper them and quiet them.
The game monitors the sanitation levels – a good indicator of how well Carrie is taking care of the babies. It also monitors Carrie’s energy levels.
If Carrie remembers that she is a caregiver and takes care of herself, she does better. The babies are better off and her energy levels stay high. If Carrie (through the game player) doesn’t do it right, things don’t go so well.
Many of us, as caregivers, consciously or subconsciously feel there is some sort of measuring going on as to how well we’re doing. I realize now that I did and sometimes still do. It has been self-imposed, in a way, though not totally. Others have thought more of me if I gave my whole being to taking care of everyone. It can turn into a martyr syndrome if we’re not careful. I hope I never got there or get there – I haven’t done the complaining thing – but I can be obsessive. I try to be less so now, with my son, than I was with the elders.
One thing that added to that obsessive mindset was that I was very poor at self-identifying. I didn’t say to myself and others, “I have a job, here. I am a caregiver, and it’s some of the hardest work I or anyone can do.” I just kept doing it without thinking. I’ve always made it look too easy and let people and events pile upon me, until my own health has been impaired.
This is the route many caregivers take. Many caregivers have family members coaching from afar, making judgments about something they haven’t experienced. Or they have friends of the elder who are intensely interested in the welfare of their parents. These friends are often overly interested from the perspective of their own mortality and how they would like to live their last years, so they can be judgmental.
Back to Carrie’s dilemma – the mental and emotional critic that lives within most of us can show very bad “sanitation levels.” Mom is depressed. Uncle George won’t go to therapy. Grandpa still has pain. You are not a good enough caregiver.”
I know that if I were Carrrie the Caregiver, my sanitation levels would be high, but my energy levels would be extremely low.
Carol the Caregiver
It began with my next-door neighbor Joe, who was in his eighties, totally deaf and recently widowed. I had small kids at the time – six and eight years old. My six-year-old already was showing signs of ill health which would take years to diagnose. Meanwhile he was often home from school, sick. My kids and I took care of Joe for five years, with me going daily to visit, all of us taking trips to a small North Dakota town to see his 90-year-old sister, monitoring Joe’s every increasing falls, and keeping his distant family informed. Add points for sanitation; lose points for energy levels.
While I was caring for Joe, my childless aunt and uncle came to live in our town to be with family. My uncle’s health was deteriorating. Not long after Joe died, my uncle had a massive stroke. My parents could still help with caregiving, so I needed to help them all, but didn’t have total responsibility. Stay even with sanitation and add points for energy levels.
Within weeks of my uncle’s stroke, my aunt died. It turned out her exhaustion was caused by a body full of cancer. My parents could still handle much of the load. Add one point for sanitation and lose a bit of energy.
My dad had brain surgery which corrected the fluid build-up problem in his brain (he’d had a brain injury in WWII and had scar tissue) but the surgery left him with severe dementia. He went into the same nursing home as my uncle. Add many points for sanitation and drop way down on energy.
My uncle died. Lose points for sanitation and gain a small amount of energy with one less to care for.
My mother had a hip replaced (her second). I was on-call to help her shower and dress and I needed to drive her and take her to appointments and take her to see Dad. She never fully recovered. Then she began falling more and more as her arthritis got worse. She showed signs of memory failure. My father-in-law got sick and needed my help until he died. My mother-in-law got dementia. I helped everyone by going to three homes/apartments many times a day. My son was being diagnosed with several illnesses, starting with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. Gain many more points for sanitation; lose many, many points for energy.
My mother went into the same nursing home as my dad. Lose sanitation points and gain a little energy.
My mother-in-law went into the same facility as my dad and mom. Lose sanitation points and gain a little more energy.
My mother-in-law died. Lose sanitation points; gain a little energy.
My dad died. Lose more sanitation points; gain some energy.
My mother died. Lose more sanitation points; gain more energy.
Seven people and two decades of caring for elders. When I didn’t handle it well, take care of myself and remember that I had a job – which was far too often – my energy levels were dangerously low. It still goes on with my son, even though he’s in his twenties. We hope and pray he will, eventually, become independent, even with all of his health problems. Steady sanitation points; energy level depends on the day and Adam’s health.
Does Carrie the Caregiver do better with her charges than Carol has done and is doing with hers? You’ll have to play the game. Maybe you can help Carrie find a better balance than Carol the Caregiver has. I certainly hope so.
Carol the caregiver likes to think she’s learned a few things. I’m not sure she has, but she’s working on it.
Published On: March 14, 2007