Triage. The word is of French origin and means “separate out.” In the medical world, triage means “to assign degrees of urgency to illness or injury.” This is a way to categorize people to see who needs help first. In our world – the world of the multi-caregiver – we often need triage.We often need to figure out who needs help the most.
When I speak to caregivers, especially the sandwich generation, I sometimes manipulate the word and say “tri-age” as in choosing between three ages or generations. I spent many years caring for children (one of whom has chronic health problems) and elders – many elders at once. I often had to make choices. I often had to decide who needed help the most.
When my young son was having an asthma attack and struggling to breathe, I received a call from the dispatcher that my mother’s personal alarm had gone off. What choice did I have besides split myself in two and do both? That particular time, I was lucky. My son’s asthma was settling down after an extra dose from his inhaler. I drove quickly over to my mother’s and found out she had accidentally set off her alarm. She was sitting in her chair watching TV.
But what if? What if it was one of the times my son’s depression was so bad I felt it wasn’t safe to leave him, and one of those times my mother had fallen and split her head open? What if these things had happened at the same time?
Making hard choices wasn’t only an occasional thing for me, though it wasn’t always that dramatic. My oldest son was having his first (and for that year – only) band concert. He was in sixth grade and the school offered a class for sixth graders who wanted to start early, for seventh grade band. My son was one of those kids. Problem? My aunt was dying in a hospital here in town.
Fortunately, my parents were still in pretty good shape, and they were sitting with my aunt. I was able to run home from the hospital, take my son to his concert, stay for the concert and take him home, then run back to the hospital. My aunt died that night.
Never, that I recall, in all of those years of caregiving, did I stop to think there was a third category to consider. Me. The caregiver. I didn’t consider myself as one of the people that needed care.
My elders have, one by one, died. My son still needs care, but not as much. So I have taken time to look back and see what I could have done better. I’ve devoted my life and career to helping other people find resources so they can make choices that allow themselves some self-care. Thank God for venues like Our Alzheimer’s, where people can seek help, information and companionship. I offer help from my own site. I offer help in my column. I do what I can to remind caregivers that they, too, are in need of help.
The next time triage is required of you, please remember yourself– the caregiver. You are part of the mix. You are one of those needing attention. You are as important as the others. Make a plan to get support as well as give it.
Published On: April 09, 2007