Vacations Can Take Different Shapes for Caregivers
I’m looking forward to my vacation!
Recently I’ve been dealing with the health issues of an elderly loved one for whom I serve as a caregiver. He does not have dementia, although he periodically exhibits some short term memory loss. He went into the hospital to reduce edema back in April and ended up perforating an ulcer that we didn’t realize he had. That complication resulted in emergency surgery (which is not something you want an elder to go through, especially as they reach an advanced age). Fortunately, he made it through the surgery fairly well, although (understandably) he was pretty weak. I worried that the surgery would cause him some additional cognitive decline, but he ended up keeping most of his mental sharpness.
The elder started to slowly heal from the surgery and then ended up contracting a nasty infection, C Diff, which sent him back to ICU and then left him quarantined in his hospital room for several weeks. He also lost his ability to swallow food and drink due to his weakness and having tubes down his throat for a prolonged period of time. The doctors felt he could regain this ability to swallow through speech therapy in a rehab facility, but said they would need to put a feeding tube directly into the elder’s stomach. In total, the elder was in the hospital for 48 days before he got the okay to move to a rehab unit.
Even though I did get some time away during that 48-day hospitalization period, it didn’t feel like a vacation; instead, it felt like an oxygen mask. Another family member was able to be with the elder so I took an opportunity to get away once the situation was somewhat stabilized. Still, I only felt comfortable going to a city within a two-hour driving distance so I could come back at a moment’s notice. And because I was so tired and stressed at that point – which I later realized was probably compassion fatigue -- that week ended up being a different type of vacation than I’ve ever taken before. I honestly didn’t have the energy to do anything or see anyone. I basically just stayed in place, only venturing out to get take-out meals from a restaurant to bring back to my abode. I read, slept, watched movies – and tried to regain my energy, composure and compassion. I dedicated that trip to doing everything that I needed and wanted to do as a form of deep self-care, trying to retune in to my inner compass. At the end, I recommitted to myself that I would do as good a job taking care of myself as I had for the elder.
So now that the elder has transitioned to a rehab facility, I feel comfortable leaving for a bit knowing he’s in good hands. I’ll be heading out for a long weekend in the near future. However, because of the elder’s frail condition, I’ll still be relatively close (so, no trip to another continent for me – yet). But I do plan on doing some fun things – visiting friends, wandering through several museums, enjoying a few meals out to try new cuisines, geocaching, taking walks and naps, catching a few movies, and, in general, just getting away.
While some of the things I’m planning on doing are similar to the week-long get-away I had in June, there’s a big difference this time. This trip will involve more opportunities to interact with people, both those I know and those I don’t. The last trip was like going into isolation at a hermitage to regain my basic core strength of being; this trip will include some of that, but it also will include activities that help me get outside myself and think about a world beyond caregiving.
Caregiving can take a lot out of you. And this exhaustion can sneak up on you very easily, leaving you without reserves. Therefore, I encourage you to join me in making a commitment to make time for yourself – whether it’s a trip that lets you regroup in isolation or one that gives you ways to experience life beyond caregiving.