Praise The Caregivers! A Week With Mom Left Me Exhausted


This column is dedicated to anyone living with a person who needs near-constant attention because of a medical problem. God bless you all.

Last week, my mother, a 94-year-old who is usually sharp as a tack, suddenly wanted to know why her TV set wouldn’t print out paper “like everyone else’s does.” (This, according to my brother Dave.)

I got to her assisted living place in Wisconsin on Wednesday and watched with fear as she swung back and forth between completely normal behavior and anxiously asking me why everything was so confusing. “There’s so much going on — in my head and everywhere else. What am I supposed to do? What is my purpose?” she asked.

“If you’re asking me the meaning of life, I don’t know — and if you figure it out, we need to get you booked on a national speaking tour because this is an answer many people want to know,” I replied.

She smiled but was not amused. I don’t know what kind of circus was going on in her head, but it was not a fun circus.

So I spoke with the on-site nurse who thought maybe she had forgotten to take the one pill a day that she needs. But her pill case was up-to-date. I was told that the doctor would be in the next day.

On Thursday, he was in, but he didn’t see her. He did order a blood test — to be performed on Monday.

By Friday, my mother had started to make plans based on worry. She wanted me to take her $850 Waterford crystal vase and some of her jewelry. She wanted Dave to take her checkbook. She started pulling papers from drawers and filing them in her “Pending” file.

“Mom! all those things can’t be pending! Some are done! Throw them out!”

“To me, they’re pending.” I didn’t have an answer for that. The rest of her life was now pending. So, I got her a new doctor. He ruled out a lot of things, but not the big one, the one we had begun referring to as “fuzziness.” Wait for the blood test, he said.

On Saturday, she wanted to go back. She’d thought of another thing it might be. The doctor ordered a new test, but it required a machine he didn’t have. He sent us to the emergency room. This only caused mom more anxiety.

The ER doctor ordered a sonogram, an EKG, a cat scan, a chest x-ray and four vials of blood. We were startled when he came back almost immediately with her chart in his hand. “I have good news and not-so-good news,” he said.

We held our breath. “The good news is that your mother is perfect,” he said. “She rates average or above-average across the board. The not-so-good news is that I can’t find anything wrong with her.”

On Sunday, we went out for ice cream and counted the minutes until Monday. On Monday, they took her blood and called us at 4:30 p.m. to say her medication was “off.” The original doctor would be in to adjust it on Tuesday.

Mom and I looked at each other and hugged. That took one week of our lives and we are both exhausted.

But there are people who do this every day for years with no nice little cure to look forward to. They are silent, suffering heroes of humanity, and I salute them.