This week I have not called my mom. I have not called my daughters. I have not done any writing. I have not done the laundry or cleaned the house. I have hardly been at home. I started a new caregiver assignment that turned out to be quite challenging.
Even young people can have a hard time when they are weak and sick, but being that way when you are elderly is worse. It is a pit of helplessness. My friend Jack is in that pit. I don’t know if I can help him climb out but I know I can’t just leave him there either.
After spending seven months either in the hospital having surgery, or fighting infections, or getting his diabetes regulated, or in rehab trying to get his strength back – he is finally at home. He was giddy with excitement when they brought him out to evaluate his home for safety. It wasn’t that any of the institutions were bad places. He had just had enough of the routines, of professional friends, of hospital furniture, of TV on the ceiling. He dreamed of the peace and quiet of home.
In spite of having a nurse manager, an occupational therapist, a physical therapist, a home health aide and me, medical “girl Friday”, this week at home has made Jack realize that he had some very high expectations. Meals don’t appear magically at home. Messes don’t clean up by themselves. There are no helping hands at home every time you feel a little dizzy or off balance. Home can be a scary place when you are alone, when you fall and can’t get up, when your blood sugar is so low you can’t think straight or have the strength to get out of bed. Help comes and goes, but has often gone when you need it most.
Every day during my time with Jack, we would work on some of the problems he was having, we would have a meal together and then he would nap, pretty much worn out. My five hour stretches were the longest periods of time that anyone was able to be with him. Every time I left, I felt a bit guilty, almost afraid of what I’d find when I returned. I got the impression that he was anxious too, wondering how he would get by.
So, I’ve gotten a chance to watch Jack suffer, mentally and physically. He has had to give up every shred of dignity as we women do things for him that he would much rather do for himself. But I have yet to hear a word of complaint, or even of anger really, Somewhere along his life path, Jack has learned to suffer well. As I watch, I think how valuable an example that is. We all will suffer something, sometime, and have to decide how to view that suffering, how to act when we are in the middle of it. Can we learn and grow from it or is it a waste of time?
I found a caregiver who will stay the night with Jack, starting tonight. As he was meeting her he seemed more hopeful, stronger, more able to talk. Maybe he will work through this hard time and gain his independence once again. At the very least, I think he will get a good night’s rest. I will also rest better tonight.
Have you learned something valuable from a time of suffering in your life? or from watching someone else suffer well?