I’ve been sick a lot during the last dozen years. I’ve been in and out of the hospital too many times to count, been nearly dead, then miraculously better. I’ve had major body parts redesigned, removed and reconstructed. I have had to care for myself much of the time, even though I would often have much preferred assistance and support. Help hasn’t always available or what was available, wasn’t what I needed.
Some people aren’t good caretakers. Even with the best of intentions, not everyone has a knack for dealing with sickness or disability. For some of us, caretaking is as natural and automatic as breathing. If you are lucky enough to have one of these people in your life and he or she is able to help you when you need it, thank God for your good fortune. And don’t forget to thank the person who is helping you! God may have put him or her in your life, but sincere gratitude and love directly from you to your caretaker should be effusive, copious, and frequent. Loud, too. Cards. Flowers. Whatever. Because many of us spend a lot of our lives helping others … and you would be surprised at how rarely our efforts are rewarded with genuine appreciation. As often as not, the people who need us resent us even as we defer our own needs, put our careers and personal lives on hold so we can help someone who needs us.
Many people when confronted with a seriously ill friend or partner, are at a loss. Try not take it personally. It’s not personal. A husband faced with a wife who can’t perform basic self-care may closely resemble a deer caught in headlights. There’s more involved in that response than inexperience or ineptitude, though both play a role. There is fear, deep gut-wrenching terror. The person on whom you have always depended is suddenly looking to you for everything. What if he/she dies? I’ve seen spouses effectively paralyzed, panicked by a diagnosis of cancer or something else life threatening. Most recover enough to be at least minimally helpful. Others remain dazed and pretty much useless.
We do the best we can. Life doesn’t offer unlimited choices. There’s no menu of options. If you have been hospitalized and will need help after release, you will probably be questioned by a hospital social worker or home care coördinator. They will ask you if you have support and assistance in your home. Since none of us wants to admit our family isn’t going to be able to care for us, we lie. Bad enough to need help, but having to admit it to a stranger?
A stiff upper lip won’t to get you through post operative recovery. You need someone to help you in and out of bed, change dressings, empty drains, help you take a shower, shop for you and prepare meals.
If you can’t stand up or walk. you aren’t going to be shopping and cooking. If you have no one who can take care of this stuff, you have to ask for help. Visiting nurses and other home care is usually available a few times a week, but if you live alone or with someone who is not likely to do what needs doing — for whatever reason — you might be better off in a rehab facility.
I find myself smiling ruefully as I read posts by people who obviously have been sicker than a case of the flu. They can’t imagine being too sick to get out of bed. Yet it happens. Eventually, it happens to everyone because we all get old, we all get sick — and ultimately, we die. Every last one of us.
There comes a time when we need help. Humility can be a good friend as you tread this unfamiliar road. Don’t worry about the imposition (although you will, of course). Eventually, you will find yourself giving to someone else what you received. It’s how we humans manage to survive the bad stuff that happens. We help each other. Which is what we are supposed to do.
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