I got up at 5:30am on Saturday, showered, dressed and was ready by five minutes to 6:00am to start the process of getting ready to go to Kansas City for the Parkinson’s Symposium.  We would have to be on the road by 7:30am to make it on time.  I had already complained to the Dr. about the early start time for the target audience who have mobility and sleep problems.  He said the issue was finishing before lunch.  Registration was at 8am and the program started at 9am.  Living an hour and a quarter away added to the time issue.

Since I thought maybe Mary Ann could get ready in an hour (normally including morning chores, the minimum prep time is two hours), I let her sleep another half hour.   At about 6:30am, as I helped her to the commode, she said, let’s stay home.   I knew it would not work to try to force her to go. 

I had initiated plans for a luncheon with friends in Kansas City to celebrate two birthdays members of the group were having.  I told her that at least we ought to go to KC in time for that meal.  After all, I had started the process of arranging the meal out.  She agreed.  We both went back to bed for a couple more hours. 

It was good to visit with friends of thirty-five years.  Even though we are only an hour or so from that crew, we end up getting together only four or five times a year, if that. 

For a variety of reasons, the weekend seemed to provide a number of reality checks that reinforced the level of limits on our lives and the concomitant sense of isolation. 

Sunday morning a Volunteer came.  Edie always brings whatever is needed to leave behind a full meal, very tasty, with lots of variety.  During the Volunteer time I headed up to the Lake for a while and then to the marsh below the dam.   It was a helpful time.  Feeling out of sorts and searching for some sense of renewal, the combination of devotional reading and sensory refreshment was especially meaningful. 

The book (about spiritual formation) is speaking to my need, providing the sort of intellectual framework that fertilizes my roots and generates hope for growth.

What flooded my senses provided the grounding in the natural world that helps me reframe my situation.  As I stood at the edge of the lake, the gulls spread over the water were screaming.  I have no idea why, but they were screaming.  I guess that is just the way gulls vocalize.  Nearby, one gull flew over another that was sitting on the water.  The flying gull made what sounded like some belligerent remarks, and the one on the water started screaming at the one flying.  In other places on the lake, occasionally one gull would crash land into another and a skirmish would ensue.  I don’t think this is mating season.  I will have to ask a birder what was going on. 

There were Cormorants diving for food.  A raucous Great Blue Heron flew by joining the conversation as he flew.   I watched a butterfly go by and come very close to becoming a snack for a Barn Swallow that just grazed it.   

The highlight was what I had seen last week and thought to be a juvenile American Bald Eagle.  My birding expert, whom I call Bob, after I reported the sighting, suggested that due to a flying pattern I descibed it might have been an Osprey.  This week the bird came close enough to confirm that is was an Osprey.  It had the telltale black mask on its face.  In fact it dove into the water right in front of me to get a fish — an unsuccesful fishing trip.  As I continued to watch, another bird appeared in the distance.  It also flew toward me, and I was able to determine that it was a second Osprey. 

I spent some time walking by the marsh, providing a little exercise, much needed.  The lifting and moving and turning of Mary Ann provides some strength training, but my life is pretty much void of any cardiovascular conditioning.  A combination of creativity and discipline seems to be the path toward better physical and spiritual health.  I am better at the creativity than the discipline.  I am way better at talking and thinking than I am at doing. 

We are in another restless night.  It has been no more than fifteen minutes between needs for the last two or three hours.  It is hard to muster the energy for moving from thinking to doing when very tired and tethered to another person whose needs are constant. 

Yesterday there was what felt like the start of the flu during the evening after church and into the night.  Chills came for a time.  Instead of writing a post on this blog, I went to bed in hopes of getting whatever it was to let go.  Since I simply can’t be sick due to Mary Ann’s circumstances, I got better today.  We will see what comes. 

This is a very thoughtful time for me, with lots of feelings converging.  My hope is that there will be enough time for processing, and that a healthier pattern of living will emerge.  At the moment, I am shutting down.  It is time to get to bed!

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It is about 11:40pm local time as I start this post.  It is not unusual for me to be writing until 1am or 1:30am.  Why on earth don’t I start doing this earlier?  Beyond lack of organization of time and self-discipline, there are some reasons built into the task of Caregiving.

First of all, when someone for whom you are caring cannot take care of personal needs or walk very far without falling, every waking moment is bound to the care and protection of your Carereceiver.  As a Caregiver, you are doubling the number of basic tasks associated with a human’s daily needs.  You are living two lives at the same time. 

One of the lives you are living is, of course, your own.  You know what you want and when you want it.  When living someone else’s life also, just discovering what the wants and needs are takes a great deal of attention and mental energy, especially, if that someone has difficulty vocalizing those wants and need. 

When nature calls the one for whom you are caring, he/she may not hear the call until it is too late to make it to the necessary destination.   Mary Ann can be up and off walking to one place or another in seconds.  Often I discover that she has gotten up and headed off by the sound of the thump when she lands on the floor.  It is exhausting to keep attention so tuned as not to miss those moments of need.  I have heard and believe that mental exercise is far more tiring than physical exertion.  The stamina needed to pay attention to someone else’s every move, every need, every want, uses up endless amounts of the Caretaker’s reserves.

One of the consequences of the constancy of the needs is the inability to find time to concentrate on a task that needs more than a few minutes to do.  Writing a post for this Blog cannot happen while Mary Ann is up and moving about.  My time belongs to her all the time she is awake and some of the time she is sleeping.  I suspect that the same is so for most Caregivers. 

In a sense, my day starts when Mary Ann settles in bed.  There are periodic needs during the night, but the general pattern is that the time I can call my own comes between about 9pm and 1am. Now that I am retired, I am able to sleep longer in the morning, assuming Mary Ann is willing and able to sleep later also. 

Before I retired, the pattern was about the same, except that sleeping later in the morning was not as often an option.  Those of you who are working full time and caregiving full time are likely to be exhausted most of the time, especially if you also claim that late night time as your own.  Here is the logic of staying up.  The moment the Caregiver gets up in the morning, assuming the Carereceiver gets up then also, it all starts over again.  Waking up in the morning is waking to intense demands.   To go to bed at the same time the one for whom you are caring does leaves no time just for yourself — just to be one person only.  

Of course this is an unhealthy pattern.  Sleep deprivation has very destructive consequences.  It affects negatively our ability to perform daily tasks effectively and efficiently.  We are hardly at our best.  Coping with little stresses becomes more difficult.  Mole hills actually do become mountans in our mind.  We can become forgetful, irritable, our thought processes can slow.  I need no scientific studies to demonstrate the truth of those conclusions about the impact of too little rest. 

Now comes the time to share wonderful solutions to the problem of Caregiver exhaustion.  If I had this one solved, I would not be writing this post at what now is about 12:20am.  I will offer some of the feeble attempts I have made over the years of dealing with this particular dimension of the Caregiver’s challenge.  For one thing, I structured the week so that I had some long days and some days to sleep in.  It seemed to work better for me to work many hours in one day than normal hours two days.  By the way, I realize that doing so breaks the rules for sleeping well, the ones that say, get up at the same time every day, go to bed at the same time.    Another rule I regularly break is the one that says, no caffeine later in the day.  Caffeine is my drug of choice.  Evening meetings, if I hoped to actually be awake during them, demanded a heavy dose of caffeine through my chosen delivery system, PT’s Coffee (by the way, the best in the nation as far as I am concerned — sorry, Starbuck’s fans). 

On occasion (too rarely), a Volunteer or my daughter would come over and sleep upstairs to care for Mary Ann during the night, while I got a full night’s sleep in the downstairs.  Especially when I was working, those occasional two night retreats would include nights in which I slept ten or twelve hours. 

Had I continued to work much longer, circumstances would have demanded using the local resources I mentioned in last night’s post to provide paid time covered by others so that I could get rest on occasion.  

Since it is now heading for 12:40am, it is apparent that I need counsel from any who happen to read this post and have ideas for how to minimize Caregiver exhaustion.  One possible solution would be to simply stop trying to write posts for this blog any longer.   Two reasons speak against that solution.  One is that I would be likely to just sit in front of the tube flipping between inanities there.  The second is that I find doing this writing very satisfying and energizing.  Anticipating writing adds interest to my days and makes be a better (and more sane) Caregiver.  The processing I do here has had a very positive effect on my ability to reframe sometimes frustrating tasks in ways that allow me to discover meaning in those tasks, at the same time giving my life meaning.  Why so tired?  It is heading for 1:00am now.  All in all, I am willing to endure being tired if it allows me to live meaningfully. 

If you want to write a comment about this or any of the posts on this blog, look to the column on the right side of this page, titled “Recent Posts,”  click on the name of a post and you will find a box at the end of that article in which you can write a comment.  Clicking on the title of the post you are reading will accomplish the same thing.  Comments are appreciated.