Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

Over the past few weeks we have moved my mother from an assisted living facility to a memory care facility. This transition was, not surprisingly, stressful, both physically and emotionally -- not just for her, but for me as well, as the quarterback for her care team. I could not have done it without the other people on the team: my wife, my aunt, our paralegal, our "facilities-finder," the staff of each facility, and many others. In hindsight, it all went rather smoothly, even if it was a very busy and tiring time. There were papers to sign, a move to coordinate, cleaning out all the junk from Mom's last room (including trips to Goodwill, Salvation Army, and the county dump for donations), learning the why's and wherefor's of coming and going from a Memory Care Center, assuring the continuity of medications, meeting new staff members, and always being vigilant to my mother's needs. We expected the move to feel disruptive to her, but she took things in stride, and accepted our "story" that she had to move to this new apartment because the old apartment had to be renovated.

But just as Mom was getting settled in, there was an outbreak of norovirus in her facility. She wound up in the hospital for a few days, confused and disoriented. When she was able to return to her Memory Care facility, she got sick again, just as I discovered - painfully - that I have an issue with my lumbar spine.

Setting priorities as a caretaker can be a major challenge. My late father-in-law grew up working on a farm and passed along a piece of wisdom: always feed your animals first. Do that, and then you can think about sitting down in the kitchen for breakfast. This is important when you live on a farm, because those animals provide a substantial part of your livelihood. But the role of caretaker for an elderly parent has to be approached differently. If you, as a caretaker, do not take care of yourself first, you will be no good in taking care of that parent. Just like when you board a plane and the flight attendant explains that if the oxygen masks come down because of a loss of cabin pressure, you should put yours on before you assist your children.

At the moment, I'm having to step back and let the rest of my mother's team focus on her care. I have to see a specialist to see what must be done so I can get back out on the playing field. This is difficult for me to do, but I will be no good to my mother if I don't take care of myself first.

Caretaking is one of the most demanding jobs on the planet. If you are a caretaker, please do not neglect your own health - both physical and mental.