The Grip

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October 10, 2009 by David Gillaspie




Family caregiving benefits two people, the loved one and the caregiver.  Everyone else gets to watch.

What do they see?  It’s different for each person in the family.  I was under the scope of two teenage boys in high school, my wife, and my mother in law all under the same roof.

We called ours a mixed family.  The extended family included my father in law’s kids from an earlier marriage as well as their kids and spouses and girlfriends and boyfriends.  It was a good group who gathered a few times a year.

My own family stopped visiting as time passed.  My mom has severe medical problems that limit her travel.  Her condition may have made her uncomfortable around a man clearly in worse shape than her.

I learned there is a unique dissonance between two people defined by disease, doctors, and medications.  My mom has inoperable cancer.  It’s as bad as it sounds, but she makes it seem like nothing on good days.  She can do that because she has the best husband to ever wear the ring.

My father in law matched her cancer with his and raised the stakes with Parkinson’s and dementia.  My mom called with tri-geminal neuralgia and her own early Alzheimer’s.  She’s still alive with enough going on to recall my every childhood mis-steps.  I’ve tried blaming some mistakes on my brothers but she still knows it’s all me. 

My wife often wondered why I did caregiving the way I did.  All I did was try and live up to the standards set by my mother in law.  She is the glue that held the family together.  Without her Ken would have been in a nursing home.

In fact Ken was in a nursing home.  He’d been in every sort of home before I got him; adult foster care, medical rehab, hospital stays, and assisted living to name a few.  Judy had been with him at every stop.

Should a woman in her seventies spend all day and half the night protecting her husband from care staff mistakes?  Well she did and they still made mistakes.  She knew the care drill.  I just wanted to make different mistakes when it came my turn.

I relied on common sense caring for Ken, which isn’t something I have in excess if you talk to certain people.  But I had been an Army medic in the mid-seventies.  I saw the film on treating a sucking chest wound, which was better than the one on traching a choking victim with a Bic pen.  Ken didn’t have a blocked windpipe or a gunshot wound in a lung, but I used the Army training as my care platform.

Each day I reminded Ken of the honor I felt being his caregiver.  He was a former Marine wounded in WWII.  Navy corpsmen are the Marines’ medics in the field.  That he would consent to allow an Army Medic to look after him was our running joke.

“Sir, Private Gillaspie requests permission to approach the bed (or chair.)”

If he was going through a rough patch I’d say,

“Sir, Private Gillaspie has reviewed the Orders Of The Day and found that Parkinson’s is not allowed to kick your ass.  Do you comply?”

Sometimes it was enough to break the grip.

Sometime was enough.


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