Sunday, October 27, 2013
English Experiences, Part I.
My husband and I just got home from an extended stay in London, England. It was a truly great trip, and I have to say I’ve come back changed, even if just a little – the result of living in and experiencing a different culture, and dealing with my chronic illness, and duties as a caregiver while being there. The purpose of the trip was partly as vacation and something we’ve wanted to do since we met, but it was also something of a working holiday for both of us. I went with the desire to see the dementia/caregiver/aging/disabled person/hospice experience in the UK, and how it might be different. I’ll be writing several blog posts about my adventures.
In the last few years, pretty much since I became Dad’s caregiver, I’ve worried every day about getting that call. It’s something every caregiver can understand. We all flinch just a little whenever the phone rings, because we’re worried its going to be about our caretaker in some way – some person to tell us the worst has happened and our presence is needed. Every time I’ve gone out of town in the last seven years, I’ve toted my phone with me everywhere, and have quietly dreaded getting the call – and, occasionally, I have. On my first Thanksgiving with my then-boyfriend’s family, I got the call that Dad had an infected boil and needed emergency surgery. On the trip to Hawaii when I got engaged, I got a call about another illness Dad was suffering – fortunately, this one was less severe, but it still affected the trip.
The entire six months that we spent conceiving of, planning, and organizing this trip, I thought about Dad and what I would do if I got that call. I thought about how I would go about arranging for a phone so his caregiver could contact me, and what I could do in an emergency if I needed to fly home. This was a wonderful trip of a lifetime that I was planning, and yet I couldn’t enjoy the prospect of it fully because I was always thinking about worst case scenarios.
When we got there, I got a UK SIM card for my phone within hours of landing so that I could receive calls and check my voicemail until such time as I could contact Dad’s caregiver with the number. When I did finally reach him, I felt some of the weight slide off my shoulders, knowing that he could now talk to me as needed. But the weight never fully slid. Every time I checked my voice mail and there was no message, I breathed a sigh of relief – until the next day when I checked it. Every day that went by without a call about Dad, I was happy, until the time when we were getting on the plane to fly back home. In the end, I never got the call, for which I am deeply grateful. I am also deeply grateful for the wonderful care he receives that made it possible for me to even contemplate going so far away.
Being a caregiver with a loved one always on my mind certainly didn’t ruin our trip – I still had fun and learned a lot – but it absolutely affected it, and I know this will be the reality for the rest of Dad’s life. I’m still waiting for the call – I will until Dad leaves this world – and I know caregivers everywhere know exactly what I’m talking about.