This Christmas was the first in several years that I haven't been in the middle of or still recovering from a MonSter-related relapse. For that alone, it has been one of the best holidays I can remember. But this whole month has given me an altered self-image, allowed me to take off the "Patient" persona for awhile and see myself as something other than just that. Having been subject to such debilitating things and needing others’ help so frequently, I had forgotten what it feels like to really take care of someone else.
A few weeks ago my dad had foot surgery and I went over to check in on him and to take food to him and my stepmom. For once, it was me that had to remind someone else to sit down, to rest, to let me get up and fetch this and that, to prop up pillows and help him get comfortable, to ask if he needed any medications, etc. After making Dad some lunch, my stepmom came into the room doubled over in pain and it turned out she needed to get to the emergency room immediately. Luckily, I was there and able to drive her to the ER and try to get her the help she needed. I went to the nurses’ station to nicely ask for warm, clean blankets when the IV nurse didn’t know what she was doing and got blood everywhere. Then I went back to ask (a little less nicely) when a doctor and/or medication would be arriving because my stepmom was in excruciating pain. I waited with Sheryl until her mom came to take my place and I went back to check on the other patient. I then made more trips back and forth bringing overnight bags, making dinners, etc. Over ten hours later I made it back home, exhausted but very thankful that I was there and able to help. (She is doing much better now, by the way, and slowly getting back to her normal, high-speed pace!)
Fast forward to last week and my poor husband had his wisdom teeth out, which many of you may remember how unpleasant the whole thing is. I drove him to surgery and this time it was me who took pre-op and post-op notes from the doctor and drove my drugged-out, gauze-packed husband home. And for once it was me who spent the weekend fetching, medicating, feeding, pillow-propping and reassuring him that even though it hurt like hell and he felt terrible, that it would get better.
I hope that my tone here is appropriately conveying that none of this ever felt like a burden or a chore and not for one minute was I resentful, annoyed or otherwise bothered by taking care of people I love. I was just so grateful to be able to be the "Caregiver" for a change. It gave me a perspective I had not had for quite some time - that in some ways, being the Caregiver can be just as hard as being the Patient.
As the patient, I am used to the feelings of guilt, and often feeling tired, alone, helpless and in pain. I had forgotten the worry, the fear, concern, the fatigue and feelings of helplessness that go along with being the caregiver. In the first 24-48 hours following surgery, Chris needed a lot of my help. More times than I can count he said, "I'm so sorry you have to take care of me like this," and every time he voiced such sentiments I just shook my head and replied, "You never need to apologize to me for that." Meanwhile I was mentally shaking my head at myself for the thousands of times I have apologized to him for having to take care of me. I guess I’m not the only person out there who feels guilty for needing other people’s help!
No one wants to feel weak and vulnerable like that. I sure as hell can't stand it. But I think this month has taught me that taking care of those we love and being taken care of is a two-way street. Maybe it’s our parents who take care of us until one day they need our help and the tables turn. Some of us may have a sick spouse who gets better and some have spouses who stay sick for their entire married lives. It isn't always equal as to who plays what role more often and it definitely isn't fair. But I think it is inevitable that we all get to play the roles of both "Patient" and "Caregiver" at least once in our lives.
And since I know that hoping for everyone I love to remain perfectly healthy, strong and accident-free for the rest of their natural lives is maybe a bit unrealistic, I will instead hope that I get more opportunities to play Caroline the Caregiver and give back to those who have given so much of themselves to Caroline the Patient.
Wishing everyone a safe, healthy and happy new year.