We Knew This Was Coming
We knew this was coming. We knew for three years my mom had what the doctors described as a “leaky” heart valve and one day it would need to be replaced. So when I got the call, in February 2017, with the news that open heart surgery was set for April 20th, I went into “ready” mode. I knew preparations would be extensive, given I am roughly 1500 miles from my parents, working full time, and unfamiliar with how to take care of someone who was having open heart surgery. But I had 2 months to pull it all together – no problem. So I did what I always do when I am presented with a challenge. I sat down and made a list of things that needed to get done in becoming a caregiver for a family member.
My First List
- Talk to my department chair, see if I can transition my courses from in-class instruction to online instruction
- Research: How to take care of someone after open heart surgery.
- Put together a schedule of tasks so nothing falls through the cracks and I can depart Connecticut for Oklahoma on April 15th.
As you can guess, I am a concrete, sequential, process-oriented person who loves thinking things through, being organized, and checking items off my list. I adopted this behavior pattern from my mom – she loves lists too. What ensued was madness, but I had a rhythm to the madness. I had my list.
Ok, No Problem
Finally, after 2 months of countless hours researching “how to take care of someone after they have open heart surgery”, pre-recording 2 weeks’ worth of lectures for three college courses, setting up online office hours and teaching my students how to do online office hours, meeting with my advisees to do Fall registration, creating a color coded chart with notes on the progress made with all advisees, finding proctors for my second and final exams, creating both exams and making copies of both exams, setting up a system to have the exams mailed to me so I could grade them (because after all, my research indicated that patients who undergo open heart surgery sleep A LOT and I should be prepared to entertain myself).
Ok, no problem. I can grade exams and then communicate with the students about their performance on the exams. NOT. A. PROBLEM. As long as I stick to the list, right?
Recovery in ICU
I ended up staying with my mom in her ICU room after the surgery, it seemed to bring her comfort. As we entered this next stage of the recovery process I thought it prudent to make a new list.
- Keep mom calm and positive
- Make sure mom follows the recovery instructions
- Keep up with work
I knew having a list would bring a sense of normalcy to my mom. And normalcy was what we both were striving for. Only one problem. Apparently, when my mom is on pain medication, she has zero appreciation for lists. On top of that, she did not get the memo stating patients who undergo open heart surgery are supposed to sleep – A LOT. In fact, during the first night in ICU, any time I even looked like I was about to move toward the futon bed, she said, “Hey! Where do you think you’re going?” [That’s particularly funny if you know my mom because she is the easiest, most happy go lucky person there is.]
When The Real Work Started in my Becoming a Caregiver for a Family Member
So, the first night, I got maybe 3 hours of sleep. The next few days were filled with recovery efforts and visits from family. In-between visits I would do some work, but mostly I socialized with my mom because again, she didn’t get the sleeping memo and won’t even try to sleep even after I told her why it was important to sleep. Anyhow, after three days in ICU, mom was doing so well, she was moved to a step down unit and I went to a nearby hotel, visiting every day from 9am – 6pm. Three days after transferring to the step down unit she was discharged from the hospital. That’s when the real work started on my journey to becoming a caregiver for a family member.
Time for a new list.