My mother-in-law has been my second mom since I met her son at age 17. In all honesty, there have been times when I’ve liked her more than my own mother. What I wasn’t expecting was to become her caregiver at her young age. Seventy-three seems too young to have gone through three open heart surgeries, each one riskier than the previous.
After Mom’s latest open heart surgery, she developed both staph and e.coli infections. Back at the Mayo Clinic, they opened her freshly sown up chest and scraped out the infection, choosing to leave the wound open to heal from the inside out. My sister-in-law and brother-in-law took turns staying with her at Mayo, visiting with every doctor, reassuring her she would survive, washing her underwear in the motel laundromat at midnight. Our role was to be ready to take her in when she was released from Mayo. We had no idea this would entail becoming therapists, chauffeurs, RNs, night shift workers and pill pushers. I often feel like her life is in our hands because if we weren’t here to coordinate everything, what would happen to her?
Nothing can prepare you for what a huge undertaking this is. Home health care comes for a 90-minute visit Monday, Wednesday and Friday to change her wound vac and check her vitals. We must coordinate doctor’s appointments with her cardiologist, surgeon, infectious disease doctor, eye doctor and a dietician. As her sight was impaired by the infection, she must be driven to all appointments. Also, because of the medicine, her memory is cloudy so she needs someone with her at each appointment to ensure all questions are asked and answered. We’ve become the intermediaries between all five doctors, the glue holding this all together.
I feel tremendous guilt that I get upset with her at times. I believe she should be pushing herself to get better rather than lying on the couch in her pajamas and robe. She’s definitely capable of making herself breakfast and lunch but is very content to wait for one of us to do it for her. When I’ve worked through lunch, I’ve found out she never made herself anything, which is terrible for a diabetic. Then I help myself to a sandwich of guilt and anger (with a side of frustration) while I make her a grilled cheese and tomato soup.
As neither of my husband’s siblings lives nearby, we are in divide and conquer mode. My sister-in-law is coordinating with the surgeons from Mayo to ensure the local surgeons are all in agreement on her future care. My brother-in-law has been holding down her home front, making sure all bills are paid and urgent needs are attended. We are all in constant communication though hundreds of miles apart and for that I am so thankful.
For my job, when I’m not out traveling to visit customers, I work from home. The perfect storm comes when Home Health Care is here tending Mom, while another doctor’s office is trying to break into my customer call to schedule yet another appointment. Frequently this happens as the dog barks frantically because the doorbell is ringing to deliver more medical supplies. It becomes impossible to focus.
Last week my husband lost his job. Instead of being upset, I was relieved. There was no way we could both work full time and care for his mom full time. As he turns 50 this month, his job has become full-time caregiver to his mom for the immediate future.
As we sit down to dinner each night, I’m grateful my mother-in-law is here with us, saying grace, being thankful for each day. We know she will need to be with us for several more months. While it’s difficult there’s nowhere I’d rather have her be.