“What a gift it is to care for the people who cared for you.”
“How wonderful to be able to give back. What a gift.”
“How rewarding. What a gift.”
These platitudes are usually uttered by two types of people: those who have never been a caregiver, and those who were and have since glossed over their experience. I used to correct them. “It doesn’t feel like a gift,” I’d say. “Does it come with a gift receipt?” I’d ask. “Because I’d like to return it.” But they would look at me, horrified, as if I had just said I hate baby goat videos.
So now, when someone says that to me, I agree wholeheartedly. “It sure is. Better than Christmas.” And I share with them, in great detail, the many gifts caregiving has bestowed upon me. Like this: If caregiving is a gift, I want the gift receipt. Click To Tweet
I took my Dad to the doctor yesterday morning for a quick blood pressure check; I expected to be gone an hour, hour and a half max. But my father told me he’d been having some stomach problems. So when the nurse practitioner came in, 18 minutes late, I told her. She gave my father a thorough exam while I thoroughly examined my email. Middle-aged daughters stay in the exam room when octogenarian parents take off their clothes, lest they need help. But let me tell you, some things can never be unseen. That’s a gift that keeps on giving.
She told my father in a high pitched, singsong voice that even a toddler would find insulting, “Sometimes medicine that does good things can also cause some bad things. And believe it or not, we are going to give you more medicine to deal with it.”
“Do you suspect c.diff,” I asked. “Yes,” she said. The singsong was gone. “You’re father needs to follow a BRAT diet, no alcohol, YOU CAN’T HAVE ANY ALCOHOL OR DAIRY OK SIR, I’ll start him on a new prescription, bring this paperwork to checkout, go to the lab downstairs and get a blood test, report any dizziness, call me Monday and bring a stool sample back this afternoon.”
I was typing notes into my iPhone as she spoke. No cheeseburgers or ice cream. Go to lab. Call her Monday. Bring a sto….what?!?
“How do I even do that,” I asked? “I don’t know how to do that.” She told me the lab could help me. So my father and I went to the lab where the technician drew blood and then handed my father two collection cups and pointed to the fill line. My father was nodding but I knew he couldn’t hear a word the technician was saying.
“You need to explain that to me,” I said. And then it was me who couldn’t hear. I’m not hard of hearing; I was hard of comprehending. Separate liquids and solids? Freeze it? What?!?
“How am I supposed to do this?”
“I might have a hat,” he answered. Did he just mention a hat?
“Let me get you a hat.”
I pictured a baseball cap. Was I joining some stool collectors team? I was confused. He came back and handed me a hat. It wasn’t a baseball cap. It was a plastic container. He looked like he had just given me a great gift.
“Yeah but how am I supposed to do this?” Now he was the one who was confused. “I have a client call in 5 minutes. I just sent an email canceling but I’m supposed to be at work today. Something about a freezer??? I have a big client presentation at 4 and ….how?”
“I can’t answer your work questions ma’m.”
Big, dark sunglasses, now they are a gift, because I was fighting back tears behind mine by this point. I took my father back to assisted living, told him to go have lunch NO DAIRY OK DAD?, stopped by the nurse’s office to ask for help (the nurse gave me a pair of latex gloves – they fall into the practical gift category), drove home to get my laptop, sent an email to my coworkers that I was taking the day off due to a situation, and went back to my father’s place.
“Let’s go to your room,” I told my father when lunch was over. I had placed the hat in his apartment while he was in the dining room, so I needed any activity, if you know what I mean, to happen there. (If you don’t know what I mean, keep it that way. Ignorance is a gift.)
And then we waited. Emails came in from my coworkers. They watched me work through some really tough times. For me to checkout midday, they probably thought it must be really bad:
“Thinking of you Liz.”
“Don’t worry about that assignment. We can get it to the client Monday.”
“Please let us know what we can do.”
And we waited. All day.
At 4 p.m. I stepped out into the hall to call the doctor’s office. The nurse practitioner was with a patient so the receptionist offered to take a message. “I’ve been here all day. I have nothing. I was supposed to be at work. You didn’t even give me gloves. I had half a bagel at 7:30 this morning. I haven’t eaten since. I’m hungry and tired and I’m going to have to work all weekend. My daughter doesn’t have a Halloween costume yet. What’s the plan?”
“I’m not sure what message you want me to leave,” the receptionist replied.
“WHAT’S PLAN B?”
I went back into the apartment and discovered ….
my father had a gift waiting for me.