When you are a caregiver, you learn to multitask and plan ahead… or you don’t survive. Once you get good at doing these two things, then others, especially the one you’re caring for, seem to think that you can do anything…like magic.
It mystifies me that I can tell Lynn what’s on my “to do” list and thirty minutes later, he thinks it’s done. He has no concept of how much time it takes me to accomplish a task because he has no idea of what happens when I go to do a task.
Let me give you an example which will be very familiar to many of you: going to the kitchen to get a snack for him after finishing his bath. It goes something like this…
Lynn: “Donna, can you get me an apple and some hot tea?”
Donna: “Sure, in just a minute.”
I prepare to leave the bedroom but before I do, Lynn wants just a quick adjustment to his clothes, then he needs to scoot back in his chair, just a few squirts of nasal saline (more like 15 per nostril), then another adjustment, change the channel on the TV, and close the door to his room to keep the heat in. Leaving the room, I gather the dirty clothes discarded after the shower and the empty tea mug. Going down the hall, I realize he’s almost out of shorts so I stop to get the dirty clothes from the hamper, dump them and the other clothes in my arm in the washing machine and start a load of laundry. I prepare the tea and put it in the microwave to heat up, wash the apple and slice it into pieces he can hold on his own, rinse out the dishes in the sink, load the dishwasher and start it washing. Meanwhile the tea is ready, I transfer it to the mug he can hold, add favoring, put the apple in a small plastic bowl and take his snack back to him. As I’m heading down the hall he’s saying, “Donna, did you forget my tea?”
Now, to his way of thinking, I only got his snack, but in reality I was evaluating future needs, planning and putting that plan into action to prevent problems later on so that miraculously, he does not run out of his favorite shorts and socks and he always has access to the dishes he can manage on his own. Just like magic.
What brought magic to mind was that he got a call today from a relative who wanted to stop by and see him on Sunday. I had taken him the phone so I knew he had talked to someone. When I was in the room later, I asked him who called and what the call was about. He told me it was someone he rarely sees and then casually mentioned they were coming over on Sunday. I stopped dead in my tracks, “Sunday? Are you kidding? What are you thinking?” (yes I was a little put out). The rest of the story…Sunday, we have tickets to go to Virginia Beach to see a Rush concert. It’s a two-hour drive down there and we plan to leave at least three hours before the concert.
Lynn’s response: “What’s the problem?”
Me: “The concert is Sunday.”
Lynn: “So? They’re coming at noon and we don’t have to leave before four. We have plenty of time.”
Me: “They rarely see you. They aren’t likely to just come in and immediately leave.”
Lynn: “They probably won’t stay more than an hour. That gives us plenty of time.”
And that’s the statement that got to me. “That gives us plenty of time.” For him, going to the concert just means driving his wheelchair out to the van and climbing aboard. For me, it means, getting us both dressed. Preparing him food to take with us, packing layers of clothes because the temperatures are supposed to drop. Packing fluids, medications for spasticity, and other meds “in case of;” thinking through what all he will need for comfort; figuring out how to get everything packed in as small a bag as possible. Getting the van gassed and ready to go, getting directions, making sure I have the tickets, spare money for snacks, emergency supplies in case we break down; and since we’ll be getting back late, planning for what we will need immediately upon our return so we can get to bed as soon as possible.
I have a load of things to do before we go but for him, it’s just a matter of going and all his needs are met. It’s like magic. .. only it’s not. It takes a lot of hard work and planning.
As a woman, doing many things at one time is natural. I’m always doing more than one thing at a time; but it’s different for men. My Sunday school class read a book called, “Men are waffles; Women are spaghetti.” It really opened my eyes to our differences. Men do one thing at a time (except if at work. For some reason, at work they can multitask. Go figure) While they do that one thing, that’s all they do. Their thoughts and actions stay in that little block of that section of the waffle and they don’t think about the next task till the first one is over. Women, on the other hand, are like spaghetti. Everything touches everything else and the tasks overlap, clump together, weave over and under and are blanketed in sauce. That’s just the way it is for us.
Actually, I think caregivers, men or women, are like spaghetti. Everything touching everything else;all things connected. It just has to be that way to survive and to be able to get done all you have to do.
….Oh, yeah, that and the magic wand we’re all given when we take on the caregiver role.