Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Role Reversal


I’m spending this week caring for my mother, who had surgery yesterday to repair the joint of her right big toe, which was badly out of alignment. The procedure went well but of course she can’t put any weight on her foot for at least 3 weeks and so needs assistance. My sister and her sister are going to come in shifts over the 3 weeks so she has help until she is able to walk and drive again. So I am here in the house I grew up in, helping my mom get around, making sure she takes her medicine on time and ices her foot, bringing her food and tending her two cats. It’s an odd sort of role reversal, caring for my parent. My husband and I have been very blessed; our parents are all still very healthy and capable. So this is a new experience, taking care of a parent who temporarily can’t care for herself.

When I was a teenager my mother told me that no matter how big I got, I would always be her baby. At the time the statement was both reassuring and frustrating, but from my adult perspective it has turned out to be a simple truth. In many ways I know I am still my mother’s baby. She sends me an Easter basket every year still. She spoils me at Christmas time and on my birthday (she spoils my daughter even more, of course). She makes my favorite soup and cookies for me when I come to visit and when she comes to visit me she helps us around the house still. When I broke my ankle this winter she came several times to help us with our daughter and just to be with me. It’s very reassuring to me, knowing I can always count on my mom to take care of me if I need her. So it’s somewhat disorienting now, to be the caregiver. I know that my mom feels that same sense of dislocation because she commented to me that she is the mommy, and she is supposed to be taking care of me.

I find myself both anxious and also somewhat pleased to be helping. I got a kick out of the nurse calling me “the responsible person” and I teased my Mom about me being in charge this week. I am proud that I have become a competent, skilled person who is able to take care of her mother, but I also feel an intense desire to do it right. As a consequence, I think I might be driving my mom a little crazy with my fussing over making sure she eats before her pain medicine and my nagging to be careful with the knee scooter. My mom, of course, wants to be as independent as possible. I do feel a lot of empathy for her post-op pain and her one-legged life having just been through 7 weeks of no weight bearing this winter after surgery. I am eager to share my tips and strategies for maneuvering around the house and getting things done (safely) on the knee scooter. I am full of “I did it this way’s” and “this is what happened to me’s” and “maybe try it such and such a way’s.”

I feel very protective of my mom too. I would like to spare her as much pain as possible. When she had mild pain an hour after taking her scheduled medication dose I felt anxious, worried that it would become unbearable before she could take her medication again. I ran through all the options I could think of to try to improve her pain and urged her to ask her doctor if it would be okay to take ibuprofen after her surgery (as a doctor, I think 1-2 doses a day would be okay, but since I’m neither a surgeon nor her doctor I don’t want to tell her). I am doing my best not to nag her about this. I did ask my husband to bring my personal supply of acupuncture needles down when he comes this evening so that I can try to decrease her pain with auricular acupuncture (and yes, I did ask her doctor about that too, and he said ok).

I do wonder how much this week is a glimpse of the future. As I said, all our parents are very healthy, but they are also moving through their sixties now. I hope their good health will last forever. I would love in thirty years to be in my sixties with all my parents still living and active and loving life. But I also hope that if and when help is needed I will be able to cheerfully and lovingly care for the people who have always cared for me.