Time, time, time, see what’s become of me
While I looked around for my possibilities
~ Simon and Garfunkel
Time can be a caregiver’s enemy. There never seems to be enough time in a day to accomplish everything that has to be done. For even the most organized caregivers who religiously follow their to-do lists of the many chores, errands, phone calls and, when possible, quality time for loved ones, (never mind time for self-care) the day comes up short on time. To a certain extent, you must accept there isn’t enough time. You pick your priorities. But for me caregiving can lead to frustration because of time’s demand.
I am a volunteer caregiver for a friend. Recently, she needed a ride to a doctor’s appointment and she also needed an advocate–another ear in the doctor’s office. I drove from my office and assisted her as she walked slowly with the walker to my car. I briefly struggled with collapsing the walker efficiently into the trunk after removing her many belongings that she’s able to stuff into the walker’s basket. When we arrived at the doctor’s office I unloaded her, her walker, and her belongings, and reassembled everything for her. Then I parked the car and met up with her as we slowly made our way together to the doctor’s office. Although we were on time for our appointment, the doctor was behind schedule by 75 minutes. Honestly, if this were an appointment for me, I would’ve walked out after 40 minutes. I’ve done it before. But this wasn’t an appointment for me. It was for my friend and she desperately needed to see this specialist. So we waited. Nice guy. Took plenty of time to answer her questions and had great suggestions. I liked him very much and so did she. But still, an hour and a half to get in and out of his office was ridiculous. After helping her in the restroom in his building, I went back to get the car and loaded her up for the ride home.
While driving up the coast, it occurred to me that it was now past lunchtime and I knew it would be much easier for me to get her something to eat than to expect that she would have the energy to fix herself something at home. Because I was missing work during this whole outing, I was eager to handle lunch in an efficient manner; I happily waited in line at the drive-through and ordered her favorite meal. She was thrilled. Then we continued on to her house where we unloaded yet again. I set her up at her dining table and helped her with her medication management and her bills while she ate to keep her company. Then I saw her off to bed for a nap and drove back to work at my office.
Five hours. I am happy to help her but it had been five hours since I had left the office and returned.
It’s mind blowing to me how long it can take out of a day to help somebody who needs so much assistance.
It’s been a long time since I was a ’round-the-clock caregiver. When I was the primary caregiver for my best friend, I was on call whenever he needed help. There were always chores like laundry, grocery shopping, cooking, and helping him to eat and drink. Showering was a two-hour process. Driving to appointments was particularly cumbersome because he could not transfer out of his wheelchair and we had a very primitive van. At that time in my life, I was a stay-at-home mom so one hour flowed into the next without much change for me. I was always in demand from somebody. Although I didn’t notice it as much, time was a challenge then, too. It cut into my sleep and time with my children. There was little time for socializing with others. Now that I work full-time, I am acutely aware of how much time I miss from work or from time I have with my family when I’m caregiving.
Caregivers can try to make their days more organized by using new organizational systems on their phones, tablets, or even paper. But they will still run into barriers when someone needs help. Caregivers are naturally compassionate people and they have a hard time saying “no” and they will get thrown off their schedules. A good caregiver never tries to make their loved one feel like they are an imposition so they always ask if there’s anything else they can do before they leave the room. There usually is “just one more thing”.
Well-meaning advocates will tell caregivers that they cannot possibly take care of somebody else if they do not take care of themselves first. But I know from first-hand experience that I and many other caregivers are quite capable of taking care of other people at our own expense. Is it healthy? No. But for many of us it’s just a matter of practicality.
In the long run there may be a price to pay with compromised health or reduced financial security but really, that is tomorrow’s problem. Right now Time is calling.
Now that I work, I know I never could have been a full-time caregiver and held down a job. I am fortunate that I am self-employed and can make up my hours when it is convenient. But what about caregivers who are not self-employed? What about employees who have a loved one who needs occasional help? Businesses must learn to accommodate their employees who are caregivers. People will need to take time off from work in increasing numbers to take their loved ones to medical appointments or cover shifts that hired caregivers can’t make on occasion. The Baby Boomers are beginning to need help in their older years and there are a lot of them. The last thing caregivers need is to lose their jobs because of time’s demands.
It would be great if we could find more political representatives who publicly gave a damn about the state of 40 million caregivers. Too many of us are sacrificing our health and our futures in order to keep millions of our fellow citizens healthy and safe. What would happen if all of the caregivers decided to go on strike? Perish the thought, but just imagine what would happen. If the government agencies and insurance companies suddenly had to pick up the slack and meet the needs of the aging, terminally ill, and disabled individuals, the man hours and resources needed would be staggering. Yes, family members do have an obligation to take care of their own. But government agencies and insurance companies will still have to pay for those obligations as caregivers become worn out, and depleted by their roles. Cost analysis might reveal that it is more cost-effective to relieve caregivers from some of their time demands and, ultimately, save the system some money.
There are a lot of people who are unhappy with politics right now. Others are thrilled. But caregiving is not a partisan issue. It affects everybody from all walks of life. Perhaps those who are very wealthy and can afford a cadre of around-the-clock care givers won’t feel the effects of Time’s demand as much as those who can barely afford the rent, but that’s a very small group of people. More and more caregivers are going to be needed in the coming years to provide care to an aging baby boomer population. We need more politicians and businesses to take up the cause. And that means we need more voters to care about this. The well-being of your fellow citizens, and, perhaps, even your own well-being, is at stake. If we work together, we can minimize some of the harm that Time can cause our caregivers.