12:25 am. Harp glissandos fill the darkness – my alarm is ringing. I linger for a moment as I try to focus my eyes before sitting up and groping for my phone in an attempt to silence the harps before they crescendo to an obnoxious fortissimo. Ivan is due for his next dose of Hycet at 12:30, followed by another at 4:30. I’m not qualified to administer either dose – it requires pouring an exact amount of the potent liquid into a tiny syringe, and I can’t even feel my left hand, much less help him push the narcotic from the syringe into his jaws, which are wired shut. The first night I spilled his medicine all over the bathroom sink, and surgeons are loath to refill medications that are hallucinatory and potentially addictive. I should know. I’ve been on it myself. But Ivan used to wake up not two, but three times a night to care for me, and he’s been my primary caregiver for the past three years. And so I insist on giving him his Hycet. Just as I flip on the bathroom light and begin squinting at the bottle and the syringe (and praying I drop neither), I hear a soft knock on our bedroom door. Mom and Dad pad in softly, bleary-eyed and concerned. Mom supervises me as I administer the medicine, and Dad will spot Ivan to the bathroom if necessary. They’ll be back for the 4:30 dose, too. The truth is that as much as I wish I could help Ivan on my own – even for just one task – I can’t.
I think that’s what I’ve come to appreciate (if that word is remotely applicable) about these past two months. It takes my brain longer to begin sorting traumatic experiences than most people’s, but I’m coming to realize that my stress as a temporary caregiver is a fraction of what Ivan and my family have faced for the past three years. True, I’m also more physically and mentally limited than they are, but I think the application is the same: no caregiver is an island, and no care given is as straightforward as it appears. At first I was embarrassed that Mom and Dad got up to check on me every time I administered Ivan’s midnight meds: cue me wasting an entire dose by spilling it in the sink. Plus, as I haven’t admitted until typing this very post, I take so much “sleepy” neurological medication myself that I easily could have slept through one of his doses. I can’t cook, I can’t drive, and I can’t do heavy housework, so my daytime “contributions” while we stayed with my parents involved sweeping, folding laundry, managing schedules, and keeping tabs on Ivan’s daytime needs (although my ability to meet those needs varied). As I watched my family work cheerfully with and around me every day, I realized they and Ivan had already been doing that for the past three years. I hope I’ve always understood that caregiving is a gargantuan enterprise, but I know I’ve never comprehended how relentless it feels, even for a few weeks.
God created humans to function in community, and while each member of my family contributed their part to the big picture, none of us was independently sufficient for this trial – especially me. Even we as a family unit weren’t completely sufficient, and remain incredibly grateful to all those who stepped in and provided resources when we found ourselves stretched too thin. I know this post reprises events from Ivan’s accident that we’ve shared before, but I wanted to contribute some final thoughts as a “care receiver” who tried on the role of “caregiver,” if only for a few weeks:
“A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.” ~ Ecclesiastes 4:12