In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve been posting less in the lass few weeks. Now, normally, I could say that was just hitting a creative wall. But not this time.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been taking care of my parents who have each come down with a medical condition. First, my mom developed an infection in her spinal column which required multiple trips to the doctors – urologists, orthopedics, infectious diseases, etc. – before a biopsy could be done and rounds of antibiotics started. Meanwhile dad developed a glandular issue that required a trip to the emergency room and several doctors visits. End result? Besides being quite comfortable in finding my way around two hospitals in this city, I’ve spent the last three weeks playing the roles of nurse, maid, alarm clock, cook and errand boy for the folks.
As you can imagine, it has been both an overwhelming and a tiring experience, but one done with as much love and patience as possible. In fact, that is the one lesson I would pass onto anyone who ever has to take care of their folks: have lots and lots of patience. They will behave just like anyone else who is sick behaves i.e. they’re going to pout and whine and complain and be uncomfortable and everything else under the sun. They’ll stress that they’re taking your time, but thank you for the efforts that you’re showing. It can be both wonderful and draining.
But it’s also made me think about how our relationship with aging has changed. It used to be that as family members aged and became more dependent on others, there would be other family to ensure they got the care and comfort they required. You still see this sort of treatment in smaller, family-based communities (like the Amish) or in minority groups were the tradition remains strong – Latinos and Asians, for example.
Obviously, as our lives have become more fragmented and our world more complex, we have seen the rise of retirement/nursing homes, senior citizen living communities, home health care services – a whole industry devoted to the medical and psychological needs of people as they age. It wouldn’t surprise me if at some point we don’t see the type of robotic butlers that you see in Robot & Frank or the kind of containment, full-service units that the old anime movie Roujin Z showed – you know, without the whole deciding to take the senior citizen out for an explosions-filled ride through Tokyo. And that is part of our world and we ought to be glad that there are far more options today for people and families to care for our seniors than ever before.
At the same time, all those services do is relieve the pressure of the aging process on people and their families. With more people living longer lives, the complexities of caring for our seniors grow and those strains fall upon the shoulders of someone – a family member, a hired nurse, a spouse (if he/she still lives and can care for the other). I thank the heavens that my job situation – as much of a pain as it has been – has allowed me the chance to be as available as I am to care for them.
Sure, others will assist and people are eager to lend a hand or drop by with soup, sweet rolls, juice and other things. They will drop by and visit. But care falls to someone and you’ll quickly find out that life gets in the way. Someone is called away to work in Las Vegas. Kids and wives require your attention. Life doesn’t stop because you are needed to care for your elderly or infirm. So you better have a plan.
I know that, once my folks are back up and running to their normal best, we will sit down as a family and come up with a plan for the time when the time arrives that they need continuous medical care. We can’t just wait for that day to arrive and try to figure out what to do.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I gotta go take the next antibiotics round out of the refrigerator for use.