W@TW: Caregiver's Fatigue


"Yes, yes, yes...."   

Such were my answers recently to a quiz about caregiving fatigue that I took on a whim as I was researching resources about caregiving.  I found the replies to the questions shocking because I thought that I was handling my caregiving responsibilities so much better than a couple of months ago.

Apparently not.

It seems as if so many people I know are going through difficult times in the care of their elderly parents.  There are many mixed emotions: guilt over not doing enough for the parent, guilt over doing too much and neglecting other family members, anger over siblings not doing their "fair share", anger over siblings interfering with the established care, frustration with the medical establishment for not taking the elderly seriously, frustration with the elderly parent for not taking the caregiver's other responsibilities seriously, guilt over doing the "right" thing and caring for the parent who cared for him in his childhood versus wanting to live one's own adult life before getting too old to enjoy it. 

For many of us who are in the caregiver role it seems as if there are no specific answers.  Each person's situation is different and each, I would surmise, would say that her commitment has to be the way it is.  "Mom wouldn't understand/like if someone else took care of her."  It is just the way things are and how things have to be.

Or is it?

I realize that there is a big need out there for care for the caregiver.  I absolutely agree that if the caregiver gets sick, everything else can fall apart.  My heart breaks when I meet someone and they start telling me about their extended family care needs. Even before the words are out explaining about a family member, I'll recognize the tell tale signs of caregiving burnout:  the pooling, panicky, blinking eyes; the "need to reassure" statements; "Things could be worse..., I am blessed..., She did so much for me when I was younger..., It's the least I can do..."   All indications that the person is hanging on to sanity with a thread.  The loathsomeness and loneliness of feeling that she has to keep these thoughts to herself or be labeled selfish. 

I do not have any answers to this quandary.  All I know is that no one who experiences caregiving is going it alone.  There are many people in the same situation and many feel the same way.  I know that each day I wrestle with some aspect of the difficulties in caregiving.  Ultimately I want to go through this experience with grace, truth and love. As I travel down this road, I want to say that I learned something positive and that I was joyful even in the midst of struggles.

I can honestly say that nothing has been further from the truth.

So, what to do about it? I really do not know. Because for all the articles written about caregiving burnout  and all the advice of how to prevent it, there comes a time when there is nothing one can do but to experience it.  You have to go through the fire to come out the other end.  Even with the best intention of following the "what to do to prevent" it, burnout still happens. So, I am trying to write my experiences as they happen with the hope that I could help someone else one day.  Although I am coming to the conclusion that the person the journaling really helps is me: it gives me a sense of purpose to what seems like a waste of years. (Again, in just writing the sentence I need to clarify what appears to be selfish and  fills me with self-loathing.  The wasted years is my struggle rather than the care I give.) 

What about you?  Have you found yourself in a caregiving role?  Are you experiencing any caregiver burnout or fatigue?  What do you do to prevent it from happening?  Have you found any tips?   

Let's resolve to join together and share our experiences.  If for nothing else, we realize that we are not going this alone.  There is help in sharing the journey and collectively caring for the caregiver. 

Click here to take the caregiver burnout quiz.

One Hand

This week I committed the cardinal sin of kitchens. I placed a sharp cutting knife in the soapy dishwater and forgot about it.  Only when I was washing the dishes did I come upon it- by slicing the tip of my left-hand, middle finger.  

Yikes.  Talk about blood. God love my "faint upon seeing blood" husband. (He now has a sticker in his medical chart.  He must lie down with his feet preventively above his head when he gets labs drawn.  Too many times when he passed out giving a small vial to check his hemoglobin,etc.) 

Once I got the bleeding somewhat under control, he helped me put a butterfly bandage on it. He always amazes me.  He knows just what to do and does it.  Part of it comes from his first aid training in Boy Scouts.  In fact, he was the one who taught the class at Boy Scout camp.  I always wondered how did that work?  Didn't he faint as he taught the class?  "Purely theoretical", he replies.  (It is after the crisis is over, will he have to lie down and let the color return to his face.) 

I now have 2 butterfly bandages on my finger, plus a flexible fabric bandage to contain the antibiotic ointment and another knuckle bandage over top of it all.  It really extends my middle finger so that when I move my hand, I look like I am perpetually ticked off at everyone. (which some days describes my mood)

The thing is, having limited use of my left hand is a big annoyance.  It is just a small appendage, but I have to rethink what I am doing.  I don't want to get that hand wet because the soggy bandages have to be continually changed. I don't want to use it when I garden because I don't want dirt in my cut.  So many things I do, require that I use both hands and for the time being I can't.

"Two hands are better than one".  That is certainly an apropos adage. Two hands can provide strength, support, and symmetry. For us as individuals we need to have the balance of both sides.

It makes me thing that in the global sense, we need two hands;  we need the balance of both sides.  We need the strength, support and symmetry that comes when there is more than just one idea, one way of doing something, or one solution.

With my one handedness, I have to ask my husband to help.  I find that it is quite a bother because I am, as I have mentioned before, an independent cuss.  It is humbling to have someone else button a button or fix a clasp. 

But isn't that what we are asked to do?  Help others?  Give support?  Provide strength? Be humble? 

Just like we need two hands, we need one another. 

What about you?  Ever have trouble with your appendages?  Temporarily or permanently?  What did you learn with that experience?  

(NO) Soup For You!

This winter I have been making a lot of soup. At first I was intimidated and in some respects I still am. (The soup nazi lives in my brain- for all you Seinfeld folks.)  My past history of trying different soups, attempting to make my own stock haven't been that successful- dishwater my one son will say. 

Alas, I have decided to overcome my intimidation and keep at it.  The results haven't been too bad  but then again, the food critic is at college right now. 

One thing I like about making soup is that I have found that it doesn't take too long.  The biggest time is spent prepping the ingredients. After that, I let the simmer burner on my stove take over or use my crock pot on low.  

Here are some recipes that I have found to be successful and delicious.  As with all my cooking, I may add or subtract slightly to the amounts depending on what I want to "use up" in my fridge.  It is more about keeping the quantities in relative balance.

Italian Sausage Soup (quite hardy and satisfying especially on cold nights):

  • 1 can 28ounce stewed tomatoes, undrained and mashed (I have used diced tomatoes too)
  • 4 cups pared and diced potatoes
  • 1 cup chopped celery
  • 2 tbs. minced celery leaves
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
  • 1 quart chicken broth
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup tomato sauce or juice
  • 1 pound hot Italian link sausage (I have used bulk ground sausage and broken it up)
  • 1 pound mild Italian link sausage (ditto)
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 2 tbs. sugar
  • 1 tbs. lemon juice
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp. dried whole thyme (I have used fresh- about a heaping tablespoon)
  • 1/4 tsp freshly cracked pepper
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, for topping
  • 1 loaf garlic bread or other bread of choice to serve with soup.

Combine first eight ingredients in large Dutch oven; bring to boil.  Reduce heat and cook on low for 45 minutes.  While soup is cooking slice sausages in 1/4 inch circles; do not remove casings. (Or break up the bulk sausage)  Brown sausage in a large skillet, drain and pour off all but 2 tablespoons pan drippings and saute onion until tender.  Drain well.  Add sausage and onion to the tomato mixture.  Add all remaining ingredients except cheese and bread.  Cook covered an additional 45-60 minutes.  Ladle into serving  bowls and sprinkle with cheese. Serve with hot bread.  Serves 8-12 as a main dish.  (I will add a green salad to round out the meal.)  

Butternut Squash Soup (Given to me by my dearest friend.  She made the soup for me during a time when I needed meals.  I have made it numerous times for our family and also to share with others.)

  • 2 lbs. butternut squash, peel, seeded and diced.  (This takes the most time but not so bad once you get the hang of it.  Some markets have pre-diced squash for sale if time is a concession to you.)
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 cup diced, peeled potato ( I use red potatoes so I do not peel them)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 peeled garlic cloves
  • 2/3 heavy cream (or milk)
  • 2 tsp chopped fresh dill (I add more of the fresh, depending on how big the squash was)
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste

Combine diced squash, vegetable stock, potato, onion and garlic.  Simmer covered for 15 minutes or until vegetables are tender.   Puree 2 minutes until smooth and creamy. (I have invested in one of those immersible wand blenders and it has been fantastic!  No lost soup on the sides of the blender if you have to move your soup in batches to and from pot to blender back to pot.)  Add milk or cream, dill, cumin, salt and pepper.  Simmer soup for 5 minutes.  Garnish with dill springs.  Serve with green salad or toasted cheese sandwiches. Serves 4. 

What I like about making a large batch is that I have some to freeze (I use the ziplock quart containers with the blue twist top), some to eat now and some to give away. 

What about you?  Are you a soup person?  Which are your favorites?  Share your recipes below.