Required disclaimer: I may wear scrubs each day but I am not a medical doctor, and this is my personal experience and opinion. Every one of us is created different and your body may react differently, but this is my story….
You don’t have to look far to find middle aged Americans or even those in their 60s caring for parents and their kids at the same time. It is estimated that many baby boomers are supporting their adult children, or children in college while at the same time flying all over the country or driving across the State they live in to care for their parents. And, in some instances, baby boomers are caring for aging parents, kids, grand kids, each other, and all while trying to support everyone financially. It was bound to happen. For better or worse, technology is better, modern medicine is better and people are living longer but living longer means they may need assisted or skilled care, or worse, around the clock care. Meanwhile, our generation (Generation X) generally waited to marry and may still have very young kids at home, and we are facing the same situations with our parents in their 60s or 70s. Baby boomers refer to us as the selfish generation – generation “me”. Sure, we are notorious for trying to find balance whereas our parents’ generation the lines were a little more clear- mom stayed home most likely, cooked, cleaned, and took care of the home. Mom may have even sacrificed a lot to raise us and save money. Dad went out and earned the dough and saved it all for our college. And good or bad, the lines are blurred for Generation X or Generation “Me” – mom and dad are both taking care of the kids, sometimes dad is doing it more and better than mom. Dads are cooking, cleaning, working, changing diapers, and so are moms. We save a bit here and there, we do our best but we also don’t sacrifice ourselves or deprive ourselves of things we need so our kids can go to college. If we are a selfish generation then good for us I say because we as women and moms are in better shape, eating healthier or trying to, and we have our work and careers, social lives plus our families and I think we are lucky because we get our cake and get to eat it too! We may be spread a little thin, but we do the best we can do with all facets of our lives and that is okay. And, we do not hoard our money for things to come or things that may never be- we have not lived through the depression so we try to live within our means, save, set up accounts for our kids and our retirement, we try to look for good deals but we spend when it is needed and do so willingly and generously.
So, who says our generation is selfish? Who says we don’t care about others? We may not be taking care of multiple generations of family but we could be on our way! Recently, I felt the squeeze and in a big way and I am sure my brother (my only sibling) felt it too. In effect, when something happens to our parents or our children, there is a ripple effect and it is felt by us all – it can even have an effect our extended family too- aunts, uncles, cousins, and in-laws especially if they are trying to help. With smaller families these days, you almost need a village to raise not just your children but also help with care of our elders. Certainly, our generation may not be as sandwiched as the Baby Boomers have been in this decade but we are well on our way and with medicare dwindling and social programs in general, who will take care of us?
Since April, my brother and I have responded in some way to help our folks. Sure, they didn’t ask – they didn’t have to. My brother is a newlywed and his honeymoon was cut short by the first incident 2 months ago. I have young kids at home, ages 5 and 3, and that is also rather tough to balance. I wrote about it here and you can read more about what happened. But, I write this post now because just when we thought my dad was on the mend and recovering and we all settled back into our routine, just like that! Mom was in the hospital with a fractured femur. And, almost three weeks after that incident (exactly 2 months after dad’s incident), they are still not out of the woods yet. Broken bones take time to heal – surgeries of that magnitude take time to heal and even then, there is about a year or more that you have to watch that injury and take care of it. All in all, just like I want to do with my kids on most days, I felt like I wanted to wrap my parents up in this protective bubble and move them closer to me for my own selfish reasons, so I can see them daily, take over their lives, and help them and of course, my ulterior motive: make it easier on me too! Because remember, we are also the generation who thinks anything is possible and so what if we have to spend money on it – we can do it! We are also the generation who thinks money is not important but life is. So, why can’t I just wrap my parents up, bring them closer to me, and then I can have my cake and eat it too? Because, simply put, it’s just not that easy. Like our kids who will need to make their own decisions one day despite how much we want them to just stay in the little protective bubble-wrapped world we have created for them, our parents have been independent since we all left for college and they want to do their own thing too. After all, they have made the decisions for all these years and we have to be respectful and mindful of that, all the while feeling frustrated that we have NO CONTROL – absolutely NONE over them and the situations that will fold no matter what we do or say.
Anyway, after all the work missed and money spent on travel – flying 1800+ miles away to help my folks is not an easy task. It is also hard to leave the little ones because they miss momma. But, we in Generation X (the Me generation), well, we are used to being spread thin so what is taking on another set of issues or problems? It’s cake walk, right? Ummm… nah, it is hard and takes it toll on your health, on your family, and it effects relationships too. I am sure other Americans are feeling this squeeze and struggle too especially if their parents, like mine, did not really take care of themselves or seek medical care all these years. After all, they were taking care of all of us at the sacrifice of their own health and single family income only went so far as well just decided to sacrifice it all for the sake of the family. My advice for you if you are feeling the squeeze as well is to (1) first, take care of yourself and if that means scheduling a massage or some time out for yourself, do it; (2) help your folks as much as you can but remember to honor boundaries because in the end, especially if you live geographically separated, you have to honor that they are independent people who taught you the value of being independent as well and you have to (even if you cuss with frustration on the inside) honor their wishes and choices however poor you believe those choices to be; (3) be supportive but try not to appear to be taking over their affairs and unless they are medically incapable of making their own health and financial decisions, do not jump the gun because if they come around, recover, and find out you took over, that can be really bad for your relationship. I say all of this now, but I was a wreck two months ago when my dad was in the hospital and I failed to obey all of the above so I am writing this as a lesson to myself I guess as well.
The only other advice I can give you from my own experience is to make sure that you encourage them to get their financial and other affairs in order – a must do kit for all adults with or without children in our country includes: (1) Durable Power of Attorney (POA) for Healthcare that names someone or alternate agents you trust to make health care decisions in case of incapacitation. (2) Living Will that sets out the desires of life-saving and life-extending measures, and other special instructions in case of coma or other conditions. (3) Estate planning including a Will that disposes of your estate (the items that will not pass by contract or agreement) and sets out wishes to the appointed executor(s) on how to distribute funds and property. Also, a will is a must have for those who have children under 18 because in it, guardians you trust are appointed. As far as bank accounts, accounts with companies including 401K, IRAs, etc. should all have a designated Payable on Death (POD) beneficiary. That POD beneficiary should have alternates so the money does not go into your probate which gets taxed heavily. If you have a safe deposit box, make sure it is joint with someone else and have even a third person on it to prevent the contents of that going into probate. (4) Finally, as I recently learned, another important document to have is a Special Durable POA that names individuals (primary and/or alternate) to take care of financial affairs, obtain medical records and medical information on their behalf, and for any other purposes you want to set forth. This “Special or limited” durable power of attorney should list all the special powers that your agent has and for what period of time (it must have a start and stop date to be valid). Another item I recently learned is that this durable POA should also contain a HIPAA release in it so that you are in the clear with the medical community releasing items to your agent(s). This last item I discussed is very important in case you are NOT incapacitated but need your help in assembling documents or getting the financial house or property matters in order. If you have to renew it every 2 years or yearly, do it- it is worth it because it is so important to have, and for kids who live far away, this last Special Power of Attorney is a must because they will be making phone calls on your behalf and most hospitals, doctor’s offices, or banks will not honor a general POA.
I have learned a lot from this recent squeeze. A lot! I have shared some of my thoughts before in a a few posts I wrote: Because of the Sacrifices They Made and In an Instant and I have to say I am trying my best to not live in daily fear of what may happen next but it is so hard not to. It is so hard to not freak out every time the phone rings, or just at the thought of what is coming next. I try to not let it consume me but in the back of my mind, I am trying to prepare myself as well. These last two months have set the foundation but does anything really prepare you for the inevitable? ‘Til then, I suppose I welcome whatever “squeeze” God throws at me because I’d rather be squeezed in the middle and I’d rather juggle a lot than take on losing a very important ball or two in this juggling act I call life.
Recently, both of my parents under went major health issues and crisis of sorts. Each of them had their own separate issues- all scary, all sudden. All of what transpired opened our eyes to what is to come- age of our folks, health issues for all of us, fragility of life and the ultimate reality that we are all mortal.
Each time I have traveled out to be with them mainly because I cannot sleep, eat or think straight when I am so far away. Here’s a laughing matter: I am only 1780 miles away but imagine this and I know some of you don’t have to imagine because you live it day in and day out but imagine being 10,100 miles away from your parents or more. Imagine now that you get a call in the middle of the night, “come now if you can – he or she is very sick, these are his/her final days.” Well for my parents, it was a reality. They received calls like that or calls informing them that their parents were no longer on this earth. I cannot imagine because I do not have to – I do not have to because my parents moved here and made some amazing sacrifices so I could have a better life; so that my brother and I could have a good education, a good life, and a great future- so that they could be part of this American dream as well. But in all honesty, leaving everything they knew behind – their comfort zone, their families, their aging parents to build a new life, 10,000+ miles away in the 1960s is no small sacrifice. My in-laws did this as well. I can’t imagine- I guess I do not have to.
I remember 1987 well because that was when my dad received the call that his father was ill and possibly could die. My father, with us as little kids, had to keep his wits about him, and in the 80s when technology was not all that, had to make international travel reservations for all of us. First, he would go because we were all in school and in the middle of a semester in school. Then, we’d all meet him there and we all prayed my grandfather would hold on that long. Sadly, he did not. My father made it in time but can you imagine, pulling it together to make reservations, then pack a bag, then get your passport and visa and head out the door for a 30+ hour journey internationally when you had no idea what was waiting for on the other end? No Internet, the phones sucked too, not to mention cost an arm and leg to dial internationally, and of course, there was no text messaging. Wow! I can’t imagine because recently I made journeys of only 6-8 hours including airport time and I didn’t think I’d make it.
On the other hand, my mom didn’t even get to see her folks before they passed away. It was sudden, and in their sleep. She couldn’t even fly out for the funeral because in India, bodies are not preserved more than 24 hours. I can’t imagine. I do not have to because my parents sacrificed it all for me. Because of them, and because they stayed here to make a new life for us, I don’t have to know what all of this is like. Because they sacrificed so much for me, I will keep doing what I can to help them. The reality is they are aging, they are stubborn and set in their ways, and they want to be independent. I don’t blame them. After all, I am like them. I inherited their perseverance, their strong will, and their ability to adapt and overcome. I wish I had inherited their strength… their enormous strength to bear so much. I don’t have to because of them. In these trying times, I see them, I hear them, I listen… I shut up because I know how much they have given up for a better life for us. I only pray I can be even half the child to them that they were to their parents. I pray for the strength that they taught me to have. I am not there yet and these times have been tough for us but I know their strength lives within me — and I may not have to sacrifice what they did nor do I wish to but I know if I had to for my kids, I suppose I could.
My dad had a massive heart attack two weeks ago today. In a minute, everything I knew, everything I believed was out the window and all our lives were changed forever. No matter how his recovery may go, my father of 67-years of age died two weeks ago and was re-born the same weekend. That is how I viewed it anyway. Some may view it differently but, I feel so blessed that he survived. He had less than a 10% chance of surviving the sudden cardiac arrest and then, the other worry was brain damage.
When my mom first called me, her voice told me something was wrong- terribly wrong. When the doctor at the first hospital they took him to talked with me on the phone, asking me more questions than providing me questions, I think at first I did not believe it, so I just said- okay whatever! He is probably just tired or exhausted from the heat, it’s not serious and everything will be just fine. I was wrong. I did not want to believe that in an instant, everything had changed.
I flew out the next day and the plane ride was the longest one I have ever taken – ever! It rivaled the international trips I took even though it was a mere 1200 miles away. The thoughts going through my head were not good. The prognosis was not certain, it was not positive and uncertainty loomed. The doctors were surprised he was still alive and now it was up to him to fight and if you are a believer in a higher power, of course, it rested in his hands more than anything. In an instant, everything had changed. I saw him in a medically-induced coma for two days before he started opening his eyes on Saturday. Even then, he would open eyes, knew we were there but could do nothing because at the Cardiac Care Unit (CCU) and the potential trauma to his brain, they had to keep him in a medical coma. It was so hard to see him like this especially when I last saw him, he was up, running around, chattering away, and even dancing at my brother’s wedding. In an instant, everything I knew had changed.
Miraculously, he recovered. By Sunday (day 4 after his sudden cardiac arrest), he was moving his lips and trying to talk, following commands, and while still sedated, trying to tell us things with his fingers and hands. He was squeezing hands, moving his fingers and toes and by Monday, he was trying to sit up, and once ex-tubated, was talking, and trying to communicate albeit he had no memory of the trauma. In an instant, everything had changed. Life as we knew it was different – would my dad’s brain recover? Sure, maybe? I have no idea. Would he be the same? NEVER! Would we be the same? Nope… not a chance.
My father died on Thursday, April 19, 2012, and returned to us on Monday, April 23, 2012 but with memories from sometime ago, with memories that were spotty and speech that was not all there. He could not feed himself initially or stand up on his own, or walk, but when he was released out of CCU on late Wednesday night, he was trying to escape, and pulling his wires out. Disoriented and weak, he was released from the hospital on Saturday, April 28, 2012, and was cleared to fly back home on Tuesday, May 1, 2012. For all of us though, we live in a different world, where we appreciate every minute, every second, and we do not take even an hour for granted. In an instant, everything had changed and we would all never be the same. I will be heading out next week to help with some of the upcoming therapies, the cardiologist appointment, and if needed, further intervention for his heart. But mainly, my mom needs us in this time and the support we provide will be indispensable. My dad may go through recovery for a few weeks, few months to a year or more but he will be a heart patient forever. He will need to watch his diet, exercise, get cardiac care, and may need more intervention if his other artery gets blocked. No matter what, we are so blessed he is with us today and while I wish we all lived closer, I am grateful. I am grateful for all the time we had, and all the time we will have in the future with every one of my family members….because in an instant, everything can still change for any one of us.
What I learned from this is not to keep second guessing what was or why this happened… why did this happen? What are we supposed to learn from this? What I learned honestly is what to do from here on out— what I want my life to be, how I also need to slow down, how I want to treat others daily in my life and what my priorities are:
- When parents or your kids or close siblings or even friends call, don’t be busy- listen, talk, entertain – life is too precious and these moments will never come back. It may be annoying what they are saying or that you are trying to work but work will be there but in an instant, everything could change… and you may never get to hear them talk to you again! So, listen, make time, and forget about what is going on around you. Take the call if it is safe for you to do so.
- Don’t worry about what people think… just live! Because in an instant, everything could change and then no one will really care what the guy on the bus thought about you or the situation. It’s not important! It’s all small stuff compared to losing someone you love.
- When you love, love unconditionally, love completely and do not worry what tomorrow brings because as you know, in an instant, everything could change.
- Travel that extra mile, walk that extra step, and do everything you can in your power to help others especially those that you love or care about because today they are here, and tomorrow, in an instant, everything could change.
- When you can, use up that leave (don’t hoard it), and travel with loved ones – go far, go away, go and have those memories because in an instant, everything could change and then you will never be able to take that trip again or not in the same way.
- Life is to precious to waste on petty issues, quorums or fighting for things that do not matter because when you really need to fight then fight for LIFE—remember to live and love because in an instant, everything could change.
- When your kid wants to hug you, and your mom is embarrassing you by kissing you in public, stop and don’t worry – hug away, kiss away, touch the life you love because in an instant everything can change and you may never get the chance to touch, to kiss, to hug, to be with them again. I know, sounds depressing but celebrate the love you have on earth now – don’t wait.
- Say what you need and want to say – say it loud, say it proud, and say it often – the word, ‘I love you’ can be said when someone is gone but may not be heard, and because tomorrow may not come. In an instant, everything we know could change.
- Save the memories, encapsulate them – the photos, the videos, the written blog posts, the amazing diaries and do not lose sight of how important these moments are with your children, your grandchildren, your parents, your partners—grab a camera and if you forgot yours, buy one because you’ll regret if in an instant, everything changes and you did not capture those amazing memories.
- Don’t have regrets or guilt- if you did something wrong, rectify it immediately. Never worry about the “what ifs.” Just do it! Life in the moment and while you should plan for the future, and put money away, don’t be afraid to spend it reasonably and wisely because in an instant, EVERYTHING CAN CHANGE
Recently, we experienced an illness in our home that left us quite literally: gasping for air – for weeks! It is probably one of the longest illnesses in our home and appears to be lingering into week #3 which starts today. I honestly do not remember the last time I could not get out of bed for days. It is uncharacteristic and honestly, with all that is going around it sure caught us off-guard. We thought we caught something from our trip and it is likely we did but then once we returned to dry, windy Colorado, it got even worse.
For fourteen years I have received the flu vaccine and until last week, I never got the flu. Well, there’s a first for everything. Oddly, my daughter also got the flu and I could not even move- I felt like doing nothing! In any case, after about 9 days of this, and my flu symptoms were gone, I still could not stand up straight without getting winded or throwing up from coughing so hard. It was horrible. My low-grade fevers returned and I was immobilized yet again. Of course, with the CDC warnings and the latest trend of all doctors running scared of prescribing antibiotics for anything, I was having a tough time with my doctor’s visits. So, here is the timeline of what happened:
Tuesday February 21 nighttime- it hits – first the coughing started and on…
Wednesday February 22- our plane ride home, I had a fever and so did my daughter. We were all running on empty by the time we arrived home. It was a long plane ride and lord knows how many people we infected on that ride. I thought, hey it’s probably just my body needing rest, I should be good to go in two days which is normal for us- two days and usually we are fine with anything – viral or not. My husband was also feeling ill by the time we landed and feverish too. But he still went to work the next day and my younger daughter was fine so we made sure to separate her from the sick people- ie. me and older daughter.
Friday, February 24- older daughter and I were both diagnosed with the flu. Because it was almost day 3, TamiFlu is less effective but my doc prescribed it anyway. This probably was a bad idea in retrospect because I was already on day three and Tami Flu has tons of side effects- the worst of which is nausea and vomiting so while I felt better by Sunday, February 26, on Monday February 27, I stopped taking it due to a horrendous vomiting episode in which I basically lost all the food I took-in for the day.
Also, on Sunday February 26-Monday February 27, our little one who had managed to escape the illness ended up getting an infection called pink eye. This was our first pink eye in our family. She probably got it from gymnastics class or her bday party (held at a gym). In any case, another day of productivity lost. Anyway, she needed drops and after 24 hours of the first dose, would be safe to go to school.
On Monday, I was well enough to work from home while nursing the sick younger kid but then hubby was fine. My older daughter was recovered too although I regressed and slowly and surely by.. Wednesday, February 29, (yes leap day – an extra day of sickness), I was laying on my office floor by mid-afternoon praying for death. It felt horrible and to top things off, the doctor I saw would prescribe nothing but rest and some cough suppressant with codeine. Well, codeine is not good for me- it stays in my system for a long time and I was continuously drowsy. I took the cough suppressant stuff but was still up nights hallucinating from the codeine, vomiting, or praying I would just get better. In any case, I managed to get myself up the next day and take myself to a practice near my home and they took chest x-rays. My cough sounded horrible and I looked like a walking zombie. They ruled out pneumonia but the doc was still concerned that my flu had morphed into a secondary bacterial infection and prescribed azithromycin and thank God! By Friday, March 2, I was able to work from home again, and had the strength to make food… just 24 hours after the first dose and by Sunday, March 4, I was feeling well enough to walk to the park with my kiddos. Granted, I was not ready to run yet.
Poor hubby though, right around the time I started feeling better, he was getting worse and today we start week #3 of all of us being sick and it is back for him with a vengeance. He has never had anything this long and he finally went to see the doc’s today but alas, they recommended rest and an inhaler. Yeah, here’s a little secret for you all: Inhalers are useless for me and I can hardly use one- how can you breathe in at the same time you are pumping something in your mouth- seems unnatural. In any case, I always laugh when the docs now recommend a worthless inhaler in lieu of the unpopular antibiotics- yeah, that is not the CDC “do not prescribe” list… YET! But soon… soon it will be.
As of today my older one now has pink eye too and hubby is taking a sick day after years of never taking one unless it was for the care of the sick kiddos. Man!
Update 1 – it is now well into week #4 after our return home, THURSDAY, MARCH 15, 2012 and my sore throat is getting worse. Of course, we had a backyard/nearby fire in the meantime which irritated things even more. Hubby is feeling better and hoping to do the half-marathon this weekend but me, I am feeling horrible. On March 16, my birthday, they ruled out strep but said there is fluid behind my ear and the sore throat is viral. Praying we all get well soon to enjoy a wonderful Spring and Summer!
Update 2- it is now week #5 of our illness starting, and March 21 and it looks like my older daughter is running low-grade fevers but just at night or late in the afternoon. The school thought they were over 105 but they are really only about 100-101 so nothing to worry about but nonetheless, it is exhausting to have a sick household for this long. I hope this weekend goes better and we can all be recovered to celebrate… April Fool’s Day! 🙂
Lessons Learned and Why I wrote this article: I am not writing this just for my health (ha- pun intended) but rather to tell you that you have to be your biggest advocate. Health care in this country is not kind even to those with good insurance. I can’t even imagine not having health care. What I learned from a friend or two, you have to call (ie. “bug”) your docs often and talk with the nurse line as things are progressing. If they can call-in something great but here is a secret: they will never Rx antibiotics over the phone now especially since the new scare is “some super disease is going to take over the world and all yea who have taken antibiotics will die instantly.”
I doubt that is true and all I really care about is getting better. And let me assure you I am not the one who runs to the docs the instant she is sick – granted, I will run my kiddos to the doc the instant they are. I am not the one who the docs need to be worried about abusing the system but as time as gone on I am losing my patience with the medical community. I am a mother of two, a wife of one, and have two full-time jobs outside the home – being sick for 12 days (instead of just 2-3) is not something I care for nor will tolerate, and if it means my immunity will be lower or my resistance lower to whatever massive disease is brewing, so be it. I will cross that medical bridge when it is time but for now…. I have a home and family to take care of and most importantly, to get well so I can take care of myself too so I can do all of the above. So, if that means I take an antibiotic to reduce the time it takes me to get well, so be it. I do not take antibiotics willy nilly and certainly have not been this sick for a stretch more than once every three years.
I am almost 40 and I figure if some horrible outbreak was supposed to happen, it may have happened by now anyway. I certainly do not believe everything the big bad government tells me nor am I susceptible to giving into fears. All I know is that I paid $5.00 co-pay for a drug that made me, ME again and I paid over $15.00 in co-pays and lord knows what for lab tests and x-rays that did nothing for me. But it gave me peace of mind and ruled out something more serious. When I go to the doctor, it is because I have tried everything else first and I want to get well not to get a lecture in what I already know – drink fluids, rest and here, use this frigging inhaler. I go to the doctor because I do not have access to drugs to treat myself and trust me, I know what is wrong with me on more occasions than a random doctor knows. I know my body, am quite in-tune with it and I tend to take decent care of myself albeit not excellent care.
All I am saying is that you have to advocate for your child and for you. If you know you need something, ask for it. As a friend said, build a rapport with your doc enough to say … “I get it – you do not want to give antibiotics but I need you to do this or I will find someone who will understand my health needs and my personal needs better than you – I want to allay your fears. I will not abuse drugs but after 9 days, I am coming to see you because I have accepted defeat and ultimately, need them so I can take care of things that others cannot- ie. My small children. Please understand me as a patient and I am wiling to keep you as my doctor – my most trusted adviser in health matters that I choose to discuss with you.”
If that doesn’t work, and the games do not work either (ie… yes blood is literally shooting up through my lungs), I know a Canadian pharmacy on line that I can recommend. Ha! In any case, you must advocate for yourself and your children in health care especially in a time when doctors are a dime a dozen, insurance and health industry are so corrupt, and when the cost is just too high to wait another a few days to go see the doctor again. Don’t take no for an answer and if you must, find a new doctor, or make sure your kids go to medical school and become the best damn doctor out there!
Happy Spring all and here’s praying that we are in our final week of the pandemic outbreak of viral/bacterial HELL!