Caregiving and the Clock

I’ve written before about the price of impatience. In this current episode of providing basically around-the-clock care for my wife, Melinda, I’ve been taking note of my occasional impatience with her. 

About five weeks ago she fell and injured her hip, tearing a muscle. Doctor told her to rest, take it easy, give it time to heal. With the holidays coming, this did not happen. Our Thanksgiving trip to Missouri worsened things. In fact, as I described in the last post, we spent a night in an emergency room and traveled the rest of the way home with a wheelchair. So, for two weeks I have been helping her transfer to and from the wheelchair, cooking for her, keeping an eye on her meds, and taking her to all manner of doctor appointments. All this while trying to keep up with as much work as possible. It’s a lot and requires good time management.

Something that *can* happen with a person in chronic pain, physical disabilities, and a stunning array of medical problems, is that their focus can become rather narrow. Mainly it becomes about their self. It’s not particularly surprising since it can take a great deal of concentration, compartmentalization, indirect thought to deal with pain or even just small physical activities. There’s nothing particularly wrong with this, it just has the ability to put two people on different calendars and clocks.

This can be awkward. I spent enough time in the Army living with the dictum, “If you’re on time, you’re late!” that it is a part of who I am. Further, I once had an agency head who was always late to her own meetings…usually 20 or 30 minutes late. I really hate being late. I hate meetings, but I hate being late more. (Deadlines are a whole other thing…I generally see those as suggestions or desired outcomes.) Anyhow, when I take Melinda to appointments, I see it as a direct reflection on me if we are not in place prior to the appointment time. 

This disconnect can lead to great deal of frustration. The only way around it is to develop patience and improve communication. I have to work to start earlier, knowing that not only does it take her longer to be ready leave (a wheelchair slows everything down), but I have to talk through the time and scheduling with her. When she’s thinking about pain, or actually trying not to think about pain, or focusing just on completing a task so I she can leave, clocks and calendars are not what she’s thinking about. 

Yesterday we talked about this, Melinda and me. She hadn’t really thought about it. Her response was that when she’s taking care of herself, she has no difficulty being on time, it’s just that when she’s relying on me, she doesn’t think about the time at all. There’s probably something to that, but I really don’t think it is all of it. She really does make extraordinary effort to do things, things that just a few weeks ago took little effort. Pain is a real influencer as well, whether she is trying to avoid it, manage it to keep it under control. It takes real effort to do this.

A couple of years ago, I witnessed a similar disconnect between two people. I didn’t understand it at the time, and the details don’t matter, but it was as if these two people were two different species, the disconnect was that great. I finally recognized that one person was very tied to “living in the moment” and letting the moment extend until the moment changed into something else. A natural, organic progression to the end of the event. The other person was less of the moment, and more of the clock. Sensitive to schedules of both parties. Neither could understand why the other didn’t understand their perspective. 

It was so ingrained to both, neither could articulate it, let alone conceive that their positions, or internal context,  needed to be articulated.

Pain and temporary disability can be very much a matter of living in the moment. I vaguely remember this from recovering from brain surgery. Focus, effort, and just trying to do would take the concepts of clock and calendar out of my thinking. Eventually I went back to being a person of the clock, it is too much a part of who I am. Even the years I didn’t wear a watch, I pretty much always knew the time, if only because there are clocks most everywhere, especially with cellphones ever-present. (One of the few things that can drive me crazy is clocks in the same room or adjacent rooms, or really in the same building showing different times. It offends my sense of rightness.)

This current episode of physical disability has brought some new lessons. While very difficult in the first 10 days, I was definitely better prepared, as was Melinda. We’ve worked through this together more easily, mainly by communicating much better. But sometimes, the clock gets in the way, if I let it.

Be nice. It won't hurt either of us.

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