As the primary caregiver for my parents, taking a vacation is challenging for me. Actually, taking any kind of time away from them is difficult, whether it’s getting away for work, taking care of my own health or seeing friends and other family members. One of the reasons is that every day I’m away, a crisis seems to inevitably occur. Even my parents’ neighbors comment that the emergencies always seem to happen when I’m out of town. This week has been no different.
I’m away, and not only is the nursing facility where my Mom has been for rehabilitation (after an extended illness ) trying to dismiss her prematurely – I just received an email from my sister saying Mom had a transient ischemic attack (TIA), which is a kind of mini-stroke.
But this time – I’m almost 6,000 miles away, and it’s not so easy to hop on a plane and return to Phoenix.
When I moved from Wasington DC to Arizona over two years ago to care for my parents, I began flying back to DC monthly for work purposes. While it was difficult to prepare for being away, and I had an intense catch-up period every time I returned to Phoenix, things were going fairly well. But over the months, my absences have become even harder. I’ve had to cut business trips short suddenly several times in the past few months due to my parents’ sudden health needs. Not only does this cause work problems, the ticket changes cost me up to $800 each time.
But I am very lucky – my colleagues at AARP understand what caregiving is all about. They ‘get it,’ and have urged me to get back to my parents quickly. “You don’t want to have any regrets,” my boss, Kevin, said a couple of months ago, as I struggled with the decision of leaving DC early. “I’ll tell you what to do – go!” That’s the kind of boss every caregiver wants. And he was right.
So making the decision to take this vacation – a gathering of friends in Barcelona, Spain to celebrate several 50th birthdays – was extremely difficult. Two of my sisters agreed to cover for me and split the time with my parents between them. I arranged for my concierge/assistant, Debbie, to fill in the gaps and take over the last two days when neither of my sisters could be there. I stayed up all night before my overseas flight – paying bills, preparing paperwork, coordinating arrangements; making sure everything was covered for my time away.
I almost canceled the trip a few days before I left when the nursing facility suddenly said the insurance wouldn’t pay anymore and Mom would be dismissed while I was gone. But they agreed to extend for at least part of the time so nervously, I left with my sisters to continue the battle of care for my Mom.
Everyone said I needed this vacation badly and it was a “once in a lifetime opportunity.” I knew it was true – but would I really be able to relax? Given the work I had to bring with me and the unsettled nature of Mom’s status at the nursing facility?
My parents are constantly in the back of my mind, I admit. But I have been managing to enjoy fabulous Barcelona, visit the Gràcia Festa Major, drink the best chocolate in the world, enjoy my friends and fabulous food at night – as well as work a bit every day (what did we do before the internet?!) It has been a great respite get-away.
However, today my bubble burst as we happily prepared to leave our rented apartment to take a day trip to Girona. I got an email from my sister saying Mom suddenly couldn’t use her right hand and the visit to the Emergency Room had resulted in a TIA (transient ischemic attack) diagnosis. In addition, the talks with the nursing facility weren’t going well. My throat tightened, my stomach clenched and my heart sank. The tears flowed.
In any caregiving situation it’s easy to feel somewhat helpless – at a loss to know what to do. It’s a terrible feeling. But with the distance between us and a 9 hour time difference I feel completely powerless.
I have emailed my sister asking for more information; trying to understand what is happening so far away. I want to know how my Mom and Dad are handling this latest setback. I am trying to decide if I should once again return early.
But it’s the middle of the night there and I get no response. The waiting is excruciating….yet it’s all I can do.
Suddenly all the sites, food and fun just don’t mean as much to me.
Will I ever really be able to “get away?” Can I never have a vacation that doesn’t include a crises and heart-lurching news?
Photo credit: Barcelona Port by Amy Goyer