As a new contributor to AARP’s “Take Care” blog, I’ve been thinking my first post should provide a bit of an introduction. I’m one of the 33 -40 percent (depending on the survey) of U.S. caregivers who are men. My caregiving began with a phone call about 10 a.m. on Feb. 15, 2008 (one remembers these things). The caller ID showed “St. Jos. Hospital,” and a St. Louis area code. St. Louis had been my then-86-year-old father’s home for most of his life. This wasn’t going to be good. The emergency room nurse on the other end was brief to the point of curtness.
“We’ve got your father here. He’s dehydrated and very anemic. He’ll probably be admitted, but he shouldn’t be living alone anymore. The social worker will be calling you.”
And with that one-way communication, my life changed. I was 48 then, and two years previously I’d moved myself and my freelance writing business from Chicago to a little town on Cape Cod, in Massachusetts. I was living my self-supported dream of a life in a natural wonderland. But within two weeks of that call, I’d flown to St. Louis and, with my stepsister, cleared out Dad’s apartment, packed him into his 2004 Mercury Grand Marquis (the pace car for the over-80 set) and driven him 1,200 miles east to move in with me.
Why me? Well, my stepsister lives in the Rockies at an elevation of about 8,500 feet, and my sister, at the time, was living in an efficiency apartment into which she and her beagle and cat barely fit. At least my 1,110-sq.-ft. house had bedrooms and baths on two separate floors. Plus, I get along with Dad the best of the three of us (“get along with” being a relative phrase, but with relatives it’s all relative, right?).
After four-and-a-half years, my caregiving duties ended just last week, when my father died of a sudden heart attack in his nursing home. Those years included falls, numerous ambulance trips and hospital/rehab stays, a slew of home health aides, and a crash course for me in geriatric medicine and chronic health conditions. But it’s also included wonderful family visits, inside jokes, a personal connectedness with Dad – and the chance to meet and connect with other caregivers, both in person and through my own blog, Life With Father.
Dad moved to his nursing home full-time in January, following a series of health crises. He was mentally competent, but just too fragile medically to be at home. But as many of you probably know, the caregiving doesn’t end with a nursing home admission. Instead, I became a medical administrator and personal coach. I’m looking forward to sharing these experiences — and hearing about yours — here on this blog.