Becoming A Caregiver
Hello, my name is Valena and I'm a card-carrying member of the Sandwich Generation. This new path started in 2006 when my parents called from Missouri to say they were returning back to Texas so they could help me with my daughter. I hadn't asked them to but I knew the winters in Missouri were really hard on my mom with her arthritis and my dad's health issues. I didn't realize how the help they offered me would in a few short years change to me caring for both of them.
My father had always been an automobile mechanic and then bought an Alternator and Starter repair business so all of his career had been spent working with chemicals and he was also a lifelong smoker. These factors caused him to be diagnosed with COPD and he was put on full disability shortly after my husband and I were married in 2000. He also was diabetic with high blood pressure. So many things trigger other health issues and he had several.
My parents picked up our daughter from school and she stayed with them while I worked as a Business Development and Marketing Officer for a local bank. I always was in a hurry when picking up my daughter so I didn't notice the slow decline in both of them. All holidays were spent at my house. My mom has always been forgetful - paper notes were everywhere in our home growing up and then the sticky note was invented in 1980 and yellow squares began appearing everywhere. So I didn't notice the change in her memory.
Then she got lost twice in our little small town. The local grocery store is less than 2 miles from her home and she couldn't remember her way. She didn't call me - she managed to get home and handed Dad the keys and never drove again. My parents were very co-dependent. Dad was always the boss and she kept everything running smoothly. She had been his caregiver for a very long time. He took her to the doctor and she was diagnosed with the early stages of Alzheimer's. I really don't know how long it was from the doctor's visit and when they told me. I remember Thanksgiving of 2015 sitting at the table and my mom turned to my husband's mom and said, "Barbara, the doctor told me I have the beginning of Alzheimer's disease." My mother-in-law didn't miss a beat and replied. "Well, Virginia they told me that as well but I choose not to believe them."
If only it could be that simple... that we could choose not to walk down that path. They were married in 1960 and never spent a night apart until 2017 when he was in the hospital, her Alzheimer's was now not just a hidden issue and she was not allowed to stay because she would forget his room number. My dad was admitted into the hospital with a bleeding ulcer. My job duties had changed and I was under a lot of work pressure. I was shocked when the hospital called me and said I had to come and get my mom - she was wandering the halls looking for the 6th floor - they only have 3 floors, she couldn't remember his name or room number. I was able to find an organization called Visiting Angels - they will come and sit with your family members so you can work. I had no idea a service like this existed and they helped me several times.
The next 3 years of my life included so many doctor office visits, visits to the ER, and calls to 911. At one point on a Sunday as I was headed to buy groceries my iPhone said "3 minutes to Woodland Heights Hospital". I had spent so many Sundays going to the hospital that my phone told me how long it would take.
In 2017, my husband discovered severe kidney issues and that meant more hospitals, more ER visits, surgeries out of town. And then in 2019, my daughter started suffering from Hemiplegic Migraines. And for fun let's throw in a shoulder and knee surgery for me into this medical mix..
I have learned so much about navigating the health care system and just surviving when you are the one person who everyone else looks to for help. I was so overwhelmed so many times that not knowing where to look or what questions to ask. I have started this blog to help others on this journey. You are not alone - and there are people who want to help you survive and flourish as a caregiver.