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Caregiving is tough. Doing it with COVID-19 creates impossible choices

opinion

Mary Stanik
opinion contributor

Published 9:00 AM EDT Aug 18, 2020

After recently relocating to Tucson so my brother can help me care for my 88-year-old mother, I’ve thought a lot about the saying, “you are where you are meant to be.”

I’ve moved several times in the six years after my mother, who at the time lived in Casa Grande, had an independence-destroying stroke.

In early 2018, I moved my mother to Minnesota’s Twin Cities, where I’ve spent most of my adult life. I was tired of moving and figured that if anyone was meant to be even modestly happy, it could be me.

But then my mother started failing. Her decline was hastened by the unexpected deaths of my brother and his husband, who lived in Phoenix, between August 2018 and May 2019. Just as I was closing my brother’s estate and thinking about Arizona again, the universe delivered COVID-19.

To get support, I had to be in Arizona

I was a spokesperson for the University of Minnesota medical center and for Northwest Airlines during the 2003 SARS pandemic. I knew in January that this novel coronavirus would be massively awful.

As a single, childless caregiver, the voice of reason I should listen to more often told me I shouldn’t even think about trying to single-handedly manage a mother failing during a pandemic.

No matter how much I fancied myself a Minnesota Mary Tyler Moore-type, I knew I had to get to Arizona. All while telling my masked mother to walk as briskly as possible through travel-center washrooms so we could get here without infection.

Some questioned my rush, as they said the virus could strike me down in either state. But after much anguish, I realized that if the virus did hospitalize me in Minnesota, it would be incredibly difficult for my brother to care for me and my mother while holding his job.

Put mom in a home? Not yet

I decided to leave when a physician friend told me: “Everything rides on you, Wonder Daughter. If something happens to you, your mother is screwed. If your brother gets sick, you can better take care of him and your mother if you are in Tucson. If your mother gets sick, you’ll need your brother’s help there. We live in a vastly unfair world. Move.”

I suspect some of this whining-not-completely-intended-as-whining might resonate with the 20% of Americans now considered caregivers. That’s up by 9.5 million from 2015, according to findings from a 2020 study conducted by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP.

Some caregivers probably have been told that “you need to get your mom into a home.” I will do so when keeping my mother at home is no longer smart and safe. However, knowing that some 40% of all COIVD-19 deaths in the U.S. have been linked to long-term care facilities, I’ll whine a bit longer to weekend Crown Royals and understanding friends.

So, I am where I am meant to be, and that is here in beautiful Arizona. Thus far, my mother, brother and I remain healthy and I’ve found excellent doctors for my mother’s regular care. My brother and I haven’t strangled each other yet.

Caregivers know: All we can do is our best

I do think about how those who don’t have much family or financial resources are managing work, caregiving, children and life in general. I know every caregiver can’t hurry across the country to obtain assistance. And I’m glad to see that caregiving difficulties are noticed by some, including former Vice President and now presidential candidate Joe Biden.

But when I think about this too much, I remember my friend’s words about an unfair world.

I’m accepting this as best as possible. I’m certain most of my fellow pandemic caregivers are doing the same.

Mary Stanik, who recently moved to Arizona from St. Paul, Minn., is a communications consultant, author of the novel “Life Erupted” and a published newspaper opinion writer.  On Twitter: @mstanik0.


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