A few weeks ago, a tough day hit my family. I thought the toughest part was going to be going to the dentist. I had quite a toothache, which I had ignored for a while. It was in my one remaining wisdom tooth, and the dentist told me right away it had to come out. While pulling it out, the tooth next to it fell apart, so they both were extracted. I have Sjogren's Sydrome, and that does a number on teeth.
At just about the exact time my teeth were coming out, my father in Maine had a terrible fall. He was on a ladder, and it slipped. Holding onto the ladder, he was slammed to the ground. Once he was taken to the hospital, and then to a larger trauma center two hours from home, it was determined that he'd broken both heels and crushed a vertebrae. Later, it became apparent he'd also had a bad concussion. He had surgery the next day, and is still in a rehab hospital, not to come home for a few weeks. Thankfully, he's doing much better, but the recovery was tough. He's 77, and anesthesia does a number on older men, we've found out. He was in intensive care for days as they tried to get his oxygen levels regulated, and once at the rehab, he had bouts of scary confused thought. Now, to hear his voice, he sounds like his old self, but he won't be able to get around without a wheelchair for several months anyway.
The night my mother called to tell me what had happened, the night after the tooth extraction, I was in extreme pain. However, immediately, I felt I should be there. I still feel that, a bit. It wasn't possible. My pain level from the extraction was very high, for about 10 days. That's another gift from the Sjogren's Syndrome. I have almost no saliva, and that makes it very hard for a mouth to heal. I could barely get out of bed. In addition, our old, old car was in such a state that stopping even at red lights made it dangerously overheat. We were ready for a new car, but shopping for one? That was tough. It was impossible with Janey along, and I wasn't up to watching Janey on my own---Tony was coming home early from work each day to get her off the bus.
The guilt of that week---I can barely describe it. My father was in terrible shape, and I couldn't get to him. In my mind, the rest of our reality seemed unimportant. I kept thinking, over and over "What kind of daughter isn't with her father at a time like this?"
I know that from the outside, things look differently. But from the inside, guilt is a strong and often irrational emotion. Guilt doesn't take into consideration that there might be complications, conflicting responsibilities, life realities. Guilt just pounds away at you.
Gradually, as I had less pain and could think more clearly, I realized that while my father was in the hospital or rehab, he needed me far less than he would once he was home. There, I would be able to give my mother breaks, and let her get out to get groceries, and keep him company once he was away from the hubbub of the hospital. My current plan is to wait for when my parents most need the help, and then go up for about a week, during which Tony will come home early from work to get Janey from the bus. In support of that plan, Tony took a day from work and we finally got a new car, a great deal on a fairly new used car that is 12 years newer than the old car, and will hopefully get us safely anyplace we need to go.
With my clearer thinking, I've realized a few things. The biggest of them might seem a little unrelated, but it hit me hard yesterday. For many years, I've longed for respite care for Janey, and with this crisis, people mentioned a lot that we should try again to find it. But the truth is, as Janey gets older, I am going to be less and less inclined for anyone to care for her but family and the school. I trust her school completely. We had a wonderful meeting with her teachers and therapists and program directors earlier this week, and as we almost always are, we left feeling extremely grateful and happy about the level of care they give her. When she isn't in school, I want her with Tony, her brothers or me. That is what I feel good about. I think I'll write another blog entry more about this, but for now, I'll just say that it felt like a relief to realize that, to decide that.
The other realization is that hard as it might be, I need to prioritize. In other circumstances, of course I would have been by my father's side. But in our particular circumstance, Janey comes first, followed closely by my own health and that of my other family members, so we are able to continue putting Janey first. When I am able to step back and remember that, I can figure out ways to care for the other important people in my life.
I write about this at some length because I think many of the parents living the life Tony and I live are faced with situations like this often. It's not easy to realize that you can't do everything, you can't clone yourself, that sometimes you have to decide what you can and can't do. It's so good to know there are others out there living this life, making these decisions, and I hope we can all continue supporting each other with understanding and love.