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Practical Insights for Busy Caregivers

Temporary caregiving is a glimpse of the future

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October 3, 2016, by Pat Morden, Caregiver Exchange

In mid-July Curt Cole and his son Ryan were at Pearson Airport, on the way to their annual father-and-son baseball trip. They had booked the trip in January, planning to watch the Blue Jays in California and Arizona, play a little golf and see the sights. As he made his way to the departure gate, Curt slipped on a wet spot on the floor and fell.

His kneecap was broken and several ligaments were ripped. After surgery he was told that he would have to wear a brace to keep the joint straight for at least six weeks. He went from an active man of 62 with a high-level job, to someone who had trouble getting to the bathroom on his own. His wife Joanne became a short-term caregiver, one of more than 800,000 Canadians who provide care for less than one year.

Curt and Joanne knew the situation was temporary. Still, their summer plans – including golf and a trip to France – were cancelled. Even getting Curt to their cottage in Grand Bend was a challenge. Joanne admits she had a moment of self-pity when she realized how helpless he would be, but soon moved on. “I knew Curt felt really terrible,” she says. “He was in pain and he wasn’t going to be able to do a lot of the things he enjoys doing for a while.”

The family adapted, setting up a place for Curt to spend the day on the main floor of their three-storey home. For the first week after surgery, his son cared for him, a new experience for the 30-year-old. Later Curt stayed alone, surrounded by everything he might need. The dog-walker checked on him twice a day.  

Joanne discovered that holding down a busy full-time job and being a caregiver was exhausting. “It was just a lot of work,” she says. “Nothing got done unless I did it.” She had to do all the driving, grocery shopping, cleaning and food preparation, and had to adjust to having the house less orderly than usual. At first she had to undress and dress Curt, although he soon found ways to do more for himself.

She discovered how isolating caregiving could be, too. “We didn’t go out for dinner or to a movie,” she says. “It was just too complicated.” For Curt, the days alone at home are long.

Still, she knew that he was getting better and would make a full recovery. The experience got her thinking about the struggles her parents faced as they cared for one another in their final years, and about the future for Curt and her. “It changes the way you think,” she says. “We had been talking about getting a bigger cottage. Now I’m thinking ‘what if something happens to one of us?’ It’s a sad thought.”