Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Insane Blogger Becomes Caregiver...

...and reaches for his gun.

My mother left the hospital yesterday, having had a knee replacement surgery on Friday, and subsequently whining for three days that she wanted to go home and "be comfortable", as if it is possible to be comfortable with several pounds of titanium alloy with gears and hinges, and 20 or so staples in your leg.

Anyways, the incredible banshee-quality whining of the hospital bed (It's too hot, it's too cold, the food stinks, there's nothing on television, they didn't give me my pain meds ten seconds after I asked for them, 'The Other One' in the next bed kept me up all night, etc, etc.) was soon replaced by the shrill keening wail of a whole new range of conditions to complain about (the medical transport driver deliberately hit every bump on the way home, the seat belt is too tight/too loose, can you turn the heat down then back up, and so forth). And that's before we even got into the house.

I am caring for my mother during her recovery, and I must admit, I'm not exactly equipped for this job. For a start, I have very little patience for whining. I understand that this sort of procedure usually results in the most monumental waves of pain known to anyone not interred at Gestapo Headquarters, but hell, it was an elective surgery, so I don't want to hear it. I already know, and your constant harping on the subject just wants to make me drug you up; I can't do anything else about it.

But, someone has to deal with it, right? I can, to a certain extent, suck it up and soldier on, but it's only been 24 hours and I'm ready to burn the house down.

To begin with, My mother is, and always has been, all of the following;

a. A drama Queen
b. Neurotic and given to bouts of acute anxiety.
c. An attention whore.
d. A sympathy junkie.

And Saint Carol the Martyr, heir-apparent to the Virgin Mary (btw, most Italian mothers behave this way), is making certain she milks this situation for all it's worth. That's when she's not engaging her other great skills in never having a positive word to say about anything, and complaining about everything under the Sun. Oh, and for speaking in sentences which always contain at least two variations of the personal pronoun (I, Me, My, Mine, and so forth).

If you read this blog regularly, you can probably see that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree in many respects. But really, I got help...

Truth is, there was never any pleasing her, and now that she's helpless and in need of care she has taken this most distasteful personality trait to new and dizzying heights. I'm seriously contemplating murder, but won't do it if only because the insurance company would get suspicious when the required paperwork never turns up and might leave a message on the answering machine.

I'm not even expecting as much as a "thank you" when her recovery is complete. That's just the way she is. It's expected that because she gave birth, I'm supposed to be at her bedside 24/7/365. I'm to take my impending galley-slave existence gracefully and maintain the proper attitude.

Except that She's a Pain in the Ass, and the process of taking care of her is an even bigger Pain in the Ass. It's only 24 hours, and I'm already discovering:

1. That I'm seeing parts of my mother's anatomy that I haven't seen since the day I was born, and which no Son past the socially-acceptable breastfeeding age should ever see. This is embarrassing, uncomfortable and just fucking creepy.

2. My mother is an expert whiner, complainer, and petty taskmaster. If you were to give her a winning Lottery Ticket, a Pot of Gold, and a Ferrari, she would bitch about why you didn't pick any of her favorite numbers, why it's only one pot, and really, couldn't you have gotten a better color and automatic transmission? Whenever she requires something, the dreaded phrase "as long as you're up" is uttered, shadows cross the floor, and a feeling of impending doom overtakes me, because I now know that the simplest of tasks will now become a torrent of petty make-work-for-her-comfort projects that will eat up the majority of the day.

And overnight, she'll be thinking of more stupidity to lay on me the following morning; The Sun is too bright,please close the curtains...oh, as long as you're up....my water is too wet, I need you to rearrange the seven pillows on the bed, and find a way for me to sit at a perfect 90-degree upright angle so that I can watch television and split atoms simultaneously. Oh, and find me some atoms, too.

If that doesn't drive you batshit insane, there's the myriad of tasks that need to be done every day that remind you that being human is often a humiliating and disgusting experience, full of the most unpleasant aspects that we barely think about...until we have to wipe someone else's backside, and there isn't a diaper or a 4 a.m. bottle feeding involved. Don't get me started on the problems inherent in sponge-bathing your own mother.

I'm also discovering that the battery of cuss words at my disposal is quite limited. I once would have thought this absolutely impossible, being able to swear like a sailor at the drop of a hat, and often for no reason, at all. I'm a New Yorker: we use the F-word as a noun, verb, adverb, adjective, and often like punctuation, so imagine my surprise when the usual litany of curses muttered under my breath just doesn't seem to cut it, anymore. They don't seem adequate to express my feelings and frustrations, and I'm seriously going to reach for a Thesaurus so as to find newer expressions of fundamental disapproval. I may even have to learn another language.

It probably sounds terrible for a Son to speak of his Mother in this way -- and on a public forum for all the world to see! -- but there is a point to all of this; I'm beginning to have a new and healthier respect for caregivers....even the unionized hacks. They must bump up against the most miserable people in the world every day, and people who are normally unpleasant and then burdened by sickness must be the absolute worst. Like Nazis in heat, I would imagine.

Either these are the most patient and loving people on Planet Earth, or they all go home, drink themselves silly, kick the dog and beat their kids, just so that they can present the miserably ill with a plastic smile and the impression that they actually enjoy this kind of work. Considering that would make them even more miserable than the miserable bastards they often have to care for, I find that idea highly unlikely.

So, I will simply have to conclude that they are much better people than I am.

I will persevere. I'll get through this, and get Mom back on her feet so that I can go back to my overarching goal in life since the age of 14; finding a way to put as much distance between us as I can possibly manage.

But, damn, if it isn't enough to make you psychotic...

UPDATE: The response to, and popularity of, this post has been amazing. Thanks to everyone who continues to forward it to everyone they know! If you're interested in what's happened since this was originally posted -- plus many more observations related to taking care of the sick folks -- then please click the "Caregivers" label at the bottom of this post!


CMcCue said...

My deepest sympathies. I thought my mother passed away in 2007, but clearly she's now living with you.

Anonymous said...

This seems like someone that's just read "Catcher in the Rye" and "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" trying to attempt their own work of fiction, possibly with a little bit of "Sopranos" mixed in (seems eerily similar to the relationship Tony had with his elderly mother). Still, good writing, keep it up!

Sarah said...

Yup. I know exactly what you mean about all the invented tasks, calling upong your help after hearing you so much as roll over in bed (aha! caregiver is awake! let me trot out all my demands and complaints....)

From observation, caregivers do the main tasks and just do not do (and finally are no longer asked) all the maddening trivia. Maybe that's what allows them to endure...plus the money helps a bit.

Sharon said...

My 62-year-old husband had a knee replacement and was walking with a cane within 24 hours after coming home from the hospital. He was completely self-sufficient though I did do all the cooking and fetching for a week or so. He did have pain but apparently sucked it up.

Pardon me while I go apologize for thinking he was a big baby.

Matthew said...

You're perfectly welcome to come see it all for yourself anytime you'd like to, Anonymous. If you don't have brain damage now, you most certainly will after 24 hours here.

You'll agree; no fiction here.

And really, if I had wanted to write a piece of pure fiction, I think I would have created a main character who was the sort of pretentious twit who would mention "Catcher in the Rye" and "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" in an anonymous blog reply.

Anonymous said...

I scream a lot. I mean I go out in my car and scream my head off. Give it a try.

Matthew said...

I used to just drink, but that got expensive and I found myself waking up with a lot of strange women who wouldn't go home.

Nah, blogging is much easier.

La Eve! said...

I was a caregiver to my mom last year. She passed away on 9/11/09...she was a great patient....I can't imagine what your mom put you thru! I enjoy reading your stuff. Thanks to the NY times for giving you free publicity! :)

balagan said...

@ Sarah,

You are beyond clueless about the stress and duties of a caregiver (paid or just-stuck-because-they're-family).

My very best hope that your family and loved ones stay healthy.

Very healthy.

Anonymous said...

Hi Matthew
I actually am privy to your blog because a lifelong friend of mine sent it along to me for the mere fact that your story (mom) reminded her of my mother and what I have dealt with my WHOLE life; and not just through (GOD FORBID) an illness. I cant even imagine how difficult that would be she is so unreasonable and nothing is ever good enough, I cant picture what heights her nastiness would rise to if she were not feeling well!
I thoroughly empathize with your plight and unless you have lived with a mother like ours (mine is italian to by the way) there is NO WAY to make others understand. The friend that sent your blog to me gets it even though she had a completely different type of mother (God rest her dear soul); she's know my mother for over 40 years.
My mother has ALWAYS been demanding, self absorbed, and quite frankly not to well informed about life and what goes on around her even though she has lived 85 years. If it doesn't directly affect her, she just doesnt care. And if someone doesnt do her biding to her exact expectation, then she wishes all kinds of evils on them, even if its lets say her own son (my brother).
She picks up the phone every day I call her with a greeting of some kind of complaint about something, never hello, never how are you dear etc all the normal things you would expect from a parent.
So to those who would berate you for your blog, I just say live in my shoes for one day and let's see how that goes. In spite of it all I still call my mother every day and have her to visit at least twice a week. Its always... what is she going to say or do to cause trouble this time.
Bless you for hanging in there and doing what you need to do and for trying to find some humor in it all as well.
By the way I am also a nurse and I dont think it is your responsibility as a "son" especially for you to have to do some of the more personal and private things for your mother that need care. There are home health aides that could come in and do that for you to spare you the awkwardness of having to see your mother's more private areas etc.
Good luck and thank you as well. I dont feel quite as alone in dealing with a difficult person, who happens to be my mother. I use to think it was all my fault that she was never satified with anything I did or said, now that I'm older and in my professional life I help others, I realize it's not me. My mother does not respect anyone, especially me, she still thinks I'm a child; and I have grown children of my own. So I tell her mom; you dont get respect just because you are my mother. I am an adult with a life of my own and I deserve the same respect as you do, especially if you expect to get any from me. Take care and good Luck. Jeanne
PS Thanks for the chuckles too.

Anonymous said...

Always wonder why a 50+ yr old is living w/dear ole Mom???
You can find it easy to hate someone you're dependent on.
Hire someone, do your Mom a favor, and hit the road!!!

Matthew said...

Thanks for the free psychgological profile, Anonymous Douchebag, but you're off the mark:

I'm 43.

My Mother lives in a house THAT I PAY FOR. Incidentally, my sister and her husband live in another house that I paid for.

Mom has depended upon me, in one way or another, since I was about
7 years old. I was the sole supporter of my family (Mom, Sister and Brother) at 19.

I don't feel so much a son, sometimes, as much as ex-husband number 3. it's a weird family dynamic, and it's only made worse when someone who labors under false the impression that they're entitled to everything gets sick and starts making outrageous demands.

If you're going to make a drive-by comment please at least be in possession of some facts, and spae me the Dr. Phil-quality psychology.

R said...

Good going Matt. Give them hell.

Amanda said...

Maybe you should find a support group for people who are dealing with the same "caregiver to parent" issues. I know as a mental health counselor, that talking with other people who share the same problems can significantly decrease your stress and anxiety and help you find some solutions that suite you.

Anonymous said...

Fuck! Just what I needed. I hear you.

Matthew said...


There is a reason why this is called "The Lunatic's Asylum", you know; I have had way more therapy than any human being should ever be forced to endure, or pay for.

And that was for REAL issues, like PTSD and agoraphobia, because I'm just not the sort of guy who can walk away from a burning skyscraper with a 757 stuck in it and then just go about my life as if nothing has happened.

I've been on the couch before, and it basically does not work on anyone with more sense than a brain damage golden retreiver. You guys have some racket going.

Talk therapy and support groups are largely nonsense. Modern psychoanalysis is either "take these pills, fuck us if we know how they work, or even IF they will, and fork over $400 for the 45-minute hour", or it's a torrent of touchy-feely-drum-circle bullshit designed to make you come back again and again for the bittersweet drugs of sympathy and empathy, like a crack addict.

I appreciate your advice though. Thanks.

Ien in the Kootenays said...

Good onya for not pretending to be a bloody saint and having a good vent. I used to be a professional caregiver, and I actually did enjoy the work, believe it or not. I also enjoyed going home and walking away from it.

Doing something for a stranger, at set times, and getting paid for it, is entirely different from being tethered 24/7 to someone who doesn't appreciate you and who endlessly pushes your buttons. I loved your comments on the shrink community, but there might be one exception: have you looked into EFT? It is a combination of neuro-linguistic programming and acupressure that quite literally gets old hurts out of your system. Especially good for PTSD. No, I am not selling it.

Matthew said...

Thanks len, but we're past the PTSD stuff. I haven't forgotten, but it doesn't really affect me the way it used to anymore. Time, they say, heals all wounds.

On those days when things do actually get to me, I come here and vent, and then engage in my breathing exercises which work absolute wonders in throwing off the stress.

Liz said...

This from a fellow inmate in the lunatic asylum: I took care of my dry drunk mother (she finally sobered up but was mean as a snake, still) while she was dying of cancer. The chemo was a bitch--"Mom, eat this teaspoon of salt, or your kidneys will fail," at 2am. This did not go well. Finally, after falling asleep on the freeway, and cooking three different breakfasts (too hot, too cold, too something), I quit. Quit to take care of my son, who is autistic and has Down syndrome. He's an angel in comparison.
The long run (I've been at this almost 30 years now) -- I laugh at things most people don't find funny, I got a labrador, who thinks I'm God's right hand because I drop food when I'm cooking, and I no longer worry about Ms. Manners and social customs like taking a 29 year old man into the women's rest room (he still needs help). So Matthew, take humor where you can find it. Consider the ordinary a miracle, and watch funny movies.

The Texas Woman said...

Ahh, the reason my children don't mind that I married a much younger man. They might be cheated out of the house and money but they also don't have to take care of me!

Brown and Yellow Superhero said...

I would say "hang in there," but I have no idea how to tie a noose. There are few things in this world that suck worse than unpaid family caregiving.

Ana said...

Your blog has just given me a rush...bit like taking a high dose of uppers. I'm euphoric. You're the brother my mother must have had without me knowing...you're describing "mummy dear mummy", the star in my blog. I'm stupid, heartless, Satan, incapable, insane - all and any of these and more in any order you wish. Just like you! Any chance of starting a mummy dear mummy commune where we could drop them and pick them up in say 150 years? I'm subscribing to this NOW. And I'm linking to you NOW. Great stuff. Ana

Matthew said...

Thank you, Ana. I try to do my best between suicidal mood swings.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

I really liked the article, and the very cool blog

Anonymous said...

Hi Matthew,

I know I'm commenting on this 4 years too late, but I'm in the same boat right now as this article. I'm 28 and an only child to my mom who recently had a total knee replacement. I live with her because I'm currently unemployed (today's economy story). I am taking care of her although she is very self sufficient with most everything (sponge bathing, grabbing snacks) for herself. I still do the rest with buying groceries, cooking, and setting it up so it's all ready to go in containers to heat up and she can just grab it and eat.
Meanwhile, I've put on hold for now looking for jobs because of my daughter duties. (I still look and apply to new postings I come across)I feel like I'm doing my best under the circumstances and my life is on hold but to get told, what I'm doing is not enough and that I ABSOLUTELY NOT TO HER STANDARDS. when I feel llike I'm already running around like a headless chicken, picking up her pain and regular meds. Making sure all her paperwork from work (leave) are all in order becuase she left it HALF DONE! And she yells at me to get it done ASAP because they need it.
WhenI try to encourage her to do her exercises (physiotherapy) she's an absolute tiger and yells at me and verbally says hurtful things that makes me feel like I'm a pile of dirt. Thank you for your insightfully truthful writing. It really put to words my current situation and it helped me to have some comfort in knowing that I'm not the only one to feel this way adn that I'm not an awful bratty daughter. THanks again. -Lyra-