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Caring for Sarah: Extraordinary adventures in caregiving

Anybody who provides care for a loved one knows there are tough times – times when you may have to make gut-wrenching decisions. Or times when you have to make deep, radical changes in your own life in order to help and care for those you love.

But there are also – surprisingly and thankfully – times when you share a laugh or create a memory with the person you care for.

One such time happened to me and Sarah, my mom not too long ago.

It was a beautiful, sunny, mid-week morning in this year’s relatively mild Chicago summer. I was driving her home after one of her regular doctors’ appointments. I was in a bit of a hurry since I was supposed to rush back to work once I had dropped her off.

My car had different plans.

After over 175,000 miles and 14 years of faithful service my old Honda decided that it was time to start saying its goodbyes.

We were on the fast lane of the expressway going west from Chicago, about halfway to our destination when my car started to quickly slow down, forcing me to pull over to the shoulder. It stopped. I thought I had a tire blowout. I came out of the car and the tires looked fine. Went back in, turned the key and it wouldn’t start. Couldn’t be the battery, I had a new one installed just two weeks before this incident.

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Stage one: rescued, but now what?

I looked at my mom and she smiled. I called my roadside assistance service. It was a bit of an interesting situation, waiting for a tow truck while idled on the shoulder of a major expressway with cars zooming by at 70 mph and a frail, 88-year-old woman in the passenger seat. I remarked this to my mom and she replied: “I’m hungry! Got anything to eat in the car?”

I didn’t. The tow truck came by in less than half an hour and the next issue immediately materialized. If you’re being towed, by law you are required to travel in the truck’s cabin. You can’t stay in the car. Now it’s easy for me to do it, but how do I get my frail mother inside the cabin when we are practically in the middle of the expressway?

The guy who picked us up was gracious enough to get us out of the expressway and into a side street so we could move my mom to the cabin. The truck was a regular ‘hook and chain’ type, but the cabin was a good few inches higher than any regular car. My mom would not be able to raise her legs high enough and climb on board!

So, I carried her. I carried her in my arms like she carried me many times when I was a baby. I didn’t even think twice about it. She was nervous. I kept asking her: “Did you think I was going to let you fall?” and she replied: “I’m hungry!”

We got to my car shop, I carried her again. I found out the car’s troubles were quite serious – broken timing belt and maybe some valve damage – so we had to have another tow truck pick us up and drop us home.

The second tow truck arrived. It was a huge flatbed truck. The cabin was a good 6 feet above the ground (I’m 5’ 8’’, by the way).

I looked at my mom and she smiled. I smiled back. We walked towards the truck. Then I lifted her again and started climbing. She was hanging on to me for dear life. At some point I told her: “I won’t drop you but if you don’t let me do this my way we’re both going to fall and you’re going to fall on top of me.” She relaxed and I was able to seat her safely. It took about 3 minutes but felt like an hour. She smiled.

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Stage 2: hungry, but on the way home

The truck drove us home. I carried her again, this time into the house and onto her favorite chair. I ran to the store and came back with a couple of chocolate-glazed donuts which I served with a glass of ice cold milk. I went outside, saw the tow truck off and went back inside. She had devoured the donuts and was now sound asleep, the unfinished glass of milk by her side. I finished the milk and went back to work.

If you would like to leave a comment, ask a question or share your own caregiving story, please use the contact form at the bottom of this posting or just send me an email to gfcardenas@aarp.org

 

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