“When the Caretaker Crashes”


                “So during this time, I couldn’t eat…I couldn’t drive… I lost 30 lbs. I could do nothing but lie in bed….”

 Why are we humans so predictable? We never put things in place we’re pretty assured we might need—until after the fact?

Result? We end up responding in a time of crisis. Never a good thing.

Case in point: A few years back I got very sick. It started as herniated disc, followed by a horrendous cough that shot the pain level up to 15 on a scale of 1-10. I was put on hydrocodone for the pain. After a while, my intestinal track shut down. I’d always suffered GI problems whenever stress kicked in (and there had been a lot of that thru my life) but the opiate reduced the remaining workable parts to “totally dysfunctional.” I looked up all possibilities (gastroparesis was a top contender) which sent me into total depression for it suggested a lifetime of anything but normalcy.

Another troubling aspect? I’m sole caretaker for a husband who has Alzheimer’s, so he doesn’t drive, shop, cook…or do any of the activities one needs to survive in our non-agrarian world.

So during this time, I couldn’t eat…I couldn’t drive… I lost 30 lbs. I could do nothing but lie in bed, with a hot water bag on my stomach and a heating pad on my lower back, watching the full Netflix series of “Mad Men” for hours upon hours, fielding my husband’s sweet but continual “Do you want me to get you anything?”

All this sent me into an abyss of depression. I was needy…dependent…but had few friends upon whom I could lean and even those had their own challenges.

My adult children were an entire country apart from me on the west coast (I’m on the East coast.)

This terrible situation went on for months as I tried desperately to climb out of the hole that was my life. I ended up going to 4 hospitals for an answer as to what had happened to me. What’d I learn, after MRI’s, CAT scans, all sorts of probes? That I’d have been more fortunate if I’d had a heart attack. Then the hospital protocol was clear. With a severe gastro problem, I got no answer (because causes were so ambiguous).

At one point, I was hospitalized for 4 days and I placed my husband in a facility  that was anything but appropriate. He ended up sinking into despondency as he wondered why he was locked up in a place where he knew no one. The facility was a poor choice but at the time, I was unable to check it out ahead of time.

I’d find out too late that the VA (he’s a veteran) would provide in cases such as ours. We didn’t need to spend the $4000 for his 4 days in that facility for VA would have paid for a month long stay at one approved by them. Then, too, VA would allow me Respite Care (time off for the caretaker). We could’ve had in home care, too, twice a week, if I wished. All this after the fact.

So now, I know. I’ll not make the same mistakes if a future need presents.

In “The Open Boat,” a story by Stephen Crane, a ship breaks up and sinks, spilling its crew into the raging waters of a storm. The narrator (one of the men) wonders why crises always seem to happen when folks are least prepared. In this case, most of the crew had just gone to bed, after an exhausting day. In the blackness of the night, in a small dinghy, they had little energy since sleep hadn’t refortified them. This put them at greater risk they wouldn’t survive.

The “lesson”? Prepare for what you might need, ahead of time—

Should you get tossed into the metaphorical “raging waters.”


Colleen Kelly Mellor (colleenkellymellor@gmail.com) writes as a long time partner to Alzheimer’s. She invites other caretakers to weigh in, in the Comment section below.






  • May 31, 2021

    Diane Blansett

    Great blog! Playing devil’s advocate here – do you think potential crises are avoided when we are prepared, so we don’t recognize them as such? Since we’re prepared, we just accept those situations as little bumps in our caregiver road, rather than them festering to the point of being a crisis?

    • June 2, 2021

      Colleen Kelly Mellor

      In the mode of “from little acorns, oak trees grow,” potential crises grow, when others deny their potential. But, in my experience, folks wait and wait. They do not want to deal with a problem until it escalates and forces them to act. Often, then it’s too late.

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