I went on a family vacation without Robert. Readers, friends and family know I struggle with guilt whenever I go away. One thing I do not struggle with is preparing Robert, his care facility and even me for my absence.
And, no, I am not writing this post just so I can share pictures of My Most Wonderful Vacation Ever.
|Enjoying Barcelona with my Daughter|
Everyone has their strengths. Mine appear to be spreadsheets, to do lists and top ten lists.
Hey, it’s something.
In case you need help in the list department, here are some tips for caregivers going on vacation without their caree.
1. Find a way to take a break. Whether it’s for two days or a week or two, it will rejuvenate you in ways you never imagined. I am lucky enough to have a generous Other Brother who helped with the expenses of my trip. He lives a couple of hours from us and isn’t involved in the day to day care of Robert but he sure knows how to keep his sister sane. Between humorous emails, a listening ear and a generous heart, Other Brother does his part. I am grateful and know how lucky I am.
Finding help for your caree while away can be a challenge. Kathy, who cares for her Hubby, uses the resources at the Veteran’s Administration to give her an annual break. Her Hubby served his country and now is living with Lewy Body disease. Kathy is his full-time caregiver and struggled for years to take advantage of this benefit. Once she did, she realized it is something she can’t do without.
2. Plan for the Worst. This sounds morbid but I did make plans in the event Robert needed to be hospitalized (not out of the realm of possibility since he had pneumonia and sepsis in May). Other Brother was on board with being the contact person in the event of an emergency. New Home was given instructions to contact Other Brother if Robert landed in the hospital. My best friend offered to take Robert’s calls if he called the office. Others offered to be available in the event he needed anything. New Home was given these contact numbers as well.
3. Give Replacement Caregivers Plenty of Notice. I notified New Home and Day Program well in advance of my trip. In fact, I told them before I told Robert. Robert wouldn’t remember if I gave him two months’ notice but his facility and day program would be aware of my plans to be away. This gave me time to discuss solutions to problems that might arise while I was away. I wasn’t sure if Robert would become surly if he missed three weekends at my house and wanted to prepare all of his caregivers for this possibility. As it turns out, Robert didn’t get cranky at all but I was happy to have prepared for this possibility.
4. Create a Care Summary. Robert lives in a care facility and (knock on wood), of late, I’ve been cautiously happy with the facility. (Are there enough disclaimers there?) The new House Manager is communicative, enthusiastic and sincere. She’s the best thing to happen to New Home. I notified her as well as the nurse, director and their patient advocate (using the term loosely) of my plans. I sent them my one page emergency spreadsheet: meds list, contact list, doctor numbers, etc. This summary sheet includes Robert’s insurance information as well as his Day Program contacts and Other Brother’s contact information. By now, New Home knows not to change Robert’s medications and understand his quirks so I didn’t need to tell them these things but a new caregiver would benefit from this information.
5. Schedule Meetings and Appointments around the Vacation. New Home has an annual ISP meeting for Robert (basically, a care plan meeting). This is always held in his birthday month which is when I had the trip planned. I asked the meeting not be held while I was away and was assured it would not. When I left on September 2, a date had not yet been set. When I checked my email on September 3 (from a different country), it was being set up for two days after my arrival back home. I wasn’t thrilled with this since it meant missing more work after a lengthy absence but I was able to attend and am (although grumbling a bit) grateful they granted my request not to meet while I was away. Robert also had appointments with his neurologist and general practitioner shortly before I left so I was confident he was healthy.
6. Prepare the Caree. When it got a little closer to our departure date, I told Robert about our vacation. He wanted to know when I would be gone and his first comment was, “That’s during my birthday.” (Not helping with the guilt, Robert!). I assured him we would celebrate his birthday when we returned. I also arranged for my Mother-in-Law to deliver a cake to his Day Program on his birthday. House Manager even got him a cheeseburger, fries and Rocky Road Ice Cream on his birthday. From all reports (including from Robert himself), he had a wonderful day.
I reminded Robert about the trip a few times but I also wrote the dates we would be gone on all of Robert’s calendars. I think this simple act reassured him I would return and he could resume his usual activities of visiting me on the weekends (although I think what he really missed were the chocolate shakes he gets here).
7. Stock up on Familiar Supplies. Robert is very routine driven and has trouble with change. I insist on providing all of his personal care items because he has particular brands he likes and is discombobulated if he gets a different brand of toothpaste or shampoo. This familiarity also provides some comfort to your caree when the regular routine is changed (as it is when you’re off on vacation). I showed Robert where everything was and notified his New Home of the location of his extra supplies in case he didn’t remember. I even remembered his blue, clicky pens this time . . .
8. Ease into the Return. I got back from vacation and resisted the urge to call Robert immediately. I was confident he was still in good hands and I needed to recover from a long, stressful flight and jet lag. I gave myself this extra time and called him after a couple of days of being back and saw him at his ISP meeting, taking him to Day Program afterwards. My delay may seem selfish but I knew I had to ease myself back into my full-tilt caregiving role. Everyone is different but it’s important to step back and recognize your own needs. (Preferably while keeping the guilt caged up in another room). When Robert visited us the weekend after we returned, he was happy to hang out drinking his shake and being on the receiving end of souvenirs (a blue, clicky pen from the cruise ship and a pendant of Mary to go with his gold cross necklace). My husband and I were happy to have him over and were well refreshed to resume our caregiving role.
Do you have any other tips for caregivers leaving on vacation? I would love to hear your ideas!