Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Caretaker wear and tear

I went for my first appointment for physical therapy yesterday. I blew out my shoulder last October from a fall. I was attempting to help my ole pal Alex down the front steps as he was recovering from a seizure. He got down the steps just fine; I, however, slipped and fell, hearing an actual "rrrrrrrrip" when I landed on my left shoulder.

Xrays were negative but the pain was quite bad. Did some home therapy, ice, rest, you know the routine. It still bothers me so I went for an MRI a month ago and it revealed a labrum tear along with a misplaced bicep tendon. Great.

Surgery is likely but the surgeon was open to trying PT first to see if I could get some strength back and minimize the pain.

The therapist I've got is a woman who looks to be about my age. In great shape, of course. She asked many questions but one of them got us looking into each others eyes with a great sense of knowing.

When she asked what my goal was for PT, I answered "To avoid surgery for as long as I can. I have too many people and dogs who need me right now."

Without saying a word, she understood. I said, "You know. You're a woman." She smiled and nodded.

When the surgeon told me that surgery was the only way to repair the damage for good, my first thought was not of myself. It was of my elderly dogs. How will I get them in and out of the car for appointments if I can't use both arms? Then I thought of my parents.

I have chronic fatigue syndrome which is at its worst during times of physical and emotional stress. This means my recovery from surgery will likely be more involved and take longer. My folks are at the point in their lives where they sometimes have to rely on their "kids". What if they end up needing me and I can't be there for them?

It's all crazy, I know. Others would help where I couldn't. But most women I know would have the same reaction as me. It's our job (and our purpose in life) to be there for others. We're last in line on our own list of priorities.

I think back to my childhood in trying to understand why I subvert my own care for others. My mom, like most moms of that era, didn't work outside the home. Their jobs were to be mothers. They were the ones who raised the children (dads did what they could on nights and weekends), took care of the family pet, helped neighbors in need, and shuttled elderly relatives to and from doctors appointments. In a nutshell, they handled all the emotional and physical caretaking.

It is that example that still has power over my generation. I don't think it's a bad thing to "suck it up" when someone else has a greater need. I actually view that type of inner strength as a badge of honor. But it has its price. In the PT waiting room was one man - and six women. 

I wonder if those women answered the therapist's questions the same as me. And received a knowing look in return.


  1. Hmmmm, well, I guess I look at it a little differently. I take care of myself so that I will be here as long as possible. When I need PT, I don't delay. I go to the chiropractor regularly. I exercise as much as possible and I go to the doctor when I have a problem or a question. And because I enjoy being active, I could not delay surgery as I would go insane not being able to do stuff. That said, what *I* am not doing so that I can take care of a child, is not fulfilling my own need of going back to full-time work. Don't know how much longer I can hold out. The lack of good work in the area makes the decision for me to some degree.

  2. Unfortunately, the doc said this isn't a "simple" tear. He told me that for this type of surgery, there's a 6-9 month recovery period including lots of PT. I'll be in a sling for 2-3 weeks before I can even think about using it.

    Given my CFS and how it wipes me out for weeks when I just have a cold, I'm expecting it to be a pretty nasty 6-9 months.

    The dogs are 12 and 14. 6-9 months is a long time in what's left of their lives. So, if I can get 2 years out of PT before surgery, I can be there for them - and the folks.

  3. I know exactly what you mean Kathy! I am a mom,daughter,siter,wife,doggie mom and a full time professional. I do try to take care of myself by exercising when I have time and eating well.However the needs of my family and pets by come first!I do not give it a second thought.Faced with your difficult situation, I would make the exact same decision! Let's hope the PT works! Mary

  4. I get it. I have a kid who could die from eating a nut and who can't stay in hotels that allow pets (basically, all) and can't go to birthday parties because all of his friends have cats and gets complications from colds...My life is fully dedicated to keeping him healthy. But it's kind of like what they tell you on airplanes. Parents grab the oxygen for themselves first and then give it to their children. If you don't take care of yourself, you can't be there for others. That said, if the surgeon has told you that delaying surgery will not make the injury more difficult to repair in the future, then I guess you can delay for however long you want to. You'll just have to not slip on anymore ice! :)

  5. Yow, that sounds like quite the challenge. Women are really the caretakers in ways that men don't realize. Whatever you decide, you've got my support!

  6. Ladies...seriously? And, uh, what is your name? Kathy, you are hurt. Yes, you have other responsibilities...don't we all? Trying to use a seriously injury shoulder for 2 years before fixing it? Come on honey... get a grip. Denial is NOT a river in Egypt. Take care of YOURSELF before you can take care of OTHERS. Yes, I can feel your love for your dogs, your parents. However, realize that friends and family will rise up to the challenge of assisting you when you truly need it. Because once you really realize you are WORTHY of your own health and well-being then you will ask. What I am saying is, it IS time to ask for help and take care of yourself. This cry for attention with your injury is not worth the damage to yourself in the long run.

    Come on girl... stand up straight, tall, confident, and take care of YOURSELF...as a caretaker should; first and foremost.

  7. What's my name? It's all over my blog. What's your name? Or should I just refer to you as "Anonymous"?

    Check out a new blog post for my continued story about my shoulder and my parents.

  8. Oh, and BTW, Anonymous. If I were looking for attention, I'd have the surgery and be waited on hand-and-foot.