There are a number of Great Universal Truths about human existence that are hardly a secret: Childbirth hurts. Cancer sucks. Divorce is devastating. Losing your job is stressful.
But as I’m finding out first-hand, knowing these things doesn’t in any way prepare you for actually experiencing them.
That’s how I came to learn first-hand, for myself, another of the Great Universal Truths: Caretaking is hard.
I’m extremely grateful that I *have* a husband to care for — and I’m certain that being a widow is 10,000 times worse than anything I’ve experienced. But still, in spite of my love for Esteban and my desire to make him comfortable, I’ve been dismayed by my impatience.
I felt discombobulated at work today when I got Esteban’s voicemail. He sounded wheezy and weak. “I’m hungry and there’s nothing to eat. I feel very dizzy,” he whispered into the phone.
I was confused and a little frustrated; I’d bought a lot of groceries after I purged the fridge last weekend. But after not eating much for several days, Esteban — and his stomach — were irritated. Nothing I’d purchased appealed.
“OK. Can you tell me what does sound appetizing?” I asked, feeling a bit annoyed. Esteban requested popsicles and low-sodium chicken broth. Then he called back to request jello. Strawberry, preferably. But maybe some lime as well.
I felt guilty as I left work early to grab some groceries, but I was also worried about Esteban. I almost started to cry when a colleague asked me if I was OK. “I don’t know if I can do this,” I said.
I feel a little sheepish in hindsight, but at the time I was overwhelmed: I was failing miserably at doing my job, and I was failing just as miserably at meeting Esteban’s most basic needs.
An hour in the grocery store was excellent therapy, though. As I looked for suitable food choices, I got a glimpse of Esteban’s new world: No wheat, no wheat gluten, low cholesterol, low fat, low sodium, low glycemic index.
No wonder the guy feels like there’s nothing he can eat! Seeing the grocery store from his perspective gave me an insight into his extreme frustration. I’d have a tough time adjusting, too.
I had another reality check when I got home and looked in the fridge. I’d arranged everything very neatly over the weekend, stashing all the food items on their customary shelves.
But what I hadn’t taken into account is that Esteban still can’t bend at the waist because of the hematoma around his femoral artery. Indeed, all he could reach was the stuff on the top shelf: Milk, balsamic vinegar, some rice, and a small bottle of kefir. Again … no wonder he felt like there was nothing to eat!
It made my day to see his face light up as I handed him a strawberry popsicle. I adjusted his bedding and brought him a fresh cold compress. I put away the rest of the groceries and asked him what else sounded good. “Jello would be nice,” he said.
I’d seen the world from his perspective. My impatience and annoyance were gone.
I went into the kitchen to make some jello, and then I went back to Esteban and snuggled up next to him. We talked about how he was feeling, watched a little TV, discussed the week ahead, and then it hit me …
The stove looked like a set dressing from Friday the 13th: Jason and the Bloodmobile, and the kitchen reeked of natural gas.
I turned off the stove, opened the back door, ran to close the door to Esteban’s room, ran back to the kitchen, and started to laugh.
“What a lousy caretaker I am,” I thought to myself. “I can’t even make Jello!”
Yup, being a caretaker is hard. But it’s a privilege, too. And maybe most importantly, it’s giving me a bit more empathy as I see Esteban’s new life through his eyes.