The Struggle of Too Much

I had the Sunday of Thankgiving weekend all planned out. I was going to wrap up a glorious long weekend of overindulgence with a day of snacking on cured meats and cheese and watching our favorite shows. In the morning, my mom had a minor seizure. It only lasted long enough for her to let me know it was happening and then she decided to go back to bed.

After a few hours, she woke up and I went to the kitchen to make her brunch. When I turned back around, she was on the sofa in the middle of a full-body seizure. As the tremors worsened, I told my spouse to call 911. The paramedics came quickly and I went through her medical history as I usually do.

The ER was packed but they were able to get her a private room. The patients in the adjacent rooms had COVID and I could hear them gasping for air. I asked her shift nurse if they were busy with COVID patients. “Partly,” he said. “Mostly because we’re short-staffed.” Like a few of the others on the floor, he was a travel nurse. He said he was considering quitting to become a software engineer.

At first, the nurse said they would probably keep her overnight. Then, the ER attending physician stopped by and said that her scans looked good. Considering how busy the ER was, they were willing to discharge her if she could get up on her own.

About 9 hours later, she was finally lucid enough to sit up and take a few steps (with my assistance). In pre-COVID days, they would have never discharged her in that condition. But they were way too busy to do more than monitor her vitals. They decided to take my word that we would be able to carry her from the car to the bedroom. She might as well rest in her own bed than the emergency room.

I’m happy to report that she is no worse than she was before the seizure. Prior to the November seizure, she had been seizure-free since February which is a good run for her. Now the clock starts over as we keep track of how long she’ll go this time.

About two weeks ago, my mom was having dinner and she spit something out of her month. I thought it was food but it turned out to be a piece of her tooth. A pretty big chunk, too. After dinner, I inspected her mouth trying to figure out where it came from. I saw the broken tooth and noticed it was in bad shape along with the ones next to it.

My mom has always had bad teeth. She grew up right after the Korean war and she was probably in her 30s when she first went to a dentist. About 7–8 years ago, she got her first set of dental implants. As she got older, her teeth and gums didn’t improve. Over time, her mouth now has more implants than real teeth.

As I suspected, the dentist said that the broken tooth had to go and the two next to it were not worth saving either. He said his parents were close to my mom’s age and going through something similar. “You can either leave that space open and she can chew her food on the other side. Or she can get dentures to make up for the gap. The other option is a dental implant.”

She remained impassive while we discussed. “We’ll proceed with implants,” I said.

He nodded and added, “They can be very costly.”

I don’t know if you know this but Medicare does not cover most dental care. And they definitely do not cover implants.

“I understand,” I said. “Every implant in her mouth has been out-of-pocket.”

After we got home, I told her, “The new implants will be as expensive as the other ones. You have to live at least 20 more years so that I can get my money’s worth.”

She chuckled.

The other evening my spouse wanted to know why I was upset with mom. During her bedtime routine, she decided to swallow the small cup of mouthwash before I could stop her. And this led to a choking fit and me yelling at her.

“Be patient with her,” he said. “She has brain issues.”

“Yes, I know. And I know you don’t understand but sometimes I am tired. I am tired of taking care of her.”

And that’s a tough thing to admit. It’s hard to break out of the Good Daughter mold and verbalize that sometimes caregiving is tedious and exhausting. Some days it feels like it’s all too much and I don’t have enough time out of the day for my own thoughts.

Even though my spouse helps her during the day and we have a caregiver come in for respite care, it still feels like too much.

That evening it was the sight of blue mouthwash going into her mouth that set me off. It could have been the time I saw the piece of broken tooth spit out on her napkin. Or it could have been how she looked so still under the stiff ER blanket as the monitor blipped and beeped behind her.

A while back I started feeling other caregivers on Instagram and I think I’m going to unfollow them. Seeing their struggles has not been inspiring; it simply reminds me how worn out I feel. If you came here looking for aspirational words of wisdom, I’m sorry. It’s been tough and it’s getting harder and I don’ t think that any of this will get any better. That might be the next step of this caregiving journey.

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