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Tag-Team Caregiving

ABLE accounts tag-team caregiving

Years ago, during a routine check-up, my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. The tumor was already the size of a tennis ball. That was the beginning of our tag-team caregiving.

Mom lived alone and had always been independent. She had her children (myself and my sister) living close by. Normally we kept in touch with her on a fairly routine basis. Phone calls, dinners, impromptu visits, etc.

But knowing she had a tennis ball-tumor growing inside her lung made us all quite concerned. At that time I knew very little about lung cancer. So I did a little research on the subject, and the facts I found didn’t relieve my concern any. It seems that lung cancer had the highest mortality rate of all cancers. In fact, lung cancer causes more deaths than the next three most common cancers combined (colon, breast and pancreatic).

So after the initial shock, it was time for us to start battling this new invader.

Before she ever got very far into her treatment, her overall health declined and it became obvious that she needed someone with her at all times. And so we started with our tag-team caregiving.

We put our heads together as a family to find a solution for her care. We had very little time. Really, only a few hours. Both my sister and I had full time jobs that kept us busy during what’s considered as normal business hours. M – F, 8 – 5, weekends off.

My wife was homeschooling our son so that left her at home. So we came up with this plan I called tag-team caregiving and it goes something like this.

  • Day 1 – After work I would go to Mom’s house and stay with her overnight. Taking care of all her present needs like eating, medications, house cleaning, etc. The next morning my wife would show up in time for me to leave for work (tag – you’re it) and take over responsibilities of caring for mom, along with homeschooling our son.
  • Day 2. – My sister would show up (tag – you’re it) after work and relieve my wife who would return home afterwards. My wife would show up and again the next morning in time for work and relieve my sister of her duties.(tag – you’re it) Thus, someone was with mom all day and all night.
  • Day 3 – Just the same as day 1.

And so it went during the week, our tag-team caregiving. We kept a notebook on all of mom’s activities to help keep track from one day to the next. On weekends, we took turns. I would stay and give my sister a break the whole weekend this week. And she would do the same for me the nest week. (tag – you’re it)

I would like to tell you that tag-team caregiving was a simple solution to our problem, but I don’t want to lie. There’s nothing simple about it. But we were pretty much in crisis mode.

At the time, it didn’t seem all that hard. We were doing what had to be done to care for our mom, who had spent her life caring for us. Yes, we had inconvenient schedules, but she was fighting for her life.

If you and your family have to engage in tag-team caregiving, I would like to make a couple of points for your consideration:
  • Pick someone to be the primary caregiver. This will help consolidate the total care of your loved one. Make sure your loved one approves of the primary caregiver and is willing to work closely with them.
  • The primary caregiver may need to have medical power of attorney, depending on your situation.
  • Involve extended family members whenever possible. Even if they can only help occasionally, a break from a tough schedule can be very helpful.
    If you have enough help, you may be able to assign different tasks to different people. For example, if someone has reliable transportation and is a careful driver, they could help with doctor appointments. Another person could prepare a meal a couple of times a week. Another could mow the lawn, another – do laundry, another – grocery shop.

Working together is the key. Not everyone will agree on everything. In fact, you may be the one who doesn’t agree. Just remember, it could be worse. You could be the one fighting for your life.

After a few weeks of tag-team caregiving, we decided to move my family into my mother’s house to be the primary caregivers’ for mom. We still needed the support of our extended family, but living there made the job much easier.

Tag-Team Caregiving,.. just open your heart and roll-up your sleeves. It’ll work out

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