The Littoral Life: Blessed be the caregivers

By Dan Haag

There’s a scene in the classic Monty Python film, “Life Of Brian,” where John Cleese’s character is trying to fire up resistance fighters against the Romans.
“What have the Romans ever done for us?” he asks. The huddled commandos go on to list dozens things the Romans have, in fact done for them, including medicine, wine, sanitation, and, public health. And, of course, the aqueduct.
Frustrated, Cleese responds: “All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”
It’s all terribly funny.
If you’ve read this far you’re probably wondering if there’s any point to this other than the ramblings of a middle-age nerd who still laughs at 40 year old films like they were released yesterday.
Never fear, I’ll get there soon enough.
First, backstory.

We are rapidly approaching an inauspicious anniversary in our humble household. March 27.
I remember the exact moment when I heard sirens in the distance, across the bay in Wheeler. Not uncommon in late March. It was Spring Break and my first reaction was to grumble about “stupid tourists.” Hoping everyone involved was OK, I quickly forgot about it.
About three hours later came the phone call from Tillamook Adventist Hospital. My mother-in-law had been in a horrific car crash. While she survived, her life is forever altered. Because she is in constant pain, simple day-to-day routines are often Herculean tasks.
The majority of her care has fallen to my wife. Because she loves her mom, it wasn’t even a question.
The past year has been a blur of doctors, lawyers, contractors, other doctors, insurance companies and even more doctors that are completely different than the previous ones. A lot of what my wife does on a daily basis can best be described as an endless game of whack-a-mole: solve one problem and three more materialize.
It’s an understatement to call this extremely painful, stressful, and emotionally draining. I have seen my dearly beloved go to bed at night crying only wake up eight hours later still in tears.
Sometimes I feel like I’ve been sitting on the outside of it all, watching reruns of some bad television show. There’s really nothing I can offer except a shoulder and my cutting-edge, often poorly-timed attempts at humor.
And here is where that scene from Monty Python becomes relevant.
Recently, I was getting ready for work while she was taking a rare quiet moment to enjoy a cup of coffee.
Being me, I went for a laugh.
“Hard at work?” I asked. “Too bad you don’t have anything to do today.”
That’s when I was struck by something which, fortunately, wasn’t her coffee cup.
The list of what my wife has to be on any given day is astounding: lawyer, mental health counselor, mechanic, chauffeur, housekeeper, dietician, podiatrist, ophthalmologist, secretary.
Well, yes, OK. But other than all of that, what does she have to do?
Personal shopper, pharmacist, financial adviser, hairdresser, tax preparer, answering service, manicurist, insurance expert, and on, and on, and on.
Sometimes, she gets to sprinkle daughter and wife in now and then, but those times are rare indeed: there is no time off and she sleeps with her phone under her pillow.
If you think I am minimizing the effect of the accident on her mother, let me assure you that nothing can be further from the truth.
But caregiving is a lonely endeavor, a constantly spinning roulette wheel of self-doubt. Janell once told me that this last year has given her more gray hair than I’ve given her in the previous 25, which is something I can hang my hat on, I suppose.
One of the hardest things to navigate is the second-guessing from assorted family and friends, each with their own opinions and previous experiences to call upon. I’m certain they all have nothing but love and the best of intentions in their hearts, yet it’s a tricky emotional mine field.
“You’re being too protective of her,” one of them angrily told my wife.
“How would you feel if it was you?” was another less-than-helpful question (and kind of a silly one, frankly).
The hurt in my wife’s eyes upon hearing those words is heartbreaking and I swear that I can see the light in her dim just a tad.
We are surrounded by caregivers, folks we will probably never even meet. They are sitting quietly in a hospital waiting room, staring blankly at an out-of-date magazine and listening to a stranger softly crying a few chairs down, wondering when the doctor will come through that stupid swinging door and what news they will bring with them.
They are waiting in line at pharmacies, glancing nervously at phones, trying to translate medical terms, or frantically re-arranging schedules. Some are just sitting quietly, reading to a father who can’t hear their words or brushing the hair of a daughter who can’t feel their touch.
They don’t want recognition.
They don’t need a Monty Python-esque list of everything they’ve done.
They want the pain and suffering their loved ones are enduring to vanish.
They just want everything to neatly go back to the way it was.