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ElderLaw Answers Newsletter: The Toilet Paper Incident of 2009

Chambliss Law Firm Monthly Editorial

NEW! Chambliss Law Firm Monthly Editorial

The Toilet Paper Incident of 2009
by Amy Boulware, Elder Care Planning Manager, (LAP MSW)

It will forever go down in our family history as “The Toilet Paper Incident of 2009.” Let me explain. In 2009 my 67-year-old mother was battling her second bout with cancer, and she was in the hospital for surgery to remove a lobe of her lung while at the same time my 94-year-old grandmother was in the same hospital two floors up being treated for complications from an infection. I had it covered. After all, I was a trained geriatric social worker who knew how to coordinate care, advocate, and could speak the “doctor talk” with the best of them. I had been working in the field of geriatrics for over 18 years and had guided many families through the minefield of hospitalization and illness. But it was my family this time… and I was the professional and personal caregiver for both of these women while at the same time I was the mom to two school age daughters, a wife to a supportive husband, and I was trying to work full time. I was part of the club sandwich generation!

I was sleeping at the hospital in a recliner chair and dividing my time between the two rooms trying my best to care for these two women who I loved with every bone in my body. Normally, my mother and I would have shared the responsibilities for caring for my grandmother, but as you can imagine my mom did not have the energy or ability to do that. I knew I had been at the hospital too long when the cafeteria worker knew exactly how I liked my coffee and what I liked to eat for breakfast. I had a bag packed with enough toiletries, underwear and sweatpants to last me a good long time. I was only going home to take a shower every couple of days, and that is when the incident happened!

At 9:00 p.m. I pulled into my driveway, unlocked the front door and before I had even set both feet into the entryway, I heard a bellowing voice from inside. “Mom, could you get me some toilet paper?” she yelled. My younger daughter was in the powder room downstairs and obviously had no toilet paper. Of course, my husband and other daughter were in the house, but I was the go to person for this task! I dropped my duffle bag full of dirty underwear and went upstairs to our linen closet where we kept the extra toilet paper.  NO TOILET PAPER! I looked in the girl’s bathroom under the sink. NO TOILET PAPER! I went into my bathroom and looked under the sink. NO TOILET PAPER! The next thing I knew I was at the top of the stairs screaming my lungs out about the fact that we had no toilet paper in our house. “Am I the only person in this house who does anything? Do you need me to tell you everything that has to be done in this house?” Then I burst into tears and threw myself on my bed sobbing.

The next thing I knew I heard the front door open, close, and the car in the driveway was backing up. I was still crying and couldn’t stop. Of course, my daughter was still in the bathroom probably thinking I had gone insane. Everyone in my family will tell you that I am the calm one. I handle things, don’t yell, and am almost always in a good mood. Of course, these circumstances did not lend themselves to that. I could not move from the bed. In a few minutes, I heard a knock on my bedroom door. It was my older daughter. I told her to come in and slowly she nudged open the door. In one hand was the biggest package of toilet paper I had ever seen and in the other hand was a pint of my favorite chocolate, chocolate chip ice cream and a spoon. She said, “Mom, dad and I talked about this on the way to the store. We don’t think this is actually about toilet paper. We love you, we are here for you, and here is your favorite ice cream; you can eat the whole pint if you want to!” She slowly backed out of the room without me saying a word but tears were streaming down my face.

This was a caregiver melt down. I had been working with family caregivers for years and had been giving advice to them, but never before had I felt the complete and total exhaustion and stress that they were feeling. I needed to take some of my own advice: 

1.    Accept help from others. Often caregivers think they are the only ones who can do the job. Sometimes accepting that someone else can do the job even if it isn’t exactly like you would do it is the best thing a caregiver can do.

2.    Focus on what you can provide and outsource the rest. I guess nobody in my family ever realized how the supply of toilet paper ended up in the house. After the toilet paper incident happened, I have not bought a single package of toilet paper at our house. My husband makes sure to buy toilet paper every time he goes to the store. 

3.    Set realistic goals. Maybe it wasn’t realistic for me to try and work full time, sleep at the hospital every night, and try to help my kids with homework.

4.    Seek support. Get connected with support groups or people who are going through similar things. There is nothing like being with someone who understands exactly what you are going through and has some tidbit of information that might really help you.

5.    Set personal health goals. Eating, sleeping, and exercising help you be a better caregiver. Often caregivers fall apart before the person they are caring for because they don’t take care of themselves.

6.    Allow yourself downtime. Guilt is a terrible thing and can often be counterproductive for family caregivers. We must allow ourselves the kindness that we give to others. Don’t beat yourself up if you aren’t perfect, nobody is.

7.    Eating ice cream out of the container can be really good!