Before I start with this post, let me tell you one thing.
Pick a smartwatch that monitors your blood pressure, heart rate, and other vitals. Feminine health is optional–heart health and other markers are vital. It doesn’t need to be an expensive one but heart rate monitoring is a must, in my opinion… and after reading this you’ll understand why.
There’s a secret in my house.
We have been living with my grandmother for nearly two years and her rapid decline cognitively. It’s unfortunate that one of the most independent, whip-smart and smart-mouthed women I know could not only run her house like a Swiss watch but raise three boys that were biologically hers and then others who weren’t but needed that parenting, plus me as well all the while travelling with her husband who was in the IBEW as an electrician and supervisor. Now, she can barely follow the thread of a conversation and consistently thinks family relations who died years ago aren’t dead and wanders off to find them. A woman who ran my grandfather’s office like a well run ship now can’t fathom how a letter that she kept as a memento that’s dated, plain as day, from 1952 didn’t come today in the mail. Her independence and fire reduced to a very agitated and sometimes even aggressive and confused dementia patient.
For the entire two years we’ve lived in our house, she has declined. It was one of the reasons we moved, to tell the truth, as her own home started to lose the organization it once had. There is a lot of work to care for someone with that decline, especially with zero home care or other help from our own healthcare system. Once she started to get up in the middle of the night to leave the house and wander, and then get lost, things came to a head and we have some home care now but the state of our healthcare system means there isn’t very much of it. There isn’t even a backup from LTC because the beds just aren’t available for even short-term respite.
I have been going 24/7 caring for her needs without a thought for my own outside of making sure I make enough with work to pay the bills. This has meant holding down a regular full-time career with regular hours. I work from home, which means I’m there to chase if she wanders off.
But that level of support, both at work and at home, has taken its toll.
My typical day involves getting up at around 5am, sometimes 6am if I’m particularly lucky and she hasn’t woken at 5. I help her get dressed, which thankfully at this point isn’t as involved as it could be as most of her trouble right now has more to do with the arthritis in her hands.
We eat a light breakfast, and have coffee. I’ve tried to switch us to decaf but she can taste the difference. I ride my stationary bike for a while while we watch the morning news and then I go to my day job in my home office. At lunch, I make us lunch before she can go through the entire supply of her Toaster strudels because if she gets hungry she will make an entire box or two before she remembers she made them and eating only two of them. I make sure the rest of the coffee is gone because she will drink an entire pot dry simply because she doesn’t remember ever having coffee so always assumes she’s on her first cup. I make sure she takes her pills without doubling up because she will raid the next day from her blister pack because she didn’t remember taking her pills and will want to take them again.
Most days, she’s calm but there are days (which have been more frequent) where she gets agitated and takes off in the middle of the work day.
After work, I cook supper, do a bit of clean up where she helps (I used to cook and her clean, but she forgets she needs to use dish soap or will forget a critical step, like rinsing, so I have to make sure we work together to get clean dishes!). We watch the news, Murder She Wrote, it’s then time for her bedtime pills so I find something peaceful on Youtube to relax us both and then it’s time for bed at 10pm.
If I’m lucky and she’s not agitated that day, that is, which has been happening more often after sundown (in something called, you guessed it, sundowning) where she is determined to go find my grandfather who has been dead since 2010, or her own parents, or someone else because she’s positive they called her or talked to her, or something, and need her to drive to (the location varies) to pick them up and will refuse to go to bed. Even after she goes to bed, she will be up and down a bit like a yo-yo until exhaustion catches up to her, usually around 1am.
And no, even on nights like those, she isn’t sleeping in. We will still be up at 5 or 6am and its like someone hit the reset button but she can’t figure out why she’s so tired because she remembers nothing of the previous day.
Now, balance this with a full-time career, no home care, no respite, no help of any kind… for over two years.
A full-time job and full-time caregiving, with little to no sleep, will catch up on a young person. I am in my forties, and my health has been somewhat problematic for years.
And it started to catch up with me.
I had been feeling rundown and done for months, but the pressure of keeping the bills paid and Gramma safe made me ignore the warning signs. My resting heart rate, monitored by a Fitbit, started to raise ever so slowly from a still not great number to higher, and higher until it was over 100. My blood pressure, also monitored by the watch, rose slowly from the healthy number it had into hypertension, and then a little past it.
The next warning sign was the sore left arm, but I foolishly ignored that too thinking it was simply muscular because I had been working out and I could feel the knot in the back.
And then I couldn’t feel my fingers in my left hand and I started to feel particularly unwell with the pain shooting up my neck and the Fitbit, for the first time since I’ve ever had a Fitbit, alarmed as, while I was sitting at work my resting heart rate soared to over 120.
After a few visits to the local hospital and a clinic, thinking it was anxiety. I mean, with everything and me only in my 40s, why wouldn’t it be only anxiety (okay, there is no such thing as “only anxiety”) The diagnosis was, anxiety because the next thing it could have been would have been a worst-case scenario, and with my family history (my grandfather had his first heart attack when he was in his late forties, and our lifestyles kind of match… and my Uncle Steve died at 62 of a stroke. We won’t get into the near misses that didn’t kill a family member before 60) I should have paid far more attention but like the two I mentioned, I ignored it.
What finally convinced me to go and see was the fact that I couldn’t handle the pressure anymore. What caught something before it was “worst case” was the data captured by the Fitbit. Thanks to that, while it’s “only anxiety” still, for preventative measures I am on the DASH diet, on light duty only at home (no housework allowed but for making toast, and no work period until the doctor clears me), and told to put my feet up and, as one of my colleagues at work told me, “Fill your cup before you try emptying it again.”
Actually, her exact words were, “Can’t pour from an empty cup” but the analogy still stands. Okay, T, consider my arse kicked. I get it. I’m taking your advice.
I will be back once I fill my cup again. It may mean that some of my books will be, yet again, delayed while I rest, recuperate, and come back but this time with the help in the home and with other aspects of life that I must accept I need.
Long story short – don’t ignore warning signs, especially if you have an early warning system like a smartwatch with that ability. In fact, if not for the said smartwatch, we still wouldn’t know about the possible other issues past the anxiety attack. Get one. Doesn’t have to be something expensive, or even new, but get one.