It’s common knowledge that caretakers need to take care of themselves if they don’t want to get burned out. This includes taking a break from caretaking. But knowing and doing are two very different things.
Why Caretakers Have Such a Hard Time Taking a Vacation
I can’t speak for others, but here’s why I have a tough time taking a break from diabetic dog duty.
- Guilt. I know that Frankie is sad when I go away — his petsitters always tell me so — and that makes me feel guilty. It’s hard to see the big picture, that having a grouchy, stressed out caretaker isn’t good for Frankie either.
- Control freakishness or micromanagement tendencies. I’m convinced that I am uniquely attuned to Frankie’s dietary and insulin needs. No one else can possibly take care of him as well as I can (this may or may not be true).
- Worry. Can I really relax when I’m worrying about Frankie? Why bother trying?
- Denial. It’s hard to admit to yourself that caretaking can be difficult because that road leads to self-pity. It’s doubly difficult to admit it when the patient is nonhuman because — pet people aside — not everyone understands why you would do what you do for “just a dog.” So you have to pretend to yourself it’s no big deal.
Why Traveling with the Patient is Not a Vacation
I wrote a series of posts recently about my plane trip to San Diego with Frankie, including getting a carrier, booking a flight, etc. I was glad that it all worked out. Having Frankie with me eliminates my stress and guilt about leaving him alone.
Is it relaxing to travel with him, however?
Hell no. It’s just a different type of stress, because I don’t do the settle-in type of getaway; as a travel writer, I’m always on the go. And I still have to give Frankie his insulin shots twice a day, around 5:30am and 5:30pm, and I can’t just do that anywhere because — aside from the looking-like-a-junkie-with-needles issue — if we are not in a calm environment, Frankie won’t eat and if he doesn’t eat, I can’t give him his insulin.
Then there is the whole hating-the-car part, the… well, you get the picture. I love it on the rare occasion when I see him enjoying new things (which does not include meeting new people or dogs). But if given a choice, I would wager he would prefer to stay home — with me catering to his every need.
Contemplating the Perfect Caretaking Break
I didn’t go to the BlogPaws pet blogger’s conference because I’ve been switching Frankie’s medication and I would have been too nervous to enjoy myself, being so far away. I am very glad I didn’t go; Hurricane Irene — and the possibility I couldn’t return if I needed to — would have put me over the edge.
But I was invited to go on a wine country/U-pick press trip around Willcox, in Southern Arizona — less than two hours away from my home and for only two nights — during the same period. It seemed ideal.
I got slightly crazed when Frankie had a hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) incident on his new medication three days before I was supposed to leave. My petsitter, Gabe, is not a professional, just a friend who has stayed with Frankie before and who did fine with him. Gabe has even done urine testing, dosage adjustment… But this time the units are much smaller and I didn’t want to put someone else in the position of trying to figure out the minute adjustments — especially since I got them wrong myself.
I contemplated not going but luckily the trip was associated with an assignment that I worked hard to get. Bailing was not really an option.
So I prepared the needles with a dose slightly lower than Frankie was likely to need and measured out portions of his home cooked food in advance.
It was perfect. I drank lots of wonderful wine and ate amazing meals and picked pears and squash and tomatoes. And I was in the company of my fellow foodie and dog loving friend — and fellow blogger; see Tucson Tails and Circle of Food — Karyn Zoldan, so she both understood my concerns about Frankie and my need to leave those concerns behind.
Being able to be flexible about my time is what I loved best. I still got up early because I’m a morning person. But for two days I didn’t have to leave the bed to take care of Frankie or to take him on a beat-the-heat early walk. I could lounge around and read for half an hour. Bliss.
I didn’t leave my worries behind entirely, needless to say. When I was out of cell phone range for the good part of a day and couldn’t call Gabe to do a Frankie check, anxieties set in.
But it was all good.
When I got home, Frankie was thrilled to see me, zooming around the house like a dervish and practically biting my nose off with his kisses (he has a little snaggle tooth issue since his last dental). More to the point, I was thrilled to see him. I had a wonderful time, but I missed the little goofball, stress and all.
So.. all you pet caretakers, tell me: Have you taken enough time off from your responsibilities?