And I drank some harder stuff too...

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.

The result

She's gone country (yes, that's me, picking pears)!

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?

28 thoughts on “Taking a Vacation from Caretaking”

  1. I share your anxiety about traveling away from my furry people. When I fly for a vacation and don’t take them, I experience near-panic during the days leading up to the trip thinking of everything that COULD go wrong. So we try, as much as possible, to find amazing vacation spots within driving distance–and to camp, rather than staying somewhere the pups can’t follow.

    That said, I have to admit a unique sensation of relief when I take a dog-free vacation. No hot paws scratching up my lap as Fozzie tries to ride shotgun, no worries about the car being too hot, no breaking up snarlfits or scuffs, I can go into any store. It’s a great feeling every once in a while, and makes the pre-vacation anxiety almost worth it!

    1. It’s always comforting to know that I’m not the only anxietyp-ridden dog guardian — and not the only one who’ll admit to relief in taking a doggie break!

  2. We’ve only taken Our Best Friend with us once, but he’s not “special needs” and we don’t have to worry about diabetic coma if a mistake is made. Still, our sitter reports that he doesn’t eat much the first few days we’re gone, which makes me feel bad. Not bad enough to stay home, mind you.

    This post is just as true, by the way, for mothers of small children who never get a break, or grown children taking care of elderly parents. It’s a very real problem for many people– respite care does not come cheap or easy. The Spouse and I planned a two-night getaway last year, and my Youngest was so upset she spiked a psychosomatic fever and the trip got cancelled. I don’t know anyone who isn’t overworked and totally stressed. We all need a vacation from our responsibilities from time to time!

    1. Yes, I’d imagine it’s equally difficult with small children — except that they grow up, eventually, whereas dogs don’t. And in that respect it’s more akin to taking care of elderly parents. In fact, I was thinking about the title and of this post and decided to take out “pet” because being a caretaker is difficult, no matter what. The only difference, as I say, is that people who don’t have pets don’t understand that dealing with a chronically ill pet is as stressful as other caretaking situations.

  3. This is such a big surprise, and what great news. We are cheering for you. You did it. Guilt, Control and Denial: take that, slam dunk! You prepared it so well with Frankie’s insulin in slightly lower doses. Great idea. nothing could possibly go wrong.
    Would have loved to see your reunion!

    Maybe you can remember, but I left Viva alone for two days a while ago and it went so much better than expected as well. Of course we don’t need a sitter and Cushing’s is so much easier to manage than diabetes. But in my head I made all the excuses needed not to go. Well, Viva proved me wrong and I even think it is a good experience for her to spent a couple of days away from me. Since that first time I traveled a couple of more times, and convinced she was in good hands, I already worried a lot less.

    We’ll beat the worry as well. You will too. Lets enjoy this victory first.

    1. Thanks for the encouragement! I do recall that you were worried about leaving Viva “alone” (ahem) — but of course you are subject to many of the same syndromes as I am so I can only make fun of you while making equal fun of myself.

  4. I have to admit that I always sleep so much better when I don’t have a 68-pound greyhound hogging the bed. So glad that we could escape to somewhat cooler climes and sample the grapes of the region. Since Jett was at Greyt Escape (a greyhound resort), I had no worries. He loves it there to be pampered by Michelle & Brian and hang with all his hound buddies.

  5. I’m so glad that you were able to take a break and relax! It’s important to take time for yourself as a caretaker – both you and your patient will end up happier. 🙂

    1. Thanks! And I hear — saw — you had a terrific time at BlogPaws… Glad you were able to make it, and make it back!

  6. So happy to hear about your trip. It sounded fun (and hopefully lucrative as well).

    One reason I was set on starting with a puppy this time was because I spent the previous 5 years caring for 3 different elderly and ill dogs. And the past twenty years I’ve shared responsibility for a bipolar family member who needed a great day of support. Yes, any type of caretaking is exhausting. And having guilt attacks at getting a break doesn’t help anyone, does it?

    It sounds like you have a great petsitter in Gabe. I think that’s the real key to being able to leave your precious friend behind–having a good person to leave him with.

    And don’t forget the possibility that Frankie might become more used to being left with a stranger if it wasn’t such an uncommon occurrence. Just a thought…

    1. Frankie divides the universe of people into two parts — Edie and Not Edie. He has known many of the Not Edies — including Gabe, and Rebecca, the woman who rescued him — for years and it makes no difference. He refuses to acknowledge their familiarity if I am not home. If I am, he is ever hopeful that they will feed him and sits by them looking eager, though they could be strangers and it would make no difference; they are simply Possible Food Providers Who Know Edie.

      My friends find this rather insulting.

      I’m glad Honey has brought puppyhood joy to you — especially since you are still experiencing other types of caretaking stress. I have been following her adventures at BlogPaws with interest, even though I don’t always comment on them.

  7. A couple years ago I canceled a trip to WA state to visit a cousin because of the dogs! I just couldn’t imagine someone here while I was gone and them being OK. With 15-17 at a time, the logistics are not in taking someone along but in finding someone to come in, feed, watch the youngsters vs the smalls vs the oldies/fragiles (though, my oldie fragiles are not unlike geriatric people with minds and voice of their own!) and be able to PAY for it. I do have vacation time coming up in three weeks. I do want to go home to SD sans dogs. Sigh. Suck it up and start calling…

    1. Roberta, you have a rescue, not personal dogs, so you should be able to get volunteers to hold down the fort while you’re away, no? What part of Missouri are you in? Maybe if I post it here and on Facebook and Twitter we can help you have a vacation!

  8. When we just had two dogs, we used to take them with us. It isn’t as much of a vacation as one might think. Trying to get away from your responsibilities, doesn’t happen when you take the dogs with you!!

    Now, with 6 dogs, it is out of the question. I think both my husband and I are in dire need of a vacation, but boarding is just out of our price range and honestly I don’t know that I could do it. Leaving for part of the day is about as much I can handle worry free and it is always good to get home.

    I agree with everything that you’ve said and understand where you are coming from. I am so glad you were able to get away for a few days and were around pet people who understood your concerns. I understand all too well the need for a break. 🙂

    1. You bring up a great point — that pet travel isn’t always as relaxing as people tend to think. It’s a tradeoff from the stress of leaving your dogs behind in many cates.

      What about getting someone to stay with your dogs — it’s probably cheaper than boarding and less stressful on them, as they’ll be in a familiar place? It definitely sounds like you need a break!

  9. I’m so glad that you got to have a little vaycay! Having a mental health break is so important, it gives you a fresh outlook on things. And Frankie surprised you! He did okay and didn’t hold a grudge when you got back.

  10. Your points are well-taken, Edie. Caring for a pet is a lot of responsibility, doubly so when the pet has chronic health issues. I’m so glad you were able to get away for a little while and relax (or at least sort of relax!) I love the photo of you picking pears. It sounds like a lot of fun.

    We missed you at BlogPaws but with Irene deciding to be a party crasher, many of us either left the conference early or had to stay an extra day or two. So, perhaps it worked out for the best for you after all. I had a blast there but was glad to get home to my four-legged kids too.

    1. It was fun, Lorie, and I appreciate getting the vet’s seal of approval for taking time off! 😉 I’m sorry I didn’t get to see you and the rest of my pals from previous Blogpaws — and from blogs I’ve come to know since — but pear-picking and wine drinking was just what I needed!

  11. Hi Edie! I can totally relate, especially as I am about to leave Jasmine for a week and am totally stressing about it, although I stressed about taking trips even before she was a diabetic.

    The first time I went on away on holidays after Jasmine came into my life, I was so worried about leaving her I only ended up going away for three days, and that was during her pre-diabetic days! I worried the whole time, and fully expected her to have missed me equally, and that on my return she would make such a ruckus the whole neighbourhood would know I had returned – after all this is how I’m usually greeted on coming home after a normal day at work. I pulled up in the driveway post holiday and waited for my usual song-and-dance greeting times three (the number of days I’d been gone), and…nothing! Jasmine didn’t even come out to acknowledge my return. I had to go find her (she was in her bed under the house), and even then she could barely bother to lift her head to see I was there. Dogs, the greatest ego deflaters of all time! It took her a good week to get over it, and I have since holidayed many times, and she has been fine with it – I guess she figured out I always come back eventually.

    Since her diabetes diagnosis, however, I have been far less fine with going away. About a year after finding out Jasmine was diabetic I had to go on a trip for a week that I couldn’t get out of. To make matters worse, I was staying a 4 1/2 hour drive away in the middle of nowhere – there was no mobile phone reception, and I had no access to a computer to keep in touch by email. The people I was staying with were lovely and had a landline phone I could have used, but I did not want to abuse their hospitality by running up their phone bill with long distance calls, and restricted myself to a single call midstay.

    It was the longest week of my life, but it was also probably the best thing that could have happened. It forced me to trust someone else to learn how to give Jasmine her insulin, and luckily I had a family member who was willing, even if only out of necessity, to learn. It all went smoothly, and I now have a back up should I get hit by a bus, trip down the stairs, or some other scenario that I used to stress about as to what would happen with Jas if I was laid up in hospital or worse (I know – I need a better hobby don’t I?). It has also given me the confidence to go away on holiday several times since then, hence the planned trip next week, although this time it is different as Jasmine has had some hypoglycaemic episodes recently (previously she has never had any). The episodes were out of the blue (the first within days of having a blood glucose curve done that suggested her insulin dose was spot on), and it is suspected that the Caninsulin may be the problem. However with my going away it was decided that it is not the time to be changing to a different insulin product, so this has been put off until I return. In the meantime I know I will be worried the whole time if Jasmine’s carer will be able to pick up on the early signs should Jasmine be in trouble again, and be able to intervene or get help before things get really bad. I also know that most likely nothing at all will go wrong while I’m away, and all that will happen is I will not relax as much as I could have because of my stress, but hey, that’ s a typical holiday for me! I think next time I’ll just spring the extra cash to go to a dog-friendly beach house and take Jasmine along…maybe my master plan of winning the lotto so I can buy my own beach house will come to fruition by then…or what with hell freezing over if that happens there won’t be any good places to holiday anyway and I’ll just stay home… 😉

    1. Lovely to hear from you, Susanne — I often think about you and wonder how Jasmine is doing. I too went for almost three years without hypoglycemic episodes until recently and so felt pretty good about leaving Frankie with various caretakers and having them adjust the insulin on the basis of the same type of urine testing as I did. But then, when Frankie had two hypoglycemic incidents — also out of the blue — I decided to switch from Caninsulin, which was getting harder and harder and more expensive for me to get. So it’s in this stage of switching, with Frankie taking lower doses of his new insulin (Humulin), that this last trip found me — and as I wrote, three days before I left, there was a hypoglycemic episode. I’m pretty sure it was just a question of increasing Frankie’s dose too much too quickly.

      Leaving behind needles with a slightly lower dose than I thought Frankie needed worked out great. But of course I was only away for two nights…

      I hear you about switching — I resisted for about a year and now I’m sorry I didn’t try it earlier. I gather that, with a well regulated dog, the switch presents little problem except for getting the dose correct. Frankie is doing fine and — that hypoglycemic incident aside — so am I!

      If you win the lotto and buy that beach house, Frankie and I will visit you — if I can figure out how to manage to give him his insulin on a flight to Australia!

  12. I have never left my dog with someone else. I haven’t even gone without her for one night and left her in the care of my very abled husband, not once since the first week we brought her home. It’s probably time I did, for my own sake. We’ve tossed around ideas of leaving her with someone or at a kennel for a night while we take a weekend to do non-dog-friendly activities, like the amusement park that’s only three hours away. But have not yet taken the plunge. I worry that I would be so worried about her the entire time that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy myself.

    But it’s probably a good thing to do, for her and for us. One day we may not have a choice if there is an emergency and if she isn’t prepared it could be pretty bad for her. Maybe we should set up something this fall as a test run and see how things go.

    I am so glad you enjoyed your days without your normal sidekick! And I am very glad he did too. 🙂

    1. You should give it a try for a night or two, just to see how it feels — with the caveat that whoever you get to watch Shiva be tolerant of a lot of calling — or at least texting — to check in on her. I warned people who watched Frankie — which was more common before insulin injections were involved — that they are pretty much on call ;-). And I eventually calmed down and didn’t need to check in on him as often.

      I wouldn’t say Frankie enjoyed himself but he tolerated my absence. And at least he didn’t punish me like Susanne’s dog, Jasmine (see the comment below) did when she went away by pretending to ignore me!

  13. I think it was so good that you were able to take a break and enjoy it (sounded wonderful). I always think that afterwards you both benefit from the space, having said that I miss Milly and Poppet all the time I’m away and can’t wait to get back, but I’m sure they like the peace and quiet while I’m away….well that’s what I say to myself :))

    1. Ha, Cate — are you the rabble rouser in the household?! It’s funny that you should think that your absence renders your household peaceful!

  14. Its great to see sites and posts around this subject. I have family members in this situation and they tend to feel guilty when they ask for help or use Respite Care facilities. I think me showing them sites like this and that there are many others in similar situations really help.

  15. It so refreshing to see like minded people realizing how important it is to take some time out for yourself. After caring for my mother for many years, there were times when I felt so frustrated. I felt so guilty for experiencing those feelings as I love my mother dearly. After speaking to a good friend , she suggested that I take a break and get away for a few days for a bit of ‘me’ time. It was fantastic! Not only did it give me a chance to recharge my batteries but it also made me realize just how much I loved taking care of my mother and I couldn’t wait to get back to her.

    Thank you for sharing this with us.

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