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Who takes care of the caregiver?

From the Spring 2013 issue of Scrubs

I decide I can’t go with Brian and the kids to his secretary’s party. I feel too anxious, too much in my own head, to be able to make small talk with people I don’t know. As soon as they’re out of the door, I have second thoughts.

Maybe I should force myself to socialize.

Will Brian be able to handle all three kids at the same time?

It’s drizzling outside and the streets are slick. When was the last time I had the brakes checked? I think about the father and his two sons who were killed by a drunk driver on their way back from a ski trip last year. The mother and daughter had stayed home. What if…

Stop! You have precious time alone. Uninterruptible time, reading time, singing time, gardening time.

I stand immobile in front of the window. The house itself seems to be in a state of shock. What, no clamoring? No whining? No crying? In the silence, my heart pounds.

Do something! Clean the kitchen. Turn on the music.

While I wail with Chaka Khan, I fill the dishwasher, scrub the counters, and put away toys. I make beds and throw in a load of laundry. After that, I clean the kitchen floor sticky with juice and spilled pancake syrup. When Chaka has sung herself out, I vocalize with Dusty Springfield singing about “a little lovin’ early in the morning.”

Clearly, Dusty didn’t have young kids.

Singing has always been a tonic for me, a way of releasing my feelings. Suddenly, I’m aware of how much I’ve missed it.

Maybe I should join a church with black gospel singers. I’d love to let loose like that every week.

The church ladies stood in a circle around Linda St. John, a twenty-nine-year-old woman who sustained a broken femur and multiple contusions when she was hit by a truck that jumped the curb where she was waiting for the bus with her seven-year-old daughter. The little girl was thrown into the air. She died in the ambulance.

The church ladies’ hands were clasped together; their eyes were closed; their soft voices melded into a lullaby.

What a friend we have in Jesus
All our sins and grief to bear
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer.

My baby, she said, my baby’s been taken from me. Why did God take my baby from me?

How will Linda get through the day? How would I get through the day if it were my daughter?

I understand nothing about losing a child.

“We were just standing on the corner waiting for the bus. She was telling me about a boy in her class who could wiggle his ears. I said, ‘I bet you could wiggle your ears if you really put your mind to it’ and she shut her eyes to concentrate when all of a sudden I see a truck jump the sidewalk in front of us. Oh my Lord Jesus, he’s hit my baby! My baby. Help me, Jesus. But I know she’s gone. I know my baby girl is dead.”

I do not want to cry in front of a patient.

Sometimes I can distract myself but in front of Linda St. James tears stream down my face like Yosemite Falls in spring. It’s so sad I almost can’t bear it until I realize that she must bear it, not I. She must endure this sorrow while I get to go home and hear my children’s laughter and feel their kisses and hugs. Life is not fair.

Don’t go there. How about the garden? Weren’t you going to dig out that plum shrub?

I pull on my jeans and boots and walk into the drizzle.

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Laurie Barkin, RN, MS

Laurie Barkin, RN, MS, is a psychiatric nurse consultant to the University of California, San Francisco. She is the author of "The Comfort Garden: Tales from the Trauma Unit."
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