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Ralph Thomas


  I never thought I would write a column about being a caretaker, but it one lives long enough it is probably inevitable, especially for a self-described wordsmith. After 79 years of being cared for by someone . . . parents, the military, wife, daughters and now, grandchildren, I have had a wake-up call.

  Often, I think we men take for granted that women are the caretakers. They seem to be born with the gene that drives them in that direction. I have watched my wife care for four daughters and a son, a husband and a mother without giving much thought to the enormity of her task. She always seemed to know what needed to be done to make certain her charges were safe, well-fed, properly groomed and well-adjusted. I was always in the picture, playing husband, dad, grandfather and son-in-law. I now realize my involvement was not heavy on the caretaker duties.

  Some time ago I observed one of my daughters who had recently married, care for a husband who required multiple hospitalizations with serious medical problems. I listened to the frustration in her voice as she told me about spending night after night in the hospital, in-home care between hospital stays and working full-time. She was exhausted. But, she cared. She was a caretaker . . . just like her mother. This was my first intimate view of the enormity of the caretaker’s task. It was also a wake-up call for me.

  Several months ago SWMBO (She Who Must Be Obeyed), better known as my wife, suffered a gall-bladder attack which resulted in a trip to the emergency room and removal of the offending organ. That was the easy part. It seems that her immune system had been compromised and the roofer’s disease made its ugly appearance. Shingles . . . the dreaded word was the furthest thing from our minds. We had seen the television commercials urging senior citizens to get a Shingles vaccination. Unfortunately, neither one of us paid much attention to what we thought was an obscure disease. In fact, we knew of only one person who had had Shingles. No big deal, right? Wrong!

  We now know Shingles is one of the most painful conditions one can have, with no permanent cure, only remission. When the doctor was asked how long the agony would last the reply was that no-one knows and, worst of all, when they do go away they can come back at any time.

  With no advanced warning, I became a caretaker. We men have a tendency to be protectors, problem-solvers and sometimes . . .   giant-slayers. But, when the caretaker genes were handed out we got short-changed. After 56 years of marriage I did what I hope all husbands would do. I cooked and cleaned, ran errands, got prescriptions for pain medications refilled and did a lot of praying. I became frustrated because I had suddenly been handed a truck-load of responsibility, but no control. I couldn’t make the pain go away. It is not easy, as many of you know, to watch a loved one suffer, not knowing when or if it will end.

  The Shingles went away after about six weeks. SWMBO is back to normal and I am a changed man. I have now come to realize two things. Everyone over age 50 should get the Shingles vaccination and if a married couple lives long enough the chances are that one of them will become a care-taker. However, I am comforted by the knowledge that God never allows a burden to come our way unless he gives us the strength to handle it.  I now have a new appreciation of what it means to be a care-taker.


  Ralph Thomas is a Locust Grove resident and the author of Doing Great, but Getting Better and Getting Old Can be Fun.




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