Demystifying Medicine One Month at a Time

Tag: caregivers

Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

From the gift that keeps on giving section, GlassHospital offers this book recommendation:

chastI ordered Roz Chast‘s latest, “Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?” for my wife, knowing that I was keen to read it.

I’ve always enjoyed Chast’s drawings in the New Yorker, and the topic of her aging parents seemed to offer something both universal and ripe for humor. When the package arrived, my wife seemed skeptical. But when I couldn’t get the book away from her, I knew we were on to something. After she finished it, I devoured it quickly.

The book is a graphic memoir. It tells the tales of her aging parents, who very much age in place—the place where Chast grew up in Brooklyn. Just going back there fills Chast with dread from the smells and feelings of her awkward youth and challenging relationships, especially with her mother.

Chast’s parents both live well into their 90s, with the attendant issues and frailties that come with old age. Chast makes no secret of her anxieties, in general or about aging, and what’s great is that she is able to poke fun at herself and see the humor (often gallows-type) in difficult family and health situations.

[Here is a superb interview of Chast from earlier this year when the book came out.]

Whether or not you have an aging parent, this is a book I highly recommend.


It was a straightforward phone message (names changed):

Hey Dr. S., this is Bobbie Jones, April Dixon’s granddaughter. I was calling to inform you that April Dixon passed away today at City Hospital. They said she was bleeding in her stomach or something; I’m not quite what sure what happened but she got real sick.

But she’s gone, so. Thanks so much. You’ve been a real neat doctor, and it’s been good working with you through the years taking care of my grandmother. Take care. Bye.

Bobbie Jones is a saint. Pure and simple. She took care of her 88 year-old grandmother with tender, loving care. I am certain if left to the vagaries of the “health care system” that her grandmother would have died at least three years ago; maybe longer.

Being there for a loved one rain or shine.

Ms. Jones will get no recognition. No income. No honors, save this blog post which she’ll never see. She will get a letter from me, expressing my condolences and appreciation for the love and care that she provided her Grandma.

She singlehandedly advocated for an octogenarian with advanced dementia and probable cancer (we were never able to get a definitive diagnosis of it) and gave her a quality of life that I would want were I in her Grandma’s shoes.

I’ve read lots of stuff about caregiver burden. As you know, our population is aging because people are living longer on average than in eras past. The implications are many, but there are couple of things I see every day that I’d like to emphasize: Patients with caregivers do much better (i.e. feel better more often and live longer), and the caregivers usually neglect their own health.

[Sometimes dangerously so. I have a couple of patients with dementia who have outlived their children, sadly.]

When you search the literature, you’ll find a lot about caregiver burden. It emphasizes baby boomers who are caring for their aging parents. If you add the term “grandchild” to caregiver, you’ll find articles mostly about grandparents raising their grandkids. But you won’t find much about grandchildren taking care of their elders.

Where we live, in the shadow of GlassHospital, this is a fairly common arrangement.

Bobbie Jones is one such grandchild. I worry about her, since she’s lost not only her dear Grandma, but the focus of her life. Her grief will no doubt be prolonged, and her “re-entry” to the job market, if it can be called that, will be difficult. What “marketable” skills does she have, save caregiving, in a society that vastly undervalues it?

With her expertise, some lucky elder will find a true blessing when Ms. Jones becomes their homemaker, home health aid, or advocate.

My thoughts and prayers are with her.

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