Stay Home When You Aren’t Feeling Well: A Cautionary Tale

At a recent family council meeting for my mom’s long term care home, we were told that a man had inadvertently caused an outbreak by visiting his loved one while he had the flu. Yes, he had symptoms. Yes, he wore a mask during the visit.  Quite a few residents ended up getting sick.

It’s definitely that time of year–the most vulnerable season for seniors, especially seniors in long term care homes. It was a cautionary tale, a warning and a reminder for the rest of us. Resist the temptation to visit when we feel a little off.

It made sense of course, until my sister and I, my mother’s only primary caregivers, got sick the same week. Here we were, sniffles and sore throats, low grade fevers, feeling absolutely horrible. I act as my sister’s back-up and she as mine. We don’t have a big support system. Mom has no other family or friends close by to help. 

I realized then, that husband or son may have been in the same position when they visited wearing a mask, but having symptoms. They may have felt out of options, alone, desperate to not disappoint their loved one. 

I went to bed on a Friday night, hoping that my symptoms would miraculously disappear overnight so I could do my regular visit to take mom snacks, organize her room, do her nails and spend some time just visiting. I live in another city and visit once a week. If I missed this week, there would be no visit until next weekend.

On Saturday morning, I still had some symptoms and didn’t feel back to normal.  I rationalized that I could push through the symptoms with some cold and flu medication. I could double mask. Maybe I could go for a quick visit. 

The cautionary tale kept cycling in my head. 

The guilt I felt about disappointing my mom sat heavy on my shoulder. Mom looks forward to our visits to break up the monotony. Surely I was no longer contagious. Thankfully, on my other shoulder sat the voice of reason, sounding like an experienced flight attendant. 

“Put your oxygen mask on first before helping someone else.”

In the end, I stayed home. It can sometimes feel like you have no other choice but to put the oxygen mask on someone else first. Self care is a habit that is often difficult to keep and it can feel like we are being selfish when we are caregivers.

But what happens when we run out of oxygen? It’s an analogy but a powerful one we need to remember as caregivers. 

From one caregiver to all others out there–please take care of your own health first, so you can be in the best shape to be an effective caregiver. It doesn’t feel great when you know you can’t be there in person to support a loved one, but remember that you are caring for them in the best possible way you can by keeping them safe. And by not putting the people they live most closely with at risk.

Allow yourself the latitude to adjust your caregiver expectations when needed and stay home when you aren’t feeling well. 

A regular visit is never worth the risk.

Tymbi Gonsalves, Concerned Friends Volunteer

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