Sandwiched.

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The time has come. My parents are getting old.  My dad is going to be 80 next year, my mom is 74 this fall.  Both have been relatively healthy except for a few issues (hypertension and type II diabetes), but that is starting to change.

For as long as I can remember, my dad has suffered with back pain.  I remember him going to chiropractor appointments weekly for what seemed like years for chronic low back pain.  He was told many years ago that there is nothing that can be done about his back pain.  Well, now he’s finally had some imaging, and we saw a surgeon today.  But, unfortunately for my dad, surgery is not an option right now. Even though he has narrowing of his spinal canal (spinal stenosis), it isn’t producing enough leg symptoms to warrant surgery.  Sure, he could have it anyway, to open the canal up, but it may make his back pain worse in the long run.   You see, surgery doesn’t help back pain, it only helps leg symptoms (pain, numbness, tingling, etc).   And in my father’s case, his back pain is far more debilitating than his leg symptoms.  I know he was relieved to hear he wasn’t a candidate for surgery, and I think he finally heard that he needs to get up off his ass and start walking more.  He used to walk all.the.time.  He was very active when I was growing up – he’d go for walks in the evening and play golf in the spring/summer.  But all that gradually changed over the past ten years or so.  As his back pain became more pronounced, so did his excuses for why he couldn’t walk.  Well, that hopefully is about to change.  He was prescribed physiotherapy and exercises to start doing at home.  Even before his appointment, he told me he realized that he’s done nothing to help himself.  I really hope this was the wake up call he so desperately needs.

Today was an eye-opener for myself as well.  It was the first medical appointment I have ever attended with my dad. I stood in the room as his daughter first, but the physician in me knew from the questioning that surgery wasn’t going to happen.  Reading the MRI report is one thing, but hearing the story from the patient, my dad, was quite another.

Back in medical school, or maybe it was residency, I can’t really recall, we learned about the sandwich generation – becoming the caregiver for your own elderly parent while being a parent to one’s own children.

A study published in 2013 found that,

  • 20 per cent: Proportion of employed women and 17 per cent of men in the large survey which are part of the sandwich generation of Canadians.
  • 40 per cent: Portion of workers in the overall survey who report high levels of overload – both at work and at home.
  • 25 to 30 per cent: Portion of caregivers who cope with the pressures of work and family by bringing work home, giving up on sleep and trimming social activities on a daily basis – a response which raises the chance of employee burnout (and grumpy workers).
  • 20 per cent: Portion of male and female employees who are caregivers who turn down promotions because their plate is too full.
  • 63 per cent: Portion of caregivers who report emotional consequences of juggling work and looking after family, which includes stress, anxiety and frustration.

Add all of the above to a caregiver (me) who is also a physician? Oy.

Are you sandwiched?  Have you any advice? I’d love to hear it.