A Creative Contribution from…

Claire Boylan —a former “sandwich generation” caregiver in Westchester County, NY who shared caregiving responsibilities (with her brother and aunts) for her mother, who had multi-infarct dementia, while she and her husband were also raising their own children. The experience of constantly being pulled between her role as a daughter and her responsibilities to her mother made such an impression on Boylan that she wrote a play about it called “Which Way to Turn.” In the following scene that illustrates the dilemma of the sandwich generation, a young couple, Kate and Michael, are attending their daughter Elaine’s softball game and talking with Kate’s friend, Susie, about their situation. “I hope, when reading it, caregivers can take comfort in the fact that others have stood in their shoes,” notes Boylan.

Kate Michael, who are we playing today?
Michael Hey, you made it! Brewster. We’re leading four to nothing. It’s the bottom of the third.
Kate
Mike, what are they feeding those girls up there?  They’re huge!
Michael
The third baseman has a tattoo on her arm!
Kate Hi Susie!  (She gets up and sits next to her friend.)
Susie
Katie, I was hoping you’d be here!
Kate
Yeah, I’m off tonight.  God, between work and driving back and forth to my aunts’ house, I don’t know whether I’m coming or going!
Susie
Oh, you had your Mom this week?
Kate
Yeah, I just dropped her off with her sisters.
Susie
How’s it going?  Is it really Alzheimer’s?
Kate
Our doctor called it “multi-infarct dementia.”  The MRI showed that she’s been having mini-strokes for quite some time now.  And each one causes a lack of oxygen to the brain, which results in memory loss.
Susie
Can they do anything for her?
Michael
Kate, Elaine’s up!
Kate
Come on, Elaine, you can do it!
Susie
Good eye!
Kate
Well, Dr. Shapiro put her on a new medication that’s supposed to slow down the memory loss, but I don’t think it’s helping.  (Shouting to Elaine)  Way to go, Elaine!  A walk is as good as a hit.
Michael
Whoah!  Bases loaded.  Tina’s up.  Not too much pressure!
Kate
Susie, I work with the elderly, and I hate to say this, but dementia is dementia.  The causes may be different, but the symptoms are pretty much the same, and so is the outcome, unfortunately.  (Kate, Michael, and Susie all stand up, clapping and cheering.)
Susie
Yeah, that’s what we like!
Michael
Go, Tina!  (And they sit down again.)
Kate
And Susie, I am so mad at myself for not seeing this coming.  I’m a nurse for God’s sake!  I recognized the symptoms and I knew something was wrong, but I never saw any of it objectively.  It’s not supposed to happen to your mother!
Susie
Kate, you’re only human.
Kate
Last Saturday morning, I was helping Mom get dressed. We were all going to Meg’s game but I made Mike go ahead because my Mom was taking so long.  After her shower, I had her outfit laid out on the bed,but she had so much trouble getting her clothes on.
Susie
Oh, Katie.
Kate
And she has a hard time expressing herself.  She knows what she wants to say but can’t find the words.  And she gets so frustrated by it.  You can’t tell me that she doesn’t know what’s happening to her.  Mom says to me, “Oh, Katie, you know what I mean, I just can’t think of the name of it!”  She’s breaking my heart!
Susie
How does she do when she’s in her own house?  Can she manage alone?
Kate
That’s the big question.  So far, she’s been okay, but I think it’s only a matter of time before she forgets to turn the stove off, or leaves the door unlocked, or something.  Marty and I are really worried about her.
Susie
Has Marty sold the house yet?  (Susie, Kate and Michael jump up, clapping and cheering.)
Kate
Mike, can you believe that catch?
Michael
That’s our girl!
Kate
No, but it shouldn’t take too long.  I’m just concerned that when Mom moves up here, and she’s away from her familiar surroundings, her memory will get even worse.  That’s the way it usually goes with dementia patients.  God, if this is the window to old age, just throw me out now!
Susie
And if you let her continue to live in her own home, any number of things could go wrong.  She wouldn’t be safe.
Michael
We’re between a rock and a hard place.
Kate
Hey Susie, why is the Brewster coach talking to that girl in sign language?  You see that?
Susie
Oh yeah.  I never saw that before.
Kate
Maybe she’s hearing impaired.  Hey, Michael, I think the girl up at bat is hard of hearing.
Michael
Whaaat?
Kate
The coach is signing to her.
Michael
She’s not deaf, Katie.  Coaches often use hand signals with their players.
Kate
I thought only pitchers and catchers did that.
Michael
No, Katie.  (Kate and Susie look at each other and burst out laughing.)
Kate
Oh, God, I’m an idiot!  Now what was I saying?  Oh yeah, in the meantime, we’re shuffling poor Mom from one place to the next.  Marty takes her for a weekend here and there.  We have her here.  Last weekend Mike took Mom and the kids to a Yankee game.  My aunts are very good about taking her, too, but I can see that it upsets them to see the changes in her.  And let’s face it, Mom’s a lot of work.
Michael
Come on!  She was out at third!  Are you kidding me?
Susie
How are Elaine and Megan reacting to all this?
Kate
I’m ashamed to admit it but I think they’re getting tired of sharing my attention with Grandma.  And last Saturday, Elaine was kind of irritated with me.
Michael
Susie, Courtney’s up!
Susie
Come on, Courtney!  Show them what you can do!
Kate
Courtney’s been hitting well this year.
Susie
Yes, she has.  So why was Elaine upset?  What happened?
Kate
(Lowering her voice) Remember I told you that I was late getting to Meg’s game?  We were sitting there and Mike said to me, “Where’s Elaine?”  Susie, my heart flipped over in my chest.  I completely forgot to pick her up after her practice. I jumped in the car and flew over to the field, and there was nobody there.  I thought I’d have a heart attack.  It turned out she got a ride home with Lindsay’s dad, but I felt terrible.  It was the first time I ever, ever, forgot to pick up one of my kids. And of course, Michael said it was because I was too involved with my mother.
Susie
Way to go, Courtney!  That’s because you’re a responsible person and you’re just trying to take care of everybody!
Kate
But Mike thinks I’m being stretched too thin.  And he’s right. When I’m with my Mom, I’m thinking about my kids.  And  when I’m here, I’m worrying about my mother.  Sometimes I don’t know which way to turn.
Susie
Kate, you’re doing the best you can.
Kate
Thanks for listening, Suse.  I haven’t been much fun lately,have I?
Susie
Kate, you’re always fun.  But don’t worry so much.  Just try to relax and enjoy the game.
Kate
You’re right.  (Turning to Michael)  Hey, Mike, what’s the score


Claire Boylan©
September 24, 2007