Last week’s episode of ABC’s Speechless was titled S-I-C-SICK DAY. Common illness that tends to run through a family was the challenge in this week’s episode. Common illness is a challenge for many individuals with disabilities and their caregivers.
Before discussing common illness, I do want to point out the opening scene. I really appreciate Speechless showing Maya (mom) do stretching exercises with her son, JJ. Stretching is part of the daily routine for people with cerebral palsy. Stretching is important to maintain range of motion and prevent surgeries down the road. It also helps with pain control.
During the stretching exercises in the episode of Speechless, Ray (JJ’s Caregiver) walks in and sneezes. The entire family goes crazy and Maya lectures Ray on the proper way to sneeze. Jimmy (dad) explains the family’s perceived overreaction, he points out that it takes JJ much longer to recover from illness. This is definitely true in my life. When I was 10, I started out with a virus. Despite my mom’s nursing, I did not get any better. I went to the doctor and from his office was admitted to the hospital for week’s stay. I missed quite a bit of school. Common illness is a normal part of life. However, for an individual with a disability it can turn into something much more serious.
Maya (mom) was the first to become ill. She still attempted to carry on her routine, but finally handed over the reins to Jimmy (dad). Unlike the DiMeo family in Speechless, this is not a luxury for many caregivers. Divorce rates of couples who have a special needs child is between 80-90%. Most single parents of a special needs child do not have the option to simply “hand over the reins”. Last year, my van lift died and I was stranded outside in low temperatures for a few hours, as a small army of friends came to the rescue and got me home. The next morning, I woke up sick. My mom is, and at that time was, my main caregiver. She also became sick. Every day she still had to come in and take care of me. Unlike the DiMeo’s, who felt better within a day, we were sick for a couple of months. I would feel better and my mom would be sick, then she would feel better and I would be sick. I got to just be sick and be taken care of. My mom, on the other hand, had to work throughout the time she was sick, taking care of me. I believe this is more likely the case than not for single parents of children and adult children with disabilities.
In this Speechless episode, Maya gave her husband a list on a sticky note with her “to-do” list for the day, before she went to bed for the day. At dinner, he talked about how easy the list was with his children. He swore them to secrecy, so Maya would feel important. Of course, this did not remain a secret and then she handed him the “real list”. The real list was pages of to-dos. As she was listing off her normal to-dos, Jimmy was clueless as to what they even meant. As in Speechless, many families with children with disabilities have one parent work as the other parent attends to the child’s needs. Both roles are valuable and stressful. When my parents were married, my mom did most of my caregiving. She went to all my therapies, doctor appointments and was there for my hospital stays. My dad did help with some of my cares and was able to come to some of my appointments, but spent most of his time working to support us. After my parents divorced, I tried having other caregivers do the majority of my care. After a bad caregiver experience, my mom and I decided to have her be my full-time caregiver (with the help of part-time caregivers). When I was school-aged, my mom got a break when I was in school. Now, if she is sick she does not have that time off, unless one of my other caregivers can cover. I bet she would be so happy to be able to hand over even a revised to-do list when she is sick, like Maya was able to do in Speechless.
After last winter, we are more diligent about staying away from illness. I take Zinc every day to help with that. So far, other than a cold for a few days, I have been healthy. My mom, luckily, has been healthy this winter as well. As pointed out in Speechless, it is important to keep your distance from an individual with disabilities when you are ill. If you know a family with a disabled member, try to help them out when illness strikes their home. When the disabled family member is sick, offer to make a meal or run errands, so the caregiver can focus on the extra needs of the sick family member. If it is the caregiver who is sick, offer to sit with the disabled family member for a few hours so the caregiver can get some rest. Offer to run to the store of any medications or groceries needed. A kind gesture during this time goes a long way!
Speechless did it again! Another great episode where challenges of the disabled and their family were showcased in an entertaining and humorous light. My only critisim is the fact that JJ did not get sick. Individuals with disabilities rarely escape sickness in a sick household. This can put even a greater burden on a sick caregiver.
atch the latest episode of Speechless tonight on ABC at 8:30/7:30c.
Until next time, Keep Rollin’ and Keep Smilin’! Most of all Keep Healthy!
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