Chris from Tennessee
My name is Chris Courington. Originally from Alabama, I’ve lived in and around Nashville for the last 18 years. I work as an internal auditor for a healthcare company. My wife, Shelley, works in government relations. And, we have a sometimes adorable, sometimes insufferable six-year-old daughter, Amelia. My journey—more accurately our journey—to caregiving began unexpectedly in October 2010.
Out of the blue, my mother passed away. Over the next two years, we observed—from the distance of an eight hour drive away—my dad, Allen, struggle to keep up the old routines that he and my mom had shared for almost 50 years. In August 2012, my dad rode up to Tennessee with Shelley’s parents for Amelia’s fourth birthday. We were shocked at how much weight he had lost and at how disoriented he seemed. Surprisingly, he asked me to arrange for him to visit some independent living facilities. We found one nearby and two weeks later helped him move to his new home.
At first, things went very well. During his first year, we somehow managed to visit him almost every day, if only for a few minutes. We made it—and him—a priority.
About this time last year, we noticed changes. His gait altered; he was walking stooped over. He was more forgetful and would get confused about a variety of things. In May, he had his first serious fall. After a week-long stay in the hospital, we began a new phase for us all.
Until this first fall, he was a seventy-five-year-old man still doing push-ups! He had never taken any prescribed medications, and only visited a doctor for routine annual check-ups.
My dad, post-fall, found himself with a cardiologist, a neurologist, a general practitioner specializing in gerontology, and a few physical therapists. He began taking medications for untreated high blood pressure. The neurologist added medications to assist with the beginning stages of dementia. It was a sea change for him, and for us. We found ourselves scrambling to get him to this or that appointment or pick up a prescription.
Then, the second fall came in August. Back to the ER and a new round of visits to all of the doctors.
And, Amelia began kindergarten that same month. It was a lot to handle for two busy professionals with long commutes and out-of-town travel commitments.
But, we kept going and seemed to get back on track. At the start of November, my dad came down with a urinary tract infection that put him in the hospital for another week. Upon discharge, he was sent to a rehabilitation clinic, where he has been since. For the first month at rehab, either Shelley or I visited him every day. It was a commitment and a sacrifice, but we felt he needed us to stay anchored and to stay encouraged.
Another sacrifice came when we had to let go of Amelia’s Saturday morning dance lessons. Between doctors’ appointments, attending update meetings with rehab staff, managing his financial affairs, and somehow fitting in work and our own needs, something had to give. It may seem a small thing, but achieving balance and fairness in this journey together is tough work. I’m sure we don’t always get it right.
As for my dad, he has been a champ. Later this month, he’ll transition to a new assisted living facility near us. Upon our urging of a reevaluation by the neurologist, daddy was tentatively diagnosed with Parkinson’s, so new medication has begun to help. He’s getting stronger and looking forward to the next chapter in his life.
We’re so fortunate in many ways. We both have employers who have been sympathetic and flexible with us. My dad worked hard and saved even harder, so we haven’t had to make tough financial decisions. And, still, caregiving is tough work. There's no one-stop shop for information about existing resources, questions to ask the medical community, or even what to expect as his health declines. Better access to this will help all caregivers be more present with their loved ones and not worry about all the little things. I applaud all of you for coming together to help those of us who help others.