Suzanne Tabasky and her daughter Rebecca have a bond that has sustained them through much the past four years. It is one of the first things you are aware of when you meet these two remarkable women. Theirs is a story of perseverance through all obstacles as caregiver and care recipient.
It was November of 2014 that Suzanne was hospitalized having fractured both femurs from a fall in her apartment complex. Her legs were in a weakened state most of her adult life. The numbness in her legs and feet from neuropathy contributed to her legs simply giving out and thus falling. Suzanne contracted a bacterial infection and ended up needing an amputation above the knee of her right leg. There were many complications which kept her hospitalized for eleven months. She was able to return to her home in October of 2015. North Shore Elder Services started providing services for Suzanne in December of 2015.
“After eleven months in the hospital, I needed to be at home. I needed my plants. I needed my cats. These are important parts to me for living a full life. What a difference being at home has made.”
Rebecca knew bringing Suzanne home would present challenges. She also knew Suzanne would be miserable anywhere other than home. She wanted to help her mother the best she could to ensure Suzanne was able to achieve her goal of returning home. “She was so depressed. It was crushing for her. Most of her hospitalization and rehab were spent in isolation because of this drug-resistant bacteria she was fighting. It was a very institutional feel as a result. Between her family, friends, and prayer, Suzanne says she got through the depression one day at a time.
Suzanne’s health is precarious with changes that can occur hourly and certainly occur on a daily basis. She has weekly chronic urinary tract infections that are life threatening and require strong anti-biotics. “It feels like a house of cards. Anything can throw off the equilibrium.” She had kidney failure due to the effects of one of these anti-biotics and has been on dialysis for over two years. She has been in a coma more than once. The first serious incident occurred in 2012 while living in Florida. The family was told there was little chance of Suzanne surviving the episode. Becca describes her mother as having the most fragile body, but being the most resilient, feisty, and determined person she knows.
Becca cannot say enough about the incredible care Suzanne is receiving from her team of doctors, her home health aides providing 24/7 service, and from the care management and nursing teams at North Shore Elder Services coordinating the care. “There are still many complications but we have found some stability now. Having 24 hour care is critical for mom and me. We couldn’t maintain this without all the help we are getting.”
Becca is very much on 24/7 call. Suzanne marvels at her daughter’s ability to manage her own life and make her mother’s care a priority. “If I need her, she drops everything and is there for me. She is a god-send.” Suzanne is also well aware of all that Becca has given up and feels guilty for the amount of care her body demands.
Becca lives over twenty miles away from Suzanne and has a full time busy job. She is also thirty-three years of age – very young for the load of caregiving on her plate. Her siblings are there to help when they can but live long distance in states across the country. She spends a significant amount of time running back and forth to Suzanne’s home and medical appointments. Mother and daughter speak three to four times by phone each day.
“No matter how good our Aides are, there are so many medical things happening that systems can still break down. It’s a huge challenge. I am so lucky and grateful to have a great employer and a kind group of colleagues who allow me this flexibility to put my mom first. I have work I love and care about and I need in order to ground me. It is hard to carve out your own life. It’s almost impossible for me to make plans because too often there is a crisis and I have to cancel. That causes more anxiety. You give up things and lose part of yourself but you gain so much more, and that’s a deeper connection with someone.”
Becca does insist on certain things to keep herself steady. Music has always been important and she finds solace in listening to music and when possible, attending concerts. It is only in the past few months that Becca feels she has been able to step away and reflect on what has transpired the past four years. “When you’re in the middle of caregiving, you can’t stop. You can’t take care of yourself as you should. Because of everything we have gone through as a family, I have a very real fear of terrible things happening all the time and that is something I have to work on letting go.”
Both Becca and Suzanne emphasize that what they have treasured so dearly has been the kindness of people. “We have family members that step in to help. There are supportive and kind people in this building; it’s a community.” Suzanne’s own eighty-nine year old mother lives in the same complex and that adds a supportive element to grandmother, mother, and daughter. “We have experienced such compassion from our Aides and from North Shore Elder Services. We are always aware and appreciative of how so very lucky we are despite all the challenges. It could be so much worse and that’s what we remind ourselves of every day.”
Mother and daughter agree. This is what they have now so they will live in this and make the most of it and have some fun along the way. “There’s no choice but to do this.”
This bond of mutual admiration and love unites these two strong women. They are both willing to be there for one another. Particularly during the month of November as National Family Caregiver Month, we want to pay special tribute to Suzanne and Rebecca Tabasky. They are an inspiration.
If you would like to contribute to our mission, check our website at http://nselder.org/donate-2/ for how you can donate. It is with the help of donations that we can continue to provide the kind of care necessary to keep people, like Suzanne, living in the communities of their choice.