The Friday File — Advice for Newcomers to Bi-Polar Caregiving

The caregivers of bi-polar parents that I know, and with whom I correspond, are generally helpful people. You wouldn’t know it from this blog but I do try to be helpful, considerate and enthusiastic and generous. Like any other feature of  your personality, it can be made to work against you.

This is a critical tip for newcomers which is why I am making it a stand-alone item despite being very short. I don’t want this to get lost in one of my lengthier articles.

Let us say that your bi-polar parent has been in the hospital for some reason, either for an episode, or because of a medical procedure. If the hospital calls on Friday afternoon, and says your bi-polar parent is ready to be released but you need to stay with her or him for the next 48-72 hours. Well, you have your own family, your own life and work situation.

  • The call will come from a blocked number after lunch
  • You will be presented with a statement implying your consent: ‘Your parent is ready for discharge. You’ll need to stay with your parent for 48 to 72 hours ….’

I understand if readers of this web site think I am hard-hearted but believe it or not, I do try to be a helpful soul but being the giving people we caregivers tend to be, you’ll say yes before realizing it. Look, I realize that governments need to cut back these days because times are hard and that I’m writing from the comparative luxury of a country with national medicine (sorry to our American friends) but ethically, given everything else you do, you’re allowed to use the ‘no’ word.

Practical advice:

If your bi-polar parent is in the hospital for a comparatively minor procedure, and it is Friday, expect a call from a blocked number from someone very, very, very, very well-practiced at getting you to agree to having you take your bi-polar parent into your home for observation. If you say ‘no’ the social agency officers will find a place for your parent. It may be in an irregular ward, but they’ll find a spot, don’t worry.

What are the ethics of this? Look, you are under no obligation to say yes to something astonishingly disruptive just because someone asks. Given everything else that I do, the ‘no’ word is probably one I should use more often.  I remember once I was giving a speech one evening and I got the call. They wanted to know what the speech was about and where I was giving it.

Prepare for the call on Friday afternoon. I am not you and you are not me so we’ll each handle it differently.

  1. If it’s not possible, use the ‘No’ word but be prepared to be on the phone with someone who has a lot of experience in getting you to agree. Have your answers ready. A white lie may be needed here (kids with the gastro, you’re on a trip and are already 400 km away, tell them you’re in the hospital yourself with the Lurgi, or you live in a tree.) Be warned, they’ve heard them all so have your explanation ready. Note that I say explanation and not lie. A legitimate reason to say no is exactly that.
  2. If you cannot say no, you just don’t have the personality for it, on Friday afternoon, do not answer the telephone if an unfamiliar or blocked number rings.
  3. Visit the hospital late at night after the discharge office is closed, after 8:30 p.m. is usually safe.
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