Meg Clemens speaks in exact dates. Not just when discussing landmark occasions — like April 23, 1983, the day she married Jim Clemens — but in reference to all big events.
So she knows that it was March 5, 1995, when Jim got his first job in a repair shop as a master automobile technician. Jan. 3, 2004, when he was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson's disease at age 54. Oct. 13, 2006, when he lost his job because the Parkinson's was hindering his work.
Keeping track of dates, she said, is part of what a caregiver does.
"I'm very organized, thank goodness, because if I didn't do this it would be a disaster," said Meg, 61.
Meg has worked at the University of Minnesota for 35 years. She has also spent much of the past 26 years caregiving, beginning with her father-in-law — who started kidney dialysis on March 3, 1990, and died six years later — and his wife, who died three years after that.
"My mom didn't think I could do anything until she saw what I did with [her in-laws] Art and Margaret," Meg said. "Then she believed me. I had to do laundry, the wash, the bills, the grocery shopping, the errands. I did everything."
Now she's her husband's caregiver, meticulous about paperwork and forms and proper legal steps. She obtained a power of attorney, is conducting a "spend down" of assets so Jim can qualify for Medicaid, and has prepaid for Jim's funeral and burial plot.
"Part of caregiving is being very organized and doing all this stuff," Meg said. "He's darned lucky he's got me."
Jim still runs and exercises. A device implanted in his brain emits electrical pulses that minimize Parkinson's characteristic involuntary movements, reducing them to a barely noticeable tremor in his hands. Aside from his voice, which is whispery due to the Parkinson's, you might not know he had the disease.
But Meg said his condition is deteriorating. A test last year diagnosed Jim with mild cognitive impairment. He wandered from the house a couple of times last fall, leaving the door open, venturing into the rain without a raincoat, getting lost and picked up by police. Meg no longer feels comfortable leaving him alone. So she placed him in an adult day program.
On evenings and weekends, Meg stays at their home in Plymouth except on the rare occasions when she can arrange for a family member to look after Jim. They have two children, one in California and the other in Waconia with four kids of his own.
"Those kids are good kids, I just don't get much help from them," she said.
The one thing she does on her own, for fun, is participate in a monthly book club.
"Caregiving — that's my life," Meg said. "Do I deserve a vacation for how hard I work? I think I deserve it more than anybody, but I don't have the money or the opportunity."
She is considering putting Jim's name on waiting lists at nursing homes. If Jim lived in a home, she could visit him frequently but have evenings and weekends to herself.
"I'd have a life," she said.