Hannibal's Caregiving Story

How long have you been a caregiver? Hannibal and his wife Myshell
Hannibal and his wife Myshell

I was driving home from the office in 2016 -- I was working at L.A. Care -- and a doctor from Kaiser Permanente called me and said they couldn't reach my wife. They said she had Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis, a chronic and terminal autoimmune disease that attacks the kidneys, and that she had about six months to live.

I was in the west bound exit lane of the 10 at Western, debating stopping for gas at the station there or just cutting to Adams and going home, when I heard this. There have been elements of it since that moment, since I had to go home and deliver this news. Luckily, my wife has been better prepared to fight this illness than they were at the time.

Who do you care for?

My wife Myshell, and to a greater degree in the past, my kids, especially considering emotional pitfalls and stumbling blocks that were not considerations before we all got this sword of Damocles hanging over our heads.

What are some of the things you do for them, as a caregiver?

Some days, medicine side effects mean my wife can't get out of bed due to pain or headaches or whatever. Those days, I do everything -- prepping kids for what they need to do, driving, fielding requests for the kids (both kids are SAG actors), helping with schoolwork, dealing with meals or what have you. This is on top of, oh, right, my actual day job and my burgeoning side hustle as a comic book writer (Project Wildfire #1 is in comic book stores November 24th, you can ask for it by name wherever comics are sold) and doing a bi-weekly radio show for the Boyle Heights Arts Conservatory on KQBH 101.5 FM and having friends and a life, such as it is.

What have been some of the greatest challenges in your caregiving journey?

I would set fire to a national treasure if I could add twelve hours to every day. I could get a decent amount of sleep, take care of everything everyone needs and have time to do things I've been putting off -- learning how to do a transformer scratch on my Pioneer DDJ-SB2 mixer, finish writing ideas I've had cooking for years, consider how to implement the sixteen process improvements for my actual job that have been stalled without my direct involvement. No matter what happens, time is an unforgiving enemy that always takes.

What are the most rewarding aspects of caregiving for you?

My wife is one of the most interesting, talented, hilarious, amazing people I've ever met. Every moment I can help her shine is a net benefit for me and for the world at large. Likewise, I see it as an investment in our kids -- they get to see a supportive relationship and hopefully get more time with their mother.

How do you stay connected to your personal passions and interests?

Every minute I do something for me has to be stolen from someone else. I had to accept that and not be wracked with guilt for it. All of us have to live, "everybody eats," as an acquaintance of mine is fond of saying. Back in the before (pre-pandemic) days, friends would provide support and coverage if I was at a comic book convention. I stream lots of things and no matter where I am, I have a device nearby with an app called Scrivener that I use to write and capture every little idea, whether I'm stuck waiting to get into Trader Joes or we're "just going to give everybody a few more minutes to join the Webex before we start."

How does your family recognize and thank you for being a caregiver? Should Caregivers be recognized and thanked?

I grew up with my great uncle, who said, "'should' and 'shouldn't' aren't -- you have to live in the world that 'is.'" I can't posit hypotheticals unless somebody is paying me to craft them into a narrative. Likewise, my kids ... well, they're kids. My cubicle is plastered with years' worth of expressions of affection and gratitude (or it was the last time I had to get some of the toys on my desk from the office, many months ago), and my wife has recognized me, especially in the quiet moments between things. I don't do things for secondary and tertiary rewards any more than I come to work for the coffee. I don't know if that answered the question.

What advice do you have for other caregivers?

I had to say this to some of my direct reports: when you're on an airplane, they tell you to put your mask on first if the cabin loses pressurization. If you put on the mask of someone else first, someone who can't help in return, you may just give them a chance to watch you die. We cannot care for others if we do not care for ourselves, and there is a tendency to feel guilt over "self-care." There's no care to provide if it's not in you already. That said, you can do it. If I can -- and ask many people who have to deal with me, I can be the worst -- I know you can too.