Gift givers: Caring for Kay keeps sisters busy

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 26, 2009

Cathy Metcalf remembers receiving a job from her mother at a young age, and she hasn’t ceased work yet.

“Dad and mom instilled in me when we were little that I was to take care of Kay,” Metcalf said. “I feel responsible for her.”

Kay Hawkes, 55, is the baby of her family. Metcalf, 62, is the eldest.

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In between fall a brother and sister, Charlette Watson. And with mom and dad now gone, it’s Metcalf and Watson who care for their sister.

Kay suffered from seizures as a young child. The doctors now can point to seizure damage in her brain.

Her condition landed her in special education classes, where she didn’t get the instruction her sisters think she deserved.

Still, by age 20 Kay was ready to tackle life. She’d missed out on a high school diploma like her other siblings had, so she went back to school. By age 24 she earned a degree, Watson said.

“She was so proud of herself because she’d done it,” Watson said. “Mom always said to her, you just have to take what life gives you.”

At age 31, Kay was leaving her house headed to a church function when a truck driving on U.S. 84 smashed into her vehicle.

The damage was severe and the end result, after eight hours of surgery, left Kay without a baseball-sized portion of her brain, her sisters said.

“There was 1 chance in a 100 that she would survive to even be a vegetable,” Metcalfe said. “Mom said, ‘I want my one chance. I believe in God, and I don’t believe he’ll let me lose my baby.’”

Today, Kay walks, talks and has clear vision and hearing — things the doctors said would never happen. She even cleans her own house with a bit of sisterly arm-twisting, sometimes.

But she can’t be left alone. Kay will eat without ceasing if given the opportunity. She will wander away from the house. And she can be violent, her sisters said.

So Watson and Metcalfe have devoted their lives to caring for Kay.

They split duties, and one sister or the other is at Kay’s house nearly every hour of the day. A paid sitter comes between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., but even then, Metcalfe is only a few steps away.

Metcalfe lives across the street from Kay, who lives in the house her parents owned in Vidalia. Watson lives just a few streets away. Both ladies have husbands who work so they don’t have to, allowing time to care for Kay.

They use video surveillance to cover the few minutes of the day that they step away.

“Our life is not our own,” Metcalfe said.

But the sisters want to provide Kay with the best life possible, and they don’t think a nursing home is right for her.

“Even when she was little, I’d rock her,” Metcalfe said. “Momma made sure we took care of her.”

The sisters’ mother died in 2003, their father in 2006. But they’ve been the primary caregivers for Kay for approximately 15 years, they said.

Kay receives disability and Social Security, has some money from her parents and some remaining funds obtained through a lawsuit after her accident.

The family handles the other costs.

The situation is difficult all the time, Metcalf and Watson said. But they simply can’t imagine handling things any other way.