Close up Hands Tea x

Sit a bit and hear some observational stories I’ve been steeping.

Patience for patients. Caregiving 101.

Nobody really likes being in a hospital, not the visitors, not the staff (and I’m going by facial expressions alone, here) and especially not the patients.  Even if they’re being attended to with the greatest of care and compassion, patients are a surly lot.  Why wouldn’t they be?  They’re not comfortable, they’re not sleeping well and they’re basically not themselves.  Come to think of it, that probably applies to the hospital staff and visitors, too.  For over a week, I stayed at the hospital with someone I love very much, watching over her at night as she fitfully slept and spent her days in full-on fret mode.  In general, this woman can be a bit prickly, but as a hospital patient — she was more than simply porcupine-like.  Incarcerated, medicated and violated (they mean well, but honestly, those 5am lab people are still vampires), she became more like one of those fish that, when they feel threatened, release venomous neurotoxins… wiping out whoever else is swimming in the tank.

This woman I speak of, who has played the role of “mother” for me since I was knee-high to a very short grasshopper, is neither my biological nor adopted maternal unit, but I couldn’t love her more than if she were related by love or law.  I’ve always said that I care for her enough to give her one of my kidneys should she need it, but I didn’t really think that she’d be admitted to the hospital for that very same organ.  Uh, hulloh?  Note to selfBe careful what you joke about.  Because, after a week of sleepless nights and some very tense and constantly-questioning/judgement-passing/you’re-doing-that-all-wrong days, I’m not gonna lie, I found myself seriously reconsidering whether one really could procure vital organs, if it came down to it, from Craigslist and an appointment in a dark downtown alley.  You see, it is one thing to cavalierly offer your body parts to someone you love when they’re healthy and happy and a whole other ball of beans when you find yourself in the role of caregiver to the cranky.  The Krav Maga* of Self-Preservation kicks in and you’re just doing what you can to remain vertical. 

Caregiving is one of the hardest jobs in the world.  I know of what I speak, because once upon a time I was the primary caregiver to my mother-in-law.  She was a brassy redhead with a sassy personality to match and when she was diagnosed with a particularly horrible illness, she was angry, hurt, frightened, depressed, defensive and oh, so much more.  It was a very long list of understandably and appropriately nasty emotions that perfectly matched what she was going through.  Sickness is for the birds and any illness, large or small, takes over more than your body – it consumes your thoughts, strangles your emotions and tortures your soul.  To be the caregiver for someone who is ill, is to stand in direct contact of the often intense nuclear emotional fallout and I can tell you from experience, you can and will get hurt.

As the odometer of life hits the middle mark, many of us find ourselves wedged between the task of taking care of the young and old all at once, but to become a caregiver in times of illness is a huge undertaking, both physically and emotionally and can leave you feeling depleted and powerless, but with the right tools caregivers can stand in a position of strength, with a satisfied heart.

10 Tips for Caregivers

  • Remember that caregiving is a job (a really, really BIG job) and respite/rest is your earned right and the thing you should reward yourself with. Often.  Even if you feel guilty, you must take time to recharge your batteries in order to go back and do your job to the best of your ability.
  • Be on the lookout for signs of depression and get counseling when you need it and quickly.  It is a slippery slope once you’re on the path to being depressed and the sooner you get help, the better you will feel.
  • When and if people offer to help, don’t be a martyr.  Go ahead and accept their offer(s) and don’t be shy about being incredibly specific about what you need them to do.
  • Educate yourself about whatever illness “your patient” is dealing with.  It can help you to communicate effectively with doctors and provide the best care possible.
  • Trust your gut.  Your instincts will usually lead you in the right direction.
  • Watch your back.  No, really.  Watch your back, as in your spine.  As caregiver you are often called upon to do a whole lotta lifting, pushing, and pulling.
  • Don’t get hung up on doing everything as caregiver.  Understand that there are technologies, ideas and tools “your patient” can and should use.
  • You can plan, but don’t plan the outcome.  When you are the primary caregiver you need to know that you have to mourn losses of your own (time, vacations, hobbies) and give yourself permission to delay certain dreams or dream new ones.
  • Seek support from other caregivers. Knowing you are not alone is a great source of not only power and strength, but gives you a sense of community and peace.
  • Stand up for your rights as a caregiver and a citizen.

While the Maternal Unit I adore is now out of the hospital and on the mend, I know that we may, at some point, come to this crossroads again and I will be called upon to don my Caregiver Cap (and epaulets, darn it – I’ve earned them).  When I do, I know there will be difficult days, but as complex and challenging as it will be — I also know there will be incredibly rewarding and delicious days, too.  It is my sincere desire that during times of medical crisis I can be of assistance to those I care for: helping to tame their wild thoughts, deal with their rollercoaster emotions and soothe their ravaged souls.  Caregiving is one of those strange and interesting gifts of love that life presents to us, because while I initially give because I care – when all is said and done… I find that ultimately I care, because I gave.

 For More Information on Caregiving

 The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” — Mahatma Ghandi

Caring for our seniors is perhaps the greatest responsibility we have. Those who walked before us have given so much and made possible the life we all enjoy.” – John Hoeven

“I attribute my success to this – I never gave or took any excuse.” — Florence Nightingale

*Krav Maga – a martial arts philosophy emphasizing threat neutralization, simultaneous defensive and offensive maneuvers, and aggression.


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