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Who Me? A Caregiver? What I did when it happened to me
No matter how often we hear stories from friends and others about the challenges of caregiving, they don't seem real until we find ourselves taking on that role. If it suddenly happens to you, here are some tips that will help.
What I did not have was personal experience. Oh my goodness! What a difference that perspective makes.
My Friend, Laura
My dear friend Laura — who has become part of my family — asked me many years ago if I would be the trustee of her estate. Of course I said, “yes.” Our busy lives ensued, but she provided relevant documents, contact lists and instructions that went into my “Laura” file. There was no reason to discuss them again since “everything was in place.”
And, one day I got “the call.” It was Life Alert telling me that Laura had fallen and paramedics were on the way. She was taken to a hospital about an hour away from my home. I was given no details and off I went to be by her side.
Although conscious, Laura had a stroke that left her with impaired speech and motion. The next few weeks were difficult, complicated and scary. My businesses came to a screeching halt and my priorities were visiting her, talking with doctors and arranging for her care.
Athletic and independent, Laura has worked hard her entire life. Although she received excellent care, she hated being in the hospital. The neurological rehab facility she moved to did not fare much better. She wanted to get home. It is one thing to understand a person’s desire to be in their own home. It was quite another thing to deal with Laura’s anxiety, impatience and determination to get to hers!
My Caregiver Reality
I felt overwhelmed and reached out to friends and colleagues for guidance and support. Laura now needed full-time care and arranging for her transition from rehab to home were confusing and nerve-wracking for me. There were so many issues to deal with — medical, physical and financial and of course emotional. On the positive side, a few of Laura’s friends were extremely helpful, as was a care manager who coordinated this transition quite smoothly.
Concurrently, I was dealing with the financial aspects of Laura’s care and life. This was new territory for me and I had so many questions and issues to figure out very quickly. Unfortunately, not everyone I dealt with shared my timetable. Needless to say, I was exceedingly grateful for those few wonderful folks who provided responsive, competent expertise.
It wasn’t until Laura was safely settled at home that I had time to feel. I was exhausted, worried and sad for my friend, whose life had changed dramatically. Now I face the ongoing responsibility for Laura’s care and well being.
Now 96 years old, Laura has had a wonderful life as a vibrant, smart, creative woman. She is gaining strength and working daily to recover. A very determined woman, Laura is doing all she can to reduce the amount of care she requires. The loss of health, independence and mobility are devastating for her, but she continues to be a fine friend and I will continue to do all that I can to see that Laura remains safe and sound.
What have I learned?
Don’t hesitate to ask for help and allow yourself to receive it. I found that many folks were more than willing to share information and to help, in big and small ways. It all matters.
Keep the lines of communication open with all medical personnel involved so you really understand what’s going on and can be realistic about what’s in store for the future.
Advocate for your loved one everywhere and with everyone – hospital, rehab facility and physical therapy, doctors and caregivers.
Be honest with yourself and your loved one about the situation and their condition, present and future.
Enlist the assistance of doctors in the event your loved one resists necessary safety precautions and medical care.
Take care of yourself – physically, emotionally, and psychologically. You must have personal resources, patience, good will and good humor in order to be present, helpful and to enjoy your time with your loved one.
Esther C. Bleuel