The phone rings and your whole life changes. Suddenly, you are thrust into the role of being a caregiver for a loved one. And you know NOTHING about what you need to do.
At some point in our life, we may be called upon to be a caregiver for a loved one. It may be a short-term assignment or one of a longer duration.
How do you take care of a seriously ill loved one and not have the life sucked out of you?
How do you manage what you hope will be a short-term full time job?
Caring for someone else, who has had major surgery, or a traumatically sick child can be both challenging and a full-time job. And some of us think we can just add it on top of an already full plate.
Caregiving Needs Undivided Attention
Caregiving is one of those things that needs our undivided attention.
How do you survive that stuff? How do you make it to the other side?
I don’t have all the answers, by any means. I’m not a professional caregiver; but, I recently was thrown into the job and spent the better part of 90 days giving it my best shot!
My husband, George, had a kidney transplant.
WooHoo – uh oh!
He was in the hospital initially for 5 days. In today’s world of health care, that is a long time. And he had 24 hour care.
Then he came home and it was just me, myself and I. To say that I was scared and afraid that I wasn’t up to the task is an understatement of major proportions!
7 Lessons I Learned
But I learned I could do it and I learned a few valuable lessons along the way.
Some of these I vaguely recall my girlfriends sharing with me as they recited their stories of being a caregiver. Other lessons were related to using old familiar tools in a whole new way!
And when I was overwhelmed, when all else failed – there was God.
So what did I learn? I learned these 7 lessons:
1. Say YES to Help
Lots of my friends offered assistance.
At first, I didn’t see how I could leverage those kind offers. And yes, there was a little pride involved – I was afraid I would look weak.
Accepting help is really the sign of strength!
Right after we came home from the hospital, I was stuck at home, afraid to leave even for a moment. Yet, I had some personal things I had to see to; things I needed to do to keep going. Also, I had to do some grocery shopping (that was before I discovered the grocery delivery services!!)
So, I became willing to ask some friends, if they could spend a couple hours just sitting in the house, just in case, George needed some help.
People who knew us were more than happy to help. They would sit, assure that George was ok, that he didn’t need anything and that nothing like an emergency came up.
I was able to run a few errands and take a quick guilt-free break.
Several people offered to bring meals by. While I initially felt awkward accepting the help, I did say yes. And I was extremely grateful that I did.
It took the pressure off me for a few moments and it gave us both a good meal!
2. Check for Available Resources
When we were still at the hospital, there was a resource coordinator that said our insurance company had some home health care nursing and physical therapy resources that we take take advantage of.
At first, I wasn’t certain what they would do. But, the first several weeks, they stopped a couple time a week to make certain all systems were go and that nothing that would impede his progress was going on.
Again, I was grateful that we took advantage of these services. There were a couple of things, that George wanted to do faster than was safe for his physical recovery to support. While he wouldn’t listen to me, he would listen to the medical professionals.
It saved him from trying to do something too soon and setting his recover back. It also took the pressure off me for say it was not a good idea, as he wouldn’t listen to me anyway.
I felt assured his recovery would not suffer a setback for his stubbornness and desire to be better than he was. I was grateful to that independent third party for being the voice of reason.
There were suggestions about simple things, such as exercises he could do while he was recovering. Exercises to help him retain his muscle strength, so when he was ready to be more active he would have the strength to do so.
Again, he would not listen to me; but, he did listen to the professional!
3. Get Things in Writing
As you might suspect, there were endless instructions, medications and new routines that needed to be observed, monitored and seen to.
While I had been “schooled” on much of the information prior to George leaving the hospital, it was overwhelming.
He was sleeping through much of the instruction, doing exactly what he was suppose to be doing. But, he did not hear the numerous instructions and warnings.
Fortunately, the instructions, the medications, the routines and the cautions were written. I could refer to them and George could also read them. I would have been lost without that.
4. Ask Questions
When you are thrust into the position of caregiver, there is so much rushing at you, especially, if you have never done it before.
Since the person in your care is the most important focus, when things crop up that you are uncertain about, it is important to get clarification.
There are no stupid questions, except those that did not get asked.
Sometimes the answer to a question could mean the difference between a speedy recovery and one filled with difficulty.
Questions can cover any topic and can be directed to any one in an “official” capacity. But when in doubt, the Doctor or Nurse supervising the medical care of your charge is your “go to” person.
Unless of course, it is an administrative type question best asked of the social work, coordinator or insurance company.
While there are certainly several people to potentially ask, and it could be confusing who is the right one, better to ask too many people, then not ask at all!
5. Get Your Own Rest
As I mentioned, it was all exhausting: mentally, spiritually and physically. I knew if I did not get good rest, I would be irritable, grumpy and useless.
None of those are the caregiver that he needed nor the one that I wanted to be.
It is just like on board an airplane, when the flight attendant gives you the pre-flight safety briefing and says: “put your own oxygen mask on first, before you try and help someone else.“
If I was not rested, I could not provide the required or desired care. I might miss a vital sign that could indicate a problem, until it became a significant issue.
So, I got much more rest than I usually got, and I am not very good at resting!
I called HALT (hungry, angry, lonely or tired) breaks at the first sign. Whenever I felt myself getting to be any one of those 4 things, I acted. I took care of myself.
I have never been good at doing those things, so this was even harder for me to do than I could imagine. But, it paid off.
Despite the serious circumstances, we were both in good humor and were able to laugh and giggle along the way. It was not all heavy does it!
And his recovery continued to be both speedy and without incident. We were both fortunate.
6. Use Delivery Services
We are so fortunate today. We can get almost everything delivered. You just need to discover a service that does it.
I’ve been an internet shopper for years. In fact, I don’t often step into a store these days, other than the grocery store.
While I must admit, going to the grocery store was a bit of a break during this caregiving stint, it was also something that I sometimes wished I could have done for me.
Guess what?! There are services that will do your grocery shopping for you at your favorite stores!
I had friends tell me there were delivery services, that would shop for us from the stores that we trusted, liked and used.
One day when I was getting desperate to get some heavy, bulky items, I decided to try one of these services!
I LOVE it! Yes, you do need to pay a delivery and a tip fee. Yes, you may not get the “discounted” price; but, that slight increase in the cost of what we shop for, was so worth it.
The grocery delivery service fees was worth the convenience and the time savings.
I’m hooked. I might not step into another grocery store for a long, long time.
I do miss choosing my own fresh fruits and vegetables. But, the convenience and time saving is so worth it, especially for the stressed, preoccupied caregiver!
7. Give Them Back the Responsibility for Their Own Life as Quickly as Possible
Don’t become an enabler. It would be so easy. And the consequences unpleasant. I would become a martyr and have no life of my own.
As soon as George was able to assume responsibility for himself again, I started to let him.
He became, once again, responsible for managing his medication. And given he’d had an organ transplant, there were a lot of them.
While he didn’t necessarily want to do it, at first, I insisted to assure that if I was not there, he would still be able to take care of business.
At first, he couldn’t drive. And as soon as he was able, he started driving short distances.
I was afraid of him being around people. His immune system had been suppressed to minimize the organ rejection. Part of the long term strategy of an organ transplant is to return to as normal a life as possible.
He wanted to go back out sooner than I thought was safe, so we had to compromise. And I had to listen and let go – after checking at one of his doctor appointments.
So, giving the (former) patient the freedom to make their own choices is important. It is sometimes very difficult to do, especially if you are the nurturing type or you see them making poor choices.
Just because they needed help through a tough time, does not mean they are transformed into helpless. They need to be responsible for themselves and their life, just like they had been. You need to let go.
A Final Note
So there you go – lessons that served me well during my short term stint as a Caregiver. While my husband is recovering nicely, he is still recovering.
Some days, I’m like his training wheels, there to catch him, if something goes awry.
And to remind him he is making progress, look how far you have come. And to remind him, he is not totally recovered yet!
We are fortunate, there is an end in sight for my caregiving and his recovery. Sometimes, our caregiving tasks may not have a defined duration. Yet many of these sames lessons still apply.
Caregiving is only one of the challenges we experience in life when we find ourselves in the Messy Middle. That time in life when we are crazy busy and don’t even have time to think, let along plan. Plan anything, let alone a vacation or for our retirement life.
If you’d like to talk more about anything we covered in this blog post, book a complimentary call here.
Until the next time, be good to yourself.