Magic Words Of Care

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September 14, 2009 by David Gillaspie



What could make you step forward and volunteer as a family caregiver?  If you look only within yourself you might come up short; there’s always someone who can do it better than you.  No one will ever volunteer you since that’s asking more than they can do, or are willing to do.

A caregiver offered a few words at DG’s B&B:

“It’s different than being a foster parent, though I’ve never been one.  A foster kid will grow up.  They might even show a sign that they benefited from your efforts.  They might rob you and burn down your house to cover up the robbery, but that’s the chances you take.  Use your best judgment and find the right kid.

A family caregiver knows who they’ll be spending time with, that’s the family part of family caregiver.  You may or may not like them, but something compels you to do it.  At least the foster kid is a stranger and you can cut them some slack for behavior you’ll want to change (robbery and arson.)

A family member has a track record.  Most likely you’ve been riding the ups and downs with them all your life, or at least heard about them from other family members.  Being a family caregiver isn’t about doing the right thing; it’s more of doing the wrong thing if you don’t volunteer when you know you’ll make the biggest difference in their life, and in the lives of those who care about them.

What sort of words can force your hand; can make you change your life for the sake of another?  You know how it will end.  Maybe you’ve seen another family member left to ‘professional’ care.

Ask yourself what you’d do if you heard an elderly family member living in assisted living say, “I’m afraid to go to sleep because I don’t know where I’ll wake up.”

My father in law went from assisted living to the hospital after a food preparation mistake.  His Parkinson’s required blended food and thickened liquids.  The disease makes swallowing a chore.  The tremors you see in Parkinson’s aren’t just in the hands.  Their whole body is shaking inside and out, you just don’t see it all, so the swallowing muscles aren’t what they once were.

Taking chunky food down the wrong pipe is a recipe for pneumonia, which is why the old man went to the hospital.  They caught it soon enough and released him to a medical re-hab center to regain enough strength to return to his assisted living apartment.  At least that was the idea. 

Somehow ‘Grandpa’ got out of bed in re-hab and took a header.  Parkinson’s does not improve anything balance related.  The patient is the last to know.  Each step is a step closer to a fall, which is one of the main problems with Parkinson’s.  Swallowing is another.

From assisted living, to the hospital, to medical re-hab is enough to turn anyone around, let alone an old man with dementia.  It didn’t seem fair, and wasn’t.  Hearing that he was afraid to go to sleep was hard to take.  I’m sure all care facilities have patients who’ve said the same thing, or who can’t remember where they are.  It was a first for me.

Grandpa, my father in law, said enough, but it was my mother in law who sealed the deal.  She spent every day with her husband in every place he stayed.  A twelve hour day was the norm.  I asked her how she was doing one day.  Her answer: “My first husband died when he was fifty two.  It was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through.  I still think about him, but once it was over and done I had to regroup and carry on.  Every day I say good-bye to Ken feels like the day my first husband died.  It feels like he’s dying every day.”

I didn’t jump right up and volunteer.  Like a coward I waited until the last possible moment.  I waited until the doctor gave me a time frame.  Two days.  I could do some caregiving for two days.  The last time I saw Ken in the hospital made me wonder if he’d finish that day. 

He did.  He made it through the next day too.  And the next.  By then I’d made my mind up that he wouldn’t die from food preparation or falling.  I told Ken he’d have to find another way.  I think he took it as a comfort.


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