October 8, 2009 by David Gillaspie
We all like winners. It’s a cruel judgment on everyone else who makes an effort that we only remember winners. Do you agree? Try naming the eight guys Michael Phelps beat to the finish during his world record spree in the Beijing.
Any Olympic medal is an incredible achievement reserved for a select few, but every competitor knows in his heart of hearts that if you’re not first, then you’re last. Maybe it’s because we’re lazy, or maybe our memory only has room for a few names in obscure sports.
Family caregiving has the same standards, except in reverse, and that should change. If you’re loved one thrives under your care, then passes in peace, you’ve done what family caregivers have done for ages. You’ve shown you care.
Make one mistake that sends your loved one’s health spiraling out of control to an earlier than expected end and your name will be remembered for generations.
No one will remember those who begged off caregiving duties. The family member who lives too far away gets a pass; the one with a busy career gets a nod of approval. The family member who volunteers to caregive might be a savior, but not if they make THE mistake.
My father in law had a full schedule of bad things, as if Parkinson’s wasn’t enough. Dementia and cancer rounded out his illnesses. I brought him home when it looked like he was going to die in the hospital. His own doctors figured he was on the way out when they told me he might have two days left.
How could I go wrong? If he died a day later it wouldn’t be my fault. If he died two days later he’d be right on schedule. If, by some miracle, he died three days later, then I’ve extended his life in greater comfort than a hospital.
When the Caregiver’s Transformation hit, I was doing the right thing. I wanted my wife and kids to see how human beings cared for one another at the grassroots level; mostly for my kids. I wanted them to see that caring for a family member isn’t impossible. I wanted them to know they could step up if they ever wanted to. Hint, hint.
And I wanted my mother in law to take a break from the fourteen hour days at her husband’s side.
What is a Caregiver’s Transformation? This is when the doctors’ and nurses’ opinion carry less weight than someone administering meds on time; when the healthcare system isn’t as important as nutritious food and a steady routine; when regular exercise trumps formal therapy sessions.
The transformed family caregiver is the gold standard of the industry. They don’t hold back, or push too hard. They engage their loved ones, but don’t hold grudges. They navigate the family terrain like Lewis and Clark on their journey of discovery.
My transformation began. Any mistake I might make is better than the treatment of strangers. At least my father in law would know who screwed up, and I did. I made him understand I was the one accountable for getting him on his feet every day, that I double-checked any new meds or therapy ideas.
Every transformed caregiver knows the real key to success : If they can convince their loved one that they are the gold standard of patients, then they’ve earned their stripe.
The Parkinson’s patient is too fragile to walk, but he does.
The cancer patient needs chemo, but turns it down.
The dementia patient is lost in time, but finds his place each day.
The family caregiver shares the gold. There’s enough for everyone in the family, and if there’s caregiving going on in the house, they all earn it.
You won’t find the names of caregiver families in encyclopedias. You won’t find any podium pictures. But you will find memories bathed in reverence, and that’s hygiene we could all use.