Caregivers Get Back More Than They Give
By Richard P. Holm, MD
It was a number of years ago and I was working in the emergency room when a severely compromised 20-year-old woman with cerebral palsy came in battling a lung infection. She was moderately mentally handicapped and had muscle spasticity of all her muscles which hampered her ability to cough and clean out her lungs. This was not her first time with pneumonia, and it wouldn’t be her last. What was most remarkable about her situation was the love and support she had from her entire family, not just mom and dad. Her three siblings were also part of this wonderful caregiving team. They joked with her, encouraged her, reassured her, and loved her. It was beautiful to see. The story turns sad as eventually, months later, the patient succumbed to an infection despite aggressive treatment. However, the compassion and joy I saw that day, like rays of light emanating out of her caregivers, left me happy inside.
Caregivers come in all shapes and sizes and from all walks of life: male and female, spouse, adult child, parent, grandparent, friend, or hired assistant. They can provide care at home, in assisted living centers, in nursing homes, or in some other institution. They might be doing this job out of obligation, duty, financial responsibility, love, compassion, or sometimes as a job for pay. Many people develop the need for a caregiver after trauma, illness, stroke, or after reaching advanced age. Others require help from birth. The needs of the compromised individual can also vary. Sometimes they require a lot of help with everyday activities, including bowel and bladder care or even help with feeding and hydrating. Sometimes the person only needs someone to check in on them every day or give them a kind word every once in a while.
After my Dad died, I found myself calling my mom for about five minutes every morning while I was on the way to work. I know she cherished these short, pleasant conversations. After several years of this, when a stroke took this pleasure away, I came to realize how much I grew from and enjoyed those daily conversations. It had been a mutual gift we were giving each other.
The following lessons for caregivers might be helpful:
1. Practice listening
2. Be kind, honest, and respect your patient’s choices as much as possible
3. Seek alternatives if you’re feeling burned out
4. Realize the value you receive by the giving of yourself
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