Thursday, November 13, 2014

On Being a Caregiver

Hug a dog
This has been on my mind since yesterday. I had two people in my life come to me for nothing more than to spout off on how complicated their lives had become. Because I would be a sympathetic ear. Because they both knew I was the primary care giver for my husband for 8.5 years.

Not everyone can take care of a sick person. It is not easy, and in fact will eventually harm your own health, both mentally and physically. The individual in charge of a patient's care has to be strong, have a very thick skin, and the ability to organize two lives around the illness. Or more. We didn't have kids at home during the 8 years.

So why is it that when someone is thrust into this roll, they think/feel it should be nothing more than handing out pills, taking the patient to the doctor/hospital for treatments, and maybe doing a few extra tasks if the mood suits them? You look at this as a job. It is your job to make the person you love comfortable, keep them as healthy as you and the medical profession can, and in good spirits. It's your job to buy the right food, fix it, and make sure some of it at least is consumed. It's your responsibility to get them whatever it is they need, keep them clean, hold their hand when it's needed, offer whatever you can discern they may want at that moment. Why? Because as each hour, day passes, it is less time that patient has on the face of this earth. YOU are the healthy one, they are not. Suck it up, buttercup.

Do you deserve enormous pats on the back for all of your efforts? Yep. Will you get them? Nope. Will you be the target of animosity, snide comments from other family members, blatant jealousy? Yes, you will. Hence the need for thick skin. You develop blinders, for the only focus you should have is the patient you love. And if you don't love that patient? There is a problem. There is no way in hell I could have made it through those 8.5 years if I didn't love my husband, and have a deep desire to fulfill my marriage vows -"til death do us part." Yes, that phrase was in our vows because Ken had lost his first wife to cancer. He was 39, Diane was 33 when she died. I knew when I married this man that it was very important to him to know I would be there if illness struck. And it didn't just strike, it rolled over our lives. But I was there.

Reflecting on those years I now realize that I changed. I had strength from deep inside of me that I didn't know existed, and time and time again I reached into that well and pulled it out. Very rarely did I break down, because I felt that wasn't good for Ken. However. And this is a big however, if there was a cold or flu germ within 50 miles, it found me. I became adept at keeping annoying people and their comments at arm's length, and stepping away.

My advice to anyone in this situation is to take care of yourself. If you can get some help, do so. Find something to give you a small bit of joy, if only for a few moments, every week. Daily is too much to hope for. And if you are doing the care giving for the sole reason to garner points from others, then walk away. It won't work, you may do some harm, and dude! Really?


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