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A Family Caregiver's Story

 A very beautiful, inspirational, and educational "Family Caregiver's story":

I have had a career in nursing management for approximately 25 years. I began as a nurse at Griffin Memorial hospital and then advanced to the private sector as a staff development coordinator and direct care staff trainer at Children’s Medical Center.  Later in my career at Children’s Medical Center, I became the executive vice president of the hospital.  I eventually developed a S corporation, became an Accreditation Consultant and provided training to staff at hospitals, group homes, and residential children’s facilities to assist in JCAHO, Oklahoma State, CMS, and Counsel on Accreditation,  for upcoming  surveys, as well as writing and assisting with implementation of policies and procedures.  I served as a faculty member to first year psychiatric residents at the O.U. Medical School. In this course, I provided crisis management training, CPR, and assisted with the credentialing process for hospital privileges.

In 2002, I was in an accident that crushed my left leg and found that I would need to pursue other options in my career. I obtained a position as a Health Care Management Nurse II for the state of Oklahoma, from which I did retire in 2010 to take care of my husband.

It was very different for me having been someone who provided oversight of many different agencies providing care to others, to now become the caregiver of MY husband at our own home.  But, what a blessing to have had the experience/s that I have had to be able to provide quality care to my husband. That is not to say that this new assignment in life is not a challenge.  I know that I am not alone in this situation and I wish to share with you my husband’s story and our story with a few survival and motivational tips.

My husband is a very kind-hearted, fun loving man. He is a Marine and he may be retired from the service, but he is still and always will be a Marine, as he says “Semper-Fi”. He worked as an inspector for Oil Dynamics until the downsizing of the company. He then began to look for a new career and had a brief job as a car salesman, until they told him “he could not be that honest and sell cars” and terminated him.  I encouraged him to look for things within himself that he could and would like to do for himself and others. He became a tribal leader in the Creek Indian Community and was the Administrator of the Creek community and served his tribal affiliations as long as politically possible. He obtained a degree in computer science and began working in “communications customer relations” until his heart attack in 2005. At this point he was declared “disabled” through the Veterans Administration due to his service connected condition/s. He is now a “stay at home dad and hubby”.  During this time, I am taking care of him and working; a common story to be repeated to and by many caregivers.

Over the next few years, his condition/s worsened and I found that it was time to retire in order to be able to provide the appropriate care he needed.   I would now become the caregiver that I used to provide oversight, counsel, and support to.

*The following is information is needed to every caregiver for current or future reference:

A common fear for physicians is not only the concern for the individual with a debilitating condition/s, but also for the caregiver that is providing 24/7 “caregiving” to a loved one. This situation often leads to caregiver burnout. Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest or motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.

There are many symptoms of burnout. Some are that you feel exhausted all the time, every day is a bad day, the majority of your day is spent on tasks you find either mind-numbingly dull or overwhelming; you may feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated. The negative effects of burnout spill over into every area of life and can also cause long-term changes to your body that make you vulnerable to illnesses like colds and flu. Because of its many consequences, it is important to deal with burnout right away.

Remember the Three R approach:

Recognize – watch for the warning signs of burnout

Reverse – undo the damage by managing stress and seeking support

Resilience – build your resilience to stress by taking care of your physical and emotional health

Spiritual Needs:

When something like illness happens to you or someone you love, there is a need to make sense of the situation. In this search for understanding, you may find yourself asking and wanting to know “Why?”

Addressing your own spiritual needs can help you deal with these concerns and open the possibility of growth from the situation. In doing so, you may be better able to accept the situation, and even find some positive aspects in your role as a caregiver. You may find it helpful to at times think about ways that caregiving has made you a stronger person or think about why you have accepted this role and the positive aspects of caregiving.  Attempt to make a meaningful day for the individual you are caring for as well as yourself by finding time to slow down on a task or just relax, explore your beliefs and try to use them to accept the situation. Talk to others in similar situations, attend support groups, speak to a chaplain or religious figure experienced with families dealing with illness. The more you understand the illness or condition of your loved one and your own specific situation, the more confident and relaxed you will feel in providing such a loving service to someone you love. 

I would also like to leave with you the thought that you are very special. Do you know that by many people, you are considered a hero?  To me, a poem by Paula Fox, “The Heart of a Caregiver”, says it all about being that hero:

The Heart of a Caregiver

In the world of pain and suffering, true heroes can be found…
Providing special comfort and relief
They choose to make a difference regardless of the cost
Always willing to help others in their grief

It’s hard to persevere at times,
A Caregiver’s job is tough!
It takes extra strength and courage to get through
But God designed a heart for them to handle every challenge
So they can do what others cannot do

He made this heart much stronger!
Just to handle all the weight of the many burdens it must bear
And he covered it with softness to help cushion all the hurt with empathy and tender loving care
This heart comes with a battery that never runs down for a caregivers’ day will never end
It just keeps going and keeps going
Always one more thing to do with another crisis just around the bend

And of course, this heart is an upgrade in so many ways. He made it kinder, more unselfish than the rest with more patience and compassion and love that never ends compared to all the others...

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