Friday, May 2, 2008

Caregiving on All Fronts

When you are the one to provide care for someone who faces a permanent or temporary illness, injury or other condition, you know instantly that your world has changed. Not only does your day require more hours than ever before, but you require more stamina, patience and support than ever before. Some might be more suited to the tasks ahead, but life often does not give you the choice or test for your competencies.

One of our recent customers came in looking weary. He has been at the task for a few years now after his wife suffered a stroke. While she has achieved some abilities over these years, she still requires enormous amounts of care. He comes in frequently on the hunt for new ideas to make her life, and his, more comfortable. On this recent visit he said the skill he needs in great abundance is patience. Every caregiver will name that and a dozen other qualities they need and thought they never had.

I recall one conversation when my brother faced his last months with cancer. As I became a primary caregiver for him, I remember answering the question posed me by someone dear. “You don’t really know what you are doing!” I stared a moment, then said, “No, I don’t. But I’m confident I will know what to do and when.” We both sat in silence for a few minutes, stunned at my response. I look back at that moment often with a sense of disbelief on the one hand, and pride on the other. I am not sure how I knew with such certainty that I would find my way through that most devastating of events in our family, and yet I knew that love and commitment would somehow guide the way. It did, even though we lost our dear one a few months later.

I meet people every day who are pushed and shoved into caregiving, as well as those who anticipate what is ahead and sign up early for the task. No matter the circumstances, caregiving is some of the hardest work around. We have written in this blog plenty about its many facets, the tolls it takes, the unbelievable love and commitment displayed, and the rewards expressed often by those who help family, friends and sometimes strangers face their physical and emotional challenges. I reflect often on what is it that motivates us, that encourages us, that refreshes us while caregiving. I welcome your thoughts here on this topic that one way or another usually touches us all.

While caregiving is a topic I do think about every day as I meet folks like you and me who are looking for tools and solutions to help with their role as caregiver, it is on my mind today with a slightly different twist. This week is National Nurses Week. Whenever I spend time with a nurse, I realize all over again just how amazing is that profession. Having been presented with a situation over which I had very little control in the case of my brother’s illness, I responded by taking on the role of providing care for him. And, I truly did not know exactly what I was getting into and just how many things, both physical and emotional, I would be facing. Nurses, on the other hand, choose to be an integral parts of individuals’ and families’ lives as illness, injury and other situations arise. While we can argue that they “train” for this, I know having watched many at bedsides, that there are so many elements of caregiving that are hard to “train” for. Balancing the technical medical side of health care with the comfort and emotional sides of the dynamic is a competency that requires work and attention.

We at Capabilities offer our deepest respect to everyone in the health care profession, and this week, we especially single out nurses. Please think about a nurse in your life or in the life of someone you care about and say thanks. And, post a story you might have about a nurse who made a difference in your life. If you are a nurse, we would love hearing from you, too, during this special week with your own comments here.

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