This really hit me when I became one for over a month.
A bit of background
Just last month, my husband was found to have a fairly serious medical condition. I can only speak in general terms here about his illness, knowing how private he is. But suffice it to say, he had to undergo several medical procedures and tests, be confined two weeks in a row, with me being his primary caregiver.
Staying in a hospital is no stay in a hotel, despite all the modern amenities. While many hours are spent almost leisurely, you are constantly barraged by nurses and resident doctors coming in for all sorts of questions and examinations. Then, because the patient is on an intravenous (I.V.) drip, the need to go to the bathroom becomes a fairly regular thing. At night, at least in the room we were assigned to, the strong blast of cold air from the centralized airconditioning kept me shivering despite a comforter.
Just as we were being discharged from hospital, my own mother was being checked in by my siblings. As it turned out, she was diagnosed with a brain tumor and had to stay several days in confinement. She was discharged to the care of one of my sisters as we refused to have her operated or opened up in any way but after another two weeks, she turned for the worse, was hospitalized once again, and passed away last November 10.
The wake was short but definitely still tiring and stressful for my family. I already felt a threatening sore throat but took to vitamins to stave it off. After my Mom was cremated and things began settling, I went back to caregiver mode for my husband. That was when my body gave out. What started as pollen allergies (from a flowering tree in our frontyard) became fullblown cough and colds, upper respiratory congestion, an achy body and night chills.
I’m currently on antibiotics and feeling like the worst is over. I believe I am on the road to recovery quite soon.
This is my realization. Many times, a caregiver falls ill AFTER taking care of a patient.
When members of the family take ill, everyone is so focused on the patient. We forget that it is also taking a toll on the caregiver. If that caregiver is you, you need to take extra care of yourself.
Despite my own personal precautions like taking vitamins and resting whenever I could, I still got sick. Why? Because I think two sick people to be concerned about plus a wake afterwards was just too much for one body to take in the span of just 1 month.
So what if something does happen in your family. Your child gets sick. Or your husband. Or some other member of the family. And you end up as the caregiver. What steps can you take?
1. Don’t forget the vitamins. – If you are scheduling the patient’s medicines, do not forget to schedule yours as well. Your body is taking on a lot of stress. It will need extra help aside from your usual meals (that is, if you even take proper ones on time)
2. Eat properly whenever possible – I found this difficult. Many times, I’d eat at odd hours or if the patient was not allowed to eat his meals due to a strict fasting, I would do so (but you know how hospital food go). As a result, I did not have enough fruits and vegetables on hand and when I had time to head out to get something, it was always almost fast food in nature.
3. Schedule breaks with a substitute caregiver – You can’t go 24/7 as a caregiver. Even paid ones have shifts. Ask a relative or a househelp to take a shift, go home, take a warm bath, have a decent meal, and if possible, sleeeeeeep! There should be no guilt in asking someone else to take over while you take a break. Remember that when you get sick (like I did) your ability to continue caring for the patient is also affected.
4. Get into a form of quiet but calming activity to balance out the stress on the body – I practised yin yoga whenever I could but on hindsight, I probably did not do enough of it for lack of time. But now, I know that it is very important for a body bombarded with stressors of all kinds to detach, detox and destress. Aside from yin yoga, tai chi, qi qong and other meditative activities may also be helpful.
5. Seek out the company of friends – As a woman, I appreciated this very much. Although I could not meet up with friends in person because of my caregiving schedule, touching base with them online or by text was truly a blessing. Just imagine the words of encouragement and empathy that can come from girl friends. Okay, some men friends too.
6. Pray and keep the faith – Part of a caregiver’s emotional stress, especially if the patient is a loved one, is the worry and concern over his/her welfare. It helps to be able to bring all these concerns in prayer to God and leave it there.
My own caregiving work isn’t done yet and we have a long journey ahead of us still. But this illness has shown me how important it is for me to take time away from caring for someone else and spend some time caring for ME. Kit, my yogi-doctor friend, asked me recently: “If you’re the nurturer and nourishing everyone, who’s nourishing you?” Good question to keep in mind…
If someone else is caring for a sick member of your family, be sensitive to that person’s needs. They do physical and mental work a lot and you may need to step in once in a while and give them a break.
Wishing you and yours health and strength of mind, body and spirit always…
Photo taken from an article by Jane Ganahl, “How to Avoid Caregiver Burnout”.