How can you do a job like that? I could NEVER do something like that!

love best medicine

When I began my journey as a caregiver I had people asking me how I could do such a thing, that they would never be able to do that.  They wanted to know how I could stand to see to the most personal needs of my father and then grandfather.  They couldn’t understand how I could find the compassion and patience to spend 30 to 45 minutes feeding my dad four or five times a day.

The simple answer is they’re family and that’s what family does.  The deeper explanation is, they did it for me.  From the time I was born my family has been there caring for me.  THEY changed my diapers.  THEY fed me.  THEY dressed me.  THEY bathed me.  I spit up and threw up on THEM.  I bled on THEM.  When I cried THEY comforted me.  THEY taught me, loved me and encouraged me.  How can I not reciprocate when THEIR time of need comes?

To that people will often concede the point but now that I have lost both Dad and Grandpa they ask why I continue to do this for strangers.

The honest truth is two-fold.  First of all, once I meet the people I am charged with providing care for they are no longer strangers.  They become surrogate family members.  I care for who they are as a person.  I try to learn about who they are, what makes them happy and how to encourage them.   They often have as much of a positive influence on my life as I hopefully have on theirs.

Second, I think of all the people outside of my family who had an impact on who I am today … teachers, neighbors, family friends, camp counselors, clergy, and random strangers providing random acts of kindness.  Most of these people are no longer in my life, but each of the people I care for were the teachers, neighbors, family friend, camp counselor, clergy or random stranger providing random acts of kindness for someone else.  So in my mind, in some odd concept of karma or whatever way you’d put it, I am returning the favor to a stranger in hopes that someone else is doing the same for those non-family members who had a positive influence on my life.

I have another reason for doing what I do.  I have seven wonderful nephews and four awesome nieces.   I believe the best way to show the future generation how to be compassionate, active, caring adults is by example.  I hope that by demonstrating to them how we should care for our family and strangers that I will have done my part to make the future just that much brighter.

So, to answer the question “How can I do something like what I do?”

I do it joyfully with hope, compassion and love.

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Don’t stick your foot in your mouth

It happens to all of us, at some point in time we will find out someone we know has a terrible disease or is hospitalized from an horrific accident or any number of painful personal tragedies.

For most of us the shock of this news strikes deep.  These are things that happen to people far outside our social bubble.  Your world has shifted slightly on its axis and you don’t know how to interact with those who have been affected.

You go to visit your friend or co-worker in the hospital and freak out a bit by hospital tubes, wires and machinery or by the physical changes that have taken place.  You tell their spouse that your friend or co-worker looks unrecognizable!

You visit your cousin with cancer and shudder when you see her bald head.  You blurt out that it is horrible that they’ve lost their lovely hair!

You want to be supportive, but you need to talk about the feelings you’re having as well.

What do you say and to whom do you say it?

I’ve seen something that is referred to as Concentric Circles of Caring.  This is a good guide to figure out who you should offer comfort and support to and who you can express your more negative feelings to.

Concentric circles of caring

 

The concept is quite simple.  Imagine (or draw if you need) a small circle.  This circle represents the person who has the illness or injury.  They are allowed to vent their fears and concerns to anyone.  They should not have to bear the emotional break-down of any other party.

Around that circle is their next-immediate personal support.  This may be a spouse, parent or caregiver.  They can vent to anyone except the person in the middle.

Now another circle, the siblings, children and close relatives.

And another, this time it’s other family, and friends.

And another, co-workers, and casual acquaintances.

Finally there’s everyone else.

The key here is to offer comfort and support to anyone who is in a smaller circle than yours.

If dealing with illness, death and dying is something you just can’t do with a brave face then offer your support in other ways.  Offer to make casseroles that can be frozen for convenient meals.  Offer to help carpool kids to practice.  There are a lot of day to day things that can become overwhelming for those in the innermost circles, find out what will relieve that pressure from their lives and do what you can to help.

When you need to vent your feelings of pain and anguish at the situation always go to those who are in your circle or one outside of your own.

If you remember to comfort in and vent out you should be able to keep from putting your foot in your mouth by saying something potentially insensitive to someone who’s already dealing with too much pain.

Scary!

Each state has an agency that is responsible for investigating reports of abuse or neglect of seniors by care facilities and their staff.  These findings are supposed to be available for the general public to help inform them of which facility may be the safest for their loved ones.

Recently the main newspaper of my neighboring state did an audit of actual complaints vs what is available on the agency’s website for public reference and they found a huge discrepancy.  It makes me wonder if Oregon is unique in this or if a similar audit for other states will show the same results.

Oregonian’s Audit of Nursing Care Facility Complaints

Words of comfort

I came into my local favorite coffee shop to work on blog posts and do some research for other projects.  I often do this as there are (actually) fewer distractions than at home.  I’m sitting near the self-serve station for sugar and creamer and getting into my writer’s brain when an older gentleman approaches to doctor his coffee.  He greets me and we exchange pleasantries.

When I speak with seniors who make negative comments about how their day is I often say “Well you’re out and about under your own steam, you must be doing pretty well.”  This often gets a smile and change of attitude.  It did for this gentleman.

He came in for some coffee while his wife was getting a massage next door.  We chatted a little more about nothing special but he started struggling for a word and got frustrated. He explained to me that his doctor had put him on a medication that has messed with his short term memory and then said if it became the real thing then he wanted to just die.  He said that he didn’t want to live when he couldn’t remember who he was.

I looked at him and explained that I care for seniors as my profession and specialize in dementia care.  I told him that while it is true you may forget about some of the people in your life that you never completely forget who you are.  It’s always there, at least some of who you are.

I told him about my dad.  Dad was bed bound and completely non-verbal, non-responsive to anything other than stimulus-response.  Still, when I walked into his room and called out his name he would grunt and move his head in the direction of the sound of my voice (the grunt was a typical guy-type grunt of acknowledgement).

I also told this gentleman that Dad had been in the Marine Corps and when I would play a CD with marching cadences Dad’s feet would tap like he was marching.  The gentleman perked up when he heard my dad had been a Marine, he too had been in the Corps.

We joked about the fact that Dad would “march” and how if you’re a Marine you’ll always be a Marine.

I brought up the fact that sometimes I would say something funny and he would giggle.  One time in particular his hospice nurse had brought more bandages for the pressure sore he had on his tailbone.  I told him that I was going to change his butt band-aid – and he giggled.

I told the gentleman that although the disease took much from him and us, it never fully robbed him of the essence of his humanity.  He knew his name, he recognized his service in the Marine Corps and he could still laugh at something funny.

He looked at me with relief on his face and just said “I’m glad I spoke with you.”

I’m glad he did too.

“This is where I had a purpose” – Capt. Montgomery Scott

I have an honest confession for all of you.  I am a sci-fi geek.  I was raised watching the original Star Trek with my dad.  I enjoyed all the characters from the original series, but one in particular was my favorite.  The hard-working miracle worker, Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott (Scotty).  There was something special about him that made me smile.

Many years later when they started The Next Generation I saw they did an homage to the original series by bringing in some of the original cast for guest appearances.  Of those, my favorite was an episode entitled “Relics”.

The crew of the new Enterprise find a crashed Federation ship and go in to investigate.  There they discover that the transporter has been jerry-rigged as a type of life boat for the only survivor, Captain Scott, Retired.

Scotty shows his usual enthusiasm for anything related to engineering and steps in to help Lt. LaForge.  Unfortunately, 75 years have elapsed since the last time Scotty has worked on a warp engine and Scotty isn’t able to be the miracle-worker in engineering.

A dejected Scotty finds himself in the holodeck with a bottle of alien whiskey asking to be shown the bridge of the original Enterprise.

He is soon joined by Captain Picard and as they speak Scotty expresses what he’s feeling.

Scotty: “I don’t belong on your ship.  I belong on this one. (Meaning the holographic ship they’re on) This was my home.  This is where I had a purpose.  But it’s not real.  It’s just a computer generated fantasy. (sighs)  And I’m just an old man who’s trying to hide in it.  Computer, shut this bloody thing off.  It’s time I acted my age.”

He leaves with Picard looking at Scotty with compassion in his eyes.

Later Picard asks LaForge about some data that they needed to acquire from Scotty’s crashed ship.  Picard suggests that Scotty would be helpful in obtaining the information and asks LaForge to personally assist with this task as well.  Picard makes his request with this statement:

“Look, this is not an order.  It’s a request and one that you must feel perfectly free to decline.  You see, one of the most important things in a persons’ life is to feel useful.  Now, Mr. Scott is a Starfleet Officer and I would like him to feel useful again.”

I won’t post any spoilers for those who’ve not seen this but now want to. The upshot is by LaForge engaging Scotty in an area where he’s useful and taking some time to allow himself to be mentored by a more experienced engineer they both gain and grow from the experience.  In the end Scotty is able to show he still deserves the title of ‘Miracle-Worker’.

This episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation demonstrated one of the things I always appreciated about this and the original Star Trek.  The way they took on real life issues in the fantasy world of space travel.

We all need to feel useful.  We all need to feel like our lives have meaning.  We all need a purpose to give us a reason to get up in the morning.

As our loved ones get older and are no longer able to be as independent as they were it is easy for them to become depressed.  We need to acknowledge the impact they’ve made in our lives and in the world.  We need to let them know they still have a purpose in our lives and the world.  Even sharing their stories and things they’ve learned through experience will enrich the community around them.

Engage with the seniors in your family.  Encourage them in the ways they still make a difference and have a purpose.  Tell them how much their presence in your life enriches it.

Change their statement of “This is where I HAD a purpose.” to “This is where I HAVE a purpose”

As an interesting side note, James Doohan who played Scotty, died just over a decade after this episode was filmed.  He died from Alzheimer’s disease.