Caregiving Is a Job With No Training: 4 Tips to Make Your First Time a Little Easier by Terri Jones
I didn’t get in touch with my nurturing side by having children like most people. I didn’t even get married until I was in my early 50s. In other words, I had no experience looking after anyone but myself for my entire life. I wasn’t sure that I even knew how.
But about a decade ago, circumstances conspired to put my caregiving skills to the test. My dad had an accident and shattered his pelvis, a close friend suffered a traumatic brain injury, my mother had a long convalescence after an illness and I met and married a man with orthopedic issues that required a bunch of surgeries. In some cases, my stints lasted only a couple of days here and there, but with my husband they were for weeks at a time (I’m in the middle of one of them now).
I quickly found out that, while some of us are a little more practiced than others, the capacity to provide care to those we love exists in all of us. Here’s what I’ve learned from my experiences:
- It’s not as bad as it seems. While you may gag or get weak in the knees at the sight of certain things in normal life, your mind has the convenient ability to detach when you have to handle these squeamish tasks. You’ll change a dressing, clean a soiled bed or wipe a butt with aplomb and later wonder how you managed it!
- Swallow your fear. You may be afraid of giving someone the wrong medication or letting them fall when helping them from wheelchair to bed. In fact, I knocked my friend’s feeding tube loose once while helping her pull up her pants. The two girlfriends who were also there and I were a mess, but after a trip to the ER, my friend was just fine. It apparently happened a lot. Just remember that accidents will always happen, but most of the time everyone lives to tell about it!
- Don’t be a martyr. If someone asks, “What can I do?” come up with something! The best gift my sister could’ve given me was hanging out with my husband (she’s an occupational therapist so hanging out meant teaching him stuff) while I took the afternoon off. I was already exhausted and stressed from my husband’s week-long hospital stay, plus I knew it would be the last alone time I’d have for a while, so I took full advantage of her offer by going for a massage and leisurely having lunch at my favorite salad spot.
- You can do it! You can make another meal. You can run up the stairs one more time. You can continue to encourage and applaud, like the most enthusiastic of cheerleaders. Sure, it’s OK to feel exhausted and overwhelmed, even a little grouchy now and again, but then it’s time to get over yourself. Just remember that the person for whom you are caring feels that same emotion times 10 and they have no choice but to "deal with it" (my husband's favorite phrase). So can you!
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