As a retired electrician, I understand the importance of knowing the tools of the trade. Caregiving is its own trade, and more often than not, you aren’t prepared with the right tools. Fortunately, my wife Wendy has experience working in the healthcare sector which has been a tremendous help throughout my caregiving experience. Her knowledge has helped us find the right care and surround ourselves with friends who share similar experiences. During caregiving, you always face new challenges and I managed by planning what can be planned and taking the rest day by day. My caregiving consists of physical care, transportation, getting medications and cooking and cleaning. We are very lucky to have each other.
I always think about how hard it must be for caregivers who are not lucky enough to have prior knowledge of the healthcare system. Despite this knowledge, hospitals can still be stressful. During my Wendy’s quick 30-minute scheduled surgery, I decided to go to work – not thinking much of it. I was so confused when I received a call hours later informing me that the surgery took 5 hours instead. I would have been there if I was notified that it was a more extensive procedure, and I was so worried that I wasn’t there. Usually, I try not to dwell on things I cannot control as I find it will only make me feel more helpless.
No different than a marriage, caregiving requires strong and open communication. We rely on making decisions we are both comfortable with. I always ask what I can do for her rather than tell her what she needs. I also know how important it is to give her space. Caregiving can be overwhelming for both the caregiver and the person you are caring for, so an open line of communication is very important to make it manageable. Over time I’ve learned that Wendy goes through a series of steps before making a decision; I respect that and give her the time she needs.
One thing caregiving has taught me is to know my limits. I know Wendy prefers to be cared for at home, so I do what I am capable of doing. I sometimes struggle with knowing my limitations but also not wanting to let her down. For her wellbeing and comfort, I do what physical care I can and vocalize what I cannot, so that we can seek professional help.
With caregiving, a support system is also very important. We are so lucky that Wendy sits on a Patient and Family Advisory Council. This has allowed us to meet people going through similar situations, nurses and doctors. Having a strong group of people, you can rely on for support and bounce care plan ideas off of has been such a blessing.
If I can offer some advice to a new caregiver, it would be to get familiar with some of the basic tools of the trade, like how to change bandages. These things will help you feel less lost. Focus on building your toolbox, and for everything else, take it as it comes.