In August of 2014, Mary’s mother Eartha was discharged from the hospital after a short stay — an event that would have lasting consequences. When Mary arrived at the hospital that day, Eartha was ready to go, dressed and sitting in a wheelchair with a list of medications on her lap. Never given instructions on her mother’s new prescriptions, Mary missed out on a key piece of information — one of the medications was only meant to be given for a very short time. This was discovered months later, but it was too late. Eartha’s kidneys had been damaged irreversibly by the medication and were only working at 10 percent. Mary was given the choice to start her mother on dialysis or begin hospice care.
This year I had the honor of meeting Kyllian, a young New Jerseyan who, as a teenager, was a caregiver for her father. Throughout his battle with cancer, she would come home after high school every day to care for him.
En español | This Labor Day, I want to take a moment to recognize the 40 million Americans who perform a great labor of love every day caring for older parents, spouses and other loved ones. While they wouldn’t have it any other way, family caregivers often have a big job. Some are on call 24-7 and often they can’t even take a break.
This week, New Mexico becomes the fifth state in the nation to implement the Caregiver Advise, Record, Enable (CARE) Act. Passed by the state legislature and signed into law by Gov. Martinez, the Lay Caregiver Act, a version of the CARE Act, is a commonsense solution to help those caring for their older mothers, fathers, husbands, wives and other loved ones so they can live independently. The law ensures family caregivers have key support as their loved ones go into the hospital and as they transition home.
Even with her training as a nurse, family caregiver Joanne Davis says she doesn’t feel equipped to handle certain tasks as she cares for her husband. “I think of people who are in a situation who don’t have that sort of experience and I don’t know how they manage,” she says. And yet, nearly half of the 42 million family caregivers in America perform medical and nursing tasks to care for their loved ones. This can be managing medications, cleaning wounds or feeding tubes, giving injections and more. Most do this all with little or no training.
My pop was fond of responding to any “How are you?” inquiry like this: “I’ve never been better in my life!” My mom shared her wisdom when sending me off to grade school: “Elaine, never let anyone think you aren’t having the best day of your life!” I was raised with the power of positive thinking. And through the years, I was consistently inspired by the spirit, humor and resilience my parents demonstrated throughout a lifetime of challenges.
Several months ago, I met Doug and Michelle Mercer of McAlester, Okla. Doug had been home from Iraq for only four days when he suffered debilitating injuries in a serious motorcycle accident. Three and a half years later, he is still recovering brain function, he uses a wheelchair and he needs help 24/7.
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