Imagine you care for your 90-year-old mother with dementia. She lives with you in your Georgia home. You help her with bathing and dressing, drive her to the doctor, cook her meals, manage her medications and do anything else she needs. Last year you were appointed her legal guardian by the state of Georgia to help manage her finances and make decisions for her about health care and more.
During National Nurses Week (May 6–12, 2016), we celebrate nurses. I say, let’s celebrate nurses every day! Across the country, these hardworking professionals help us get and stay well, and provide comfort and care when we’re at our most vulnerable. In my experience, they do this with incredible skill as well as a smile.
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.
In preparing Mom’s medication, my 90-year-old Pop would fill a syringe using the light of the kitchen window to see if the dosage was correct. He set up the nebulizer on a table with handwritten step-by-step instructions to remind him how to operate it. Today, millions of family caregivers like Pop perform complex medical tasks that at one time would have been administered only by medical professionals.
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.
This weekend we all had the opportunity to celebrate our fathers. As I remembered my Pop — a funny, hardworking, unselfish man — I thought about his devotion to my mom, especially during their later lives when he was her primary caregiver. He shouldered huge responsibilities that I think weighed heavily on his mind.
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.
Cyndie’s dad suffered a stroke seven years ago. She moved him from Pennsylvania to her home in Wisconsin so she could take care of him. It isn’t always an easy road, but Cyndie is thankful for the precious time she gets to spend with her father. Francesca and her family moved to Florida to care for her aging mother, leaving their home of 27 years in Connecticut. Her role as caregiver grows each month.
During World War II, Rosie the Riveter, her bicep flexed, peered out from a poster and reminded American women filling factory jobs that "We Can Do It!"
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