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.
When State Representative Elaine Harvey’s mother-in-law moved in with her she was also raising a two-year-old, four-year-old, seven-year-old, nine-year-old, and had little help from the outside. One day a week a public health nurse came to help bathe her mother-in-law, and that was it. “Essentially we were on our own,” she says.
As National Women’s History Month comes to a close, I’d like to share the story of my friend Audrey — a woman whose compassion, perseverance, strength and resilience certainly merit an honorable mention in the Women’s Hall of Fame. I met Audrey more than 30 years ago, when she was preparing to leave her own home to move in to care for her father. Like millions of American women do every day, she balanced working full time with family caregiving. What makes Audrey’s story remarkable to me is the number of times in her life that she has given of herself to care for others.
For five years Michele from Montana, didn’t have access to affordable health care. She didn’t go to the doctor because she couldn’t afford it; this scared her. When health care laws began to change, Michele began to dream about what it would be like to have health coverage again, and how she would take better care of herself. But when many others gained access to affordable care last year, Michele did not. Instead, she was one of millions of hard-working Americans who fell into the new coverage gap.
As I drove from Billings, Mont., to Sheridan, Wyo., I saw a sign for "Buffalo 36 miles." Then it occurred to me that something felt strangely familiar. I grew up in a town called Lockport, about 29 miles from Buffalo, N.Y. So I researched a bit more. Sheridan has a population of 17,800; 20,000 live in Lockport. Sheridan gets about 72 inches of snow a year; Lockport posts a competitive 69 inches. And though my hometown doesn't have mountain ranges, it does share the same challenge — how to support family caregivers.
“I'm so tired, even my health has gone down due to stress. I love my mom ... but with my health issues, all I do is cry alone. Sometimes I feel like I’m drowning, can’t breathe ... nothing seems OK.” —Ruby
I was a long-distance caregiver for my parents for nearly 15 years. Through illness, surgery and rehabilitation, I helped them stay out of institutional care, like a nursing home, and instead remain at home - where they wanted to be. During this time, I purchased my house on Cape Cod in Massachusetts with my parents in mind - hoping that Mom and Pop could come to the Cape from New York, enjoy time by the seashore, and get some rest and relaxation. Finding a home with a ground-floor bedroom and bath was at the top of my list, so my mom could navigate throughout the house in her wheelchair.
Every day for eight years, my Pop provided hands-on care for my mom, who faced a number of physical challenges. At age 90, Pop was still helping Mom out of bed into her wheelchair, bathing and dressing her, making the meals, and doing the dishes, laundry and anything else that needed to be done. A few times a week, Pop would get out of the house for a trip to the grocery store and a few staples like bread, milk and eggs. It wasn't that there was always a need, but Pop would drive to and from the store for a change of scenery - and a much-needed break from his 24/7 caregiving responsibilities.
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