Caregivers provide care in a wide variety of situations. Caregiving can be a very difficult task to accomplish, especially when it involves caring for an elderly parent. This is definitely a role reversal, which many individuals are not prepared for, or equipped to handle.
Many caregivers fall under the category of the “sandwich generation.” Baby boomers are experiencing this phenomena at an alarmingly high rate. A Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that, there were nearly 40 million caregivers in the nation.
As a Registered Nurse, I have been rendering care to the sick for thirty plus years. I am extremely happy with my profession and would not trade it for anything else. There’s always that great sense of achievement when caring for a very ill patient and helping to bring them back to a healthy state of being. My nursing experiences have guided me through many paths, such as medical and surgical nursing, same day surgery, ER triage and fast track and, presently, gastroenterology. Currently, my position is clinical nurse in the G.I. lab at Tampa General Hospital, where I have been for the past several years since moving from N.J. All of these entities have provided me with unique opportunities and experiences while rendering care to the sick.
Teaching patients and their families to cope after an acute illness is an integral part to their continued wellness and a healthier life style. In order to do this successfully, the caregiver must show compassion and empathy, while maintaining a level of professionalism, without becoming too emotionally involved. At times it becomes difficult to keep one’s emotions in check, and because of this many caregivers become frustrated and emotionally drained. This can interfere with our ability to care for our patients.
Generally, as nurses we keep on providing the required care never slowing down to check ourselves or to get some help for our own well-being. We feel that we are here to heal the sick, so there’s no room for us to complain or seek help for ourselves. Occasionally, for some caregivers, it has taken close to, or an actual mental collapse before help was sought. As nurses this should not happen, since we need to look out and support each other and offer help before the situation gets out of hand. Mentoring new nurses, even after their orientation has been completed, offers them excellent opportunities for easier transition into their new roles as professional caregivers, which will hopefully help them to develop and master the knowledge and skills they need.
My personal experience is a perfect example of the severe challenges that caregivers face and have to overcome. A few years ago my mother who had been living with me and totally independent, experienced a catastrophic stroke. She became aphasic with right sided weakness. After hospitalization and intense rehab, she returned home. She was able to walk with minimal assistance, but she required help with everything else. She needed to have a full time caregiver. I could not realistically quit my job to care for her because the bills still had to be paid. Hiring a full time caregiver from Monday through Friday, with me taking care of her on the weekends was the only solution I could come up with. This became a huge financial burden since my mom’s social security payment was not enough to cover the caregiver’s salary. As a result I had to come up with the extra cash from my salary, even though I was already carrying a very tight budget.
Throughout the entire experience of struggling with my mother’s illness and care I kept smiling and doing the best I could. I never wanted my mom to feel as though she was a burden to me. I felt that it was my responsibility and I needed to do it on my own. This soon became overwhelming, and I realized that I had become a cry baby. I cried for every little thing. Normally I don’t cry easily, but this had suddenly changed.
My mind was cluttered with so many emotions, such as am I doing the right thing, how much longer will I be able to cope, am I always being kind enough, feeling sorry for myself, and asking “why me”. Then I’d have to pull myself together emotionally, remembering that I was now responsible for my mom’s well-being.
One night she needed some assistance and came to my door calling out for “Mama”. Just to be sure, I asked her if I was her mother and she said yes (role reversal) and this made me cry again. When the pharmacy dispensed the wrong medication I cried. I was just an emotional wreck and was too blind to recognize it and to realize that I needed emotional support.
My cousin Lorraine who lived three hours away at the time offered to take care of my mom one weekend each month, so that I could have some “me time.” This was the greatest help I could have received from anyone. It helped to ease the stress and made me realize that I wasn’t alone.
My message to caregivers is that we should not be too proud or stubborn to seek help, whether it is from family members, groups or professional organizations. We are caring human beings with feelings and emotions and being caregivers does not exempt us from needing emotional and other kinds of support.