“Nurse Ratchet” Goes to School

I haven’t blogged since May 13, 2019. In fact, my writing actually came to a standstill in early March. The reason? My husband’s health began to decline and he entered in-home hospice care in May. He’s almost 97, a WWII vet (the Marines), a former athlete, a retired college professor and teacher, and all-around good guy. Age is his nemesis. Regardless of the effects of time and advancing years on his mind and body, he’s maintaining his sense of humor and enjoys people. His name is Tony. And I love him.

I dubbed myself a bumbling but well-intended Nurse Ratchet (Remember the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest?) and quickly realized I was in over my head on how to care for Tony at home. My care techniques often were less than smooth or subtle. My learning curve occurred as I began to watch the professionals do their thing – from the nurse to the in-home health aid to the physical therapist to his private caregiver.

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 Outside the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts 2006 (thedragonsonfire.com)

Our lives changed quickly after the arrival of hospice care. Tony’s legs gave out, making him no longer ambulatory. A hospital bed arrived. We’d made the decision to age in our home for as long as possible as opposed to going into a progressive living facility.

Hospice has proven to be invaluable. It provides many in-home services; however, Tony’s health care team is not on-site daily and when they’re here, they’re present only for as long as it takes them to complete the tasks in their skill sets. I began to feel overwhelmed and weighed down by the great responsibility, the guilt (Was I doing enough?), and anxiety. I knew I needed help.

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Tony with his Health Care Professional

I experienced several problems as the intensity of Tony’s new bed-bound status and the caregiving process began to settle in. I found I couldn’t concentrate on tasks of any depth. I couldn’t read a book. I couldn’t write. I had trouble sleeping. Stress and anxiety had entered my world. Depression had accompanied it. I didn’t realize how these feelings were slipping in and affecting me in my conscious and subconscious thoughts. But I felt a pull on my well-being.

One afternoon while reading The Gem, a local publication, I saw a class advertised for family caregivers. It was being held at the local wellness center nearby. I called, was able to enroll, and entered the twelve-week session. One of the best moves ever. I didn’t realize how strung-out I had become and how I felt like I was walking on my knees.

At the first class, I found myself in a room with seven other family caregivers. Some were caring for ailing husbands, others were caring for aging parents. Their stories and challenges proved as different as the constellations. The great weight of my feelings of isolation and intense responsibility lessened.

The first part of each class was instruction. Here are some of the topics:

Recognizing and Managing Stress
Legal and Financial Issues Related to Caregiving
Learning from Our Emotions
Grieving – A Natural Reaction to Loss
Living with Dementia
Communication Techniques
Taking Charge of Your Health
Depression
Understanding Medicare
Caregiver Burnout
Asking for Help

The second half of the class began with the facilitator asking the simple question, “How was your week?” Obviously, this was the signal to begin sharing. As a caregiver, you learn you are not alone. I found inspiration from hearing the stories of others.

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Yes!

A big message of the class was to recognize that as a caregiver and manager, you must also take care of yourself or you will end up being of no use to your loved one or yourself. Part of self-care is knowing you need help. I have been fortunate to find a private health care professional to assist with Tony’s care. I have learned to block time for myself. It took a while to find the rhythm and structure for our particular situation.

We are fortunate to have friends and family who stop in to visit. Our master bedroom has become our living room. This is where we sit and visit, snack, eat, laugh, watch TV, and share stories. Tony enjoys his visitors and the laughter and caring they bring.

I felt a loss when the class ended. We’d bonded with each other, cheered each other’s progress and victories, lamented each other’s sadnesses and heartbreaks. I am grateful to the Riverside County Office on Aging for providing this valuable resource. A special thank you goes to our facilitator Guillermo Delgado, Program Specialist II of the Family Caregiver Support Program, for guiding us through our class and sharing sessions with skill, patience and kindness.

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Caregiving is a two-pronged challenge – caring for your loved one and taking care of yourself to enable you to do your best. Yes, we got this!

About cmwriter

I'm a writer ... of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. I blog about writing, short stories, poetry, books, plays, and thoughts on life. Love reading and travel and being with friends!
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17 Responses to “Nurse Ratchet” Goes to School

  1. Daniellle says:

    What a timely, poignant and meaningful blog! When my husband began failing in early May, I entered the twilight zone of caregiving myself. I thought I “knew-it-all” and could do it all just because I had been a volunteer with Hospice for a three-year period eons ago. What Hubris. How wrong I was. After suffering a back injury and increasing the damage in my already arthritic hip, I realized I wasn’t “Superwoman” and needed help. Trained health aids are far better in assessing and implementing what needs to be done than even the most loving spouse. They improve the patient’s overall quality of life and allow the spouse/caregiver to take a breath. Unfortunately, in my case, my husband passed unexpectedly at the end of June. I sure could have used the Caregiver or a Grief class. Instead, I holed up in my house reeling from waves of shock and guilt.. .did I do enough? . . why did I argue with him in the hospital when he was yelling at me to take him home at 3AM?…did I tell him I loved him enough? Once the shock and guilt subsided, depression gripped me in its teeth. I spent too many hours hunkered in bed or binge-watching Dr. Pimple Popper. I am slowly emerging into the light. I have resumed my exercise classes and have reached out to long-term friends and family whenever I feel especially lost. Thanks, Carol for the reminder that unless we care for ourselves, we can’t be good for others. Tony is a lucky man to have you and I wish both of you a stressless journey. Thank you also for the advice you gave me about local home health aides and hospice.

    • cmwriter says:

      Danielle – I know we wish the journeys we started in May could be different. Life is so quixotic. Take care of yourself as you begin a new passage. I look forward to seeing you in September.

  2. Best wishes, Carol.

    Neil Scheinin

  3. I think nurse Ratchet would be very proud of you Carol. You reached out for help and was blessed with family and caregiver support. I think those classes are wonderful. I’ll start asking around in my area to see if I can get into something like that, as I’m assisting my dad of 89 years part-time (It seems full time) at home and it’s taking a toll. Support is the key and I’m glad you found some and more. I know you’ve been busy but its good to hear from you.
    Take care.

  4. Paula says:

    You speak for so many people who are going through this, have gone through this or will go through this. May grace and love surround you and your beloved Tony.

  5. Bev Siddall says:

    You have written this so well Carol. My journey began 8 years ago that I was aware of. I have experienced every emotion you have expressed. Dementia is a terrible disease especially when one is so young. My love will be 79 September 3. As caregivers we always have doubts but must remember we learn from our journey and give our loved one the best care with the knowledge we have
    My love to both of you.

    • cmwriter says:

      Thank you, Bev. I think of you often and your journey with Winston. Winston and I played together when we were young. I know he is surrounded by love and good care. I admire you. Yes, we do the best we can with the knowledge we have. Appreciate your thoughts and your love as we embark on this part of the journey.

  6. Marly Bergerud says:

    Carol, your blog was so meaningful and important for many to have the opportunity to read. Having gone through caregiving myself for a few family members and friends it is so important to realize how important our own health and well-being are to survive such difficult times. Hospice does offer an incredible service and it is hard for us caregivers to relinquish the reins and give in to the process of death and dying and then to grieve. If there is anything I can do for you please call me and let me know.

    • cmwriter says:

      Thank you, Marly. You have walked this path and I appreciate your thoughts and encouragement. We take each day at a time, with its ups and with its downs. I appreciate you and your understanding of this next life passage.

  7. Rachel Canchola says:

    Carol, such a timely blog for so many walking your journey. My sister is walking this journey with her husband who has Alzheimer’s . She too has been given the wonderful care and empathy for her husband with hospice men and women. It was a hard realization for her to know that she too needed help. So very well written as always. You and Tony continue in my prayers. Hugs, and love.

    • cmwriter says:

      Thank you, Rachel. We appreciate your prayers, hugs, and love. Hoping your sister’s path with her husband is as smooth as can be expected. Seems we all walk this path sooner or later. Thank you for your kind thoughts.

  8. That’s such an inspiring story. I couldn’t imagine taking it upon myself to care for my husband if needed. I guess your instinct kicks in and you just do what you have to do, but I know that class was a godsend for you and if it ever happens with us, I would seek out one. Kudos for you and many blessings for you and your husband.

  9. cmwriter says:

    Hi Jennifer – yes, instinct does kick in followed by the realization you need to add knowledge and help to that instinct. And you also realize you wouldn’t even consider not doing what you find yourself doing. It’s an innate kind of process!

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