portrait of a senior woman looking confidently into the camera knowing she has a fulfilling life as a caregiver to her husband

I’m not a nurse, but some days I feel like I’m earning a nursing degree on the job. Becoming my disabled husband’s caregiver required lots of learning. I had to learn sanitary technique, how to assist with self-catheterization, how to lift without hurting my back, how to keep track of medications, and dispense them safely.

Every caregiving day is a learning day.

There are other things I learned too, personal things I didn’t know before I became a family caregiver. This is my 21st year on the job and I’m still learning. For example, I learned that I need seven hours of sleep a night. Without this I’m Mrs. Grumpy and short on patience. I don’t like being this person.

I learned that people don’t understand caregiving unless they are caregivers. To retain some semblance of my former life, I still serve on several committees. Meetings can drag on and some committee members wonder why I leave early. Finally, I came right out and said my day had to match my husband’s catheterization schedule. Now everyone “gets it.”

I learned that I need to more lead-time for prescriptions. One of my husband’s medications lapsed so I contacted his physician and asked her to renew it. The clinic had just switched to a new computer system and service was slower. It took several follow-up calls to get the prescription. I had to call the pharmacy several times as well.

I learned that health care insurance doesn’t cover some essentials. For example, the charging unit for my husband’s electric wheelchair suddenly quit. We purchased a new charger and the bill was sent to Medicare. Months later we received a written denial of the claim. Medicare wouldn’t cover the cost because we didn’t fit its time parameters.  This is just one example; I have others.

I learned that caregiving comes with built-in stress. Every morning a paid caregiver comes for two hours to get my husband up. One day he slid to the floor and we couldn’t lift him up. I called the non-emergency fire department number and the truck pulled up within 10 minutes. The crew had an electric machine with a bellows that boosted my husband from the floor to wheelchair seat height—a quick solution. Now I’m afraid he will fall again.

I learned that a caregiver’s illness shatters the best of plans. In April my husband was hospitalized for pneumonia. Four days later he was dismissed and in need of follow-up therapy. But I was scheduled for surgery after being diagnosed with uterine cancer. I found a live-in rehab center for him. I had surgery and, according to my recovery plan, wasn’t supposed to lift anything that weighed 15 pounds. Thankfully, my daughter and neighbors were able to help with lifting.

To be good caregivers I think we need to keep on learning. “Every job is a self-portrait of the person who does it,” and unknown author wrote. “Autograph your work with excellence.”

Learning keeps us sharp, keeps us motivated, and adds richness to caregiving days. What will you learn today?

Written by Harriet Hodgson
Rochester resident Harriet Hodgson has been a freelance writer for writing for 38 years, is the author of thousands of articles, and 36 books. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and the Minnesota Coalition for Death Education and Support. She is also a contributing writer for The Caregiver Space website, Open to Hope Foundation website, and The Grief Toolbox website. Harriet has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. A popular speaker, Harriet has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer’s, caregiving, and bereavement conferences. Her work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. All of Harriet’s work comes from her life. She is now in her 19th year of caregiving and cares for her disabled husband, John. For more information about this busy author, grandmother, wife, and caregiver please visit www.harriethodgson.com

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