My husband was in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the hospital. He had been there for three weeks, anesthetized, hooked up to monitors, unaware of his condition or what was going on in life. His “wound,” as the medical team called it, was a giant surgical scar that went from his back, around his left side, to the front of his body. His wound was healing with agonizing slowness and, thankfully, the day finally came when the medical team canceled the anesthesia and restored him to consciousness.
It was late afternoon when I visited him and my husband was glad to be alive. I was glad he was alive too, but talking with him was difficult. The anesthesia from three successive operations and weeks in the ICU had affected his short-term memory, and he couldn’t track our conversation. I leaned over, kissed him and, with tears tricking down my face, said, “I will not fail you.” For me, this promise was as sacred as my marriage vows.
You may have had a similar idea or made a similar promise. That doesn’t mean we strive for perfection. Some caregiving days go better than others. I’m sure you have had days when you felt like you might be going nuts. We aren’t nuts, we are busy caregivers, doing our daily tasks, encouraging loved ones, fixing healthy meals, running errands, doing paperwork, and caring for ourselves at the same time.
How am I fulfilling the promise I made to my husband? Here are some of the things I have done. My actions may help you keep your caregiving promises.
A caregiver needs a mission statement.
David A. Travland, PhD and Rhonda Travland write about a caregiver’s mission in their book, The Tough and Tender Caregiver. A caregiver’s mission statement can be used to create a policy, according to the authors. “Referring to the mission statement becomes a highly efficient way to make sure personal decisions are responsive to a broad range of needs,” they explain.
Caregiving requires adaptation.
Both my husband and I had to adapt to our new situation, me as the caregiver and he as the receiver. I’ve always been a list maker and planner. When things don’t go as planned, I tweak the plan or scrap it all together, something I learned from a dozen years of teaching. Just because we make a plan doesn’t mean it will happen. Rather, making a plan is a way to envision the future and check details.
Routines can be altered.
Caregiving experience has taught me the benefits of having a daily routine. My husband and I worked out a mutual routine and it worked for several months. I used to get up at three o’clock in the morning to help him with medical things, a routine that put me in sleep deprivation. A physical therapist suggested getting up an hour later, at four in the morning. This small change made a huge difference. Now I am able to get six hours of uninterrupted sleep. Like me, you may wish to tweak your routine.
Caregivers need to be observant.
Paul Dolan, PhD, author of Happiness by Design, thinks the key to happiness is going with the rain of human nature. “We are creature of our environments and so we need to pay careful attention to what other people do in the contexts we are likely to or would like to, experience,” he writes. Because my husband legs are paralyzed, small things like the activities of daily living can be tiring. I’m on constant alert for signs of fatigue in my husband.
We can control some things, but not everything.
Bereavement counselor Mary Jane Cronin, author of A Caregiver’s Connection, thinks it is wise to be aware of what we have control over and what we don’t. “Realizing what we have control over and don’t have control over can lead to getting upset less often,” she writes. Sure, I wish I had more control over caregiving, but I don’t. Each day I do my best and that is all I can do.
My husband is my hero and “I will not fail you” is an easy promise to keep. It is a promise of love past, love present, and all the loving days to come.