During the past 40 years, I’ve often heard friends express the following:
“I’m tired of being the strong one.”
“Wish someone would take care of me for a change."
“I’m feeling so sad, so overwhelmed."
“Some days I get very angry.”
“It remains the single hardest, loneliest, most stressful thing I’ve done in my life.”
On a recent “Today” show, Maria Shriver stated, "There are all kinds of people suffering as caregivers. It is heroic work 24/7. They get sick, they get depressed.”
Today in America 65.7 million (29 percent) of our friends, relatives, and neighbors dedicate time to helping loved ones with activities of daily living and their medical needs.
They care for a disabled, chronically ill or aging loved one, in their homes, and provide most of their support, for as long as possible.
These caregivers assist their family member with activities like feeding, bathing, dressing, toileting, communicating, mobility, shopping, wound care, transportation, financial decisions, monetary shortfalls, safety, medical needs and appointments.
The average work week for family caregivers is 24 hours. One in four caregivers spend an average of 41-plus hours per week.
Then, there are those who are single parents, or lone family members, a faithful daughter, son or mom who do it all.
Even though they, the caregiver, come from a large family, no one else is interested in helping.
There was a period of time, when I was the 168-hour-a-week caregiver for my daughter.
No doubt I loved her more than most. But, whew, it was hard to do.
Several years ago, my daughter Kelsey needed a spinal cord surgery for a tethered cord. Her symptoms were strange.
She was falling and afraid. Her appointments nearly did me in. Some doctors had no idea. Some didn’t want to assist.
One day, after a doctor “didn’t know,” I loaded Kelsey in the car and headed home, anxious and desperate.
Something told me to stop at a hospital I had passed. So I took the next freeway exit.
I pulled into the main hospital entrance, ran inside and asked the info desk attendance, “Do you have a good neurosurgeon?
They did. We stopped. He was.
The hospital neurosurgeon was a perfect match for my daughter.
However, it was a grueling time for us. Just the tests, lab work and scans took over three months.
I lived on interstates. Some days, I didn’t eat breakfast, clip my nails or wash my hair. A quick shower was all I could do. On the other hand, three hours prior to leaving our home, I bathed Kelsey, dressed her, fed her and lifted her into the car.
The day of the surgery arrived. It was an eight-hour procedure, not two hours as anticipated.
The doc reported his success. Then there was Kelsey, who would not stop asking for me to come into recovery with her. So the nurses complied.
Oh my, the incision was ... most of her back. I can’t rethink that procedure.
However, it worked and the doc detethered her spinal cord. After a six-week hospital stay, I brought her home.
During the six months post-surgery, I caught strep throat, had cold sores, hardly ate, was discouraged, couldn’t work, spent a fortune for gas and food, was exhausted physically and emotionally, and felt I was losing my mind.
Emery Austin stated, “Some days there won’t be a song in your heart. Sing anyway.”
Diane Mack is coordinator of Putting Families First, Jackson County's Family Week Foundation. Email her at Director@jacksoncountyfamilyweek.org.