Lessons from a Caregiver
Gina Helms, along with her brother and her mother, stayed at the SECU Family House while Gina’s father received medical care and rehabilitation. The family had expected to stay for a few days, but due to her father’s complications, they ended up staying over two months. The day before she checked out, I asked Gina what lessons she learned from her recent experience and what advice she would have for future caregivers.
- Be diligent and proactive. Ask lots of questions and be persistent until you get answers. This will often require you to get out of your comfort zone. Most of us don’t have a lot of medical knowledge and we’re not very familiar with medical language, but we need to be able to talk with and even challenge our doctors. Keep good notes, and don’t expect that you can remember everything.
- Utilize patient representatives and patient relations. If you feel that something is not quite right, know that there are people who will advocate for you and address concerns. If issues arise, you don’t need to feel strained or trapped in a situation when you know that there are people who are available to provide support and assistance.
- Take care not to become isolated. This can be a balancing act when you’re tired and consumed by a medical situation, but staying connected with our friends and loved ones is important. Call people and keep in touch with them. This is the time when we need to feel support.
- Try to keep a mindset of gratitude. Sometimes we can focus on things that did not get done, or who did not reach out, or what aspects of the day have been especially discouraging. But if we focus on the good things that did get done, the people who did send cards and flowers, and the positive things that did happen (however small), we will be the better for it.
- Accept help. When you’re away from home and people ask how they can be helpful, provide them with ideas of specific things that they can do. Maybe they could cut the grass at your house, pick up your mail, water your plants, or have groceries ready when you get back from the hospital. Recognize that you don’t need to do it alone.
- Take care of yourself in ways that work for you. For some people, that means going on a quiet walk outside, and for others it means getting a favorite drink at a coffee shop. Find some way to decompress, and recognize that your well-being is important.
- Especially if caregiving becomes a long-term commitment, do what is consistent with your core values. Oftentimes, health crises have ways of making you consider what is important. Honor these values through your choices and actions.
Have you been in a caregiving role? What did you learn from your experience, and what advice would you have for future caregivers? We would love to hear from you! Contact Lindley.Curtis@familyhousews.org to share your wisdom with us.
— Lindley S. Curtis, MDiv, MSW
Lindley is a theologically trained social worker and coordinates support services at the Family House. To speak with Lindley for one-on-one support and information about resources in Winston-Salem and in your home community, call 336.793.2822 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.