What I Learned
A student reflection.
“While I was a clinical trials coordinator at Wake Forest prior to PA School, my team would regularly contact the SECU Family House to try and place families who had loved ones about to start a long-term hospital stay. Every time we were fortunate enough to get caregivers placed there, it had a positive impact not only on them, but on the patient as well. Alleviating the burden of being concerned about loved ones not taking care of themselves or having a place to stay was often a top priority of the patients. This week, visiting the SECU Family House gave me the opportunity to not only to visit it for the first time, but it also gave me an opportunity to personally thank them for important and vital work they are doing. Most importantly, I could meet a few caregivers and hear them describe how the SECU Family House has helped and supported them.
Before we met with the families, the didactic portion of the session went into the statistics about how much caregivers are affected in so many areas of their life. Having been a caregiver for my father, I found the information they provided very much aligned with my own personal experience. Considering those feelings, I was curious as to how much (or little) the person we were about to interview would be in-line with those same statistics. At the beginning of the interview, our caregiver seemed a little unsure of where to start in telling the story of her family’s experience. With just a few words of guidance from our group, it was not long before she offered us advice on how we will be better clinicians if we make the effort to take the time to listen to patient’s concerns and make the effort to explain things in ways they can understand.
The Caregiver Community
From there, we heard how having other families nearby gave them comfort because they were reminded that they were not alone in their needs and many others have areas of commonality that can help them bond. I feel this sharing of emotional burdens through direct interaction or through simple observation goes directly towards helping offset some of the concerns the families may have that they are alone in their experience. As the interview continued, we were told about challenges faced at work, financial concerns, and coping with the unknowns. After hearing her story, I was struck by how much what she described aligned with the statistics presented to us earlier. This supports how well the SECU Family House is in sync with meeting the needs of families and caregivers, and how many other communities can benefit with similar facilities. In addition, it was very heartwarming to hear her talk about how the SECU Family House could help her rest and refresh and have the freedom to make a cup of coffee, do some laundry, or just sit somewhere quietly and meditate. Despite having the undercurrent of concern for her loved one in need, she could take care of her own needs without guilt or a huge financial concern.
Witnessing and hearing the power of how the simple gesture of concern can make a meaningful difference in someone’s life is at the very core of the SECU Family House’s experience not only for the families staying there but for the many people who have to opportunity to serve them.
Planning for the Unexpected
As to how this person ended up being in the position she was in, one central theme was that she was the most responsible, most capable, and most willing family member to make the effort to be the caregiver. While it is unknown to me how each caregiver ends up in the position that they do, it is highly probable they are subjected to a lot of stress, and some who may not have yet experienced this in their own lives may not fully appreciate the sacrifices they make to care for others. I feel this lesson is central to the mission of this exercise. I also feel strongly that this exercise is a great reminder of how important it is to discuss planning for unexpected health issues with my own family members and to discuss contingencies that could involve a resource like the SECU Family House in case it is needed if one of us needs medical assistance elsewhere.
While each caregiver’s story from that evening was unique, it was obvious the SECU Family House had made a difference in their lives by giving them a home away from home. A surprising aspect of the shared stories was how one caregiver was completely prepared emotionally and physically for being a caregiver, seemed to thrive on it, and apparently has lived a very full life taking care of herself and others to the point her being there now to help someone else was just another day. While I was fascinated by how the caregivers share many similarities with one another, this person’s story demonstrated that not all caregivers have the same challenges or needs and may be well-suited to handle the role of caregiver. Essentially, there are always going to be outliers who will challenge the perceptions of the norms. For me, this was a great reminder that we are all similar in many ways and very different in many other ways and can benefit from listening to each other, especially on how we react to shared experiences.
The Simple Gesture of Concern
Upon reflection about my experience, I know that if I am fortunate to stay in this community and practice as a PA, I will be sure to include the SECU Family House in my plans for every patient eligible. Witnessing and hearing the power of how the simple gesture of concern can make a meaningful difference in someone’s life is at the very core of the SECU Family House’s experience not only for the families staying there but for the many people who have to opportunity to serve them.”
About the Education Program
The Family House Education Program encourages guests to share their experience with a medical crisis. At the same time, medical, nursing, physician assistant, and chaplain students increase their awareness of and inspire confidence to advocate for patients and their families.
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