*Author’s note: Before he passed, Walter and I talked about my writing, and the fact that I had a blog specifically set up for my job of caring for him. He has given me permission to talk about any facet of his life, as long as it’s done respectfully and honestly. Honestly includes any information necessary to show facts.
Recently, I was blessed to become a caregiver for an elderly gentleman. Walter was 92 when we met, and we had six months together as man and caregiver before he passed away. The decision to take the job was easy: I needed an income, and it seemed like easy work. I quickly realized I had a lot to learn, both about the job of care giving and myself.
The first couple of months, Walter was still able to get around with a walker and did a decent job of dressing himself. His mind seemed sharp as ever, and he could still do some things for himself. He was very demanding though. I understood that he was always like that; that he was used to being taken care of, but I simply was not prepared for the magnitude of the demands. If I went home for an hour breather, the phone would be ringing before I even walked in the door. (I was a minute’s drive from his house).
A few months after I began taking care of him, he had to be admitted to the hospital for ulcer treatment and was then moved to the rehabilitation wing of a nursing home. He swiftly went downhill and, three weeks later when he came back home, he was bedridden. That’s when the real caregiving- and the learning- began.
My time with him went from part-time to 24/7. I was responsible for every aspect of his care- to include changing his diapers, bathing, moving him to change him and his clothes, sheets, feeding him and taking care of the house. Needless to say, one person simply cannot do 24/7 indefinitely. I ended up getting sick after a month and a week person was found, reducing my time when I recovered to just weekends.
By then, Walter’s demands were growing less and less by the week, and his care consisted of what he needed in bed. We could anticipate his needs and wants, and we were able to situate things around his house for quick and easy access. At first, we had home health come in, but near the end, we switched to Hospice which took care of his baths, and monitoring his health and other functions we could not.
There’s much more to care giving than just sitting with a person, as many organizations do. We were paid $2 an hour for around-the-clock-care, and performed some duties a hospital staff or nursing home staff would. Professional sitters generally are paid $10-15 an hour, and simply sit with a person while the family gets some relief which gets very expensive. There’s no diaper changing, lifting, bathing, changing like there was with us.
The man who worked during the week was there for the pay, albeit not much, but he got paid a decent weekly check just the same. At first, I was there for the pay as well, because it was a necessity, but I quickly became attached to Walter and, in spite of some frustrations, loved my job.
I’m an extremely impatient person, but caring for Walter showed me how to put my own issues on a back burner to put his needs first. I forgot about nearly every aspect of my life when I was with him, because nothing mattered except him. When it was my time off, I was more calm and sometimes better able to face my life. I also learned it’s extremely important to remember lessons we’ve learned and always work to apply them- even years later. That’s still a struggle for me, and I have to admit that. It’s not an overnight epiphany turned resolution.
I hold much anger within me, and explode on a regular basis. With Walter, somehow I was able to keep my anger in check. I reminded myself until I got it that it wasn’t Walter’s fault that he was helpless in a bed and completely dependent upon others for his very life. I also – and still do- keep telling myself that I take for granted what he dearly wished for, and that was the ability to move around and to come and go as I wished. Walter was an extremely active person his entire life, and to be bedridden suddenly was something he managed to accept with grace. That’s hard for anyone to do, especially for people with personalities like ours, and he did it well. I learned my life could be so much worse. And again- I still have my daily struggles, but every day I think of Walter, and the lessons help temper my anger.
My whole life for the past ten years has been the internet. I’d go to work, come home, throw something together for the kids, and go online until I went to bed- always very late. When I was with Walter, I didn’t care about the internet, in fact, I had the ability to bring my computer to his house on the weekends, but chose not to, because I much preferred to care for him. I learned to put someone else’s needs before my wants, and that was a huge reward in itself. I could go home after two days and do what I wanted; Walter would never have that ability again, and I never forgot that.
Care giving is not an easy job. It requires dedication, willingness to put someone else above you at all times while on the job, compassion, empathy, respect, and a sincere desire to help someone else. Depending upon the situation, it may require physical strength and stamina, good health, and a personal life which normally wouldn’t interfere with caregiving duties. By that I mean a caregiver cannot just up and leave to attend to something which couldn’t wait for later, and if leaving is necessary, it should be done on a very rare basis. Caregiving requires a certain amount of feelings for the person being cared for, and a good relationship is a must, especially if the person is nearly or completely dependent on your for their needs. find a caregiver near me