Guest article by Judy Fox
I have grown to be a caregiver during the last four-plus years. It began while I was visiting my mom for ten days. She was getting weaker and weaker. I took her to the hospital. She had a restricted aortic valve. Before this, she was living on her own– shopping, cooking, driving, and playing bridge–at the age of ninety-three. That changed very quickly and I was plunged, as I never had been before, into the world of hospitals, doctors, nurses, medications and endless research on treatments.
Most of us cannot prepare for events that happen seemingly out of the blue. We know that as our loved ones age (and so do we) that health generally deteriorates at some point. Still, we never know when something is going to happen or what it will be. That is just the nature of life.
Since then at every traumatic moment, from pacemaker to massive stroke to aortic valve replacement via catheter, there have been the difficult experiences with members of the caring professions. Yet, what I most remember are those doctors, nurses, nurse’s aides, and therapists who extended their humanity and care when my mother most needed it. I can’t remember their names, but I do remember how they behaved, and how grateful I felt.
What I valued most was how, through their tone of voice, touch, and sincere engagement, they were able to make simple human contact that meant so much. They treated my mom with respect and empathy while being acutely aware of her, her needs, and by drawing on their knowledge to help.
In every one of my mom’s predicaments, we’ve been fortunate to have at least one person who fit this category and some who really stood out in an exceptional way. I think of them as angels. They come in any shape, color, ethnic background, or gender. They are identified instantly by their simple regard for other human beings and for their care for what they are doing.
One young man was working in the emergency room when my mom was admitted. Just the way he spoke to my mother, told her about his life, and took blood from her arm, left an impression upon her. She kept talking about him. He not only spoke to her as one human being to another, but he also was good at what he did. When you are older with skin thin and veins slippery, it can be quite hard to take blood. It requires skill, patience, and a delicate hand. For a sick person who is often frightened and not at her best, having such a caring person has an effect
Then there was the Haitian nurse in the critical care unit…again, she was immediately recognized by her warmth, humor, and persistent hands-on care. She formed a relationship with my mom right away. It was as if she engulfed my mother with warmth and a sense she was totally there for her. I could finally breathe easier.
There was also the head of the rehabilitation hospital, an Irish doctor and osteopath, who had immediate rapport with my mom. He spoke to her, not through the lens of seeing her as a 97-year old post-stroke woman who probably had dementia (which she doesn’t), but with openness and respect. He spent time with her–spoke directly to her in a way that was totally natural. He also told me he had particular empathy for stroke victims.
I could go on and on about the angels who came when most needed. In many ways they are how you would expect a caregiver to be. As a sick person, one is so vulnerable, scared, and out of control. That hand of comfort, expertise, and ease is so appreciated. These angels are often forgotten by the patients as they can come and go in and out of their lives quickly. Nonetheless, by giving in such a natural unpretentious way, they exemplify the best in human beings. They raise our spirits in times of dire need; they really care and that makes all the difference!
Judy Fox is an artist. For the past year and a half, she has been living with her 97-year old mother after she had a stroke. She started a blog site with a good friend called “When the Table Turns” where she writes heartfelt philosophical essays on the care and love for her elderly mom. It’s an ongoing journey that has opened her heart and to which she is very grateful.
(Edited by The Caregiver’s Voice)