REWARDING WORK, SURPRISING REACTIONS
2007 "Give a Caregiver a Break" RUNNER-UP: Alice
Being a caregiver day to day, you never know what you will face or if you will be called on in the middle of the night with a crisis. A few times I had to call an 800 number to get advice on how to solve a problem.
We have been through the gamut of illnesses, starting with my husband's developing colon cancer in 1990 and a year of chemo and radiation. I left my job of 17 years to be with him, to push the wheelchair to receive his chemo. An orthopedic surgeon told him that he would never walk again after my husband lost the use of his legs. After sports-medicine treatment, though, he was able to walk on crutches.
In the last five years, my husband has had a stroke, carotid-artery surgery, and a heart attack. He's also developed diabetes and become legally blind. He's restricted to a hospital bed at home. There have been many episodes of his going to the emergency room with bleeding problems or from hallucinations from medicine and various illnesses. All trips are by ambulance, even to get a tooth pulled.
In the beginning, I didn't know how I would cope with being a caregiver and wondered if I would make it. People told me I was looking very tired, and my nutrition was going down the drain. We are both very positive people, and little by little I decided that this is my life and to do my best.
The nurses trained me in many areas, and my husband bought me a Vermont Teddy Bear nurse, which he named Ali, which is part of my name. The bear nurse came with a fake stethoscope, so I would check my husband's pulse and ask the bear nurse what he thought it was. He would give a good number, and I'd say, "Guess what? That's what it is!" Learning to lessen stress and have a good sense of humor helps. Some of the nurses say they like to come here because we can laugh with them; they've even told me they will give me an honorary degree.
Listening to positive people and reading a good book is good therapy. Recently, when I went to the doctor's office to pick up a prescription, the doctor saw me. He came over and told me I was a saint. I hadn't expected this. There are wonderful people who are lifesavers. Our daughter will stay weekly while I do groceries and errands. A friend comes weekly to read to my husband and carry on interesting conversations. When my sister Barbara, who lived in Florida, died last November, a nurse who is an angel stayed with my husband so I could go to the funeral. I had never met her, but she had heard about the death and volunteered her services. My angel!
I worked most of my life, but being a caregiver is the most difficult and also rewarding thing I've done.
—Alice Cadle, MA