by Cindy Hasz
American Reporter Correspondent
San Diego, Calif.
January 20, 2003
WHO WILL BE THERE WHEN WE ARE CHILDREN AGAIN?
SAN DIEGO -- I have always felt that caregivers are the most important people in senior care - not the nurses, not the doctors, but the people who actually give the hands-on care, day in and day out.
Working as I have been the last few weeks as a caregiver has only reinforced that belief.
It has been years since I stayed with someone for a 12-hour shift or 24-hour shift. Yesterday I was with one of my favorite men all day and all night. I got him up in the morning and put him to bed at night.
I helped him into the shower and helped him dry himself off. I let him dress himself as far as he could but noticed that he became frustrated and off-balance when trying to put his pants on. I pulled on each pants leg and he thanked me after each one. Then I stood back and watched him try to get his socks on. When he became short of breath trying to reach his feet, I intervened.
He came out of the bedroom to eat breakfast with bedhead.
Sixty-something year old bedhead looks remarkable like three-year old bedhead. Sixty-year-old morning-face looks a lot like young boy morning-face only with a lot more folds and whiskers.
He likes oatmeal, probably as he did when he was little.
He brought his bowl over to the sink for me to wash and I wiped toast crumbs out of his stubble and suggested a shave. He doesn't need help with that.
We went out and surveyed all the trees down from the windstorm the day before. Men in the neighborhood out using chain saws on fallen pines and eucalyptus looked up at us and acknowledged him. This pleased him. They nod, grunt and otherwise communicate maleness in ritual body language understood even by a man with Alzheimer's.
We walked for half an hour and headed home. Then we went on to lunch with one of his buddies from Rotary - the plumber, a man's man. My friend is quiet; he lets the plumber do all the talking. He nods and makes appropriate facial indicators to show he is following the conversation.
We include him, make him feel normal - as normal as the rest of us goofballs in the land of the living, driving cars, eating out, shopping, etc. Basically, these big everyday circles make us feel "useful" and on-track.
I can't imagine this gentle, dignified giant of a man in an Alzheimer's facility.
I thank God his son has the grace and compassion to keep him at home, where he is comfortable and feels safe. It's not cheap, but neither is an institution. Point is, this is his home. He is not an inmate, a guest, a patient, a bother, a burden or anything else anyone wants to call him.
We are on his turf. These are his books, his aviation plaques, his scuba diving pictures, and his architectural awards.
This is the house he earned. This is the place he watched the sun rise and set thousands of times. In this place, he has grown his fruit trees and flowers. He has his quail here, his horses, his metal sculptures in the yard.
The time will come when he won't take such comfort from these things, this place. We don't know when; could be a year from now, could be ten years. But right now, uprooting him from the only place he feels at home would send him into shock, one he'd never recover from.
Caregivers provide that root system to human love and kindness. They help our elders function in a world that has gotten out of their control, not so much by handing out pills - as important as medications can be - nor by charting changes in cognitive status or reading lab values or all the other clinical things doctors and nurses do.
No, they are not saved by those things, but simply by caregivers being there; by holding the hand of a frightened and lonely grown-up, by helping them put their pants on, wiping their faces and tucking them into bed at night.
These people stay when the whole world has left, even family.
Caregivers are the true heroes of our elders' world.