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What caregiving is about for me – and it’s not what you think!

I’ve been my mom’s caregiver for – oh, about five, six years now – and the assumptions and questions from people I talk are so interesting. I think a lot of people think that as a caregiver, I’m taking care of someone who is homebound and without independence. That’s not the case in my life.

My mom is a functioning person with malfunctioned kidneys. She drives herself to the dialysis clinic three times a week for what I call her “part-time job.” She goes to the grocery store. Picks up her own medicine. Does chores, makes her breakfast in the morning.

There are times when she is unable to do those things by herself, but I step in every day in many other ways.

So, these are the things I have to do as a caregiver:

Monitoring. Mom can check her blood sugar and blood pressure, but I take notice of changes in my mom’s body that she may not notice. I was the first person to bring up her tube-shaped nails that led to her renal failure diagnosis. I also have to check her feet for any cuts or drastic changes (foot health is very difficult for diabetics), and give her that extra push to get things checked out. They may be benign, but even benign things can turn into disasters if they aren’t monitored properly.

Personal care. While I don’t have to be with my mom every second she’s in the bathroom, I do have to help her with some personal care. I always have to be around when she showers. I must properly cover her dialysis port so it won’t get wet. I must stay in her adjacent bedroom  in case she has a fall. And when she gets out of the shower, I help her dry off (feet are again very important here) and I remove her port dressing. I also have to help apply lotion to her feet if needed (and we are finding it is likely needed every morning and evening).

Power of attorney. We have the security in knowing that if anything happens to mom, I can have her admitted to the hospital. I can also take on her finances in her place if the need arises. Mom still pays her bills on her own.  I do things like going online to check her bank balance, taking care of financial matters if she is hospitalized or in skilled care, and offering support and guidance with financial concerns.

A completely functional pair of hands. I am the one in charge of opening all cans, opening most packages, plugging and unplugging mom’s phone to charge (her nails make it very difficult), and doing lots of things that require strong hands or strong fingernails. I also use my hands to do things like change the Wii back to the cable box so she can watch television. This is important!

Companionship. Mom’s only outside world is that of the grocery store, the pharmacy, her doctors’ offices, and the dialysis clinic. And they all ADORE her. I provide her with someone to talk with, joke with, watch movies with, eat with. Okay, maybe she provides me some of the same.

So, caregiving, for me, is not all driving, sponge baths and bedpans. I help my mother live her life. My job as a caregiver is not for her to be dependent on me, but for me to help her live as independently as possible.

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