Friday, June 12, 2009

Who should caregive? Family or Government

First, let me be clear - I absolutely believe that as adult children we have a moral and ethical obligation to care for elderly parents unless the care would be impossible for medical reasons.

I also believe that family members should be the soft landing place whenever there is a financial or personal crisis. If someone losses their job or gets sick, the other family members should step up to the plate. That is simply a no-brainer. Age is a non-issue in that regard.

It is curious to me that someone can be financially down on their luck and feel as though asking a family member for assistance would be unacceptable. However, those same people will think nothing of seeking (and expecting) assistance from the government.

More than one Duke University Hospital (DUH) hospitalist has recommended that I place dad in a nursing home. The apparently well meaning hospitalists have reminded me that "I have a life too." True enough. I find it very significant that the "MDs" that recommend my dumping my dad and returning to Chicago to resume my life are not my dad's treating doctors. They are the "stranger doctors" - otherwise known in the medical profession as "hospitalists."

Each and every one of dad's Duke Clinic doctors told me that dad should be at home. Most of those doctors flatly told me that dad would be ignored, mistreated or simply not fare well in a nursing home environment. That was all I needed to hear.

But no one (absolutely no one) will care for and rehab my dad as I do. Moreover, I would not have a life unless my father was my safe landing place when I was sick with cancer, emergency surgeries on my intestines, multiple unsuccessful orthopedic surgeries - not to mention putting me through university and law school.

Care-giving is not easy. It is not for sissies. You certainly do not want to lose yourself in the process of care-giving. But you can absolutely care for your parent (or whomever) and become an enriched human being in the process.

You can either consider care-giving to be a burden and intrusion on your life OR you can use the time to amp up your life. Learn something new. Become more knowledgeable in your chosen career. Re-evaluate your life and begin a new career. Become a better person.

Unless your loved one needs medical attention, you will not become a "better you" by dumping your loved one in a nursing home, relying on the government or allowing thoughtless medical professionals to neglect or harm your loved one.

Elderly parents who are going through medical events (chemotherapy, orthopedic surgery rehab) deserve family support. Of course there are family members who are not interested in caring for their elderly parents. They really do not care whether the parent is in a nursing home or another family member is assuming the responsibility.

I have these type of people in my own family. And it can be hurtful to know that family family member actually refuse to visit with the ill person. It is ridiculous and hurtful when family members who are miles away from the sick relative and the daily care-giving effectively disown the sick relative! My family (mom, dad and myself) went through the hurt when my gramma was victimized by a family that "pick sides" and left her out.

My gramma came to live with my family when when she was 72 years old and lived with us until she 93 years old. She was my second mom. She taught me how to fix my hair and wear makeup. Whenever I cried, my gramma would take me into her bedroom and put fancy tonic on my face so that my eyes did not swell up. My gramma died after my law school finals and as I was studying for the bar exam in Illinois.

I could not even fathom attending my law school graduation (which took place while she was ill) because if she could not physically be there, it did not matter. I already lost the core and strength of my dad's family (my nana) years earlier. I never realized until my gramma's death how important the older generation is to our identity. And I was impressed and overwhelmed by my mom's strength. She was running her own business (which she runs to this day) and caring for gramma at home at the same time.

Until the very end, gramma felt loved. She could not have felt that strength and peace in an institutionalized nursing home setting. The last three months of her life were the worst. I flew home several times, wrote gramma letters and called her just so she could hear my voice.

My mom actually heard my gramma call out for her own mom. My mom rushed into gramma's bedroom and she died quickly and peacefully. Can you imagine how hard that was for my mom? She is an amazing person.

Although it was tough for my mom (especially since she was the sole care-giver and had no emotional support from any family member other than myself from the distance of NC to IL), my mom did precisely the right thing in caring for gramma until the end. Gramma did not need medical care near the end. There was no need for nursing assistance unless mom wanted to delegate daily bathing, dressing and feeding. And gramma deserved the descency of having family attend to her needs.

I promised myself that I would never leave my mom in the position of being a sole care-giver again. And so I try to help as much as possible in terms of caring for my dad. Fortunately, the prognosis looks better for my dad. Despite the remarkable errors at Duke University Hospital, dad has been blessed with amazing Duke Clinic doctors. Mom and I have have been relentless in cleaning his wounds, taking him to appointments, fighting the system when necessary, making sure dad eats well, takes medicines properly.

And, here is a little unpaid advertisement - Juven - it is a terrific powder supplement that you can add to a juice or soda. It has been essential in dad's healing and building lean muscle mass.

But it's late at night and I have spent most of the day crying. I am worn out. Not really because of dad and the demands of care-giving. I am sad because of the needless cruelty and poor treatment that my mom and I have received from maternal family members (brothers!). You see, it really does take a family (not just one or two family members) to care-give.

If you have a family member who has taken the selfless responsibility and obligation of caring for an elderly, ill family member of yours . . . show some respect and kindness to those care-givers.

The care-givers do not expect you to give up your yearly vacations and celebrations. The care-givers simply need to be treated kindly. As you go about your lives, remember that the care-givers are doing God's work (regardless of whether you even care about the sick family

Through my tears and disappointment in some family members, I begin to understand why care-givers "give up" and send the sick person to a nursing home. It is a hard job and can be made nearly intolerably difficult by uncaring family members.

But in the end, the most important person in the picture is the sick person (in my case, my dad) and my eye must remain on the ball.

Obama care and the state or federal government are never going to be satisfactory alternatives to the care selflessly provided by a loving family member. We care-givers must get strength from one another.

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