One of the most exciting parts of being a writer is hearing other people’s stories (and then being able to pass them on). One of my passions is to help equip and encourage women who find themselves in the role of caregiver primarily because my own first experience was a difficult and exhausting one. So I was thrilled to have the opportunity to share author and Caregiving Advocate Shelly Beach’s story with readers. As you read, you’ll see Shelly’s heart beats strong for caregivers (and those they take care of)…from her own experience Shelly offers wisdom, hope, and practical strategies that lighten everyone’s load.
A few summers ago, my then-eighty-eight-year-old father underwent open-heart surgery. After nearly a week in one of Michigan’s finest cardiac hospitals, Dad was transferred to a rehab center. As a family, we’d gathered recommendations regarding the facility’s quality of care, maintenance standards, and the staff’s medical and rehab expertise.
So when Dad’s care turned out to be . . . let’s just say, sub-par, I was not only disappointed, I was alarmed. My father’s life and health were on the line.
I could have thrown my arms and berated the staff when we were ushered into a room that smelled like dirty socks. (Dad was later moved at my request.) I could have thrown a fit when I was asked to hike to rehab and retrieve footrests for a wheelchair after my father nearly collapsed because he wasn’t given a wheelchair. I could have thrown a temper tantrum when the nursing staff didn’t respond to my father’s call light after fifteen minutes. And I could have given the staff a sample of my lung capacity when I was told I was five minutes over the designated reservation time when I requested to eat dinner in the dining room with Dad (I’d been tending to his toileting needs in the absence of staff).
Instead, I smiled, took notes, jotted down the names of staff — including those who were performing their jobs well and deserved commendation – and placed a call to management the next day. I stated my concerns politely, with documentation of safety risks, then asked the manager what steps would be taken to assure that my dad’s needs would be met appropriately in the future.
I mentioned that the facility had come highly recommended, but unless I saw immediate evidence of improvement in several key areas, we were leaving. I identified staff members who’d cared for my father in a manner I felt deserved recognition. The manager thanked me profusely and kept me on the phone, asking for details. It was obvious his desire was to provide excellent service for residents and their families. In the end, my family chose to keep my dad at this facility, even though our impression during the first twenty-four hours had been to head for the hills.
As caregiving advocates, we can’t afford the luxury of letting off steam when our responsibility is to stand in the gap for our loved ones. I believe that caregiving advocates fulfills their roles most effectively when they are –
Articulate: Advocates must be more than communicators. We must be able to clearly articulate ideas, information, emotions, fears, and concerns in spite of our feelings. We must hone the art of communication.
Decisive: We often stand in the gap as the responsible party for making tough decisions. It’s our responsibility to gather and weigh information within the context of life-changing implications for our loved ones.
Vigilant: Vigilance includes the caregiving environment; medications; our loved one’s physical, emotional, and social changes. If the one we care for is in a nursing home, be sure to drop in frequently and on all shifts. Report concerns immediately and document your reports.
Observant: Watch for details and keep a notebook if you need to. Know the names of staff members and the shifts that they work. Be familiar with your loved one’s surroundings.
Capable: Not everyone should shoulder the responsibilities of a caregiver. Consider who in your family may be the most capable for the task, recognizing that the role most often needs to be shared.
Appreciative: Show your appreciation for those who extend hands of care to your loved ones — not only to those in day-to-day contact, but to administrators and maintenance crews.
Teachable: The caregiving journey is long and difficult, and a teachable spirit will carry a caregiver through to the end. Be willing to listen and learn — from doctors, hospice workers, caregivers, family members, your pastor and church family.
Envoy: An envoy creates connections and paves the way. Your role as a caregiving advocate is to create the smoothest possible path for your loved one. Listen and give them a voice. Stand in the gap for them, extending Jesus’ hands of love.