A Week in the Life of a Caregiver

This week has brought many trials. First, I had four sections of papers to grade for my forty-five graduate students, so time was already at a premium. On Tuesday, as I was driving to a meeting, someone shot out the rear passenger side window as I was moving down the highway at 55mph. It just exploded into the back seat. Thankfully, I was not hurt, just badly shaken up! As God provided, I was only a mile or so away from the dealer where my car is regularly serviced. I immediately received help from my dear service manager. He gave me a hug, ordered me a rental car, and said he would begin the estimate on the damage to my car immediately. Within fifteen minutes I was on my way to my meeting in the rental car, paid for by the service department. Although it took many phone calls and a trip to the police station in a neighboring town my car was fixed and my insurance company made the whole process easy. When my son heard about the episode he offered to pay our insurance deductible.  God is good!

Wednesday morning I had to take my husband to the hospital for a CT scan and a pre-op consultation. As I sat in the waiting room I received a call from my husband asking if I would come back to the examining room to be with him. Yikes! I panicked as he rarely asks for support. I found him sitting on a gurney with a messy looking port inserted in his right arm and bandages on his other arm and both wrists. Apparently, the nurses had trouble finding a vein. Although the rest of the process went smoothly, I knew he had to have another blood test during the pre-op. Well, God intervened and gave us the kindest nurse who gently and expertly gave my husband a blood test he barely felt. God is good!

Thursday morning, we were up early again to take our two hound dogs to the vet for their annual check-up. Hannah weighs 90 pounds and Hooch weighs in at 74 pounds. Big dogs! These sweethearts are not used to being away from home and they do not behave. They are excited and tend to pull us along as they rush to sniff everything in the waiting room. Yes, we failed dog training 101. It is always a wild ride as we visit the vet. This time was no different but I only received two wounds as they “pawed” me when they were nervously waiting to be examined. We did make it safely back to the confines of our fenced in yard without any further trouble. God is good!

Friday morning, we had to be at the hospital by 6:15 am for my husband’s out-patient surgery. He has bladder cancer and another couple of spots had to be taken care of in a short procedure while he was under anesthesia. My biggest task before we left home was to make sure my husband didn’t forget and drink any water. His usual routine is to have a glass of water after he gets dressed, so I hid all the cups in the bathroom, removed his bedside water bottle, and followed him when he went into the kitchen. Success, he made it to the hospital on time without having anything in his stomach. Then comes all his questions about why this surgery is necessary. However, his nurses and doctor were wonderful as they patiently reassured him about the procedure. God is good!

After my husband went to surgery, I sat in the waiting room all alone. The procedure was only to take a few minutes so I didn’t think I needed any support, but I was wrong. Knowing what can happen when putting a dementia patient under anesthesia really frightened me. So, I turned to my online support group for prayer. All I did was post on Facebook where I was and who was having surgery and within minutes 25 people responded that they were praying. I was so encouraged! It was as if I had other Christians in the waiting room with me. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help whenever you need support. God worked through many people and happenings this week to show me that He loves me wherever I am, no matter how small or large the task I face. God is good!

Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good. His love endures forever. (Psalm 136:1)

Dr. Weaver is a successful online graduate instructor and the author of the course: The Caregiver Marathon: Training for Serving in the Long Run.  Her husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2013 and she is currently providing care for him.

Caregiver Marathon Training Course

The responsibility to be a caregiver comes to most of us as a surprise, like an unwanted task that presents itself in our “to do” box.

This was my situation when my husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. We had just moved away from family and friends to a new home in the Texas countryside where we planned to spend our retirement years. All of a sudden the future looked bleak and very frightening. As a teacher, I began to research everything I could find about this disease. I sought counsel from my pastor and he guided me to other Christians who had experience being a caregiver. They, in turn, promised prayer support and gave me books to read. So began my caregiving marathon.

Why do I call my service as a caregiver a ‘marathon’? The answer is that most caregivers need to pace themselves, just like a marathon runner. There are no quick fixes to our care receiver’s disease; in fact in some cases there will be just “a long goodbye,” as Nancy Reagan called Alzheimer’s.  Caregiving is not a sprint; we must develop endurance, patience, and resiliency to run this long race.  There will be ups and downs, as I’ve had to learn over the past four years. However, as I’ve studied the research and literature about caregiving, I’ve realized that there is a great deal of support available, if you know where to look.

As I sought out other Christians who could give me guidance, I found a couple of devotional books that really spoke to me. These authors challenged me to be honest with myself about my anger, fear, and frustration. In the process of this soul-searching I found that there are many scriptures, songs, and books that could offer comfort and guidance to caregivers. Further, I realized I was not alone in this long hard run.

According to a recent study, an estimated 43.5 million adults in the United States provided unpaid care to an adult or a child for some time period during 2015. On average, these caregivers have been doing so for 4 years, and 24% have provided care for 5 years or more. And those who provide the most hours of care are twice as likely to have been providing care for 10 or more years (NAC and AARP Public Policy Institute). These are staggering statistics, but they indicate that there are a large number of people running the race together, and these communities of caregivers rally together like sports fans do in a pep rally.

When I sought guidance concerning a dementia patient facing surgery, caregivers on the Alzheimer’s discussion forum gave me excellent advice. At the same time, my own support group offered prayer and help sitting with my husband as he recovered from surgery. A church in our small town offers respite care for dementia patients, and this church has become a vital link with other caregivers in the area. I also had opportunities to support a fellow caregiver in my Bible study group by offering prayer and reading materials. As I encouraged her, I was also learning about the power of community. I came to the realization that I could be a support to other caregivers and share what I’d learned over the past four years of my own caregiving journey.

I’ve come to care so deeply about supporting those who are providing care for their parents, children, and partners that I have designed a course for caregivers and those who want to minister to them. In this course, we’ll explore the latest literature and research about caregiving, and we’ll listen to testimonies from other caregivers who have advice on ways to stay healthy as we serve. There will be discussions where we can share our own thoughts and offer support to others. We’ll talk about ways churches can be supportive of caregivers in their community — as Christians, there are so many different ways we can offer support and encouragement to caregivers. Most importantly, we will find joy in the Lord as we learn to reach out to God’s Word and his servant followers for support. So put on your spiritual running shoes; we want to be on your team, and we’re in this with you for the entire race. Let’s go!

NAC and AARP Public Policy Institute. (2015). Caregiving in the U.S. 2015.  http://www.caregiving.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/2015_CaregivingintheUS_Final-Report-June-4_WEB.pdf