This past winter, I took a lap around the track as a Caregiver. Not for a cancer patient, but for my husband who shattered his tibia in a skiing accident. And not literally a lap around the track, but hundreds (it seemed) of laps up and down the stairs of the house. It was, overall, a humbling but rewarding time. I learned what it was like to be helping someone who couldn’t keep up with normal activities. I learned things that many caregivers to cancer patients will already recognize. Here are a few highlights.
Pacing. Pacing yourself is key, when you are thrust into doing more than you are used to doing. Winter chores in Vermont include driveway snow removal, stoking the woodstove, bringing in the wood to the house, and mitigating the ice on the driveway, when it appears. When I became the only fully mobile person at our house for a couple of months, those were my jobs, as was cooking, cleaning, shopping and getting rid of trash. Everything could get done, every day, along with taking care of my husband’s care, but I had to really pace myself. It was like an endurance event. I counseled myself: “Don’t go so hard that you can’t get up and do it all again the next day.”
Sometimes it takes a Team. I literally couldn’t do everything that needed to get done some days. We had a few neighbors and friends who pitched in with help with the wood carrying or other things. When I got the flu (!), my husband found a local high scholl baseball team that sent volunteers to the house to help shovel out from a late April snowstorm. Brilliant!
Stay Upbeat. Staying positive was a surprisingly natural reaction to seeing how badly injured my husband was. I became a cheerful caregiver and kept up a good attitude. I am often a real worrier, but I felt so protective of him that I wanted to keep his spirits up by giving him confidence. Now, I’m not perfect at this, and sometimes my worries overflowed a little bit, but I did my best. We picked funny TV shows to binge watch late and night, and we kept his (and my) spirits up through a difficult time.
Celebrate the Little Stuff. There’s nothing quite like a major illness or severe injury to make you realize how good you had it all along. “Boy, it sure was nice when I could walk.” In the next instant, though, you might also realize that you still have it pretty good. My husband and I celebrated the little stuff like sharing good meals, spending extra time together, being able to see healing advancing, and trying to find the humor in the whole medical adventure. It occurred to us often to say: “Well, it could have been worse” and mean it. There was still a lot to celebrate, and doing so kept us appreciating every day, despite the limitations.
Overall, I liked caregiving. I could have done without getting the flu, but overall, I liked my turn at caregiving. It was interesting to find that it wasn’t actually overwhelming, even though it was very demanding and tiring. The main goal was helping my husband heal and it was good to know that I was making a big difference every day in his healing. And, it was good to take a turn in the Caregiver role. But I won’t mind having his help with snow removal and woodstove filling next year!