You have a B.S. in Chemistry….what do you know about caregiver stress? A lot more than you think. If you’ve had the time to read my others posts, you realize I’m a CHEM enthusiast. Five grueling years of mathematics and chemistry courses to garner my degree and academic distinction amongst peers.
It was at the beginning of these five years that my caregiving journey began. My grandmother had a stroke when I first entered college….I was 18 years old. The stroke left her with right-side paralysis and speaking difficulties. My family and I were faced with a decision….who will care for her? My older brother was working full-time and my younger brother was still in high school. Then there was me….the college bound Jersey girl with big Chemistry dreams. Who says the middle child isn’t the best child? Faced with the dilemma of nursing home or homecare, I spent many days in a daze thinking about the future. What’s more important, the happiness of my grandmother or my career path? Hands down….the happiness of my grandmother. So, in 2004 my grandmother and I embarked on a memorable 11 year journey.
As I said earlier, I was 18 years old when my caregiving journey began and my grandmother was 73. How was I going to convince this, up until now, extremely independent woman that I was capable of caring for her during her time of need? My grandmother’s thoughts were written all over her face….I’m going to be dependent on this teenage girl, who barely knows how to drive or cook? Yes.
There we were, two women separated by decades, expected to get along and balance life. Easier said than done. Although I chose to care for my grandmother, I didn’t want to delay my education. So, I decided to balance caregiving and college. It was difficult, but doable! Besides, the life skills I was learning through my Chemistry course work were coming in pretty handy at home. My grandmother’s recovery was slow, but steady. She never recovered from the paralysis, but was successful in overcoming her eating and speech difficulties.
Fast forward 5 years….2009. I just graduated college with my degree in Chemistry and WHAM, grandmom had another stroke! Not again. This stroke left her completely dependent on me. Because of the seriousness of her condition, I wouldn’t be able to work and I WASN’T putting her into a healthcare facility. I became my grandmother’s 24-hour caregiver. From feeding tubes to tracheostomies….we covered it all! I should have majored in healthcare!
From 2009 until her death in 2015, I cared full-time for my grandmother. It was during these 5-6 years I suffered from caregiver stress. When you say you’re a caregiver, people jump to the conclusion that you don’t work, stay at home, eat bon-bon’s, and watch television all day. These people couldn’t be more wrong! Caregiving is a full-time job with a lot of overtime. You sleep when the patient sleeps. Caregivers are at the mercy of the patient’s schedule. Adapting to this schedule is difficult and can’t be achieved overnight. Realistically, you may never adapt to the schedule….you just go with the flow. That flow involves many sleepless nights and hours of direct contact healthcare. No sleep and hours of helping the patient causes mental and physical exhaustion. There’s no break from these relentless hours and no one to relieve you from your duties. It’s just you and your patient….just me and grandmom!
Days turned into nights and nights into days, but one thing stayed constant, my devotion to my grandmother. Just when I thought I could no longer deal with the stress of caregiving, there she was smiling and nodding, letting me know how grateful she was for my presence.
Don’t let caregiver stress deter you from caring for your loved-one. Caregiving is HARD, but with proper knowledge and resources you can avoid stress and burnout. Thank you for reading and take care!