June 29th, 2011 at 1:00 pm
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Caregiving never really ends

by Judy Kirkwood

Although my mom passed away 3 months ago, my sister is back in the caregiving role after her 28-year-old son’s motorcycle accident. My nephew sheared off the front part of his right leg between knee and ankle. In the beginning his leg looked like a bomb had gone off on it. We were all horrified, yet aware of how lucky this young man was that his injuries were not worse.

Fitted with a “wound vac,” which suctions fluid out of the wound and keeps the blood circulating from back of the leg to the wound area, his mobility is limited at the moment. Right now he “crab crawls” on his back to get to the bathroom. But he has been mostly confined to bed–soon to change with physical therapy.

Young or old: caregiving is caregiving

This week, I flew across the country to help sis, just like I did when our mom’s health was failing. My purpose here is to begin driving my nephew back and forth to hyperbaric chamber appointments in a city 90 miles away. My sister has to work and the appointments are necessary for quicker and more thorough healing in an oxygen rich environment before beginning skin grafts with a plastic surgeon.

Right now, though, my duties with my nephew are much what they were like when mom was alive. I check in on him, make his meals and help my sister sort through the endless paperwork at night. I’m trying to streamline storage of medical supplies and safeguard medications, as well as rearrange the house so it is navigable with a walker.

Yesterday I met the young physical therapist who will come twice a week to work with my nephew. I appreciate that a non-family member will bear the brunt of his frustration as he learns to get around while his leg is still throbbing with pain. I also survived the changing of the wound dressing, which I had worried would knock me out. The home health nurse was impressively efficient.

Similar to our teamwork caring for mom, my most important function is to make sure sis takes time for herself and is not overwhelmed. The first night we went out for a quick dinner while my nephew’s girlfriend was over. Last night we escaped for a hot fudge sundae, and we are looking forward to a movie. Those are the times when we do our worrying, shed tears, and share laughs–sanity maintenance. The strategies and skills you develop as a caregiver for one generation transfer to another age group. Nothing is lost but the person you miss.

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