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Practical Insights for Busy Caregivers

Doing Things You Weren’t Trained To Do: A Caregiver’s Perspective

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May 16, 2016, by Pat Morden, Caregiver Exchange

Carole Ann Alloway and her husband It all sounded pretty straightforward. When Carole Ann Alloway’s husband was told he was a candidate for ankle replacement surgery, they thought he would have the operation, spend three months recovering, and be back to normal. Instead, he developed a persistent infection and ended up undergoing nine surgeries over five years.

After the first surgery, Alloway wasn’t satisfied with the care he was receiving from visiting nurses, so she took over. “I learned by watching them doing wound care, and changing the bag for the PICC line, and I decided I could do it myself. I only thought it would be a few months.” She did research online to find out more about his medications, how to flush his PICC line, and the latest information on wound care. Still she worried that her care wasn’t good enough and could be contributing to the infection problem.

One of the biggest challenges, she says, was transfers. “My husband is 6’10” and I’m 5’1”. I had no instruction on how to get him in and out of the bathtub with an external fixator. The first bath he had, it was a bigger mess than when I bathed the dog!”

Alloway says caregivers should be trained in the technical aspects of care before their loved ones are discharged from hospital. “If you can have breastfeeding clinics and diabetes clinics in hospital, then why not caregiving clinics? Why not ask the caregivers what they think they can do, and give them the training to do it right?”

Until that happens, she recommends that caregivers ask lots of questions.  “Be sure you understand what is going to happen when you get home and what you need to do in a technical way.” Alloway admits that she took on too much in caring for her husband, and advises others to “measure yourself out, instead of giving up everything.” She suggests talking to other members of your family and friends, who can help with specific care or household tasks. “There were times when I felt like a hamster on a wheel. If you take it all on yourself, you’ll burn out very quickly.” 

Alloway’s husband had his last surgery 18 months ago. He is walking again, and they are rediscovering their relationship after five emotionally draining years. “I didn’t know that I had the title ‘caregiver,” she says looking back. “If I had I would have researched and found the supports that are available out there.”