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Practical Insights for Busy Caregivers

Caregiving is tough for professionals too

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February 27, 2017, by Pat Morden, Caregiver Exchange

Mary Lynn Priestap trained as a nurse and spent decades working in community care in Huron Perth before retiring seven years ago. Yet when her husband Warren had a serious accident, she faced a steep learning curve. “People kept telling me how lucky he was to have a wife who knows things,” she says. “But it was overwhelming for me.”

Priestap’s husband fell backwards out of a transport truck, ending up with a significant head injury and a fractured hip. He spent a total of eight weeks in hospital, including five weeks in rehabilitation at Parkwood Hospital in London.

One of the first challenges Priestap faced was handling her husband’s small business. “I know we should have had powers of attorney in place, but we didn’t,” she says ruefully. “It was a whole different aspect that I wasn’t involved in and suddenly I had to deal with.” Fortunately, a former employee with his own business was able to pitch in. The lesson, says Priestap, is to plan for the unexpected.

Despite her involvement in community care, Priestap says she had little experience with brain injuries. When Warren suddenly lapsed into a near-coma six days after the accident, she learned that brain injuries can result in metabolic problems. In his case it was a condition known as Syndrome of Inappropriate Antidiuretic Hormone Secretion. Luckily she asked questions, and a physician recognized the symptoms and got him the treatment he needed.

Another important lesson came courtesy of the social worker at Parkwood Hospital. She suggested that, because the accident involved a vehicle, Priestap should contact her car insurance company. The insurance has paid for more therapy than would have been available through OHIP (the Ontario Health Insurance Plan), and covered expenses such as a wheelchair and walker and hearing aids.

Due to his brain injury, Warren lost his driver’s licence. Recently he completed driver training at Parkwood and took the test but was unsuccessful in regaining his licence. “That really impacts both  our lives,” says Priestap.                             

She says the experience of caring for Warren has given her a new perspective on the challenges of caregiving. “I’m physically well but when I first took him home, I found it hard to heave a walker and a wheelchair in and out of the car,” she says. “Getting him into the house didn’t go well either, even though it’s only three steps and the therapist had practiced with me!  For someone who isn’t as strong, it must be a lot harder.”