It was no accident that Gwyn had to be her husband’s caregiver. She was a wellness instructor and understood the value of preventive care. The goal of wellness is to prevent illness. Gwyn had just turned 50-years-old and her husband was diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Gwyn knew the importance of creating balance in her life. But was she prepared for the upset of her husband’s illness? Was her wellness experience key to creating an advance care plan?
Preventive care is necessary for you, as a family caregiver, to guard against burnout and heartache. It’s been said, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Meaning – it’s better to be prepared than needing to fix problems later. Having an ounce of prevention is the necessary tool that allows you to survive caregiving and prompts you to do no harm.
In staking out a garden, flags are posted every so often in the yard to mark the spot where a new plant will either flourish or perish. The garden becomes a pin-cushion for your hopes and dreams. By the same token, your patient may feel like a pin cushion when he experiences repeated needle sticks. Your hopes and dreams might appear as inflicting harm to your patient.
3 Preventive care tools can help caregivers do no harm:
- Keep it simple
A gardening project can get out of hand. You may think you’d like a lot of plants or that mowing a large lawn is not a chore. What if you had to hire someone to keep up your garden? How expensive does this become? There is no such thing as a low-maintenance patient. Caring for your loved one is often manageable at first. Then like a vine, the growing responsibilities begin to creep into every aspect of your life.
Keeping it simple requires that you begin to think in reverse. Breathing tubes and feeding tube need a lot of maintenance. Frequent hospitalization results in burnout. Encouraging others to get better is like beating your head against the wall. It becomes self-defeating.
Tell yourself that your job is not to prevent your loved one from dying. Commit to making life easy for you and your patient. You have the choice to say, “We can either do this the easy way or the hard way.” The hard way means inflicting harm. Oftentimes, for no good reason.
- Appreciate your work as a labor of love
Do you tend to slave away or enjoy life? Saying, “I love what I am doing” often becomes fleeting as the years pass. A true labor of love is giving yourself permission not to do everything or achieve any results. You can just “be me” or “live in the moment” without expectation or judgement.
“Love is patient . . . Love is not easily angered.” When you become angry, you are caring too much. You have reached a boiling point. You need to turn down the heat and allow a cooler head to prevail. Losing your patience might reflect that your patient losing his battle with chronic illness. Learn how to use love to let go of fear and anger.
Allowing nature to take its course is a labor of love. There is strength in being both aggressive and passive. As a caregiver, your work is to find balance between being gung-ho and letting go. This prevents you from losing your sanity and becoming sick yourself.
- Treat caregiving as a gift
The value in receiving a gift is you can take it or leave it. Can you think of caregiving as not being important to you? How can you give up being a caregiver when someone is depending on you? In this context, your loved one has become more of a parasite than a person.
Living together is a close physical association can mean that you share a symbiotic relationship. Each person gains some advantage through being together. Viewing one another as a gift, you may appreciate this relationship as a blessing and a curse. Establishing this middle ground upfront may prevent you from feeling like killing each other.
Caregiving is only a gift if you remain indifferent to it, i.e. you can take it or leave it. Remaining indifferent is the path to doing no harm. It’s a passive tool that caregivers rarely use. Guard against staking out the perfect garden. Allow enough room in the space for indifference. You’ll experience serenity as a gift when you allow nature to help fill in the gaps.