The following is a Q&A with Suzanne A., a Southern California-based caregiver. Suzanne is a caregiver to her husband Gil, who suffered multiple strokes and is unable to work. Suzanne works part-time to support them.
Q: What do people not know about being a caregiver?
Suzanne: Because of social media, our society has been introduced to many people who are caregivers that share their compassion and their struggles. However, each caregiver has a unique dynamic. They are either a caregiver for a spouse, a parent, a grandparent or a friend, and each caregiving situation is different.
It also takes more than stamina, strength and time—it takes emotional strength. I would describe it as having emotional intelligence.
Q: Before your husband’s stroke, had you ever been a caregiver before?
Suzanne: I had no previous experience in caregiving prior to Gil’s stroke. I was definitely a newbie. Some days it’s a comfortable flow but most days are unpredictable and hard.
Q: What has surprised you about being a caregiver?
Suzanne: On the negative side, you don’t have any down time. On the positive side, you get a lot of physical, mental and emotional strength when you are constantly placing another’s needs and care before your own.
Q: What does a typical day look like for you?
Suzanne: Every morning, I have to assess what went on with Gil’s care the night before. He is currently at a post-acute health center in Southern California because of issues he was having related to his feeding tube. Because of the hemorrhagic strokes he suffered, he now has aphasia so I am his communication and need to be present and available to help with his care via the hospital staff.
I usually call the nurse on duty to check conditions, or I go in early to see him and do the assessment in person. I leave late morning to work or handle Gil’s doctor appointments or other paperwork. I return every night between 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. to do exercises with his arms and legs to keep his circulation healthy. I usually return back home by 11 p.m.
Q: What are your biggest challenges?
Suzanne: Trying to keep a consistent schedule. As simple an answer as it would seem to ‘What does a typical day look like,’ there is absolutely nothing typical about my days. It can vary and go in so many different directions.
Because I am his communication, it is important for me to be on the spot and available to address his concerns and make certain his needs are met with patience, compassion and dignity.
Q: What keeps you up at night?
Suzanne: I have been blessed as the moment I put my head on the pillow every night, I fall sound asleep! The only concern I have at times is to make sure that I am able to hear the phone ring if Gil’s night nurse is calling. So, I do wake up periodically to check the phone.
Q: What do you look forward to the most?
Suzanne: I am in awe of my husband’s strength and courage. Daily, I look forward to seeing the progress he shows. Sometimes, it is a big leap forward then a few steps back. But, he is determined not to give up so neither will I!
Q: Do you have any advice for new caregivers?
Suzanne: It is imperative that caregivers understand that the person they are giving care for has a medical condition. Do not take anything personally. Understanding that a medical condition plus medications can make a person different at times.
Be loving and be patient.
Q: Anything else you’d like to share?
Suzanne: It is always too soon to quit or give up! I am honored to be Gil’s wife and share this life with him.