QUESTION: I don’t have a question, but I’d like to share some information that I hope will be helpful to others. My medical condition is due to a stroke I experienced many years ago that left me unable to manage everyday chores such as preparing food, bathing and exercising. I attribute the fact that I’m still here to the wonderful helpers who have enriched my life and provided quality, compassionate caregiving. But I also take credit in our success by being respectful and helpful recipient of care. My caregivers and I work as a team. I try as best I can to express my needs in a clear and concise manner, and my caregivers hold up their end of the bargain by doing the best they can to keep me healthy and thriving as much as possible given my difficult situation. I always say “thank you” and “please,” and that seems to go a long way. I hear from friends and family about unhappy, unhealthy seniors and how difficult it is to get good care these days. I believe caregiving works two ways: There must be respect from both sides. Aging and illness certainly have their challenges, but so does caregiving. Working together seems to be the best solution for everyone.—Wilma
ANSWER: You are a gem, Wilma. And I thank you for writing and sharing the wisdom you impart to others. Aging and illness have the power to make us cranky, bitter, resentful and full of regret. Unfortunately, it is often the caregiver who is on the receiving end of this angst. And I, too, believe caregiving is a two way street. There is giving and receiving from both sides and we all need to be aware of the gifts caregiving can bestow on everyone involved—kindness, patience, empathy, compassion and love. I’d like to add another suggestion to your list. It concerns the fine art of asking questions. As caregivers, we often assume we know what is best for the person in our care. It is imperative that caregivers consistently ask questions to be able to adequately serve others. Assumptions are often based on generational and gender misperceptions or on past experiences. In the end, assumptions and perceptions can be just plain wrong. The only way to get to the heart of a situation is to ask questions. Would you like a shower seat installed so you don’t feel so wobbly in the shower? Would a walker or a cane help with your balance? Would you prefer a cream sauce or marinara sauce on your pasta? Would you enjoy a little glass of red wine with your dinner? Would engaging the Closed Caption on the television help you to hear your programs better? Are you up to taking a walk around the block now, or would you prefer to go later today? For the most part, age and illness do not take away our ability to make decisions that promote a better quality of life. Time is always a challenge for caregivers, as well. But to short change those in our care to save a few minutes is a waste of an opportunity to truly connect and make a difference in someone’s life. Again, thank you for writing and bringing these important issues to light. As caregivers, compassion fatigue is what we experience when we don’t practice authentic, sustainable self-care daily. Compassion satisfaction is what we experience when we derive pleasure from the caregiving work we do. If there were more people like you, Wilma, compassion satisfaction levels for caregivers would be sky high.
Patricia Smith is a certified Compassion Fatigue Specialist with 20 years of training experience. As founder of the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project© (www.compassionfatigue.org), the outreach division of Healthy Caregiving, LLC, she writes, speaks and facilities workshops nationwide in service of those who care for others. She has authored several books including To Weep for a Stranger: Compassion Fatigue in Caregiving, which is available at www.healthycaregiving.com or Amazon.com.