Caregivers and our health system

On a recent morning I was treated to a news story that should have made me happy. Instead, it reminded me of things happening right here in Montezuma County.

The incident that made national news: High-paid exec gives up position to become caregiver to sister. It should have brought me to my feet, cheering. Instead, I wondered how many in this country are caregivers to their loved ones – struggling with lack of friends, strength, money, and expertise.

Years ago, many people urged me to put my stroke-stricken wife into a rest home. I refused that advice and fortunately was strong and knowledgeable enough to care for her in our own home in the rural part of the county. It took all of our savings and then some, but that is what the nest egg was for.

Yes, we had good insurance, but because I didn’t take the advice of the supposedly more-learned folks, the insurance paid nothing. If she had been admitted to a facility, they would have paid for a certain number of years of care. However, I was concerned not only about the care she would be getting but the agony and mental anguish of being away from me and her beloved home.

We paid for persons to come in three times a week for four hours – not to give care such as medicine or bathing, just someone to offer conversation and be able to call 911 in case of a fire or emergency while I left to get groceries.

When I carried my wife to therapy, I saw other wives and husbands struggling to care for their loved ones, also short of money, advice, and help from relatives and friends. I was very fortunate that the stroke only took her mobility, not her mind. I have one person from Hospice of Montezuma to whom I owe a debt that cannot be repaid. To me she was and still is my hero.

I am now and have been for some time a caregiver for a woman I was asked to help 10 years back, by her neighbor. I assume he had run the gamut of his religious friends and finally called me, a non-believer. Before he passed, he asked if I would still care for her after he was gone and I gave my word that I would.

She has now been stricken with further health problems. Her relatives are all in Texas and have their own problems. Poor dear, she is stuck with me.

Many people ask me why I am caring for her. I feel I have an obligation to my word and humanity. This lady has few friends, both by choice and by death; she was and still is a private and independent person.

Her relatives say, “Put her in a rest home.” I cannot think of a worse thing to do to a person in their last days, to leave them alone with strangers, no matter how fine the facility itself may be. I will relate a story about a lady in Durango, 101 years young, living by herself, who finally had to move into a care facility. Her mind was sharp; she was still writing books that were selling. I saw her just two days before her demise. She was having dinner and popped up like a jack-in-the-box when I entered. We talked and she said she missed her friends, home, and surroundings. I think loneliness finally drew the curtain.

I am 86, halfway to 87, and am so healthy it scares me. (The only pills I have to swallow are the bitter ones related to how this county and country are run.) I will continue to be a caregiver as long as I am able.

But I believe our health-care system needs to do a better job in providing assistance to caregivers such as me. It is far less expensive to keep someone in their own home than to put them in a facility, yet too often insurance does little to provide the things that would help keep the elderly and disabled at home. We need more alternatives to nursing homes and expensive assisted-living facilities.

We caregivers need some care of our own.

Galen Larson writes from Cortez, Colo.

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