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Fall 2011

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The Single Caregiver

Choosing Every Day to Take the Challenge

By Madonna Siles, CPC

Ten years ago my best friend and I decided to look at the reality of our futures as soon-to-be senior citizens. She was a financially secure widow, age 55, and I was a single career woman, age 51. We planned to move from Chicago to Door County, Wis., to pursue our dream of opening an art gallery in the Midwest vacation destination.

In preparation for our life-changing adventure, we met with a lawyer to set up reciprocal financial and medical powers of attorney (POAs)—giving us the authority to make decisions for the other if we were hurt or disabled. Legally speaking, many hospitals require legal documents to allow you to speak with medical staff about the patient. Many states mandate this if you are not related by blood to the patient.

We had been honest with each other. Neither of us wanted to be long-term caregivers; nor did we want to languish in a hospital bed on life-support. The lawyer added “no extraordinary measures” to our medical POAs. We thought we had covered everything, but nobody is ever fully prepared...

Eve suffered a near fatal brain aneurysm (hemorrhagic stroke) in 2001 and immediately I was presented with critical life/death decisions that had resounding implications for the next 10 years.

The stroke caused extensive cognitive/emotional brain damage along with memory loss. We have been trying to recover those functions one day at a time ever since—some days have been more successful than others.

What makes my role as a single caregiver different from the caregiver surrounded by family and friends? Aside from the obvious support system issues, I can easily recognize that I have a choice. It’s my choice alone whether I will try for one more day of recovery together—or not. In the beginning it was a daily choice. Nowadays I review the situation every three months.

Whether I caregive is not necessarily dependent on Eve’s needs. Rather, it depends on my physical/emotional/mental wellbeing and my motivation to do it.

After 10 years, I’m well aware that the choice comes with challenges.

Sometimes it’s difficult to ask for help, especially for emotional support for myself. On the other hand, I never have to feel that I am a victim of circumstance. I am not pressured by family dynamics or Eve’s other friends. I don’t expect help; therefore I’m never disappointed. Yet, I’m thrilled and grateful when someone offers help. I have the power in an otherwise powerless situation. I own my decision to try to help Eve just for today. 

Learning to Care

Take a scheduled and designated “worry period” devoted to yourself, the patient, finances, rehabilitation options or future concerns.
Expecting a certain level or rate of recovery for the survivor can be a set-up for failure. Better to expect that you—the caregiver—will patiently and creatively handle whatever challenges stroke recovery demands of you.
Take a good, hard look at what you are giving up—and what you are gaining—in your new caregiver role. Write out a pros and cons list so you can see your thoughts in black and white.
Clear your mind at bedtime and pray, count backwards from 100, or invest in a soothing music or meditation CD.
  • It’s not easy to ask for help from your friends, but try it anyway. They may be just waiting for a chance to help.

Madonna Siles, CPC, is the author of “Eureka! Memories and Motivations” (Third Step Press, 2010) and “Brain, Heal Thyself” (Hampton Roads, 2006). She and Eve reside in Sturgeon Bay (Door County), Wis.

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