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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
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.
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.