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A Home Health Caregiver's Advice

To families in need.

Dedicated to Miss Merna.
Watching her family go thru her last days prompted me to write this article. While I was working on it Miss M. passed on. Rest in peace with your family, Miss M., and know you are very much loved and missed.

I have been a home health caregiver for the last 13 years. For 11 1/2 years of that time I have been with two different families. The reason I am writing this is to help you thru the times when you need someone like me.

Ask Questions!! That is the most important thing you can do. Get all the information you can before you make a decision. Listen to the doctors but also ask any friends who have gone thru the same or similar thing. Do research. The internet is full of information covering just about every disease and condition you can think of.

When you hire a caregiver, talk to the last family they were with. I don't care how good the person looks on paper or how many classes they have taken, if they don't have compassion and heart it doesn't matter. I personally would take someone who has very little training, with lots of compassion, heart and common sense over a trained person who looks upon this only as a job.

Why you need someone will influence who you hire. If you want someone for a senior to enable them to stay in their home your needs will be different than if you want someone to enable your terminally ill loved one to spend their last days at home.

For the former you need someone who doesn't mind the house work and cooking. For the latter you need someone with more nursing skills. Which ever one you are in need of, they will not come cheap. Sure I might spend a few nights a week in your home, but I have to maintain my own home too.

Please treat me with respect. I am not a servant. I am a professional who will make your loved ones last days or years more comfortable. I can enable them to live out their days at home rather than in a nursing home. I don't mind dirty diapers, but I do mind being treated like one.

If it is obvious that you have had in home care before don't be surprised if I ask who provided the service and why they left your employ. I might even want to talk to the previous caregiver. Our interview is a two way system. You need to find out if I can do the job you want done and I need to find out if you will allow me to do my job.

I will not do things that your loved one can do for him/herself. If I do I am not doing anyone a favor. People need to be able to do for themselves to maintain their self respect. Most times it would be faster if I were to do it, but that isn't a reason to steal their self respect.

Don't ask me to work on my days off. It may seem like just a few hours to you, but to me it will seem like forever. I work hard and have a lot of responsibilty and I need my agreed to days off. I cannot do a good job for you if I never get to restore myself physically and emotionally.

When talking to the doctor about whether or not to use life support, ask questions. Life support can include the giving of oxygen. It does include putting your loved one on a respirator. It does include CPR. You may decide to use some or none of the life support systems. DO NOT LET ANYONE PRESSURE YOU INTO DOING WHAT THEY WANT. This is your decision. You are the one who has to live with it: no one else. Find our exactly what life support includes in your state before making a choice.

Be sure to find out what happens when you dial 911. Make sure they will comply with your wishes. You may want to call the ambulance service yourself if emergency medical service is required to give life support.

If you have a living will or a "do not resuscitate order" be sure to let everyone know where the papers are. Without being able to actually show the papers to people your wishes may not be followed. Just telling people that it exists is NOT enough. Legally they have to do CPR and other procedures unless the papers stating otherwise are in their hands.

In case of an emergency, if you are in doubt, and have not talked about life support with your loved one, do it.   Otherwise you will spend the rest of your days wondering if you did enough. BUT talk to the medical staff, including the nurses, and find out just exactly how long it should be before you can expect to see some improvement Set a time limit on how long you will continue life support and if at that time there is no improvement, have it removed. Also check and see what the local laws are, make sure that they will allow you to remove it if the time comes to do so.

If you do have to remove life support do not torture yourself. If there is no improvement within the time line you and the medical staff have agreed upon, it is time to let them go. And you can be at ease knowing that you did all that was humanly possible while doing the humane thing.

It makes no sense to continue life support indefinitely. If your loved one is not showing some signs of improvement all you are doing is draining your financial reserves. If you feel you must spend the money on them, donate it to charity in their name or finance a scholarship. The list of things you can do with the money that will make a difference could go on and on. Continuing life support indefinitely isn't one of them.

A book I highly recommend is "Another Country: Navigating the Emotional Terrain of Our Elders" written by Mary Piper. It is published by Riverhead Books and available thru Barnes and Noble. It discusses our interaction with our elder relatives.

Good Health,

Please visit Granny's Corner.

This page was completed on March 24, 1999.

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