by Kim Keller
Karen and I created In Care of Dad as a tribute to our father, who died on July 16, 2006, after a long, painful illness. What helped us most through our dad’s ordeal was the support system of family and friends, the wonderful people who provided us with advice and inspiration that was essential to our survival at the time. By sharing their own caregiving stories, they made us feel not so alone. They shined a light on our path forward.
After our father’s death, Karen and I asked ourselves, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could create that same type of caregiving support for others? And wouldn’t Dad just love that idea!”
And that’s how In Care of Dad came to be.
Now, as we face our mom’s continuing health struggles, we are particularly grateful for this community we have built. It has strengthened our belief that we need each other’s knowledge and encouragement to help lift us through the caregiving experience.
In that spirit, here are ten more of the most important lessons we’ve learned:
- Accept Your Limitations — You cannot do everything. Know when to ask for help or guidance. This doesn’t mean you’ve failed or you’re inadequate. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Rather, it is a sign of strength. Always remember that.
- Seek “Magnet” Status Care — Our mom recently needed surgery, so Karen and I sought out a top-notch surgeon, and one of the best places to look is at a hospital known for quality care. We chose a teaching hospital with a Magnet designation, which is the nursing profession’s most prestigious honor for exceeding high standards in patient care. Only 7% of the hospitals in the US, and 395 hospitals worldwide, have secured this exclusive ranking. Although I can’t confirm that every teaching hospital, or even every Magnet-designated hospital, is a superior facility, your chances of securing quality care are immeasurably improved by these factors. To find a Magnet hospital, check out this website.
- Eat More Greens — Eliminating or reducing the refined, processed and animal foods in our collective diet can prevent, stop and even reverse serious chronic diseases like cancer, heart disease and diabetes. The 90-minute documentary, Fork Over Knives, is full of irrefutable research and firsthand accounts that illustrate this very point.
- Find Veteran Aid — If your loved one is a veteran, then he/she may be eligible for special benefits. Applying for these benefits can be a frustrating burden, so we recommend VeteranAid.org, a website dedicated to smoothing out the process. VeteranAid.org. walks you through the application process, outlining eligibility, how to apply, and what to expect. It also provides examples of what to write when extra correspondence is needed, and provides tips at every stage of the operation.
- Secure Medical Records — Make sure you receive a complete copy of your medical records upon discharge from a hospital. This information is gold. It’s a crucial asset that will help you avoid communication gaps and potential medical errors with future medical teams. Unfortunately, there may be cost associated with this. We believe it’s worth it.
- Record Doctor’s Visits — Even if you’re taking notes, it’s hard to remember everything the doctor tells you in a visit. Since many cellphones offer a recording feature, it’s a good idea to ask the doctor if he/she minds if you record the conversation.
- Find Ways To Better Manage Time — When I’m feeling overwhelmed by my seemingly endless list of responsibilities (which is much of the time), I know that I need to utilize some my most effective time-management techniques, and it all starts with a master to-do list. Everything I have to do — either big or small — makes it onto this list. Then, each morning, using this list, I create a smaller, more manageable inventory for that particular day. I prioritize what I need to get done, and then schedule the time for it. I find it effective to bundle similar tasks together. For example, I‘ll make all my various phone calls, one right after the other. It feels good to check those calls off my list. For anything that I’m dreading or seems too big to tackle, I set a timer for, say, 15 minutes, and I focus for those 15 uninterrupted minutes on that task alone. Breaking it down in this manner tends to ease that overwhelmed feeling.
- Establish An Email Relationship With Doctors — I realize that this tip would make many medical professionals cringe. For many doctors, email correspondence with their patients (or patients’ families) is just adding to their workload. But I am endlessly grateful to the doctors treating our mom who allow this type of access. Karen and I have written to those doctors as a prelude to any appointment we consider significant, to give the doctor a heads-up on what’s going on with Mom, and it seems to bring much-needed focus to the appointments. We do have one rule: we make sure the communication is concise and relevant.
- Prepare Advance Directives — We recommend “Five Wishes”, a PDF created by the non-profit organization, Aging With Dignity. It’s a simple step-by-step guide for making thoughtful end-of-life decisions and establishing these choices as an official living will. “Five Wishes” designates preferences regarding treatment, comfort levels, funeral arrangements, etc. It’s an invaluable tool that families should engage before the need becomes urgent and options become limited.
- Find “Me” Time — This is hard to do, I know. But it’s a must. If you don’t, you will burn out and be of no use to anyone. Finding even little moments will help – a cup of tea in the afternoon, a hot soak in the tube instead of a quick shower, a short walk around the block. My way of finding “me” time is waking up early in the morning, when the house is still quiet. The peace of the morning sets the tone for the rest of my day. My coffee tastes better, the quiet is soothing and, more importantly, it’s my time.
Kim Keller is the Co-Founder of In Care of Dad. She lives and works in New York City.