A Salute to Caregivers
by Dr. Debra Buckler
Published in The Joplin Globe Senior Outlook Aging Watch column
November 2009

During my 20 years of medical practice, I have seen patients suffer from a variety of issues. It is very difficult for anyone to face a severe illness, especially with potential loss of independence. In this article, however, I want to recognize the sacrifice of the patients’ caregivers. These often unrecognized heroes give much of themselves to care for their loved ones. And often, they serve with little reward. Let me tell you about a few of these heroes I have met along the way.

The first hero I want to recognize is a middle-aged lady who had spent most of her adult life caring for her brother. He had suffered a neck injury as a teenager and was paralyzed from the neck down. At the time I met the caregiver, she had faithfully been there to get her brother in out of bed, cook for him, give him his medications, give him his bath, and dress his wounds for more than 20 years. She was also providing care for her mother, who had become dependent on her due to a leg amputation and progressive memory impairments. She was not paid for her help, and many of the people who drove by the house every day didn’t know what she was giving to help her family. I salute her.

I recently met another hero who had taken in her mother. Her mother, unfortunately, suffered from terminal breast cancer and had become too weak to take care of herself. The caregiver, a woman in her 30s, was there to make sure her mother was as happy and comfortable as possible. She provided this care in spite of her personal grief that resulted from watching her mother weaken and suffer. I salute her.

I also remember a man in his 40s who put his life on hold to come in and live with his aging mother after his father died. This man did not want to see his mother go to a nursing home and be cared for by others. He spent several years being there for his mother as she worsened with Alzheimer’s disease. He was there when she became bedbound and when she no longer even recognized him. He served in that role until his mother died. I salute him.

Then there was the elderly lady who suffered from arthritis herself and needed to use a walker to get around. However, she still took care of her husband with Alzheimer’s disease as much as she was able. She did this in spite of the fact that her husband outweighed her by more than 100 pounds and would often strike out at her because he had forgotten who she was and did not understand what she was doing. She cared for him even though he often was up most of the night trying to leave the house and she was exhausted. She cared for him until she could no longer physically do it any longer despite the emotional and physical drain. I salute her.

There are many caregivers out there. They come in all ages, even teenagers. They are daughters, sons, husbands, wives, and, sometimes, just dear friends. Recently I met a caregiver who was a stranger when he took in a middle-aged man with medical and social needs. Oftentimes caregivers are middle-aged, dealing with aging parents and teenage children at the same time, doubling their sacrifices. Sometimes caregivers do not share a residence with the patient but visit several times a day with groceries or a hot meal. Some caregivers take off from work and lose pay to escort a relative to appointments. I recently met a younger woman who had to cancel her 3-year-old son’s birthday party to take her aunt to the hospital for tests.

Caregivers perform their duties out of love or a sense of responsibility. They are selfless. They give of their time, their money, and their personal lives. They usually provide services without pay and, oftentimes, without even a thank-you from others. They give while receiving little in return. 

If you know a caregiver, thank her! Offer to give him a break by staying with his relative if you can. Give her a day at the spa or a couple of hours to go to the store every week. Support him with friendship—call him on the phone or bring lunch to his home. If you are a sibling of a caregiver, maybe you could take the relative into your own home for a few days or stay with the relative so the caregiver can get away. Perhaps you can offer to clean or buy groceries. Each situation is different, so be creative.   

If you are a caregiver, I want to thank you for your sacrifice and time. Your efforts often go unrecognized. Many people do not know what you go through and give of yourselves. However, in my mind, you are an unseen hero, and your sacrifice is part of what makes our society great! Thank you.

About Dr. Debra Buckler
Debra Buckler, DO, is a Freeman physician specializing in geriatric and nursing home medicine. Additionally, she serves as Medical Director for Joplin Health and Rehabilitation Center, Co-medical Director for National Health Care of Joplin, and Associate Medical Director for Hospice Compassus.