Monday, November 3, 2008


The caregiving zone can be divided roughly into three groups.

The first group is comprised of medical professionals who may be drawn to work in their profession by a variety of motives—idealism, an interest in science, stable and respected employment. The second group contains the patients who need the medical goods and services offered by the professionals because they are sick and in pain. They enter the caregiving zone unintentionally. They are often confused, tired and scared.

And then there is Group Three—the unpaid caregivers who help to carry out the instructions dictated by Group One. How did these people get there? Most are drawn into the role of caregiver when someone they know, love or feel responsible for requires assistance. It often starts small—a ride to the grocery store, a trip to the drugstore, making lunch. Sometimes it ends there…a crisis is averted the ordeal managed with adrenalin. It was a sprint.

But, what if the needs continue to escalate? What if it’s going to be a marathon rather than a sprint? We become long-term members of Group Three—caregivers—a largely invisible, unacknowledged, yet absolutely essential element in the medical equation.

Caregivers often feel drafted into service. Friends and family may advise them to just walk away or get someone to help, but what if there isn’t any one else to drive mom to her appointments, or get grandma to the toilet, or set out the medications for dad? It’s only when the situation is upon us that we learn, first hand, that there might not be anyone else around to help. I can remember feeling the world shrink, returning from the hospital or a doctor’s office, standing a living room or kitchen, realizing that the world had suddenly become very small—that I was It.

For me this can often be the core of stress—the feeling that there is no choice. You’re trapped. Fear of appearing disloyal prevents you from talking to anyone about how you feel. But this feeling of being trapped—drafted—is commonly shared among caregivers. Expressing your experience to a trusted friend can relieve guilt, reduce the weight of self-pity, lift fatigue, and possibly strengthen a friendship.

Feeling trapped is only one of a number of competing feelings on the caregiving continuum—from feeling happily useful to feeling trapped; feeling loving and tender to feeling almost hateful; feeling frustrated rage towards a doctor, as well as gratitude. Whatever the feeling, it’s probably a common one and expressing it can be a relief.

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