Thursday, August 27, 2009

Are you taking care of yourself?

Caregivers are doing a great job of taking care of their loved ones. They are healthy, happy and often at home. But, do caregivers ever take a moment to consider themselves?

I came across this article via a Tweet this week. It begins with one key fact:  "One quarter of adult Americans are presently caring for an aging parent or relative."  Forty-five percent of those people are providing care for their spouse.

Several years ago, I was a caregiver trying to balance managing care for my husband Jimmy in a nursing home setting and our lives. I was exhausted and I was not providing the direct, round-the-clock care. When the health care professionals did their jobs, it was a little easier. When there were hiccups, chaos ensued. 

I won't rehash the article, you can find it at this link. Two key points from a Home Instead Senior Care survey shows 31 percent of family caregivers admit they'd like more help and 25 percent resent other members of the family who don't help out more. 

It's difficult to ask for help. We've all been raised in this can-do society. We tend to be judged by how brave we are in the face of tragedy. At the time, I did the best job that I could. Looking back, however, I'll admit I said, "I'm fine" during situations that were far from it. 

I never liked asking for help, but when it came to Jimmy I developed the ability to do it and accept the help. When my co-workers and the community pulled together to raise money for Jimmy, I accepted the help. Jimmy needed specialized computers to communicate and an air mattress that insurance would not pay for. 

When nursing home staff commented on his nice mattress, I would do my best Price as Right showcase, model impersonation and say, "That's about 250 barbecue sandwiches." All of those sandwiches purchased at a benefit for Jimmy were made with love. People wanted to help him and I'm proud they did. 

And, that mattress kept his skin free of bedsores for several years. 

One thing I found out very early on in my journey is that I was not alone. Of course, Jimmy was there with me, but I wasn't alone in being a caregiver. There were others, who were just like me. Perhaps their loved one was older, but we were all in the same boat together. 

A health crisis is a powerful equalizer. A stroke can strike a rich family as easily and quickly as it can strike a poor family. Family dynamics are often the same whether you have money or you don't. 

When I first began this blog several months ago, I tried to explain the name "Get Your Oxygen First." It's important for caregivers to take care of themselves. 

A few ways you can "Get Your Oxygen First" include:
  • Ask a friend to stay with your spouse or parent, so you can take a nap or recharge.
  • Get a sibling to come over 30 minutes early, so you can take a break.
  • Steal a few moments for yourself to do something like sit on the porch or read a chapter of a book.
  • Remember most people really mean it when they offer to help. Maybe you don't need his or her help right now, but ask them later when you do need it.
Do something for yourself — even if it's unconventional. In my case, Jimmy often resented my efforts to revitalize. I had to charge through his angry in order to recharge. At the end of the day, he benefited from my efforts to take care of myself. He was happier and so was I. 

What are you doing to take care of yourself?

Monday, August 24, 2009

You will miss it when it's gone

We often take things for granted. You name it — family, jobs, transportation, electricity, newspapers and the U.S. Postal Service — and we assume it will be around forever.

Mail has always been a personal obsession. I'll own up to it. I love opening up the mailbox and finding a surprise — a letter from a friend, a card from my mom or a special offer. Junk mail sometimes excites me. It typically doesn't motivate me to spend money, but I'll take a look. 

Today, most of the mail goes directly into the recycle bin. I have no reason to apply for a new credit card. I don't need a new vehicle. 

I receive a few bills in the mail, but the majority of them have been converted to paperless alerts via e-mail. The bills are also paid via an electronic method. I rarely spend a 44-cent stamp to mail a payment. 

I love the post office system. I think it's great that I can send a card to my nieces or nephew (my apologies to my brother Tommy for not sending a card in time of his birthday). I drop it in a box in Del Rio, Texas and it arrives at their home in Georgia. 

For 44-cents, it's a cheap method to communicate. 

It's not a cheap system to operate. I was reading on Sunday how the postal service wants to drop it's Saturday delivery. Oddly, people responded it wasn't a big deal. While mail is not my priority on Saturdays, I always check it. Or find myself on Sunday checking the box. 

Some cities stopped Saturday deliveries in May and June 1947, according to postal history on the USPS Web site. An attempt to cancel Saturday deliveries in 1957 were axed. "On one Saturday —April 13, 1957 — there was no mail delivery. Public outcries prompted President Dwight D. Eisenhower to sign a bill more fully funding the Post Office Department three days later, and the next Saturday service resumed."

The problem today in 2009 is that there are so many things that need to be fixed from health care, Social Security, etc. to curb government spending that I'm not sure public outcry will be enough to reinstate some cuts. We may just have to suck it up and deal with the changes. I know easier said than done. 

The economy has already changed the private marketplace. The Sunday edition of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution isn't delivered all across the state of Georgia like it used to be. Why? It's the economy. Newspapers are making cuts in their delivery of expensive paper products. You can find all the news online, so there is no need to use vehicles, gas and manpower to truck a print edition all over the state. 

It's a loss. A new generation will grow up reading the newspaper at a desk or on a laptop rather than creating a black and white mess all around the living room floor. The online method is a new, more cost effective delivery method. So, I guess we need to get used to it. 

I doubt I'll get used to no Saturday deliveries whether it's a surprise note from a friend or a magazine. I'll miss it (if it happens), but I know my paperless statements have helped contribute to the changes. Businesses and government leaders have to make decisions — tough decisions — to get going in this economy. 

Friday, August 21, 2009

Plastic bags need to go

This morning, I read that Mexico City has banned the use of plastic bags. It's a wonderful idea. I wish more communities would follow their lead.

A CNN report on the ban said 90 percent of bags used in the United States are not recycled. I believe it. If I get a plastic bag, I recycle it by using it for a small trash can liner. Then it goes into the landfill with the trash.

The city of San Francisco apparently banned the plastic bags in 2007. Los Angeles may impose a ban, if the state doesn't enact a 25-cent per bag fee. That's always a good way to change a person's habit — charge them more money for the service.

I have always liked the idea of recycling, but have not always found it to be practical. Rural communities don't always have the resources or the facilities to recycle materials. In one community, I helped initiate a limited recycling project. In another, I just sorted and dropped my recyclables in the labeled bins at the community trash site. I cringed in my North Carolina hometown, because officials always said they sorted the recyclables out of the trash. I'm still shaking my head over that one. 

Here, in Del Rio, the city has a great recycling center. The hours are reasonable to allow people to drop off materials (Saturday hours), the staff is very friendly and they accept an assortment of materials. My husband and I generate one bag of trash each week after we remove all the items to be recycled.

When I first arrived in town, there was some mention the city might ban plastic bags here. That idea hasn't taken hold yet, but I promise the plastic tumbleweeds continue to have a hold on our community. 

In Texas, there really should be a movement to ban the bags. If one gets loose, it can blow for miles and inevitably gets stuck atop the shrub or in a fence. I know it's not scientific, but my opinion is the bags remain there forever.

I take reusable bags into the grocery  and discount stores along with my shopping list. I've been doing it for more than a year now. I feel guilty, if I forget to take them into the store. It's easy. You just grab a few bags and carry them in with your purse. I think everyone should try it. You might like it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Four minutes to an answer

People often ask me, "What's the point?"

Depending on what social networking site they are talking about, I give them an answer. 

About blogs? "I used to work at newspapers, so blogs give me a forum like a weekly newspaper column." I haven't made it a regular habit, but I enjoy it when I get around to it. I have more ideas than blogs posted. 

About Facebook? "It's a fun way to connect with people." I recently joined Facebook and it's been a way to talk with people from high school and college that I haven't spoke to in years. Granted, in this society of over sharing, I may know too much about their sleeping patterns or personal musings and they probably know more than they want to about me. I didn't think I would enjoy it. Now, that I'm there. I like it. 

About Twitter? "What is that?" is the most asked question. I try to explain the magic of compacting thoughts into 140-characters. My efforts to Tweet impacted my writing at a recent retreat. I laughed to myself as everyone expanded well beyond the instructor's two to three sentence instruction. My opening was compact and within the parameters. I chalked my brevity up to Twitter. 

I like the idea that I can post a snippet of a conversation and try to sum it all up quickly and in a few sentence. I don't have to ponder a 500-word post for a full-sized blog. I type. I edit. I post. I Tweet. With Twitter, I have the satisfaction of knowing I have completed a micro-blog without compiling a "must do" list of blog ideas. I Tweet and it's published.

I told a physical therapist who pondered the uselessness of Twittering the Conan O'Brien joke about social media. I can't recall it now, but the punch line was great. The new media of the future will be "YouTwitFace." Nice, huh?

I've discussed Twitter in more than 140-characters, but I can't stop myself. I tell the guy how I use Twitter to follow authors, writers and people I don't know, but who seem interesting. I follow caregivers, who have provided helpful information on family matters. I post links to promote my blog posts. I use Twitter as my own personal newsfeed.

Had anyone told me a decade ago, I would be commenting about the weather before going for a walk, I would suspect he or she had a screw lose. This information is of no value to newspapers or TV stations, but someone in my hometown may find it valuable that it's 98 in my neighborhood at 8 p.m. while their neighborhood hoovers around 100. The Weather Channel isn't going to find this news earth shattering, but in Del Rio, Texas — the difference could create another kitchen table conversation. 

My dad was asking, "What is the point of it all?" the other day as we were driving back into Ellijay, Ga. My mother was being transported from a hospital in  Atlanta to Ellijay. I was in the passenger seat of his car, passing the time with the iPhone. 

I looked up and saw tents surrounding the new Chic Fil A. "What's that?" I asked, but he didn't know. 

I posted a note on Facebook. Within four minutes, a friend provided an answer about the phenomena of the tents. In the old days, I would have to wait for the weekly newspaper to be published to find an answer to my question. 

"This is the point," I said flipping my phone screen toward my dad. I read the answer. I think even he was impressed the information was so readily available. 

As a news junkie, I like the fact that within minutes I can get information from a variety of sources. A person still must consider the source, but it's satisfying to get simple information in a matter of minutes from other observers.

First impression left me squirrelly

My mom recently had neck and back surgery. She survived the nine-hour long surgery, despite her best efforts to conjure up every negative scenario.

Her first comments following the removal of the ventilator:  "I made it didn't I." Mom really isn't a "glass half full" kind of gal. She was before the surgery — even if it was just for show. 

She didn't appear too brave when on day five post-surgery she was readying for an ambulance transport about 100 miles away from the Atlanta-based hospital to a swing bed in her hometown of Ellijay. The move offered rehabilitation before she returned home. It was something discussed prior to the surgery. 

While some other family members grimaced when we mentioned the need for rehab before going home, our family was pleased with the situation. Mom's ability to move had deteriorated seriously over the last year. After the surgery, she wasn't trying to reach her pre-surgery self. She was trying to regain her movement from more than six months ago.

Mom moved beautifully following her surgery. While she suffered from tremendous pain, it amazed us to see how she could picked up her knees as she walked slowly with a walker. Prior to the surgery, she had to drag her numb legs.

With some movement under her physical therapy belt, the hospital was ready for Mom to move. An ambulance from the Atlanta area arrived to transport her. The young woman, who was driving my mom, really laughed and joked a lot. It did not make my mother at ease. Instead, her nervous nature kicked into overdrive. 

As my mom asked the young woman, if she knew how to get to Ellijay. The EMT (or paramedic— not certain of her classification) recalled how she was able to navigate the windy mountain roads. Mom's eyes appeared to get as large as saucers. When I alerted the driver that Mom was anxious and didn't like jokes, the driver seemed to get it. "I'll check with the nurse about getting you something for that."

Mom took her Valium and quizzed the young woman about her experience. "I've been doing this for a long time — three years." Her declaration of expertise didn't appease Mom. 

"Oh, don't worry, we have nanny cams. We won't be stopping at the McDonald's drive thru window," the one driving continued to joke. 

As Dad and I entered the elevator with Mom, I talked to the woman who would be riding with Mom. "Mom doesn't handle jokes so well," I told her. "She's anxious about the drive."

The female driver said, "Don't worry. That will kick in." She was referring to the Valium. Then, she proceeded to tell us about how she was on Zoloft to knock off the edge. "It makes me less squirrelly." Mentally, my mouth dropped to the first floor before the elevator doors opened. It didn't seem like an inappropriate thing to tell your patient. It was inappropriate.

If I had serious doubts about the abilities of the two young women, I wouldn't have allowed my mother to travel with them to Ellijay. I asked Dad to pass the ambulance, because it made me nervous to travel that close to the ambulance. I prayed Mom would be OK. 

Mom made it fine to Ellijay. She reported a good ride and said the woman riding in the back of the ambulance with her stayed with her until she moved to another spot to complete paperwork. The only oversight was the attempt to drop Mom off at the nursing home and not the hospital. The nursing home (without any empty beds) quickly directed the ladies to the correct place — the hospital. 

The two women didn't leave an overall good impression. As a family member, I was concerned about their professionalism. It wasn't their age. It was their attitude. Despite being warned they were transporting an anxious patient, they didn't stop their joking behavior. With age, they will hopefully learn how to deal with this better.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A plethora of options

My mom's having neck and back surgery on Friday. I'm the "out of the loop" child since I'm more than 1,200 miles away from the family. I'll arrive in Georgia on Thursday afternoon and will hopefully get to see Mom before the surgeon does. Otherwise, she'll know we're in the same state, city and time zone.

Trying to help out, I thought about creating a site for Mom on the www.caringbridge.com Web site. I had heard about it. I found people with Locked-in Syndrome on the site. It's a great way to create a free site to allow friends and well wishers to check in on your progress during and after a surgery.

I was excited about the site until I noticed that on the right-hand side of the screen is a place to donate to Caring Bridge. I have never noticed this while looking for updates for other people, but it stopped me in my tracks while creating my mom's site.

My problem with it? Well, I feared people would think that my family is seeking donations for my mom. I worried (a trait directly passed down from my mother) that people might mistakenly make a donation to Caring Bridge thinking it was for my mother. I understand why Caring Bridge seeks donations. It is a fabulous site.

I created the site and passed it along to my Mom and Dad for their perusal. I added a note about the donation function. They also did not like this.

I couldn't figure out how to remove the donation material, so I deactivated the site for my mom.

I wanted to use the Caring Bridge site, because it seemed like an easy way to keep everyone updated. Now, we'll regroup using phones, e-mail and Facebook to update friends and family about Mom's progress. We fortunately have a variety of ways to keep in touch with people. We can do all of this from our iPhones, too.

I will continue to use the Caring Bridge to keep up with people. I think it's a wonderful site. It just wasn't right for my family this time.

How do you stay in touch with people after a surgery or illness? Do you know of any sites I should check out?

Hit the streets, not the courthouse

Perplexing? Mythed?

Just a couple of words that I can repeat to describe my reaction when I read this story on CNN.com on Aug. 3. A recent grade is suing her alma mater for tuition plus $2,000 for stress. 

She blames the college's Office of Career Advancement for not helping her find a job. She has the credentials after all — including a business administration degree in information technology and a 2.7 GPA.

I wonder if the graduate has been paying attention to the economy over the last year of her education. If it took her four years to get a degree, she probably enrolled at a good time. But, the sands of time have passed while she was studying and things changed. 

I feel bad for this young woman and for all the other people I know who can't find jobs in their chosen field. I know people who lost jobs due to state government cuts. I know people who lost newspaper jobs. I know people who recently graduated and can't find an entry-level job. 

I hope this recent graduate is not indicative of those leaving the buffer-zone of colleges these days. Students have to realize that it's a bit tough out there. When I graduated from college in 1993, I began full-time employment at a newspaper within a week. Sure, it wasn't The New York Times, but The Chatsworth Times gave me plenty of meaty work experience. 

Today's graduates are also facing a high volume of competition. When companies post job openings, they are overwhelmed (sometimes by the thousands) with people eager to fill the job. There are also people with impeccable credentials out there on the prowl for job openings. While my community journalism background is solid, I might have a difficult time getting a job at CNN right now. There are thousands of journalists with broader experience than me searching for a job.

I personally think students are often taking on too many student loans to get an education. Maybe we can't have it all — an education, the parties, no job and a new car. I'm a bit biased, because I attended a public university (the University of Georgia), lived in the dorms (before they were suites with AC) and worked in my college town and in my hometown. 

Since my college days, I have witnessed an uneasy trend where my newspaper colleagues would have tens of thousands of dollars in student loans. During my last job as an editor, I had difficulties finding applicants who could afford to take an entry level reporter's position. I heard, "By the time, I pay my student loans, rent, car and buy clothes I won't be able to eat." I wanted to yell, "Cut out the clothes." 

"Good luck with that." What more could I say?

To anyone looking for work, I say, "It may take a while to get a job. And, you may have to take one you don't like right not. You may just have to take one."

To the alumna suing her alma mater, I say, "You may have some luck finding a job, if you hit the streets and not the courthouse."