I was involuntarily enrolled in an ongoing personal Caregiving 101 course last December 5 when my husband Keith Akers suffered a mild stroke. I, as well as everyone else who knows him, was shocked that a fit, trim, long-term vegan with ideal blood pressure numbers would find himself in this situation. Doctors confirmed he had no aneurysm, no torn artery, no clots, no atherosclerosis; apparently a small capillary or vein burst. After nine days in the hospital–the first five in Critical Care–he came home, temporarily unable to walk unaided or dress himself.
We are extremely fortunate that he has no permanent damage or loss of function. However, any bleeding in the brain is life-threatening and the healing process can be lengthy. Now eight weeks later, he is mostly back to normal except he still has headaches and tires easily. He has not yet resumed socializing, as he finds that to be the most tiring activity of all.
After the time in the hospital, stressful and at times frightening to us both, he came home and the caregiving experience began in earnest for me–my first time to be in such a situation. I’d expected I’d be adding to my usual tasks everything necessary for his care, but what I hadn’t realized is that the caregiver also takes on all the chores that the sick person had been doing. In our case that meant all the laundry, the other half of the housework and cooking, and many errands. Suddenly I was overwhelmed.
Although not nearly so painful and disorienting as what the sick person faces, the caregiver too has a recovery period. Positive aspects are that facing the possible loss of a loved one illuminates clearly how precious they are, plus it slows down the pace of life and opens the heart. In addition, the stress must be released and normalcy re-encountered from a somewhat different viewpoint. I’m working on it.