When facing stress from nursing the sick and infirm, how can you withstand the pressure? I have been working as a caregiver in nursing homes in England since 2005. With the help of a recruitment agency, I have had the opportunity to work in over a hundred nursing homes, homes for the disabled, and caregiving centres.
My job is to tend to the sick, terminally ill and dying patients, providing them with healthcare, socialising with them and doing everything possible to ensure they live out the rest of their life to the full, with a minimum of physical and emotional pain. Having spent years in this field, I have come to understand why people who nurse a sick family member or a patient feel like their heart is crying. It’s be- cause it’s hard. A caregiver is helps sick, but who will sooth their pain?
I have lived through this pain and I would like to talk about it by relating real-life examples. At the same time, you’ll find an answer to the following question: How to avoid falling into depression when caring for the terminally ill?
DON’T REGRET THE PAST, BECAUSE THERE IS THE PRESENT.
The majority of my patients are close to a hundred- years-old. Their children live far away, and their children are old too, so they cannot visit their parents frequently.
The patients understand the situation, but they still feel lonely. They long for companionship and want to share their problems and dreams with somebody. So, we become their closest friends; we listen to their stories and talk with them about their lives and ours. Sometimes, we get tired from such stories, because each one of us has endured grief and loneliness, and at times I feel like crying together with the storyteller.
There was this ninety-eight-year-old lady called Maggie who used to live with her seventy-two-year-old daughter, Alice. The daughter was single; she didn’t have a family and was working in an office. They had an ordinary life: work, home, and friends. When Maggie became sick, Alice left work and dedicated all her time to her mother. But some- thing terrible happened: the daughter was diagnosed with cancer in her intestinal tract.
In England, people over fifty-five undergo a mandatory medical check-up every five years, which includes a colonos- copy. This is not the most pleasant procedure, but it’s a nec- essary one, helping to detect polyps, ulcers and cancer. This is what happened with Alice. A tumour was found in her intestines during this procedure. She underwent treatment for two years, but to no avail. Alice passed away, and Maggie
was placed in our nursing home.
We became her family. We knew how much pain she went through and admired her attitude towards life and peo- ple. She was an example for us in that she was hardworking and constantly needing to do something good. This amazing woman always wanted to be of help to somebody.
Maggie used to be an active member of a church com- munity. From time to time, a pastor, nuns, and other mem- bers of their community would come to visit her. Each time they visited, she would give them knitted hats, gloves and toys for children. She knitted all that with her own hands, still finding ways to help others even from inside the nursing home.
There was this other patient, ninety-four-year-old Do- ris. When she was young, she’d had a colourful and active life. She was a rich businessman’s wife; they loved equestrian sports and had their own horses. Her husband used to com- pete in races, and they had two wonderful sons.
Doris’s life then was full of events: races, victories, priz- es, cups, receptions and society. It seemed like a happy life that would last forever, but then the war broke out, and Doris lost her brothers and her eldest son. Doris never liked to talk about the war.
At that time, she started working in a hospital, caring for the wounded and trying to relieve their suffering. There she often saw death. In a sense, she was my colleague.
After the war Doris’s younger son enrolled in a uni- versity, became an engineer and moved to Africa to work as a volunteer. There he received an attractive offer, but the
contract conditions would require him to move to Australia. He agreed to go there, where he stayed for good. Now he, his work, his family and his house are all in Australia; but what about Doris?
Years went by; Doris’s husband passed away, and she was all alone. When it became too hard for her to do house- work and arthritis began to limit almost all of her move- ments, she decided to move into a nursing home. Here she would be cared for and would have some companions at least. I became one of them, and Doris seemed to be espe- cially fond of me. She would entrust me with her worries, ask for advice, and describe what she saw in her dreams.
Her son couldn’t fly from Australia to come and see his mother often. He was old too, so he would visit her once a year. She was happy even to have a conversation on the phone with him, though. Such conversations would make her day.