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in praise of the caregiver

by Judy
January 17, 2013 

Since about three and a half years ago when the tides changed with regard to my mom’s health and independence, I have been involved with many people in the care giving profession: doctors, nurses, nursing assistants, physical, occupational and speech therapists in hospitals, rehabilitation centers and at home. And as in everything, there is a wide diversity of expertise and care that is shown by these men and women of all different backgrounds. In every situation that my mom has been in, certain people really stand out. They can be of any age, gender, nationality or race. What unifies them is their humanity. It’s an undeniable quality that radiates from these unsung heroes who are working sometimes in situations that aren't always supportive, but their love for what they are doing and for those who need help is what predominates. They see and treat other humans with respect. They don’t make assumptions; they don’t talk down to people; and they really, really care.

One person who comes to mind is an occupational therapist named Albert.  Albert is from Jamaica. He told me the first day he visited my mom after she had a stroke, that he had a father, when he was a lot younger, who had had a stroke too and unfortunately no one explained to him what can happen under those circumstances. He didn’t understand his father's irrational and angry behavior and this lack of understanding deeply affected their relationship. Since that time, he has a special feeling for people who have strokes. I guess you would call it empathy.

Albert is warm, affectionate, funny and at the same time very professional and knowledgeable. He worked with my mom in a beautiful way. He zeroed in on her stiffness, worked her left arm and was able to get her to move it in ways she had not done since the stroke. That’s the other quality: positivity. He really believes people can change and improve and doesn’t judge by age or first appearances.Through his persistence, expertise and gentleness, he was able to slowly guide my mom to release movement in her arm and hand. Albert was so happy and expressive of his joy when my mom succeeded for the first time in months to be able to touch her head with her hand. It sounds so simple but it was quite a joyous moment when she made that contact: hand to head finally touching. 

When my mother was first in a rehabilitation hospital after the stroke and barely able to move her whole left side, the therapists tried to get her to stand and walk. She was too scared, weak and I think discombobulated to do it. Every day, the therapist would try again doing the same thing to no avail. Afterwards, other therapists who came to my mom’s home quickly gave up trying to help her to walk.  So it was really like a miracle the day that Albert was able to guide my mother to walk about six or more steps. How did he do it? For one thing he won her confidence by his warmth and care and then he “listened” to my mom; observed carefully what was holding her back. He saw that it was fear, and not lack of ability. And so this other quality revealed itself: flexibility. He tried a different way to help my mom using her walker that gave her more security and it worked – she walked! How thrilling it was to see my mom, with the aid of a lot of help, succeed at taking those steps. It felt like a small miracle.

I have enormous gratitude to Albert and to all the caregivers over the past three and a half years.  I can literally see and feel the faces of them that appeared, like angels, in all different circumstances. Their simple and natural humanity is given so freely, and makes such a difference. In the end that human connection is everything.

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