Caregivers often feel isolated, overwhelmed, and burdened when faced with increasing obstacles. That is, unless the caregiver’s name is Errol.
Just as Errol retired two decades ago, his wife Kitty was diagnosed with a severe, chronic lung condition. Initially doctors gave a poor prognosis, but a specialist prescribed a battery of medications and treatments. After five years Kitty’s lung capacity improved, though the disease severely limited her ability to breathe and eat. Errol is fond of taking the bad news/good news approach to trials, saying, “The bad news was she had this illness. The good news was that I was retired and could take car
The Importance of Patient Advocacy
With Kitty unable to resume her normal activities, domestic duties like cooking and cleaning fell on Errol. “Hot dogs were a challenge for me at the beginning” he laughs, “but I got out the recipes and learned to cook. I cleaned the house. I took care of her. I did whatever needed to be done.”
Errol learned that one of the duties of an effective caregiver is being a patient advocate and ensuring that medical care is coordinated appropriately. “They would prescribe a medicine to help with one thing, and the side effects worsened something else.” Errol was constantly researching her latest symptoms, prescriptions, treatments, and test results, catching mistakes and making adjustments.
Errol’s Personalized Caregiving
Ten years into the journey, Kitty was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, further complicating the situation. She couldn’t remember how to do simple things and wasn’t able to communicate. An engineer by training, Errol greeted the challenges with an analytic mind. As Kitty’s medical condition created new twists, Errol tackled each one with creative solutions. “Frequently caregiving is portrayed as stressful and nothing but a series of problems all the time,” Errol says. “I tried to be flexible and find ways to solve the current problem. This reduced my stress, as well as Kitty’s, and the solution soon become the new normal.” One blessing was that Kitty was always easy going and the medical problems did not change her personality that much.
Errol points to his strong faith and spirituality as anchors that gave him an inner peace throughout the years and recognized the importance of spending time outside the home. He sang in the church choir, volunteered for Meals on Wheels, and kept engaged with his neighbors. “I’ve been singing in the choir for 46 years, so with the help of my three children, I was able to continue singing and being active.”
Discovering Hope Grows
Four years ago, Errol received a flyer promoting the Hope Grows Powerful Tools for Caregivers class and called to register. During the six-week class, Errol heard the stories of other caregivers and the variety of situations they were in. “It increased my awareness of the caregiver world and helped me understand how other people were struggling,” he says. Buoyed by the community of strength at Hope Grows, Errol started to go to the monthly caregiver support group. “It’s a comfort to have someone to call who understands.”
This past holiday season, Kitty passed away. In his bad news/good news fashion, Errol explains it was bad to lose her, but it is good that she is no longer suffering and that their three children were all home for the holiday and were able to be right by Kitty’s side in her final days.
“Hope Grows has been a great caregiver support resource through my journey,” Errol says. “And it didn’t stop with Kitty’s passing. I graduated from the Caregiver support group to the Grief support group. They’re still there for me.”
The Power of Errol’s Faith
Errol emphasizes the power of perception. “If you have a positive attitude, you will see that there are many days when things run smoothly. Through prayer, I always felt that God was a close partner in the care giving journey.”