Caregivers’ Health Care Reform

Statistics show that 72% of family caregivers don’t see our own doctor! There are 65+ million of us caring for the sickest in our country. Do the math, and “Houston …we have a problem!”  

Although Health Care Reform is front page in our national discourse, rarely does the needs of a caregiver rise to the forefront of the conversations. Caregivers see many doctors, and often perform tasks previously relegated to licensed medical personnel.  While those experiences teach us a lot about healthcare, the application of that knowledge for our own health—is a different story. Most caregivers regularly take someone else to see a physician, but when was the last time we saw ours? We often grow so weary of taking others to a doctor’s office, that the thought of going to another one (or taking time off work …again!), well, it’s just too much. Those “sandwich” caregivers caring for parents and their own family regularly feel stretched mighty thin to carve out more hours for a doctor visit.

I told the doctor I broke my leg in two places. 

He told me to quit going to those places — Henny Youngman

Maybe the feeling is the loved one can’t leave be left alone. Another justification used is that caregivers often don’t have health insurance and money is usually tight.  I’ve heard every excuse, and, as a caregiver for three decades, I’ve given most of them. The reality doesn’t change. Regardless of the reasons WHY we don’t see our own doctor, there are still two nagging questions we caregivers must face:

  • What good are we to our loved one if we stroke out, if we have heart disease, get diabetes, or some other malady?
  • Who is in line to care for our loved one if we are out of the picture for a short-term illness or a long term issue, or worse?

These two questions will persist into the national dialogue as the massive baby-boomer population requires increasing care. Currently, a vast number of caregivers are already in the danger zone for their own health. If I injure one of my feet, should I ignore it simply because my wife is missing both of her feet?  Just because a cut toe pales next to her reality of double amputation, doesn’t mean I ignore the wound.

Who am I to stop what I’m doing as her caregiver and attend to an injured foot—when she lost hers?

That’s the kind of reasoning we use as caregivers. We push our own health needs to the back burner. My feet are the only feet she can count on, and I need to be a good steward of them by properly caring for them. That principle applies across the board to our entire body (and hearts, wallets, jobs, etc.) In 7 Caregiver Landmines and How You Can Avoid Them, the first landmine is caregivers ignoring their own health needs.   The dangerous shortcuts we give ourselves for this landmine are:

  • There’s no time to see my doctor
  • I don’t have health insurance.
  • When addressing my issues, I feel guilty.
  • It’s nothing compared to what she deals with.

Those shortcuts take caregivers into a dangerous place that can not only hurt them, but the loved one in their charge. Serving as a caregiver can be brutal, and requires extraordinary care for the caregiver. Caregivers can avoid this landmine by scheduling a medical professional to give the caregiver a once over—twice a year.

Caregivers need an annual physical, and then six months later, a checkup for labs, blood pressure, etc.

Why wait a whole year to discover high blood pressure, elevated sugar count, or other easily detected warning signs?

Given the kind of stress caregivers feel, it is critically important to not “sugar coat” it when meeting with your doctor. Your physician may instruct you to change a diet, exercise more, refer to counseling, or even prescribe medication to help with stress. Don’t dismiss sound medical advice. The primary care physician I’ve seen for nearly a dozen years watches me like a hawk, and I am grateful for him. Sometimes, with a minor ailment, I use a tele-medicine service which saves me hours and money. For a small monthly fee, I have unlimited access to a physician by phone/video for minor ailments, and there is a recording/transcript of the call to provide to my primary care physician. There is also an annual lab service as part of the subscription. The virtual doctor visits don’t replace meeting with my physician, but it’s another addition to the tool-belt of a caregiver that can help us live healthier lives. Caregiving can be daunting and relentless.  Those challenges sap the desire to fix a healthy meal, much less schedule time to go to yet another doctor visit. Yet that visit could very well save a caregiver’s life. Caregiving can often feel like a full-contact sport, and is hard on the body, as well as the heart. Make the call and keep the appointment for yourself as a caregiver.  Doing so avoids the landmine of failing to treat the one body standing between your vulnerable loved one and even worse disaster—yours!

Personally, I have always felt the best doctor in the world is the Veterinarian.

He can’t ask his patients what’s the matter. He’s just got to know. Will Rogers