My friend and colleague Vickie Cammack and I are co-writing a book of reflections on caregiving. Vickie and I would love to know your thoughts about our work so far! This is the first instalment by Vickie from a section we're working on about how we represent our loved ones to the world. Does this resonate with you? Is representing your loved one to medical professionals and to the wider world an important part of your caregiving?
Where there is no vision, people perish. Proverbs 29:18
Image courtesy of Tom Hussey's Mirror of Youth Prize Winning Series.
My mother and I arrive at the emergency ward. She is dizzy and confused. She complains that her heart is pounding. She has been nauseous and feverish for the last few days. Alarmingly, she has no interest in cooking, her number one passion. She doesn’t even want to walk into the kitchen. I am relieved that finally, she has agreed to go to the hospital.
I provide the intake clerk with all her pertinent information - medical number, medications, my contact information. I provide most of her medical history. My mother haltingly describes her symptoms. Her sentences are incomplete. Her words are slurred. I do my best to fill in the blanks and describe the bright, vibrant articulate woman she is.
Many tests are conducted. Each time a new nurse, doctor or technician appears, we repeat the context, the symptoms and just as importantly how Mom was before she fell ill. I describe her passion for baking. I even slip in a mention of the elaborate birthday cakes that she still bakes and painstakingly decorates with her arthritic fingers for each of her four great grandchildren. I do this because I want them to see what I know. I want to them appreciate what has been in my mother’s life and spark what is possible.
Happily, the cause of my mother’s distress is found to be simple dehydration. A couple of bags of intravenous fluid and my mother is pretty much back to normal. When she asks me to go down to the hospital store to buy her favourite cooking magazine, I finally relax. I can see her standing in the kitchen, baking up a storm once again. And as the doctor gives my mother instructions to ‘drink plenty of fluids and take it easy in the kitchen’, I know she can envision it too.
It strikes me that one rarely hears the terms visionary to describe caregivers. Yet vision is indispensible when we take care. The capacity to see what was, what is and what can be for family members and friends is a critical role that no professional care provider, no matter how trained or prepared, can perform.
But having vision is not enough. We must help others see what we see. Caregiving requires us to share our knowledge with certainty, our intuitions with confidence and our stories with pride. When we do this, we not only provide critical care information, we illuminate everyone’s capacity to bring actions into being that bridge the past and the present to the future.