Thursday 22 June 2017


My friend and colleague Vickie Cammack and I co-write a weekly column for Troy Media called Caring Connections.  Vickie cares for her Mom and here, she tells a story that I think will resonate with everyone here in the Caregivers' Living Room.

Do You See What I See?

One rarely uses the term visionary to describe natural caregivers.  Yet vision is indispensible when we take care.  Professionals no matter how well trained or prepared, cannot see what we see –what was, what is and what can be for our family members and friends.

Visionaries make the truth visible. Caregiving requires us to share our knowledge with certainty, our intuition with confidence and our stories with pride.  When we do this we not only provide critical care information, we help everyone involved to care and connect in more meaningful ways.

A few months ago at the start of a busy day I gave my fiesty ninety year old mother a call.  I was worried. She had been nauseous and a little feverish for the last few days.  Alarmingly, she had lost her interest in cooking, her number one passion. On the phone she sounded confused and said she felt dizzy. She complained that her heart was pounding. I drop everything, relieved that finally, she has agreed to go to the hospital.

I provide the intake clerk with all my mother’s pertinent information - medical number, medications, my contact information.  I provide most of her medical history.  My mother describes her symptoms but she is not as sharp as she usually is. Her sentences are incomplete.  Her words are slurred.  I do my best to fill in the blanks. I emphasize that my mom is usually bright, vibrant articulate woman. This is not like her, I say. I don’t want anyone making assumptions about her capacity because of her age.

My fears are not unfounded.  Health care professionals often mistakenly assume that older people who seem confused and disoriented have pre existing dementia or mental illness. A misdiagnosis of delirium, a relatively common experience of hospitalized older adults, can be life threatening.  The Centre for Healthcare of the Elderly reports that in a recent study up to 67% of delirium cases were not recognized by physicians and 43% of cases were not recognized by nurses caring for the patients. The Centre considers the problem prevalent enough that it created the web site This Is Not My Mom encouraging carers to talk about sudden or rapid changes in the person they are caring for even if no one asks.

Throughout our day at hospital many tests are conducted with my mother.  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 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 to spark for them 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 she is almost back to normal.  When she asks me to go down to the hospital gift shop to buy her favorite cooking magazine I start to relax.  I can see her standing in the kitchen, baking up a storm once again.  The doctor can see it too. She gives my mother instructions to drink plenty of fluids and then with a twinkle in her eye says, “take it easy in the kitchen too.”

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