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Heather & Heather: A Caregiver Story

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Every month at EO2, we have discussions on what we will blog about.  I love that our clinicians want to contribute their own ideas and experiences to help others learn about healthcare.  However, when we discussed that it was National Caregivers’ Month in November, this was a personal subject for me.  I wanted to do a special feature to share my own story.  I am the mother of two beautiful girls who could not be more different.  The older one is the pretty blonde outgoing “girl next door”, while my younger daughter is more of a quiet beauty with a golden soul.  As a single mother of two teenage girls, you can imagine the organized chaos I was living.  I tried to encourage them to follow their own path, be kind to others, love themselves, and to be good members of society.

I was working as a med-surge nurse, encouraging their extracurricular activities, and trying to balance life. We had moved from one town to another.  Heather, my oldest was only 4 credits shy of graduating after her Junior year.  However, her new school would not allow her to attend for a half day.  She had to pick something to occupy her time for the second half of the day.  She chose something that would change her forever.  She decided to be a teacher’s aid in a Skills for Living class.  This class is comprised of high school students with physical, verbal, and sometimes mental disabilities.  They have their own stories to tell.  They are fiercely loved by their teachers who work tirelessly each day to ensure these children learn, feel loved, get therapy, and more.  And now a 17-year-old blondie had entered their world.  I beamed with pride and anticipation of what she would learn in this environment.  I knew it would be physically and emotionally hard, yet greatly rewarding.  One of the proudest moments of her transformation that year was when she came home and told me, “Mom, it’s not about me anymore.  It is about them.  They need me, and I’m glad I am there.”  Talk about your teenage 180˚!! That year filled her heart, mine, and the students’ she worked with.

Fast forward several years.  Heather landed a job as a caretaker to a young girl who was a student under the teacher she helped that Senior year.  Coincidentally, this young lady’s name is Heather.  Heather was taking care of Heather.  This Heather had cerebral palsy as a result of congenital cytomegalovirus (CMV).  The virus affected her brain development in the first trimester. She is nonverbal and requires total care. The bond these two Heathers shared over several years grew strong.  They are like sisters.  They argue, they cry, they play, they enjoy each other.  They take care of each other.  I was amazed that my daughter did so much.  She gave meds and food through a g-tube, she bathed, dressed, and did physical therapy with Heather.  Heather’s parents built “Heather University” at home to exercise, learn, and stimulate her after she had graduated from high school. My own daughter had become a nurse without a degree.  She was a part of their family, and she knew she was getting more benefit from their Heather than they were from mine.

The point I really want to get across is that the lives caretakers affect is vast.  Their commitment to others is impenetrable.  They love and care with their whole heart.  For that they are vastly grateful for the gift they receive in turn.  Caregiving is physically and emotionally hard.  I really want to give the highest level of credit to those who undertake this often tough and under appreciated job.  My Heather says she gained a family, but mostly patience and a new way of looking at life. I want you to know that what you do matters to so many!

This blog post was written by Cyndi Gilliam, BSN, RN, FACCWS – EO2 Director of Clinical Affairs

What is FACCWS? A nurse who is a fellow of the American College of Certified Wound Specialists..