The Smallest Act of Caring

Where are you located?

Waynesville, MO

Where did your veteran receive the majority of their medical treatment?

My veteran was not catastrophically injured while in theater, but rather years of deployments eventually took their toll on him physically and mentally. The majority of his conditions arose a few years after returning from his last deployment. He received most of his care through Fort Riley’s Irwin Army Community Hospital and for specialty care was referred to the civilian hospitals surrounding the post while he was assigned the Warrior Transition Unity on Fort Riley, KS.

What branch of service is your family affiliated with?

My veteran was a Combat Engineer in the Army for 16.5 years. He had every desire and intention to make a career out of it until his illnesses and injuries started to add up and he was no longer able to serve in the military. He has PTSD, Major Depression Disorder, TBI, a shoulder injury that surgery did not resolve, chronic pain due to back injuries received while deployed and a borderline aortic aneurysm received as a result of the accidents and exposure to IED blasts.

Prior to the need for me to come home to care for my husband I was an Emergency dispatcher for the county we lived in. While I adored this position, I know that the long hours and the lack of flexibility make it so that I cannot work in the position and care for my veteran. My hope and goal is to help him return to a new normal and gain independence and this is something that we work toward daily. This is not a perfect and possibly unachievable, it is the goal that I have for my veteran.

How has caregiving impacted your day-to-day routine and your personal life?

Caregiving impacted my day-to-day routines immensely. It is no longer about what I will do today, but instead is what will the day bring and how much can I accomplish. My days vary, but typically include a doctor’s appointment, medicine dispensing, assisting dressing, running interference, and making one of numerous calls that need to be made to follow his care. At one time I was a perfectionist and if it went on my list it was accomplished and now I feel accomplished by crossing a few things off a revolving list of tasks that need to be taken care of. My personal life has changed considerably as well. We used to be a very social couple, having people over every weekend or going to a get together somewhere else. Now with his mental health and physical limitations he doesn’t handle getting out and for safety reasons, I need to be with him all day, everyday. I try to make sure that I don’t allow him or myself to isolate and have come up with a compromise of a just one set of friends over at a time and only for a few hours on Sunday evenings. I work hard to maintain relationships and some have dissipated, but that is alright. I do not take it personal, it can be hard to understand the reality of our lives. I relate mainly to those women whom I have met on an internet support page for those who are caregivers to their veterans, they are amazing and I could not have gotten through these past few years without them.

Besides caring for your veteran, what other interests/jobs/passions do you pursue now? What are your personal interests?

Caregiving is time and energy-consuming, but to prevent burn out and ensure that I find joy in life I am a photographer. At one time, this was a successful side business, but now it is a hobby and a reminder that life is beautiful. I adore baking and teaching my children how to bake. I love reading and spending time outdoors. As a family, we enjoy trail walks, fishing and making s’mores by a fire. My husband and I enjoy repurposing old furniture, it is something that keeps my husband’s mind busy and something he can do when he feels up to it. I get the joy of picking colors and assisting in recreating ugly furniture to something beautiful.

How has QoLF helped you to renew your passion in your interests or to change something to improve your quality of life?

Sleep in vital in this lifestyle we find ourselves. In the past year it has become impossible for my husband to sleep on a conventional mattress due to his chronic pain. The VA was great in issuing him a hospital bed, but this meant that I was in our bed and he was in a separate twin bed next to mine. This was problematic in more than one area, but mainly because my husband suffers nightmares and will get up and wander in his sleep. This is a safety concern not just for him, but our entire family. There were nights the doors were wide open and unsecured. With his being in a hospital bed I now find myself sleeping even lighter than before to make sure that I hear if he has gotten up or is having a nightmares. Lack of sleep quickly adds up and can make the task of caregiving even harder. This small thing of assisting in getting a bed that meets our needs will be life changing for both myself and my veteran. We will be able to get the sleep we both desperately need.

Do you have a favorite inspirational or motivational quote?

Yes, it is by Leo Buscaglia.

” Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

What advice would you give a new caregiver?

First and foremost, while it seems chaos right now, it will truly be alright and you are strong enough to handle this. Second, it is normal to grieve and even try to hold on to what life was, but as soon as you learn to accept the new normal and what is now, it is freeing. Third, spend time becoming organized. Binders, notepads, files and lists help you find things quickly without spending hours finding that one piece of paper you need. I was shocked when we first started down this road just how much actual paperwork is involved. Also, find support. There are amazing women who have been doing this for years that are a wealth of information and a shoulder to cry on that truly understand what you are going through and feeling. Lastly, find time to do something for yourself. It is so easy to get so wrapped up in caregiving that we forget that we need to take care of ourselves. You are the most important thing to your veteran, if you are not at your best it is hard to provide care for another person.

What would you like to tell the average American?

Please do not forget. As these wars have carried on now for over a decade, the toll from these wars will continue on for a lifetime. Every veteran is different and their level of ability to function will vary. Demand these veterans get the care they so desperately need and deserve. Also, if you are blessed to know a caregiver or a veteran realize that while initial healing periods have passed, they are not completely healed most of the time. A dinner or an offer to go out together goes a long way. We often feel like we live on the outside of society, our lives don’t fit in with our civilian counterparts a lot of the time. Even if we cannot make it, feeling included means the world to us. Most importantly, please do not allow stigmas around the invisible wounds continue. These men are not dangerous and unpredictable, they are injured versions of who they were and we trusted them to protect us and serve us. They are still selfless, proud heroes and deserve just as much respect as we had for them when they were in uniform, now that the uniform is hung up.