Celebrating Caregivers: National Nursing Home Week
My intended career path was to work with people with intellectual disabilities. It seemed a natural choice since I had a brother with disabilities, and I was always involved with him, his friends, and their activities. Then came the summer between my junior and senior years of college when I worked as the waterfront director at a camp for teens and adults with intellectual disabilities. I’m still unsure how this is possible, but it was simultaneously the best and the worst summer of my life. Sadly, by the end of that life-changing summer, I realized I wasn’t up to the task of a full-time career working with people with disabilities.
That experience affected me in several ways. I was disappointed with my self-perceived inadequacy, but it made me even more grateful to those who possess that extra heart and aptitude that enables them to care for our most vulnerable population. I’m thankful for those who make a career out of helping others. For those of us with family members residing in care facilities, the staff are the people we depend on to nurture, nurse, and love our family when we can’t be there.
Calling a community of people “family” is an overused term, but I don’t know a better way to describe what the people at my brother’s home have become to him and, by extension, to me. Yes, they do the necessary functions of ensuring he is safe, fed, clothed, and sheltered, but they also go the extra mile. Through their loving care, they transform a facility into a home and create a family where there are no genetic ties.
My brother lives in an Intermediate Care Facility, Lake Drive, in Henryetta, Oklahoma. Intermediate Care Facilities (or ICFs) sometimes get a bad rap because of the idea that everyone with a disability should remain at home with family or in a group home. Those may be the preferred options for many, but some people, like my brother, need more advanced care. Just as one pair of shoes isn’t the right fit for everyone, different people need different living situations.
Through trial and error, my parents found the right fit for David. Because of my brother’s dual diagnosis of mental health issues and intellectual disabilities, almost every home in the state denied his application. However, Lake Drive was willing to work on a behavior modification plan combined with medication adjustments, eventually leading to David being much happier with his life. The change in his behaviors allowed him to function safely around other people.
I will always be thankful my parents did not live in denial. They knew my brother would outlive them and that his care was beyond the level I could manage. My brother and I grieved when they died, but the grief was easier because David was already happily settled into his home. In the thirteen years since our parents have been gone, I have stumbled along trying to learn my role as David’s guardian. The learning curve was steep initially, and I made (and still make) lots of mistakes.
I can never measure up to my mom, and I won’t even try, but I’m never alone. The staff at Lake Drive has guided me as I search my path like a mouse in a maze. They’ve helped me learn what to do when David’s back hurts and have suggested methods to draw boundaries with his behaviors. When it was time for his first overnight at my house, I was intimidated by the multiple medications, but they patiently instructed me. Although they do most of the heavy lifting, I like to think we are teammates as we try to give David the best life possible.
Book Signing Success
We had a book signing event in honor of National Nursing Home Week. To thank the people who work at my brother’s facility, The RoadRunner Press generously donated books to the employees. Although I wrote the book (The Long Road to Happy) about my brother’s life and my relationship with him, I consider it to be our book!
I thought David could possibly sign his first name on five books before becoming restless. I completely underestimated my brother! David was a rock star, signing thirty-seven books with his first, middle, and last names and sometimes even adding 1963 at the bottom (his birth year). Watching him having a moment of feeling important and special brought tears to my eyes.
Thank You, Caregivers!
I’ve rambled in this blog, but I want the takeaway to be gratitude to those who care for our most vulnerable citizens. Maybe you’re fortunate to not have to think about caregiving, but statistics say that most people will either be a caregiver or need a caregiver at some point in their lives.
Although I was disappointed to realize that a career with people with intellectual disabilities was not something I excelled in, I am incredibly grateful for those who devote themselves to caring for others. David’s life is better because of the caregivers at Lake Drive, and because his life is better, so is mine!