Care for the Caregiver by Jean Kropa

The one area that I would like to emphasize with you is caring for yourself. Now is a good time for you to give yourself extra attention.

Others in your family are taking care of the house, food, minor crises, etc. It is a learning time for them; when you return home, they will be able to do continue some of the work, giving you time for other more complex things. The chronic stress of doing everything for everybody can be wearing on the body; delegation, when it is possible, can be a very good thing. When you get your patient back home, it will be more important; their help will allow you to be more focused on providing care and guidance as recovery continues.

Some ways that I have used to focus on myself are an occasional manicure, a "shampoo and set," and a hot, soaking bath (followed by a self-massage of my feet — in hot water, then with a fragrant body lotion). Sometimes I sip a cup of tea, and watch some birds, squirrels, and chipmunks, or go to a quiet place and watch the setting sun. Other times I will close my eyes and remember a relaxing vacation place.

Visualizing what makes me relax, or what I would like to happen, can be calming and inspirational. I like to "see" myself in a cool, mountain valley . . . in late Spring . . . listening to birds and a waterfall . . . as I lie on the soft grass . . . looking at the new flowers and towering, surrounding mountains . . . as I lie under a large shade tree and no one else is there. The "journey" to get from where I am to there and then back to where I am, is a progressively relaxing process. (Some like to "go" to a beach and "hear" the waves slapping on the shore — I am sensitive to the sun, though, so that doesn't work for me.)

Taking care of yourself also includes getting enough food, exercise, and sunlight (this can be a trick when you "live" at the hospital), and getting enough good sleep. Stress is a chronic condition at a hospital, so your positive attitude with your sense of humor (laughing is very good for you) are important to maintain.

It is okay for your TBI survivor to have some time without you at the bedside; it is also okay for them to acknowledge that you are not able to make every wish miraculously happen. They will have to do much of the regaining and learning of skills by persistence and hard work. You know that they are able to do that; you can provide some motivation and encouragement to keep on trying until they stop getting better.

Try to be patient with the patient. Their thoughts, words, and actions have gotten scrambled; they will sound confused; they do not realize their current limitations. Give them extra time for everything. They usually cannot remember new, short-term memory "entries" into their brains. Answer the same question a dozen times. They want to be better as much as you want them to be better.

By Jean Kropa, Caregiver, M. Ed., CCC, SLP