Saturday, May 23, 2009

Caregiver Injuries....

It's a beautiful Spring Saturday morning - sunny, clear and bright with the scent of lilacs, azaleas and rhododendrons wafting in on the cool air from the garden. I'm sipping a mug of my favourite Dutch coffee and savouring the pre-lawnmower quiet.

I haven't posted here for the past week because a "caregiving injury" has severely restricted the use of my right hand. I am cat-sitting for a few weeks and the poor old thing has renal failure which necessitates frequent feedings and the administration of a small pill every morning. 

During one of our pill-encounters, Si nipped my finger, leaving an all but invisible puncture wound. By six o'clock that evening, my finger (and the rest of my hand) was hot, red, swollen and exquisitely tender and off I went to the clinic for antibiotics and a tetanus shot.  The young doctor there informed me that about 80% of cat bites become infected, some very quickly and seriously. If my infection increased at all I was to go to the emergency department for IV antibiotics. (!) Fortunately, the oral medications have worked well and I'm able to type quite comfortably this morning.

All this did make me think, though, about how often caregivers are injured while doing simple, everyday caregiving tasks - sometimes because we're tired, sometimes because we're preoccupied  and sometimes because we lack information about what we're doing.

While caring for my husband during his bed-bound years, I spent much more time than usual on my feet at home. Like many people, I tended to kick off my shoes at the front door and go barefoot or push my feet into a pair of comfortable old slippers. Little did I know that spending hours on my feet in poorly supporting foot wear would result in a case of bilateral plantar fasciitis that took two years and hundreds of dollars (orthotics) to heal! So, here's a piece of advice that you probably won't find in any other writings for caregivers - Be sure to wear well-fitting and supportive shoes whenever engaged in caregiving that requires extra time on your feet. It's well worth the effort!

Also worth the effort, whether you're a helping professional or a family carepartner, is taking the time to assess the things you do regularly while caring for others. 

- Do you  make an effort to stay in the moment, present to the task at hand, or are you already three steps ahead, planning for something else entirely? 

- Are you practicing good self care so that your body is fit and well rested for the tasks you have to undertake?

- Are you asking for help when you need it? (It can be annoying to wait for someone to help you lift a wheelchair into the trunk of the car, but not nearly as annoying as being laid up for six weeks with a back injury!).

- Is your work area set up for good ergonomic functioning? 

- Do you know how to do caregiving tasks correctly - good body mechanics, proper care of needles and other sharps, correct procedures for handling aggressive behaviour? Again, asking for information can save injury both to yourself and to your care recipients.

So, if we all do our best to remain mindful, fit and rested, and informed in our caregiving, we are far less likely to become numbered among the "cared for". Is there one thing you could change this week to make your caregiving safer for you


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