Checklists and how-to guides can answer a lot of caregivers’ questions. But when standard operating procedure is unacceptable … when pain is unscheduled … when insurance representatives give you the runaround … advocacy can be key.
If you’ve ever watched someone slowly, painstakingly load an old person into a vehicle or guide them into a building, it probably looked like hard work.
It’s true — caregiving takes strength, planning and the patience of a saint. But when it comes to helping the elderly, they’re only half the battle.
Today a reader told me her 88-year-old mother just moved in with her family. I wish I could share a magic formula to her mother’s longevity, but the best advice I can offer is this: Caregiving success requires advocacy, and you never know what form it will take:
Know which questions to ask
When Grandma moved on to rehab after back-to-back hospital stays, the center immediately switched her to another antibiotic, one the hospital’s doctors previously used to treat her life-threatening case of C diff. It didn’t work the second time either, and she got worse instead of better. When I asked why they’d made the switch, they told me the second drug was cheaper. I insisted someone contact the previous doctor for context, and by the next day she was back on the original medication. I’m not exaggerating when I say the switch may have saved her life.
Go higher on the food chain
During another rehab stay I visited Grandma and found her moaning in pain. The nurses’ aides ignored her calls for help, and who could blame them? Overworked and underpaid, their entire shift could comprise running from one emergency to another if they let it. For 20 minutes I comforted her while we waited for an aide to come.
Eventually I realized nobody was coming until their scheduled rounds. So I looked beyond the aides. When I finally found the shift nurse and explained the situation, she assured me someone would be there soon. I politely but firmly asked if they could come now. Irritated, she grabbed the closest person and told them to go take a look. It turned out Grandma’s catheter was blocked, which meant her bladder was painfully distended. The aide said it was good he came when he did. I agreed.
Don’t take no for an answer
I’ve alluded to my efforts to get details on Grandma’s long-term care policy. Two months into the process, I still don’t know exactly what coverage she has. The New York Times recently reported on the obstacles to cashing in on these policies, but they failed to mention the human factor. Policies don’t send outdated paperwork or transfer you to the wrong department or tell you they understand your frustration when they clearly don’t — people do. It’s very hard to make that ninth call when the last eight have netted little gain. But the alternative is to quit asking questions, and that’s akin to giving up.
I’m not a completely altruistic advocate. Of course I want Grandma to have the best care possible. But guilt and fear drive me too. When Grandma is gone and I look back on this time, I want to tell myself I did everything I could for her and used her resources wisely. If I can, I’ll consider this chapter of my life and hers a success.