Lynda Areheart, 84, became a nurse in her 50s, although she didn’t necessarily intend to become one. “Having always had trouble with math, I decided to clear up that patch in my education,” she says. She took remedial math and basic sciences and then just kept taking additional math and science courses, including calculus and physiology. When she had to choose a major and was told she met requirements for nursing, she decided to pursue a nursing degree although she didn’t really plan to practice.
She began in step-down trauma as a medical-surgical nurse which wasn’t a good fit, but she eventually determined that private duty nursing was for her. “I took a paralyzed pediatric patient on a ventilator and nursed him from grammar school through college, his master’s degree, and work,” she says. When Lynda’s husband, Bill, partially retired, she decided to take a break as well. She stays up to date on nursing issues and medical trends in a number of ways, including subscribing to a nursing journal, attending seminars, and reading the required 30 hours every two years.
Lynda’s role now is to be her husband’s health care manager, a role she does out of love and respect for him, whom she says deserves the best possible care. Bill retired from the military with two tours in Vietnam, and has several health issues, many of which Lynda says are the result of Agent Orange exposure.
How has your husband’s health issues altered your life situation?
I have numerous outside interests but need to do many of the things he used to do. Psychologically, I find that I have more responsibility in leadership roles in the family. Bill is a born leader, one of the best, and I have always relied on him in so many ways. Now I find that I must remind him to reserve his energy. We no longer take long walks, hikes, or bike rides. Because of my age and his health needs, I no longer ride horseback; I cannot afford to be injured.
What roles do you have to do as his caregiver?
[I wear] two hats: wife and nurse. I have to try to be sure to switch hats when it is appropriate. However, I have to be watchful so that I don’t miss a symptom. While he [takes] his own medications and makes his own doctor appointments, I must be aware of what he is taking and why. I clean his pulmonary equipment and order supplies. I do all the things I would do on private nursing duty. Most of all, I try not to be sharp with him when he does distract me when I need to be fully attentive to what I am doing. As his health manager, I need to be at almost all of his doctor appointments, have a wheelchair on hand if he needs one, take notes, and be sure all questions are answered.
How is caring for your husband different from caring for a stranger in a clinical setting?
In some ways, it is much easier. We have always been a team, and I can rely on him to do his part. I don’t have to begin with “reading” the patient’s personality. I have to remember that just because he has been surrounded with medical family members, he has had other interests, and I need to educate him as I would any clinical patient.
How do you manage your own needs as an individual when you’re also a caregiver?
When the house is about to overwhelm me, I get some outside help. Since I am still recovering from a total hip replacement, I make time for my physical therapy appointments. Since I am responsible for my own mental health, I keep politics out of my home and seldom watch the news. Each morning I start my day with a scripture reading and short prayer. My garden is my psychiatrist. We get to eat the fruits of my labor, and it never asks for a referral or sends me a bill. Next door, I have an adopted daughter, indeed the entire family, which is of a different nationality, culture, and faith, and [they] adopted us. I stop when we both have time for a cup of tea to share the day. I have a daughter who lives distant to me whom I talk to on the phone regularly, and will come to us in a crisis.
By Carrie Vittitoe
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