“Don’t forget to take care of you.”
“Self care is important.”
“You’ve done this for how long?!”
These are statements that are part of the fabric of our lives as caregivers to people who are medically fragile. While valid, when you are in the thick of it, self care is sometimes the farthest thing from your mind. While I’d love to add my two cents on self care, everyone needs to find a way to make it work.
I’d like to instead talk on a topic I’ll call Self Preservation.
Some of you may be just starting this journey. Some of you may be in the long stretch. It’s very hard to look ahead when you are barely getting through your day-to-day routines in caregiving. One thing I have learned — the hard way — is that taking care of the physical YOU is both extremely difficult and extremely important.
If your child is small, or you are young and mostly physically fit, you might think that this article isn’t for you. I say, wait…you are going to need this information. I thought this way, too. Before becoming immersed in the care of my daughter, now 24, I was an aerobics instructor and former fitness center owner. I understood the need to stay fit.
Then Sophie consumed my world. Getting away to exercise wasn’t in my repertoire when just being able to go to the bathroom was a challenge. I felt that running around to appointments, therapies, and physically moving my daughter was my own form of CrossFit. All that bending, lifting, moving, dancing around (and for some of you chasing) that kid was a form of fitness. But I was wrong. Because I was doing it wrong.
Taking a straw poll from all of my friends with kids who have special needs, I have noticed that the vast majority have gained weight and have injured themselves at least once while “on the job.” One of the prices we pay for this new life is that physically most of us were not trained to care for our loved ones. Lifting, twisting, and turning while watching various medical lines and tubes while unloading an infant from a car seat is a feat that would impress most contortionists. Doing it for a few years? Not so bad. Doing it for 20 years or more? The damage that can be done is enormous.
I wish that there was more support for the caregiver, more information, more instruction in regards to the physical toll caring can do to your body. While getting additional hands to help is always high on the agenda, it’s a reality in our world that there just isn’t enough, and you have to do more than your share of the bodily work.
As your child ages and grows, mechanically you need to pay attention to how you do the job. This sounds easy and I’m sure many of you know the correct way to lift. But, there are times when you just do it without mentally thinking through the correct way. At least that’s how I was. Not enough time, no one around to help, just take a deep breath and pull her up. After years of therapy for my daughter, she can so some assisting. But then there is the times she just collapses in your arms.
Damage. Damage control. You pay attention to your kid, but what did this just do to your body?
I’d like to make some suggestions that may help you in the long run to preserve your body for the long haul.
If you can, find a physical therapist FOR YOU
Sometimes this can be your kiddo’s therapist; sometimes you need to seek out a professional. Many PTs will do an evaluation with a script from your doctor. Be sure you explain your life to the therapist and what a typical day lifting/twisting looks like. I have bad knees from injuries in high school. I know I lift incorrectly. My therapist taught me ways to lift without impacting my back as severely. Of course, this was after I had to have extensive back surgery. Trust me, you do NOT want to go there.
Reduce the chance of injury when transferring or lifting your child
- Ensure that your feet and back are stable. Position yourself as close as possible to your loved one to keep your stability.
- Face your child and slightly bend your knees in a squat to prepare to lift him or her. Hold in your abdominal muscles and keep your back straight while your knees are shoulder width apart. This will add to your lifting strength and encourage you to lift from your thighs instead of your back.
- Maintain your position as close to your child as possible so that you do not strain your back by leaning over or bending over during the lifting process.
- When you are turning your child from side-to-side or from back-to-side then distribute your weight equally between both of your feet and avoid bending forward too much. Bending forward can strain your back and neck.
- Point your feet toward your child as you lift her. If possible, place one of your feet between her feet and your other foot on the outside of her feet to keep stability for both of you. This position is best when you are lifting her into a standing position from a sitting position or transferring her into a wheelchair.
- If at all possible, attempt to lift or transfer in a smooth, flowing motion as you push upward with your leg muscles. This will be the most comfortable for you and for your child.
- Breathe through the lift. Seems simple, but most people hold their breath when exerting. Consciously think of your abdominal (stomach), quads (thighs), and glutes (buttocks) muscles. Breathe in as you lift, breathe out as you set your child down or position him.
Get the equipment and use the equipment!
Equipment to consider includes the following:
- Lift system or portable lift.
- A hospital bed that has the electric lift to raise and lower it. Trust me — the cranking ones just add to your already stressed body.
- Install ramps or stair lifts.
- Have what I call intermediate solutions. Alone and lifting from the floor? Can you lift to a short bench, then using the right techniques, lift the person further?
- Use turn sheets or learn to turn your kid correctly for changing. Start rolling side-to-side NOW. Your child will not be a newborn and only 10 pounds for very long.
- Put away your pride and get the handicapped van. Once your child is in a larger wheelchair this is a necessity.
- Stop bending over the wheelchair/bed. Pull up a chair next to your child to do your caring while he is in his wheelchair. Raise or lower the bed to accommodate your height and mechanics. (These were probably the hardest ones for me.)
You’ll find that the more you use the equipment, the faster it goes.
There are organizations that can help you with acquiring some of the more expensive equipment. Sometimes you can get funding from a Medicaid waiver program or insurance. Get it now. And then USE IT. Yes, it takes additional time. And money. And effort. Keep seeking solutions; your body deserves it.
Suck it up and ask for help!
If you have the luxury of someone else around, ask for help. I know you are tired of asking for help, or you are in a hurry. Do it anyway. Save your back.
Start now. Here’s a little blog post about my back surgery and the three months of recovery to motivate you: https://oneinamillionkid.wordpress.com/2016/06/10/the-humbling-a-caregivers-caregiving/