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The “care” in caregiving

by CAROLINE GAVURA Section Editor

Immigrating to America from her hometown of Palermo, Italy was a difficult journey for Rosalinda Vega. She came to the states with nothing, and had to work hard to learn how to do things natives were already capable of doing, like speaking English.

Her hard work paid off, however, and soon she was working as a materials manager at a healthcare facility. Although she did the job well and continued to get promotions, Vega was unhappy.

“When you’re doing just that and it’s all about the money, it’s really hard for my type of personality. I just didn’t like it. It was hard. It was painful for me,” she said.

Vega then met Cathy, a 70-year-old woman suffering from Parkinson’s disease, and her husband. Within the last four years, Cathy’s disease progressed to Parkinson’s dementia, which requires more supervision.

Because of this, her husband was looking for a caregiver to take care of Cathy full time.

Vega has always known she enjoys helping people, saying, “I found myself always trying to help others. When my kids were young, I used to babysit their friends and it was very nice. As they grew older, I developed a care for older people. Everybody likes kids, and that’s a good thing, but with older people, it’s harder to find someone to properly care for them.”

She saw the perfect opportunity in Cathy, and has been with her for over two years.

Vega is with Cathy every step of the way – arriving early in the morning and leaving late in the afternoon.

She begins by giving Cathy her medication and feeding her breakfast. Cathy must take medication eight times a day, so her husband has set an alarm that goes off every hour and half to remind Vega to administer the pills.

She massages Cathy’s muscles to make them less stiff and more comfortable, and then they have some “girl time.”

“I pamper her after breakfast. I do her hair – she used to be a hairdresser, so I know she used to take good care of herself. I try to do her nails, talk about clothes and I let her touch me. She likes to touch my clothes,” said Vega.

After that, the pair usually go to any doctor’s appointments or take a walk around the park to get some fresh air until it’s time for Rosalinda to go home.

“Then her husband takes care of her; he’s a very loving husband,” she said.

It’s not always an easy job to be a caregiver as there are a lot of challenging aspects that come into play. There are good days and bad days when working with an unwell, older person.

Anxiety and depression are side effects of Cathy’s disease, and they can often cause the day to not run so smoothly.

Vega described an incident when Cathy was very sad and would not eat her breakfast. Knowing Cathy is Italian, Vega casually started watching an Italian video on her phone. Once Cathy started watching the video, Vega was able to feed her yogurt without her noticing.

“The most challenging part is when you are out in public. When you are out in public and you are trying to be ‘normal’. When you put her in the chair and she starts getting anxiety and she starts breathing heavy and people come up to us and say, ‘Oh my gosh! Is she okay?’ and ‘Oh my gosh, that’s terrible!’ It bothers me because they are talking in front of her like she is not there anymore,” said Vega.

A lot of the people who knew Cathy in the past have a hard time understanding what she is going through now, while Rosalinda sees it on a daily basis.

At times, it is hard for her to separate herself and realize she cannot truly form a relationship with Cathy because she is just the caregiver. Even when she feels she knows what is best for Cathy, it is ultimately up to her family to decide what is the best decision.

The advice she gives for those of us who are thinking of caregiving as a possible career choice is to “know your boundaries. Because when it comes down to it, you’re not family.”

Thankfully, the rewarding parts outweigh any of the bad.

“Even if I’m having a bad day myself, once I go there and I see Cathy and she just looks at me very innocently or with a funny face, I just start laughing. It makes your day better, and it really makes you think about life because she was fine up to three years ago when the dementia kicked in,” Vega said.

The best part about working with Cathy?

“The satisfaction of helping. I do it from my heart. When I see her having a good day or when she is sad and I give her a look and we just start laughing – it changes my day too. For a person like that to have the disease she has, it is hard to even live with it. Knowing that I can help her and make her laugh? It’s very rewarding,” Vega said.

Vega also expressed her love for how personal the job is compared to any other.

“There is nothing like that, that I could have done at my old job. I used to go around like crazy and try to make contracts and save money for the hospital and never a ‘thank you’ from any of those people. But with her, I can go to tie on her bib and she just grabs me and starts kissing me. Where else do you get that?”

It is not a job for everyone, and it is important that you ‘click’ with the person you will be taking care of. Vega said she was blessed to meet someone like Cathy because they get along so well.

It takes time to find the perfect fit, but once you do, it can become a life-changing experience for the both of you.

Does caregiving sound like the job for you?

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