A family’s 10-year journey through caregiving
Bruce Shaw will never forget the phone call that changed his life forever. "I'd like to take you up on your invitation," said his father, Roger Shaw, a former college professor who had been paralyzed since 1976 from a rare reaction to a swine flu vaccination. Now age 79, the elder Shaw had finally decided to move in with his son and daughter-in-law.
"We'd been asking Dad to come live with us for years, but he kept saying he didn't want to be a burden," recalls Shaw. But when glaucoma claimed his father's sight, it made it impossible for him to live alone any longer.
Medicine. From a son's point of view
Turning to Virtua
A shared love of music
Medicine: From a son's point of view
Though the family never regarded Shaw's father as a burden, caring for him radically altered their lives. They moved into a new one-story home to accommodate his wheelchair. Shaw quit his 30-year career in international development to become his primary caretaker. And, Shaw and his wife prepared to care for him medically, financially and emotionally for many years ahead.
According to the American Society on Aging, about 15% of US adults care for a seriously ill or disabled family member. For these caregivers, balancing their own lives with the needs of those in their care is a delicate process that often requires outside help.
For this, the Shaws turned to Virtua Health. Shaw learned firsthand the quality care Virtua provided when he worked as a volunteer emergency medical technician (EMT) in Moorestown.
"We chose to have all Dad's care handled by Virtua, from home care and emergency services to inpatient care and surgery," says Shaw. "It was invaluable to have every part of Dad's care coordinated through a healthcare system that truly understands patients and their families."
Turning to Virtua
For day-to-day care, the Shaws relied on the help of Virtua's home-care professionals. "The frontline people were amazing," Shaw says of the certified home-health aides who came daily to provide help with tasks like bathing and meal preparation. And, there were registered nurses who visited regularly to provide medical care including wound and surgical-site care and to monitor changes in his father's condition. "For many years, they brought not only their skills and experience into our home, but also their willingness to take the extra step for others and their genuine compassion."
This compassion led many Virtua professionals to become "part of the family." Like certified home-health aide Ali Underwood, who started a new family tradition when she expanded the elder Shaw's taste in music.
A shared love of music
"When I first came here, all he listened to was opera," says Underwood. "Over the years, I introduced him to country western, gospel and campfire songs." The entire family ended up getting participating, and singing became a wonderful outlet for sharing their time together.
Underwood, who has been a Virtua home-health aide for nearly 20 years, thinks it's important to be involved in her patients' lives. "I cared for members of my own family for many years. The patients I care for become an extension of that love and attention."
The Shaws acknowledge that managing the details of insurance, finances and daily routines can be a daunting task for caregivers. "It's important to be open and honest and discuss these things up front," advises Shaw's wife, Judy. "Don't wait for a crisis."
Families must also learn to care for the specific needs of a frail or elderly person, from managing basic nutrition and hygiene to understanding medical equipment and life-saving techniques. Shaw, who admits he "couldn't cook more than macaroni" when his dad first arrived, learned how to balance the nutrients his father needed to stay healthy.
"While there is nothing more fulfilling than caring for someone you love, there are times of emotional anxiety and stress," says Shaw. "Full-time caregivers must rely on the help of others when necessary and take time for themselves." That's why Virtua offers a range of support services for caregivers including respite care, health and wellness programs, legal and financial counseling, physician visits, and professionally run support groups.
After nearly 10 years of living under his family's loving care, Roger Shaw passed away in June 2004 at the age of 90. His family doesn't regret his death or the decade they spent caring for him.
"When we were taking care of Dad, we received so much more than we gave," says Shaw, who calls these the happiest and finest 10 years of his life. "And, thanks to the help of everyone at Virtua, from the frontline workers to the administrators and everyone in between, my father was able to live in dignity and pass away in dignity, surrounded by his friends and family."