A Little Levity to Ease the Family Caregiver’s Burden

Illustration by Hana Cisarova for AJN/All right reserved.

Illustration by Hana Cisarova for AJN/All right reserved.

According to the CDC, almost 21% of households in the U.S. are affected by family caregiving responsibilities. The pressures and costs of this unpaid labor of love have been well documented.

This month’s Reflections essay, “Swabbing Tubby,” is written from the family caregiver perspective rather than that of a nurse. It’s about the wife and two adult daughters of an ailing older man as they are coached in one of the skills they will need to care for him at home.

It’s a tough situation, but one in this case leavened by the ability of these three women to laugh a little at the more absurd aspects of their predicament. Here’s the beginning:

In retrospect, I can’t help feeling sorry for the earnest young woman who tried so hard to show my mother, my sister, and myself how to hook up our brand-new, at-home, IV feeding device. She was all of 25, with the freshly scrubbed look of a young schoolgirl. Her youthful perkiness was no match for the trio of exhausted, crabby women who faced her across the empty hospital bed. Dad was down in X-ray having yet another CT scan, and the three of us were awaiting instructions on do-it-yourself intravenous feeding.

It’s not that they don’t take what they’re doing seriously or appreciate the training they are being given, or care for their suffering husband or father. But nurses know as well as anyone that resilience in the face of round-the-clock responsibility for another’s health and comfort demands more than just strong will—humor can be a crucial tool of those with real staying power.

Reflections essays are free, so click the link above and read the entire short essay. We may all find ourselves with such work to do soon enough, if we haven’t already.—Jacob Molyneux, senior editor/blog editor

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Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.

One Comment

  1. Jessica February 2, 2015 at 6:20 pm

    I have been thinking about this a lot lately! I work in long term care and transitional care and it is so depressing to see people dying all the time. But at the same time, it is so very important. These are the last days of a person’s life on this Earth. It is an extremely heavy place to be and humor is the only way to get through it.

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