Caregiver….What Is That?

I have had numerous people ask me what being a caregiver means and what exactly does my day consist of.  For those of you unfamiliar with a caregiver, I am recognized by the VA as my husband’s caregiver.  I had to complete a training course to get my certification and as anything in life, am learning new things and ways to help my husband.

A day in the life of a caregiver can be very stressful, overwhelming, challenging and at the same time very rewarding.  My husband suffers from PTSD, TBI and a blown out knee.  (I cannot remember the medical term for the diagnosis.)  We try to have a set routine which helps with the flare-ups.  When my husband wakes up, which is usually around 9 or 9:30, he takes a shower.  No big deal, right?  Not exactly.  Due to TBI, my husband has dizzy spells and losses his balance.  Therefore, I am right beside the shower at ALL times in case he falls or has a dizzy spell.  He relies on me for balance and will hold on to my shoulders for stability.  Once he is finished with his shower, I have to help him get dressed.  Again, this is due to the dizziness and balance issues.  I do not always have to put his pants on but I have to be there to keep him from falling.  There have been many times where he has to sit on the bed because the dizziness is so bad.  Once he is dressed, he knows it is time to take medicine.  No matter how many times he follows this routine, I still have to remind him to take his medicine.  Again, due to TBI, he suffers from short term memory loss.  Every Saturday night, I fill his weekly medicine holder.  This is a way I can make sure he is taking his medicine because yet again, he does not remember taking it half the time.  Keep in mind, I am doing all of this while working a full time job in the home and tending to a four year old. 

Around noon, it is lunch time.  My husband is not allowed to use the stove unless I am home or he calls to tell me how long something has to be in the oven.  I have to remind him to eat as well as make our son lunch.  His body is unable to tell him when he is hungry.  I try to take my lunch break around this time so we can eat together and I can monitor what he has prepared.  Between 1 and 1:30, I send a text to put our son down for nap.  I am constantly reminding him to do things.  If any phone calls need to be made, no matter the issue, I have to fit those phone calls in to my work schedule.  I am in daily contact with his advocate helping us fight for his disability rating and social security.  Phone calls can be very long and exhausting and that does not even include the numerous messages I leave relying on someone to call me back.

In the evening, we play games with our son, which is cognitive therapy for my husband.  This helps him concentrate, put words together, and complete full thoughts.  We make sure to get out and exercise.  If any errands need to be run, we do them after I get off work.  He is not able to drive alone due to lack of concentration, road rage like you would not believe (thanks to PTSD), dizziness, sensitivity to light, etc.  Therefore, the driving is mainly left up to me.  We try to cook dinner together, again so I can monitor is usage of the stove/oven and remind him when to check or stir the food.

He stays up late and there have been countless times I have to remind him to go to bed.  It may seem like I am more of a motherly figure to him, but I am blessed with a husband that appreciates what I do for him and I really try my best not to nag or look over his shoulder all the time.

So, being a caregiver means I am not your ordinary wife.  However, I am surround by many other fabulous women (and men) that have a similar story.  I am a note-taker, secretary, reminder, cook, chauffeur and the list goes on.  Again, this is just a glimpse of my day as a caregiver.

Not the Same Man I Meet Five Years Ago

A common topic between Caregivers of wounded warriors is the men or women are not who they remember meeting and marrying.  This statement is very true in my own marriage.  My husband and I meet a little over five years ago and he is not the same man I met that October night.  He is also not the teenager his family watched join the Army and go to war.

I will never know who he was before the impacts of war changed him.  I will never know that easy-going, funny, loving, not afraid of anything teenager that joined the Army at eighteen.  I will never know the joyful, joking and prankster that I fell so deeply in love with five years ago.  Why you ask, because of what he witnessed and the missions he had to conduct while in Iraq.

The man who returned is forever scarred with horrible flashbacks, nightmares, depression, anxiety attacks, short term memory loss, etc. that torture him on a daily basis.  The man I fell so madly in love with, now has a hard time showing affection or even holding a five minute conversation.  Often times, he cannot even tell you what he had for dinner, much less if he took his medicine.  War is something that we will always battle and will always be a part of our daily lives.

Each day I wake up not knowing what the day holds.  Things that do not seem like such a big deal to civilians set my husband off and that shapes how our day will go.  By just having someone blow a car horn at him, his blood pressure and anxiety went through the roof.  He was ready to get out of the car and beat the driver up.  Something so simple, yet so damaging at the same time.

We struggle every day with our new “normal.”  Each day the word “normal” has a different meaning.  Communication does not come as easily and I have to push for family time.  We are extremely thankful for the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP) and the relationships we have formed because of this amazing organization.  They not only saved my husband’s life, but also our marriage.

Even though I did not know my husband when he served OUR country, I still consider myself an Army wife and I am so grateful for this life.  The struggles are difficult and I have had to learn to fall in love with the man my husband is today.  We are stronger because of everything we have overcome and I know we will continue to grow each and every day.

FIreworks

Now that we live in FL, fireworks of any kind of legal.  This meant an entirely new battle for my husband who suffers from PTSD and TBI.  We spent almost all of New Year’s Eve preparing him from all the sudden booms and explosions from fireworks.  The fireworks started extremely, around 7:30 and did not seem to stop until after 2 am.  For veterans who have been to war, the sound and sometimes even the smell of fireworks can set off a PTSD rage.  These noises and smells send them right back to the battlefield and no one can even imagine what they witnessed.  I think the night was harder for me as his caregiver and I probably annoyed him by constantly asking him if he was okay.  I was more anxious about the situation than he was.  This is the one time I was grateful for his video game.  He had his headphones on and did not hear much of the commotion going on outside.

It would be nice if after the holidays were over that meant no more fireworks.  Tonight, as we sat eating dinner, someone in the neighborhood decided to let off some random fireworks.  My husband took cover and his anxiety shot through the roof.  It sounded as if bullets were hitting on front door. 

Please remember that when setting off random fireworks, you are affecting people around you that fight for a new sense of normal every single day.  Our veterans deserve the utmost respect and as mentioned in my first blog, society does not realize the affects of simple things, like fireworks, have on veterans.

Introduction

Welcome to my life as an Army wife and caregiver.  My husband joined the Army right out of high school and served in Iraq in 2003.  Although I did not know him at the time, we deal with the scars of war on a daily basis.  Therefore, I consider myself an Army wife.  I am creating this blog to educate and shed light on what our Wounded Veterans and their families experience for the rest of their lives.  The invisible wounds, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), etc. are finally coming to the fore front and being recognized as serious disorders that our Veterans struggle with every day.

Feel free to ask questions and comment along my journey.