There is something profoundly impactful, deeply painful, and difficult to discuss that caregivers hold inside. It does not matter what kind of caregiver someone is, they will have battle wounds that are entrenched in their memories. There are things that are seen, felt, and experienced in caregiving that can leave a lasting impression on caregivers’ lives.
My caregiving experiences have stemmed from from both of my children, and I have traumatic memories from each. With my son, it was the moment the doctor took my hand in his and said my baby was dying, and may not make it through the night. He called for the chaplain, and I felt like the breath had been taken from me. I was only 20 years old, and still naive. I had never foreseen this as a possibility because I had only envisioned a healthy, happy baby in my arms. I felt completely alone as my only partner was my abusive ex-husband, and there was very little solace, if any, found in his arms.
I called my parents, and broke down on the phone. It all happened so fast, but the image of my baby with his bloated blue belly and yellow-green skin is still as clear as yesterday. His system failed and the liver could not filter toxins out of his system. He was severely jaundiced and his bilirubin toxicity was at brain damage levels for days. This was 15 years ago, and now, my son is here with me, a healthy teenage boy. He has suffered some frontal lobe damage which has led to many complications, but he is here. The memories will plague me forever and it is something that even therapy cannot seem to get rid of because there is so much trauma attached. This is just one of my many battle wounds.
From my daughter, I have many because she has been through three open-heart surgeries. However, the memory I will discuss right now is not from one of those surgeries, but from a heart catheterization. These procedures were different, and we were able to go with her to the catheterization and stay with her until she fell asleep from the anesthesia. When she was 2, she had one of these prior to surgery, and we walked with her. She was crying, and despite the medication they gave her to relax, she was far from it. I knew she would fight, but as the anesthesiologist brought the mask towards her, she let out blood-curdling screams and fought so hard we had to help hold her down. I remember stroking her hair, and telling her she would be okay and we would see her soon. But, she fought until the anesthesia won. Then, she was asleep, and we left with sounds of her screams still echoing in our ears.
I couldn’t help but wonder if she would remember it, and be angry with me for allowing them to make her fall asleep. She struggled with sleep until she was 5, always having to come to bed with me, and I think she related sleep to surgery subconsciously. She is doing well at 9 years old, but she still has a special heart and we do not know what her future will bring. I know these battle wounds do not compare to the ones carried by my children. They have both had to fight so hard, and so early in their lives. However, they still haunt me. I can still see these memories so strongly, and the pain I feel when I think of them is as gut-wrenching as they were the day they happened.
Caregivers do not always discuss the burdens of pain and the memories of heartache they carry, but they are there, and each caregiver has them eventually. They all watch loved ones suffer, and they are subjected to painful moments that may haunt them for their lifetime. This is another reason it is important for caregivers to have an outlet. Writing in a journal, speaking to someone, spirituality, exercise, or some way to work through the pent up emotions that come with this important job are crucial to retain mental health. Do any of you have a memory that you consider a battle wound of caregiving?