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November 28, 2015 / 16 Kislev, 5776
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Understanding The Caregiver Of The Chronically Ill: The Person Behind The Chair

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Let’s paint a picture with your mind. Picture a couple. The wife is standing beside her husband. Lets add four children, say three, five, seven and an infant. Paint a beautiful summer day. The birds are singing, the flowers are out and the grass is lush and green. The family is taking a walk. The three year old is balancing on his new tricycle. The infant is asleep in a stroller. The five and seven year olds are kicking a soccer ball as they walk along. The family stops to sit under a tree. The infant has fallen asleep.

The toddler gets out off the tricycle and begins to play with his truck. The children are thirsty. The baby begins to fuss in her sleep and probably needs a diaper change. The toddler probably needs one as well. As the older boys continue to play soccer, the distance between them and their parents becomes longer and longer until the parents notice they are almost out of sight. The parents call to them to return, but they cannot be heard.

In your mental picture, who is going to run after the boys? Who is pushing the stroller? Who is helping the tricycle up hill? Who is going back to the car to get the drinks or to a refreshment stand to buy them? Who is changing the diapers? Who is watching the toddler and keeping him entertained? Who will care for the infant should she awaken?

Now conjure up the same picture in your mind. This time, however, put the man in a wheelchair. He has recently been diagnosed with a chronic illness. The setting is the same. The grass is still lush and the flowers blooming. The boys are still playing soccer and wandering off as they play. The toddler is still playing with his truck or is on his tricycle. The baby is fussing in her sleep. But, who is pushing the stroller? Who is pushing the tricycle up hill? Who is pushing the wheelchair? Can the wife push the wheelchair and the stroller and keep the tricycle going in a straight line? Who is going to run after the boys to insist they play closer to the parents for safety sake?

The father cannot go. He either cannot push himself that far or if he can, it may take much too long to reach the children. If the mother goes, who will watch the sleeping baby? Who will tend to her if she cries? The father cannot reach her from his chair. His hands are not strong enough to pick her up and hold her on his lap and make sure she doesn’t fall down from his chair. Who will watch the toddler? What if he decides just then to exert his independence and wander off? Who will make sure he stays put? Who will go to the car to get the drinks?

There is only one solution. The wife, carrying the toddler, must run after the boys. Halfway there, she hears her baby crying and wonders if she should go back in order to tend to the baby or run after her boys. Meanwhile, the toddler is complaining about his confinement and wants “down”. Once the boys are back within sight, she’s off to the car to get the drinks. She still has the willful, unpredictable toddler in hand. She has no other choice. She has settled the baby and prays she will not wake again until she returns. She hopes the boys have not let their game get out of hand. She prays that all this normalcy has not put her husband in a bad mood because of his disability and led to an inability to parent effectively.

She hopes she will not return to hearing her husband screaming at the children in an attempt to deal with that which he no longer is capable of. As she lugs the heavy picnic basket of drinks in one hand and the squirming toddler in the other, she wishes it was always winter so that outings to the park never happen. Then again, it’s hard pushing the wheelchair in the snow. Harder than the carriage or the stroller. It’s not really the season. She knows this. It is the disability that has made any attempt at living a normal family life impossible. ◙

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