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When Patient Becomes Caregiver

When I was admitted to the hospital in August 2007, I had a double mastectomy followed by a breast reconstruction in what turned out to be a ten and a half hour operation. I came out of surgery pretty banged up and needing more blood transfusions. My parents and husband were there when I was returned to my hospital room in the early evening.
Over the course of the week that I spent in the hospital, my mother was my principle caregiver. My sister, Susan; herself a nurse, spent much of the early hours with me as well, and my husband did the night shift. I don't know what I would have done without my mother that week, and during the six weeks of recovery she spent with me at home. The gratitude I felt, and still feel for my mother's generous and giving care never fades.
While I was in the hospital, I had a few visitors. One of them was someone named Joyce. I have called Joyce my “political” mother; if only to distinguish between my mom and her. The real truth, is that she has been a mother to me in the thirty years we have known one another; particularly in the past eighteen years, where she did all the “motherly” things like visit me in the hospital when I gave birth to my children, babysit my children, and she even had the upper hand of potty training my youngest daughter. With great success, I may add! Joyce celebrated my girls' accomplishments, went to school concerts (even when my daughter refused to sing) and was there to proudly see my two older daughters off to their high school prom. During the holidays, on the odd occasion when she and her husband, Gordon, were not visiting their own children and grandchildren in Ontario, she would celebrate with my family. There were many candles adorning birthday cakes that were blown out at our table. Many happy memories were made.
Every week, without fail we would have our weekly “caucus” meeting, where we would discuss what we were most passionate about; politics. In fact politics is how we met, when we were both “working” for provincial members of the Quebec National Assembly. I put working in quotations simply because Joyce was not paid, and volunteered her time. For almost four years of Joyce's stellar forty years of volunteering (full time, I may add) we would share an office. We were a force to be reckoned with. God help anyone who refused to renew their membership when Joyce would call. She was relentless and would not stop until she convinced them of our cause. Joyce also volunteered her time for me during the three federal elections in which I was a candidate.
It is now my turn to give selflessly, as Joyce's health took a turn for the worse this summer, and she has been hospitalized for the past six weeks. As fate would have it, I had the time to stay by her side, each day since the end of July, as I am between terms in my job. How perfectly those stars lined up! Spending all those hours at the hospital gave me much insight into the caring professions, and I was fortunate to became friends with many professionals that are certainly in the right line of work.
After spending the first week at the hospital in the emergency ward, Joyce was sent to a room. She would spend the next four weeks in that room where we would see several people come and go from the hospital bed next to her. One of them in particular, named Franca, was an angel to us, as she would always give us progress reports on the type of night Joyce had. Often, when Joyce was sleeping, I would talk to Franca and her sister-in-law about food, recipes and cooking. I'm sure you've guessed by now that Franca is Italian!
When Joyce was sent to a private room, I was somewhat melancholy, as I was not going to be able to chat with my new friend as much. The private room turned out to be a godsend for Joyce; however, being less busy and more peaceful for both the patient and the caregivers.
While in the hospital, I have watched the slow decline of my good friend's health. That sparkle that Joyce always had in her eye is slowly fading. My other mother is slowly dying. It has been a real emotional roller coaster ride this summer; one that I have been fortunate enough to be on. Being one of Joyce's caregivers was a gift and having the opportunity to be there for her; just as she has been there for me, is something I will always be grateful for.
Today Joyce is moving over to a palliative care centre. It's a beautiful place, and I know she will be happy to spend her final hours there. She will have the opportunity to see the outdoors again, and spend time with the ones that she loves. I will take this final trip with her, with gratitude and a heavy heart. Knowing that she has, and will be in good hands. And when I get home, I will try to pick up the pieces of my heart, and hope to put them back together.
I have come full circle, and have a newfound respect for my own mother, as I have now stepped in her caregiver shoes. It takes a lot of love, and this role is only for the special few.


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