Monday, January 16, 2012

Taking Care


Last week, I mentioned that Mother drove her father-in-law to another state where he would undergo tests to determine if his cancers could be treated differently than they were being treated in his hometown. That was just one of many times that Mother took care of others. Indeed what woman doesn’t take care of others?

In fact, according to a Fact Sheet available about Womenshealth.gov, most caregivers are women: In any given year, about 44 million adults (or 21% of the adult population) will provide unpaid care for disabled and elderly family members who are 18 years of age or older. Sixty-one percent of those 44 million adults are women.

The Fact Sheet goes on to list the toll paid for taking care of others. Caregivers:

                Are more likely to have symptoms of depression or anxiety
                Are more likely to have a long-term medical problem, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or arthritis
                Have higher levels of stress hormones
                Spend more days sick with an infectious disease
                Have a weaker immune response to the influenza, or flu, vaccine
                Have slower wound healing
                Have higher levels of obesity

They may even be at higher risk for mental decline, including problems with memory and paying attention.

For these reasons, caregivers, including and especially those wives and family members who care for injured and traumatized veterans, deserve our admiration as well as support groups and social programs. Consider the case of RyAnne Noss, a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering, married to a soldier who served eight tours of duty before sustaining a TBI—traumatic brain injury. Scott Noss, the fit and brave and active man that RyAnne married, no longer exists except somewhere inside a body that requires constant care. Many women would have walked away. RyAnne has not. She put her career, ambitions, and desires on hold to care for her Scott.

She is not alone. Eric Edmundson’s parents, Ed and Beth, and Eric’s wife, Stephanie, have sacrificed their financial security and ransomed their futures to restore Eric to the best possible state he can attain. Ivonne Thompson is another like RyAnne. Each of these individuals, so eloquently and movingly portrayed on “NOW,” a PBS program November 20, 2009, has put aside personal agendas. Each has elected to serve by standing for a loved one and waiting for miracles in the form of a single laugh, a step taken, a glance of recognition. Each care-giver bears the yoke—although I could never conceive of it as mild—because each is in the service of something greater: a life. And each proves his courage and conviction every day. (The great sorrow associated with Alzheimer's is that no miracles await; the disease, to date, has no cure or good outcome although it can be held at bay with medication.)

Home for Our Troops has also taken care of Scott and Eric. They have provided homes that are wheelchair accessible and equipped with technology that allows family to care for them in spite of their weight and challenges. Such programs, privately funded, are wonderful, and we should donate both dollars and time to help, but should the caregivers and those in need have to wait several years for their homes? Shouldn’t our nation support these families who have made great sacrifices by making it possible for them to live as productive and independent a life as possible from the moment they are injured to the moment when they leave the medical care and/or branch of service to which they have sworn duty?

I believe we should. I believe that we should rebuild soldiers and their families, collecting necessary tax dollars to do so. We put them in harm’s way; we should help them stay safe and strong. Our nation’s defense rests upon their shoulders as much as it does upon drones, bombs, and Humvees. Let us never forget!

To learn more about RyAnne Noss, Ed and Beth Edmundson, Stephanie Edmundson, and Ivonne Thompson, as well as the soldiers who inspired them, visit http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/547/transcript.html where you can read the transcript of “Who’s Helping Our Wounded Vets?” a program featuring Senior Correspondent Maria Hinojoso and produced by Abigail Leonard. I believe that you may even want to buy a DVD of this program because the story will inspire you.  You will also be inspired by the work of Homes for Our Troops at www.homesforourtroops.org. You will feel proud that there are such selfless, loving Americans living among us and caring for the most severely wounded soldiers who found their courage for us.