When Merlyna Valentine first felt an excruciating pain in her side in the summer of 2007, she went to her doctor. While she waited for treatment, a nearly 10mm kidney stone caused a blockage, which allowed an infection to spread throughout her body. She experienced sepsis, blood flow to her limbs was compromised, and it eventually caused the tissue in her hands and feet to die, resulting in amputation.
When she was released from a lengthy hospital stay, she needed 24-hour care. Her husband, Tory Valentine, has been her caregiver since 2008 and says caregivers should work diligently to provide a safe, nurturing, and supportive environment for their loved ones through their words and actions.
“My biggest role is to provide my wife with the emotional and spiritual support she deserves,” he says. “I’ve learned the power of my words in helping her build her resiliency and emotional well-being. My response to challenging times impacts her feelings and ability to persevere.”
Christine Lentz lost her hands and feet due to sepsis and toxic shock syndrome in January 2014, and spent seven months in the hospital and endured 20 surgeries. She was unable to speak, eat, or move on her own she returned home and had to rely on her husband, Mike, to help with caregiving. “I needed to know I had someone I could trust 100 percent to care for me while doing the most basic and often most demeaning tasks,” she says. “I had a long recovery and I needed to know that my caregiver was committed to stick with me and be my cheerleader for the long ride.”
Mike says he lets his wife do as much for herself as she can so she can continue to gain and maintain her independence. “You can’t let the patient get lazy and have everyone do everything for them. It may seem great for the patient in the short term, but in the long run they will feel like a child having everyone do everything for them,” he says.
It is also important for the caregiver to remember that they need to take the time to maintain and care for their own mental health and well-being.
“If the caregiver does not care for themselves, they can develop burnout, exhaustion and fatigue, as well as health issues of their own. When this happens, it is almost impossible to give good care to your patient,” says Donna Ellefson, who provides care for her husband Jim, who has a lower-limb amputation and a host of other health problems.