Time to Bring the Donuts

When we think of a caregiver's role, we often think of someone who helps an individual who has a chronic illness or disease. We manage medications, talk to doctors and nurses, bathe or dress someone, take care of household chores, cook meals, and take care of the paperwork for someone who cannot do these things alone.

The toll on my dad

All of this is true and will vary depending on our own unique situations as caregivers. In a recent experience with my dad when he was in the end-stage of heart failure, I realized that sometimes being a caregiver can be as simple as picking up a box of donuts. Not for my father but for the staff who was taking care of him. The effects of my dad's heart failure on his body were clear to see: shortness of breath, fatigue, etc. What was not so obvious was the toll it was taking on his dignity and emotional well-being.

A nice gesture

Having a background in social work and being a self-proclaimed empath, I would like to say that being the one to pick up our town's sought-after donuts was part of a larger plan in my dad's palliative care. The truth is that it was just my way of expressing a nice gesture. What unexpectedly happened was my dad became excited to talk to the hospital staff about the famous donuts. He was able to talk about something other than his health and give back even in this smallest of ways to the staff that was taking care of him. This included the housekeeping staff, nurses, doctors, and technicians that he counted on daily to support his life.

Known for his love of food

My dad aka poppy to most was known for his love of food: cooking, eating, and talking about it. The smile on my dad's face and the way he rallied to see what donut was chosen by what staff member is something our family will never forget. As he lay in his cardiac ICU room located next to the break room, he began shouting out to his crew “hurry and get the good donuts before they are all gone.”

One by one as people passed or came into the room to care for him, he would tell them the story of the donut shop. Many of them knew of the bakery and were excited to give them a try. Others had come to get one because the staff was raving about them and wanted a treat. The fact that this made him happy didn’t shock those of us who are close to poppy because this was part of who pop was. It was normalcy for him and heartwarming for us to watch. For him, it was a chance to repay that staff member who he yelled at because they woke him up when he was tired or the young doctor who held back her tears as she explained his life expectancy.

How to include your loved one

My father was a proud man, strong, capable, self-reliant and for the first time in his life, totally reliant on people who he did not know. How do you thank people for this? Some of us don’t have the words and some of us are unable to say them. He knew that a donut was not anything compared to what his team was giving him but to be able to talk and give people something that made them happy was exactly what he needed.

In my dad's case he was still very alert cognitively, it was his body that was failing him. He wanted to cook that pasta dish and knew exactly what he needed to do. He just didn’t have the strength to do it. This is very hard for the patient to accept. It leaves them feeling depressed and helpless. You may want to build an opportunity for your loved one to share or give something of themselves into your care routine.

Better to give than receive

The old adage 'better to give than receive' is growing a lot of scientific support, showing a positive impact on physical and mental health. It can reduce stress, combat depression, keep you mentally stimulated, and provide a sense of purpose. Giving, even in simple ways, can help those in need and improve your health and happiness.1 So take out your thinking cap and find something that might work for you. I promise you will also receive a gift for doing so for your loved one.

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