COPD – A Caregiver’s Challenge

Barbara, my husband is dying with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and its complications. How do I fight the roller coaster I am on; one day up the next day down – on and on. I haven’t exercised in weeks. I’m eating more than I need. Not reading because I can’t focus. I’m losing my husband of 53 years.

COPD is a very challenging disease. A patient can look and feel like they are dying right now and still feel that way 10 years later. Because of this it is very hard to predict a timeline.  So, you as a care giver MUST learn how to take care of yourself. You MUST figure out how and when to exercise or read (if that is what brings you balance). You must figure out what you need in your life. We caregivers often sacrifice our wants and needs for the needs of the person we are caring for. When we do that long enough we become resentful and angry as well as worn down and out.

Since you are early in the disease process you can talk with your husband about you, your fears, needs, and wants. The two of you can figure out how to keep you healthy and well and at the same time enjoy the relationship you have spent 53 years building. If you don’t help each other through this (I mean that all the concern isn’t just centered on him) then the time that you two have together is going to be tainted by the effect the disease is having on you as well as on him.

Some ideas for taking care of yourself:
* Find a friend to whom you can talk and complain. Not one with answers, only you have your answers, but one who will listen and support you.
* If you need a break and your husband can’t be left alone, find or hire someone to come in for a few hours.
* Your sleep is important. You can’t do a good day’s work if you haven’t slept well during the night. A doctor recently told me for every hour of sleep you get before midnight  you gain 2 hours worth of sleep. If you have to sleep in separate bedrooms, so be it. Sometimes a good nights sleep is all you need to have a good day together.
* We tend to eat differently when we are stressed, and that is not the time to add more by depriving yourself of “comfort” food. That said, because you are in this for the long haul you don’t want to end up putting your own health in jeopardy. Don’t have “forbidden “ foods in the house. If they aren’t there you can’t snack on them. Maybe allow yourself a treat each day, something to look forward to. You can also become proactive by both you and your husband deciding to eat more healthy foods, and that is something you can do together.

“This too shall pass” is not the saying we are looking for here. When it, (whatever it is) passes your husband will be gone as will all opportunities. “Make today count” would be a good saying or “What did we trade a day of our lives for?” Really all we have is this moment. NOW.  Figure out how to enjoy it.

Love your husband, be patient, understanding, caring, tolerant. AND be  tolerant, caring, understanding, patient and loving with yourself.

This life challenge is for the both of you, not just for him. Slow down, check out priorities, do those things that have meaning and are important, let the little stuff slide away.

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