Person waving checkered flag in the air.

From racetrack to respirator, Deb is there

Friday nights are date nights, usually comprised of a movie, a simple meal and a little hand holding. It’s a sacred time when daily demands are put on hold and Deb gets to focus on herself and her hubby, Mike.

Notable about this date night is the fact that Mike won’t respond to the movie or participate in the conversation. He won’t even eat the meal. Not because he doesn’t want to; he simply can’t.

A freak accident left Mike bedridden, unable to move or speak. Aware, but unresponsive. Now Deb acts as his voice and his limbs, his medical administrator and much more. She is his primary caregiver.

Deb is not alone in holding the title of caregiver. One in five North Dakotans need additional care outside the health care system, which means plenty of our neighbors are assisting loved ones with daily tasks, coordinating medical and personal care, offering emotional support and countless other tasks.

The caregiving role is often assumed by a family member or close friend. The pay is nonexistent, and the perks are few. For Deb, the benefits come by way of being able to take Mike’s hand or get a reaction to her cheeky sense of humor. “There’s a lot of frustration but when I look over at him, I know I would do this forever.”

Care in the fast lane

While most caregivers assume the role gradually over time, Deb took on full responsibility overnight. One moment, Mike was a healthy man participating in his favorite hobby, stock car racing. The next moment, a stray rock shot into his open window, through his helmet and lodged in this throat, taking his front teeth along with it. The impact caused blunt force trauma to his spinal column. His breathing ceased until some race fans resuscitated him.  

Today, between two part-time jobs, and some time with kids and grandchildren, Deb cares for Mike. A few of the many things on her daily task list include:

  • Turning him in his bed (he is 6’2” and she is 5’1”)
  • Coordinating medical appointments, arranging ride services that can accommodate Mike’s condition, and accompanying him to the doctor’s office
  • Administering Mike’s medications, and checking his feeding tube, oxygen tank, tracheotomy tube and ventilator connections
  • Bathing, plus respiratory, occupational and physical therapy

Caregiving takes its toll—physically and emotionally

Exhaustion. Isolation. Stress. Chronic health problems. All can be products of caregiving.  

Deb’s caregiving responsibilities are extreme. But even less demanding care takes its toll on the giver.

Caregivers are 26 times more likely than the general population to have serious health conditions. That could include anything from increased anxiety and depression to more chronic illness like heart disease and diabetes.

Deb believes it. “This takes resilience. You need to keep yourself healthy. It helps to talk to people—support groups and such. It keeps you sane.”

Chances are you know a caregiver. Perhaps you’re in that category. BCBSND has resources and connections to help support caregivers and those who care about them.

Sources: Blue Cross Blue Shield Association Health of America reports, ARCHANGELS, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention