Barbara Roberts’ lovely Franklin home is replete with charm, exemplified especially by a cheery sunroom bursting with orchids in various stages of growth. Her domestic environment, however, belies the stress she endured for several years recently.
In 2010, Barbara became the caretaker for her husband of 31 years, Tom, after a sudden accident. The former Angel Medical Center medical social worker explained how the orchid room became her therapeutic haven: “Raising orchids and listening to the calming water feature here comforted me through the most trying period of my life.”
Tom’s life as a retiree was full; he was health conscious, an avid golfer and doted on his beloved dogs, Rachel and Frederick. “One day Tom got up from a chair after playing golf, felt dizzy and did a dead-weight fall onto our living room floor, suffering severe traumatic brain injury,” Barbara recounted. “I remember it like it was yesterday.”
Life as the Roberts knew it changed instantly. Tom was suddenly unable to walk, experienced confusion and had short-term memory loss.
A strong and determined woman, Barbara set about brainstorming a plan for how she could make life more comfortable for Tom – quickly. Her career equipped her with knowledge many don’t have. She knew how to seek out services, understood that patients have both medical and psychosocial needs and that caregivers need care too. But professional experience doesn’t necessarily translate when the situation is one’s own.
“I had the idea he could recover,” Barbara said, “and worked hard to make that happen. I built parallel bars on the front porch and taught him to walk them, but his chronic dizziness limited his success. The short-term memory loss meant he couldn’t learn anything new, like how to use a walker or wheelchair.”
Tom couldn’t chew for his last nine months either, and all his food needed to be pureed, which took hours each day. Due to his immobility, skin deterioration and falls were also on Barbara’s full list of worries.
In addition to the energy required to tend to Tom’s physical needs, Barbara also depleted her emotional reserves. “Since Tom couldn’t differentiate between day and night, he’d scream for me constantly, and when I came to him, he wouldn’t recognize me. This was one of the most difficult parts of the whole experience,” Barbara said.
Caregiving became all-consuming, and Barbara had to consider the toll it was taking on her own health. She eventually hired a host of part-time caregivers, one of whom worked for the couple for two-and-a-half years. Barbara explained that “since we have no family nearby, I realized I had to get some help so I could do necessary things like grocery shop, and see a group of girlfriends I’m close to for a change of scenery and some fun.”
After years of frightening episodes, which included Tom medically coding several times and numerous bouts of aspiration pneumonia, Barbara reached out to CarePartners Home Care and Hospice – Angel. Their services proved essential as an increasingly stretched Barbara navigated Tom’s round-the-clock care.
Barbara described Angel’s hospice services as holistic and overarching. “Angel’s support was both practical and educational. Providers made me aware of products that saved work and time, taught me how to move Tom safely, educated me about fall prevention and managed his complicated medication schedule,” she said. The CarePartners Home Care and Hospice – Angel care team provided physical, social and spiritual support in the home. The Hospice Interdisciplinary Team consists of nurses, aides, social workers, chaplains and volunteers.
Barbara also noted how aides helped bathe Tom, changed bed linens and provided needed medical supplies, such as food thickener and adult diapers.
Hospice services also provide volunteer sitters who can simply be with a patient to offer company and conversation as opposed to treatment, as well as a support group that meets regularly.
Tom died in July 2015 at home, while still receiving home hospice services, which totaled nine months of support. Hospice services continued, however, even after Tom’s death – Vic Greene, chaplain at CarePartners Home Care and Hospice – Angel, met with Barbara throughout Tom’s care and still checks in. “This has meant the world to me,” Barbara said.
Barbara naturally became the de facto “go to” person in her community when friends sought information about extended care and hospice services. This morphed into her offering a class through Franklin’s Resurrection Lutheran Church on aging in place and long-term care planning, which Barbara loved teaching. “We had great turnout; sessions covered everything from long-term care insurance costs and assembling legal documents, to discussing with family about staying in one’s own home as long as possible,” she said.
Barbara’s philosophical about the loss she and Tom suffered, and generous in her praise of CarePartners Home Care and Hospice – Angel. “The Tom I knew left the day he fell – that’s when I really grieved. When he died, I was simply numb. I’m certain of one thing, though: Tom never would have survived his last five years without my loving care and Angel’s hospice services.”
Donald Dewhurst, MD, is the Medical Director for CarePartners Home Care and Hospice – Angel.
CarePartners Home Care and Hospice – Angel provides care in patient’s homes and skilled-nursing facilities. There are also two dedicated hospice rooms at Angel Medical Center called Solace. These are private rooms where families and patients can be together, while having the support of a skilled medical team accessible 24 hours a day. For information about Angel Home Care and Hospice, call (828) 369-4206.