65+ million Americans serve as a family caregiver, but 72% of those caregivers put their own health at risk because they don’t regularly see a doctor.

Do the math, and “Houston …we have a problem!”

We caregivers see a lot of doctors. Many of us can perform tasks that used to be relegated to licensed medical personnel, and we caregivers learn a lot about healthcare, but application of that knowledge for our own health—is a different story.   Most caregivers regularly take someone else to see a physician—but when was the last time we saw ours?

I told the doctor I broke my leg in two places.
He told me to quit going to those places.

— Henny Youngman

Sometimes we get so tired of taking someone else to a doctor’s office, that the thought of going to another one (or taking time off work …again!), well, it’s just too much.  Those “sandwich” caregivers caring for parents and their own family are stretched mighty thin, and carving out several hours for a doctor visit gets pushed to the back burner.

Maybe the feeling is that the loved one can’t leave be left alone. or the caregiver doesn’t have health insurance, doesn’t have the money, etc.  I’ve heard every excuse, and, as a caregiver for three decades, I’ve given most of them.  The reality doesn’t change.

Regardless of the reasons WHY we don’t see our own doctor, there are still two nagging questions we caregivers must face:

  • What good are we to our loved one if we stroke out, if we have heart disease, get diabetes, or some other malady?
  • Who is in line to care for our loved one if we are out of the picture—either for a short term illness or a long term issue …or worse?

These two questions will persist into the national dialogue as the massive baby-boomer population requires increasing care. Currently, a vast number of caregivers are already in the danger zone for their own health.

My wife is missing both legs.  If I cut or injure one of my feet, should I ignore it simply because it pales next to her reality of having no feet?  Who am I to stop what I’m doing as her caregiver and attend to an injured foot—when she lost hers?

That’s the kind of reasoning we use as caregivers.  We push our own health needs to the back-burner. My feet are the only feet she can count on, and I need to be a good steward of them by properly caring for them.

That principle applies across the board to our entire body (and hearts, wallets, jobs, etc.)

The first caregiver landmine is ignoring your own health needs as a caregiver.  The dangerous shortcuts we give ourselves for this landmine is:

  • I don’t have time to see my doctor.
  • I don’t have health insurance.
  • I feel guilty addressing my needs.
  • It’s nothing compared to what she deals with.

Those shortcuts take caregivers into a dangerous place.  Serving as a caregiver can be brutal, and requires extraordinary care for the caregiver.  Caregivers can avoid this landmine by scheduling a medical professional to give the caregiver a once over—twice a year.  An annual physical, and then six months later, a checkup for labs, blood pressure, etc.  Why wait a whole year to discover high blood pressure, elevated sugar count, or other easily detected warning signs?

Tell your doctor the kind of stress you are under—don’t sugar coat it.  Your physician may instruct you to change a diet, exercise more, refer to counseling, or even prescribe medication to help with stress.  Don’t dismiss sound medical advice.

My primary care physician knows what I carry.  He watches me like a hawk, and I am grateful for him.  On days when I have a minor ailment (sinus, etc.), and getting an appointment isn’t feasible, I have a telemedicine service I use—that has saved me countless hours (and money).  For a small monthly fee, I have unlimited access to a physician by phone/video for minor ailments.  I uploaded my chart to the service, and there is a recording/transcript of the call to provide to my primary care physician.  There is also an annual lab service as part of the subscription.

The virtual doctor visits don’t replace meeting with my physician, but it’s one more addition to the tool-belt of a caregiver that can help us live healthier lives.

The challenges of caregiving can be daunting and relentless, and sap the desire to fix a healthy meal, much less schedule time to go to yet another doctor visit.  Yet that visit could very well save your life.

Caregiving can often feel like a full-contact sport, and is hard on your body—and your heart. Make the call, keep the appointment, and avoid the landmine of failing to treat the one body standing between your vulnerable loved one and even worse disaster—yours!

Personally, I have always felt the best doctor in the world is the Veterinarian.  He can’t ask his patients what’s the matter.  He’s just got to know. —Will Rogers

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