Caring for Someone with a Serious Illness, Part 1

A serious illness that requires around-the-clock care can be a huge source of stress. Get-It-Done Guy describes how to set up a support system for yourself when caring for someone seriously ill.

Stever Robbins
5-minute read
Episode #237

As long-time listeners and readers of  Get-It-Done Guy know, most of my episodes deal with charming, light-hearted topics like frolicking in the meadow with bunnies during the zombie apocalypse. Today’s topic, however, is serious. Nothing can overwhelm your life like becoming a caretaker. Two of my close friends are caretakers for relatives with life-threatening illnesses. Several years ago, I cared for my mother as she battled cancer. In between the traditional stages of anger, denial, depression, bargaining, and acceptance, I took the time to keep a learning log. Yes, I’m that geeky. This week, I’ll share some important tips on logistical support for tough times, so you can save time, emotion, and maybe even a life. Michael and Jeff, this one’s for you.>

Tip #1: Get a Sitter

When a serious illness hits, you’ll discover depths of yourself you’ve never known before. You thought working at In-n-Out-Chicken-Mart as a teenager was stressful? Think again. Your first move is to build a support system so you can get enough sleep and take care of yourself, in order to be there for your loved one.

If your husband, wife, spousal equivalent, or polyamorous family unit is bedridden, your first stop is to get a sitter.

Sitters are nurses or nurse’s aides who you hire privately and are qualified to help. They can dispense medication, help someone to the bathroom, and even cook. If possible, get someone to take over at least 12 of the 24 hours in the day so you can get a good night’s sleep for yourself, some time to plan strategy, and the chance to deal with the rest of your life.

Tip #2: Find Someone With Their Own Equipment

Ask your doctor or hospital for a list of home nursing agencies. We used an agency because they pre-screen their sitter list, freeing us from needing to check references, etc.

A professional sitter may even bring his or her own equipment: a stool for the bath tub, rubber gloves, and so on. Ask beforehand what they will bring, and what they expect you to supply. Make sure they’re fully supplied, so they can start working immediately.

Tip #3: Make Sure You Have Full Coverage

Despite their invisibility powers, invulnerability, and X-ray vision, sitters are not super-human. They can’t work 7 days a week without burnout.

Make up a full weekly schedule. Note the times the sitter will be there, when you’ll be there, and notice the gaps when you’ll still need coverage. Hire a backup sitter to cover the gaps. Your backup will also be at the ready for times when your regular sitter can’t make it.

If sitter Alex will “take evenings,” clarify whether that means all evenings or weekdays only. If it’s weekdays only, you will need weekend coverage. Disease, alas, doesn’t take Sunday off.

Tip #4: Be Prepared to Pay Out of Pocket

Sitters are less expensive than home nurses when full nursing care isn’t needed. Even though good home care reduces the need for hospitalization, our insurance company only reimbursed for hospitalization. We had to pay the sitters out of our own pocket. You know that super-valuable comic book collection you’ve been keeping since you were 8? Now’s the time to sell it. Even at a low hourly rate, it added up, but it was worth it. I don’t know if I would have survived the experience without the sitter’s help.

(I know those of you in countries with decent national health systems are gasping in horror at the very idea of what it must be like to be an American needing health care. But our system does something yours doesn’t: It gives us incentive to finally do something with all those comic books we’ve been accumulating.)

If you can’t afford a full-time professional sitter, try using a professional sitter a couple of hours each day for medications and the more difficult tasks. Lean on a network of friends or relatives to be there at night or for small things like water and trips to the bathroom.

Work with a local restaurant owner to get regular food prepared.

Tip #5: Get a Baby Monitor

We couldn’t afford full-time coverage, so we got a baby monitor to leave with my mother. We could go elsewhere in the house and if she needed anything, she only had to speak up and we would be right there.

Tip #6: Arrange for Meals

I don’t cook. I never quite learned how, and that’s why I survive completely on a diet of organic corn chips, Subway veggie patty sandwiches, and kale-wrapped Twinkles. Yum! (I can hear your jaws dropping in envy.)

Unfortunately, your loved ones may not be as thrilled with kale-wrapped Twinkles. If you can’t cook, or can’t deal with cooking, make sure one of the sitters can cook or arrange for meals to be delivered. If you live in one of the few areas that hasn’t been completely overrun by national chains, you might be able to work with the owner of a local restaurant to get regularly prepared meals. I tried to learn to cook while taking care of my mother. But I realized that this was not the time to acquire a new, labor-intensive skill.

Tip #7: Plan With Your Sitter

When you’re making your schedule, make sure the sitter’s hours overlap your waking hours. Use the overlap time to plan the next week with the sitter. Plan out a daily medication schedule, a daily meal plan, a shopping list, and a daily chore plan.

This will save you oodles and oodles of stress. Otherwise, everything comes up at the last minute and you’re constantly running around coping with all the details.

I hope you never, ever need the information in today’s podcast. I hope you live forever and your loved ones live forever and have lives full of health, love, and laughter. But if you find yourself taking care of someone with a serious illness, take care of yourself by building a support system that relieves the pressure on you. Get a sitter—or at least a baby monitor—make sure you have 24/7 coverage, arrange for food preparation, and create a weekly medication, cooking, chores, and shopping plan. Take good care of yourself and your loved one, and I’ll be back next week with an episode on managing treatment and medication.

This is Stever Robbins. You can find this episode’s transcript, and hundreds of others, at getitdone.quickanddirtytips.com

I help successful businesspeople create strategies that grow their bottom line, by looking at their organizational capabilities and finding options that work with their strengths. If you want to know more, visit http://www.SteverRobbins.com.

Work Less, Do More, and have a Great Life!

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About the Author

Stever Robbins

Stever Robbins was the host of the podcast Get-it-Done Guy from 2007 to 2019. He is a graduate of W. Edward Deming’s Total Quality Management training program and a Certified Master Trainer Elite of NLP. He holds an MBA from the Harvard Business School and a BS in Computer Sciences from MIT.