If you were expecting some inspired words about Noah and the Flood, I am sorry that is not the topic for this time. Psalm 42:1 leads into my thoughts somewhat more directly: “As the deer pants for flowing streams . . . “

In the midst of summer, with heat and humidity creating “heat advisory” status, it is important to pay attention to the amount of water that we drink in any given day. Hydration is important because the body is comprised mostly of water. The proper balance between water and the chemistry of our blood (mainly sodium and potassium) determines how all systems of our bodies function. Adequate hydration is key in regulating body temperature, heart function, blood pressure, removing waste, proper function of nerves and muscles, and in maintaining a healthy metabolism.

If we wait until we feel thirsty before drinking a glass of water, we're already dehydrated.  Thirst is not the best indicator of hydration status. It is recommended that a person maintain the habit of being proactive in health maintenance or improvement by beginning each day with 16 ounces of water immediately upon arising. . . and then continuing to drink water throughout the day up to 64 ounces, ideally. The primary benefit is that water helps the body combat heat, aids digestion, aids the effectiveness of prescription drugs, jump-starts kidney and bowel function, and enhances heart, blood vessel, nerve, and muscle function. Think of it this way: Water is cheap medicine.

Signs and symptoms of dehydration include:

  • loss of appetite

  • fatigue and confusion

  • flushed, reddened skin in the face

  • dizziness, light-headedness

  • dark-colored urine

  • dry cough

While water is the prime fluid to support body function, the chemistry of the blood is supported by other foods and beverages that provide sources of sodium and potassium.  Think of a tall glass of lemonade, made from fresh-squeezed lemons with a few lemon slices in the glass. Sports drinks, fruit juice, soft drinks also supply some sodium and potassium, but be mindful of the nutritional contents on the labels. Alcoholic and caffeinated beverages are not recommended for optimal hydration because they actually pull more water out of the body than they add to it.

In addition to water and other beverages, foods that supply potassium that is key to the body's health, more so in hot weather, include bananas, cantaloupe, strawberries, potatoes, chard, spinach, and lentils. To make water-drinking more appealing, try adding sliced lemons and limes to a pitcher of water, or a few slices of cucumber, or perhaps whole strawberries and a mint leaf. TO YOUR HEALTH!

Strength and Hope Together . . .

I recently attended a faith community nurse workshop which focused on caring for the caregiver. That is to say, when a person is solely responsible for the care of a family member who is ill, often a healthy family member ignores his/her own self-care in order to provide the best care possible for the one who is ill. The challenges of that situation have been presented in this healthcare communication in the past. What prompted a revisit of this topic is the new book, Cruising Through Caregiving, by Jennifer L FitzPatrick, a social worker who offers support and practical ideas on the needs of an elder family member. It sounds intriguing that "cruising" was used in the title, since that implies "smooth sailing," something unrealistic to real life experiences.

The focus on the health of the caregiver can be applied to those of any age, whether providing care to infants, children, or adults; and the caregiving needs may vary in intensity and duration. 

While multi-tasking may be necessary from time to time, doing so every day or every week, depletes the overall strength of body, mind, and spirit. The effect on the body can become chronic sleep deprivation, irregular eating habits, increasing physical and mental stress, depression, and anxiety. If you note that in yourself or another family member or friend, consider reaching out to others who are concerned to get help with the care of the “patient” or the chores of the household, to provide some respite for the primary caregiver.

In no way do I intend to minimize this burden which can become exhausting. But let me note some suggestions that may be beneficial, including my offer of loaning the book Cruising through Caregiving, if you wish to read additional information.

Some guidance to consider:

  1. Be in the here and now; tend to the tasks of immediate need without those thoughts of "what about . . . [a host of other things]?" Schedule breaks for yourself in the day in order to spend even a few minutes taking a nap, reading, or visiting with a friend.

  2. Slow down; pace the tasks of the day over a reasonable time frame, allow for flexibility whenever possible.

  3. Take a deep breath. It is a tendency to become so caught up in the busy-ness that we forget the basic self-care of restorative deep breathing. Even better – practice deep breathing outdoors and/or during a leisurely walk.

  4. Unplug, as in making time for yourself, as noted above. Permit yourself the luxury of a nap or perhaps a brief outing which may energize you. One of my own memorable experiences along this line was when a friend took me to her favorite greenhouse to browse through the flowers and plants, relaxing in the moment, thinking only about the garden, for a short time.

  5. Nurture a joyful disposition. That is not to deny the difficulty of the work at hand, but look for times during the day that are worthy of gratitude. It need not be grandiose or life-changing; but there can be joy in a phone call from a friend, fresh linens out of the dryer, or a pause for a cup of tea. The attitude of gratitude can renew physical and emotional energy. It can be that "strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow" from God's faithfulness.

The Role of Caregiver

This title really ought to read plural, the ROLES of a caregiver, because there are many tasks and responsibilities that go with care-giving, and about the time it seems the condition(s) has changed, it evolves yet again. This narrative will attempt to offer general, broadly-applied concepts that fit many clinical and personal situations. For more individual clinical detail, feel free to contact nurse@goodshepherdmpls.org.

It is very common that the role of caregiving becomes an on-going series of tasks, from providing transportation for medical appointments, to round-the-clock assistance with mobility and/or management of physical care, to keeping up a household including meals, laundry, maintenance of home and yard. Acting as caregiver is physically and emotionally demanding which increases physical and emotional stress for both the caregiver and the patient. In order to strengthen and support the caregiver, this information will address the stress of the caregiving role. Typically as caregiver there is the responsibility for finances, even for someone who has never taken that responsibility before now. There is often a change in family relationships when one fully depends on the other.

Often a family member willingly and cheerfully takes on the role of caregiving out of pure love and good intentions. Do not forget how it was at the onset of illness. But over time, the caregiver suffers serious stress which may manifest as headaches, body aches, chronic fatigue, ‘forgetting’ to eat, i.e. putting the sick person first under all circumstances. The long-term effects of this sort of physical and emotional stress might include anxiety and depression, a weakened immune system, weight gain or loss, indigestion, difficulty in paying attention to concerns outside of the caregiver role.

Without being too simplistic, it’s important to maintain your own health if you are caring for another family member. Therefore, see your own physician when you have some signs of caregiver stress.

Describe your home situation, perhaps there are medications to help you, for instance, if your blood pressure is out of range; or perhaps your doctor can suggest some home health care to give you some respite yourself, thereby relieving some of your own stress.

Tension, frustration, exhaustion may become manageable in a few common ordinary ways.

  • Complete a small task, to give yourself a feeling of accomplishment, i.e. even as simple as folding clothes.

  • Eat right, including protein, fruits, vegetables.

  • Get enough sleep; nap when possible.

  • Set aside time each day for prayer and meditation.

  • Get and use a coloring book yourself --- really!

  • Keep a daily journal.

  • Schedule time with friends or family to come to visit you, as well as your family member who is ill.

  • Consider getting a pet; if you have one, keep it close.

  • Ask for, and accept help. Keep a to-do list handy for someone who wishes to be helpful for you. Or perhaps, as someone pointed out, ask the person who offers to help stay with your loved one so YOU can tend to the to-do list. It can be a therapeutic stress reliever to rake the yard or sweep the garage. Being open to accepting help when it is offered is sometimes hard to do. Do not feel guilty for taking care of yourself because self-care enables you to keep your loved one at home.