Caregiver of Veteran Thanks VA Caregiver Support Program

Thirty years ago, Kathy Parker met the love of her life, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam. After years of experiencing life’s adventures together, Kathy and her husband took on a new challenge after learning of his stage four kidney failure. Read her letter to fellow caregivers about how VA and the Caregiver Support Program are helping her and her veteran through their time of need.

Dear Caregiver Friends,

Our story of love and dedication began almost 30 years ago. We were both older adults, going back to college, looking for a computer science degree. One evening I was going to the computer lab and he asked me if I needed help with my computer program.

It was a standard “pick up” line and I had learned to “just say no” and keep moving forward. However, it was something different about him, and I said “yes”. He was handsome, smart, witty and made me laugh. I had no idea he would be my boyfriend forever. Our connection was instantaneous and we were inseparable.

Kathy Parker and “her vet”

My vet had just retired after 25 years in the military and we had been together for eight years before deciding to get married. We never looked back through life’s challenges. Our love and our commitment lasted.

We loved traveling and sailing. It was on a cruise ship at the very top of the boat where he proposed to me. We roller skated, fished, camped and built computers. My vet was a small airplane pilot and we went on short haul flights.

Foster family of more than 100 children

We decided to settle down and buy a house. We found an article stating that there is an urgent need for people to open their homes to welcome abused and neglected children. We were both on board and became foster parents. For 13 years, more than 100 children have stayed in our home. Eventually, God made plans for us to adopt. We received a call to pick up a two-day-old baby girl from the hospital. We fell in love with this bundle of joy at first sight.

My vet was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes several years before he retired from the military. We have never fully understood the consequences of this disease on the body. He was also diagnosed with high blood pressure and an enlarged heart valve. He looked and felt great on the outside, but his kidneys were slowly weakening on the inside.

Over the years, my vet started having trouble keeping his blood sugar and blood pressure within limits. They were always high to the point that he said, “I feel better being ‘high’ than low.” Her doctor suggested she switch to insulin. After several years on insulin, doctors struggled to find the right drug to lower his blood sugar. His kidneys were quietly shutting down and his body was beginning to feel the effects.

Stage IV renal failure

One day I noticed a bruise on his face. He said he passed out in the bathroom and bumped into something. I noticed that he was starting to tire quickly and was visibly irritated. While visiting a neighbour, he said he felt weak and could barely go home. The next day we went to VA emergency care, and they sent him to the nearest hospital in an ambulance.

He never fully recovered. A few years later, we were informed that he had stage IV kidney failure. I was unaware of the kidney disease and felt like he was hiding it from me. I swore to go on all his dates to be his eyes and ears, mostly defending him.

She was assigned a nephrologist, who advised her of her current and long-term options. He had already decided that dialysis would never be an option so we started finding and preparing for a kidney transplant. Meanwhile, as each month passed, her health deteriorated rapidly. My vet could barely walk and was no longer able to perform his daily personal grooming.

He wasn’t in pain. It was me who was in pain, confused, scared and alone. I was in pain because my vet was slowly dying and no one seemed to care. I was confused and scared because I thought VA would take my vet to a nursing home if I couldn’t figure out how to take care of him. I was alone because no one had answers to my questions or returned my calls for help.

The VA doctor said he would get him the help he needed

He asked me to take him to VA urgent care. My daughter and I almost had to carry it to the car. He was so weak. I just knew he would never come home again. My heart was breaking into pieces. When I thought I was at the end, God turned the whole situation around and gave me hope.

The doctor came in, assessed the problem and told me that he planned to get the help he needed from my vet by admitting him to the hospital. He assured me that he would get the help he desperately needed. While waiting to be transferred to the hospital, a social worker let me know that she would speak to me later.

After a few days they released my vet from the hospital. A member of the Caregiver Support Program (CSP) contacted me and I was on the phone with this God sent angel for over two hours. She listened to me, understood my pain and promised to talk to the people needed to help us. She followed me up, stayed in touch, and told me how CSP could help me.

She signed me up for a few programs. I never thought of myself in this process. I focused solely on my vet and his well-being. I was so overwhelmed with my vet’s care that I didn’t want to commit too much, still not realizing that they were there to help me, not pressure me.

Fellow caregivers: “Wait! »

I started getting random text messages from “Annie”, a tool that sends encouragement and affirmations. I signed up for a few classes through Caregivers FIRST and started learning about self care, how to relieve stress through breathing, setting goals and tips and ideas for getting my vet to change or improve their behaviors.

CSP also matched me with a peer mentor from the Peer Support Mentoring Program. My mentor is the perfect match for me. She is a gift from God.

We quickly started getting the right equipment my vet needed to stay with us and help me better manage his care. I can’t begin to express my gratitude for CSP’s resources. My wish is to increase awareness and funding for this incredible program.

In closing, dear healthcare colleagues, the struggle is real. The same goes for the feelings of abandonment we experience when no one seems to care and those thoughts of abandonment. Wait. There is a fantastic group of people at CSP who are there for us. They will throw a lifeline at you and won’t let go.

I am fortunate to be connected to this incredible group of individuals.

Sincerely,
Catherine Parker

Ryan H. Bowman