A Palliative Caregiver’s Story
Blanca Gutierrez is no stranger to caring for people. Working for 15 years as an RMA (Registered Medical Assistant), she has cared for hundreds of individuals. Nevertheless, when her father got sick she felt as if she needed help.
“I do a lot of home care,” said Blanca, “but it’s different when it’s your own family. My mother died in January of 2015, and after that my father went into a deep depression.” Blanca’s parents had been married 60 years. After her mother’s passing, Blanca’s father refused to leave his bedroom on the second floor of his two story home for nine months. He would not eat, drink, or shower for weeks at a time. “He also had no desire to watch any TV,” mentioned Blanca. “We even took it out of his room. He watched it all the time before mom’s death.” In addition to his depression, Blanca’s father suffers from chronic kidney disease, which causes him tremendous stomach pains. Blanca and her nine brothers and sisters all pitched in to care for him. However, his health had begun to decline so much that she had to make the difficult choice to become a full-time caregiver.
“I ended up having to quit my job to care for him 24/7,” said Blanca. “But, it came to a point where he just wanted to die. I was devastated and desperate because I knew he was not ready for hospice, and my siblings agreed. I knew we had to do something. I called his primary care physician and asked her what else we could do. That’s when she suggested palliative care.” Blanca had never heard of palliative care before, but she would soon learn firsthand how it can positively impact one’s life.
Palliative care is a specialized service for people who face a serious illness, and are seeking relief from the symptoms and pain associated with that illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for both the patient and the family. lt is appropriate at any stage in a serious illness, and it can be provided along with curative treatment. Palliative care requires a specially qualified team of physicians, nurses, and other specialists that communicate with a patient’s other doctors to provide supplemental care.
One of the goals of palliative care is making sure patients stay out of the emergency room. Blanca’s father made four separate visits to the emergency room before enrolling in the program. “One ER visit l pleaded with him to let us get someone in the home, to help me know what to do for him to keep him alive,” said Blanca. “Palliative care was our answer. The doctor came right to him in his home by his bed. He felt like someone ‘cared to come to his home’ he would say.”
Once her father was accepted into Keystone Medical Services, Blanca noticed a world of difference. “The palliative care doctor was so polite and so understanding,” said Blanca. “She changed his medications and it just lifted him. He started to walk around and go downstairs. She helped with his depression and his pain. He always complains about his stomach pains, and the side effects of his dialysis. But the palliative care doctor got him up and around. He didn’t have all of his body pains anymore, and he didn’t need to stay in bed all day.”
Blanca was especially impressed to learn that Keystone Medical Services makes house calls, as she was unable to get her father to leave his bed before. “I was just so appreciative that (Keystone Medical Services) came out to see him,” said Blanca, “because I couldn’t get him out of the house. I couldn’t even get him to see his primary care doctor. He wasn’t going to move. They would call him and remind him of an appointment, and he would just cancel the appointment. That’s when he started to decline, and l knew l had to find somebody who would come to the house to see him.”
Blanca’s father has seen drastic improvement since enlisting palliative care services. So much that he is able to drive a car again. “After mom died he stopped driving. He was too depressed and in too much pain,” said Blanca. “He’s out driving now. He drives everywhere. As a matter of fact, when we go to his dialysis appointments, he always wants to drive. I say dad you can drive but I”m going to need to follow you,” she laughed.
Although being a full time caregiver is never easy, Blanca is pleased that she always has Keystone Medical Services by her side. “I’m glad to know that I can call palliative care whenever I feel I need help with dad,” Blanca disclosed. “Like I said, I do home care but it’s just so different when you’re caring for someone you love, and I don’t always have all of the knowledge of what to. It’s a lot of stress. But he doesn’t need me around 24/7 anymore. He is getting around really well, and I feel comfortable that he is ok on his own. It’s just the greatest ever, and I am so grateful.”