I don’t know if doctors release patients to die at home as part of the insurance script to get patients out of the financial stream, or a hospital policy to open up another bed, or the heart-felt words of a compassionate fellow human being, or a little of all.
What matters is I volunteered for the second time in my life.
The first time was the Army for two years; this time as a caregiver for two days. Death with dignity. I went in to talk to my wife, mother-in-law, and two teenaged sons.
Four years later, after a series of fortunate caregiving experiences, Grandpa Ken has slowed down a bit. From his death bed in the hospital where he could barely move one finger, he climbed stairs with assistance a month later.
Instead of an IV tube, he took his meals at the dining room table. Keeping him moving was the key.
Today, he moves around in a wheelchair instead of a walker, and I feed him in his recliner, but he is still on his feet. He stretches out and makes the moves needed to get from his recliner to his wheelchair and back.
These are moves the professional in-home caregivers cannot perform due to licensing and insurance considerations. In their view, Ken would be best treated if he were bed bound.
Over the years, we’ve interviewed agencies, as well as private caregivers, to come in for a few hours. Some came ready to keep him moving, realized the challenge, and quit after the first day. One quit on the first chair- to-chair transfer attempt. One agency sent a man in his seventies as a caregiver.
It continues to be an interesting adventure, and now I’m the only person in the world who can move Grandpa Ken; the world champion of Grandpa Ken moving.
What is the difference between me and the rest of the world? The first is that Ken and I talked about what worked best with him before he went silent. No one else knows his likes better than me, and no one ever will. Second, I have an acute sense of balance and anticipating movement.
It’s the sort of training you can only find in one place, a wrestling practice room.
I am a former Army medic, but I’m also a former high school wrestling all-American. As a one-time Greco-Roman champion, I studied balance and footwork to avoid being tossed on my head. Literally. Footwork is something you don’t forget, like riding a bike. Applying the same skill set to caregiving makes for an ideal caregiver move.
A formally-trained wrestler has better caregiving transfer instincts than any other athlete. In no other sport do participants regularly hook their arms under their opponent’s arms and lift them up. In what sport do they recognize the steps that lead to tripping, or not tripping?
On a wrestling mat, you look to trip, watching the other guy’s feet shifting weight, then sweeping their lightened foot with yours. Getting a guy with Parkinson’s to back up is impossible unless you shift their weight and move their light foot back with yours. Only a wrestler knows how to do it safely.
A soccer player might give it a try, but only if Grandpa Ken wears shin guards.