Your Safety, Your Health

October 25th 2019
By: Carrie Whitfield, ASA Project Manager

A text came through at 5PM on Thursday; by 7AM Friday I had made the trek from Anchorage, Alaska to Portland, Oregon. My aunt was headed to the hospital. She had to have her heart stopped and restarted.  No one else could be with her for this operation. There was no decision to make, I took care of things at work and left as soon as I could.

I arrived expecting to reassure my aunt. To hold her hand, help her around the house, drive her around, whatever she would need during recovery. I didn’t realize I would be a nursemaid for the next three days. Honestly, I had a blast. My aunt and I have a lot in common, and we learn more about each other with each visit. I live far from her and this makes our time together that much more precious. Three days go by, I’m exhausted. Kudos to all the nurses out there – I don’t want your job!

Helping put on my aunt’s socks, I’ve got this. Changing her 94-year-old housemate’s neck brace… completely nerve wracking! The thought of screwing up and accidently hurting this elderly woman terrified me. No one in the facility knew how to do this. With no other options, I learned fast, moved slowly and used all the first aid skills I had.

The neck brace was just one example. I saw so many instances when caregivers did their best to take great care of those in their charge, but the facility was woefully understaffed. Twelve-hour Lidocaine patches had been left on for 3 days, and now caused my aunt’s housemate’s skin to bleed when they were removed. Hearing aids were repeatedly lost. Clothes hadn’t been changed in three or more days. I felt sick – and that was day one. Seeing so many good people with so few resources to do the job. This experience was a stark slap of reality. This is what happens when you get old and when your health fails you? What can I do to ensure I never end up somewhere like this? I don’t have children, so that option is out the window.

I realize we can’t control everything that happens in life. I also acknowledge that I can control a lot more moving forward than I have chosen to in the past.  I feel for my Aunt. So many parts of her health now dictate how she lives, where she can live, and the overall quality of her life.

Diet, exercise, water, stress level…it’s a self-care checklist that never ends, and the significance seems to grow with every year and every achy joint. This trip was a reminder that my body, my mental health, my future, all need to be prioritized every day. Simply being safe while working or playing isn’t enough to keep me safe and healthy for the rest of my life.

What are you at risk for? How could it impact your future? And what will you do about it today?

© 2019 Alaska Safety Alliance