Caring, Sharing, Learning
It’s been awhile since I wrote about my brother Frank, who suffered a major stroke in January 2018. He has right-side deficits, including the inability to move his right arm and hand along with minimal movement of his right leg. His speech is impaired, but at times it’s perfect and we relish those moments of good communication—Frank especially. While he might confuse his words and perhaps say the opposite of what he really means, it’s interesting how typical comments used for swearing and frustration are always loud and clear. That’s OK—we’ve all grown accustomed to hearing them and don’t take anything personally. As I’ve watched the various caregivers work with him and go about their daily routines, I am always impressed with their dedication, skill, and patience. Frank needs someone with him at all times so caregivers truly become part of the family.
As you can imagine, I like to focus on Frank’s oral health and hygiene. I make sure he always has interdental brushes next to his armchair and bedside, and, of course, I prompt him to use them regularly. I’m a pest about him brushing his teeth as effectively as he can, so much so that he usually asks me (jokingly) “Isn’t it time for you to go?” At least I think he’s joking.
During a recent visit to Columbus, Ohio, I was able to be there for his 3-month dental hygiene visit. He adores his dental hygienist, Tammy Herold, RDH, BS, and has been seeing her for many years, even prior to his stroke. It was wonderful to observe the care and attention she gave Frank, making sure she had lots of time to spend with him and to address his special needs. Tammy had no idea I would be there that day but she welcomed my input. We reviewed his radiographs and his care plan together. There is a kindred connection among dental hygiene colleagues that never goes away and always promotes collaboration. And when Frank’s dentist, Jody Kear, DDS, entered the operatory, the feeling of camaraderie grew. We were all there for a common purpose—to help Frank. We are all part of his care team.
I’m writing this memo on the eve of Frank’s 77th birthday. We’ve had our share of highs and lows during this journey, yet the focus remains on making positive strides. Most especially, Frank is determined to improve. Each time I leave Columbus, I tell him he’s the strongest person I know. He just wryly smiles and shakes his head, usually with a tear in his eyes. It’s difficult being a caregiver, especially when the individual being cared for has needs that demand the utmost physical and mental attention. But no matter how challenging it is from the caregiver’s perspective, I can only imagine how frustrating and onerous it is to be homebound and dependent. Regardless, we care for each other, we share with each other, and we learn. Thanks to all caregivers, and to those who inspire them.
Jill Rethman, RDH, BA
Editor in Chief
From Dimensions of Dental Hygiene. June 2022; 20(6)4.