Home, with support

Thursday, January 23, 2014 - 1:31pm

By Candice Hayman

Gloria and Jack will be married 45 years in June. This spring, the high school sweethearts will mark their anniversary in their new apartment, surrounded by their old, familiar things. They sold their family home last year after being  told by the hospital team that three flights of stairs would make it impossible for Jack to get around in his wheelchair. 

Jack has had Parkinson’s for just over a decade, but it recently worsened.

“When they said I couldn’t take him home, I looked around the hospital," Gloria recalls. “I didn’t want him to stay there. I knew right away what I had to do. I made a pretty quick decision.” 

With the help of her two daughters, she rented a one-floor apartment, accessible and spacious enough for his wheelchair.

Gloria brought Jack home from hospital through Capital Health’s Home Again program. It gave them the extra home care support they needed to settle back in after Jack’s hospital stay. 

“It’s worked out pretty good. Jack really likes the big windows. And he has his own bathroom, which is very important,” said Gloria.

Gloria has been her husband’s main caregiver since he left hospital nine months ago. Now in his mid sixties, Jack spent the first half of his life as an avid sportsman, playing hockey until he was 60, jogging and enjoying country living.

“He walked every day, until one day he complained that his legs ached,” Gloria recounts. “Then they started shaking. He thought he was just tired from working, so he retired.”

A soft-spoken man by nature, Jack now whispers when he talks. “I’ve always been the talker,” Gloria says. “He’s the quiet one - a family person who is very private. So I just thought that a nursing home or hospital unit wouldn’t be right for him. I knew that we had to at least try at home.”

“You like it, don’t you dear?” Gloria asks about the apartment, gently touching his hand. “Oh yes,” Jack whispers.

Gloria’s primary helper is Ray, the home support worker from RJF Healthcare who’s been with them since the day Jack arrived home. 

He comes five days a week and helps with Jack’s personal care, cooking meals, the housekeeping and laundry. He knows how to work all of the special equipment around the apartment, like the machine that helps lifts Jack to stand. 

“Almost anything that’s done in a nursing home can be done at home,” Ray explains.

Gloria gushes about Ray’s work.

“He can make his own cup of tea and he decides what to make Jack for lunch. I don’t have to tell him what to do.”

The admiration is mutual.

“They are good people,” Ray replies. “It’s important to have a good relationship with the client and family.”

He’s also there to give Gloria a much-needed break.

“It’s so good to have a break and get away, but I’m still busy when I go. I’m running errands and getting groceries.”

She admits that being a fulltime caregiver can be tiring and frustrating at times, so she diverts her attention to their grandkids and watching them play sports.

When Ray’s gone, she finds support in family and friends. Her sister lives nearby and is a great help. Not long after they moved in, one of Gloria’s girlfriends moved in a few floors above. When the power went out this winter, she came down to check on them, wearing a dressing gown and carrying a flashlight.

Their daughters, who work full time and have young families, make time in their hectic schedules to help out on weekends. And while Gloria gets out to church every Sunday, the parish tapes every service and sends it home with her for Jack to listen to. 

“They even taped the Christmas Eve service,” she says.

Gloria and Jack say they are happy with the choices they made, despite the inherent challenges.

 “We said we’d try at home and right now we’re doing ok. It’s not an easy transition and we needed to set up a lot of things. But it’s the best option right now. I’m fortunate to have the help,” she says, pausing. “Because we want to look after him at home, for as long as possible.”

Note: Names have been changes to protect the privacy of the clients in this story.