I Am a Family Caregiver: Meet Pegi

Denise
(Editor’s Note: We continue our I Am a Family Caregiver campaign by featuring Pegi Foulkrod, who cares for her husband. Our questions and her answers follow.)

pegiandjim_iam Pegi and her husband, Jim, after meeting me for lunch during one of my visits to Fort Lauderdale. Photo by me.


Caregiving.com: Fill in the blank: I am____.
Pegi: I am a retired businesswoman, wife, friend and caregiver.

Caregiving.com: What's the biggest misconception that others have about family caregiver?
Pegi: That we are victims or saints. We are just ordinary people who have ended up in extraordinary circumstances.

Caregiving.com: What would you like others to understand about your role as a family caregiver?
Pegi: I choose to care for my husband. It is not a burden, in some strange way it is a blessing. We did not ask for this life, but it's the one we have. We work hard at maintaining some semblance of normalcy and continue to be hopeful for a future together.

Caregiving.com: How do you describe what family caregivers do?
Pegi: There are times it's hard. Really hard. Family caregivers do the work of nurses, diagnosticians, nutritionists and aides. We are constantly vigilant. There are times your caree may need as much assistance as a newborn and other times barely any. We need to be flexible and to be able to change with each new challenge.

Caregiving.com: How can others help you?
Pegi: The most important thing to do is to just understand, to support. Don't criticize, don't try and tell us how we should be doing something if you've not walked in our shoes. Don't ask,"How do you do it?". If you have the time or the energy offer specific help. "Can I sit with your caree for a couple hours so you can go....". Generic offers of help are usually just that; general and may be well intentioned but will often end there if you are not specific. Medical professionals can be more discreet. Do not ask me if my husband can do this or that when he is sitting or laying right here and capable of giving his own answers. Show us both respect, not pity.

Caregiving.com: What's one tip you suggest that helps another family caregiver?
Pegi: Try not to be afraid. You will find that you are stronger and more capable than you ever thought possible. Tasks that sound overwhelming will become second nature, you will learn and grow with the needs of your caree. No one plans for this situation, we all enter it by surprise. Do the best you can, ask for help when you need it, and try to make some time to refuel yourself. Always try to find some humor, some love and some moments to treasure in each day.

Caregiving.com: Briefly tell us about your caregiving situation.
Pegi: My husband was first diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 1997. Diabetes is the disease that keeps on giving; within two years he already had three major vascular surgeries, PVD, CAD, CKD, Peripheral Neuropathy etc. All the offshoots of diabetes. For well over a decade we continued to live a relatively normal live, knowing that all these were chronic and degenerative. In 2012 he was diagnosed with a rare, crippling disease called Syringomyelia. This has left him paralyzed and wheelchair bound. He adapted well and is normally a very independent paraplegic.

This past January he went into renal failure. We now add three trips to dialysis a week to our lives. In July he had multiple heart attacks that required emergency double bypass surgery. Recovering from this is difficult; with the limitations for surgery he is unable to use his upper body, which has become his legs. He came home for ten days, and had to return to the hospital where we found out he had two mini strokes. We are thankful that the results show no significant blockage and the neurologists believes they happened during the surgery. He is home now working on recovery and rehabilitation. We are looking forward to him regaining his strength and independence.

Caregiving.com: What do you hope to accomplish during your life?
Pegi: In the future, my husband and I are planning for more normal retirement activities and many quality and healthier years ahead. This is what we both would like to accomplish.

I also want to be able to help other caregivers, to let them know they are not alone. Whether it's by recommending this site, and/or taking a few minutes with fellow caregivers I meet in my travels, especially those I run into in hospital situations who are either new to caregiving or feeling isolated.

Visit Pegi’s blog to read more of her caregiving story.

(We’d love to feature your story in our campaign–just complete our “I Am a Family Caregiver” campaign questionnaire. If you are a working family caregiver, feel free to also share your story as part of our Hire a Family Caregiver campaign.)

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