Proactive patience

The virtues of grace, compassion and empathy are invaluable, but they also need to be accompanied by calm perseverance.

In previous articles I have encouraged caregivers to show compassion and grace when working with clients. But it’s time to talk about the practical application of these mind-sets!

I want to propose proactive patience as a way to apply these virtues to your day-to-day caring. Dictionaries describe “proactive” as taking the initiative by acting rather than reacting to events, and “patience” as the ability to endure waiting, delay or provocation without becoming annoyed or upset. So at first glance it would seem that these two sides of the approach do not sit together all that well. But let’s look a little closer…

Patience is possibly the more difficult of the two. In managing your client, not only are you faced with a body that cannot do what bodies are supposed to do but you also often have to deal with your client’s anger, aggression or sarcasm. Sometimes their despondency or depression strips them of the will to want to do anything at all. Through all these negative attitudes you have to stay calm and professional. You cannot react as you often might like to. You have to persevere calmly.

But nowhere in the definitions and descriptions of patience does it tell us to sit back and do nothing. This is where “proactive” comes to the fore.

In recent articles I wrote about some of the challenges in caring for persons with spinal cord injuries or afflictions, such as pressure ulcers, spasticity and contractures. The disciplines of skincare, passive movements and spastic contractions all require a caregiver to be proactive. Work out routines with your client for the prevention of pressure ulcers and set aside times for passive movements. Ask your client to obtain the assistance of a biokineticist to design a series of passive movements that are best suited to the client’s needs. Be aware of what triggers spasms if your client suffers from spasticity and try to prevent these triggers. When you notice a spasm, act to relieve it; if you see clonus, proactively shift the limb into a more comfortable position. Don’t wait for your client to ask for help or tell you what to do – just go ahead and do it.

Similarly, get to know your client’s emotions and emotional triggers, especially the things that frustrate them. Learn to anticipate their needs and try to respond to them before being asked or told. In short, learn to read the mind of your client!

So putting the two together, living grace, compassion and empathy practically as a caregiver is to be patient with the brokenness of the body of your client and to be tolerant of the emotions of your client when they bubble over, but at the same time to be proactive with the needs of your client – to recognise and respond to physical needs before they become problems and to recognise emotions for what they are and deal with them with grace and empathy.

Ida’s Corner is a regular column by George Louw, who qualified as a medical doctor, but, due to a progressing spastic paralysis, he chose a career in health administration. The column is named after Ida Hlongwa, who worked as caregiver for Ari Seirlis for 20 years. Her charm, smile, commitment, quality care and sacrifice set the bar incredibly high for the caregiving fraternity.

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