Taking Care of Caregivers: Alastair
Last fall, Muscular Dystrophy Canada welcomed participants to its first Atlantic Caregivers Retreat weekends in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. This post is part of a series. Learn more about the retreat by clicking here and you can read Jaclyn’s story here.
Tell us about yourself and the person you care for.
My name is Alastair MacDonald and I am a retired P.E. and classroom teacher. I just turned 60 and have been retired now for five years! I retired as soon as I was able to because my wife, Kathie, became extremely ill, and it was getting too difficult to work and properly care for her at the same time.
Kathie and I actually met when we were in Grade 9. We became more serious in high school and university, and we married following my 3rd year of university. We raised three beautiful children (Sarah, Luke and Cailin), who are successful young adults. They are extremely supportive of me and Kathie, and we are blessed to have them all living near us in the Halifax Dartmouth area.
Kathie worked in the health care system as an ECG technologist for many years until her health issues forced her to stop. Kathie always had health issues, even when she was very young: she had severe asthma, serious allergies and digestive issues. We found out later that she also had an undiagnosed neuromuscular disorder, which falls under the umbrella of muscular dystrophy. This is why we became members of Muscular Dystrophy Canada. The organization has been very helpful providing us with equipment (like a seat pillow for a wheelchair and a mattress) and supporting us with advice.
About 5 years ago, Kathie was diagnosed with pulmonary arterial hypertension (PHA). At that time, she was told that she was palliative had anywhere from 2 months to 2 years left to live. Now—five years later!—we have learned to live with the disease.
I love my wife very much and enjoy spending time looking after her. However, after 5 years of being a caregiver, I have noticed how my outside world has been shrinking and shrinking. Through no fault of anyone, our circle of friends (which was quite large) has been decreasing at a consistent rate. My activities, which helped keep me healthy, have gone by the wayside because they have become too difficult to attend.
Why did the Caregiver Retreat appeal to you?
When I first heard about the Caregiver Retreat, I thought it was a very good idea, but I did not plan to attend because I believed it was going to be a two-night event. Then it became one overnight weekend, and I thought that I could manage this without too much turmoil organizing care for Kathie.
The Retreat appealed to me because I thought I would learn valuable information about becoming a better caregiver. I also thought I would meet people in similar situations, learn from them and maybe become part of a support group.
When coming to the retreat, how did you feel about leaving Kathie?
As the retreat weekend drew near, I was a bit apprehensive about going because of the distance and the burden I was putting on family and friends. I believed that this retreat might be useful to me and provide a break from the same routine, though, so I went.
Everyone at the retreat was very nice. I found that I was the only caregiver who was caring for their spouse: most were caring for their small, adolescent or adult children. Although their caregiving was different from mine, however, I thought we may still learn from each other, and after hearing everyone’s story, I knew this was true.
Overall, I feel I made the correct decision to attend the retreat.
How have you applied what your learned to your day-to-day life?
I found every session very useful. I learned how to handled stress and what causes it; I also learned that you need to look after yourself, not just physically but mentally, too. We learned some meditation and breathing techniques, and I learned that it is okay to treat yourself sometimes.
Just knowing that you are not the only caregiver in the world helps keep things in perspective, and being happier and healthier translates into better care for your loved ones. It is definitely a work in progress, but knowing there are other people out there like me helps because I know I am not alone. Although I have not reached out yet to join the caregiver group in Halifax, I plan to in the near future.
What advice would you give a fellow caregiver?
My advice to other caregivers would be to reach out to others for help when needed! Don’t hesitate and let stress and pressure build up. No one benefits from that! When you start to feel like your world is getting smaller and smaller, and stress and pressure are building up, seek help. Don’t feel all alone—just reach out for help. There is always someone who can help.
The next Caregiver Retreat in Atlantic Canada takes place in May in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador! Presented by Lawtons Home HealthCare, and with specialist content delivered by our partnering organization Caregivers Nova Scotia, this Retreat will provide unpaid caregivers of persons with neuromuscular disorders an opportunity to relax with peers as well as to learn skills and resources that will aid in their role as a caregiver. We hope you can join us at the Murray Premises Hotel on May 27 & 28, 2017. To register, click here.