When Home Caregiving Is a Calling

January 2, 2021
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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April Dunbar has been a nurse for more than 15 years. She started her career as a nurse’s aide while she was still in high school. Then, she became an LPN and worked in a hospital setting. While she always enjoyed taking care of patients, she was disappointed to see that sometimes, caring for each patient could be transactional — not because she wanted them to be, but because of the high-volume environment. That’s when she decided to look into home caregiving.

“I like really getting to know the patients,” she explains. “I like to know their likes, their dislikes. If they’re non-verbal, learn their body language cues and facial expressions, so that I can fully understand what they are trying to communicate.” Working at Care Options for Kids has provided her that experience.

“I started working with K.P. when she was four years old. She’s now twelve.” K.P. has cerebral palsy and encephalopathy, is non-verbal, needs a wheelchair, has a tracheostomy, and gets her feedings through a g-tube.

“I work with her five days a week, with each shift being between 12 and 14 hours. At this point, it really feels like she’s my granddaughter,” she says. “In fact, a lot of people think that we’re related!”

On a regular shift, April shows up and does K.P.’s assessment, administers her medication through her g-tube, and gives her a bath. “The routine changes depending on the day,” she says. “Sometimes, we go to physical therapy. Other times, we go to school. She then has free time, when we watch Jack Hartmann educational videos or play with her favorite toys.

April explains that despite all of K.P.’s health issues, she’s a happy child. “She loves watching Disney movies. She really likes Moana and Mulan, but she gets so excited during that first scene in Frozen, when they’re breaking the ice. That’s her favorite movie.”

K.P. also shares many characteristics with other children. She loves music, playing games, and has favorite colors — red and purple. “She really loves having company and holding your hand,” April states. “She also loves when her mom flies her around like she’s an airplane, and she thinks it’s hilarious to sit down, fall back, and have one of us catch her,” she laughs.

Seeing K.P. love to play so many games and become delighted when watching her favorite movies makes April feel so proud. “When I first started working as her caregiver, even though she was four years old, she was very dystrophied and small. In fact, she was wearing clothes for 18-month-old babies,” her voice turns somber as she remembers. “She spent most of her early years in a hospital. But by the time she turned six, she had gained enough weight to look like a healthy child — and was able to maintain it,” she recalls. “That’s definitely one of my most memorable experiences working with her.”

Although K.P. is the center of her universe when she’s working, April keeps in mind that she wants to make the entire family happy. “When you come into someone’s home almost every day, you need to make sure to involve the entire family and respect their wishes. Yes, they love and adore their children, but 24/7 caregiving can take its toll. I’m happy I’m able to share the load and make their lives easier.”