A Caregiver by Heart: 'I'm Just Glad I Was There'

A Caregiver by Heart: 'I'm Just Glad I Was There'

Teresa McCoy doesn’t think about it – it’s just common sense to her. When she cares for people, she is automatically thoughtful and patient.

“I’m a caregiver by heart. I’ve always cared for other people. It’s my niche and I think it’s the best thing in the world,” she said.

2012 National Caregiver of the Year Teresa McCoyTeresa works for the Homewatch CareGivers office in Denver. She started working with them, providing senior home care, in 2011 after working for other agencies. Homewatch CareGivers presented Teresa with its 2012 National Caregiver of the Year Award. This honor selects one caregiver from among the more than 5,000 caregivers that work for Homewatch CareGivers, providing more than 4.8 million hours of care to those who need it around the world.

The reason for Teresa’s win is for more than care she provides every day. As she has since 1994, Teresa regularly goes above and beyond for the people she helps. This is especially clear when you hear the story of Jo and Blair.

Teresa started helping Jo because the older woman could no longer walk. Teresa helped Jo get in and out of bed, go from room to room, use the toilet, and gave her sponge baths. Jo’s husband, Blair, was a person other caregivers found difficult to help. He regularly got angry when caregivers did the dishes or the laundry.

“He was a grumpy old man and very set in his ways,” Teresa said. “But I loved him. I don’t know why I liked that feisty old man, but I really did. He had a good heart.”

Teresa was not deterred by Blair’s attitude. Instead, she asked him to show her how he liked the laundry and the dishes done. Once he did, she always did these tasks that exact way and that kept him happy.

“It’s best to ask him how he wants it done. Let him be the boss and let him teach you how to do it. Then just do it the way he wants it done, not how you think it should be done,” Teresa said.

Blair still cooked dinner for Jo every night. He would make her a very nice meal that ceremonially involved making a toast together before eating.

As many elderly home care situations often can, Jo and Blair’s situation took a sudden turn for the worse in early July of 2012. The emergency began when Teresa was out of town, set to have a pleasant evening away with her husband. Another caregiver called an ambulance because Jo’s condition dramatically declined. She went into the hospital, Blair by her side. At that point, he started asking for Teresa. He refused to accept help from anyone else. Teresa made the two-and-a-half hour drive back to Denver and went right to the hospital. She didn’t think twice about returning.

“Blair needed me and I loved him. I love all my clients and you just want what’s best for them. It’s part of the caregiver in me. I would do anything for them,” Teresa said.

When Teresa arrived at the hospital, Jo’s nurses wanted Teresa to take Blair home because he was so difficult. Teresa calmed him down and she discovered he suddenly could not get up and walk on his own. She helped him into the restroom and discovered the severity of his own condition. She insisted they go down to the emergency room again – this time for Blair. He wanted Teresa to drive him home, but she insisted he see a doctor. Teresa stayed late into the night, and a doctor ended up admitting Blair to the hospital. He eventually went into a nursing facility – sharing a room there with Jo.

“He begged me to take him home, but I wouldn’t. If I had done that, we would have found him dead in his bed the next morning. It gives me goose bumps to think about it. I don’t know – I’m just glad I was there for him,” Teresa said.

She continued to visit both Jo and Blair in the nursing facility, but it turned out Blair did not have much longer. She cared for him and comforted him until he passed away about two months later.

“I saw him just before he passed. I don’t think anybody should be alone at the end,” Teresa said. “I’ve helped other people that have passed away. I sit there and hold their hand, sometimes for days, while they’re in bed. It’s hard and I cry, but it’s better than them being by themselves.”

Teresa still cares for Jo, who recovered following her hospital stay and continues to live in the nursing facility. She brings Jo a game, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” and they play trivia together. Many of the others in the facility gather around and answer the questions with her. Jo loves it when Teresa comes to visit – each Wednesday and Friday.

Members of the Denver Homewatch CareGivers office with 2012 National Caregiver of the Year Teresa McCoy“She smiles and she kisses me. I sit down with her and we just talk and play trivia. We do whatever she wants to do. Sometimes we exercise a little bit,” she said.

When she talks about winning her award, in part for extending Blair’s life, Teresa is modest. She says that anyone in her situation would do the same thing. She believes caregiving is about treating others like you would want your own parents treated. This attitude helps her when she helps family caregivers who need a break from caring for their loved ones.

“You can get burned out very easily. I don’t because I get to go home at night. I get to step away. Family caregivers don’t get that break. That’s why I believe in treating the people I help like family,” Teresa said. “When you’re a caregiver, you become part of their family. For many people, a caregiver is the person who is closest to them. I love talking to these people and hearing their stories. It’s fun. It’s easy to love these people.”

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