Marianita from New Mexico

My name is Marianita E. Gorman from Albuquerque, NM. It has been an honor for me to be a caregiver in one capacity or another starting at a young age caring for my great grandmother to today supporting my sister who cares for her son with ALS. That is why it was not difficult for me to care for Robert R. Rottman who would eventually become my best friend over the years that we knew each other.

I meant Robert about 10 years ago when we both were employed at a local pharmaceutical company where he worked in quality control and quality assurance.. I noticed that during our 15 minute breaks, it would take Robert almost the entire time to just walk out to the break room. He did a good job of not letting other workers notice that he was short of breath. He struggled for breath just walking to the break room. He would stop and lean against the wall or stop and lean against boxes that would help prop him up so that he could catch his breath. I could not bear to watch Robert struggling and finally approached him and convinced him that he needed to see a doctor.

So, this was the beginning of our friendship that would blossom into our being best friends.
Initially, Robert and I would have discussions at work on what he needed to focus on when he saw his doctor. Initially, Robert was well enough to take himself to the clinic. But as time progressed, he became more short of breath, making it more difficult for him to take the long walks to the break room. The time came when we discussed his taking a short-term medical leave, which he did for several months. Robert had intended to go on long-term medical leave, but due to work demands he was unable to do so at that time. Fortunately, we met with social security personal and that made it possible for Robert to retire early with a suitable income to cover his needs. I started caring for Robert without notice. I think when you start the process of caregiving for someone who is a friend or relative it is unscheduled; it’s not something that you wake up to one day and say “I will pencil you into the calendar today because starting today I am going to be your caregiver.” It is something that just happens as part of life.

Robert did everything he could to stay healthy over the years. He soaked in all the information that the doctors provided and was diligent in following doctor’s orders. Robert and I were both fortunate enough to have family members that were able to help and assist especially as Robert’s condition got progressively worst.

Some of the tasks that came with caring for Robert were grocery shopping, doing the laundry, dealing with pets, getting the medication ready for the day and just spending quality time. We watched a lot of movies when time allowed. Often, I would make him rewind for one reason or another, but usually because I did not hear something and he would say “MAARE!!!”
The last visit to the hospital was frightening because the doctors explained to us that Roberts’s condition was getting worse and there was nothing more they could do. At that point, we decided the best option for him was to go on hospice. Robert made me the person responsible for making medical decisions. I respected all of Robert’s wishes.

Robert was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD, a condition that would eventually take his life.

As a caregiver, I think any kind of support, whether emotional, physical or spiritual helps maintain some level of balance. Respite for caregivers is essential because it’s difficult for family and friends to tackle being a caregiver without relief.

The best part of my experience was gaining a true best friend, and the most challenging was losing my true best friend.

Being a caregiver for a friend or family member is like taking on a second “job” without financial benefits. It takes time that was unplanned. It is important to have support from family members, if available, and to know when to ask for help.