This HealthChangers episode is part of a special mini-series highlighting our nation's caregivers in partnership with Archangels, a national movement recognizing and honoring caregivers.
Until recently, there were 44 million caregivers in the United States. Now, during a global pandemic, we are all caregivers. Caregivers include medical teams, grocery workers, truck drivers, and others working to find balance, trying to perform at work, while all at the same time, not jeopardizing the care provided to their loved ones.
In this episode of HealthChangers, we share a conversation between Cambia employees Laura Dyer and Peggy Maguire, who leads Cambia’s company-wide palliative care and caregiver strategy, on Laura’s experience working and caring for her young son during the pandemic while her spouse was on the front lines of the public health crisis. You'll also hear a reflection from Alex Drane, the co-founder of Archangels, on how to #LookLoveLift caregivers during the time of coronavirus.
Peggy Maguire (PM): One of my favorite quotes is a quote from Rosalyn Carter. She said, "There are four kinds of people in the world. Those who have been caregivers, those who currently are caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers." We are really seeing that everyone has become a caregiver in some way. At Cambia, we broadly define caregivers to include anyone who's taking care of someone else, including their parents and their children.
I think, Laura, as you know, Cambia has been supporting the caregiver journey for a very long time. We've partnered with Archangels to recognize and support caregivers, to really thank them for being the unsung heroes of our health care system.
Now, I'm happy to be here today to talk with Laura Dyer, one of our Cambia employees who has been working from home during COVID-19, caring for her young child, supporting her family and her spouse. She is a health care professional and working long hours on the front lines of this crisis, especially at the outset.
We are really seeing that everyone has become a caregiver in some way. At Cambia, we broadly define caregivers to include anyone who's taking care of someone else, including their parents, including their children.
PM: Laura, thank you for joining me today. And let me start by asking you, do you consider yourself a caregiver?
Laura Dyer (LD): Thank you so much for having me. I'm so grateful that we do this work and that you lead it for us because it's so important.
I guess I would say, I don't think I really would have thought of myself as a caregiver, prior to the pandemic. I think I might've been like some other folks who felt like, was I caring for an aging parent in my home or something like that. I do think my perception that that has changed, and I think supporting someone who is doing this work or really supporting any family members who are going through this experience, which is impacting all of us, is a form of caregiving. I certainly feel like trying to support and lead and coach my child through this experience does qualify as caregiving.
Family Caregiving Meets Sudden Impact of Pandemic
PM: Tell me about how your life has changed, since you went from working in the office and having a pretty demanding job, to working from home with a young child.
LD: Sure. At the very end of February, we took my four-year-old son to Disneyland for the first time. Thinking back on that it's just mind-blowing, how much has changed. I remember we were like, should we be worried about this? My husband is a public health nurse. Even working for the public health department, at that time, it was just right before we realized how big a deal this was going to be. While we were down there, everything changed. My husband started getting texts from his supervisors, and things were starting to move. That was unusual, to be receiving that much communication on vacation. I remember having tons of hand sanitizer and things while we were at the park, but it's just crazy to even think about the fact that we did that now.
As soon as we came back, we learned that Multnomah County [Oregon], where we live, was going to be setting up a quarantine program for community members experiencing homelessness, and that my husband was going to be asked to lead that. At first it wasn't clear how intense that was going to be, but then we have this ramp up, and by the day we were going home, our last day in the office ended up being the same day that my son's daycare across the street from our office also closed. Suddenly, everything had shifted. Within two weeks of us coming back from this trip, we were all at home, except for my husband, who was now going to the county command center every day.
The way our family worked before, my husband had a more flexible schedule, he did a lot of doctor's appointments, he had Thursdays off with our son. Suddenly, he was on call from 7:00 a.m. and often gone. He did a really good job of trying to make it home for dinner, but he was essentially gone.
I hadn't realized how much that affected how I approached doing everything, my job, caring for my child, all of it, that that partnership was really critical to me.
LD: Calvin and I were home, trying to figure out what that looked like. And I'm laughing about it now, but it was really challenging. I felt very, very anxious. I didn't realize how much of that just had to do with the change, but also not having my partner with me. I hadn't realized how much that affected how I approached doing everything, my job, caring for my child, all of it, that that partnership was critical to me. Not having access and not feeling like I should bother my husband while he was setting this up was hard.
PM: Meanwhile, I think you are also trying to keep the high standards that you have for yourself at work, in the middle of all this. What a challenge, trying to navigate your workload, your parenting responsibilities, and doing both of those, I think, to the best of your ability. I imagine that was incredibly stressful and a big transition for your family.
Experiment in Working from Home – Challenges and Opportunities
PM: Can you tell us, how did you embrace those challenges, and what have you learned from them?
LD: I think I quickly tried to get creative. Well, a couple of things. I had an important conference call, so I had set Calvin up with a show. I have a very social child. He's not somebody who just wants to go watch TV by himself, which is wonderful, except when you have a conference call and no childcare. He ran in, in the middle of this conference call with other leaders in the company, and announces that he has learned how to say “hi” in Mandarin.
We had to keep our sense of humor about things and get creative. I tried to do a lot of early morning and late evening work. I also want to be transparent, that at some point in time, I realized I can't keep the standards, I can't uphold my commitment unless I figure out some form of childcare. So, probably a week or two in, I started to look for a part time childcare provider that I could hire to come into our home, which was a scary proposition. I ended up hiring someone that my husband had never even talked to, which was very different for how we parent and his role in our kid's life. I want to be transparent that that was an extreme privilege that is not available or financially attainable for a lot of people. It was also a big sacrifice for us.
We are a family with over $100,000 in student loan debt, so taking on something that is twice as expensive as daycare was really scary for us, but I felt that I would be able to do a better job, both in being there for my child when I wasn't working, if I had some protected time to work. Because what I quickly learned was, if I tried to do both at the same time, it didn't go well. And it wasn't fair to either of us.
So, for me, I had to kind of create that structure. And it's still not perfect because we don't have nine hours a day of daycare. We have six hours. I still do a lot of creative, “how do I troubleshoot?”, blocking my schedule, “what can I do in the evenings?”, et cetera. We found our way to a new normal, and it took some time.
PM: When you think back over the last few weeks, what are some of your key learnings?
LD: I think breaking things down into small chunks and figuring out, “what are little things I can do?” I really wanted to help my husband. And it was like, “what can I do to help him?” and “how do I help protect him?” I saw a friend had posted a vitamin regimen on Instagram. That was one small thing I could do. My husband has never really taken vitamins, but I asked him, I said, "Would you be willing to do this? Because I think it would be helpful,” and he was totally on board. I set up a little pill container with all the vitamins and probiotics and stuff that were recommended for immune health. That felt really good, to be able to do some small thing that might help.
I think breaking things down into small chunks and figuring out, “what are little things I can do?”
I think, just thinking about it in terms of little things. Another thing we do for my son is we have a lot of themed days. For example, we celebrated Halloween this Tuesday.
PM: That's great.
LD: We do a lot of just trying to find little things that we can look forward to. And I do consider that also a form of caregiving. How do we create little experiences or little kindnesses? We've baked granola for all our neighbors to say thank you to them for being such great neighbors. We have a great block of people that we talk to regularly and really appreciate. So, things like that are kind of how we're getting through.
PM: That's great. Let me ask you on a personal level, you've said a lot about taking care of your child, taking care of your husband, taking care of your neighbors. What are you doing to take care of yourself?
Find little things…[to] look forward to. I do consider that also a form of caregiving.
LD: That is such a good point you mentioned. That has been one of the hardest things I have had to learn as a parent and probably in general. I think women are really good at taking care of everyone, but we can't fill up other people's cups if ours are empty.
I really prioritize physical exercise. That is really connected to my mental health and outlook. I started working with a trainer and camping his gym about six months ago, and he moved to still offering those services through Zoom. I had to get creative about when I could fit them in and started doing an early morning workout, which I had never done before in my life. But guess what? Eight weeks later, I now can exercise first thing in the morning, before I've even had coffee, which I never did before. I think for me, that's been really critical. And just trying to eat as healthy as I can, trying to get rest, just the basics. I'm really grateful for my physical health and being able to keep that up, even in an unusual way.
Coping With the COVID-19 Crisis: The Importance of Self-Care for Caregivers Tips
PM: That's great, Laura, I'm glad to hear you making that a priority. And when my kids were younger, I found that that early morning exercise was really the best uninterrupted time I could find.
PM: That's great. That's great. Well, based on your experience, what advice do you have for other working parents during this time?
LD: Yeah, first, I just want to say, I see you working parents, and it's hard to be a working parent when childcare and school is open, and this is just incredibly difficult. So, I want to offer my sympathy, kudos, support, all of it. I think we have to be gentle with ourselves and know that we are not going to be perfect parents all the time. The most important thing is when, if we lose our cool or we have a hard moment, that we repair, reconnect, and make room for feelings. That is something I have worked on since becoming a parent. I have a child with a lot of big feelings. It turns out I'm a person with a lot of big feelings. I've learned a lot about that, but I think we're all going to be experiencing that right now. So, just be compassionate with yourself and know that you get to try again every day.
PM: That's great. Yeah. It is interesting how, in this time of social distancing, it is a time to take stock of the resources that you have, to think about your own strengths and then draw on them, taking time for yourself where you need to, and then forgiving yourself and others for...
LD: For being human, right?
PM: Yes. Because, we're all under a lot of stress.
PM: I appreciate your wisdom and your approach. I love that you started that last answer with, “I want to start by seeing working parents and understanding that we're all human, and we're all doing the best we can under a very challenging situation.” So, thank you for talking with me today. Thank you for sharing your experience with other working parents. I hope that it helps. I hope just the example of us talking about this will encourage others to do the same and learn from each other, how to navigate this new normal.
It is a time to take stock of the resources that you have, to think about your own strengths and then draw on them.
LD: Couldn't agree more. Thank you for doing this, Peggy and for all of the work that you do.
PM: Thank you. Okay. Take care.
LD: You too.
Archangels’ #LookLoveLift Campaign to Support Caregivers and their Families
Leslie Constans (LC): Before we wrap up this special episode on caregiving in a COVID-19 world, we asked Alex Drane, the co-founder of Archangels, a national movement to recognize and honor caregivers, to share a little reflection on what she heard between Peggy and Laura. I invite you to listen.
Alex Drane (AD): It is my great honor to be able to add some thoughts after that. Because it was incredible. I was taking notes the entire time that I can't wait to share with others, as I share this podcast. So beautifully done. I love, right out of the gate, that just the conversation so embodied this notion of look, love, lift that we've been rolling out in collaboration with Cambia, of this idea of wherever you are, look around you. There are caregivers everywhere, and they don't look like what you would expect. Take them on what to love on them for the love that they're giving. Then give them a lift, a lift of any kind.
I thought that was probably the easiest way to frame my thoughts and response to this extraordinary piece from the two of you, which is Laura, oh my gosh, do you embody it. You're caring for your man, and his job is a paid caregiver. Yet, you yourself say right in the beginning that you wouldn't have thought of yourself that way. And here's your man, who's doing this incredibly noble job, so critical at this very moment in time. Always, but especially right now as a public health nurse, who has been given the opportunity to head up the setup of a quarantine park for the homeless population, while at the same time, you're caring for your son, who was in daycare until it closed down.
The conversation so embodied this notion of look, love, lift that we've been rolling out in collaboration with Cambia, of this idea of wherever you are, look around you. There are caregivers everywhere, and they don't look like what you would expect…give them a lift, a lift of any kind.
The sudden thrusting by you into this position of being a caregiver for both of those important roles in your life. That brings us to the love, which is so reflected, I think, in the anxiety that you articulate that you felt and trying to keep it all going. This shift in your work schedule and your ability to figure out how to do work at home with your son being there, the shift in your role, what you're trying to accomplish, and the role your partner's playing and trying to keep it all going. That so embodies love.
Laura Dyer, we see you and we love you for the caregiver you are. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. And thank you for sharing your story because it helps us all feel less alone in ours. You are such a lift.
Speaking of lifts, love the example you gave of how you supported your man by researching how you could help keep him safe and healthy. You felt the need to be able to do something, which I think all of us do. Well, here's what we can do. We can give somebody a lift. I love that your lift for him was finding this post on this vitamin regimen and doing it for him.
Your sharing that funny story about your son Zoom bombing you on this really important call that made me laugh in particular. Because that's happened to me so many times. I love that this happened to you too. Thank you. That makes me feel better about it.
Creating these bright spots as a form of caregiving. For example, baking granola for your neighbors, which is so kind.
And then providing tips like theme days, which I'm definitely going to do in my house and creating these bright spots as a form of caregiving. For example, baking granola for your neighbors, which is so kind. And you really exemplify the notion of look, love, lift, especially in that last part, where you remind everyone, and especially working parents, to be gentle with ourselves because it's hard. And what got me the most about that, and why I think it was so perfect as a way to wrap, is even with all you have going on, although you have every right to be frustrated and cranky, instead here you are, focusing on offering your sympathy, your kudos, your support to others.
I think that is a caregiver right there. They are just selfless in pursuit of supporting others constantly. And I think this piece so perfectly captures because we see you walk through it and end with, it's not about you, it's about everyone else and caring for others. And so that, to me, is look, love, lift. That is why caregivers are so gorgeous.
Laura, you're extraordinary. You embody the heart that's Cambia. And Peggy, thank you so much for partnering with us at Archangels, to be lifting up caregivers and every way we can because they're freaking awesome humans. I hope everybody gets a chance to listen to this because I know it changed the arc of my day and I hope it can change the arc of theirs.
You can find more information on all our episodes at cambiahealth.com. Follow us on Twitter @Cambia. You can now find HealthChangers on all of your favorite platforms. Just search for “HealthChangers” on platforms like Apple podcasts, Spotify and iHeartRadio. Please subscribe and leave a review.
Links and Resources
- Direct download of episode
- HealthChangers Archives
- Peggy Maguire leads Cambia’s company-wide palliative care and caregiver strategy
- Alex Drane is the co-founder of Archangels
- Learn more: Cambia and Archangels Team Up to Support our Caregivers
- Explore tools: Caregiving Resources During Coronavirus
- Laura Dyer, Cambia’s Director of Ethics