Saturday, January 28, 2017

Doctor who always noticed caregivers photographs them in retirement

Dr. Michael Geller always noticed them in the waiting room, or next to the patient he was examining.
The caregivers.

He sensed the work they did behind the scenes, this invisible force central to his patients’ health. So when the geriatrician retired from Eastern Virginia Medical School in 2011, he started a project to photograph caregivers’ unpaid work in the homes of their relatives.

He caught a more intimate glimpse of them than anything he saw in a doctor’s office or nursing home. He met people like Tammy Payne, who took in her ex-husband, Ronald, for seven years after he was diagnosed with a dementia called Pick’s disease.

Geller made an image of Ronald and the couple’s two children holding him up by the arms to be photographed.

“By the end, I was picking him up like a baby,” Tammy said about her ex-husband, who died in 2013 at 63.

Ronald’s eyes are closed and he looks stricken, but there’s a look of joy in the faces of his caregivers.

“I chose to do this,” Tammy said. “I wanted my children to be at peace about his care.”

Geller’s interest in photography started in his childhood. He had asthma, and that made it hard for him to keep up with his more athletically inclined brothers.

His parents came up with an idea. They bought him a camera and told him to photograph them playing sports.

That childhood duty turned into a lifelong love.

He later went to medical school, specializing in internal medicine and geriatrics, seeing patients in office settings and in nursing homes. The last five years of his career were at the Glennan Center for Geriatrics and Gerontology at EVMS.

After he retired, he wanted to meld his love of photography with his desire to capture a work that unfolds outside the public eye.

“I always wondered how they fare and what their experience is like.”

He collaborated with Christianne Fowler, who teaches at the School of Nursing at Old Dominion University, and Brenda Cobb, a social worker with a home health care agency. They helped him find subjects for a “Caregiver Experience through the Lens.”

That’s how Tammy Payne first heard of Geller in 2013.

Her husband had been showing signs of depression and anxiety several years before their divorce. In fact, that was part of the reason she left the marriage in 2004. She felt he might be happier without her.

He remarried. Tammy and Ronnie shared custody of their two children, who continued to live in the family’s Chesapeake home with their dad.

The divorce did not stop the anxiety. In fact, it worsened and he also started getting lost when driving around town. He was finally diagnosed in 2006 with dementia. His second marriage fell apart, and in January of 2007, it was clear to Tammy what she needed to do. She moved her ex-husband and their two children in with her. She juggled three jobs: at Golden Corral, a golf course and housekeeping.

She and her two children – Leigha, who is now 22, and Darren, 27 – shared caregiving duties, and Tammy, 45, also hired a friend to help fill in the gaps.

“We rearranged our lives to make it safe for him,” Tammy said. “We all pitched in. It kept us peaceful knowing we didn’t have to worry that he wasn’t getting the care that we could give him. I became strong with God, because this wasn’t about me. It became what I was here to do.”

Over the years, he needed more help as his speech faded, along with his abilities to stand, bathe and eat.

Home hospice care began in 2013, and that’s when Geller photographed the family. Ronald died a short time later.

Tammy said people were amazed she would care for her ex-husband, but she said his diagnosis made her realize why they were having problems in the first place.

She began to see him more as a child than as a husband or an ex-spouse.

Even though he lost the ability to speak, he still communicated:

“The way he looked at me at the end was like, ‘You are my rock.’ ”

Shortly after he photographed the Paynes, Geller’s own wife fell ill with colon cancer.

Geller spent the next three months caring for Joan, who was 67, which gave him additional insight into caregiving.  (Click to Continue)

Full Article & Source:
Doctor who always noticed caregivers photographs them in retirement


Tom said...

I love this. Caregivers are living heroes and they are mostly forgotten or not appreciated.

Anonymous said...

I agree, Tom. Caregivers rarely get the attention and approval they should have. Of course, now hired caregivers have entered the ring to rip off the elderly and disabled, and that makes it all the worse.