A husband caring for his sick wife and 3 other stories on what caregiving is really like.
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Dignity Health

Being a caregiver is one of the hardest jobs in the world.

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Whether it's your profession, calling, or you're rising to the challenge for a loved one, there's no denying that taking care of another person full-time is an important and often unsung job. The work is mainly done behind-the-scenes, and as many caregivers will take you, most people don't take the time to ask "How are you?" or "Is there something I can do for you?" They see caregivers as unflappable. That means the humanity is sometimes a little lost.


But what's it really like to be a full-time caregiver? That's a question best answered by the people who've been there working tirelessly to make someone else's life more manageable and all around better.

We asked four people about the challenges, the rewards, and what they've learned. Here's what they want the world to know.

Taking care of her grandmother taught MaryEllen to see her family and herself in a new light.

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When MaryEllen was 25, her grandmother's health began to decline. So MaryEllen moved in so she could take care of her during the day and work outside the home at night. She made sure her grandmother took her medication, drove her to appointments, cooked for her, and made sure that she stuck to her low-sodium diet.

All aspects of her caregiving job were difficult, but for MaryEllen, the hardest thing was taking care of someone who had taken care of her when she was young. "I saw her as more than just my Nana, but as the smart woman who was slowly losing her independence," says MaryEllen.

However, MaryEllen found a great way to deal with these feelings — humor. "Nana was fond of saying inappropriate things. When it's really hard, you just have to laugh."

Though caring for her grandmother was tiring — even with her mother and aunts helping — it gave MaryEllen a new perspective. "Caring for someone is the hardest best thing you can do. I got to know my nana beyond her role as a mother, wife, and grandmother. I got to see my mom in a different light: as a daughter losing her mother." And MaryEllen's mother, MaryEllen says, started seeing her as an adult.

Most importantly, caring for her grandma gave MaryEllen strength. "I discovered a new respect for myself," she says.

Mia is the parent of two special-needs girls. Taking care of them taught her to take care of herself, too.

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When her twin daughters were born prematurely, Mia's life changed forever. Her daughters, who are now two, live with cardiac and pulmonary problems. Even though all moms are expected to be on 24/7, this was something completely different.

"Caregiving is relentless and the tasks are never-ending," writes Mia in an email. "It's cliche to say that caregivers forget to take care of themselves but it is really true."

While Mia believes that the caregiving she does has endowed her with leadership skills that help her advocate for both herself and her children, she stresses that in order to be effective, she needs to practice self-care.

"Make a special effort to do something just for you and hold onto that for dear life," she writes. "This can be a hobby or a career — it's so important that you have an outlet that has little to do with your caregiving responsibilities."

That means going above and beyond to protect her energy as much as possible. Mia stresses getting enough sleep (a priority that often gets overlooked), eating good, healthy food, and moving around. But perhaps most importantly, she says you shouldn't be afraid to lean on your support network.

"Be fastidious in caregiving for yourself and it will reap rewards in your ability to care for others," she notes.

Taking care of her step-father taught Nora about a strength she didn't know she had.

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Nora became the primary caregiver for her step-father, Antonio, after he suffered a stroke in 2016. It was a role she hadn't planned to take on, so at first she struggled in ways she'd never known before.

"I remember the first holiday when I was left alone at home with him and my mom, I would cry over everything," writes Nora in an email. She'd been given crash courses in how to feed and clean her step-dad when he'd left the hospital, but she was in such a state of shock that she couldn't remember any of it.

"I felt like I was carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders."

Caring for her parent meant Nora had to choose between helping him and taking on other work. While she and her mother have additional caregivers helping them, Nora bears much of the responsibility. She cooks for her step-dad, keeps him company, and makes sure that he's safe and comfortable. Unsurprisingly, she sometimes experiences a great deal of stress and burnout. However, after two years into it, she's also thriving.

"I've stopped struggling with all the new information I've had to take in: I can change diapers, I can clean a person, I can do many things that never in my life I thought I could do," says Nora. "I appreciate how grateful my stepdad is for my work, however hard and frustrating some days are."

If there's one thing Nora wants others to know about the difficult job that so many do around the world it's that caregivers need support, too. Sometimes just a "thanks" can help.

"If you know a caregiver, ask them how they are, because it can be a really hard, thankless, and lonely job," she says. "Give praise, thank caregivers, and most of all, think about the fact that maybe one day you will need people who care for you as well. It is more common than what you believe."

Ben saw his role as a full-time caregiver as "bad casting" at first. Now he knows that "love conquers all."

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In 2015, Ben took his wife to the ER after she complained of severe abdominal pain. Tests revealed that she had an inoperable abdominal tumor. While aggressive therapy ultimately destroyed the tumor, that wasn't the end of Elizabeth's health problems. Right when she started feeling good again, she developed a back problem that's left her immobilized ever since. Treatment hasn't helped.

"I often have to help her get out of a chair and walk her to wherever she needs to go, and be ready twenty-four hours a day," writes Ben in an email. "Until a few months ago, Elizabeth couldn't even lie in bed — she had to sleep in her leather chair."

While both Ben and his wife are confident she'll get better, for now, she depends on him to get through the day. The couple has been together for 50 years, but Ben's found that his new role has taught him some important life lessons.

"The real stuff I've learned and continue to learn is about myself. My selfishness and ability to shut out another's discomfort when I want to are taking some big hits," he writes. "When I say that Elizabeth is the center of my life it is simply a statement of fact."

"I have to do nearly everything. This is exhausting but one does what is necessary, lazy and selfish or not. Caregiving to a beloved who is incapacitated is a real act of selfless love"

Ben has some advice for anyone who finds themselves in the position of becoming a primary caregiver to your partner: "Remember all your spouse means to you, all she/he has done for you and how much you have benefited from the relationship. You will be a better person from the experience."

No two caregivers do the same job. Each of their stories are unique. It's important to realize, though, that no matter the details, the work these people do is always invaluable.

Provide care around the clock is not easy, but as these stories illustrate, realizing the difference you're making in someone else's life is worth the challenge.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

When "bobcat" trended on Twitter this week, no one anticipated the unreal series of events they were about to witness. The bizarre bobcat encounter was captured on a security cam video and...well...you just have to see it. (Read the following description if you want to be prepared, or skip down to the video if you want to be surprised. I promise, it's a wild ride either way.)

In a North Carolina neighborhood that looks like a present-day Pleasantville, a man carries a cup of coffee and a plate of brownies out to his car. "Good mornin!" he calls cheerfully to a neighbor jogging by. As he sets his coffee cup on the hood of the car, he says, "I need to wash my car." Well, shucks. His wife enters the camera frame on the other side of the car.

So far, it's just about the most classic modern Americana scene imaginable. And then...

A horrifying "rrrrawwwww!" Blood-curdling screaming. Running. Panic. The man abandons the brownies, races to his wife's side of the car, then emerges with an animal in his hands. He holds the creature up like Rafiki holding up Simba, then yells in its face, "Oh my god! It's a bobcat! Oh my god!"

Then he hucks the bobcat across the yard with all his might.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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