Andrea Rovazzi – From Wife to Caregiver. The complexity of finding a ‘new normal’.

Andrea Rovazzi was a full-time employee, mother, and wife. She never expected she would take on the role of a caregiver so early in her life – let alone at all. Her life changed very suddenly on December 21st, 2015 when her husband was injured at work after suffering a heart attack and going into cardiac arrest. Her husband was later diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome.  

As with many other caregivers who are put in the same situation, Andrea didn’t first realize she was a caregiver:

“I was just doing what I had to do – he is my husband. I didn’t realize I was doing anything out of the ordinary… I didn’t realize I would qualify as a caregiver. The reality was that his care and wellbeing were on the top of my mind 24 hours a day…Every waking moment I was researching, reading articles, scheduling and attending appointments. It’s awful to watch someone you love suffer, so I made it my mission to try and find what would end my husband’s suffering. That came with its drawbacks because I wasn’t living in the moment. I wasn’t being aware of what we had because I was so worried of what we didn’t have… Once I acknowledged that I was a caregiver I was able to better accept all that went in to being one.”

After Andrea returned to work. The reality of being a caregiver and a full-time employee began to weigh down on her, “I went back to work and I was away from home. That was a stress – although I knew he was okay, I was still always worried. I felt that if I wasn’t always finding ways to make him feel better that I was giving up on him – that’s very hard reconcile.”

Another unexpected aspect of Andrea’s journey was trying to understand her new family dynamic. When it came to understand the new “normal”, she explained just how complex it can truly be:

“This experience didn’t just happen to my husband. It happened to him, it happened to me, it happened to us as a couple, to our family, our children and grandchildren. It effects everybody and you don’t realize that at first. Every aspect of our life has been an adjustment. We’re trying to accept our new normal and figure out what that is. You grieve for all of the things you won’t be able to do anymore.”

Remaining strong and healthy for her family is something that Andrea strives for. She took measures to ensure that she was not only looking after her husband, but also looking after herself: “I went for therapy because you don’t go through a traumatic event unscathed. I was very fortunate and I was able to attend a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy pilot program in my area. It was fantastic.” She also stressed the fact that caregivers should not think any less of themselves if they feel sad or helpless: “The reality is that everybody feels helpless and angry. It’s so normal and expected to have those feelings because you are dealing with a loved one who is suffering. It’s not a character flaw, every caregiver feels this. I’m not a bad spouse because I felt helpless, I am a normal person.”

Although her journey has come together due to hard work and dedication to being a caregiver, Andrea has hopes for future improvement:

“I wish others acknowledged the scope and magnitude of what it means to be a caregiver. I wish someone had told me I was a caregiver. I wish I did not have to ask for help. I wish it was given to me – for someone to say ‘Hey, you’re a caregiver, come on in and talk to me because you need it’. The reality is that everybody needs someone to talk to. That doesn’t make you weak. Caregiving is a heavy circumstance. You wouldn’t have it any other way but it is hard work.”

Andrea co-facilitates a peer support group through the Brain Injury Services of Toronto on the last Wednesday of every month @ 6:30pm at the BIST office (www.bist.ca ). She has recently started a similar group in Barrie on the first Wednesday @ 6:30pm of the month at the BIS office (braininjuryservices.ca)  with the hope of helping others find someone to talk to. For more information, you can reach Andrea at pcs.arovazzi@gmail.com. Andrea reflected on the importance of peer communication: “I know that there are hundreds of thousand people in the province of Ontario that suffer a concussion every year, and that means that there are probably hundreds of thousand new caregivers, but I couldn’t touch any of them. I was alone. When I got with the peer group I realized there were others like me. I wasn’t the only one. It helped to normalize my feelings and experiences.”

Regardless of the complex changes and difficulties she has faced, Andrea still remains optimistic about her family’s situation: “We consider ourselves as the lucky 10% of people who survive cardiac arrest outside of a hospital. We are on the good side of that ratio… I think the most rewarding part of being a caregiver has been the fact that life has been put into perspective. I’m still working on this one; I try not to sweat the small stuff – there is a lot of small stuff, I just try not to sweat it anymore.