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Inspired by personal experience, WL woman pens book on how to survive life as a caregiver



TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - After her husband survived four heart attacks in one night, Lauren Simon dealt with conflicting emotions as his caregiver. Her new book is meant to help those who find themselves in similar situations.Lauren Simon prides herself as a nurturer.

Nothing makes her happier than caring for other people, be it her husband, her six children or anyone else who enters her West Linn home. Walk through the threshold and she’ll offer you water and make sure you get the most comfortable seat; get ready to leave and she’ll insist you take a macaroon for the road.

And yet, during one of the most harrowing moments of her life — and when her caregiving skills were most needed — Simon was engulfed by a slew of unfamiliar emotions.

Fear. Frustration. Anger.

On the night of Nov. 3, 2011, Simon’s husband, Stephen, suffered and survived four heart attacks. Four times his heart stopped, and four times he was brought back to life — twice at home, once in the ambulance and once more at the hospital.

When Stephen was finally stabilized, Simon found that her ordeal was only just beginning. Over Stephen’s three-month recovery process, she learned that caretaking is not only beautiful and rewarding, but also frustrating and exhausting.

It took time — years, in fact — for Simon to accept these feelings as normal and shake off the idea that she was being selfish. Now, Simon has released a new book, “When You Feel Like Strangling the Patient: Love and Support for the Caregiver,” which aims to serve as a guide for those in the midst of similar caregiving situations.

“I thought it was very important — and Stephen was very supportive — that this needed to be out there to give other caregivers the freedom to allow themselves to experience very real, genuine emotions when something like this happens,” Simon said. “Because very often, your needs and your concerns are — rightly so — put by the wayside so you can care for your loved one. And just because you have moments of frustration, doesn’t mean you don’t love this person dearly.”

SUBMITTED PHOTO - Simon hopes that the book will become a mainstay within the information packets distributed at hospitals.

The book is filled with guidelines and checklists to follow throughout the caregiving process, and also features interviews with many other caregivers who shared their own unique experiences. The ultimate goal, Simon said, is for the book to be a mainstay at every hospital as part of the informational packets distributed to families and caregivers.

“We had tutorials in the room about nutrition and all these things, which were very valuable,” Simon said. “But it would have been so comforting at night if I just had a pamphlet saying, ‘This is normal, you’re going to be feeling like this. Don’t beat yourself up.’

“I was so mortified because I’m such a nurturer, and I’m so in love with my best friend, I never expected I would have those feelings or react like that at times.”

Lauren Simon’s frustrations traced back years before Stephen Simon’s heart attacks.

“I had been worried about his health for about 3 years,” she said. “He was slowly putting on weight, and Stephen and I are 17 years different in age, and it was a big concern of mine. ... Over three years when I tried to sit down and have pep talks with him about his health, he would pretty much dismiss me, not realizing where he was.”

So when Stephen woke up in the hospital that November night and asked, “Did I really have a heart attack?” Lauren felt a ping of anger. She had tried to warn him, and even now he didn’t seem to grasp the enormity of the situation.

With the frustration also came guilt, but when Simon shared her conflicted feelings with friends, she found that nearly all of them recalled similar experiences.

She wasn’t alone.

“They opened up about the same kinds of feelings,” she said. “And I said ‘Oh, OK, I’m not a bad human because I have those feelings.”

The book, which is adapted in part from her journal entries after Stephen’s heart attack, is meant to serve as a similar comfort for those who might not have such a robust support system.

The process also proved to be immensely instructive for her husband Stephen Simon, a film producer who worked for 35 years in Hollywood and produced movies like “All the Right Moves” with Tom Cruise and “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” with Keanu Reeves.

“The impact it had on Lauren and the kids was enormous, and I felt horrible about it,” Stephen Simon said of the time after the heart attacks. “Caregivers don’t feel like they have a right to even think these things, let alone say them. And I really encouraged Lauren to write this book because I think it will be very empowering for caregivers to know they’re not alone.”

The book’s release also marks an opportunity to honor a different set of caregivers: the Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue paramedics who saved Stephen Simon’s life. The Simons are holding a benefit Nov. 6 at the Stafford Hills Club from 6 to 8 p.m., during which all profits from book sales will be donated to TVF&R. The event is open to the public and will feature complimentary wine pour, appetizers and valet parking.

Simon will also donate books at any TVF&R event she attends going forward, and she says the family has become close friends with the crew who responded that night.

“These guys really did heroic work, and we wanted to thank them,” Stephen Simon said. “Lauren actually invited all of them and their wives for dinner, about a month after, and it was actually very sweet because no one had actually approached them before.”

That same evening, Lauren and Stephen noticed their son 15-year old son Carter talking to two of the crew members. Afterward, Carter told them he wanted to become an emergency medical technician.

Now 19 years old, Carter is set to start training in January.

Caregiving, after all, does run in the family.

Patrick Malee can be reached at 503-636-1281 Ext. 106 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Buy the book

“When You Feel Like Strangling the Patient:Love and Support for the Caregiver” is now available on Amazon. Visit dontstranglethepatient.com to buy the book or learn more.

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