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Posted by Positive Aging Community on 05/17/2024

A Discussion on Caregiving with Actor Steve Guttenberg - "Time to Thank: Caregiving for my Hero"


A live and interactive discussion with Steve Guttenberg about his new book Time to Thank: Caregiving for my Hero which discusses Steve’s journey to stardom and navigating the path he took when he dropped everything to become his father’s caregiver when he was diagnosed with kidney failure. Steve Guttenberg is a beloved Hollywood actor, known for his role in films including Diner, Police Academy, Short Circuit, Three Men and a Baby, and television shows including Ballers and Veronica Mars. Listen to the podcast on your favorite platform!

Order Time to Thank: Caregiving for My Hero on Amazon or any major bookseller

Summary:

Actor Steve Guttenberg discussed his experience as a caregiver for his father in a conversation with Steve Gurney from the Positive Aging Community. Guttenberg shared his journey of caring for his father, who had kidney problems and required dialysis. He and his sister even went to medical college to learn how to become dialysis technicians. Guttenberg also discussed the grief he experienced after his father's death, and how he wrote a book about his caregiving experience. He emphasized the importance of love and support in caregiving, and how every moment counts.

Transcript:

Steve Gurney - Positive Aging Community (00:11):

Steve, I can't tell you how much I enjoyed Diner the police academy. And when I saw that you were writing a book, that you wrote a book on your caregiving experience, I was so psyched because it's such a lonely journey being a caregiver and when a person like you or an athlete or a politician is transparent about the journey that they went through, we all admire folks like you that are in Hollywood, and I commend you for sharing your story. It's a wonderful book, and I'm really psyched to be chatting with you today. Thank

Steve Guttenberg - Actor & Author (00:56):

You. I appreciate that. I remember talking to my dad about that. He's an extraordinary guy in a regular life, and I'm a regular guy in an extraordinary life, and we made a good pair.

Steve Gurney - Positive Aging Community (01:12):

Oh, man. And I tell you, I mean, the first thing is let's, what I was thinking is today maybe we can, I know you only got 30 minutes, so I was going to, let's talk a little bit about your family and how you got into Hollywood, because I think that's a really interesting story. And then let's really dive into your role as a caregiver. And then the other thing is your dad has passed away, and I had love to hear your thoughts on grief, and I think I saw the post of your mom is still with us, right? I saw a post that you did her on Mother's Day.

Steve Guttenberg - Actor & Author (01:54):

Perfect.

Steve Gurney - Positive Aging Community (01:55):

Yeah, there's the book.

Steve Guttenberg - Actor & Author (01:57):

Yeah, I want to show you book.

Steve Gurney - Positive Aging Community (02:00):

Yeah. There's your dad. And I love that your family was incredibly supportive. In fact, I sort of feel like your family had more faith in you being successful in Hollywood than you did.

Steve Guttenberg - Actor & Author (02:18):

Well, maybe they did. There's nothing like having a group of people around you that love you and care about you and want you to succeed. And I was very lucky. I left home at 17 to go to Hollywood. And I mean, who would let their kid now leave at 17 years old? I mean, not many people. So I went out there and I went for two weeks to become a movie star, and then I was going to go to college if it didn't work out. And I got a commercial out of nowhere. I got a Kentucky Fried Chicken commercial, and then I got a movie and another movie, and I stayed about a year doing commercials and movies. And out of nowhere I got this feeling that I didn't belong out there anymore. So I decided to quit being an actor and go to Albany State and be a regular kid and study and just have a civilian life.

Steve Gurney - Positive Aging Community (03:31):

And I love the part of the book where you were there at Albany and you got, I'm not sure if it was the audition for Police academy, but wasn't it your family? Or it was one of the auditions where they still called you there and you were in school and they're like, go back. You'll regret it if you don't give it a shot. And you ended up really breaking through, right?

Steve Guttenberg - Actor & Author (03:58):

Yeah, yeah. It was a pretty incredible time for me. But I got lucky and I think that was it. I got very, very lucky. And when you get lucky, things happen

Steve Gurney - Positive Aging Community (04:17):

As we transition into caregiving, let's talk about that, because none of us have a crystal ball in life. And quite frankly, I think we're all sort of hoping that we just go to bed one night and we just don't wake up. But there's a little bit of luck. There's a little bit of, in the changes in our health and folks needing us and having to rely on our loved ones to help us caring. Let's talk a little bit about your dad and that journey of caregiving that you went through, and any words of wisdom that you might be able to give other folks that find themselves in a similar situation.

Steve Guttenberg - Actor & Author (05:00):

Well, it was quite a surprise when I found out that my dad was having some problems with his kidneys. And I didn't want to really accept it. I didn't want to think that my dad had any weakness in him. And we didn't go to a nephrologist, a kidney doctor until we really had to. And that was probably a mistake. We didn't know how badly his kidneys were functioning. And when we did finally go to a nephrologist, she gave us the news, the disappointing news, that we probably will have to start dialysis at one point. Then my dad had to get an operation and put a fistula in his arm, which means you take a vein and an artery and you meld them together and you make one large vein so that you can cannulate him, which means when you put the needles in his arm, the blood goes in, the blood goes out, and you change the entire body's blood, all the blood, and you chill it to 34 degrees and then put it back into this person. And it was a very difficult process, especially when we were doing it at the dialysis center,

Steve Gurney - Positive Aging Community (06:33):

Man. So now you're thrown into this role of a caregiver that you probably never expected because especially the way that you describe your dad, he was a police officer, he was just, sounds like he was just such a giving man. What was that process like? And I believe you've got siblings too, right?

Steve Guttenberg - Actor & Author (07:01):

Yeah, yeah. I've got two sisters and my mom, of course, the idea of dialysis, the process of dialysis, extremely difficult, extremely and tough on the family. When one person gets sick, everybody gets sick. And these dialysis centers, although they're fantastic, DaVita and FIUs, they're, they're lifesavers. They are life sustaining, but they're rooms full of sick people. And that's very difficult to see. And it was very difficult for my dad. And you sit in a room with 20 people all getting dialysis, it's rough. It's very rough.

Steve Gurney - Positive Aging Community (07:54):

Any words of wisdom to help folks that may find themselves in a similar situation? How did you keep your spirits high? Dad's spirits high, your mom's spirits high?

Steve Guttenberg - Actor & Author (08:08):

Yeah. You have to consciously remember that you're doing something life sustaining, that you're keeping this person alive and that humor is everything. So you always have to make some jokes about whatever part of the process it is sticking the needles in, taking the needles out, complications that occur. And you always can watch a movie, try to watch comedies while you're doing the dialysis to always have something good to do after dialysis, they're usually, people are very tired, but you could go out to lunch, you can go home and watch something on the television, which is funny and uplifting. Eat something which is within the renal diet, of course, but eat something that you like. Do something you like. Keep active, keep around friends and family and for caregivers, try to take good care of yourself. Your mental health is very important. You're spending so much time with sick people that it's very, very difficult.

Steve Gurney - Positive Aging Community (09:28):

And I liked how in the book you talked about how challenging that was, but rewarding as well, making the drive from LA to Phoenix where your dad was and having to play tricks on yourself and getting up early and all that. You really recount that very well in the book. So you are going through this. Let me ask you, has this changed your perspective on your own, the next chapters of your life, or did it sort of change the dialogue between you and your mom and the rest of your family on how do we want to live if one of us is faced with another healthcare challenge?

Steve Guttenberg - Actor & Author (10:17):

No, actually we haven't. There really is not much of a plan because you don't know what's going to hit you. I think the big plan is that I'll be there for whatever you need. That's the big plan. I don't know which way we're going to get attacked, but I'll be there and I'm not going anywhere. And I think that's what really it's all about.

Steve Gurney - Positive Aging Community (10:50):

I love it. And Steve, on this platform, we talk a lot about these healthcare challenges that people are face and the dialogue that individuals and families have. And one of the things that I always lead in with it's, it's easier. Sometimes it's easier to give than receive. And so when we, like you just said, I will be there for you to your loved ones that can maybe open up a dialogue where it's like, Hey, Steve, if ever anything happens to you, I want you to know I'm there for you. That's right. And that's great. I know it's got to be tough because of how important your dad was in your life, but you lost him. Can you give us insights on the grieving process that you and your family had to go through and any kind of insights there that might be helpful to us?

Steve Guttenberg - Actor & Author (11:54):

Grief has its own way with you. I really denied that my father was dying, although I knew he was dying and the doctors told me that, but I denied it. I didn't want to say those words. Then even to the last day of his life where his fingers started to turn gray, I was massaging them saying, dad, you're going to be okay. We're going to get your fingers back. And when he died, my sister and I were moving him in his chair, get him a better position, and I put my head to his mouth. I wanted to see if he was breathing. My sister said, what's wrong? She said, I don't know. We had a nurse with us. The nurse put a stethoscope there. She said, he's gone. And I just, I couldn't take it. I was yelling, dad, dad, come back, dad, come back, dad. Dad. And I started doing CPR on him. When you have a cold or a broken leg, you get better when you pass, you don't get better. Very rarely do you come back. I have these stories, people on the operating table coming back, but it was a granite moment just made of granite that I couldn't move that million pound piece of granite and bring my father back. And I sat with him for about three hours before the mortuary came. We all did. Like you're on another planet. And since then, the grief has been tough for me. I'm much better now. It's almost two years, the first year, first few months, it was all that was on my mind,

Steve Gurney - Positive Aging Community (14:30):

Man. Well, was one of the inspirations to write the book. Did you find writing the book to be therapeutic and help you through that grieving process a little bit?

Steve Guttenberg - Actor & Author (14:44):

No, actually I didn't find it therapeutic. I found it difficult to relive some of the difficult and happy to relive the joyous moments. And my inspiration for the book was literally, I was in the grocery store and a friend of mine, Jake Steinfeld

Steve Gurney - Positive Aging Community (15:05):

Body by Jake, right

Steve Guttenberg - Actor & Author (15:06):

Body by Jake, came up to me and said, I haven't seen you in a long time. What are you doing? So I told him I was spending a lot of time with my dad, been driving back and forth to Arizona, and I am not around much in la and he said, I told him the story about taking care of my dad. He said, I think this is a book. I said, I don't know. He said, yeah, it's a book. It really is. And that's how it happened.

Steve Gurney - Positive Aging Community (15:39):

Well, I hope you serve as an inspiration to other celebrities and people of note to follow in your footsteps because a lot of the, listen, some of the most amazing caregiving books are written by the everyman that's out there. But like I said, when we came on, knowing that someone like you or an athlete is going through some of the same things that we're all going through can be very helpful. I've got a question from someone and it says, what age did Steve's father pass away? How old was he when he passed away?

Steve Guttenberg - Actor & Author (16:16):

Oh, thank you for asking. He was 89, but he was actually in his 90th year. When you're born, you become one, but the truth is you're one that whole year. You're in your first year. So he was in his 90th year, and all he wanted to do was be 90, but he passed in July seven 11, July 11th, and his birthday was September 26th. So he never paid his birthday.

Steve Gurney - Positive Aging Community (16:54):

And how's your mom? How's your mom through this process? And where does your mom live now?

Steve Guttenberg - Actor & Author (17:00):

My mom lives where my mom and dad lived with my sister and brother-in-Law in Arizona outside of Phoenix, in this beautiful home. And they've got big space. My mom is doing okay. She really misses my dad, and the grief has gotten worse. I think she's doing well, but it's hard.

Steve Gurney - Positive Aging Community (17:31):

One of the things that, or one element that our community members are often going through is they might have to hire in-home healthcare, or they might have to sort of, when their loved one's health begins declining, you start having a conversation about, oh, should mom or dad move to an assisted living or a community? Did you and your family have to make any of those types of decisions with your dad?

Steve Guttenberg - Actor & Author (18:02):

No, there was no question about it. Dad was going to stay home and we were going to take care of dad at home, and my sister and I actually went to medical college to learn how to become dialysis technicians, so we couldn't do the dialysis at home, and he wouldn't have to go to the center anymore.

Steve Gurney - Positive Aging Community (18:25):

It was got another really good question here for you, Steve. How many years were your parents married and what is your fondest memory of your father?

Steve Guttenberg - Actor & Author (18:33):

Parents were married 65 years.

Steve Gurney - Positive Aging Community (18:38):

Wow. And what would you say is the fondest memory of your father?

Steve Guttenberg - Actor & Author (18:44):

The fondest memory is one that I have here in the book. It is a little out of focus. I wonder why.

Steve Gurney - Positive Aging Community (18:52):

Well, it's because you got a filter on that blurs everything if you can. Oh, blurs

Steve Guttenberg - Actor & Author (18:57):

Everything a little

Steve Gurney - Positive Aging Community (18:58):

Bit. There you go. Now I can see it. Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I've been dropping the link in. We're going to have the, where folks can buy it on Amazon, but yeah, no. For those folks that haven't read the book yet, share a little bit about your fondest memory with dad.

Steve Guttenberg - Actor & Author (19:22):

Fondest memory is, I was doing a pilot for Blake Edwards, the director of the Pink Panther called The Ferret with Robert Loja. And I had a stunt scene when I was supposed to jump from a 30 foot building, and it was my stunt double who was going to do it. And the director, Blake Edwards said to my dad, Mr said, Gutenberg, you look like your son. Do you think you can jump from that building? My dad was a US Army ranger, a paratrooper, and Blake Edwards knew that, and my dad said, yeah, I could jump from there. So the stunt quarter coordinated, a guy named Joe Dunn said, okay, go ahead. So they hooked my dad up and my dad jumped off of the building and he had a rig on and he hit the big pillow, the stunt pillow, and there was Julie Andrews down there and my dad came off and Julie Andrews said, good one, Mr. Gutenberg. And gave him a hug and a kiss, and it was one of the big thrills of my dad's life.

Steve Gurney - Positive Aging Community (20:33):

Now, the ferret, that was in 1984, right? Is that the, okay, A jazz musician, some awkwardly steps into the shoes of his father, a special agent. I will definitely drop that into chat. For anybody that wants to research it, it's going to have special meaning if any of us can get out there and view that. What is your favorite film or performance that you, what's your most memorable performance that you've been involved with?

Steve Guttenberg - Actor & Author (21:12):

I don't have a favorite. I just don't. I've done about 70 movies and they're all terrific. Some have performed better than others, some have gotten better reviews than others. Some have made more money than others. One of them was the number one movie of the world that year in box office.

Steve Gurney - Positive Aging Community (21:35):

Which one was that? Which one was

Steve Guttenberg - Actor & Author (21:37):

That? Three Men.

Steve Gurney - Positive Aging Community (21:39):

Oh, that was such a good movie that that was great.

Steve Guttenberg - Actor & Author (21:43):

But I don't have a favorite. I love 'em all.

Steve Gurney - Positive Aging Community (21:46):

Okay, I

Steve Guttenberg - Actor & Author (21:47):

Got it. And I'm pretty lucky people come up to me, just people came up to me in the street today and said, a guy came up to me and said, Hey, I read your book and I love it and I love it, and I love all the stories. And he said, I'm a caretaker for my mom, so I know what that's like. He said, also, by the way, I want to tell you that bedroom window is my favorite movie. I said, really? I did a movie with Isabelle Uper. Great movie.

Steve Gurney - Positive Aging Community (22:14):

Oh man. Okay. I got a couple of questions. I know you got to go, but I got a couple of questions and then we'll say goodbye. But this is going to be recorded and folks can watch it later if they're not on. Let's see. What have you learned from your experience and what is your message or takeaway to all who read the book as they read it?

Steve Guttenberg - Actor & Author (22:36):

Say that again. Say the two.

Steve Gurney - Positive Aging Community (22:38):

What have you learned from your experience and what is the message that you want people to take away from reading your book?

Steve Guttenberg - Actor & Author (22:46):

I've learned that every moment counts. The moments that nothing is going on, the moments that are exciting, the moments that are boring, the moments that you think you don't need to be where you are, you don't want to be where you are. Those moments are important, and the takeaway from the book is you're going to either be a caregiver or you're going to need a caregiver. That's the way it is. And yeah. Oh, we got to wrap up and that I believe that everybody needs love in their life, and you need to love someone. And when you love someone so much magic occurs.

Steve Gurney - Positive Aging Community (23:34):

I love it. Steve, thank you so much for your time. It's really an honor to talk to you and I commend you on what you're doing, help celebrate the values and the challenges of caregiving, and we'll all go out and get your book and too. Alright, thanks everybody. Have a great day, Steve, great weekend.

Steve Guttenberg - Actor & Author (24:01):

Thanks for having me. Appreciate you talking about time to Thank

Steve Gurney - Positive Aging Community (24:05):

You. Bet. Alright. Alright folks, everybody have a good weekend. Thanks.


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