Long-time blogger and friend, Duane Hallock, recently wrote a post with ideas for blog topics to help get folks jump-started. I accepted his challenge and paired it with some Facebook posts that a friend is sharing about her father’s illness plus a healthy dash of “I’ve been there myself” to create this list of tips for coping with a family member’s hospitalization.
In the past 5 years I have had close family members undergo no less than a dozen surgeries, one coma and countless doctor visits, chemo and radiation appointments. The remarkable thing is that for the most part, before 2008 I would have told you that we were a fairly healthy bunch, rarely even sick. It made me realize for the first time that you can’t necessarily depend on having endless health, what a wake-up call!
Here are a few things I’ve learned about having a family member hospitalized:
- Information Management: Pick one person to manage the information about their care. This includes keeping track of reports and tests and notifying their doctors of any updates in their care. Put all that info in a notebook that you take with you.
- Advocate! Someone needs to be the patient’s advocate, this needs to be a person who can be polite but firm. You want the very best for your loved one and charming the medical staff with kindness will go further than throwing a temper tantrum.
- ASK QUESTIONS! Don’t accept whatever anyone says at face value. Make it a point to really understand what medical professionals are saying about your family member’s condition.
- Know your Players: Although doctors are an important part of your loved one’s recovery, daily caregivers–nurses, case assistants, therapists–are the ones who will be implementing the care, so make sure that you have good rapport with them and do what you can to assist and thank them.
- Research! The internet can really be your friend for finding out about your loved one’s condition. I recommend sticking to reputable sources like webmd and Mayo Clinic to make sure you are getting accurate info.
- Accept Support: You aren’t the first family to go through this and since so many folks have been in your shoes, they frequently are willing to help out with everything from running errands to sitting with your loved one so you can get a break. Say Yes! You are giving them a huge blessing by allowing them to give of themselves.
- Spread out the Assistance: If you are part of a large group of siblings or extended family, consider tag-teaming your visits/assistance so that everyone is not at the hospital at the same time. This is a marathon, not a sprint and help may be needed for months to come. I have seen this implemented beautifully by both sides of my family–with each sibling or cousin taking a week or more to stay with the loved one while they are healing, then handing the reins off to the next person (this is where the medical notebook becomes invaluable).
- Share: An important part of your loved one’s recovery is the love and support from others. But you have to let folks know that there is a need. Share with family and friends, via email or social media updates on the patient’s recovery. Be sure your patient feels comfortable with the level of information you are sharing before sending anything out. Print out anything you send and put it in the back of the medical notebook so that you can share it with your family member after they recover. Frequently they don’t remember much afterwards and this gives them some insight into what was happening.
If you have parents or other older relatives who depend on you, consider getting some of this completed before they are hospitalized.
- Get a complete list of their doctors and their medications, it will put you ahead of the game.
- With current HIPPA regulations, you will need to be added to your family member’s medical consent forms with each doctor in order to be able to contact them.
- Go with them to each of their doctors at least once. It helps to meet these professionals when you are not under extreme stress.
- If you live far away from your family members, ask for the name, number and email address of a couple of their close friends who you can call on if needed.
As I mentioned, I have several friends and family who have been through these situations as well. I would love any ideas or comments that you have to share!