No one can prepare us for the experience of taking care for a seriously ill family member or friend. When sickness strikes someone close to us, there may be a sense of chaos, urgency, and confusion. Details must be agreed upon, phone calls made, and appointments kept. You’d like to sit and catch your breath, but there's likely a list of tasks, and you’re already running behind.
Illness has a way of sweeping the rug right out from under us. Some illnesses are chronic, part of our loved one’s day-to-day existence. Whether chronic or acute, you’ve got a lot on your mind, heart, and plate. This blog is written for you — here are just some of the things that I went through recently, after my father having a major heart attack, and five ways you can make the experience easier on you and those around you:
1. Get centered.
Stop, for just a moment, and look at your daily routine. Are you getting enough nutritious food? Enough sleep? Are you able to go for a walk, even around the grounds of the hospital? Take a minute to make sure you include some element of self-care. I learned this the hard way; I wasn’t eating or getting sleep, throughout the day I used to sit in the hospital with a large cup of coffee and very little food. I started realizing my body and mind weren’t functioning properly. All I could think about was that my father was on the ventilator and he was getting food through the tube, but I needed to take care of myself in order to take care of my dad and my family. After I started taking care of myself, I felt much stronger and more focused.
2. Get answers.
Got a question about your loved one’s treatment? Ask. Noticing a new symptom or a side effect of medication? Tell someone. It doesn’t hurt to ask or to speak up. Knowledge is power. I had no clue which machines were for what, but I asked tons and tons of questions. I needed to know what was going on, what was next, what medicines is he on. I know at one point the staff wanted to strangle me! But it was OK; they knew how stressed and upset we all were, and they expected that.
3. Get support.
It can be easy to isolate yourself and lose touch with your friends and family, but having concerned loved ones who can be there for you is vital. Allow others in. If you can, remain involved in school, work, and activities you enjoy. Some days you may need to share how you're feeling with a friend. Other days you may not be able to give one more status report and just want someone to go to a movie with you. Friends and family can be a vital part of your wellness team. I know every time I saw familiar face at the hospital, I felt happy and at ease.
4. Get control.
“Control? You’ve got to be kidding!” I felt like nothing was within my control. But hear me out. What can you control right now? You can prioritize your day in any way available to you: “I will spend an hour at the hospital this morning, and when Dad goes down for X-rays, I'll go down to the coffee shop and call a friend.” Getting control may also mean knowing your limitations.
5. Get hope.
When someone is diagnosed with serious illness, it may be hard to know what the future holds. There's a fine line between facing a significant medical diagnosis, and holding on to hope for recovery. You may find yourself wavering between hoping for the best and fearing the worst. You're not alone. Finding peace and balance can come as you work through the barrage of feelings, thoughts, and fears that are an inherent part of serious medical crises. Reach out to your support system, and allow others to help.
Life holds no guarantees, but knowing this doesn’t make it any easier when you face a medical crisis. You're not alone. Even though others can’t relate to how you're feeling specifically, allow them to help. Find quiet moments for reflection alone, as well as connection with your sick loved one, and if you begin to feel your level of distress is overwhelming, reach out and talk to someone you trust. And, of course, stay positive!
Now my father is doing much better; he is still recovering for major heart damage, but he's in great spirits.
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