Day 24,388: As If We Could Ever Be Prepared

I just got word that the eldest aunt on my husband’s side has passed, and a younger brother of a friend of mine is in the hospital with a serious brain ailment.  The first was expected. The second wasn’t.

Little brothers always go to the hospital largely for broken bones, scrapes, and hits to the head for really stupid stuff. That’s expected. It’s a rite of passage for their muddled brains that seem to take extra long to mature. But, one doesn’t expect their brains to continue to act up once the kidlings have matured.

Although healing may take longer than desired, it seems that after some radical surgery, the brother story will have a happy ending. Meanwhile, I was reminded of hard lessons we all learn when faced with emergency situations involving relatives.

Lesson One:  Set Up A Master Communications Channel

Ten years ago, when my husband was gravely ill, I did daily posts on Facebook to keep friends updated and made one update call a day to a brother so he could advise other family members of our status. I advised everyone that we were not picking up the phone at home and not to call. People were annoyed with me. They were genuinely concerned. They had lots of advice.

The incessantly ringing phone jangled all our nerves. The time spent retelling the tale took away from time we needed to quietly be with each other; reinforced the bad things that were going on; and didn’t allow the kids to simply do homework, talk with friends, or guiltlessly watch a movie.

If you don’t hear from me , it doesn’t mean there is bad news. It means that there either IS no news or that I’m having trouble with technology.

Wise words from my friend’s e-mail today

My friend has set up a group e-mail and has given recipients permission to forward it to others in her extended network. She gets to limit communications to whenever she has the time and energy and lets the network take care of the rest. She, like I did years ago, asked for no phone calls.

Lesson Two: Practice Radical Self-Care

Sitting in a hospital to be with a loved one is exhausting.  It’s like running a marathon with no training.  You didn’t prepare. As a result, you need to detach from well-meaning friends and family (see Lesson One), practice extreme self-care, and give yourself time to meditate, watch an inane sitcom, buy a new t-shirt, get extra soft tissues delivered, eat good food, or do whatever helps you cope.

When women are nine months pregnant they have the time and forethought to pack a hospital bag. Sadly, in emergency situations, we jump up and run to the hospital without anything we need in tow.

It would be great if hospital gift shops sold a caregiver’s care package in addition to balloons and flowers.  But until then and for future reference, check out my friend’s funny and helpful list below of things needed for a hospital bedside vigil.  If  you’re a survivalist or Boy Scout, maybe consider having an ER bag packed to grab for crazy times ahead. My suggestion is to create your own list when in the hospital and send it to friends who are visiting (see Lesson Three).

Lesson Three: Ask for What You Need

J.J Virgin, a nutrition and fitness guru,  describes the time her son was in the hospital and she needed to keep working, get good food delivered for herself and eventually go around the hospital rules to get decent food for her son. Sadly, hospital food is still the worst. When people asked what they could do, she advised them to bring food. It kept her strength up and ultimately speeded up her son’s healing as well.

I didn’t need help at the hospital but did need help at home with the pets. I put out the request on Facebook and the friends who answered my call will always have my lifelong devotion.  They came through with what I needed not what they felt I should need.


Lesson Four: Practice Dark Humor

It’s hard to admit, but some of the most memorable laughing fits I’ve had with family members have been in hospital rooms, at home during critical emergency times, and at funeral parlors.  Things are just so out of kilter that simple things seem complex and complex things are just out-of-context and become funny.

Take pictures of name badges of all the caregivers so you don’t have to refer to them later as nurse whatshername and doctorwhosit.

Funny words from my friend’s email today

It’s easy to feel guilty about so many things, but having a sense of humor during dark times is a good thing. If you’re lucky you can make the patient laugh, and at worst you’ve got some good old endorphins into your own system (see Lesson Two).

For now, I’m sending positive thoughts to my friend and her brother. I’m also sending good vibes to another friend in the hospital, and to my husband’s cousin who just lost his mother. These events are the type of news that comes more frequently as you get older. You never get used to them. You never want to. The best we can do is the best we can do. Give yourself a hug today so you’re in better shape if called into action.

THE HOSPITAL VIGIL PACKING LIST  (stolen almost word for word from my friend at her brother’s bedside. She sent it to share, so I’m not asking permission, and just spreading the wisdom)

Next time you have to be in a hospital room with a loved one, feel free to pull out this list:

  • Phone chargers – one won’t be enough
  • Sharpie marker so you can mark whose cup belongs to whom
  • Soft tissues – the ones here are made of sandpaper
  • Convince one of the non-medical staff to show you where the microwave is. It’s a well-kept secret… The nurses were pretty tight-lipped about it.
  • Shorts and a blanket because you never know whether the room will be too hot or cold.
  • Chapstick and hand lotion – it’s pretty dry in here.
  • A notebook. You’ll want to write down the questions that occur to you about three minutes after the doctor leaves.