Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Rules of a Health Crisis

Let me first say that my mother is doing better. She was hospitalized again this past Saturday because of blood clots, but she is out now and healing. We knew blood clots were a possibility when they had to take her off the blood thining medication due to the initial internal bleeding. It's been a long road, but we have faith in God and in each other.

While I was in Oregon and dealing with my mother's illness, several things occured to me that I feel would be helpful to pass on. I do not want to sound ungrateful for the support we received, I just feel the following things are important to remember when dealing with health crises among friends/family. I refer to an ill person as IP and the caretaker of the ill person as CT. If you are in the position of being a friend of the IP, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. When you call and leave a message on the IP's home phone/cell phone, leave your full name and a phone number. It may very well be that the IP is not the one checking the messages. I was checking my mother's home answering machine and half the people who left messages didn't leave their full name or a phone number, but wanted a call back. I finally changed my mother's outgoing message to ask for the full name/phone number.

Don't assume that your name/number will come up on caller ID. Make it easy on the person and leave your number. Oh, and please don't speak like you're in some kind of verbal marathon. If I can't understand your phone number, you're not getting a call back so slow it down and speak up!

2. If you ask for a call back and don't get one within a day, don't freak out and call five times. You didn't get a call because there is too much going on. You will be called eventually. This holds true even if the CT says they will call you back the next day. You have to remember how much information the CT is having to deal with on a daily basis including doctor's advice, picking up paperwork, prescriptions, and on and on. Be glad if they remember to call you back within the week.

3. If you live nearby the IP, pick a task and offer to take care of it as long as the IP is hospitalized. For example, offer to come over and water the plants or take care of the pets on a specific day or ask when it needs to be done and let the CTs know that you will be there to do it. Little things like that make a big difference. Yes, we could have asked that those things be done by someone, but it didn't occur to us because there was so much to be done, we had mental lapses over keeping it all straight. Toss something out there that you would like to be done at your home if you were ill. Chances are, it will help your friend and their family in a situation like this too.

4. If you really want to help, BRING FOOD. I can't stress the importance of this. My cousin and I ended up eating out a lot because we simply didn't have time to stop and cook. She works full-time, I was completing a lot of school work, taking care of my nephew, and driving back and forth to the hospital every single day at specific times to meet with the doctors and visit with my mother. I stayed for hours at the hospital and my cousin worked well into the evening. Cooking just wasn't even in the picture as a priority. It would have helped a lot if people had told us they would bring dinner and exactly when they would do so.

5. Don't call a person at the hospital frequently. It's nice to know that the IP is cared about and loved, but having to answer tons of phone calls while trying desperately to get what little rest you can in the hospital is just really tough. My mother fielded tons of phone calls and I think it was hard on her at some point.

6. If you are part of a large group of friends of the IP, appoint ONE person as the information gatherer. It would have been much easier if one person had called me and then passed on the information to the rest of the people. Instead, I had to explain the same details over and over to several different people and you wouldn't believe the distortions that came from that. People were calling me from the church my mother works at and attends saying that they had heard some (usually outrageous) tale about my mother and what was happening. Give it a rest people and get ONE PERSON to get the facts. Don't make up stuff based on one detail you heard from someone who doesn't know what's going on.

A great example of exactly what to do and how to do it came in the form of an offer from a friend that I went to high school and college with who is visiting our hometown this week. She offered to do whatever she can to assist my mother including bringing groceries, flowers, etc. That was super helpful because she was specific with the dates she'd be in town and what she'd be able to do. That kind of offer is so very appreciated and helpful. Thanks Angi!

I have to say that I am truly, truly grateful for all the support we received, and continue to receive, from family and friends during this very difficult time. I don't want to seem ungrateful, I just feel that it's important to pass on what I learned from being the caretaker. It helped me see things differently in terms of what can be done to assist those who are going crazy with the details of a health crisis.

1 comment:

Dauphyfan said...

How very true! Bringing food over can often be the most helpful and appreciated thing someone can do. Prayers can only do so much, so stepping in to help where it is needed can be a saving grace for the both the ill person and caretaker. Email me your mom's addy so I can send her something. =)

As for those endless calls, I hear ya. While well wishes are wonderful, people need to just wait patiently for news and not jump to conclusions. My grandmother recently sent me a distressing letter and assumed that I was cutting her out of my life since she hadn't heard from me recently. Say what?! What she didn't realize is that my cell phone had died, I don't have LD on my land line, and she has no email access.

People need to just calm down and understand that the CT and IP plates are overflowing, and are doing the best they can.