My husband was hospitalized during the last week of April for seven days. He was dealing with issues concerning his heart, liver and kidneys. We were married in August 2010. This was the first time that either of us has been hospitalized since our wedding. I learned a lot about him during that time. I also learned a lot about being a caregiver and the issues surrounding that role. Here are some of the insights that I gained, and continue to gain as I help him as he recuperates:
1. Hospitalized patients need a strong, vocal advocate with them at all times.
I was present in my husband’s hospital room for ten to twelve hours each day. I wanted to stay there all day, but he did not have a private room. There was no shortage of people coming in and going out of his room to give him meals, take his vitals, take him for a procedure… When patients are given medication that makes them drowsy or incoherent, the advocate must find out what is happening. Every time someone came, I would ask, “Who are you” and “What are you planning to do/give him.” A drowsy or incoherent patient cannot give TRUE informed consent. A drowsy or incoherent patient cannot, and probably will not, remember what happened and who was responsible. Even I had to ask for a business card from each doctor so that I could keep up with the various doctors coming and going.
When my husband was discharged, my sister-in-law reminded me that I needed to protect my husband from callers and visitors who talk too much. People who insist on sharing unnecessary bad news, because they MUST share. A strong, vocal advocate can shut them down.
2. Care giving is not for the faint of heart.
Care giving requires fortitude. Physical strength. Mental strength. Emotional strength. Spiritual strength. When I was a teenager, my best friend was hospitalized numerous times for various issues. Because of those experiences, I have learned how to sit for hours on end just doing the “ministry of presence.” I didn’t have a relationship with God at that time. As a teenager, I had no clue that God would call me to ministry. Yet, God was preparing me to minister, simply by being present.
It is difficult to see your spouse in pain. It is hard to sit there day after day and not have a diagnosis. Doctors did one test after another after another trying to find the cause(s) of his symptoms. As of today, still no diagnosis. Care givers must encourage the patient, even when the care giver feels discouraged. The patient’s emotional and mental resources may be depleted. A weak care giver can make a bad situation worse.
Sometimes, all I could do was pray to God, “I am standing on your promises. YOU promised that he would live and not die.” What else is there to say?
Oftentimes, care givers must intercede on behalf of the patient. If the care giver has little to no prayer life, intercessory prayer is practically impossible. We must learn how to pray before we need to pray for others. We cannot remind God of God’s promises to us if we have not studied the Word. We won’t know what to say.
3. Patients will not always cooperate with their care.
In terms of percentages, my husband was 90% cooperative. During the course of our marriage, I have created techniques to garner cooperation from him. However, he had a room mate who was 10% cooperative. I’m being generous with that percentage. The room mate was alone most of the time. Every single interaction with hospital staff was contentious. A good care giver could have interceded on his behalf and de-escalated many of the interactions between the room mate and the hospital staff members.
4. When people ask what you need, tell them.
Some people say, “Let me know if you need anything” just to be polite. Others are sincere when they make this statement. I have learned to answer the question specifically. If you are sincere, you will follow through with the request. In this instance, I knew that my husband would be given a restrictive low-fat, low-salt, no sugar diet upon his discharge. I know that healthy food is more expensive than unhealthy or quick foods. When I was confronted with the “Let me know if you need anything” statement, I told people, “A gift card to Shop-Rite, Walmart or Wegman’s for groceries would be greatly appreciated.” Those who were serious asked me for my mailing address and I gave them my P.O. box address. Those who were being polite said nothing. “We have not because we ask not.”
5. Care givers must make an EXTRA effort to care for themselves.
I am a night owl. Going to bed before midnight rarely happens. With my daily trips to the hospital, I had to cut out a lot of my extra activities. I am the type that once I get busy, I lose track of time. Next thing I would know, it would be 3:00 in the morning. So, I made a decision. I would do no more than three small pieces of housework in the morning or in the evening. Small housework could be unloading the dishwasher, washing one load of clothes or taking out the trash. Reloading the dishwasher would occur at another time, etc. Before I started doing something, I would ask myself, “Does this NEED to be done now?” If the answer was “No” I didn’t do it. Sometimes, you have to talk to yourself.
When I got home from the hospital each night during that week, I only had enough energy to do quick things. I would not check email or voicemail. I ate dinner and went to bed. My goal was to be in bed by 10:00 p.m., with lights out by 10:30 p.m. I made a point of carrying my multivitamins in my purse so that I would not forget to take them. Although I could not get to the gym for exercise, I did keep my eating in check. I didn’t resort to emotional eating of unhealthy foods. With my husband home recuperating and waiting for a diagnosis, I continue to be vigilant abut taking good care of myself so that I can take good care of him.
Have you served as a care giver to a family member or friend? What other insights would you add to this list? Feel free to leave a comment at the end of this post, on the Facebook fan page, Tweet me or use the form on the Contact page. Be blessed. Remain encouraged.