Caregivers can learn to apply their nurturing skills to their own lives.
- Posted on May 7, 2018
I just got through my third emergency hospital visit with a loved one since the start of this year. I usually average a couple annually and it amazes me how accustomed I’ve become to dealing with family members in a health crisis.
Crisis is the norm for many caregivers. They get used to having to put life on hold for a period of time. They adapt themselves to the needs of the sick or injured loved one and bend their work days around the crisis at hand. They have excellent caregiving skills.
But they don’t always know how to take care of themselves while also caring for others.
Hospital visits, in particular, can take pockets of time from a caregiver’s life. These events require laser-like focus and often require a great deal of time at a loved one's bedside for the onslaught of visits from doctors, physician’s assistants, nurses, and social workers.
I think caregivers need to be reminded, though, to put the oxygen mask on themselves first, as they do on airplanes, before trying to care for others. Here are some ways to survive a hospital visit with your loved one without it taking away from your own health and well-being.
1) Take frequent breaks
While sitting in the emergency room with my son recently, a patient was brought in by ambulance. His wife sat by his side for hours. She stood only to comfort him, help him with a bedpan and discuss his condition with doctors. This was clearly not her first rodeo; she was adept at caring for him but looked exhausted. I offered to keep an eye on things so she could take a break but she refused to leave his side.
Caregivers are also worriers. It’s important to realize that though your loved one is sick and in a crisis, they are not alone. They are surrounded by medical professionals. Just give the nurse in charge your cell number if you are needed. It’s okay to leave your loved one's side multiple times during an ER visit or hospital stay. It’s necessary.
2) Eat healthy food
There is so much going on, and while your presence is greatly needed by your loved one and appreciated by the staff trying to treat them, you must nourish yourself, too. This is hard to do with smaller children, but for older kids and adults, try to leave for awhile when they are napping. You can ask a nurse to call you when he or she awakens. Find a restaurant alternative to hospital food when you need a healthier meal or time outside of the hospital.
3) Move your body
There's nothing worse than sitting in a hospital chair for hours. It can add to depression and anxiety. Make sure you move about, even if it’s to walk up and down corridors. Maybe the hospital has a maternity ward filled with newborns or a cool gift shop you can visit. For longer stays, make sure you do some stretches before going to the hospital each day.
4) Get some fresh air
Breathe! One of the challenging parts of being in an emergency room is the floating germs, especially during the winter months. (You may even want to wear a mask if you are susceptible to catching things that are airborne.) But you must go out and breathe in some actual air because hospital air is germy and stale. See if the hospital has a beautiful garden or outdoor area where you can sit for a spell. Practice breathing in gently and exhaling negativity and stress to try to help clear your head.
5) Keep your own health appointments
Caregivers are notorious for not taking care of their own health while caring for others. My recent spate of hospital experiences with my son and mother landed in the same weeks that I had my own doctor appointments scheduled. It would have been easier to cancel, but I kept my appiontments. I had to remind myself ththat my son and mother were in the safest and best place to be cared for and that I, too, was worthy of health care.
6) Do something nice for yourself
Caregivers get used to putting other people’s needs before their own. I hadn’t cut my hair in so long that it was knotted up. I passed a hair salon on the way to the hospital one day and walked in and ask a stylist I’d never met to make my hair shorter, into a sassy caregiver cut. Normally I’d feel guilty for treating myself well when someone I love is sick. But it made me feel so much better! Maybe a pedicure or a massage would be your nice thing to do? Doing nice things makes you feel more hopeful.
7) Try the Chapel
As stressed-out as you may be just walking into a hospital chapel, it can give you a sense of peace. No matter what your belief system is, chapels can be such a common (and calming) experience. These days they call them meditation chapels or interfaith chapels, so everyone is welcome. I was exhausted from two ER visits with my son and literally plopped down in the chapel with coffee so I could pray and clear my head. Within twenty minutes I was refreshed and ready to deal with the full night ahead in the ER.
It’s very hard to find emotional support in a hospital, but they often have compassionate social workers and chaplains if you want to talk. But sometimes healing comes from action and from accepting that there is nothing wrong with attending to your needs while taking care of a loved one is in crisis. In fact, it's imperative.