Monday, July 26, 2010

Lessons Learned between Home and Hospital

Advice to those who suddenly have a person in the ER

Turns out that the moment you walk into the ER with chest pressure, pain, or discomfort, you are sucked into a vortex that does not, even under the best of circumstances, spit you out for hours and days. I think that's because no one who needs to buy liability insurance wants to let you out the door if there's any chance you'll die because they didn't do some test.

As luck would have it, I wasn't the one being tested. I did all the other things, like medications, clothes, cats, updates, and trying not to panic.

And I learned a few things. Here's my advice to those in the non-professional caretaker position, about what to do when someone you love goes into the ER and you are left holding all the other bags.

  • Slow down. Yes, I know, it seems urgent, and it might well be, but unless you're training regularly to do this urgent thing and do it fast, whether driving, answering questions, or gathering clothes, you are not good at it, and it will take longer if you rush. And if you make a mistake, the costs are high; your person doesn't need you crashing the car, tripping and breaking something, or leaving the stove on because you're dropping bits. Slow down, even more. If you get there a few minutes later, it won't make as much difference as having fed the poor cat, made sure you've got all your stuff, and not crashing the car. Slow. Down. More.

    I was about to leave the house. I made myself stop, take a deep breath, and look around. What did I have with me? What did I need? Everything was suddenly more complicated than I was used to.

  • Take care of the care-taker. That's you. Sleep, eat, cry, call friends, get hugs. It does your person no good to watch you deteriorate with stress while they're stuck in the hospital. You're ready to fight for your person, right? Fight for yourself first. Notice when you feel guilty for not being the sick one or for enjoying something, and fight that, too. Eating, sleeping, resting, working out, wearing clean clothes -- whatever sustains you -- is essential. It's not about fun, it's about oxygen. Don't drown while trying to rescue someone else.

    While my person was taking a test to determine if he would be allowed to leave the hospital, I went swimming at the gym. To do that, I put off friends and was late to the hospital. But the test ended up being late, too, and I was calmer after the workout.

  • Have a kit. You'll be tossing stuff into bags, like changes of clothes and books and suchlike for your person. But also have a bag just for you, which should contain your book, paper, pens, phone, keys, a thermos of your favorite tea, more snacks than you think you need, and so on. I used a backpack and reserved the front pocket for my keys, phone, the contact info for the nurse, and the address where I was going next, so I always knew where my most critical stuff was located.

  • Take notes. Write down everything doctors and nurses tell you-- possible causes, room numbers, test names, medications, names and locations. Date the pages. Use lots of paper. Most of it won't be useful, but what is useful is very useful. Also, it gives you something to do when you're in the hospital, which is a strange place where you will often feel out of place. Don't fall for that--you're critically important for your person, and taking notes and asking questions is a big part of your job. Speaking of asking questions, ask questions. Nurses and doctors are trained to get you to comply and to get out of the way. Be cooperative, of course, but (politely) get all questions answered.

  • Be prepared to wait. One of the most draining parts of this process is waiting when you're revved up for a crisis. You switch into high gear for the initial emergency, and then you sit at the hospital for hours, days, or weeks, waiting. How can you be prepared? Bring a book, a pad and pen, your laptop or phone, but most of all, adjust your expectations: you will not get the stuff done you usually do, even if you bring it with you, because you're hyped and everything is strange. Other good things to do: walk around, stretch, breathe, call a friend. Wait outside, wait inside. Tour the hospital. Move.

  • Use social media. I chose twitter as my way of keeping friends and family in the loop. Sure, some of them won't follow it and then you'll need to use the phone, but you'll save yourself a lot of repetition and urgent calls from people when you don't have time by pointing everyone at the same twitter feed or facebook page for updates. If you're not sure how to use it, have one of your friends who is offering to help to be your interface. Once people find out, they'll want to know what's up, again and again, and not always when you have time to talk.

  • Accept help. When a friend or family member offers to accompany you, say yes. Moral support and another set of eyes to help you remember things that you will absolutely forget is a really good idea. But you might not get that help, or might not get it right away. If you don't have that help, it's even more important to take every step slowly, to ask questions as often as you need to, to review your notes, to think about what to bring a third time.

  • Plan for exhaustion. When the end is in sight, carve out some real time -- hours, days -- to sleep and be useless. When the end hits, even if it's the best possible outcome, you are likely to be far more exhausted than you realize while you're hyped and ready to do whatever it takes to get your person through the crisis. Yes, you might need to call in sick after taking time off for this crisis. It's easy to underestimate how much this can take out of you. Plan for it and you might need less of it. Tough it out and you might need more.

This is hard work, having a person in the hospital. You can tell yourself that others have it far worse, that at least your person is still breathing, that we are all lucky to have medical care-- and all that might be true, but this is still hard work. Just because you're not the one running around in scrubs or the one lying there in the bed doesn't mean you aren't doing real, hard work. You are.

Monday, July 19, 2010


I remember when "awesome" began standing in for "that's nice" in casual conversation. My friends and I would use it to mock the verbal trends, along with "tubular!" and "gag me with a spoon!"


Dig it, man!

That was some many years ago. Listen, kids, the awesome thing?  It's gotten old. Move on. Seriously.

So I'm on a boat (no, really) and I'm talking to this guy named Travis. Travis is in his 30s and of an age to have been exposed to "awesome" as a simple conversational device growing up.  He's sharp, well spoken, and generally has an adult demeanor.  (Mostly. We're on a boat, after all).

So we're chatting about this and that and the a-word pops out of his mouth.  I pause, because (in case you forgot) we're on a boat, and when nothing urgent is happening on a boat, you're busy chatting, pausing, and sucking down beer. I'm in the pausing phase.

I say, "Listen, Travis, what happens if something truly awesome happens to you?  What if--" I look around at clear blue sky and squint against brilliant sun, "what if God Itself comes down from the Heavens and says--" Here I drop my voice, to make it sound ponderous and, you know, god-like. "Traaaaviiiissss!"

I have his attention now.

"What," I ask, infusing my voice with as much gravitas as I can summon, "are you going to say?"

I've asked this question before of people Travis' age and younger while trying to keep the peevedness out of my tone, because, I admit, it does peeve me; watering down superlatives is bad for words everywhere. They generally answer, "well, I guess I'd say 'really awesome!' or 'wow!'".

"Double-plus awesome", maybe?  Or they look at me uncomprehendingly.  Yeah, I get that look a lot. I'm getting used to it.

But Travis is a cut above and clever as well, and we're on a boat, where thoughts sometimes come clear in surprising ways.  I'm hoping he'll say something I haven't heard before.

"Nothing," He replies. "There are no more words."

I am delighted. I grin back. He's got that right. Use up all your superlatives, and you're left with nothing. Silence.

Which, now that I think about it, isn't such a bad thing. I'm on a boat, the day is clear and warm, the beer is flowing, the company is good.

Silence. Companionable silence, thoughtful silence, intriguing silence.  Given the words that often come out of people's mouths, I find I'm coming to like silence a lot.  It's great.  It's fine.

It's awesome.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Some thoughts on a horse

And what is it that makes this commercial so -- tasty? Most assuredly nom nom. I had to watch it twice and then again to try to sort it out in my head. Not my head, you say? Too distracted to argue that. It's not that he's -- well, yes, it is that he's gorgeous and his voice is like unfiltered pheromone-laced honey.

Nice. Real nice. Better watch it again.

This is what happens when commercialism, sex and art collide: a man on a horse who has my attention. So they made another, worth watching if you like the first, here.

So I watch again. How many times do I need to watch this before I'm tired of this guy?

Surreal? You betcha. Gorgeous? Oh yeah.

Eleven million views. Impressive for a commercial.

Think there's room on that horse for me?