It’s one of the things we midlifers, hanging out here in the middle-aged cheap seats, most dread: the idea that our parents may someday become ill. On a rational level, we know it’s highly likely that at some point we’ll need to step up and help take care of our moms and dads. But at an emotional level, we want our parents to remain in the driver’s seat, firmly planted in the position of authority figure, indestructible and steadfast.
My dread became reality two weeks ago when my kid brother called me with the news:
“Mom’s headed to the hospital. You better get down here.”
Down here was sunny Florida. The call came on a Friday morning and by late Friday afternoon I was walking into a South Florida hospital room to be greeted by Mom looking pale and frightened. But then I also saw this in her eyes as I walked to her bedside: relief.
I learned a lot over the five days that Mom was hospitalized. I learned that when it’s necessary, I can drop everything and focus on what’s truly important. I learned that people deal with stress in very different ways: I become take charge; take-no-prisoners; lead, follow or get out of the way. That demeanor needed to be tempered often to let others deal with their stress and emotions in different ways. I also gained some valuable life experience regarding what it takes to survive in a medical environment.
- Medical professionals do not speak the same language we do. When I worked in the federal government we had our own special coded language of acronyms and government-speak. I could string together sentences consisting almost entirely of three-letter abbreviations. It’s no different in the medical world. The problem is, when you’re sick and you’re scared, those long phrases for medications, spoken with such authority, are extraordinarily intimidating. I found myself often asking nurses to repeat or even spell out the medications that were being given to Mom.
- Everyone in the hospital needs an advocate. I discovered I could provide insights for the doctors and nurses that Mom was not remembering to bring to their attention. When doctors were there to examine her, I would check my list and gently remind Mom to mention things like hey Mom, did you want to tell the doctor your stomach has been upset? Or, Mom, didn’t you want to ask for more ice the next time the attendant was in the room? These may seem to be trivial issues, but they accumulated quickly. Mom’s job was to get well. My job was to manage all the other “stuff.”
- Write sh*t down. I became a crazed list maker. It was the only way I could keep up with everything that was happening. During one of the initial doctor visits he entered the room and began to quickly explain Mom’s condition to her:
“So, with c-dif colitis we treat you intravenously…”
“I’m sorry doctor, Mom has what?” I asked.
“And what is that exactly?” As I was asking I was also taking notes on my smart phone.
The doctor curtly replied, “Since you seem to be looking that up on the Internet…”
“Um, no doctor, you see, I’m just taking notes on my I-phone. I suffer from CRS–can’t remember sh*t–so if you don’t mind I need to write this down.”
From then forward he was forever known to me as Dr. Jerkface.
Image provided courtesy of morgueFile: http://mrg.bz/HaQTSq
Here’s the thing: most doctors don’t speak human, they speak medical school. You have to ask questions, take notes, and let it roll off your back when they seem exasperated with you. I’m sure they thought I was an over-protective daughter. Don’t care, not even a little bit. And, for the record, not all doctors are jerk faces.
- Nurses get to go straight to heaven. The nursing staff at JFK Hospital is exceptional. Some of the most loving individuals I have ever met. Their patient demeanor and caring dispositions were nothing short of amazing. Even when I knew they were dog-tired at the end of a 12-hour shift, they always greeted Mom with a smile and a kind word. I hope they know how much they are appreciated.
- Even in the worst of circumstances, a little humor helps. Mom was presented a nasty tasting medicine to drink and the nurse asked if she wanted to mix the medication with something like ginger ale. When Mom deadpanned back, “You got any tequila?” I knew we were on solid turf toward recovery.
Mom is back home now and well on her way to being fully healthy again. I love you Mom, early Happy Mother’s Day and I hope to be sharing a tequila shot with you in the near future.
Have you ever taken care of a sick parent? What were your lessons learned?