Surviving Crisis: Supporting Friends & Family in the Hospital ICU

Did it look like lightning bolts, thousands of them – as the car absorbed his body deep into the windshield, as it threw him 100 feet?

Cracking-bursting-glass everywhere.

I cringe to imagine.  Does he cringes still?

My baby brother had been hit by a car while crossing the street on foot!  The car had been going 50 mph with no headlights at dusk!  This happened in the first weeks of his freshman year of college.

{Having a precious friend and her boy both in the ICU across the country has promoted me to dig up this unpublished piece I wrote when my family was in crisis. It’s a ROUGH time, when a loved one or friend with an uncertain future ahead in the hospital.  Emotions fly high and we often have no idea how to help.  Having lived on both sides of crisis, I share my experience and thoughts in the hopes of helping others.}

TSMH_EKG

There was a critical piece of time where I wasn’t able to hear how my brother was doing. It made me frantic! I wanted to post on Facebook for the world to pray for him. I wanted to call 10 people, I wanted to be there, and more than ANYTHING, I wanted to know he was okay.  So many things ran through my mind. And truly, I think it was easier for me to spin my wheels and worry then it was to be still and pray. To really pray – to pray in earnest, to plead with God, thank him for every breath my brother had been able to pull in and out – to pray that there would be more.

I’ve lived on several sides of the hospital experience.

My life was altered when at 9-days-old, my first-born went through a nightmare that was beyond my imagination.  Since that first ICU stay with my son, we’ve done:

middle of the night ambulance rides,

surgeries with unmanageable pain management, 

911 calls,

Driving to the ER,

inpatient for weeks at a time,

airlifting, 

home health nursing and much more.

I’ve had babies, three of them. I’ve lain in a hospital alone and I’ve had visitors.

There we’re days when I wish they would come and days I wish they would leave.

I slept an empty hospital room for 10 days while my son was in the ICU next-door,  I stayed in Ronald McDonald’s, I’ve stayed in hotels. I stayed in hotel nearby so we could do 10 appointments in a week with a baby that’s body was so traumatized that sleep, eating and travel were all excruciatingly difficult.


But this time was different.  

My baby brother – a man of 18 is the one in the bed.

I’m the visitor.   

My parents were the ones to wrestle with health insurance consult with doctors figure the rest out. 

I can’t quite describe what it’s like to see an 18-year-old go through horrific pain.

He is one of few men who will be able to tell his wife that he knows what she feels like when she gives birth.   

He had shattered bones in his leg, metal rods sticking out everywhere, and the pain was unbearable, unbelievable, unmanageable.  I saw him having to endure what no man should go through – in a roomful of people.  

I took me back to having babies (w/o meds) when the slightest noise in the room made me feel like I couldn’t do it. Touch made me falloff a cliff into panic.  All I wanted was for my husband, and only my husband to be by my side, not touching me, not speaking but they’re loving me and caring for me without actually doing anything.

I have just arrived, my daughter and I just traveled seven hours to be there for my brother and my parents.  I wanted more than anything to be there for my brother.  

But I knew better.  

At that point, my months in the hospital, my experience with my own pain – I knew.  

I knew that the best way to support my brother was to GET OUT,

to clear the room, and let my parents take turns supporting him in the room through the pain. I saw my brother for just a few minutes this weekend, and my siblings did the same.

It wasn’t easy.  It was like sitting on a bed of nails, but it was best, best for him, best for his healing, and best for me to truly exercise the act of being still.

While I couldn’t support my brother directly, I was able to support my mom.  To get her a hotel room, to make sure she got a good night’s sleep IN A BED, to take her to lunch, to let her play with her granddaughter, to go to the grocery – that was my mission.  And in doing those things I believe I did more for my brother than I could have in spending the weekend in the hospital.  Helping my mom feel refreshed, just might have helped him quite a bit.

His re-barb HALO (it wasn’t really rebarb, but man was it crazy to see metal rods emerging from his leg!) – it’s gone now, and but for a few scars, you’d never know my brother went through the whole ordeal.  The year off school, the hospital bed in my parents living room – they have vanished.  He is back in school and the crisis has vaporized.

______________________


From my reflections and our experiences I offer these tips on how to help someone that you can’t help much – someone who is in the hands of God via the doctors and the massive concrete living breathing things called a hospital.

All crisis varies. Your friend may be in a coma, or may be paralyzed, or it may be an infant, or a child or adult unable to speak.  While I can’t address every situation, I do try to share a few things I’ve learned.

FIRST THINGS FIRST


PRAY BEFORE YOU SHOUT.  If you are not the parents or closest relative or friend to the person, the one who needs to be on site, drop down on your knees. Pray. Don’t call everyone you know first.  Don’t put it all over Facebook first. Get on your knees.  Plead with God on this person’s behalf, think the almighty that they still have breath in them and pray for his will be done.  Must you value someone else’s prayers over your own? Pray before you call the prayer chain.  Seeking Him first will give you eyes to better see how to help. You can then discern whether that prayer or status update will just be spreading news or actually offering opportunities to pray.  

I always want ACTION in emergency mode, but sometimes that urge can hurt the person that you want most to help if not preceded by thought.

VISITING

There is a time to visit, and there is a time to give space and privacy. Be sensitive to the difference.

  • Always ask.
  • Depending on the situation it may be a good idea to ask a close relative of the patient whether they’d like visitors.  They may know, and you can avoid hassling the bombarded caregiver another question.
  • Realize that, especially for adults or older children suffering trauma that personal hygiene and basic things like urinating and having bowel movements can take considerable amounts of time and privacy and can be very difficult with lots of visitors.  (go ahead, call me rude for mentioning it, but it is an essential need. Waste elimination is a serious part of our life.)
  • Allow close family to do their job. Unless the patient has requested that you be there, or the family often the best thing you can do, although perhaps the hardest, is to offer to drop things off for them, support their family at home, and be still and pray.
  • They may need help MUCH more down the road than in this moment.  Going to the hospital to visit makes us feel like we’ve DONE SOMETHING when we feel otherwise helpless, but the truth is that the days and months after the spotlight vanishes might be when they need you most.

IF VISITING

  • Unless you are the parent guardian caregiver/responsible party or spouse of a person laying in that hospital bed, you should always offer to step out of the room when the doctor or nurse comes in the room.

HOW TO HELP

  • LIMIT QUESTIONS.  Try not to bombard them with questions, but listen and show support. When they’re ready they’ll tell you what they want. (They are juggling MAJOR decisions and won’t be able to consider the little things.)
  • REMEMBER THE CAREGIVER. Don’t forget about the closest family that’s having to live in the hospital, the parents or the children of the patient.  Think about what you need if you had to rush off and stay somewhere for 10 days with no warning. Offer these things rather than trying to come stay for long periods, especially if this is someone younger.
  • Offer food and errands. Ask what they need from Walmart or if you can go by there house and get them clothes or take care of their dog. Think of something specific and ask.  If this an extreme emergency they may not be able to perceive their own needs.  Think of what you might want or need if you were away from home in crisis and offer that thing.

WHAT TO SAY

  • Realize, that most of what comes out of your mouth is meant to comfort YOU and to give you some reassurance that everything will be okay and that you can go back to dealing with your life. Life is uncertainty. Your words and your perspective will not take away their pain. and just expressing concern and letting someone know that you’re there is often what’s most appreciated.
  • Timing is everything. Words of encouragement and stories of people who’ve triumphed, while nice, can actually be very insensitive.  Even stories of people who’ve triumphed over similar things are often not received well in hospitals. Here’s why.  When trauma is initial, especially if this is something that is not fixable, there needs to be time to grieve. To grieve the loss of that ability – or the pain and trial that will be necessary to regain it. Rushing in to tell someone how great things can be down the road, can just serve to make him feel like you don’t understand the gravity of the situation.  It can be a failure to empathize. As if you have moved on and won’t allow them the time they need to process what has just happened.
  • Giving a book, is not a bad option. I am a huge fan of books like CS Lewis’s, A Grief Observed (yes, books on grief do apply to newly acquired disabilities) and Streams in the Desert. But do realize that these books may sit on a shelf for days months or years.
    • I have many books that were given to me when my son was first injured. In some cases the time was not right for me to read those books till years later, and when I did read them the time was right.
    • You may think that they need to read your book right now, but God’s timing and prompting are perfect.


ADVICE

  • While some advice is warranted, avoid advice if possible.
  • Unless something is life-threatening or serious, don’t speak it. More voices in confusion when someone’s already trying to sort out things can just add to stress exponentially.   So avoid giving advice on the little things.
  • If you really think it needs to be heard, say it.
  • If unsure, run it by someone close and see what they think.

FOR CAREGIVERS

  • If you are the friend or family giver that takes the sidekick role, you will need to remind yourself that being dependent is hard. Realize that your loved one may not be asking for everything they need because they don’t want to bug you. So, whenever you’re hungry you should offer food whenever you reposition yourself, you should offer to do the same for the patient.
  • Find ways to ask about what they’d like without bombarding them with questions.
  • Find balance.  Too helpful can be smothering and failing to be thoughtful or making them feel like a burden can be very oppressive.
  • If you are worried about money or insurance or how things will work for them, go to another room to make those phone calls if you can.  The injured can very easily feel like they are a burden to you.
  • Realize that God is allowing this and has purpose in this.  Seek Him in the Bible and prayer.
  • Be willing to give them space and quiet to process all that has happened to them.
  • Adjust per personality.We all need variety. If you have other family clamoring to be by their side, ask them if there someone else they would like to take a shift as their companion.
    • If they are really picky about how they like their sandwich made, you will need to ask about the specifics.
    • If you know that they’re not picky, don’t ask them about every drop of mayonnaise or mustard or where they want their napkin.  Be intuitive.
    • There’s a lot to process and any question you can spare them is a HUGE help.
  • Be willing To step away and take care of yourself so you can better take care of the one you love.  This also can help other family members and friends that are close feel the comfort of getting to love on the person that was injured/is suffering.  My husband practically had to drag me out of the hospital.

Have you lived through crisis? What advice would you add?

 

if you'd like to email, you may do so at arearrangedlife at gmail dot com

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