Hospital Duty – Part 6 Taking Care of Yourself
Since my primary goal when I'm on hospital duty is to be available to talk to the caregivers, I try to not leave the room for long. This is especially true if I'm waiting to see a particular doctor. I tell you, those docs are like phantoms. They can be in and out before you know it, and with my luck, my lunch break will be the 35 seconds they decide to come and look in on the patient. So I arrive in the morning as self-sufficient as possible. For me, that means food and activities.
Food is the most important thing in my bag. I bring anything I can eat without leaving the room. This might include power bars, cut up fresh fruit, dried fruit, crackers and cheese, a sandwich, … and of course, chocolate. And water. What I have available is somewhat dependent on where I'm staying. If the hospital is near my home, I have more flexibility. For my sister’s last hospitalization, I stayed with a friend in Sacramento. Before leaving home, I filled a plastic tub (yep, the big ones!) with enough food to feed an army. Every day I would select what I thought I might need during the day and pack it in my tote bag. If I know I have a time when no one will want to talk to me, like during surgery or a procedure, I might go to the cafeteria. But if that isn’t possible, this girl isn’t going to starve.
I’m not one to just sit idly by while the patient sleeps. While I need to be alert, the reality is, the patient will spend a lot of time sleeping. Conversation is minimal and there are big and small blocks of time that need to be filled. This, of course, depends on your personality. I always bring a book or magazine, but I also have to watch the amount of weight I carry. In the first few hospitalizations I was able to use my iPod Touch and then my iPhone to check email. Thankfully, all of the hospitals we’ve used offer free wifi – a wonderful perk for family members. When it became apparent that I was in for more long days of another hospitalization, I gave in and bought an iPad. With that, I can write, update a blog, type longer emails, and generally try to keep my business on life support. I also have many books on my Kindle app, so that eliminated the weight of the book or magazine. It was expensive, but for me, my personality type, and my business needs, it was worth it.
If you’re spending days in the hospital, usually in a not-too-comfortable chair, it’s important to get exercise. You won’t be able to do aerobics or cardio in the room, but be sure to take time to walk the halls when you can. I would usually stay within eyesight of the patient’s room, but would make sure to walk briskly for 15 or 20 minutes a couple of times per day. Between that and the sometimes VERY long trek to the parking lot, I managed to at least keep the blood flowing.
One more area of self-care has to do with the sights you see. I'm pretty good with blood, surgical wounds, etc. I was even good with my sister’s huge open sores. I was able to be a great support during the tortuous dressing changes. I thought I was doing fine. But after a week or so into her third hospitalization, I found myself getting very irritable and not sleeping well. After awhile, I realized that I was experiencing secondary PSTD from watching her be “tortured” every day. I needed to do some self-care to be able to continue supporting her. With a bit of refocus, I was able to continue caring for her while also caring for me.
You generally won’t know how long you need to be on duty. You may have an idea, but things change. Remember that for you, this is a marathon, not a sprint. You need to put on your own mask before helping your loved one.
Photo Courtesy of FlickrCreativeCommons/RhettSutphin