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Hospital Caregiving: Becoming The Wakeful Caregiver

Many of us have shared the common experience of attending to someone who is in the hospital, whether that was for a birth, death, medical treatment, or a surgery. This experience is unique for each person. For all caregivers though, it is vital to care for oneself, so that one can be available to the needs of their loved one without burnout.

A few weeks ago I was with my husband as he went through major surgery followed by a seven day stay in the hospital, including three days in ICU. This journey began when we flew from Denver to San Francisco for a couple of days of R and R, before we settled into the hospital.  Travelling in a large city when one is “directionally challenged” as I am, can feel a little disorienting. Going into a very large hospital, that functions like a small city can be extremely disorienting.

We arrived by streetcar early in the morning and my husband was assigned bed #6 for pre-op in a department that had 28 operating rooms. This hospital clearly had a lot of surgery going on, and his would last 9 hours!  Pre-op included consultations with two surgeons, an anesthesiologist, a couple of medical residents, the surgical nurse, and the contact nurse who kept me posted throughout the day. All this, before it was even 9 o’clock in the morning.

The Watchdog Experience

For seven straight days, I was a watchdog, an advocate for my husband’s care and a powerless observer. While it was helpful to have a role that gave me a focus, it was also exhausting. I was fortunate to have my dear cousin providing support, but fundamentally I was on my own. My husband was sleeping or having his own experience, and the staff was appropriately paying attention to him and not to me. I had to define my own role, find places to eat, get out for fresh air and find ways to feel grounded and connected to the outside world so that I felt more embodied and aware of myself.

I did my best to not be distracted by the on-going intensity in order to stay present and clear. Finding humorous moments like when they brought my husband lunch and his banana had a nametag on it, were times that brought me back to myself in the midst of a disorienting experience. I meditated, walked, used an earthy essential oil, and then I would focus and return to a sense of relaxed immediacy. It was an altering seven days and finding ways to stay enlivened was essential. My world got very simple: take care of myself and do what I could for my husband.

Pre-op for Caregivers

If there were to be a pre-op for caregivers in this situation what might be included?

  1. Get the information you need so that you are prepared:  Know where you will be sleeping, especially if you’re from another state.  Ask questions and get answers.
  2. Connection to Oneself:  Know some basic tools for grounding yourself.  Meditate, walk, or read an enjoyable book.  Conserve energy, so that you have the energy to care for your loved one.
  3. Humor:  Look for humor, or ask for that from loved ones.  Notice what uplifts you.
  4. Connection to Outside World:  Connect with others at the moment.  Smile with your loved one, or acknowledge the kindness of a nurse.  Have conversations with people from your familiar world.

Don’t count on anyone else making these things happen or even suggesting them.  These are just some of the simple, but important ways one can take care of oneself.

My business is Advance Health Care Directive Guidance. I support people in preparing their Advance Health Care Directives. I am a strong advocate, personally and professionally, for choosing the person whom can best speak for you when you aren’t able to speak for yourself.  We were fortunate I didn’t have to, but I was prepared to follow my husband’s wishes if need be.  I could simply become the wakeful caregiver and didn’t have to make any tough decisions this time.

Reva Tift M.AAdvance Health Care Directives

~ Consultations for the End of Life Care

© Copyright 2014 Reva Tift, Director Advance Health Directive Guidance

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