In the past ten years or so, I’ve spent a lot of time in the hospital. Not because I was ill or hurt, but in support of family members and friends who were patients.
Before I had kids, this would have been completely unthinkable. I’ve always been a really sensitive soul, an empath, and this came with a huge phobia of hospitals, doctors, and pretty much anything medical. Seeing (and feeling) other people in pain was the worst thing I could imagine. The sensations would overwhelm my entire consciousness.
When I was eight years old, I went to visit my grandfather in the hospital. He was dying of cancer, and I think the reason my parents brought me was because they knew it would be the last time Grampa and I would see one another. I took one look at him in his hospital bed, face drawn and pale, wires emerging from everywhere, and promptly fainted, right there onto the hard cold floor. Needless to say, I never wanted anything to do with those types of places again.
Fortunately, I was healthy enough not to need to, for quite some time. Even when my Mom was in the hospital off and on during my teens and early 20s, she understood why I would call and send cards and care packages, but not show up to see her in person.
After having kids, I pretty much got over my phobia, as often happens. I still wasn’t thrilled by the idea of hospitals, but I knew how to cope.
And then my Mom was in a terrible car accident in late 2003. She spent two months in the intensive care unit, mostly unconscious, and then two more in a rehab facility. My Dad, my brother, and I more or less lived there, in the hospital. I learned a lot about how to manage my own energies and to be helpful to those who were patients (and to not be a pain to the staff, who are there to do their job). Having recently had another experience of spending time visiting a loved one in the hospital, I thought I’d share some of my tips.
- Keep your energy filters up and running. This post will explain what I mean by filters, as well as showing you how to set them up and maintain them.
- Be extra kind to your loved one. They are under a lot of stress, which means they might be illogical, snappy, or weepy. Sure, you’ll be triggered by that sometimes. Breathe through your own fears and sorrows. If all you can manage is to smile and hold their hand, that’s a lot. Being there is what matters most.
- Always bring something to read. Chances are you’ll be waiting a lot, and the person you’re visiting will be sleeping or having procedures done some of the time. Don’t just rely on your phone or tablet; you might not have a place to recharge it, and reception can be spotty. A good old-fashioned book (or your knitting project, if you prefer) is a good backup.
- Memorize where the public restrooms are. Besides the obvious uses, they make a good place to escape to for a few minutes when things get overwhelming. Splash cool water on your face, and take some deep breaths.
- Bring your own water bottle. Stay hydrated. Remember to eat, too. Protein is good and keeps you going a long while. Avoid gobbling down a bunch of sugar and caffeine; the eventual crash isn’t worth it.
- Be patient. Be prepared to wait longer than you think you will, or than you’ve been told. This is really no one’s fault. It just happens.
- Smile and be kind to the staff, even when you’ve had to wait a long while and repeat yourself a zillion times. If they ask you to move, get out of the way quickly and politely. They work hard, often under challenging circumstances. Don’t make their job harder.
- Be cooperative, but still stand up for your loved one. Know or research which treatments and procedures are optional. Educate yourself about patient rights. Mistakes do happen, so the more you know what is going on, the better you can help your loved one, who is probably in pain and thus not focused as sharply as usual.
- When you’re walking around the hospital, always look like you know where you’re going, even if you don’t, and no one will bother you. If you’re truly lost, look for one of the many kind volunteers (who are often elderly people with name tags) and they will help you.
- Bring headphones or earbuds and some music or audio books to listen to. Hospitals are noisy places, with much beeping and paging and other annoying sounds. Having your own audio stream (especially when you’re in the waiting place) can help with your sanity.
- If your loved one has one of those finger clips on that monitors the oxygen in their blood, encourage them to breathe deeply. It’s not only healthy for them, it keeps the monitor from beeping. Breathe with them. It’s good for you, too.
- Learn Reiki. It’s the easiest and best way to help someone who is ill or injured. Also, when you share Reiki energy, you are receiving it yourself at the same time, so it helps refresh your own energies rather than drain them. Reiki is awesome.
- You don’t have to watch TV just because it’s there. If it’s a good distraction for you, fine, but if it drains your energy, ignore it. Change your seat so your back is to the screen. If appropriate, ask for it to be turned off or down.
- Get rest when you can. You might finally come home from the hospital, where you’ve been with your loved one, only to see stacks of dishes in the sink and piles of mail to be dealt with. Ignore them, and get some sleep. They’ll still be there later.
- Ask for help. I know, it can be hard to ask for help when you’re a sensitive sort. Do it anyway. Most often when there’s a crisis, your friends and extended family really want to help. Give them some tasks that you just can’t face right now.
- Express your emotions when you’re outside the hospital. Cry on a friend’s shoulder, go for a run, write it all out in your journal – whatever works best for you. Don’t keep it all inside, as that can lead to chronic stress, which leads to illness, which can lead you to a hospital bed of your own. You don’t want that. Get it out, safely.
While these ideas all came as a result of being a visitor, not a patient, I imagine that many of them would also apply if you need to spend time in the hospital yourself.
Please feel free to add your own suggestions, and ask questions, in the comments section. I’d love to hear your feedback.