Friday, June 27, 2003

Hospital Buddy

J's mom had to have some really serious surgery this week, and thank God, she's come through it well. She was supposed to have it done the week before, but then the pre-operative testing showed that the problem was MUCH bigger than first thought, so they got all ready for it one time, and then had to deal with it being postponed for a week. It's been really hard for J and his brother, as they both live about 4 1/2 hours away from their mom, and her hospital is another hour and 1/2 away from her house, so the driving back and forth and taking time off from work has been really draining. Not to mention the emotional toll of worrying about whether or not she should have the surgery, and if she would survive the first 24 hours afterwards.

J lost his Dad to the same problem his mom has, and both of my parents are gone, so we're both veterans of the hospital wars. J tends to suffer things alone, and will let you know when he needs help, and appreciates it if someone offers help but accepts his "No, thank you" as his final answer. I asked if he would like me to be there with him, but he said that he would rather do it on his own (his brother would actually be there too, so he wouldn't be totally alone). I accepted that, and I've been trying to be helpful and supportive long distance, by doing little chores for him and bringing in the mail and stuff while he's gone.

It's been hard not going up there to be with him during all this, because when I have a loved one in the hospital, I crave supportive company. When each of my parents died, I really wanted someone , to listen to me talk about how I felt, make sure that I was taking care of myself enough to last through the crisis, and to help me see the big picture when I needed advice. It was even helpful to have someone in the hospital to go get me a cup of coffee or run an errand or make a phone call, when I wanted to stay by my parent's bedside.

The trick to being a good hospital buddy is to pay attention to all the little signals, and know when to talk and when to listen, when to shut up and read and when it's time to go home and let the patient sleep, etc. etc. I wish J knew that I wouldn't make a nuisance of myself, and I might even be helpful to have around. But I know this isn't "about" me, and he needs to do things his way. It's not about how I want to help him, it's about how he needs to do it. Still, I've been going stir crazy worrying long distance and feeling impotent, because I know that I'm a good hospital buddy.

I've gotten really good at doing the hospital thing, since I've seen most of my family members in the hospital close to death at some point. I even had a little hospital bag ready during some crises, with the basics you need for sitting around in the ER or hospital room when someone is really ill. Just in case you ever have need of this kit, here are the essentials:

  • Something mindless to read, because you won't really be able to pay attention to anything deep, but you need to occupy yourself while they bring the patient out for tests, or make their bed, or do something so invasive that you are sent out of the room for privacy. And if your loved on is in any shape to read, bring them something to read to, because you will run out of things to talk about, and they will need to be distracted from staring at the machines and IV stands and all that scary stuff.

  • You should bring a small non-perishable snack, like a protein bar or something, because you will be sitting around at all odd hours waiting for test results and such, and you will feel too guilty to go have a proper meal, even though you are getting testy from hunger.

  • You also need to keep lots of $1 bills and change, for parking and vending machines. Whoa unto the person sitting at the parking garage gate without the right change, the parking token, whatever they want from you. The people behind you WILL NOT CARE if your loved one just passed or you are stopping by to see someone who just had a baby, they will go medieval on your ass for making them wait while you fish for coins. Prepare yourself.

  • If you find somewhere to get coffee, get extra napkins and whatever sweetener you use, so you have extras just in case. At some point, you will be tempted to get the vending machine coffee, which brings every one of its victims one day closer to death, but you will do it anyway, since you are tired and bored, and believe me, you will happy you hoarded those extra sugar packets.

  • Bring extra dosages of whatever medicine you take, because you will be stuck there well past your next dosage time, guaranteed.

  • And most important, get a small pillow or a head rest of some sort, because hospitals suck all of the oxygen out of the air, and you will be sitting in the most uncomfortable plastic seat ever, and the air conditioning and awkward positions you fall asleep in sitting up will leave you with excruciating neck pain if you don't.

  • There will be more traveling back and forth as J's Mom recuperates, and I'm determined not to push my agenda on him, but instead to try to hold back, and help in the ways he wants. I'm sure there will be more blogging on this topic as things go on.

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