Responding to a Friend or Family in a Medical Crisis

 I felt the need to write this article after of walking through six months of medical crisis with my husband of 35 years. I have learned so much and I would like to share some of my experience in the hope that it will provide some guidance and comfort for others who may experience a similar crisis or know someone who is going through such a crisis.

“I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO SAY.”
So many friends said they did not call or visit because the just did not know what to say. If you do not know what to say a simple I love you and am praying for you is sufficient. You do not have to say much to the grieving just a quick call even if you get a voice mail a brief “I’m thinking of you” message says so much.

KNOWING THAT PEOPLE CARE, BEING REMEMBERED

When you are in the middle of a crisis especially on that finds you far from your home and family the assurance of being remembered and knowing that people care about what is happening to you and your family can provide immeasurable encouragement, refreshing and strengthening.

Please don’t wait for people who are in a hard place to contact you, you contact them. I often felt I just didn’t have enough emotional strength to go another step most of the time. The idea of initiating contact with someone was overwhelming. Simple things seemed to require extraordinary energy I couldn’t muster.

When a crisis is long and drawn out is it more important than ever that patient and caregiver feel they aren’t forgotten. Even if you do not know them very well, a call, a card, a small donation goes a very long way in comforting those that are grieving. We had numerous contacts from people who heard of our situation through the friend of a friend. It is amazing how much the love of God was ministered through these people who might otherwise be considered strangers.

A TIMELY WORD
My husband’s neurosurgeon came running into the ICU room we occupied and said to me “If I do not drill a hole in your husbands’ head in the next five minutes we may loose him, sign here.” Shall I sign or not sign? I didn’t have time to read the fine print and what does it all mean! Are we playing God and prolonging a life the Lord is trying to take? Is my husband going to be worse off after this operation than before? Am I responsible if I sign this release?

All these questions flooded my mind at once. I was already in a state of shock and exhaustion just trying to survive all that had transpired! Within a few minutes, as I laid wrapped in a warm blanket a compassionate nurse so comfortingly wrapped my weak body in, I had an international telephone call from a trusted dear friend whose call not only got me focused on the Lord but helped me to rest and to trust the doctors God had given. I will never forget that call it was a ministry of comfort.


COMFORTERS
As much as I wanted people to know what was happening and I wanted to hear from those people who cared and were praying for us I was using all the reserve I had to focus on the crisis in which we found ourselves. There wasn’t a lot left for much communication with anyone else.

I experienced friends who laid down their lives for us during this crisis. They were at the Hospital waiting for us as we were flown in on a medical emergency plane from another state. They took my phone and answered calls. Initially they took over. They fed me, took care of immediate housing needs, airport runs to pick up family coming in. They set up a blog and updated it daily so friends could stay in touch and know how to pray.

At the beginning of such a crisis just trying to understand all the new terminology is exasperating. My friends looked up the meaning of words like angiogram, brain stem aneurism, encephalitis, and meningitis.

They provided little things like a hot pack for the neck and back, soothing teas, water. They made me eat, and helped with the reams and reams of paper work and information required by the hospital, Medicaid and eventually Medicare.

As my husband’s illness lengthened they helped keep my home base covered. While we were out of state rent, utilities, bills etc. still had to be covered, the mail had to be picked up and plants watered. My friends covered this for me and helped me stay on track so I did not get behind. Even with all this help there was a lot of juggling living away from home.

VISITING

In the beginning we asked for very limited visits. There was so much unknown and a lot of emotional strain for my husband and our family. We also had to consider the extreme risk of susceptibility to infections. Colds and flu were always a worry but after awhile one needs to have visitors. Visits should be kept short to conserve the energy of both the patient and their caregiver.

If the visit can’t take place in the patients room the caregiver can often come to the waiting room and visit there.

Singing songs to a heavy heart, Proverbs 25 tells us, is like pouring vinegar on an open wound, please ASK FIRST!

ADDITIONAL HELP
People frequently asked what they could do. While flowers aren’t allowed in ICU, they are allowed once a patient is moved out of ICU. Food and snacks are always good, a Starbucks card for the coffee and tea drinkers. Giving the family a break to go out to lunch and have someone stay with the patient while they get a break.

After a number of months we had a friend fly from Hawaii to stay with my husband so that I could have a much needed break, truly amazing. Money is often needed. Much of the time caregivers are away from home which often requires eating out, purchasing things you already may have at home, lots of phone calls and other expenses that you haven’t budgeted. These are expenses over and above costly medical bills.

In our case once my husband became ill one of our primary source of income was cut off. If you have the ability to organize needed monetary help ask if it is needed.

If you are familiar with processing Medicare forms or are familiar with the qualification process for Medicaid ask if your knowledge would be helpful. Navigating these organizations is not for the faint hearted.


If you have housing for someone finding himself or herself far away from home please let them know. The generosity of many provided me with more than just a place to lay my head.

When someone suddenly finds himself or herself in the unthinkable crisis there is always something you can do.

Some thing I could encourage folks to do is to stop by a hospital and pickup the form called 5 Wishes or Your Right to make Health Care Decisions.

It is a simple thing to do and does not require a lawyer etc. and it is free. If you live most of the time in the same area it is good to leave a copy with the hospital you would most likely go to in an emergency.

Consider and put it in writing if desire or desire not have DNR. I did not even know the meaning of DNR until about the 5th week of ICU. DNR means Do Not Resuscitate. This is something to talk about with your loved ones and the decision can always be reversed. Often a patient that receives resuscitation comes out of that much worse off than they were before their emergency.

This summary is by far from being all exhausted but hopefully can be helpful to some.
Alexis Wilson