It may be a situation that happens without any warning or it might be a terminal illness that has finally run its course and ended the life of a loved one.

In either case, you get the call. Someone needs emergency surgery.

Complications have set in and the phone rings in the middle of the night and you hear, you better come to the hospital, he/she has taken a turn for the worse.

At this point, you enter a somewhat state of shock. What do you do?

Grab your keys and run? Is there something to do before leaving, like check on the kids, the dog, or look to see what you are wearing? Do I have to take anything with me?

Any emergency situation of a loved one is traumatic and stressful and it makes no difference what the relationship is.

Sometimes the person recovers from the immediate danger and sometimes their life ends. Either way, the stress can take its toll on you.

There are some ways to deal with the crisis, whether it be acute illness, trauma or life threatening complications.

Personally I have been in this type of situation three times: when my father succumbed to pancreatic cancer, when my mother had a stroke and when my brother had a strangulated hernia and a ruptured abdominal aneurysm.

Try to stay calm. Yes I said TRY. The adrenalin will kick in, but the calmer you can be, the clearer your head is. You will hear what is being said.

Ask the person calling to repeat things and always tell someone if you don’t understand. It is better to say “I don’t understand.” Get someone from the hospital to stay with you.

There are usually waiting rooms, filled with people who are also in the same situation as you are (alone, worried and stressed). Find someone in the waiting room and try to talk to them. Giving support to someone else will help you as well.

Arguments can develop in stressful times. End arguments immediately and refocus all of your energy on what really matters most.

Everyone wants the family to be informed, so it is best to have one person responsible to call the ICU for daily reports and updates.

Since the medical staff is busy, coordinate with your family who the spokes person will be, as this will cut down on repeated information being given out which can not only frustrate the staff, but it takes them away from caring for your loved one.

Select one person to make calls to the other family members and friends. The smoother the information is disseminated, the less stress it will be on you.

You might want to keep a journal of all events, such as tests ordered, results, procedures, complications, consulting physicians, improvements, post-operative, day number, temperature, oxygen level, tubes, medications, etc.

If you think of any questions, Write them down so you will have them when the doctor comes around again. By having a record, it helps you to stay on track. It will also give you something else to do and focus on.

Do not become a resident of the hospital. Your loved one may need and want you there, but they need their rest and so do you.

You will be asked to step out of the room when any type of procedure is to be performed. You must eat and sleep at regular times. You may not be able to sleep, but a short rest or dozing off is good for you.

For someone who is dying, they may be waiting for you to go home and then they can let go and pass on. No one wants to endure a prolonged illness or suffering.

Do not be afraid to ask for help. If someone offers assistance and they cannot answer your questions, they will find the right person for you. There may be support groups or grieving groups.

This is the time to contact religious friends, supportive friends and relatives. Anyone who told you “If there is anything I can do to help”, ask for it.

The hospital staff will have many questions to ask during the emergency. If you have the information, bring past medical history, insurance cards, medications and doctors names.

If you have a living will or equivalent of the patient, take that with you. In the room, you can hang meaningful pictures somewhere your loved one can see them. If they are unable to speak or have visitors, this can be a wonderful comfort during a very lonely and scary time.

Even though there are rules and routines, many times nurses will extend visiting hours and overnight exceptions.

You might even be permitted to nap quietly in a corner of the room. Your loved one, as exhausted as they might be, opens eyes briefly and sees you before they go back to sleep.

Find out if you can bring in food that would be appropriate to eat, religious items, maybe a favorite picture.

It seems the best time to call to get information is after the lab work is back and after the doctor has seen the patient.

Do not leave out the children or grandchildren. With the proper preparation and approval, they might be able to visit briefly. Take them to the waiting areas even if they cannot go into the room. Make them feel like they are contributing and not feeling left out.

Allow reflective time. Meditate or sit quietly in the chapel. Go outside for some fresh air. Listen to your own inner voice. Messages are always being sent to us. Take time to listen and be open to receive them.

If you feel the need, bring a nurse or doctor with you and have them be an advocate for you. If need be, find a health care professional who can interpret events and medical jargon. Even the best of us miss things that are being said.


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