Learning How to Live Again
My life since that very first night has been a blur. The full story is riddled with multiple events like the heart incident—it has been a journey full of ups and downs and highs and lows. As I write this, we’re at a high point: Mom is finally home after two weeks in the ICU, a week in a regular hospital room and a month at The Maples Health & Rehabilitation Center. Tied to this is another low point—Mom’s home isn’t that same picturesque farmhouse where I grew up anymore. That home burned to the ground two weeks into her stay at The Maples. My dad, nephew and brother all made it out alive, though, and for that, we’re thankful.
People often ask me how I’ve remained so optimistic with all of these things going on. Seeing all of the bad—and having doctor after doctor tell me how lucky we are that my mom is still alive—has made me much more appreciative of all of the good. I’ll never forget the first time Mom squeezed my hand to let me know she could hear my voice. I won’t forget the first time she talked to my brother and me again. I won’t forget when she could drink water again, or when she could swallow food again, or when she could walk again. These things all used to be normal, but now they’re the things I celebrate. Sure, my life changed forever on December 22, but to me, it has become so much more beautiful. Now when Mom and I have an after-work talk or play a lazy Saturday game of Scrabble, I can’t help but think about how these moments were so close to being gone forever. And now they’re happening, day after day. For that, how can I be anything but grateful?
When a family member becomes critically ill, your life changes in an instant. Here are a few tips for surviving the challenging time and being a health advocate for your loved one.
It’s important to understand what’s going on with your loved one, and it’s crucial that you understand the medications they’re taking. Ask lots of questions. I found that many doctors and nurses were happy to explain things to me, and they even broke it down in simpler terms when I needed it.
Write Things Down.
Things change often and happen quickly—especially in the ICU. I took notes during my conversations with medical staff, and I wrote down all of my mom’s medications—this helped make sure I didn’t miss anything and also helped me update my other family members.
Bridge the Gaps.
The doctors and nurses in the Mercy ICU communicated well with each other, but the communication among staff members isn’t quite as involved on the regular hospital room floor or in the rehabilitation center. Each time I met new doctors, nurses or therapists, I updated them on Mom’s case and made sure they knew of her pre-existing conditions (such as her scoliosis, which made a huge difference in the way she could lay or move).
Find Your Strength.
My mom was on the sixth floor of Mercy Springfield, which is also where the hospital’s chapel is located—my family and I recited the rosary together in the chapel daily. I also talked to friends, which helped. Find activities that bring you peace, and try to engage with them each day.
Eat the Pie!
Plenty of people will tell you this (and if you’re like me, it might frustrate you at times), but don’t forget to take care of yourself. My advice on this is to be aware of your limits, but let yourself be at the hospital if you feel you need to be. When you do have an appetite (and if you’re at Mercy Springfield), go down to the cafeteria, and eat the pie—the mint chocolate was my favorite, but all were delicious!