It was Christmas Eve and I was driving behind the ambulance transporting my husband to intensive care at a hospital. Newly diagnosed with acute kidney failure, Rod’s life was in the balance and I was in for a few more life lessons.
Because of our disabled daughter’s chronic ear infections, my husband and I had been in hospitals a lot. This season, however, I wouldn’t have his vital help; Rod was the patient now. At times I was terrified and other moments totally at peace. Thankfully, it’s all turned out, but I’ll pass on a few tips we’ve learned.
Gotta Let Some Things Go: Weeks before the hospitalization, we knew Rod was weak so we declined assembling our big Christmas tree and did an easy table-topper tree. I rarely put on makeup, Rod skipped haircuts, and we refueled with naps and juicing veggies. Social media was halted and housework was minimal.
Sing Your Theme Songs: When Heidi was young and ill, “You Are My Sunshine” was what we’d sing — and it helped. So Rod’s theme song performed by Chicago became “Feelin’ Stronger Everyday.” We’ve felt music lift heavy hearts and strengthen the soul, and brain science has validated it positively affects seven parts of the brain. Wow.
Gotta Listen to Your Gut: Rod had planned to see his doctor after the holiday rush, but listened to his inner guidance system that whispered, “You’re dying. Go to the nearest emergency room.” I’m so grateful he recognized this and we acted quickly. It saved his life.
Grabbing and Gearing Up: From the years of hospitalizations with Heidi, I knew to pack a small cooler of food not needing refrigeration or cooking, like almonds, granola bars, fruit, applesauce cups and small juice boxes. I also packed a notebook and two good quality pens.
Snooze with Sleep Aids: We always pack some natural sleep-inducing herbs, plus ear plugs to diminish noise. Unfortunately, hospital lights are always on so my eye mask helped. I was glad I had grabbed Rod’s pillow with its cozy flannel pillowcase.
Options Beyond the Obvious: The cause of Rod’s kidney failure was not confirmed for several weeks, yet he was given many possible explanations and treatment plans. Some were invasive, extremely expensive and without great odds of recovery. We were spinning with each option offered. Thank heaven one courageous male nurse quietly reminded us, “Rod, I want you to always remember this, because it’s important,” he said while looking steady in his eyes. “You are in the driver’s seat. You don’t have to do one thing they say. If you two want to think on it, get a second opinion, heal at home, that’s OK. It is up to you.” This truth has made all the difference.
Think to Thank: Our family always asks any nurses, waitresses, and household workers their first name and try to include it when asking questions or thanking them. Hospitals have a hierarchy from high to low, and gratitude and validation matter to each person, no matter their position.
Friends like Favors: My texts to friends and family sharing our difficult news always got sincere responses of “Let us know what we can do!” So I did. I requested prayers for Rod, or visitors bring uplifting videos/books to help time pass quicker. It truly made a positive impact.
Gear Up Against Germs: In the U.S. there is a deepening concern about patients picking up really complex “super germs” in hospitals that are very drug-resistant, so I was grateful I had some effective hand sanitizer spray in my bag made from peppermint oil, lavender oil and orange peel. They’re economical and efficient.
Breaks and Breathers: As Rod’s constant companion at the hospital, it was important for me to go for occasional walks. After driving there at night in a stressful state it also calmed my nerves to go check my car, while enjoying the fresh air and sunshine.
Jot it in a Journal: I wrote down everything. It paid off when someone dropped the ball and I could help get things on track. Plus having our many instructions accessible when we got home was invaluable. Even occasionally journaling my feelings was also part of my process.
Build a Support Base: Once home, I called a family with energetic boys to help with snow removal and their mom was grateful for the service opportunity. People sending cards, texts, and flowers helped more than they’ll know. Folks with meals, prayers offered, or simply stopping to visit were a priceless part of Rod’s recovery.
Past History Paperwork: Over Rod’s various follow-up appointments it was exhausting to recall his medical history, so compiling a “master list” and making copies simplified a ton. A simple tan file folder also helped lessen my paper chaos.
Sittin’ In The Driver’s Seat: Rod’s responsible to drink more water than he ever has throughout his life, yet I made cheerful signs and a chart, plus committed to healthier recipes for the renal diet.
Adapt Your Activities: We’ve continued to simplify. Our Christmas was celebrated on New Year’s Day and it was fine. Naps, even those without sleeping, still help. This was Rod’s and my most memorable Christmas thus far, (and hopefully we’ll not have to do it again) but if it happens — or to you, too — at least we’re more prepared now. Take care.
Pearson is a Needs Preparedness Specialist who has advocated for persons with special needs for over 28 years. She welcomes email comments at firstname.lastname@example.org