This is the second part in a series in which I am focusing on the personal lessons of self-care during family medical crisis.
Self-Care Buddy. My primary self-care buddy – my husband – was at home when I received the call. He held me when I was shaking. He helped me find things that I could not see but were right in front of me. He helped me stay calm and grounded in facts. He did everything I needed at the time and then some.
No Major Decisions. My husband/self-care buddy reminded me of something I teach in Field Traumatology about crises: this is not the time to make any major decisions. I agreed to defer major decisions whenever I can, and to discuss with him and those directly involved any major decisions that could not be deferred.
Social Media. I am a regular Facebook user. One of the first things I did was to put out the word to my closest network of family and friends and ask for prayers. At first I felt weird about putting such a personal matter into the larger social media context. That feeling gave way quickly as I started receiving messages of support. Those messages over the next few days were beacons of light nourishing me at the deepest levels. I have a deep sense of gratitude to those who rallied around me and my family. Thank you!
Technology. I cannot underscore enough the value of technology and social media during times of crisis. My husband loves technology and stays current with trends. Both daughter and husband had been encouraging me for a long time to give up my flip phone for more advanced technology. Last year I started with the iPod Touch. Having mastered that, I went this year for the iPhone. This communications tool kept me in touch with my family and social support network from the moment the crisis began.
Unexpected Support. My flight north had a very tight connection through Charlotte NC. I feared missing the second leg of my travel. I talked with the flight attendant, asking if someone towards the front of the plane might be willing to change seats with me. I tried to manage my anxiety as we began our initial descent and I was still at the back of the plane. Minutes before landing, the flight attendant told me there was a volunteer. An elderly gentleman traded seats with me.
The woman seated beside me was his wife, a hospice volunteer in the Jacksonville area who works with caregivers. She touched my arm as she talked, and underscored the importance of touch when one is in crisis. Her gentleness and kindness touched me but also reminded me of what I needed to do for DCR: be fully present. As we talked I noticed a piece of paper near my foot. It was her husband’s boarding pass. I now had the name of the man who traded places with me. As soon as I can I will thank them in writing for helping me.
We’re All Doing the Best We Can. During times of extreme stress it’s common for people to become crabby or short in tone or forgetful or make errors in details. My first challenge came at my destination airport, when I discovered someone else’s luggage in the back seat of my rental car. I had to walk back to the airport terminal in the cold at 11:30 p.m., dragging my bags behind me, fearful that the car rental agent may have left already since it was so late. The agent was on the phone as I approached her desk, talking to the person who had placed his luggage in the car next to the one he rented. Gee, he must have been really tired or stressed to not notice. The agent accompanied me back to the car, and I drove her back to the terminal I was not happy about the delay but was able to stay civil and grateful for her help.
I went to the hospital address given to me by a family member. DCR was not there. After a few minutes of confusion, reception kindly located DCR at another local hospital which was not far away. The correct address and GPS in hand led me to DCR’s location.
I told these stories to several folks, partly because were it not for the circumstances they were amusing. It was when an apology was offered about the wrong address that I said “We’re all doing the best we can.” At times like these we need each other. Mistakes happen. And good self-care requires that we let them go.
Next: The Hospital Emergency Room