This week I have been reminded what it is like to have a family member who is ill. I am usually on the other side of this equation being a member of the medical team who cares for persons who are sick and their family members. The shoe is now on the other foot.
My frail 80 year old Mom was admitted to the ICU in a rural county hospital, again, and then transferred to a nearby nursing home for rehabilitation. We believe the move is temporary in order for her to gain strength, but who knows if this will be the case or not?
The “not knowing” is harder than dealing with the reality.
I know deep in my heart what is coming, and realize there are some things I wish I had talked about with her in greater detail. Legal matters, matters of the heart, family matters, and some things that don’t matter.
I am reminded of the feeling of powerlessness of seeing someone you love deeply who is in pain, or who feels sick and weak, and I am aware I cannot fix it. I can be physically present as much as possible, and work on the details of her care between responsibilities at work. My wife is an amazing support, my Mom’s niece took off work for a week, and my sister made phone calls. The communication with all involved is still exhausting.
While I am concerned for her health, I am reminded that this is what it feels like for family members of our patients (and much worse). Sadness, anger, fear, frustration, fatigue, love, compassion, gratefulness, and more are all wrapped together in a tight package.
I am trying to remember to take advantage of the moments when we were alone for a couple of hours like a couple of nights ago.
I sat with her in the hospital room as she drifted between sleep and alertness. When she slept, I used that time to be quiet, to pray prayers of thanksgiving, and prayers of guidance, and prayers of trust and letting go.
When she was awake we used the time to tell each other how much we loved one another. We reminisced and told short stories, some funny, some sad. We talked about my Dad who died over a decade ago and both agreed what a fine man he was. We both apologized for things that were quickly forgiven and dismissed.
And so the next time I see a family member with a fatigued or worried look on his or her face, I’m going to slow down a little, listen more deeply, and hug a little harder.
I am reminded of the view from the other side.