The Home Caregiver’s Guide to Coping 
With the Hospitalization of Your Loved One

By Deidre A. Grab

As a caregiver, one of the most stressful things you may experience is the hospitalization of your loved one, especially if the hospitalization is in an intensive care unit. As an intensive care unit nurse for many years, I have had the opportunity to work with many families in this situation. Your stresses will be different than the person who is admitted after a sudden event like a heart attack or car accident. The purpose of this article is to help you cope with the unique feelings you experience when confronted with the hospitalization of your loved one.

  • Be prepared. Keep a list of your loved one’s medications and allergies handy at all times. Include the name of the medication, the dosage, the number of doses taken daily and the times at which they are taken. Most of you probably do this anyway. Make multiple copies on a copy machine or your computer. That way you can give a copy to the caregivers at the hospital. That saves them from writing everything down again, and you don’t risk losing your only copy. Although the ideal situation is for the hospital caregivers to be able to share this information with each other, the reality is that in many hospitals you will be asked the same questions over and over. If you have a computer, you can make this list easily and update it frequently.

  • Set up a climate of trust with the nurses and doctors. You are the expert on the intricacies of care of your loved one, but the doctors and nurses have experience caring for a wide range of people. You should expect respect for your knowledge of the details of your loved one’s medical history, but you need to expect that things will be done differently than you do them at home. You are caring for one person and know all about what works best for him or her. Even in an intensive care unit, nurses usually have two patients to care for and must set priorities to meet the complex needs of both of them. If you want to perform some of your loved one’s care yourself, negotiate this with the nurses. They can advise you if it will be possible for you to do so, given the different equipment and differences in your loved one’s condition than when you are at home. If they decline your assistance, don’t be offended. Sometimes nurses need to observe critically ill patients for their reaction to the seemingly smallest activity. 

  • Try to be patient. The first few hours of being admitted to the hospital, or transferred to a new unit in the hospital are stressful for everyone. The nurses and doctors need time to assess your loved one, and to get to know him or her. Frequently, a number of activities must be performed in rapid succession. They can certainly benefit from information you can provide, but try to do it when they are ready. Anticipate this need to get to know your loved one. They will not be able to give you information about your loved one’s condition until they have completed their assessments and examinations. 

  • Try to use this time as a respite from your caregiving duties. Most caregivers don’t have the resources or opportunity to take good care of themselves. Don’t feel guilty about leaving the hospital. Your loved one is in good hands. Unless your loved one’s condition is extremely critical, you should not have to stay at the hospital twenty-four hours a day, or sleep there. Let the hospital caregivers take over for awhile. Do something for yourself. Some intensive care units provide a pager to families so they can feel free to leave the hospital but still know they can be reached if a problem arises. Ask about it. Give the nurses your cell phone number if you have one. Your loved one is going to need you a lot more when he or she is discharged from the hospital, and you will both be better off if you are rested. 

  • Finally, let the hospital know how well it has met your needs. Complete any satisfaction survey offered. Write a short letter or email. Most hospitals appreciate your opinions. Your input can help hospitals make changes to serve your community better.

 

Subscribe to our weekly e-newsletter