By Kaye Swain
One of the many issues the Sandwich Generation often has to deal with, when caring for the elderly parents or other relatives in their family, is surgery. While many surgeries are done "out-patient," and the patient gets to go home the same day, there are plenty that require a hospital stay of one or more days. Did you know that you can request permission to stay with your elderly senior and that in most hospitals, that will be allowed - even encouraged?
Why stay with them? The initial anesthesia can leave them feeling so awful for a good 24 hours. Along with that, patients are often on quite a bit of pain medication after the surgery. Those, combined with the shock to the system of the surgery itself, normal aging issues, all the hustle and bustle in the hospital while the patient is trying the sleep, the disorientation of being "outside their element," etc. really takes a toll on our beloved seniors - including impacting their memory. Having a familiar face can help them mentally as well as emotionally and physically.
- Here are some of the ways I was able to help a dear relative by staying at the hospital with her for three days along with visiting often for a few more days when she was in a rehab unit:
- I was able to encourage my relative and keep reminding her that she was in the hospital, the surgery had gone well, and she was doing great. Those simple words often served to relax and destress her.
- I was her cheerleader - encouraging her to drink water when her mouth was dry but she didn't feel like it; telling her how great she was doing in physical therapy; and helping her to realize she really was making progress even when she didn't see it.
- She got cold very easily and I was able to make sure her water wasn't too cold and that she had plenty of blankets on her. The staff was WONDERFUL but they were also often busy. By being there, I could be the extra hands she needed so she didn't have to wait too long for something simple such as those blankets or having the TV channel changed.
- Speaking of TV, she never was able to get the hang of how to change the channel or even turn it on, let alone figure out what channel her favorite shows were on. That may not sound important, but old favorite shows were a nice way for her to pass time while her body healed.
- Keep a close eye on enough medication for her. While many patients ask for them every chance they get, other aging seniors like my relative forget to ask. Along with the nursing staff, I would routinely check on how she was feeling. When she was hurting, I would remind her to ask for pain medications. Like many other seniors I've met, she didn't want to "bother them." No matter how often they and I told her it was no bother and it was better to NOT let the pain become overwhelming, that's what would have happened if I hadn't been there and been reminding her.
- I was able to help her remember which leg to exercise during group therapy.
- I was able to remind her to NOT jump out of bed before the nurses came, even though she felt good when laying there. I knew, as she found out each time, that the minute she stood up the "feeling good" would be gone.
Once she moved to rehab, I no longer spent the night, but was up visiting for long periods daily. She had started physical therapy twice a day, but wanted to walk more. With permission, I was able to take her around the unit 2-4 times a day and that helped stave off stiffness in her body.
She had a delightful roommate and they got along great. I would sit fairly quietly, typing on my Netbook for the most part, while they chatted. But if she dropped something or needed help, I was right there. And I had the pleasure of cheering them both on as they went out for physical therapy.
Was it absolutely essential for me to be there so much? Probably not. Did it make her feel more comfortable during the process. Absolutely! Did it help her recuperate faster and keep her mind a bit more focused on her reality. I definitely think so. As exhausting as it could be, would I do it again? In a heart beat!
Just like with so many other things in life, not everyone is free to do this. Sometimes, I might not be able to do it. But if your schedule allows for it, or can be stretched to work with it, you will both be blessed with your being there to help them through this difficult season of their life. And their healthy recovery will be a big help for you as much as for them.
Kaye Swain is a member of the Sandwich Generation dealing with the issues of caring for the elderly parents and relatives in her family while also babysitting grandchildren. She enjoys writing on those topics at SandwichINK, in order to provide other multigenerational caregivers with useful information, resources and encouragement.