We’re all superheroes, aren’t we? At least that’s what we think. Our loved ones rely on us for so much, and we do what we need to because we love them. We don’t mind that we have to care for them because we understand that their pain is far worse than anything we ever have to experience. (Except for the pain we experience being unable to ease their pain.) We do whatever it takes to make sure they are cared for and have what they need… Read more.

But what do we do when something happens to us that prevents or reduces our ability to care for them? I’ve written previously about how to set up a financial plan for your family member to be cared for in the event that we pass. But what about sudden illness? Surgeries? Accidents? We need to take care of ourselves, and our loved one, at the same time.

What can happen?

In the past few years, I’ve had more health problems that ever before. I think of myself as fairly healthy, but overweight and out of shape. These are things I’m working on and may or may not have been at play in my past (and current) health issues.

In December of 2015, I saw my doctor for abdominal pain. The CT found that I had a cyst on my ovary and that I required surgery. At this time, my family member had just been released from a psych facility and had a new treatment team. I was terrified about how he’d be cared for while I recovered. I begged the team to visit him daily, but they acted as though that would inconvenience them. My surgery was scheduled for a Friday, and until the doctor went in to check the cyst, we didn’t know if it would be an outpatient surgery or if I’d need to be inpatient for up to five days. Since the surgery was on a Friday, my family member’s treatment team said the best they could do would be to call my family member that day and maybe go out to our home once or twice the following week. I was more afraid about the lack of care for him than I was about the surgery.

Thankfully, the cyst was benign, and I went home the same day.

The following year, I tripped and fell in the middle of the night and broke my right wrist. Stubborn and independent, always, I drove myself to the ER. They confirmed the break, wrapped it, and sent me home. I am the one everyone looks to for help and I have a hard time asking for help. So yes. I drove myself home, too.

Last summer I had a painful bump on my belly. It was reddish in color and I felt feverish, so I went to ER. It was an abscess that they had to drain in the ER. Very painful, followed by ten days of strong (disgusting) antibiotics. It healed well, thank goodness.

Earlier this year, I had a severe dizzy spell (apparently caused by dehydration) and broke my right leg. You guessed it. I drove myself to the ER. It’s only a mile away, so I felt ok about that. They put a boot on my leg and I drove home.

I’m still recovering from the broken leg and have physical therapy twice a week. It’s improving rapidly, in part because I need to do the work to get stronger.

But wait! That’s not all! Someone is trying to get my attention. Last weekend, I awoke with severe pain in my lower right side. I had felt a urinary tract infection coming on earlier in the day and thought that was what was wrong. The pain got much worse and I started vomiting. I knew I had an appendicitis attack! So off to the ER, once again. Oh joy. I need frequent flyer miles!

I was in more pain than I’ve ever had. When the triage doc looked at me, she exclaimed “You look terrible!”. Nice. Thanks Doc. I feel pretty terrible, too.

They got me back to a bed quickly. The ER doc suspected kidney stones. I was sent for a CT and yes. I had one tiny (2mm) kidney stone. The first dose of morphine didn’t touch the pain, so they gave me Toradol. Still no relief. The second dose of morphine was heaven! Finally, I could relax. I had been writhing in pain and I remember telling people this is not me! I can handle pain. I’m not like this! (Funny what pain makes us do!)

I think I passed the stone while I was in the ER. They wanted to release me and the only person I thought to call was my mom. She’s always there for me. Except this time. She had left her phone in the living room when she went to bed. She didn’t hear my calls. The nurses were talking about sending me home in a taxi, but I kept asking them to wait until I could reach my mom. Finally, at 7am, mom answered. Of course, she was at the ER in a flash! So they released me.

I’ve had no pain since but was exhausted!

What can I do to have a better outcome in the future?

A wise young friend gave me some excellent advice. She said I need to organize a team of local people I can call on so I don’t have to deal with this myself. I have tons of friends, but most are not local. The morphine (and my lack of a regular daily schedule) caused me to think I was in the ER on a weekday. I didn’t want to bother anyone who would have to work that day or get kids off to school. But it was a weekend, and had I realized that, I would’ve called a friend or neighbor.

I will be asking two or three friends if they’d be willing to be my go-to people if I ever need to go to the ER or anywhere else in an emergency again. I need to work on letting go of my stubborn independence and be more willing to ask for help. I truly believe each of these situations happened because I am so very worn out from being a single caregiver and advocate for my family member. I have said this before and I’ll say it again: I can handle the illness and my loved one. The stress comes from fighting the ‘system’ of so-called care. Seriously, to be told by a professional treatment team that they couldn’t step up his care if I went into the hospital for surgery is unacceptable! They are supposed to be there to care for him and make sure his needs are met, right? (We ended up firing them not long after this. They were a joke.)

Put your own oxygen mask on first!

Apparently, I’m a slow learner. It took so many of these emergencies for me to realize the importance of keeping myself healthy and balanced, so I can care for my family member. Part of that process is learning to rely on others for help, as well as exercising and eating properly. I’m learning and am committed to avoiding health issues as much as I can.

We’re all told when we board an airplane that if there is an emergency, we have to place the oxygen mask on ourselves before trying to help anyone else. After all, if we can’t breathe, how can we help?

I had an amazing insight while I was lying in the ER bed, full of morphine. I realized how peaceful it was. I had nothing to be responsible for and couldn’t take care of anything from there, even if I wanted to. It was like a very brief vacation. It was nice, for a change. I’ll hang onto that feeling so that I can use it as a way to keep myself on track for staying healthy. An ER is not supposed to be a respite place. There are better ways to find respite!

How do you take care of yourself?

I hope this information is helpful to you. Please comment with questions, suggestions or other information. For information about how to receive caregiver-centric support, stress-management, and disease-specific tips and techniques (from the convenience and privacy of your own home via telehealth), visit MyHealios.