One month to be precise, when I lost my husband. But the month included hours, minutes, seconds and zillions of nano seconds of that kind of intense pain which has no name. Within sixty days we have dealt with an intensely grueling hospital experience and a heart shattering death of our most loved one. Sympathies, help, kind words, support – we were never short of warmth. And it brought in myriad experiences as well. Surpassing the body blow that we received, there were many lessons we learnt. At one point my cousin who had faced a sudden death of her mother about a decade ago pointed out how she had to battle all the difficulties on her own without any support. That got me thinking. There are many moments when we are at the other side of the fence – at times feeling helpless as to how we should ideally react when we hear someone we know is hospitalized or has died. How best can we support their families ? How should we react and respond to such situations collectively as a society?
What I write here are based on my personal experiences in these two months – things we were thankful for, reactions that left us bewildered, support that we never expected:
Tackling Hospitalisation: So, how can we actually help those who are dealing with the hospitalization of their dear ones- especially in critical stage?
- Cut down on enquiries based on assumptions – both negative and positive:: “So, he’s better now? Is he eating on his own?” Nothing hurts more than enquiries which are far from truth – things that you wish would happen but are not happening. It really hurts to say “No” to such queries. I remember one of my relatives asking me about when my husband would be discharged from hospital when he was actually going through a very critical stage.If you at all wish to ask, keep it simple – “How is he now?” Similarly, nothing puts off the relatives more than over-reactive negative remarks. “”Oh my God! Three weeks at the hospital and he is still in ICU?” Believe me, such negative exclamatory reactions are the last thing that the near ones look forward to.
- Share positive stories: Having a dear one in the ICU is akin to a floating straw in a tumultous ocean and every positive story, every genuine medical miracle story hold out that little flickering ray of hope that they wish would happen! Genuine positive stories, genuine suggestions give the necessary zeal to fight on! So, share positive vibes, positive incidents and provide positive yet practical suggestions.
- Always remember -if they could, they would: Even in crisis every family would try to give in their best support to the one they love the most. If they have not put him into a particular hospital specialising in neurology they probably could not afford or did not get a seat there. Always remember, if they could, they would. Every “Why didn’t you…..” question is only an agonising reminder to them that probably they are not dealing with the best option. It is not easy to be in their shoes but it is always worth a try.
- Stop asking for “Visiting Hours”, focus on Solidarity visits instead : If the patient is in a General Ward and is in the recovery phase it is absolutely fine to go and visit him during the visiting hours. When a patient is in ICU, he is probably not in a position to appreciate your loving gesture in visiting him. ICU visiting hours are extremely limited and it is always better for the nearest family members to go and have a look. They may be waiting all day long for that one glimpse. If you are a close relative do go in but if there is someone closer, please offer them the chance. It is much helpful if you visit the hospital for giving moral support and solidarity support to the nearest relatives who spend their days at the hospital. I was very fortunate that a few of my cousins and uncles actually played their ‘Solidarity Support’ part to perfection. They never insisted on seeing the patient and instead helped in talking to the doctors, bringing medicines, offering tea and snacks or simply being there as a mark of solidarity. And I am so mighty grateful to them.
- Care for the Care-givers: During the month-long hospital stay of my husband, my teenager son stood like a rock beside his father – spending days and nights at the hospital. During this time he would hardly have a proper lunch or breakfast. One of my cousins who stay in the vicinity not only arranged for a night stay at their house but also arranged for the much-needed dinner every day. And it helped him immensely. If you can and is within your capacity, please care for the care-givers or the night-vigilants. They need as much support as the patient. A cold shower, a place to use a proper wash-room, a glass of cold water…..may be this is all you can arrange. Please do it! There is no service greater than caring for the caregivers.
- Stand-in – even if it is difficult: A patient in ICU would often mean staying back at the hospital for the near ones. And it often happens that only a single set of people have to stay on -day after day – often tiring themselves. In our case, both my son and father had to be vigilant for about a month. Being a male ward, it was not feasible for women to stay on. And at times I really wished they had stand-ins to volunteer. If you ever get an opportunity, please volunteer. I know, it is often not possible to get a leave from office but then you do take a leave for a birthday party here and a weekend leave there, so why not? It would give much respite to the tired body of the care-givers.
- Make medical arrangements, if within your capacity: One of the huge,huge ways you can help is by making medical arrangements – arranging for alternative hospitals, arranging for blood, arranging for medical consultations. There can be no bigger help than this. I had received tremendous support from a group of friends who not only arranged for an alternative hospital when the bills became too high, but who also co-ordinated every treatment process and consulted doctors and sought suggestions on our behalf. Believe me, this was an enormous help for us!
- Every Support Matters: Nothing, trust me NOTHING helps more than genuine financial support. Medical expenses apart there are many tiny ways which accrue on to a huge expense for the family. Every little helps matters. I am most fortunate in this regard where relatives and friends slipped in little envelops and uninformed money transfers to us. And many from friends whom I had never met. It mattered, it mattered tremendously. So no matter how little, do pitch in. It is much more important to pass on a gift of a few rupees to an ailing relative than buying an expensive gift for a wedding present. In terms of usage value, NOTHING compares to the first one! And support may not be just in terms of currency. Some of our friends gave us discount vouchers for Uber ride. You wouldn’t believe how much of help it was for those who were to return home with their tired bodies after a day-long hospital visit. A friend of ours who is a chauffeur, untiringly supported us by offering to drive our vehicle or offer his taxi any time of the day or night – be it 3 PM or 3 Am. And we had no words to really thank him! Do it the way you can but DO SUPPORT!
- Be Sensitive: Either you are there or you aren’t but for heaven’s sake please be sensitive. If you are travelling to another city to visit a critically ill relative. let your visit be for the purpose of solidarity alone. Do not convert your visit to a shopping spree or hunt for food joints. For the family that is uncertain about the next hour it really does not offer a pleasant sight to look into your bulging shopping bags – even if that includes gift for the family. There is a time for everything and this isn’t it! Similarly if you at all go to the hospital and discover relatives you have not met for a long time, do not convert the visiting lounge to a gossip counter – there may be children losing their mom or dad at that very hour somewhere down the corridor. Be Sensible, Be Sensitive!
- Be There: ” I am praying for you” . Often, a message as simple as this helps soothe tired souls who need shoulders. I have had friends, cousins and relatives who stay very far away sending simple one liners or prayer messages. It really helped to know that so, so, so many people were there praying for us. No matter if the prayers were heard or not, at that moment, at that time, it really helped us fight the battle.
I know what you must be thinking at the end of all these demo capsules. Do I practice what I preach ? Frankly, not I. And the reason for that is too long and perhaps I would reserve the reason for some other time. But the one for whom we fought the battle certainly did. Any news of hospitalization or of death and he would be the first one to rush – and yes, at times even at the cost of his office hours. From arranging for money to ambulance, from attending funeral parlours to arranging for flowers for the final journey, he has always been there, done it. From being a regular blood donor to being beside ailing relatives, he has tirelessly played his part. And though we could not bring him back, perhaps somehow this is the reason why there were so many umpteen number of friends, relatives and well-wishers who pitched in and poured in their loving help..Perhaps this is what we call Karma!
(Image Courtesy: Pixabay)