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Lessons from the hospital

When my husband was in a serious accident I learned many things while helping to care for him

My new year is in September when harvest is in full swing. On October 2, 2017 our farm family entered a new season of caring for my husband Wes, who collided at an uncontrolled intersection in his 2015 pickup with a heavy-duty trailer which flipped. Multiple rib fractures, concussion and a separated shoulder put Wes into trauma care in Winnipeg for 10 days, and I learned quickly to embrace my mother’s excellent nursing skills she raised me with. Here are my lessons of the journey:

  • Time. Change your clock on your smartphone to 24:00 time. My pilot son Ian, and daughter-in-law Kendra (a nurse) already do this. Our granddaughter will learn to tell time this way and have her snack at 14:00.
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  • Journal. As I cared for Wes, I tracked the timing of meds, physio visits, bathroom calls, etc. This was done in my leather moleskin journal with a secret back pocket that also served as my purse, which of course looks like a journal, not a purse, thus not a temptation to steal. All I really needed was my hotel key, a charge card, and some cash for meals.
  • Flannel pants. You know the myth about “wear good underwear, in case you are in an accident.” Well the EMTs cut it off! So the gift that arrived on Day 2 was a godsend to preserve modesty, along with a razor, shaving cream, toothbrush, toothpaste, and slippers. Be practical in helping the family get the tools they need quickly to comfort the patient. Foot lotion is great, too.
  • Peanut butter, celery sticks, walnuts and pears. This was my “manna” delivered by family friends who know my special diet restrictions. It is not cool to eat the patient’s food, so you need to have a stash of your own. Fortunately my hotel room had a fridge and microwave. I also appreciated the stash of tea that I typically carry when I travel, and I was in B.C. when the crash happened. WestJet was great to deal with in changing flights.
  • Hotel room with feather pillows. The Canad Inn staff in Winnipeg is fantastic. It was a blessing to have a hotel room just a few minutes walk away from the trauma bed. I also learned to ask for a better pillow, which meant better sleep for a spouse who was sometimes beckoned by nursing staff in the wee hours of the morning. Folks offered their homes, but driving when you are tired, and the main caregiver is not a workable or safe idea. Be really good to yourself, and take hot baths as a way to unwind.
  • Celebrate the small successes. As each tube was removed, it was cause for rejoicing that we were heading home, and healing was happening. The whiteboard in the room was my art canvas to wish the staff a Happy Thanksgiving, and say, “We appreciate you so much!” Helium balloons brightened the room, and their base takes up precious little real estate on the bedside table.
  • Text to ask if it is OK to visit, and keep visits short. When patients are in hospital they need to rest, and they need to know you care. It is a fine balancing act for social time and sleeping time. Not only was I the primary nurse, I also was the PR specialist. A friend sent me a picture and news clipping of the accident which I could quickly email to those who wanted to know what happened. Perhaps a simple, short word document could be crafted to save your mouth and time.
  • Ask the nursing staff what you can do to be helpful but not intrusive. I actually was “hired” by the nurse on Day 2, but I told her I would be leaving with my husband. The ward staff had an amazing collaborative culture, charge nurses did not stay at the desk if they could help secure the comfort of the patient. Smiles, thank yous, and ginger cookies for the staff built a good working climate for healing.
  • Find some time for solitude. Being on a surgical ward with all the beeping and calls for nurses is like a farmer being trapped inside a very dysfunctional combine cab! When we could use the walker to get off the ward, it was a great time to have some quiet. I also enjoyed singing and praying in the sanctuary which had wonderful acoustics and silence. The sign over that door said “May hope flourish.”
  • Be grateful. In a hospital you need to ask for support, so reach out to the spiritual care director, social worker, and physio team. Write down the questions you have in your journal so that you can have efficient conversations with the doctors on rounds. I usually got to the ward before the 0700 shift change so I could find out how Wes’s night went. Then I would wait to see the doctor and advocate for my spouse.
  • Stay away if you are sick. When my scarf hit the hospital floor my nursing DIL suggested that I not touch that “vector of germs.” Lots of handwashing is necessary. Setting healthy boundaries is a good idea, not rude. Ask for what you and the patient need. We also limited multiple visits from the same people.
  • Don’t “overcare.” I was peeling a tangerine and feeding Wes the pieces when he declared, “Why are you feeding me?” Very good question. Sometimes we do too much when folks can help themselves.
  • Collect business cards of support staff. It helps to have a mailing address and phone number when you want to write a note of thanks to the hard-working staff who don’t get enough appreciation in their health-care roles. When trauma hits, it is good to have a social worker to talk to. Asking for counsel is not a weakness, it can really help you process your grief, losses, and create hope for your new future.
  • Take the caregiver out to lunch, off the ward. This is a refreshing break for those who are continually bedside. Another friend sent a Skip the Dishes gift card. Others did some printing and work duties to share the load. Give the caregiver a designated water bottle that is easy to find.
  • Keep your phone calls short with the folks at the farm. They will have an increased workload when a key team member is missing, so they don’t have time to “chat.”

About the author

Contributor

Elaine Froese is a certified farm family coach and farm partner. Seek her out at www. elainefroese.com or call 1-866-848-8311. Buy her books for your mom. Share your stories of how these phrases have impacted you. Elaine wants to hear from you on Facebook at “farm family coach” or Twitter @elainefroese.

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