Whether a hospital restricts visitors in an effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus, or a family caregiver is out of state or tied up at work, we cannot always accompany our aging parents to the hospital. Here’s what to do if your parent goes to the ER and/or is admitted to the hospital and you cannot be with them.
First, we have to trust in compassionate caregivers at the hospital. Of course no one can replace the presence of family, but when a relative just can’t be there – whether due to visitor restrictions or any other reason – remind yourself that the hospital staff is trained to provide care and that’s what they will do for your parent.
Beyond providing comfort and support, the role of a working daughter or son, when a parent is hospitalized, is to be their advocate. To speak up for them, humanize them in the eyes of the medical team, and provide relevant context. There are ways to do that when you cannot be there in person. Caregiving during coronavirus takes some improvisation. Here’s how:
1. Create a travel packet. EMTs and other first responders are trained to look on the refrigerator for any advanced directives like DNRs (do not resuscitate orders). So put together a “For the hospital” kit and keep one set on the fridge (These magnetic holders are a great way to organize and display the information.) and one above your parent’s bed.* In addition to your parent’s advanced directive, include a photo copy – front and back – of their insurance card, their healthcare proxy and a list of the medications they take.
2. Include a note. Write a brief but descriptive note for the admitting team sharing the information you would have shared if you were at the hospital. This might include: your contact information, an overview of your parent’s medical history/concerns, any “please know” items. Ex, Please know my mother has early stage dementia and may be confused by …. . Also include a brief comment that humanizes your parent. Ex. Thank you for caring for our sweet mother. Friends call her Betty.”
3. Do not fret if your parent is currently isolated and you cannot put this info packet together. In the event he or she is hospitalized, you can call the hospital and convey all of this information
4. Balance your understanding and your assertiveness when asking for updates. Especially in these extraordinary times when hospital staffs are stretched beyond their limits, be respectful and muster up all of your patience while awaiting updates. But be as assertive as necessary if you are not getting the information you need. Ask your parent’s nurse and doctor how and when you should contact them for updates. Be clear with them about what you absolutely want to know. Be sure you are heard when you impart medical history and personal information. Then try to stay busy while you wait between briefings. Also, urge your family members to streamline contact with the hospital. One person should be the point of contact.
5. Ask about video chats and visitation policies. Some hospitals have the capacity to help patients FaceTime with family. Others are too busy. You won’t know if you don’t ask.
Finally, assume best intent and trust your parent knows you care. In times of crisis we tend to think that our relationships boil down to whether or not we get to them now. You have a lifetime of history with your parent. That’s what matters – not just this single moment.
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