Sunday, January 18, 2009

Caregiving 101 (the ED visit)

The recent and obviously unexpected trip to the emergency department with my dad brought to mind that every caregiver should have an caregiver emergency tote bag stocked and ready to go as you follow the ambulance.

When the EMS are carrying your loved one out into the rescue squad, you find yourself panicking around the house to grab a book, knitting, portable DVD, something to keep your mind occupied and calm during the long waits.

You are also thinking about bottled water or juice and maybe a healthy snack. ED vending machines are brutal.

So, I have devised a list of the basics that should be in your caregiver emergency tote bag:

1. Something that can keep you occupied for 5-6 hours (minimum). Good choices are books, magazine, an easy knitting or crochet project, movies that can be used with a DVD, extra computer battery or power cord. (You can grab the portable DVD player and computer on the way out -- but you do not want to be fiddling with power cords in a rush. And forgetting the power could be a big disappointment!)

2. Snacks. A couple of bottled waters, nuts, dried fruit, peanut butter crackers. Stuff that will not go bad in a tote sitting in a hallway closet.

3. Extra clothing for the patient. Of course you won't know what accident or condition will require the ED trip. But think - big, warm and easy to put over bandages. EMS and ED docs tend to cut clothing off! Also throw in a large toboggan style hat and warm socks.

4. A list of all of the patient's medications. You are going to have to be diligent about updating this as necessary. But you may be taking the patient to a hospital that does not know your loved one.

5. A list of names and contact information of your patient's physicians and surgeons. This might already be in your mobile phone.

6. A list of family members and contact information of family and friends who should know about the ED visit. This might already be in your mobile phone.

7. Medications. A bottle of aspirin, Tylenol. You should also think about how many of your own medications you may need if you were to spend many hours in the ED. Are you going to miss your medication if you spent 10 hours away from home?

8. A copy of the patient's medical insurance cards.

9. Some paper and coin money.

10. Extra pair of cheap reading glasses, if necessary.

11. A small container of hand sanitizer.

Of course, there are items that you will need to grab like your house is on fire before you follow the ambulance:

1. Your purse or wallet (and the wallet of your patient).

2. The notebook computer, portable DVD player, Blackberry, Smartphone, mobile phones. (remember that the extra batteries or power cords should be in your tote bag so that you aren't going crazy looking for the extra power. Cell phones will run out of power at the most inconvenient time).

3. House and car keys.


Of course everyone's list will be slightly different. But it will save you much stress and tons of boredom if you think ahead and make a list and tote.

When you are at the ED, your focus must be on the patient. And if you keep your mind active and you feel less stressed, you can focus on the patient.

What does focus on the patient mean? You must go wherever the patient goes. Obviously, you cannot be inside an x-ray room. But you can follow with the cart. The patient will be comforted by hearing your voice. That will make a world of difference in the medical professionals' ability to care for your patient.

I cannot stress enough the importance of using hand sanitizer often. There are germs in "them there" ED rooms.


Today (Sunday January 18) is a better day for my dad. But, my mom is sick in bed with a bug that she undoubtedly caught at Wake Med ED.

Not only did mom fail to use hand sanitizer. But for the last two days, she has eaten very poorly and worried sick about dad.

Force yourself to eat nutritious, balanced meals after the ED visit. Drink plenty of liquids.

I know (believe me, I know) that you as the caregiver are exhausted and relieved that the ED visit did not evolve into an admission. The temptation is to ignore your health right now. Bad idea.

God bless you all.

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