Life as a caregiver involves medications and doctor visits, aides and day programs, activities and attitudes and charts and to-do lists.
It also occasionally involves a trip to the emergency room.
Caregiving can be taxing enough with the usual day-to-day responsibilities and tasks, but a sudden trip to the ER adds a whole new layer of stress. Preparation is critical in order to best manage a caregiving crisis.
Here are seven ways to prepare for the inevitable emergency room visit.
Create a Cheat Sheet.
It's difficult to remember all the medications, medical record numbers, and insurance information during an emergency situation. Before a crisis occurs, prepare a document with all current medications, dosage and dispense times, and any known allergies. Include insurance information, social security number, date of birth, and medical record number. Emergency contacts should be listed as well as primary and specialty doctors (this is particularly important if the ER visit is to a hospital not associated with the usual medical team). Preferably, keep this document to one or two pages and keep it accessible and updated. Have a few extra copies on hand so there is one to give to the EMTs (if you need to call an ambulance) and one for the intake nurse in the emergency room. Keep an extra copy to use when verifying medications and personal information with the hospital staff. (Here's a printable emergency room checklist in case you need one.)
Pack a Bag.
The "just in case" bag might already be packed for your loved one; if not, prepare one now, before it's needed. Extra clothes, protective briefs, wipes, gloves, socks, and undergarments are among the items to have ready to go. It's also helpful to have a spare set of reading glasses, toothbrush and toothpaste, pens, and a favorite book or magazine. Sometimes it's a long wait in the ER.
Pack Another Bag.
This bag is for the caregiver. Aside from a change of clothes for those ER visits that turn into overnight excursions, toothbrush and toothpaste are essential, as are any medications the caregiver needs. An extra phone charger is also a must-have, because we all know that our phones mysteriously tend to die more quickly when we're at the hospital. There's usually a lot of downtime during check-in and tests and the wait for test results. Bring along a book or e-book reader (and its charger). Toss in a pad of paper and a pen (or a recorder) to take notes when the doctor is relaying information.
Bring Along the Medications.
Emergency rooms can be chaotic, and the wait can be unbelievably long. It's important to bring along any regular medications in case it gets to be time to take them and your loved one hasn't yet seen a doctor. Of course, once your loved one is under the doctor's care, it is essential to ask permission before he or she takes any medications.
Prepare to Advocate.
Caregivers know what's "normal" for their loved ones. It's important to share as much information about the situation as possible with the medical professionals. Most likely the ER doctor is seeing the patient for the very first time. If the doctors or nurses aren't listening or are going in a direction that doesn't seem to fit with what you know about your loved one, it's time to speak up. In order to get the best results when advocating, be polite yet firm, and be as cooperative as possible.
Pack Your Patience.
A trip to the emergency room means a health crisis and a lot of uncertainty. It doesn't help that the trip is likely in the middle of the night, when no one wants to be on those hard, cold waiting room chairs. It's important to remain calm and patient even when people (seemingly not as sick as your loved one) are being seen first or the waiting room is overflowing. Remember the person in the next seat over is probably just as stressed and worried. Take a quick walk outside or to the cafeteria if the stress gets to be too much.
Phone a Friend (or Relative).
Caregiving can be a lonely experience. Add a big dose of worry, and it's time to use a lifeline. Phone a friend or relative to talk about what's happening and ask for help. Whether you need someone to bring food or coffee or just sit with you with during the long wait, it's important to reach out.