Mom was taken to the emergency room Monday night via ambulance. After seeing that Mom was abnormally non-responsive in her behaviors (which is what quickly got Dad's attention when he visited with Mom on Monday afternoon), the nursing home's nurse found that Mom's blood oxygen was low (in the 80s, instead of above 90), her blood pressure was very low, and she was running a temperature. So the decision was made to send her to the hospital for evaluation.
Dad and I quickly joined Mom back in the ER examination room. Four hours later, we knew very little about her situation, other than she was going to be admitted for observation. So we headed home for the evening to take care of our respective dogs and to try to get a little rest.
I was back at the hospital early Tuesday morning to await the doctors' rounds. They didn't come to Mom's room until late morning, and there was still no firm diagnosis. But I could already diagnose my own situation - my stress level had rapidly risen and left me tired, anxious and irritable. I've learned in the past that when that happens, it's time to figure out how to balance the demands of caregiving with my own health issues.
Obviously, in times of crisis (such as emergency room visits), Mom takes priority, but I also believe that our own needs as caregivers need to be taken into account (or otherwise, we won't do a good job of caregiving when loved ones get out of the hospital).
With that said, here are some quick tips of what I am finding works for me:
- I make sure to send an e-mail to friends and family members to let them know what the situation is. They then feel informed, but they also realize that until the crisis is passed, I won't be contacting them in person. This saves me a lot of phone calls, which tend to be stressful since I don't really know what Mom's diagnosis is and often feel like I have to provide an update.
- I clear my immediate calendar as much as possible. I'm very fortunate to work for a company whose staff members are very understanding of my situation. I also quicly cancelled Monday night's dinner with a friend as well as a planned overnight trip later in the week. I've learned that even if Mom is out of the hospital (which means a decrease in my anxiety), I'll still need the time to recoup and let my stress level decrease.
- I'm looking more closely at my diet during stressful situations. Usually, when I'm stressed, I tend toward comfort food (in my case, cheesey, gooey stuff) or fast food. But after watching Monday's edition of The Oprah Winfrey Show, I learned about a new television special involving Dr. Mehmet Oz. One of the segments focuses on dealing with stressful situations, and the suggestion is eating fatty fish. So on my visit tonight to the grocery store, I picked up salmon and tuna that I'll try to eat over the next week.
- I let myself succumb to the need to nap. I find that I get really tired during these crisis situations, so a cat-nap tends to help me relax and to mentally refresh me (especially when I may not be sleeping soundly at night). I try to clear my mind of Mom's situation and the worries and try to focus on being quiet and my breathing. If I doze off, great; if I just get a clearer mind, that works, too.
- Finally, I also am trying to find time to spend with my minature schnauzer, Zoe. She has the ability to realize when something's wrong and recognizes when I'm stressed. She always finds ways to be there for me, whether it's laying over my foot or jumping on my lap in order to be petted. No matter what tact she takes, paying attention to her always manages to lower my stress level.
I'll write about other insights about Mom's hospital visit over the next week or so. Until then, I'm off to take care of myself (in order to take care of Mom).