Manner Mistakes When People Are Sick: (Part II)
Manner Mistakes When People Are Sick (Part II)
Posted May 17, 2010
You probably know people who've battled serious medical trauma. I'm in that select group of pain warriors. My war wound's found on my belly, a straight scalpel scar sliced neatly across my stomach. Abdominal fat was subsequently used to fill the empty space where a massive brain tumor once resided.
I understand pain. I teach manners. If you've wanted to do the right thing, but hesistated because you were uncertain of protocol and propriety, I've got answers.
Before this Part II, I'd recommend clicking on Part I with spot-on tips 1-6, found here:
7. If you're visiting the hospital or home during recovery, ensure you're invited. Limit your staying time. Observe cues of fatigue and weakness. If you're asked to leave, do so cheerfully and quickly.
My doctors had strict instructions about visitors and rightly so. While I (sometimes) enjoyed seeing people, my preferred time duration was small increments, approximately 15-20 minutes. Other patients might want your company longer. How to tell? Seek the advice of the medical staff before you even enter the room. Ask the patient. Ask his/her caretaker. Be the guest who uplifts, not the visitor who outstays their welcome.
8. If appropriate, incorporate religious expressions of faith and encouragement. Learn the person's religious preferences, educate yourself on that protocol, and act accordingly. For example, I'm a Christian. Send me a get-well card with a picture of an angel or the cross. Add a biblical passage, a note that you pray for me, and you've got me covered.
My image colleague Diana from California sent me the Willow Series "Angel of Healing" (see picture). The day that brown-wrapped box unexpectedly arrived made the pain temporarily decrease. I'd often gaze at "Angel of Healing" as I recovered. I still see her today and when I do, think of (1) Diana and (2) my progress.
That said, while we're largely a Christian nation, people possess different beliefs. Honor them. When in doubt, a simple get-well card with the line "You're in my thoughts and I'm here for you" works well. For the love of gosh, just send something. Let the patient know you think of them. We need you. Please be there in this small way.
9. Aid the sick, but support the caretakers. My parents were in their seventies throughout this almost eight-year process. My pain and despair impacted their own physical and mental health and indeed, even strained their marriage. Using their elderly bodies to pull me into a sitting position and driving me to endless doctor appointments shaded their world gray. Worried for me and exhausted by my upkeep, they continued because they loved me. But what a toll. Caretakers, surround yourselves with your own support system. Otherwise, you get sucked right into the "pain drain" along with your patient.
"If you need me, I'm here." Really? Okay, then. Don't tell me. Show me. Make an actual contribution to the patient/caretaker. Cook a meal. Clean the house. Mow the lawn. Shop for groceries/toiletries. Shovel the driveway in the winter. Drive me to my next medical appointment allowing my caretaker a much-needed respite. We'll love you for it. We won't forget.
10. Cards, gifts, flowers, and artwork (usually created by young children) are rays of sunshine injected into our worst moments of gloom. Personalize your message and/or gift. UC's College of Business Honors-PLUS Program coordinated a touching outreach where each day five new cards would arrive at my parents' house. I could not read, so my parents read the words while I closed my eyes and felt loved and embraced.
In the quiet of night when everyone was sleeping, I'd clutch these notes to my chest and gather strength from the healthy vitality of their stiff textures. I vividly remember cards that played music when cracked open. I'd open and close them as they lay on my chest. The cheerful musical tunes in that night darkness covered me in soothing warmth.
One enterprising former student explained how he searched through two years of past class lecture notes to type a "get well" letter in the format of professional business correspondence taught in class.
I smiled big. For that brief moment, I wasn't "recovering person in pain". Rather, I was now "strong, healthy educator who taught work skills".
Another student, knowing I love Chipotle food, sent me a gift certificate. The accompanying card said that when I was all better, I could use their card and celebrate my recovery. And I did. The day I used almost nine months later, I solemnly reflected on how far I'd come from its initial arrival.
In the dark poison that was my life during that time, I never forgot the people who sent me bouquets of get-well flowers and plants, baked homemade cookies, or the stuffed animal "Ella the Elephant". Oh, did Ella charm me when I first saw her smiling head emerge from the top of the box. I'll always remember the people who (1) took the time to purchase, (2) to mail, and (3) to be my silver linings.
Beloved niece Lauren Marie? Your Aunt Lisa still has her cross and peace dove painting you painstakingly created for her the day before surgery. Your artwork gave me strength. When I saw and touched (even years later), I felt loved. And stronger. I love you, Little Girl.
11. To the laudable work souls covering during our professional absence, we acknowledge your efforts and love you for them. Please recognize traumatic illness is not a joy-ride time for us. We're not munching sugary bon-bons and devouring the relational dynamics of soap opera characters. All we seek is to regain "normal people" status and once again contribute to the work team.
12. If sickness leads to death, honor that person's legacy and memory. Too often people express initial sorrow only to never be heard from again. Keep in contact with that person's family/loved ones. Call them. Write them. Invite them for lunch. Make an occasional financial contribution in that person's honor to their cause of choice. The person who died may have been your acquaintance, work colleague, neighbor, or friend. To that person's family, however, that person was the reason to get up in the morning. Tell them you won't forget. Tell them you still remember.
SPECIAL ADDENDUM TO ALL DOCTORS:
Doctors, please LISTEN. With a few exceptions, I never doubted my doctors' credibility. They seemed competent and were generally well-regarded in their field. Medical jargon abounded, but I'd have preferred (1) an uninterrupted time to describe my symptoms as best as only I can offer, (2) an authentic attempt to genuinely listen (I know my body better than you; you're a fool if you think differently), and (3) detailed notes so I don't have to repeat the same story ten times for ten closely-booked appointments in your same office. I'm glad we're working together, but let's do so as partners.
SPECIAL ADDENDUM TO ALL NURSES:
I'm expert enough to claim that while doctors have their place, it is the nurse who takes care of you. If you're currently a nurse, have ever been a nurse, are studying to become a nurse, or gave birth to a nurse, know this: You're welcome in my home anytime. There's a reason why you're annually voted America's Most-Trusted Occupation. You saw me at my weakest and most vulnerable and provided 24-hour care. How can I not love you all?
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