When my husband got sick four years ago, I read a book about grief that really stuck with me because grief is not just about someone dying. It can also be about the hardship you are going through when someone is ill. That book was Option B by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. Over the holiday, my husband ended up in the hospital once again to undergo emergency surgery to clear up an infection that is running amuck due to his diabetes and Sjogren’s causing complications. As I navigated a week of text messages and phone calls from friends and family, I am reminded once again about the lesson that really stood out to me from their book.
The website for Option B has been updated to include a message about resilience in the time of COVID, but that part I read years ago is still prominent today…when you ask what you can do or how you can help, you are putting the burden on the person experiencing the hardship. This week, I had many such text messages or phone calls. Honestly, I am exhausted. This hospital stay is a lot more nerve racking than previous ones because I can’t be there for my husband. Due to the COVID restrictions, there is a no visitor policy being reinforced. To make it even more stressful, he had to be transferred to a hospital out of state, almost two hours away because our local one was too rural to have the needed specialist on staff. They contacted nine hospitals before they found one that had the available surgeon and room in the hospital.
When my husband arrived at the hospital, the Emergency Department decided to do their own evaluation of his condition. So it would be another 36 hours from when he first went into the ER at our local hospital to when he received his surgery. Our local hospital let me stay in the ER with him until around 2am on Monday when they decided he needed to be transferred. So I was there to ask questions and advocate for him. At noon on Tuesday, he was transferred via ambulance to the bigger hospital. It took over two hours before I heard he had arrived, but I could not get any updates on his condition when I called the hospital. I knew how to access the patient portal for the lab reports and doctor notes, but when I called, I would be told there were no updates. Finally, I received a call that night from the surgeon that they would operate, but they did not know when that would be other than the next day, most likely in the morning.
Wednesday, I received a text from my husband that they were prepping him. He tried to do a video call, but my phone would not allow me to pick up the call and then he would not answer when I tried calling him back. I knew that he probably had been taken to the OR and it would be a while, but missing that call played on my anxiety. When I still had net heard anything after three hours, I started calling the hospital. I was transferred to the ER, but told he was not there and must still be in surgery, so they had no updates. The process repeated for hours. I couldn’t imagine the surgery taking that long because I was told it would be general anesthesia. So either something went wrong or the ball had been dropped. At my wits end, I tracked down the information on how to contact the nursing supervisor for the hospital since the patient advocates office was closed by this point. Within 20 min of speaking to the supervisor, I got an update that he was out of surgery and they were just waiting on a room to open. Apparently, he had been out of surgery for hours already. I hate that I had to “Karen” the situation by asking to speak to the supervisor, but it is what it is…
I updated friends and family through Facebook posts to keep them in the loop on what was happening. People offered prayers and thoughts, but there were some that offered to talk or to distract my son for a while. My landlord even offered to drop by the hospital or to lend a hand if needed. One friend sent me a giftcard to Grubhub so we wouldn’t have to worry about meals. Those offers were appreciated because if asked what they could do, my answer was nothing. I was sleep deprived, anxious, and stressed. The last thing I could think about was involving other people.
As I write this, my husband has undergone a second round in the OR. Still no word on when he can go home. Things have calmed down since the start of last week. My biggest strength is my son who has made sure we eat and even watch Supernatural to distract our brains from the waiting. It is probably similar to the mother-daughter study discussed in Option B. We are there for each other, so it lessons our anxiety.
So what is the lesson? Be there for each other and don’t leave things to ambiguity. Do what you can so the person feels like they have a semblance of control and a small piece of normality. We are still waiting, but things are getting better. I really appreciate my friends and family during this time. It is hard right now during COVID without things like non-COVID medical emergencies. Resiliency cannot happen alone. It is through community and support that we weather the things thrown at us.
Here is to a brighter year in 2021!