Feel The Love:  Helping a Loved One Through a Difficult or Life Threatening Hospital Stay

Feel The Love: Helping a Loved One Through a Difficult or Life Threatening Hospital Stay

It’s been a long nine weeks.  Another nine long weeks I’ve spent in the hosptial with whole month spent in the ICU.  I’m supposed to go home in the morning finally.  I’m hesitantly relieved.  I don’t want to be disappointed.

Being in the hosptial for any period of time is really hard.  Probably one of the hardest if not the hardest thing I’ll ever have to do.  Espeically when the stay is super long and the reason is life threatening involving ICUs, ventillators, comas, and the like, it’s especially important to feel the love of those around me, to know that I am not alone in this.

And my friend and family have really risen to the occasion over the last 9 weeks.  I couldn’t be more grateful for everything they’ve done for me.  They have been my emotional and spirital life support while on physical life support most of the time in the hosptial.  I can’t thank them enough.

When your friend or family memeber is extremely ill in the hosptial and ICU it’s hard to know what to do or say.  Here’s some of what I appreciated the most to serve as an idea guide to helping support someone through a rough hosptial stay:

  1. Call or text ahead.
    Let the person or the family memeber staying with them that you are coming so they can be prepared or let you know if its not a good time.  For example, the person might be in a proceedure or be sleeping when you plan on coming.
  2. Ask what you can bring. Often times ICUs have restrictions on live flowers and other things that can be brought in.  Very sick patients often have dietary restrictions, allergies, or simply aren’t eating at all.  Don’t be afriad to come right out and ask what the situation is before you bring something.  Your thoughtfulness will be appreciated.
  3. Bring reminders of life outside the hosptial. The most amazing awesome thing my friends did for me was decorate every inch of my room with photos and artwork and Christmas decorations for the holiday.  My friend Katy took photos off my own facebook accooutn and got them printed out and posted them in a giant collage covering an entire wall under the window to remind me of all my friends and happier times.  I have photos of my dog, myself as a kid doing fun things, my family, and other fun stuff.  She also took a calendar with photos of Christ which is extremely important to me as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and got them laminated then hung them all over another wall.  That allowed me to feel the Spirit of God in my hosptial room and be constantly reminded of my Savior’s and God’s love for me.  Other friends decorated for Christmas since I spenddt the holidays in the hosptial as well.  They put up gingerbread men, wreaths, garlands and more.  My mmom got me a tiny Christmas tree and a star.  My room had to have been the most amazingly festive of the whole hosptial because everytime anyone came in to give to a treatment or do a proceedure the ooo’d and ahh’d over my decor!  It brought joy to everyone who entered my room, and especially me!  I am so grateful to everyone who took the time to do it
  4. Promote Health If you think that you are sick, don’t come and visit!  A person in the hosptial has a weakened immune system and can get much worse from a simple cold.
  5. Remember Their Other Family and Pets If you can offer to help out with their other family members who may also need things during this time as well as their pets who don’t stop needing walks, love and attention while your friend is in the hosptial for prolongued periods.
  6. Listen and Love The most important thing you can do is just listen, love and otherwise be a emotional and spiritual support while your loved one goes through this hard experience.  They need your listening ear to vent sometimes, to cry sometimes, to worry, and be angry sometimes.  They need your kind words to comfort always, to remind them you love them always, to be in their corner always, to boost them up when they are down, and to always be their friend and support and cheerleader.  Remind them how much they are loved and missed by everyone else.
  7. Visit!!! Phone calls and texts are great, but nothing beats an in person visit when you are lonely and scared in the hosptial for long periods of time.  And the longer the hosptial stay goes on the worse it feels, but the less people tend to remember to come because the novelty of it starts to wear off.  Don’t forget your friend is still going though it in the hospital just because it’s been going on for 2 months!
  8. Don’t Unload Don’t tell the person in the hosptial how hard it is for you to see them in the hosptial.  It only makes the patient feel like a burden.  Of course you are worried and stressed yourself but make sure you talk about it with someone who isn’t as close to the person as you are and definitely not the patient themselves.
  9. Be Yourself If all else fails just be yourself.  The person that the patient missed from when they were well and wants to see is YOU!  Don’t overly worry about what to say and how to act.  They just miss you and want to be with their friend or family member.  They want your company and comfort that only you know how to give because you are the only person who is you.  The worse thing you can do isn’t to say or do the wrong thing but to do nothing and make the patient feel completely forgotten about and abandoned by you.
  10. Bring Them Home! When your loved one in the hospital makes it home, don’t forget about them then either!  They often will be stuck at home for some time and need just as much love and attention brought to them there as they did in the hosptial.  So bring them home!

I am so grateful for my friends and family who did everything I just described above and so much more!  They made it possible for me to emotionally and spiritually survive this hosptial stay.  It really wouldn’t have been barable without all of you so thank you soooo much!!!  I am especially grateful to God and Christ.  They are always there for me and I know that this too shall pass and even this difficult trial I have endured will be for my benefit.  I know it is slowly and rather painfully shaping me into who I am to be someday.  But the pain was made less by some photobombs and a lot of love from friends and family.

Thank you!  Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!!!!!!!

Reopening My Box of Hope

Reopening My Box of Hope

Wouldn’t it be amazing if, during our darkest hour, we could reach under our bed and open up a box of hope?  A “box of hope” could be a figurative thing that we reach inside ourselves or out to God to find.  But sometimes you need something more. Sometimes you need a literal box of hope.  And that is just what I created for myself during my darkest hour.

When I was 16 years old, during my senior year of high school, I was immersed in a deep and serious clinic depression.  My Obsessive Compulsive Disorder had just been diagnosed but was not yet under control.  I had constant intrusive thoughts of hurting myself – of ending my life.

Looking back I really had amazing self control on the whole.  But I could only handle so much.  The second time I caved in to the constant bombardment of intrusive images of self-harm, and I ended up cutting myself using razor blades my parents had forgotten to hide out in the garage.

Afterward I was on the phone with my therapist at the time.  She was telling me I was at a crossroads… that if I chose to continue down this path of cutting I would probably end up in a hospital.  I wasn’t really listening to what she was saying.  Instead, I was transfixed by what was sitting on the desk in front of me – the candle-lighting piece my mom had made for my younger sister’s Bat Mitzvah.  She had glued this tiny shells all over the outside of it go with my sister’s tropical theme.  And it struck me then with incredible intensity how very beautiful those tiny shells were – how simply amazing it was that something SO tiny could be SO beautiful.  And if something that tiny in life could be that beautiful… well all of life was beautiful and precious as well.

I rushed to get off the phone with my therapist.  I knew that I had to find a way to hang onto this feeling.  I had stumbled upon my internal box of hope!  But I knew that it wouldn’t be easy to tap into again.  I had to find a way to make it physical while it was fresh in my mind.  I had to find a way to remind myself of this epiphany every day because I knew there would be many dark days ahead where I would desperately need to draw on my box of hope.

So I had my mom (who is good at crafty things) help me cover an old shoe box with some bright pretty wrapping paper.  I wanted my box of hope to be private and inconspicuous on the outside.  I didn’t tell her what it was for, but perhaps sensing my urgency she kindly helped me anyway.  Then I took the box upstairs to my room and set to work.


IMG_1262Going through pictures and old magazines I decorated the inside of the box with things I wanted to do with my life, places I wanted to travel, people who cared about me, things that filled me with hope.  I hadn’t yet found out if I had gotten into USC Film School (a few months later I did), so I put a picture of a director’s chair with “USC Alumni” written on it.  I glued in some of the very shells that had led me to make the box to remind me of how beautiful life could be.

 

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I put a picture of myself as a child to remind myself of happy memories of my childhood innocence.  I was obsessed with The X-Files and desperately wanted to know how it would all end, so I put a picture of that as well.

Most importantly I wrote in large purple letters:

I CHOOSE TO CONTINUE LIVING

I WILL GET THROUGH THIS


IMG_1278Then it was time to fill the box.  Inside I placed a smiling drama mask to remind me of my love of theater and the creative arts since creativity had always sustained me during dark times and given me something to look forward to.


IMG_1265I placed my childhood comfort animals – my blanky, kitty, and lamby – inside.  Though nubby and threadbare from a lifetime of being loved the went into the box to remind me to always feel safe.


Next went the rug I wove myself while learning about Native Americans in elementary school.  I had always hated looking at it when I was younger because I hadn’t done it perfectly like my best friend Jennifer.  But over time I came to love it for it’s imperfections.  In the box, it reminded me that imperfection could be beautiful too!

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IMG_1277I put in a bracelet I made when I was 11.  All the beads were pretty by themselves but together well… it reminds me that you can have too much of a good thing.  But also to have fun and to have a sense of humor in all things.


IMG_1275Second to last I put in a rope I tediously made myself during Outdoor Education in 5th grade.  I spent over an hour with my hands going numb in an icy cold river laboriously pounding all the moisture out of a reed before braiding it into a rope.  It reminds me of the power of hard work.  And the rope itself, which could hold my whole body weight, reminds me to always be strong.


Finally I included a letter that saved my life one day.  I was home alone after school and feeling very suicidal.  I was searching for a knife to cut myself with.  Suddenly, I had a prompting to go check the mail before I got any further.  I almost never received any mail, but on that very day the following letter was there for me.

Letter

I cried when I read the letter.  It quite possibly saved my life that day.  I stopped looking for a knife and starting trying to figure out who could have sent it.  I didn’t think about hurting myself at all for the rest of that day.  The letter reminds me that I am loved even when I don’t realize it or it doesn’t feel that way, and that God is there working miracles in my life.


I looked at my box of hope every day for about a year. It got me through a lot of very dark hours and days and months. Then there came a time when I could carry my box of hope around with me in my heart, and I didn’t need to look at it so often.

Now it mostly sits in my closet, but I always know it is there if I need it.  But today I was talking with a friend who is going through a very dark time in her life, and I told her about it.  I offered to send her photos of it, but, I thought, why not go a step farther and share it here?  Perhaps there is someone else who needed a little box of hope today.

I first published this post on my Box of Hope in 2010 on my now mostly retired blog, NovelPatient which chronicled my life with multiple chronic illnesses.  At the time, I was surprised by how positively the post was received.  I have since realized that everyone needs a box of hope to draw on in times of trouble.  For most people that box is figurative.  But for me… my hope is now something I can pull out of the closest whenever I need it.  I can wrap myself in my blanky and see, feel, smell and touch the contents of box, encircled in eternal hope.

Has anyone else made a box of hope or something similar?  Please share and post about it in the comments!

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Without Any Pain – a terznelle poem

Without Any Pain – a terznelle poem

Without Any Pain

by Lauren Soffer

Jesus Praying in Gethsemane

Jesus Praying in Gethsemane

Who would I be without any pain?

Trapped potential hidden, unclean

Who would I be without any pain?

 

Crippling imperfections so easily seen

As yet untouched by Refiner’s flame

Trapped potential hidden, unclean

 

Molten transformation won’t leave me the same

Crack under pressure or become something more?

As yet untouched by Refiner’s flame

 

Flame creates bounty, blessings restore

Shimmering radiance, brilliant as the Son

Flame creates bounty, blessings restore

 

Not my will but Thy will be done

On bended knee my heart rises in song

Shimmering radiance, brilliant as the Son

 

Faithful contrite glorified strong

On bended knee my heart rises in song

Who would I be without any pain?

Who would I be without any pain?

Fading Scars

Fading Scars

Scared Heart

Conventional wisdom tells us that scars fade over time.  But they don’t always fade on their own.  Whether physical or emotional, diminishing scars is a process that takes work.

A few months ago I had surgery to have a two benign Lipoma tumors removed from my left arm.  In the weeks and months since the surgery, the pain subsided but the scars did not.  The scars grew hard, red, and puffy.  Ugly reminders of the surgery.  Every time I’d look at them, I was right back in the memory of all the pain and anxiety I’d experienced.  Embarrassed at my skin’s imperfection, I wanted to hide them.  To cover them up.  But I realized that wouldn’t make them go away.  Fading them would take time and effort.  I started rubbing scar-reducing cream into them several times a day.  The nerves under the scars are very sensitive, so rubbing them can be rather painful.  But the combination of the massage and cream has started to soften and lighten the scars.  To my surprise they are fading.

ScarsIn thinking about my scars, it occurs to me that emotional scars are much the same way.  When we face a trauma in my life, I am often left with emotional scars.  If left to their own devices they can get irritated and raw.  They can make me feel imperfect and embarrassed.  I might try to cover them up and hide them only to find that they are just as present as ever.  It’s only when I start to massage my emotional scars that they start to go away.

It’s painful to address my emotional scars in the moment.  Touching that nerve sends reverberating pain up and down my psyche making me wince and want to withdraw.  But I have to retrain my nerves.  Exposure lessens the pain.  Lightens the scars.

My Nightmares Collage

My Nightmares Collage

A raw wound in my life I’m realizing is the post traumatic stress I’ve been dealing with from spending time in the Intensive Care Unit twice in the last couple years.  I’ve wanted to hide it.  To put on a brave face and pretend that the scars from that memory didn’t exist.  But that has only given the resulting nightmares more power.  I’ve noticed that as I’ve started to talk about my experiences it’s gotten better.  Though at first it was a raw nerve to talk about the memory of being unable to breathe on my own, massaging that wound has stimulated healing.  I even recently collaged the nightmares that have haunted me from my time in the ICU.

My scars will always be there.  Both emotional and physical.  But overtime and with the proper care, they will fade.  Until then, they are my battle scars.  Not reminders of weakness but evidence of my strength.  Of how much I’ve endured.  Of being a survivor.  And that will never fade.

4 Steps to Help Heal a Broken Heart