How to Cope When Your Partner is in the Hospital

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Nothing prepares you for an unexpected health crisis of a loved one. Everything you thought was stable can be shattered in an instant, leaving you confused and your routine in complete disarray.

We all learn to deal with various minor aches and pains as we age, but what do you do when an emergency catches you off guard? How can you manage the incredible stress of approaching life day-by-day?

This post will take you step-by-step through a variety of strategies you can use to maintain calm and peace when your partner or loved one is in the hospital.

Earlier this year, my father-in-law suffered a very unexpected heart attack while on vacation, far from home. In the midst of all the uncertainty and pain, my mother-in-law Becca—a wonderful woman and counselor—managed the situation with a grace and peace about her that I deeply admired. I hope that her thoughts and experiences help you find your own sense of peace as you navigate the challenges of a hospitalized partner or spouse.

How to Cope When Your Partner is In the Hospital

1) Keep Calm and Stay Positive

Particularly in the midst of an alarming health event, do whatever you can to stay calm and supportive of your partner. Place them in the capable care of professionals, focus on ensuring their physical needs are met, encourage and give them all the love you can.

“[In the moment] I honestly knew that it was going to be okay, because it appeared we had caught his illness early and we sought medical support immediately. Then I realized I was on the other side of the country and I wouldn’t be home for a long time…”

2) Stay Informed and Inform Others When You Can

Make it a priority to get accurate, firsthand information about your partner’s condition, treatments, procedures and medications. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions and ensure that you, your partner and your doctor are all on the same page. Try to avoid going down the “Web MD” rabbit hole and go straight to your doctor for accurate, up-to-date information.

“The medical staff at the hospital was really excellent and I knew Rick was being taken care of. They were intentional about addressing the family’s need for information and were direct and clear about the state of Rick’s health. The harder parts were the times when procedures went long, when we were unable to see Rick come out of surgery, and when we were generally unsure about his progress. I talked to family during those times so we could encourage each other.
It was really helpful to break down the task of informing family into groups, communicating only with closest family and specific points of contact in other circles (church friends, Rick’s work, my work, etc). Facebook was actually a great medium for this.”

3) Focus on Self Care

We often tell new mothers to “sleep when the baby sleeps,” knowing that self-care is as vitally important for the caregiver as it is for the little one. Do the same in this situation. When your partner is in the hospital, stress can overwhelm. You’ll be of no use if you’re sleep-deprived, aren’t eating or avoid taking a breather. It’s so easy to feel the need to “keep watch,” waiting for something unexpected to happen.

Whenever the moments present themselves, give yourself a mental and physical break! Remember it’s okay to ask for help, take a nap, grab a bite in the cafeteria or step outside for a moment to get some sun. Sleep away from the hospital if you can. You’ll both be better for it if you feel healthy and calm.

“Waiting rooms are rough: sterile, uncomfortable, health workers scurrying about making you wonder if they have news…and they don’t. I tried not to be in the waiting room. As much as possible I went somewhere else, going for walks outside of the hospital, looking around the gift shop and cafeteria; when my husband was not awake or available for interaction, I left the hospital so I could be rested and hopeful when he did need me. I prayed, talked to family and kept people updated as I could.”

4) Make a Plan

It is always best to have legal documents in order before a health crisis ever arises. However, sometimes emergencies sneak up on us. If your partner is hospitalized for something potentially life-threatening, step back and take some time to ensure all your documents are in order. No one likes to think about this stuff, but you and your partner should feel some relief knowing that things are taken care of.

If your spouse is too tired, irritable or distracted for these conversations, try to carefully set aside a chosen and agreed upon time to talk about it. Focus on those practical matters, handle them and move on to better things as quickly as possible.

“I sometimes worried about what would happen during recovery and the impact of such an intrusive procedure on his health, lifestyle and work. There are so many questions…”

5) Stay Present

Nothing is more important than the present moment. Don’t dwell on possibilities, but spend the time you have with your loved one, encouraging them and engaging in conversations that are enriching for you both. Pick out bits of hope and goodness in your life together and focus on those things.

“Rick was always calmer when I was with him. I tried to come visit when he was awake in the mornings and afternoons, when he wasn’t hurting or agitated. We talked about future plans and family and blessings. We read scriptures and prayed together. A lot of the time we just sat together…sometimes he didn’t need to talk or be talked to, but seemed comforted just knowing I was there with him.
The morning before Rick’s triple bypass was really special. He asked our son to prepare a devotional and read scripture. Rick was so calm, which really gave us strength and hope for all the waiting to come that day. Our son and daughter-in-law were also able to share ultrasound pictures of our first grandchild with him…it was a sort of  ’this is what you are living for’ sort of moment. 
That is worth fighting for.

Originally published for Care2 at: http://www.care2.com/greenliving/how-to-cope-when-your-partner-is-in-the-hospital.html