What To Do When Family Is Sick

Question: My spouse is in the hospital and I don’t know what will be happening. I don’t know what to expect. What should I do?

Answer: When our family is sick, the situation can often feel dire. I do have some advice and some resources to help you through this.

This highly stressful situation only becomes worse when our panic instinct kicks in. Breathe deeply and slowly. Usually within a couple of breaths we feel calmer and more in control. It gives our body a chance to catch up and this calming breath helps us to think more clearly.

Let review resources you may have. The first line of help is right there at the hospital, the nurses and doctors can help direct where to go next. If you have questions about your spouse’s medical condition, don’t hesitate to ask. The hospital also has Social Workers/Care Managers and Discharge Planners whose job it is to help you with this situation, especially as the medical condition improves and changes. You can set up an appointment to meet with them (ask at the desk on your floor), or speak with them over the phone. They have printed material from facilities that may be appropriate, as well as information on home care and other services. They also have advice and expertise to give to you as people working in this field. Ask questions. Even if you don’t know what to ask, make an appointment, they will help to guide what may/will be happening in the coming weeks.

Another resource is obviously family and friends. You may have relatives and friends nearby that can help you. There is probably someone close to you that is knowledgeable in this situation or has been through a similar situation. That friend, or family member, could be an extra set of listening ears as you meet with people and review options. I do recommend bringing a second person to appointments if that is available to you.

There are also many professionals who work within this field outside of the hospital who can be helpful to you, someone at your spouse’s doctor’s office or programs and agencies in our community that do this all the time.

Social Workers, Geriatric Care Managers, or Case Managers are usually titles that you should be watching for. This usually indicates a level of professional training or expertise in the area of managing illness and care. When you visit a facility and meet with their Social Worker/Case Manager, that individual can only tell you about their facility, services, cost and the process to move there.

In other situations, these professionals are unaffiliated with a specific facility and can educate you to the many alternatives available to you in our region. These programs and professionals all have different models of functioning. Sometimes there is a fee for this service, sometimes it is government funded.

There is also the option of the internet. The internet has all types of information. One of the things I often tell people if they are comfortable using the internet, is to type in what you are wondering about. (The disease, the level of care, the service you think is appropriate.) Be careful though, sometimes those websites are member specific. I remember one time I heard about a website on the radio, and when I got to the office, I looked it up. It was a national resource guide for assisted living facilities and nursing homes. When I typed in the county, Chautauqua, it listed two assisted living facilities and one nursing home. There are closer to 13 assisted living facilities and seven nursing homes in Chautauqua County. I called the phone number and it turned out this was a ‘Marketing Partnership’ type website tool. In order to be listed on the website or phone line, you need to pay the company a membership fee.

Maybe you need to remember, not everything on the internet is true.

I often recommend reaching out to a number of different resources, to get the information you need, and make the decision ahead. You may be in a difficult situation, but there are people out there who can help you.

The other thing I want to reinforce is that in most situations you have time. You have time to review alternatives and options. I often talk with families of people who are in a hospital and they are being pressured to make a decision or “pick a place”. You can push back and ask for more information and other options available to you. The staff of the hospital and the facilities are there to help you through this. Sometimes that pressure does not feel like help. It is actually both. They have a timeline they are working against as well. Work with them and ask them to work with you.

Very often the pressure you feel is self-induced. You feel like you need to make every decision today. You don’t. As your situation changes, your questions and answers will certainly change. Try to step back and evaluate what has to be decided now and what is farther away, next week, next month, next year. Don’t worry right now about those decisions that are farther away. By the time you get there, your situation may be very different. Reach out and ask for help.

Janell Sluga is a Geriatric Care Manager helping seniors in our community access services and insurance. To reach her, please email editorial@post-journal.com.


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