Caring for yourself can be one of the most difficult things to do during the critical illness of a family member. The distress and uncertainty associated with the admission can quickly take a significant toll on family members.
Poor diet, lack of sleep, emotional exhaustion, caffeine and cigarettes may play a role in worsening your own well-being.
During an acute admission, it may be difficult to leave the hospital. Speak to the nurse and ask for help to identify a time when you can return to your home or hotel room to get some sleep, to shower and to have something to eat.
It may be difficult to keep food down, but hunger will increase any stomach upset. Avoid foods that upset your stomach. If you cannot eat, be sure to drink beverages that will provide some calories. Chocolate milk or a milkshake might be easier to tolerate and will provide some nutrition. Toast or soup may also provide a good choice.
The admission of a family member to critical care is not the time to quit smoking or drinking coffee, however, try to be careful to avoid excessive use. Too much coffee can make you feel more agitated and can lead to an upset stomach.
Although you may feel guilty looking after your own needs, your family member is being well cared for by a team of professionals. If you make sure that the nurse caring for your family member has your emergency contact information, every effort will be made to notify you promptly in the event the patient's condition changes. When patients are critically ill, they are usually unconscious or heavily medicated to keep them comfortable. Looking after yourself will help to give you the strength to be able to support your family member during a prolonged stay in the ICU.
If you are unable to sleep, an over-the-counter sleep aid used sparingly may help you to get caught up on your rest. Caring for yourself will help to give you the strength to deal with the many challenges that a critical care admission can bring.
Family and friends often feel very helpless, and may want to help you. Take advantage of their offers for assistance. This could include meal preparation, childcare support, walking a dog or running errands. If a friend or family member offers to help you, give them suggestions of ways they can be of help. You an also ask them for a "rain check" if their help is not immediately needed.
Talk about your family member's illness and share your fears and concerns with close family members and friends. Talking about the illness will often help you and other family members to understand the situation. Talking with someone you trust can be an important strategy for support.
You may also have times when you need to be alone. Talk honestly with your friends and family and let them know when you need some quiet time.
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