I have a family member who needs fairly intensive surgery. They are healthy besides the one impediment of a feisty heart that just wont stay out of afib. They have had procedures before. Ablations and cauterizations done through veins that worked for short amounts of time. At this point, the next surgery has to happen outside of the heart, which means fully opening the chest and watching the heart flip and flutter so that they can attack the problem from above.
Many of us who deal with chronic health problems are too familiar with the intricate workings of hospitalizations and surgeries. I’m not sure about you, but all that experience and knowledge has turned me into a beacon of calm when dealing with other people’s medical dramas. I don’t pretend to be formally trained in medical science or claim to know information that isn’t easily accessible. However, I am great at breaking down “doctor talk” and accurately researching conditions and treatments in a way that brings peace of mind to others.
While our own bent bodies are often a hindrance, the incredible fortitude and instincts that we cultivate throughout a lifetime of pain can be someone else’s lifeline. We are fantastic medical advocates because we’ve been doing it for ourselves for so long! We know when to press on and when to sit back for a minute. We know tips and tricks for being heard in the impersonal arena of doctors and health practitioners. We truly understand side effects, recovery, and long-term symptoms. We don’t discount other people’s medical truths. Their pain and symptoms are real… we know how hard it is to be believed and understood.
I was by my relative’s side during their last procedures, and I will be there this time. I will be there for the consultation to make sure they are both heard and that the overwhelming nature of surgery doesn’t leave them missing anything the doctor says. I’ll happily play the bitch if it means getting answers. One of the most important roles we fill during another person’s health journey is that of an uplifting, sometimes silly, counterbalance. For me, that’s where things can get a bit tricky.
One of the things I hate most about receiving bad medical news or undergoing a procedure is the “no big deal” or “everything’s fine” rhetoric. I know that the loved ones saying those things are attempting to fill that positive role, but I just feel unseen. I want to yell, “My concerns are real! My fear is legitimate! My pain would make you vomit!” Okay, I know that might be a bit much. It’s just that having your concerns discounted or feeling patronized when you are terrified is the worst. That’s why I try my hardest to not bulldoze over those feelings when someone else is in the proverbial hot seat.
Knowing that this family member responds well to factoids and jokes, I’ll keep the banter a bit silly. I’ll throw in only positive data about the surgical stats and outcomes whist joking with them about the terrible hospital food. There will be the pre-surgical anxiety that will be soothed with stories about family flubs and stupid mistakes. Occasionally ruminating on my own medical chaos often brings this person a giggle. The days after surgery, when they are laid-up in the hospital alone, will be the most difficult. People will visit, they will have rehabilitation activities and frequent staff stopping by, friends will bring food and tell stories, but I know that those days seem endless and bleak. Something about being stuck in a hospital bed makes you feel so alone. With medications taking their toll and the general sadness that comes with slowly healing, I’m most concerned with being a reassuring presence during that time. I’ll do the best I can to be this person’s version of an ideal emotional support system. I’d want the same if I were in their shoes.