Last time I shared with you about how to care for your emotional, volitional and intellectual needs. Today we move forward, considering how to care for your physical, social, and spiritual needs.
Maintaining physical health and energy is vital for you to support your child in the way you desire. I recommend focusing on four areas: sunshine, exercise, wise eating and sleep. In serving the intellectual capacity by exploring the neighborhood, you are getting some sun. A full day inside is not good for anyone. Refresh yourself physically by taking a break outside.
Exercise. Talk walks or doing a short exercise routine first thing in the morning. It is important to get your heart rate pumping aside from stress. This will energize you for whatever is to come, and reset you after a hard day. Stretch before bed.
Eat well. You might hear, when someone offers you a sweet, “you’ve earned it.” You are still in it. Telling yourself you are justified to eat unhealthy things for comfort will not help you in the long run. They will zap your energy and give you more calories than you can work off in that little room. Should you treat yourself? Absolutely. But avoid the trap of thinking, “I’ve earned it.” The prize is not a sweet. You are not going through all this for a sweet, damn it. That kind of thinking is a way to cope with stress. Cope with the stress in a way that will actually work. Avoid heavy foods with lots of carbs. Protein, fruit, and vegetables will make you feel better after these long hospital days.
Sleep. If this is your first time with your child in the hospital, leaving the bedside at night might be unthinkable. Your child may be older and scared to be alone. My child was a baby when first admitted and an easy sleeper. You alone can make the decision whether or not to sleep at the hospital. If you choose to sleep away from the hospital, it does not mean you a bad parent or less sacrificing. The hospital is a terrible place to sleep with beeps and interruptions all night long. If you are well rested, you’ll be stronger physically and emotionally to remain present to what happens during the day. Think about it. Sleep on it.
You are here because of your relationship to your child. Try to maintain other relationships you have as well. If you are social, cultivate new friendships by chatting with the nurses, getting to know them and what their life is like. Keep in contact with people who make you feel comfortable, not with people who stress you out. Group updates over email work well for those who want to know the details of how your child is doing. If someone responds with a question, reply to the whole group with an answer because others may wonder the same thing. Have hallway conversations with your spouse or best friend. If you are a repeat visitor learn who is around at the hospital. Find who you like and get along with. I found various individuals with whom I connected and when the additional crisis of a prenatal fatal diagnosis came, I already had a support team. This was also possible because my son has an enormous medical team. Even with a smaller team, you likely see the same nurses, cleaning staff, and food delivery staff over time. Learn their names. It helps.
As human beings we also have spiritual needs. We need to feel a sense of purpose and meaning in what we do. The sense of suffering and existential questions may be great. If you feel comfortable, ask to speak with a chaplain. There may be chaplains of different faiths assisting at the hospital. It is all right to ask if one of your particular faith visits.
Please take time to figure out what you are experiencing on the spiritual level. Allow your heart its pain. With each up and down, we can learn to obtain a sense of peace and acceptance of what happens, learning to make the best of it. The alternative is no good. It is better to be at peace. By spending some quiet time considering what you’re experiencing, you can come out of this stronger and better able to handle whatever life throws at you in the future.
The hospitalization of your child is a traumatic experience. I always thought PTSD was only like something a person experiences in war or being assaulted. But really, a trauma is a thing that completely shakes up your understanding of the world you live in, and forces you to reevaluate. We come out different people. Next time, I will share with you my thoughts on how to adapt to life on the other side of a major hospitalization.
For other piece in this series, click below:
- How to Survive the ER
- Surviving your child’s hospital admission, Part 1 and Part 2
- Transitioning to life after admission
- Managing a hospitalization with little ones at home