Like leaves on a falling tree, the last few years have been particularly unkind to me with family and friends dying from heart attacks, strokes, cancers and most notably, a noble death or suicide. In coming to terms with these deaths I have learned that sometimes you can’t save everyone even though you are doing your best but you can care and support as much as you can. Not wanting so many deaths to go to waste, I have compiled a list of things one can do in case a health crisis occurs. These are my lessons from my mistakes which can hopefully prolong another life.
1.Throw Asian characteristics out the window
Filiality, stoicism, politeness and fatalistic attitude are some cultural values that will become barriers to helping a sick person.
The family hierarchy of parents at the top will become one of the biggest barriers if the parents are sick because they will hide their pain and lie to everyone to appear strong even if it brings death. As the child you have to tell the parents you are being filial and stand firm to let them know you are taking care of them. You will hear the “you are not a doctor!” line, so tell them that you care much more than the doctor and are willing to take the time to learn more about their condition than any doctor in the world!
Stoicism results in the lack of talk about feelings and openly discussion problems in the family. Let the sick person know that you support and love them, which are things not normally said in some families but should be, in case death comes unexpectedly. Also keep bringing up the problem, if it’s not talked about, no one will look or do anything about finding a solution.
When seeking help, you must be aggressive and demanding. Quiet people are not served first, but rather the ones that are kicking and screaming (politely). Before going to the medical professionals, write down what you want to ask and be proactive in researching the issue at hand. Note that the sick person may not think they are sick, so don’t give them information and expect them to seek help themselves.
Finally, a fatalistic attitude will be the number one killer. Fear helps people prepare for the worst, but it also blows up problems to unrealistic proportions. There is no point wasting energy in panicking when things can be done to help solve the problem at hand.
2. Call Healthcare Lines for immediate access to medical professionals
In Canada, each province has a healthcare line which you can access nurses 24/7 for questions. They will direct you to go to the hospital, family doctor or can even sending a visiting doctor to your home in some circumstances. Call if you have any questions at all – the service is available and free.
Mental health information in particular, divided by province, is also available. If you do not live near a hospital or clinic, know that there are mobile mental health teams that exist that can visit homes through 9-11 if the sick person won’t go anywhere outside the home for help.
3. Drug List and Emergency Contacts List
When you bring someone to a hospital or clinic, typically you will be asked for a drug list and family doctor information. Search for senior emergency kits and you will see blank templates available for filling in such information. Generally it’s useful to have one ready even if the person isn’t a senior. If a health issue hits, the sick person may not be able to give out this information, so having one filled in ahead of time would be useful.
Once you have information about the sick person’s doctor, you can call them ahead of time to let them know what is going on, especially if it is a mental health issue because patients will lie to cover up how bad a condition really is. If you are banned from being present at the doctor visit, you can call later to ask for an update post visit. Due to doctor patient confidentiality, not all details can be released to you, but you can ask about advice on what to do next or how to take care of someone.
4. Communicate as a group
Multiple people may be taking care of the sick person. When dealing with the day-to-day situation, conversations are often part of a broken telephone game. Taking the time to set up a teleconference or video call online is just as good as an in person meeting. Every person plays an important role in supporting the sick person and it is important that the family functions as a team.
Also, it would be useful to have a shared calendar and journal to keep track of changes and dates to keep everyone aware of any changes. It’s especially important to make sure that the sick person is eating and taking their medication. It should not be a surprise that some people throw out their meds instead of taking them. If pen and paper isn’t your thing, creating a shared google calendar or doc would serve the same purpose.
5. Spread the message of hope
The sick person doesn’t want to hear about their illness every day. They are already depressed they are not doing well. Create a list of topics to chat about and share one happy thing a day with them. Keep as many family rituals going as you can such as gathering for birthdays and include the sick person. In keeping a positive attitude, you can weather all the storms that come your way. But if you are negative, the tide will just sweep over you and you will drown. Keep an optimistic attitude – always. You may be spat upon and stomped on by some in the family, but hold your head up high and ignore their silliness. You might have to take the extra step of moving in and taking over the sick person’s care to protect them from negative energy emanating from certain family members. This is all easier said than done, I know. Remember that death will come much quicker if you are not positive.
6. Ask people outside the family for help
Your family will not be the first nor the last to face health issues. There are many people out there who have experienced and lived through the same thing and have learned lessons which can be passed on to help your family. It is amazing to see the generosity and kindness in people when you ask for help from them. Of course, there will be a huge “face” obstacle because the sick person may not want people in the community to know they are ill. This is something entrenched in culture and will be one of the major debates that will occur within the family.
7. Show compassion, stay calm and worrying is a waste of time
Not all diseases can be cured and sometimes all you can do is care. The sick person is more scared than you are of their condition. If the disease speaks terrible things through the person, remember that it is the disease speaking and not them. If you find yourself reacting with anger, take a moment to set aside your anger and step back for a moment. Look at the conflict from a bird’s eye view. Remember that this person is sick and not showing their best judgement. Be compassionate, caring and calm.
The worst regret you can have is not apologizing if you get into a fight with someone on their deathbed. Stay calm if you think there may be a suicide scenario, look up resources on what to do (usual advice is to talk and stay with the person) and call healthcare lines for help in judgement if you are unsure if 9-11 is the best solution. It’s better to take action than remorse not doing it later.
Remember that nothing is gained by worrying. If you are worried, talk to someone about your worries. Or take the time to learn more about the issue by reading or calling healthcare lines with questions.
8. Don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion
My family has great respect for doctors. However, if your gut tells you that perhaps what they are recommending isn’t the right course of action; do ask for a second opinion. Call a healthcare line or even visit an emergency department in person. Asking more questions will not hurt anyone and can perhaps introduce new resources which the original doctor knows nothing about. No doctor wants to lose a patient, but they are human and can make mistakes too.
9. Take care of your own health
As a care giver, I always tend to run myself down. Once that happens, I cannot help anyone. I’ve learned that it’s not selfish to take some time for you and just rest because everyone needs to refuel.
Humans are mortal beings and we live with the assumption that we will be alive the next day. When tragedies interrupt our lives, we are all surprised and disturbed that such a thing can happen. Death teaches us that life is short so we must make the most of out the time we have left. A travelling Buddhist monk shared a wonderful Tibetan teaching with me, which I would like to pass onto you: “When we are born, we cry, but the world rejoices. And when we die, the world cries, but we may attain the great liberation.”
JF Garrard is the President of Dark Helix Press, an Indie publisher of Multicultural Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Raw Non-Fiction. She is interested in increasing awareness of diversity issues and breaking down cultural stereotypes through her dark stories. In her spare time she travels to conventions to give talks on publishing, geek culture and healthcare. JF’s latest project is the Pessimist to Semi-Optimist (PTO) Project which battles depression by addressing one negative thought a week throughout 2017 with thinking exercises.