Saturday, December 02, 2006

Comforting the Sick At Home: Part I

Imagine this: Today is your errand day. You have already made two stops on your list, and you have several more to go. Suddenly, your head begins to ache, your nose begins to run, your muscles hurt, and your stomach sends you unpleasant messages. You realize that you are coming down with the flu.

What image immediately pops into your head? Home! You want to go home and crawl into your own snug bed. You want someone to bring you a cup of hot tea and a good book. You long for the soothing presence of someone who loves you – your mom, your husband, your good friend.

So it is with our family members, too. When most of us are ill, we long to be at home. There are times when hospitalization or a stay in a nursing facility is inevitable. But, in general, when we are under the weather we prefer the comforts of familiar surroundings.

A Victorian woman expected to do her share of home nursing. Even until well in the twentieth century, many births and deaths took place at home (and are taking place there once again). Frequent illnesses and premature deaths were more common during the days before modern medical advancements, a fact we’d do well to remember when we become poetically nostalgic for the good old days. People took greater care with even minor ailments – such as a cold – because any ensuing complications were more dangerous.

Few of us would want to return to the days when pneumonia, rheumatic fever, polio, consumption, typhoid fever, and the like were greater threats to a family’s health. But, we can learn one thing from great-grandmother: We can accept that illness and aging are facts of life, and we can learn how to comfort those who are ill.

Modern Americans in particular have little tolerance for the minor sicknesses that befall even the healthiest person. We expect that someone will give us a magic pill that will enable us to keep working as hard as usual. We see it as a sign of weakness if we have to spend a day or two in bed.

European doctors have traditionally been more cautious about prescribing antibiotics, and they have used them only when really needed. This policy has proved wise, considering that overuse of these life-saving modern medicines has created resistant strains of antibiotics. This policy has worked because, until recently, European patients listened when their physicians and pharmacists advised, “Drink plenty of fluids and get lots of rest, and you’ll be good as new in a couple of days.”

Americans insist on leaving the doctor’s office with a prescription in hand. “I don’t have time to be sick,” we cry. And, so, our physicians given in and give us antibiotics that do nothing for viral infections, like colds. We trudge along, and, because we do not get the rest we need, we often stay fatigued long after the original illness has passed its peak.

Today, we can be thankful that most of us will enjoy some measure of good health for most of our days. We can take recovery from common ailments in stride. We can rejoice that we have access to up-to-date and accurate medical treatments and information. At the same time, we can learn great-grandmother’s tips for soothing an ailing family member.

Here are five tips that will help us comfort someone who is ill:

1) Keep your approach to nursing in keeping with the person’s desires and needs. Does your patient crave or need attention? If so, you think of some creative ways to keep the patient entertained. Also, it’s helpful to have something for you to do handy if you are keeping a vigil over a loved one’s sick bed. Does your patient prefer to be left alone to rest? If so, quietly check on the person at intervals. You can meet that person’s needs without hovering unduly.
2) If we are naturally robust, we can find it hard to be patient with people who are chronically ill, aging, recovering slowly from a traumatic accident or illness, or suffering from a nervous or depressed condition. We may find it wearisome to listen to the person talk about his aches and frustrations with illness. We may have unrealistic expectations about how much activity the person can handle. On the other hand, we can get so emotionally wrought up in another person’s illness that we make the patient feel uneasy. In our fretfulness, we may introduce into a patient’s head that he or she is sicker than he really is. We can slow down a person’s recovery by not allowing them to get up and move around. We can do a sick person a world of good if we strike a good balance between calmness, empathy, and encouragement.
3) Taking care of a sick person at home is easier if we have some supplies already on hand. There are many articles and books describing how to put together a home medical kit. Read a couple and decide for yourself what your family needs. Two items that may come in handy are a bedpan and a small basin that you can use to soak a sprained ankle or to bring bathwater to a patient’s bedside. Also, be sure to have some waterless cleaners and wipes on hand to freshen up a patient who is too weak or feeling too badly to take a bath.
4) It used to be thought that people who were injured or sick should be confined totally to bed. Today, we usually move around a little more when we are sick. This means that an ill person may have two or three places in the house where he or she hangs out during recovery. For example, a child with the flu may spend as much time lying down on the living room couch as in his or her bed. It’s important to keep all areas where a sick person recovers fresh and clean. It will help the patient get well faster, and it will also help prevent the spread of infectious diseases to other family members.
5) Soups provide needed liquid and are often easier for an ill person to tolerate than solid food. It’s handy to know how to prepare a variety of soothing soups and to keep necessary ingredients on hand.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thanks elizabeth! what you say about 'not having time to be sick' is so true. I've caught a cold since last week and have been struggling hard to keep up with office work, house work, cooking, friends, family phone calls etc. The seventh day finally, the body's given up and I've been in bed the whole day. And while I'm enjoying the extra sleep that is helping me recuperate, the back of the mind still thinks of the pending things to do list. But nevertheless, your note stress the importance of bed rest and other habits very well. thank you! it is quite encouraging.