If you read Tuesday’s post about my son’s recent emergency hospitalization and surgery, you got a sense for the challenges involved with caring for someone else.
As a mom and caregiver, I found myself needing to be “on” at all times, with barely a minute to take care of my basic needs, much less process or work through the emotional implications of everything that had happened.
Especially considering my recent health journey toward better choices, I knew I didn’t want to let my old habits creep in–a very hard task when you’re under great stress and just want a chocolate chip cookie to make it all feel better.
Here are some intentional steps I took to stay healthy while at the hospital. These are things that can be done at home too, whether you’re caring for young kids, an elderly parent, or a special-needs child.
1) Snack smart.
As I scrambled to pack things for the emergency room, I made a large bag of trail mix with unsalted peanuts and raisins. I had a feeling I may not be able to sneak away for supper, and the trail mix was a handy substitute during those long, worry-filled hours of waiting.
When I was able to get away from my son’s hospital room, I looked for smart choices at the hospital’s cafe. (Most hospitals have a good variety of health-conscious options available.) This included items I could eat right away, like protein smoothies or scrambled eggs for breakfast, but also foods that I could keep in my purse for later. I kept at least one or two bananas in my purse at all times, as well as these simple baked apple chips.
Keeping healthy options handy helped me avoid extreme blood sugar crashes that carb-loaded foods would have caused. I was tired enough…I didn’t need more exhaustion caused by my food choices!
2) Sneak in exercise when you can.
Obviously I couldn’t do my usual exercise routine with all the demands for my time and attention. But whenever my husband or another family member could give me a break from the room, I used the time to take a walk around the hospital.
One morning that had been particularly hard, I found a flight of stairs and ran up and down until some of the tension had left my body. What a difference those five minutes made! Even if you can’t get a good long stretch of time for exercise, maximizing the time you have will make a big difference.
3) Engage in deep breathing exercises.
This was huge for me. With my son’s high anxiety in the hospital, I did this with him at different points–while going into his CT scan, getting his breathing tube out in ICU, etc.–and found that it helped me as well. We simply took a deep breath into our bellies, held it for one or two seconds, and slowly blew it out while counting to five. Not only did it focus our minds on something else, it gave us much-needed oxygen to cleanse our bodies of the built-up stress.
While my son was sleeping in ICU, I also went through a short series of yoga poses and breathing exercises on my own. Stretching the tension out of my muscles felt so good! I recognize that as a fitness instructor, it’s easier for me to do a yoga sequence without any guidance, but even just doing some basic stretches you’ve learned in fitness classes or exercise videos can make a big difference.
4) Sleep whenever possible.
With my son’s emergency surgery taking place at 1:45 in the middle of the night, sleep just didn’t happen. But when opportunities presented themselves, I took advantage and rested. Even if my mind was too charged to sleep, I relaxed in one of the hospital room’s chairs or couches and read a devotional or book.
After the surgery, I made sure to ask the night nurses what their schedule would be for the night–when they would need to come in and check on him, etc. That allowed me to determine what a realistic sleeping schedule would be. For instance, if they would be returning in a half-hour to start something in his IV, I would relax and read until they finished their job and then go to sleep for the night.
There is nothing easy about caring for someone else, whether in the hospital or at home. It demanded the best of myself when I was drained dry, and there were times when I thought I wouldn’t get through.
By refilling my physical, mental, and emotional tank whenever possible, I had just enough reserves to get my son well and back to his normal, goofy self. (And maybe someday I’ll catch up on all those missed hours of sleep.)
Have you ever filled the role of caregiver, either in the hospital or at home? What helped you get through? Any tips to add to my list?