As if caregiving isn't complicated and stressful enough, life tends to throw emergencies into the mix, to challenge us even further. You know what I mean -- the random hurricane, flood or fire. These are tough to cope with in the best of times when you are strong, able-bodied and have your health. When you are caring for someone who does not meet these criteria, the emergencies of life can threaten to swamp you in both figurative and literal ways. There are some things that you can do to minimize the confusion and heightened stress that such an emergency brings. Here are a few ideas to help you cope:
1. Plan Ahead. This sounds simple, but takes thought, time and energy. It is vitally important to the outcome of a potential emergency situation. I suggest creating a portable, easily accessible Emergency Book. I used a large zippered three ring binder with pockets and a handle (available in office supply stores). This one book contains all vital information including insurance policies, health records, legal documents, current list of prescriptions & supplements for the care receiver, insurance cards, contact information for health care providers, friends & family. Because we live in a hurricane prone area, I also have a separate hurricane/disaster preparedness book, which is kept in the same location as the Emergency Book. The benefits of preparing these ahead of time are clear & dramatic when you need them in a hurry. You can grab it and go to any doctor's appointment, hospital emergency room, or mandatory evacuation shelter, for instance, and have everything you need all in one place. I included Medicare and insurance cards, copy of power of attorney and health surrogate papers, Living Will, etc., so there would be no question of authority. I also put together a "Hospital Overnight Bag", with all of the necessary items for care and comfort and kept this with the Emergency Book. You can vary the plan according to your specific needs, but the more comprehensive, the better. I kept the actual prescription bottles in the bag, since I used daily pill dispensers to give the medications. That way, if there were any questions, I had the original containers to rely upon.
2. Create a family plan of action. This is similar to number 1, but inclusive of your whole family. You already have contact information in the Emergency Book, but you need a plan of evacuation, what to do if you are separated, a pre-arranged meeting location away from your home, or other similar plan. There are online tools available for this purpose, and many social networking sites are now used to maintain contact and update others as to your status. However, if a storm were to cause widespread power and cell service outages, this would not be a viable means of communication. If your loved one requires care in a special needs shelter, for example, that must be arranged in advance. Also, remember to consider your pets in your planning. Just having the plan in writing, agreed upon by family members and neighbors (if you wish) and knowing what you would do in an emergency can bring tremendous peace of mind when an emergency arises.
3. Maintain a sense of normalcy as much as possible for as long as possible. It's very important for an already vulnerable adult (or child with special needs) to feel calmness and protection from their caregiver. One major mistake, easily made, is to leave the TV on with reports of storm projections and damage. That just ratchets up the tension and uncertainty and will eventually produce a sense of panic in those who are susceptible. It's better to quietly and calmly follow your plan in making preparations to evacuate (in the case of a storm or fire). Try to keep your own sense of equilibrium by using soft, calming music, aromatherapy, and deep breathing. They really do work, even, and perhaps especially in times of crisis.
Karen is a compassionate, enthusiastic student of life, who cared for her mother for 17 years. She brings her insights, compassion, experience and desire to share knowledge and healing to this ongoing conversation with others on the caregiving path. If you are caring for a parent, spouse, friend or other loved one this site offers sanity-saving tips, open-hearted self-care ideas, and an open forum for discussion, connection and sharing resources for the journey.
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