woman coping with news of ill family member

How to Cope if a Family Member Becomes Ill

The Coronavirus pandemic has dominated our lives since March, and it seems we can’t turn on the TV, scroll through social media or have a conversation without discussing it. While most of us know someone who’s contracted the virus, the issue hits even closer to home when a family member becomes ill.

Dustin Webb, a licensed clinical social worker and administrator of behavioral health for Texas Health Dallas says those with a sick family member face a common, but unique reality: they’re desperate to help their loved one but frustrated by their limitations to provide care.  

“We see several people who are feeling pretty helpless because a family member is sick and recovering at home,” Webb explains. “They often wish they could do more, but in these cases, I remind them to focus on what they can do to help someone who’s sick, rather than focusing on what they can’t. A good example here is preparing a nourishing meal for a sick family member, and dropping it at their front door.”

Webb says that providing caring, emotional support is another way family members can support a loved one who’s ill. Regular phone calls or Zoom “check-ins” with someone who’s sick may do much to lift their spirits and contribute to their wellness, and it allows a supportive family member to gauge how their loved one is doing, but also ask if they’re taking their meds, or to remind them to follow other doctor’s advice like monitoring their temperature or blood pressure, for example.  

“I can’t overstate how important these calls are to someone who’s ill and in quarantine at home, and it’s mutually beneficial because the caller feels they’re invested in the sick family member’s recovery by being a positive influence,” Webb adds. “Family members who take the time to check on someone who’s ill can also use it to gauge progress, and keep others in the family and friends’ network apprised of the patient’s recovery.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says you can help someone who’s sick at home by ensuring that their basic needs are being covered.  The CDC offers this advice for caregivers:

  • Make sure the person who’s sick is drinking lots of fluids and resting 
  • Help the person who is sick follow their doctor’s instructions for care and medicine
  • Offer help with grocery shopping, filling prescriptions, or running errands to pick up other items needed – or arrange for delivery of those items to the ill person’s home
  • Take care of a sick person’s pet

We’ll add one more to this list:  help your sick family member pass the time by making sure they have plenty of entertainment options.  Offer to bring them books or magazines, and make sure they have easy access to a computer, laptop and TV. Last, see if they need an extra phone charger next to the bed or wherever they’re spending most of their time.  

 

When a Family Member is Hospitalized

Webb says the dynamic of caring for a family member changes dramatically when an infected family member has been hospitalized.  With the advent of COVID-19, hospitals have put new rules and protocols in place to protect patients, their families, and healthcare professionals.  As such, visiting a family member who’s hospitalized is often impossible.  

“Before the Coronavirus, we could easily visit parents or other family members who were hospitalized, but all that’s changed today,” Webb explains. “Many of those I counsel feel guilt when a family member is in the hospital because they put themselves in the mind of the sick person, and imagine them feeling lonely with no one to help them cope.”

Webb says the guilt often stems from a family member’s lack of control of their loved one’s illness. He says this lack of control is tough and not pain-free, and counsels them that they didn’t cause their loved one to get sick.  He reminds them to avoid getting stuck on how they can’t contribute and to keep the focus on what support they can provide the hospitalized family member. 

For family members who are providing support, Webb says it’s important to stay healthy themselves and to practice a bit of self-care beyond safe distancing, wearing masks, and hand-washing.  He says for many it may be as simple as limiting news consumption or finding ways to socialize by safely gathering with family and friends. Webb says it’s about finding connections to preserve your mental, physical and spiritual well-being to function best during a time when you and your loved one may need to draw on it most.  

 

Getting Help  

Resources are available for those who need support when a family member is ill. Webb suggests starting with a complimentary assessment offered by Texas Health Behavioral Health which links the caller with a licensed therapist or practitioner who can assess the individual and refer him to additional resources, as appropriate.  

For those who prefer an in-office experience, Webb says he and his team at Texas Health Behavioral Resources offer their services at 18 locations throughout North Texas. For additional information or to find resources, call (682) 626-8719. 

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