For the most part, everyone in my family is very healthy. My grandfather will be 100 years old in a few months. If you ask him his secret, he says good genes and a daily Old Fashioned. Whenever anything does go wrong for us, medically speaking, it tends to be odd, out of the blue, and not easily explained or treated.
Like when I was in my 20’s and I developed a weird bump on my thumb. Eager to test out my new career-girl health insurance, I skipped off to the doctor’s. She was stumped. She referred me to a thumb doctor. I have learned through my mother’s recent health ordeal that there is a specialist for every single part of the body. Every. Single. Part.
My insurance must not have covered specialists, however, because I decided to operate on my thumb myself. Kids: don’t try this at home. Somehow I temporarily quashed my squeamishness and used a sterile razor to remove the offending growth. I don’t know if it was a wart or some kind of freaky thumb tumor, but it went away and never came back. Take that, thumb specialists.
What point was I making here again? Oh, right. This: if you’ve never been through a medical scare before, you don’t know how you’re going to react. Remember how I thought I was going to pass out when my baby busted his head open, but instead I held it together like a functioning adult? Well, here’s what I have learned about dealing with medical crises: people have different ways of coping. Not right or wrong, just different.
For instance, you have the rally-around-the-bedside types. In my experience, these are usually large Italian or Irish-Catholic families. Not so much us WASP types. If it makes someone feel better to stay by the sick/injured person’s bedside 24/7, let them. Unless, of course, this is bothersome to the sick person. Ask them.
Then you have the people who are completely thrown by any change to their regular routine and do everything they can to retain some level of normalcy during the crisis. Let them. If eating dinner at 6:45pm sharp and watching the news every night is how they cope, that’s how they cope. It doesn’t mean they don’t care about the sick person.
You have the head-in-the-sand, don’t-wanna-know people and the information gatherers who Google themselves silly. You have the internalizers who don’t want to talk about it and the extroverts who talk to everyone and their brother about what’s going on and post hourly updates on Facebook. You have the people who make inappropriate jokes and the ones who can’t turn off the waterworks whether the news is good or bad.
Usually, you have some or all of each of these types within the same family. This can be tough. But you don’t get to decide how or when someone reacts to a crisis. You don’t get to tell someone they’re handling it wrong and what they should be doing differently. You are not the Medical Crisis Police, or the Director of Emotional Affairs. You just worry about yourself, and the sick person.
As for me, I’m a poll-taker. Maybe it’s my journalism background, but I talk to everyone I know and take notes. Every single person – relative, friend, nurse, janitor – has some bit of information or experience that can be useful. And it makes me feel better to know that other people have dealt with similar things. Except for operating on one’s own thumb tumor. I’ve never met anyone else who’s done that.
TIP O’ THE DAY: Ask the doctors lots of questions. You don’t have to cross-examine them or shake a sheaf of Medline printouts in their face. You just want to make sure you’ve covered all your bases and really understand what’s going on. Smile pleasantly and give them my stock journalist’s line, which I use whenever I’m interviewing brain surgeons or molecular biologists: “Give me the lay person’s explanation.” Translation: “Dumb it down, dude.”