Cambrian: Slice of Life

My advice from being a caregiver: Be the patient’s advocate, friend — and make lists!

Kathe Tanner
Kathe Tanner

We’ve shared a lot, my friend, in this column space, in social media messages, emails, phone calls and chat-and-hug encounters at the grocery store or on a street corner... or in a hospital or skilled-nursing rehabilitation center, as happened often recently during Husband Richard’s nearly month-long stays.

Thank you so much for your kind words, encouragement and hugs there. They really helped! During Husband Richard’s recovery from what was probably a mild heart attack, I learned a lot about becoming a helpful advocate for someone being treated in a medical facility. So, I’ll share — just in case.

My husband wears strong glasses and the strongest hearing aids. In hospital settings, he often had to remove them. So, many times, I was his voice, his communicator. I was there 24/7 for the first two-and-a-half weeks, overnighting on a chair, recliner, empty bed in his room and/or a couch in the rehab center’s main room.

Comfortable? Not really.

Noisy? Yes. Those call bells go all night long.

Few people have the schedule flexibility to do that, and I’m so lucky that I did (thanks, boss!). Even so, my first hint is a simple one: If you can, just be there, whenever you can.

Be the patient’s advocate. Be his caregiver. Be her friend. Communicate politely with the nurses and docs. Use humor, but be firm. If you can’t be there, make sure someone else can.

Another hint: Under medical duress, our saving grace is a health list. They can be crucial. I regularly update on my computer a medical-incident chronology for each of us, using bullet points to highlight previous operations and serious illnesses or incidents. The lists also include daily medicines and allergies, names of our doctors, etc.

We keep copies of our health lists in the van, on my phone and in my purse. Just in case. I began those lists soon after Husband Richard’s first heart attack (in 1996, according to his chronology). I knew that, under the stress of a sudden medical emergency, I’d never remember the all-important exact names and dosages of each medicine he takes.

Let alone when doctors installed his new knee (2002) or reattached his detached retina (1997). Some doctors and nurses have asked if I’d give lessons on creating those lists. I think they were kidding.


My other medical list is of things I’d take to a patient who’ll be there longer than overnight, things that can make those interminable hours more comfortable.

For instance:

• Soothingly soft facial tissues (coarse, crispy tissues can chafe sore noses).

• His favorite pillow and silky throw quilt (a touch of home) • Saline nasal spray, lip balm and his favorite hand-body lotion. (Hospital settings can be desert-dry).

• A short robe, to camouflage those awful hospital gowns. Short because you don’t want a wobbly patient to trip on or get tangled in a long robe.

• Comfy pajamas or sweats, once that hospital gown is gone (yay!).

• Short-sleeved shirts (ditto, to make blood-pressure checks, blood draws and injections less bothersome).

• His “happy” apron, to protect those shirts.

• Easy-on slippers or sandals that won’t slide off.

• Cellphone and earphones.

• Flashlight, maybe even a button one to pin on a shirt or hospital gown.

• Makeup to make a female patient feel prettier.

• Batteries or recharging unit for hearing aids.

• Books, magazines and/or an e-reader or tablet.

• Charging cords and recharging unit for the electronics.

• Dental necessities (a screw-top jar is helpful for dentures!).

• Electric razor and charging cord.

• If you’ll be staying in the area overnight, bring your daily prescriptions, toothbrush, hairbrush, change of clothes, e-reader and magazines to read and share.

• Contact list for family and friends.

• For longer stays? Allowable spices, herbs and sauces to add oomph to hospital food. And perhaps even a lightweight folding chair — most patient rooms don’t have enough visitor seating.

Our final take-along? Backstop meals of Richard’s favorite daily smoothie... just in case. Easy to swallow and digest, filled with vitamins, fiber and protein and, according to him, delicious. To make it, high-speed blend a mix of berries, banana, apple, orange or tangerine, yogurt, rolled oats, ground flaxseed, chia seed and any flavoring you like (vanilla, ginger, cinnamon, almond….).

Once the blend is silky smooth, finish filling the container with vanilla Boost, Egg Beaters (they’re pasteurized) and an appropriate fruit juice. Then cap and carry.

I hope you never have to use this advice. But I had to share. Just in case.

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