When you have a loved one that is suffering from the results of a brain injury, it can be a very scary time. Emotions and tensions are running very high as you wait for the results from the doctor, the diagnosis, the medical treatments, and the recovery. Many describe living through this time as a waiting game with an uncertain end date. Worries are taking up your entire brain as you question whether or not your loved one will ever be the same. However, you are not alone in these feelings. Many families each year go through situations like this, and everyone goes through the wide range of emotions that you are experiencing. There are a few things to keep in mind when you are going through a trying time like this.
Try not to get overwhelmed with the doctor’s language.
When dealing with the brain, a lot of the language the doctor may use can sound confusing and intimidating. For example, they may say “hematoma” instead of bruise, even though they mean the same thing. To the typical family member, this can be very confusing. In a time where you just want answers, this can be a frustrating thing to deal with. The main thing to remember is that it is perfectly okay to ask questions. You should feel as if you fully understand what is happening to your loved one. Asking questions can be the difference between feeling comfortable and confident with the situation and feeling confused, scared, and frustrated about what may be in store for the future.
Another thing to keep in mind when dealing with doctors is their demeanor. Many doctors are not in the business to wield develop personal relationships with their patients or patient’s families. Instead, doctors are trained to diagnose and treat patients. With this in mind, doctors are often very short and to the point when communicating with their patients or their families. They will not tell you information that is not 100% necessary to communicate and will not sugarcoat anything. This can prove to be shocking and frustrating to patient’s family, especially when you have been waiting for what feels like eternity to find out more news, and the doctor only stays in the room for a minute or two.
This is where the importance of asking questions comes into play again. Make the most of the time that the doctor is in the room by asking questions and requesting elaboration on things that he has said. Most doctors will open up if you are requesting of them to do so. Otherwise, they may leave you feeling frustrated and, in some cases, worse than you felt before they entered.
Many family members feel as if they need to be at the hospital with their loved one all day and all night. They feel as if they cannot leave them alone for a minute, and while this may come from a feeling of love and the best of intentions, it is not realistic. Brain injury recoveries can take a very long time, so setting the personal expectation of being in the hospital room with your loved one at all hours of the day is not the best idea. Eventually you will need to cut back on those hours, whether that be for sleep, work, or just to get some needed alone time, and it will be very tough on you emotionally if you are used to spending every hour in the room. If you have too high of expectations, you will feel disappointed in yourself when you have to give up those expectations. However, these expectations are unrealistic, and the earlier that you realize this, the better you will feel. It is best to pace yourself with this care.
Do not take anything that your loved one says personally.
When patients recover from a brain injury, they often do not remember the specifics of being in the hospital. While they may have been able to function and hold conversations, they may not remember these conversations after they have fully recovered. While in the recovery stage, many patients are confused and agitated. They seem to have a “short-fuse” when it comes to controlling their temper. They may not be appreciative of the care that they are getting, whether that be coming from you, other loved ones, or medical professionals. However, this does not mean that they will not be grateful when their good health returns.
Some patients will get physical. It is not uncommon for a brain injury patient to strike a nurse. Do not worry; this will not be the way that they act for the rest of their life. This is just an effect of the recovery—and it is perfectly normal. However, this can be very difficult for family members to grasp and understand. In fact, nearly 99% of patients get out of the hospital in a confused and agitated. This is a common reaction.
Learn what you can do to help.
There is one common question among all patients’ loved ones: “Is there anything I can do to help?” And while you are not a doctor, there are several things that you can keep in mind. The first thing to do is reduce stimulation for the patient. Studies have found a correlation between heightened stimulation and an increase in confusion and agitation. Of course, some stimulation is unavoidable. It’s the extra, unneeded stimulation that should be avoided. Try not to make unnecessary noises or do anything that may be visually distracting.
When you do need to have a conversation, it is important to be aware of the tone of your voice and the way that you speak. You should speak in short sentences as to not over stimulate your loved one. For example, instead of asking, “Are you hungry? What kind of food do you want? Do you think you will be able to eat?”, just say “Hungry?”. This will be much easier for the patient to understand and comprehend, and they will be able to answer with a one-word response or a nod.
When the patient begins to enter a stage in which they are able to hold conversations, begin by talking about things that they are comfortable with and that are common to them. Do not talk about treatments, medicines, or anything about the injury itself, if at all possible. Instead, let them lead the conversation, and do not disagree with them. Make these conversations as easy and smooth as possible, even if it wouldn’t necessarily make sense in a normal setting. Also, physically touching the patient may not always be a good idea, especially if they are in the confused and agitated state. This may make them confused, startled, or aggressive.
Actions taken after the patient has gotten out of the hospital are just as important as actions taken within the hospital.
Depending on how long the patient has been in the hospital, their return home may be a very big event for them, friends, and family members. However, the most important thing to remember is that coming home from the hospital does not necessarily mean that the patient is fully healed. It could be months or even years before the patient is completely stable again.
For months following the patient’s return home, they may have a big problem with fatigue. Not only do you as a loved one need to understand this, but it may be difficult for the patient themselves to understand this as well. Keep an eye on them to make sure that they are not trying to return to their normal routines too quickly.
Another important thing to understand is that, although they may seem healed, they may not be the same person as they were before the injury—this transition comes with time. While they may look the same and seem healthy, their brain may still be returning to normal. They may still fall into the confused and agitated state, and their personality may seem a bit altered. Do not be worried, and more importantly, do not get mad at them for acting this way. They want to return to their normal self just as much as you want them to. It is all about patience, love, and acceptance.
Continue reading through our Brain Injury Guide:
- Brain Injury Guide Homepage
- What to Do Following a Brain Injury
- How to Handle Common Problems Following a Brain Injury
Read More About Traumatic Brain Injuries
- General Brain Injuries
- Traumatic Brain Injuries Practice Area Page
- Concussion Practice Area Page
- Traumatic Brain Injury Blog
- Is It Just a Concussion?
- Concussion in Car Accidents
- Football Mythbusters
- Traumatic Brain Injury Infographic