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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

What to Do When a Loved One Is Suddenly Hospitalized

Loyola social worker offers coping tips

Newswise, December 23, 2015 — According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year approximately 2.1 million patients in the Emergency Department are transferred to an intensive care unit. When that happens, relatives are also impacted and need a support system, according to Loyola University Health System (LUHS) licensed clinical social worker Kelly McElligott.

“Families are totally unprepared for a sudden injury and overwhelmed when it is a very serious injury,” says McElligott. “Families need a roadmap to guide them through their worst moments, and that is my job as a hospital social worker.”

McElligott works in Loyola’s Burn Center, the largest burn center in Illinois and nationally renowned for treating the most complex wounds. “Our average length of stay is about three weeks but we have many patients who are with us for several months, due to the severity of their condition,” says McElligott.

“The patients and their families have at their disposal a multidisciplinary team of physical therapists, dietitians, psychologists, chaplains and social workers. We all work together with the traditional care team of surgeons, physicians and nurses.” Loyola pioneered the integrated care model that is emulated by hospitals internationally.

Here are McElligott’s top tips for adults who find a loved one suddenly in the hospital:

Take care of yourself. “If you do not take care of yourself, you cannot take care of someone else,” says McElligott. “Many family members, especially parents, feel they need to be at the hospital 24/7 with their loved one,” she says. “Everyone needs to take time to eat, sleep, exercise and be with other people in the outside world.”

When one member is in the hospital, it is important for the whole family to continue to move forward. “Life does not stop because someone is in the hospital. Other family members need attention and support also,” she says.

“Mom and Dad need to be role models more than ever at this time. The hospital team can help support and guide them. And they can feel strengthened and confident to continue to guide their families.”

Accept help from your community. “Friends, relatives, colleagues and others will offer assistance and it is critical to accept help,” says McElligott.

“For example, coming home to a clean house and a meal in the refrigerator is very convenient and also comforting.” Online programs can be useful helpmates, such as those that coordinate meal organization, task and errand running, and communication with family.

“Many times, key family members are reluctant to ask or receive help. Usually there are outgoing neighbors or colleagues who will serve as primary contacts to relieve the burden,” says McElligott.

“People feel better when they have something to do; let them help and everyone will benefit.”

Ask a lot of questions. “Nurses, physicians, social workers and all medical staff are here to answer questions and offer resources,” says McElligott. “No individual could know what to expect when a severe injury occurs. That’s what medical professionals are for.”

Use a notepad or laptop and take notes when meeting with your health team. “Write down questions or concerns as they come to you and share them with your care team,” she says. “As they say in school, there are no bad questions, so do not feel shy or embarrassed. The more you know, the less you will fear.”

Talk to others about your experience. “Reach out to people for support by sharing your experience or what you have witnessed,” says McElligott. “Often, this will help reduce anxiety and build confidence.”

Sharing your story is often difficult and emotional at first, but becomes easier over time. “Talking helps define the event or injury, remove the emotion and perceived stigma, and can help identify next steps to move forward,” she said. “Getting feedback from others also can be reassuring and supportive.”
Use peer support. “Others who have walked the path you are on offer invaluable support, insight and understanding,” says McElligott. For example, Loyola offers a bi-monthly burn support group for patients and their families. “Speakers are brought in to share specific expertise but the greatest benefit comes through the informal talking among families,” she says.

Former burn patients are frequent visitors to the hospital floor and visit with patients and their families. “There are amazing stories of patients and family members who are very withdrawn and depressed who respond positively to our former burn patient volunteers,” she says. “They are able to see that life does go on, there are others who survived much worse injury and are still laughing, socializing and enjoying life.”

McElligott says it is a privilege to meet patients and their families during one of the worst times of their lives, and to guide them through the recovery process. 

“People are very resilient,” she says. “The transformations that happen once the shock wears off are amazing.”

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