It’s Not Just Our Elderly Parents We Worry About: What I Learned From My Brother’s Health Crisis

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Hello, again

Carolyn and Mikol here. We’ve just returned from an exhausting emergency that began with a phone call.

2013-10-27 20.13.12When I picked up, the caller identified herself as a nurse at a familiar hospital. It felt as if my heart stopped when she said that my brother was in ICU with a massive stroke.
He’s single and lives alone. A friend had gotten worried and eventually the police were called. They found him on the floor of his apartment. I was so stressed and befuddled with this news, it was hard to think. With my husband at my side, we got a flight and went straight to the hospital.
As the only person with a nursing background in my family, I spoke with the doctors, who told me gravely that he might not survive. The family should be prepared, they said. I felt as if I were in a bad dream, thoughts swirling.

I called the other siblings. He had no healthcare directive, despite the fact that I h had sent one for him to sign and begged him to do it. And now, what if his heart stopped? Should he be resuscitated? Intubated? The stress of that decision-making process was extremely unpleasant and unnecessary. Eventually we were all on the same page. But the discussion might have dissolved into chaos or a shouting match. Not everyone gets along.

At death’s door, paralyzed and not able to speak but two words when he was admitted to the hospital, the prospects were grim. However, the body does have a remarkable ability to survive. 3 nights later, my brother got out of bed by himself (luckily he didn’t fall!) and was found standing by the bed. Well, he’s not ready to go just yet, it seems. The stroke damage was so extensive, his neurologist said he had never seen anything like my brother’s rapid turnaround. This does not mean that he is fine. There is tremendous impact from the stroke and it is unclear what recovery he will have. But he’s still with us.

Family dynamics

Times of crisis seem to bring out the best and the worst in people, don’t they? The cooperative ones, despite any differences, pulled themselves together and showed up in the days after the emergency. Their behavior was appropriate. The uncooperative one kept on being that way, regardless of the crisis. Somehow, every relative in the immediate family came, visited, did what they could. Dozens of extended family, acquaintances and friends sent kind wishes and supportive words. Not every family is so fortunate. Sometimes the unpleasant ones just can’t pull it together to act right, and so be it. No one can change them for the better. Think about your own family. How would it be for you?

What Gets Us Through It

For me what helps the most is a supportive person who is close. In this case, my husband is a hero. My kids have also been kind and helpful as have our other relatives. Messages on Facebook, prayers, calls and good wishes really do help. I was able to call on two old friends in the area where my brother lives, which happens to be in our home town. Those friends were there for me at the first opportunity. I learned that just being with them, just sharing the emotion of the experience and being able to talk it out was a huge comfort. An hour or two with these dear people was all it took for me to keep going. I am so grateful.

The Takeaways

My younger brother is the first of the siblings to have a life threatening health crisis. This was not his first emergency, either. It is a sobering reminder that when we get to be middle aged, it’s not just our parents whose health can slide downhill. It’s our own brothers and sisters as well. It’s our same aged friends too. It is a wakeup call to be prepared for the reality that we don’t live forever and we need to appreciate one another while we can.

The other lesson here is the importance of having a signed healthcare directive. My brother didn’t want to be bothered with his, but he put a terrible burden on the rest of us by not signing it. We are his only family. We are the ones the doctors ask: if his heart or his breathing stops, what do you want us to do? The necessity for this legal document was ever so apparent in this crisis. Please consider this. My brother is only 63. This could happen to anyone. If you love your family, decide for yourself what you want to happen when you face a possible end of life situation. It was sudden and without warning for my brother. He didn’t have the ability to tell us what he wanted. We had to decide for him. I am glad he survived. And if he is able to understand me and to write his name, the first order of business will be to get that document signed. One stroke frequently leads to another, as we know.

A healthcare directive is also called a healthcare proxy, an advance directive or a power of attorney for healthcare. If you don’t have one, please do it. You can find one free on the internet in your own state. A lawyer is not equipped. If you have an estate plan, competent lawyers will include this as part of your plan. If you’re not sure what your lawyer did for you, do ask. Be sure the person you appointed as the decision maker has a copy of this document. It can save your loved ones a lot of distress.

And finally, the intangible: do presence, love, attention, kind thoughts and wishes have a healing effect? From here, it sure looks like it. If you believe it, please send my younger brother some love. His name is Robert.

Until next time,

Carolyn Rosenblatt
AgingParents.com

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2 comments on “It’s Not Just Our Elderly Parents We Worry About: What I Learned From My Brother’s Health Crisis
  1. Carolyn,

    I am in the same boat with my brother. He is 55 and has been found with Lung Cancer and Afib. He has a 16 year old daughter and his wife died 3 years ago. He has nothing in order either. I have spoke to lawyer and have the beginning papers I need and she will come and do this with him. He looked at it today, but only asked a few questions. It is a tough thing to have to nag him about, but it is so serious!

    Also with this, you did not mention is that FMLA does not cover siblings. I am losing time at work with hopes nothing will happen about my job.

    Thanks for sharing, you made me feel as if I am not alone!

    Kathy

    • Mikol Davis says:

      Kathy,
      You are taking on a lot of responsibility and my heart goes out to you. Yes, we do have to nag our loved ones to get the legal paperwork done. It’s for our sake as well as theirs.
      Carolyn Rosenblatt

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