One day, your life is all peaches and cream. Your routine is amicable, and you are living comfortably within the confines of your life. And then suddenly, you have a heart attack, or your husband has cancer or a car accident derails your existence, as you know it. Your child may suddenly become sick – or even an aging parent can become suddenly ill – and you become forced to rearrange your life to take care of them. Dealing with unexpected health problems can be a fork in the plans of any and every family at any time. The reality is that the reason health problems can be so disturbing to life as you know it, is because they are almost always unplanned. One day everything is fine and the next it is not. –Stef Daniel
You may be eating healthy for the needs of your body, exercising regularly and correctly, and keeping current with your doctor. You may also be maintaining your mental health through meaningful relationships, religious adherence and interaction, and healthy socializing. One day you have a heart attack, lose track of large amounts of time, faint, or lose the ability of speech. At first, the fear and worry can bring you down and bowl you over. Experts advise you deal with the unexpected one day at a time. In the very beginning you must start by emotionally grasping the depth of the problem. Is it life threatening? It is a temporary problem? What are your options? While many doctors are experienced at treating the patients, the family of the patient or the one afflicted becomes forgotten. Many health organizations, such as insurance companies and even hospitals, have people who can help you answer the questions of what to do next, where to find emotional support, and how to adjust your daily routine to continue as normally as possible around your limitations. The first blow is always the worst and can be the most devastating, but with time and support comes acceptance and a desire to overcome.
Most often, the most direct impact felt by families with serious health issues is a financial one. The problem may make it impossible for one member of the family to work, cutting the earned income in half. Or, retirement planning can suddenly be thrown amuck by a serious diagnosis that means you or your spouse may not live till retirement age. Most people plan their financial future as if they will never have a health problem to deal with. And why wouldn’t they? Today, life expectancies are at all time highs. This is one reason why financial experts often encourage people to plan for a worst-case scenario.
Where do you start? The stressful state of confusion stemming from a change in path is second only to the initial shock upon diagnosis. First, sit down with your physician and have everything explained to you; beginning to end. Be sure to gain as much information as possible concerning cost, treatment, limitations on daily activities, issues of any possible permanency in and changes to environment. It may be wise to bring a family member or close friend with you – so that they can hear what is being said, as well, since you may not be thinking clearly. Ask for help. If you have kids that will need care or help with cooking meals don’t be afraid to ask for assistance. This is when the ‘village’ should be invited in to help you. If you think you can handle it all on your own, you are wrong and will only increase your stress. Get in touch with your insurance company. They will help you understand what the financial setbacks will be; currently and in the future. Reset your priorities. Figure out what is important and what is not and do your best to see the goals in your life more clearly. Try to keep things as routine and normal as possible. If you have kids, throwing everything off kilter will only shock and awe them and refute their sense of security. While you should be honest with your kids (if they are old enough) you should also remember they are likely to suffer in a similar fashion as yourself when the diagnosis was first made. Don’t send them away with the intent of sheltering them from the truth. Try to get a family member or someone they are familiar with to come to your home and stay with them, keep them enrolled in school, and try to keep their activities as routine as possible. Do not lie to them. Smaller children will need a much more simplified version of your experience and it is not necessary for them to be privy to all details, especially those that are too private, but they should not be kept in the dark or they will harbor feelings of neglect or will invent situations that may be far worse than is the case. Worse, they may imagine a future that is much rosier than reality which will come crashing down eventually and with devastating consequences.
Talk to other people who have been through the same ordeal. By opening your mouth and being honest with those you regularly interact with you may be surprised to find someone, either among that group or someone new, that can bring you the comfort only empathy can give. There are support groups for nearly every type of health problem and these people can become your support system and your lifeline as they know exactly how you feel.
Don’t be afraid to show your emotions. It is okay to cry, and it is okay to feel pain. The important thing is working through these feelings when they arise and not trying to be strong for everyone else around you. You are entitled to your feelings, and you should not be forced to hide them. If you have children, you should be able to talk to them as well and offer them a platform for expressing their feelings.