Caring for Your Injured Family Member in the Hospital

Do you have a loved one in the hospital who has had a traumatic brain injury? Here, you will find some basic information about what you can do for them, and the support you will need and can expect from the hospital as your loved one recovers.

Aside from the injured person, a brain injury affects the whole family. It’s not uncommon for them to face emotional distress, financial challenges, and in some cases, job loss, as a result of their loved one’s brain injury. They suddenly find themselves thrust in the role of caregiver – something that they may not feel equipped for.
As a caregiver, you will likely find yourself having to get as much information as you can about brain injury, especially in the first few days after your family member’s injury. Your loved one’s medical team and professional caregivers will be your primary source of information. Other helpful sources of knowledge include brain injury support groups, families of other traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients and the Internet. It’s important to give yourself time – there will be a lot to take in, so don’t try to take it all in at once.

Brain Injury Basics

One of the most frustrating things you will learn about brain injury is that every person’s recovery is unpredictable and different. Medical professionals can make assumptions based on the location of the injury and the type and extent of injury your loved one has sustained. However, they will not be able to give you definitive answers as to how long recovery will take and how well they will recover from their injury.

The Medical Team

While your family member is in the hospital, you will be communicating with his or her medical team. Write down anything you want to ask them and take note of their answers, so you can review them later. Keeping a record of the conversations with the medical team will help you gradually build an understanding of your loved one’s condition.

Depending on the severity and extent of your loved one’s injury, some or all these medical professionals may be on your team:

  • Neurosurgeon
  • Attending physician
  • Neurologist
  • Trauma doctor
  • Nurse
  • Nurse Practitioner
  • Physical Therapist
  • Speech Therapist
  • Occupational Therapist
  • Social Worker

You might be wondering how a social worker can help you through your loved one’s brain injury. He or she will act as the patient’s advocate who will help to ensure that they get the best possible care and treatment. The social worker will also provide you with the assistance you need as you transition from the hospital to your home (or a rehabilitation program, or skilled nursing facility) upon your loved one’s discharge.

What You Can Do for Your Loved One

The level of support you can provide your loved one may vary depending on their current condition. This guide, while non-comprehensive, will help you discern what might be appropriate.

If your loved one is in a coma:

  • Limit the number of visitors and instruct them to speak in a calm voice.
  • Even if you’re not sure, assume that your loved one can hear you, so be careful not to say anything that may upset them within hearing distance.
  • Talk to your loved one in a normal, soothing voice. Let them know that you are there with and for them.
  • Surround your loved one with their favorite music, familiar pictures, and people. If you are caring for a child, you can bring their favorite blanket or stuffed toy.
  • Make sure to allow time for rest between your visits.

If your loved one is in rehabilitation:

  • Provide your loved one with a calm, soothing environment.
  • Understand that some confusion and agitation is to be expected, so don’t take any bad behavior personally.
  • Refrain from getting into any argument with your loved one.
  • Talk to them in short, simple sentences.
  • Give them plenty of time to rest.

Overseeing the Details

The road to recovery for your loved one may be a long one, and you will need to stay organized. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Get several notebooks.
    • One for doctor/treatment information and any questions you might have for the medical team.
    • One for important phone numbers.
    • One for vital insurance and financial information.
  • Learn everything you can about your loved one’s particular condition.
    • As mentioned previously, your loved one’s medical team will be your primary source of information, but there are others that can provide supplementary details. Don’t try to get up to speed all at once as it is virtually impossible to do.
  • Appoint a family spokesperson.
    • Family and friends will want to obtain information about how the patient is doing and it can be exhausting having to repeat yourself. Choosing a point person to provide updates to concerned people will be helpful.
  • Document your experience.
    • If anything, journaling will be helpful as you deal with your grief.

Take Care of Yourself

There is a saying that goes, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” For you to be able to provide the care your loved one needs, you need to be rested, energetic, well-fed, and in a healthy state of mind.

Here are a few things you can do to take care of yourself:

  • Eat healthy meals.
  • Get as much rest as you can.
  • Get some exercise. You may not be able to get a full workout but at least go for a walk and stretch your muscles for a few minutes each day.
  • If you have children, try to keep some semblance of normalcy. Spend time with them – an hour or two of play will do a world of good, for them and for you.
  • If you start to experience medical problems, make sure to consult a doctor and follow their instructions.
  • Accept help from family members and friends so that you’re not spreading yourself thin. Doing so will also help make them feel useful and a part of the recovery process. Tasks that can be delegated can include scheduling activities for your kids or cooking meals for them, caring for pets, picking up groceries, doing a load of wash, etc.
  • Get emotional support. Talking about your experiences, feelings and thoughts is a healthy way of dealing with your grief and can help you maintain a strong frame of mind. Trusted family members and friends, as well as a psychologist, counselor, spiritual adviser, or family members of other TBI patients can help you.