Two days ago, I returned from spending eight days at the Cleveland Clinic with my parents while my dad underwent open heart surgery. This highly invasive surgery involves replacing the aortic valve with a cow valve. His surgeon Jose Navia, MD -who also performs heart transplants- is one of the most highly regarded heart surgeons in the country. Dr. Navia was as happy to report as we were to hear that the surgery went extremely well. Nonetheless, between the effects of anesthesia, the subsequent pain, almost hourly sleep interruptions, seemingly constant administering of meds and chest Xrays, extremely low sodium (read: tasteless) hospital food and being bed-ridden for a full week, my normally extremely active, independent father wasn’t exactly cheery, chipper or fun to be around. It was hard not knowing how to help or what to say to lift his spirits. Knowing that my role was not only to support my dad, but the “caretaker” (my mother) too, I made sure she didn’t forget to eat and that she got outside at least once a day. I also tried to create some levity for her over dinner in the evening (read: chat up the bartender and other guests at the hotel bar).
The Intercontinental Hotel is attached to the Cleveland Clinic and served as our home-away-from-home for the week. Most of the patrons of the hotel are also family members of clinic patients. On the evenings we went to the restaurant in the hotel, we always met people who were in similar situations. Talking to and getting to know these folks really help to put our own situation in perspective.
The night before my dad was to be discharged, we met a young man from Tennessee who had been there for a week already and was part of his 21 year old sister’s support system. His sister was there for her fifth brain surgery for a rare condition. She will likely require at least three more surgeries, with the incredible possibility of a subsequent surgery replacing part of her brain with a computer. As we conversed, another man overheard our conversation and chimed in that he too, was from Tennessee. He had come to Cleveland with his father who was to undergo thoracic surgery due to an unidentifiable condition that was preventing him from breathing on his own. This young man was alone, however. His mother couldn’t accompany him because she is still in the hospital at home in Tennessee recovering from the surgery she has recently undergone for cervical cancer.
Named one of the top 6 hospitals in the country, the Cleveland Clinic is not only stellar in it’s surgical and medical expertise, but also in it’s support of their patients’ caretakers. It provides several free services for the families and support systems of their patients. An area where many find solace is the rooftop terrace of the hospital, which provides a lovely view of the city in the distance. Afternoon tea, free yoga classes, chair massages and comfortable seats and sofas are just a few of the perks available on the roof. In addition to a couple of workouts in the (freezing) hotel gym, I took advantage of the yoga classes offered on the roof. And they were just what the proverbial doctor ordered. When serving as the support system for a friend or family member, it’s vitally important to take care of yourself. Regardless of who you are caring for or under what circumstances, it’s important to remember that taking care of yourself best serves everyone.
Try to always consider those around you. Instead of wallowing in your own situation, be supportive of your neighbor, regardless if they are in the hotel room next to you, running to catch the elevator you’re in, or perhaps even just needing an ear at the hotel bar. This is true everywhere, and not just in a world renowned medical facility. In other words, Be Kind. For Everyone You Meet is Fighting a Hard Battle.