When your loved one first becomes ill, your mind races. Sometimes you are instantaneously and unexpectedly thrust into the role of caregiver. You don’t know how to care for the sick person. You need information, and you’ll be inundated with lots of it. The trick is in finding solid, reliable information.
This article will be broken into two parts. The first part will focus on getting medical information from the medical professionals. The second part will focus on all other information.
Start with the source, the GP. If you are a caregiver, you’ll find it most efficient to be physically in the room during doctor visits. It starts with the General Practitioner.
Remember that the General Practitioner is not an expert on everything. Do not accept all of the information you get in the initial information gathering sessions with physicians as the gospel truth. There’s a reason you get sent to a specialist. A General Practitioner or Family Doctor treats the whole person. In the event of a serious illness, when you’ll be acting as a caregiver, that GP will send you on to a specialist who knows all of the in’s and out’s of a disease/ailment.
When you’ve come to a dead end with the General Practitioner, it’s time to jump a step higher. Ask him: if you had this problem, or if you’re loved on had this problem, whom would you see next. Since many doctors nowadays are part of a practice, their first instinct/instruction will be to recommend someone within their practices. That’s why it’s important for you to personalize/humanize the situation again and again. You don’t want to know who works in the office next to your GP. You want to know the BEST person to treat the illness.
Time for Research. After you’ve gotten the GP’s recommendation, look up that specialist on the Internet. What you read should make you feel confident. While you are reading, you may see other doctors/professionals listed again and again. Make note of those in the event you want a second opinion or if you don’t hit it off with the specialist your GP has recommended.
You’ve Found a Specialist
Gathering Information. The Specialist will want all of the lab work, previous doctor reports, xrays and the like. As you gather information, you’ll probably learn a great deal. Your loved one may have left out this or that piece of information initially. You may not have seen the results of blood work done during the last regular exam. When someone becomes seriously ill, however, those tests may take on a new meaning.
Have the GP and labs give you all of the information initially. Photocopy it all for the Specialist. Now you both will be on the same page, sharing the same information about the person who is ill. Put your information in a binder in chronological order with the most recent information first.
Check out the Physician’s Office. When you arrive at the Specialist’s office, you’ll probably see lots of pamphlets and maybe even specialty magazines on the illness. Gather up any written materials you can. If you see magazines of interest, jot down the name to research more later.
Ask Questions. Go over issues and questions with your loved one before seeing the doctor. Write them down and keep them in the binder you have set up.
While you want to let the patient have as much control as he can handle, there’s a reason you are in the room as the caregiver. If the person forgets questions he wants answered, chime in.
Take notes as your loved one asks questions. Patients, especially those facing serious illness, don’t always hear what the doctor says. Even if the person seems cool, collected and rational he may be in denial or shock in the beginning. Since this is when medical professionals give the most information, it’s essential for you to become the other set of ears. You’ll help the person you’re caring for, but you’ll help yourself even more as you get deeper into the caregiver position.
Watch the patient’s body language for clues of information. Your loved one may not be telling you all of his worries and fears. Watch how he discusses things with the doctor. You may see concerns you haven’t noticed at home. It’s one more piece of information you’ll need as a caregiver.
More tests, more lab work, etc. Odds are the Specialist will do follow up work. Doctors have their own common language few of us understand. As the caregiver, you must ask questions you wouldn’t ask for yourself if you were the patient. When the doctor is ordering follow-up tests and labs, find out why specifically. Ask him what he’s trying to determine with the various tests. This will give you more information on the illness itself. Maybe he’s checking the blood work for calcium because the lack of calcium plays a significant role in the disease.
Ask the Specialist how you can get a copy of the additional tests for the binder you’re building. If he says he’ll get it and forward it to you, make sure you follow up. Dollars to donuts, you’ll never see a copy of those tests unless you ask for it several times.
Use the Specialist as a first resource. Before you leave this initial visit, ask the doctor and the care staff (who may actually have more hands-on info than the doctor) where you can get more information on the illness. This will point you to the best information since these people have dealt with this problem again and again.
Get the names of national organizations as well as local support groups. All of this information will be invaluable to you as a caregiver. When you’ve developed these leads, you’ll be ready for the next steps in helping your loved one cope with the illness.
For more information, see Part Two of this article—
Caregiving: When Your Elderly Loved One is Ill.How to Get the Information You Need (Part Two, of a two-part article).