My guest author is Dr. Ina Gilmore. Dr. Gilmore is a former Infectious Diseases and Internal Medicine physician who knows caregiving as a medical professional, and as a daughter providing care for her aging parents. She is founder of CaregivingWithPurpose.com. Her mission is to help caregivers more than survive – to thrive in caregiving. -DonO
The Call can come anytime. What Call? The one to help a family member who is dealing with a sudden health crisis. The first time I got the call, I was in the middle of an intense biochem study session.
My Mother called. “I’m having a carotid study tomorrow … wanted you to know,” she said forebodingly. Her doctor was concerned she might be at risk for a massive stroke, and after reading the consent form listing serious potential complications — including death — my parents thought they should call me before the procedure, “just in case.”
Fortunately, I didn’t have to drop everything, fly or drive the 1,500 miles home in a borrowed car, to provide support and care. But many, many premeds do. What can you do to make dealing with major and minor crises of being caregivers to parents and grandparents easier?
Stay calm. Whether you are dealing with a family problem, running your first code or in the middle of your medical school interview, staying calm can help you think more clearly. And just like getting upset, staying calm can be contagious. It’s amazing how quickly a situation can also be defused by staying calm—even when you feel like your shoes are filled with Jell-O. (This is an important part of being a doctor.)
Stay positive. There is a world of negativity in medicine. Combating it can take many forms, including appropriate humor. A smile can help, as can focusing on positive things. Be upbeat and reassuring.
Absolutely without question communicate what’s going on to your professors, TAs, organizational leaders and anyone else with whom you have obligations. Emergencies often cannot be prevented. Informing your teachers and others what is happening will go a long way toward getting you the help you need to rearrange quizzes, tests, and deadlines to accommodate you. I know it feels like this is your problem and that you shouldn’t be emailing the world that you have a suddenly-sick family member in distress, but it’s the only way. You absolutely must communicate your circumstance as soon as possible. It’s much harder for a professor to accommodate you after you have missed the mid-term or deadline, regardless of the reason.
Becoming a family caregiver can be a challenge, requiring juggling to balance your college goals and family. It can also be one of the best things you ever do.
Balancing family and professional goals and responsibilities is a lifelong challenge for physicians. One of the first tasks is to figure out how much time and energy you have and can spend on caregiving without adversely affecting yourself, your path to your career, and your own health. For suggestions on how to do this, check out, “How To Balance the Costs and Responsibilities of Becoming Caregivers to Elderly Parents?”