By P. Adam Robinson
Hospitals, doctors, nurses are the best at attending to a patient’s every need, but when it comes to the emotional care of a patient, no one has the touch of family. A hug, a kiss on the cheek, a loving smile, words of encouragement, a rub on the shoulder, the need to help that special person– that’s what families do best.
Having open-heart surgery is mentally and physically exhausting for the patient. Having two operations I never gave a thought about the surgery itself. I had complete confidence in the surgeon. I focused on recovering.
I created anticipators.
Anticipators help the patient by taking care of family and friends. At the age of 29, I had my first heart operation, an aortic value replacement. That’s when I learned about anticipators. My Daddy was a master anticipator. He knew how to answer a question, satisfy a request before I even asked. He said it was good old common since. Daddy would sit in the chair close to the window looking out, but mostly watching me. He never spoke a word except only to answer my questions. He could tell that I was too tired to talk most of the time, so he just sat in silence and watched. He never looked at a book or made a sound. I believe his only thoughts were of me. It was as if he was standing guard and his only job was to focus on my needs.
I’d sleep most of the time during the first few days of recovery, but when I woke he was there watching me. I remember one incident. There was pain in the center of my back. I was only half awake, but I could feel Daddy gently rubbing my back, putting a pillow under my shoulders. The pain must have eased for I went back to sleep. I realized after spending two weeks in the hospital and with Daddy’s help—his anticipating my every need—helped me during my recovery.
Now, 25 years later, I was hospitalized a second time, also for an aortic valve replacement. I remembered what Daddy had done for me during my last surgery. He anticipated my needs. I knew it was his love that really helped me. I could remember how easy it was to recover when he was an anticipator.
What I needed this time was to create anticipators. I figured if all the family had something to think about besides poor old Adam, maybe they would have an upbeat outlook and maybe in turn, they would make me feel a little better too.
I figured my children Daniel and Brianna would be great anticipators. They both have commanding voices and strong wills. For them to be anticipators would serve two purposes for me. It would take some of the worry away that I saw in my children’s eyes, and it would give them something to think about beside my operation.
I explained to Daniel and Brianna as anticipators, they must put all their feeling aside and try to be aware of what others need. As anticipators, they would make our stay here at the hospital as relaxing and stress free as possible. And that includes those who come to visit.
I asked of my children to do as my father did 25 years ago. Keep the conversion interesting; provide a ride for a visiting family member, and even simple things like having a pillow or a drink ready. I told them to anticipate everyone’s needs especially their mother and grandparents. Never ask a direct question, for example “do you need a pillow.” Get two pillows and offer the extra to the person who needs a pillow.
We arrived at hospital at 5:45 a.m. for my heart operation. The waiting room was empty. I don’t remember what we talked about, but I made sure the conversion was upbeat. I acted as if we were waiting on breakfast to be served instead of me having surgery. I don’t believe that Daniel or Brianna was even thinking of my surgery, if they did it didn’t show until the nurse called my name. We hugged and I told them that I would see them later in the day as if my heart surgery was just a routine operation. I believe I succeeded in having my children believe it was nothing more than just another routine operation. I was so convincing, I believed it too.
When I woke in ICU, I felt no pain; I was quite comfortable actually. For the next 36 hours I was only awake during visiting hours or when the nurses wanted me to do something. It was mid-day Friday and I was being transferred from ICU to a private room. I felt this was the turning point of my recovery.
Being in a private room meant having family and friends visit at anytime, setting up and eating, getting out of bed. I wanted to leave the hospital and return to my normal life as quickly as possible. I asked myself, how do I do that? It didn’t take me long to figure it out. I simply follow the doctors, nurses, and physical therapist lead. The answer was, act normal. Eat, sleep and get out of bed as much as possible. I was still weak and I knew I was going to need help.
Brianna eyes were watching my every breath; I could feel her emotions. She was like a cat waiting to bounce. I closed my eyes for a few moments; I reached to the table beside my bed for a drink. Within seconds she was filling a cup, placing Kleenex, water, among other things that she thought I might need and putting them within my reach. I smiled and said thanks. I knew at that moment she was doing as Daddy did 25 years ago, she was a natural anticipator.
As we talk they all seemed to leave one by one until only Brianna, Daniel and my wife, Angie were the only ones left. I wasn’t able to talk much but I was eager to hear how Brianna and Daniel did as anticipators.
Between naps Brianna tells me of what she and Daniel did during my surgery. As anticipators, they carried on the tradition of their grandfather and I was very proud. Daniel and Brianna had kept family members busy. Briana focused on listening to those, like her Aunt Rita who was upset and worried about me, and Daniel worked to keep other family members occupied.
During the day of my surgery had seemed to linger for my family, as my surgery took longer than the doctors had expected, but Brianna and Daniel held the family together as anticipators. As I began to recover from my surgery, Daniel focused on taking care of my wife Angie, and my parents, while Brianna started working with me to help me get better.
“Bri, it’s my turn now, I’ll do what needs to be done to get better. The quicker I get better the sooner everyone’s life gets back to normal. I’m really weak so if you would help me for a day or so that would be good,” I told her a few days after I had been taken out of ICU and into a private room. “All you got to do is listen to the doctor, nurses and the physical therapist, follow their instruction, I will too and we all can be out of here in a few days.”
Brianna did that and then some. When I had visitors, it was Brianna, who would anticipate my need for rest and she would patiently ask everyone to leave the room so I could sleep. I sure was glad of that.
As the anticipators, my children took charge while I was in surgery and during my recovery. They took care of my wife and my parents, who were coping with my surgery. I was proud of how they handled the situation.
Below are some of my personal suggestions about how anticipators can help family and friends while waiting during surgery and the patient’s stay intensive care.
1. Spouses. The anticipator should always take care of the patient’s spouse first. Watch their actions at all times for they are the most important person for the anticipator. The doctors are taking care of the patient and it’s the job of the anticipator to take care of the spouse.
2. The patient’s parents. They are having just as much difficulty coping with their son/daughter surgery as the spouse. Get them involved in conversion, ask their advice. Make arrangements with other family member to stay with the parents in case of a ride or medical emergency.
3. Keeping it positive. There is always one family member who thinks negative or the worst outcome. Always listen for that person’s depressing thoughts and give positive feedback as quickly as possible. Be very polite and ask that person a direct question, in other word change the subject so the group doesn’t think of their negative thoughts.
4. Keeping family and visitors waiting occupied. Once the magazines are read in your part of the waiting room you can gather them up and switch out with other sections if the waiting room is big enough. Also, go to the gift shop and get a couple of newspapers and easy word puzzle books. These will come in handy all through the stay at the hospital. One person doing a word puzzle out loud can encourage many to think of something other than the patient. Also if children are present don’t forget coloring books so maybe they will stay quiet.
For the heart patient, it is important for the anticipator to give the patient attention without him or her knowing.
1. The Heart Pillow—the doctor will issue a heart pillow for coughing. The anticipator job is to keep it within reach of the heart patient.
2. The spit cup—fluid may build in a patient throat and a spit cup should be kept within reach at all times.
3. Extra blankets or pillows—the patient may ask for and extra blanket or pillow. The anticipator should have these items available for the patient. If the request is made and the anticipator needs to go to the nurses’ station and get this item, a few minutes is a long time for the patient whose comfort is priority.
4. Cup of ice—The anticipator should keep a cup of ice available and within reach for the patient. He/she may request a piece of ice for a dry mouth, again a few minutes is a long time for a heart patient to wait.
5. Bathroom needs, in bed—have a urinal available. If the patient wants to go to the bathroom the anticipator should call for a nurse or lend a helping hand.
6. Loud noise outside the room– closes the door, so the patient can sleep.
7. Always be alert to the patient needs. The anticipator never reads a book or looks at a magazine. The anticipator is to watch the patient at all times. Be tentative to the patient facial expression, a need to turn, pain, or eye movement to help determine their needs.
8.Keeping it positive. Talk only of the things the patient wants to talk about. The anticipators family and visitors personal opinions should not be spoken only the patient has priority.
- Hobbies—you will need to know what the patient’s hobbies are. Most people have more than one. A patient hobby is an uplifting conversation.
- Stressful topics–Be prepared to change the subject if the patient talks about a subject that causes him/her stress.
- Never discuss religion or politics with the patient. Try to change the subject if possible. If the patient insists on talking about religion or politics listen only and do not have a personal opinion, because your opinion may not be that of the patient.
- Have a sign available to put on the door for family and friends to notify them when the patient is sleeping. Sleep is a very important healing process for the patient. Family and friends can wait in the waiting room until the patient is awake. While I was recovering, my wife, Angie came in and was laughing about the sign Brianna put on my door.
Come to the waiting room.
I didn’t laugh, and I told Brianna that it was and excellent idea.
- Consider a photo of the patient’s hobby to stand in the window or have and item that the patient uses in his/her hobby brought in the room. The item or photograph will serve two purposes—1. Give the patient a desire to get better so they can leave the hospital—2. The item or photograph will serve as a conversion piece for family and friends.
It’s been a year now since my surgery. And thanks to my doctors and my anticipators who helped me through those important first few days of recovery, I am doing very well.
*Adam Robinson and his family reside in Newport, Virginia. Robinson was formerly a member of Mended Hearts Chapter 144 in Roanoke Virginia for many years, but distance and time became an issue. He has recently become a member-at-large with Mended Hearts and hopes that he can contribute” a little something along the way that will help another Mended Heart.”