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Practical Caregiving

An Informed Caregiver Is an Effective Caregiver

By Jean Donahue

Your parents have always talked to the doctor alone and didnít need your help. Now the tables are turned and they DO need your help. Whatís your role? How do you act in this new situation?

First, if you are going give your loved one the best care, you need to know as much as possible. You need to know what diseases and symptoms are being treated, what medicines are being prescribed and what over-the-counter medicines are being recommended. You need to know the possible side affects of the medicines your loved one is taking. You need to know what food, exercises and activities your loved one should have. And you need to know when to call the doctor -- or when to call an ambulance. The questions never seem to end.

The place to start is by talking to the doctor Ė but just exactly how do you talk to your loved oneís doctor? How do you find out what you need to know? How do you know what to ask?

First of all, you need to get your loved one to give the doctor permission to talk to you. That permission does not mean that the doctor will not talk to your loved one; it just means that the doctor will talk to you as well as your loved one.

Now the challenge comes Ė actually talking to the doctor. In order to learn what you really need to know, you must develop a good relationship with the doctor. Perhaps you have always been able to easily deal with medical professionals, but this time may be different. Your own feelings are involved, and that changes things dramatically. In other words, this is really close to home, and your heart.

Treat the doctor with respect even if you are upset and ďjust want answers.Ē He did study many years to become a doctor, and he does know more than you do about medicine and diseases. At the same time he is not perfect and he is not like a god. Just donít challenge his authority, but you can question his reasoning.

It is possible to ask the doctor questions about possible solutions in your case. Donít try to tell him how it should be done. Tell him you were reading this or that and ask if he thinks that is a possibility. Doctors generally will give you their opinion about the subject and why they have the opinion they do.

If he gives a very short answer you are not satisfied with, ask (donít tell) him to explain his reasoning. Explain that you are trying to understand your loved oneís situation better and you want to know as much as possible. Once the doctor understands that you want to understand more in order to better care of your loved one, he will be more open with you. Of course, there are a few doctors who wonít respond to any of this. Donít get angry with the doctor because he isnít telling you what you want to hear. You can always ask a different doctor to explain things, especially if your loved one is getting good medical care. Your loved oneís care is the most important issue, not your hurt feelings or your desire to know more.

Donít call the doctor too often. If you feel you need to talk to the doctor, talk to his nurse first. She is trained to handle things and knows when itís important to talk to the doctor and when itís something she can answer or ask the doctor for you.

Be sure to ask questions face-to-face, when you are in the office. Make of list of questions you want to ask and remember to take that list with you. Itís too easy to forget something important if you donít. Donít think that you need to understand everything right away. It may take a while. After all, the doctor went to school several years to learn what he knows, and you probably wonít be able to understand everything the first time you hear it.

A heart specialist once told me he generally had to explain everything three times to the patient and caregiver before they were able to understand what was wrong and what needed to be done. The human mind can only handle so much at a time and when you are emotionally upset about whatís happening it simply takes longer. Donít feel intimidated when this happens. Write down the problems along with any names or words that you donít understand. Look them up later.

Read medical books directed toward the lay person and check internet sites. Read everything you can about the disease, medicines and caregiving of your loved one. In other words, be an informed caregiver. You will be more confident and able to take care of your loved one.