Life Goes On

Emotional Care - March 27, 2014

Human beings tend to be creatures of habit; we generally do things the same way most of the time. We often socialize with the same people, do the same things at our routine events and follow a typical schedule or pattern in our lives. When major illness or injury enters our lives we often put the rest of life on hold and managing the illness or injury becomes our main focus. To a certain extent this is the most logical and appropriate way to respond. However, after an initial adjustment period, most medical professionals recommend that the patient try to shift focus away from illness and return to normal life as much as possible.

Of course trying to live your "normal life" while dealing with an illness or injury can sometimes seem impossible. Depending on the circumstances of your medical condition you may find major physical barriers that make it incredibly difficult to leave your house, let alone socialize. Your condition may change your diet drastically, you may find your attention span reduced and fatigue both mentally and physically may greatly impact your ability to interact with others. Generally when you don't feel good, you often don't want to do things. So it does make sense to withdraw some from your normal patterns. However there is a point where the withdrawal can have a detrimental effect. Getting back into your normal routine can be helpful in your healing process. Doing normal things again can remind you of why you want to get better and can reconnect you with your life.

So how can you get on with your life when your physical condition puts so many roadblocks in the way? The simple answer is you have to ask others to accommodate you. Every patient and situation is unique, so the only way to deal with finding a balance in this challenging situation is to find a unique solution for each situation you encounter.

Several years ago a friend of mine shattered his tibia plateau. The recovery from that injury required three surgeries and he was immobilized in bed with a rod protruding from his leg for nearly two months. Getting out of bed wasn't possible so the idea of socializing seemed out of the question. While he did need lots of rest and quiet time, after a while the solitude was unhealthy for him. Prior to the injury, he had a regular practice of having dinner with his siblings and friends most Sunday evenings. A few weeks into his recovery his family and friends decided to resume the regular Sunday dinner. Since he could not leave his bed they brought the dinner party to his room. Although it was a bit crowded and took a little creativity, it worked fine to set up card tables next to his bed for dinner. Even with his severely limited mobility he was able to enjoy his usual dinner with his family and friends.

For some reason many of us are uncomfortable making requests of others. We think we are being rude or demanding if we ask for something. It's not impolite to ask for an accommodation, especially when you are dealing with a major illness or recovering from injury or surgery. People don't know about your restrictions and can't offer to accommodate your needs until they know. It doesn't make your hosts uncomfortable to have you ask; on the contrary, it puts them at ease because they don't have to guess or feel awkward wondering.

When my husband was dealing with cancer I found it helpful to let others know in advance what accommodations he might need to feel comfortable in a social situation. Whenever we accepted an invitation to attend a cookout or dinner party or other event, I always qualified our RSVP with a note explaining that we might have to cancel at the last minute. Life can be unpredictable when dealing with illness and by letting the host know in advance we may suddenly cancel allowed them to be prepared and plans were not thrown off by it. I also often asked the host if a quiet bedroom was available in case my husband got tired and needed to rest. Again this was never a problem and I'm sure asking in advance made it easy on the host to be prepared to have a bedroom set up for him. You may find it helpful to ask your host about accessibility such as stairs and ramps. You might want ask for an additional chair or pillow. You may offer to bring a special dish that will easily accommodate your diet without adding extra work for your host. Most of the time I found friends asked if they could make a special dish to accommodate my husband's diet and incorporate it into the menu. It's important to open up the dialogue about what accommodation you may need. Once you do this everyone will be more comfortable. And if by chance your host cannot accommodate you it's best to know this in advance so that there are no awkward feelings about it.

Dealing with an illness or injury forces you and your caretakers to learn many new things. One of the most important things you can learn is how to ask for what you need. The very nature of illness makes us generally more vulnerable and in need of support. While this may seem unnatural at first, you will soon discover that the people in your life want to be supportive and helpful. Remember that you often want to help your friends and family when you see them in a challenging situation. So don't resist asking others to support you in finding creative solutions in accommodating your illness in your regular life routines.