Growing up, hospital rooms felt more like home to me than my actual home. It might sound wild to you, but I LOVED going in for surgery. I was the youngest of three kids. I shared a bedroom with my sister and we only had one TV in our house when I was little. So, going in for surgery meant that I got to skip school, have alone time with my mom, have my own room and have complete control over the TV! Plus, with every surgery, I got a new stuffed animal to accompany me into the operating room. What could be better?
I had a ton of surgeries growing up. So many, in fact, that hospital food still comforts me more than a home-cooked meal. But my surgeries stopped by the time I was 13. I think my parents strategically timed it so that I would have all my major procedures when I was young and then I could enjoy my teenage years. It wasn’t a bad plan, actually. It has, however, left me craving hospital food for a long time.
Maybe that’s why I didn’t flinch when my husband told me that he needed surgery and that he’d be in the hospital for a few days. Instead of being nervous, I instinctively packed my bags, got my snacks, and headed for the door. The only problem was that this time, the surgery was not on me. It suddenly dawned on me. I have tons of experience being the patient, but absolutely no experience being the support person! What does one do in a hospital when they’re not the one laying in the bed? Here’s what I learned:
During pre-op, I took on the role of paperwork reader, question asker, and comic relief. Perhaps it’s the lawyer in me or maybe it’s the wife in me, but I was not about to have my husband sign paperwork allowing people to cut into him before I read every last word of it. After reading all the papers, I told a handful of jokes about how the nurses and doctors did not know what to do when the support person for a person in a wheelchair is another person in a wheelchair. My husband laughed, and some of the nurses did too. Other people on the medical team just gave awkward looks revealing that they actually had no idea what to do in a situation like this.
Okay, so it turns out there’s not actually much to do while someone you love is in surgery. I guess I should have figured this one out by now, but I was always the one who was going under the knife. So, how was I supposed to know that being a support person just meant waiting for hours on end?
As a fun bonus, I decided to be the keeper of my husband’s valuables while he was in surgery and this included his wheelchair. Why? Because our wheelchairs have gotten lost in airports and many other places, so I have trust issues. I had no intention of leaving his wheelchair somewhere in a hospital and just hoping it would find its way back to him later. So, in addition to waiting, I got to be a spectacle by sitting in my bright pink wheelchair and pushing my husband’s wheelchair all over the hospital with me for hours as I waited.
This is where the fun began! I met Ryan on his hospital floor and prepared his room for his arrival. I tried to remember all the things my mom did for me when I stayed in the hospital, like opening the shades for light instead of turning on the lights in the room. It hurts your eyes to stare up into lights. I placed the remote and his phone next to him. Then I kicked up my efforts. I told the food and nutrition team that they could skip my husband’s room because I would be taking care of all his meals. I immediately went to the fancy coffee shop in the lobby to get him a nice iced coffee to soothe his throat after the anesthesia tube left him sore. I also went to the hospital cafeteria to scope out all of the good stuff. I came back with chicken tenders and a grilled chicken salad. Then, to ensure that all the nurses knew how much we appreciated them, I ordered a sub tray, sushi, and a bunch of fancy cookies and dropped it off at the nurse’s station. After that, all the nurses loved my husband.
I was with my husband during his entire stay and found that being a support person is completely exhausting! I have so much more respect for my mom now. I had no idea how uncomfortable those hospital recliners were! My mom slept in those things for months on end. I only had to sleep in it for two nights and I was miserable. It’s a lot of work to care for someone you love while they’re in the hospital and I now have a much deeper respect for all the support persons who do this much more frequently than I do!
About Stephanie Woodward: Stephanie is a brand ambassador advisor for Quantum Rehab® and works as a disability rights activist. She has received many awards for helping communities become more accessible, as well as for her actions in fighting for the rights of disabled individuals as it relates to Medicaid and other support services. Click here to learn more about Stephanie.
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