(Written on Sunday Night)

I’m taking a short break from publishing my Kolkata Diary to give some pointers on taking your partner to the Emergency Room. Why? Because that’s where I am right now. Chalupa collapsed in the hallway tonight on his way to do a nebulizer treatment (I’m blaming George RR Martin and the red wedding episode of Game of Thrones and plan on suing HBO for tonight’s medical bills), and so here we are. He’s doing some breathing treatments and getting pumped full of intravenous steroids, and I’m, well, watching everything.

If your partner has chronic illness and needs to visit Emergency Departments with any regularity, you probably have developed some good habits that make the trips go more smoothly. If you are new to taking care of a partner with chronic illness, though, it might help to hear about some of the successful habits of others who have more experience.

Our experience: Chalupa and I have been married for six and a half years–not a long time. However, we’ve done the Emergency Room routine about a dozen times in hospitals in Indiana, New Hampshire, and Kentucky. I’ve driven him to some hospitals, and ambulances have taken him to others. We’ve gone in the night and during the day. We know this routine pretty well. These are the things that make the whole experience easier:

  1. Know when to go. Chalupa and I have some specific markers that tell us when he needs to go to the ER. Because his problems are pulmonary in nature, there are some numbers we can pay attention to: blood oxygen levels, peak flow readings (although those aren’t super helpful), number of breathing treatments during a given period of time. If you can come up with concrete markers, it can be easier to make the decision to just go ahead and get in the car or call for an ambulance. We also have an agreement that I get to make the call about whether or not he goes to the ER. Too many times when we were first together, I was concerned but didn’t push him on seeking treatment, and later it was clear that he should have gone in. Sometimes when a person is sick or breathing poorly, they don’t think clearly, and they need you to be their brain. That’s what my job is when it comes to trips to the hospital: I make the decisions.
  2. Have a plan. Do you have kids? Who will watch them in an emergency that takes place after bedtime? What about during the day? Do you know which ER is the closest? Which ER has a reputation for terrible care? Who do you inform when you go to the hospital?
  3. Know your partner’s history. It’s important to memorize things like birth date, insurance company, and social security number, but it’s also important to be up to date on your partner’s medical history. Sometimes the person you’re accompanying to the hospital isn’t going to be able to talk very well–the more questions you can answer on their behalf, the better.
  4. Bring lists. Chalupa is on enough medications that it can be difficult to keep them all straight. Which ones does he take daily? Which are two times a day? Which are rescue only? I’m pretty good about it, but what really helps is that Chalupa has created a list in the back of his pocket calendar that details all of his medical conditions, prescriptions, and instructions. Whenever we go to the ER, we grab his bag of medication and make sure that calendar (which details his daily breathing and medication details) is in there. The admitting staff likes to have a look, and it’s easier to provide the list multiple times than go over the same details with everyone who comes into the room.
  5. Stay calm. This one isn’t too difficult for Chalupa or me, because we tend to be pretty laid back people, but I’m glad it comes easy to us, because it’s important. When someone is in the hospital, it’s important to stay calm. Breathing problems pretty much always get you seen right away, but if there is a wait for care, I assume it’s because the staff has assessed that Chalupa can wait a few minutes while they attend to someone in more serious condition. Acute pulmonary distress is going to get a fast response. We have to accept that if we’re at the ER because Chalupa has been coughing up blood but isn’t in immediate distress, they might not get to him as quickly. Getting upset or angry never helps things go faster. If you think that your partner is in trouble, of course you should let someone know, but also be prepared to wait.

So here we are, waiting calmly, hoping that the drugs here at the hospital can do better for Chalupa than the ones he’s been on at home. He’ll be fine, of course, as always–he just needs an extra boost. I’m tired, but I’m glad I can be here with him while he works on getting better.