Scumbag brain.
May 12, 2013 4:10 PM   Subscribe

My son's father suffered a ruptured aneurysm last week. He's not getting better and I want to be as supportive as possible to him and his family. How do I do that like a normal person?

I posted a question related to this last week. The "friend" in question happened to be my son's father.

Here's the story: Early last Saturday morning, he (who I'll call J) suffered a ruptured aneurysm. He was in the ICU one day, step down 2 days, and then he was discharged. I am not at all a part of his ongoing medical treatment though his mother has kept me informed. He was released Tuesday. He was back at the ER Thursday because his blood pressure is still incredibly high and then again Friday because he has not eaten or slept in 7 days. Both times he was sent home. 90% of the docs he's seen say this was an aneurysm, the other 10% say it was a stroke. No one can figure out how to manage his pain or lower his BP. This concerns me greatly, as I noted in my last question, but the crux of this question is slightly different...

I'm wondering how to support him best, as the mother of his child and his friend, while he recovers. He has no serious brain damage to note but he is absolutely miserable and this is a guy that has been working 70 hours a week for years so it's taking a toll.

J lives a little over an hour from us. We were at the hospital everyday that he was there but now that he's home (technically, he's at his mother's since his stroke / fall risk is so high) I'm wondering if there's anything I can do to support him from afar. Any ideas?

I'm also wondering if there's anything I can do for his family. My son has a wonderful relationship with them all and I'm quite fond of them too, especially after seeing how gracefully they handled all this as a family. His mother is exhausted and frustrated but she's not the type to loudly yell at a doc or ask for help when she could use it. Is there any special way to help her as she cares for J? I've fed them the last two times I've seen them but is there more I can do?

Also, what are the appropriate things to say here? J and I are very comfortable with each other and he knows me well but emotions and like, loving, appropriate care are not my strong suits. I find myself anxious constantly because I want to help so badly, I just don't know what to do. I've read all the medical papers and journals about this injury, I've consulted my friends in the medical field, and I feel I get that side of it but there's not a lot to read from those who've suffered through this and give thoughts on what they would have wanted from their care givers and family during that time.

Also, anyone have any stellar coping mechanisms for myself? J is a super manly man and to see him sick is sort of throwing my psyche for a loop. He never got sick...until he almost died. How do I cope with whatever it is I'm feeling about this, in terms of being our son's mother?

For now, we'll be visiting every weekend until things are better but as it is, J's just spending his days writhing in pain from a brain that's revolting. I know I can't fix that but if the ever-knowledgeable MeFites on the green have any advice on ways to support those who are pretty goddamn illl (or more specifically, have been through an aneurysm), I'd be very grateful :).
posted by youandiandaflame to Human Relations (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
His mother is exhausted and frustrated but she's not the type to loudly yell at a doc or ask for help when she could use it.

Can you - within the bounds of your temperament, time, and relationship - be the information wrangler/translator from and between family and medical people? Speaking from experience, sometimes those of us doing the direct care stuff are too exhausted to really concentrate on that end of things (except for really obvious and direct explanations or orders, like "Have him take these pills 3 hours after eating, once a day"), especially badgering equally busy docs with follow-up questions. If you could do this kind of thing, you might have to get J/his mom to sign a release so the hospital/doctors will be able to legally talk to you about his medical situation.

Good luck, and take care.
posted by rtha at 4:19 PM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeah, seconding Ethan. If you can manage it, a calm, well-dressed* advocate with a notebook can be immensely helpful in times like this to help him get what he needs.
*if you we're a man I'd tell you to wear a suit - I've seen that work wonders. But business casual will probably do. The idea is to get the doctors' attention and make them take you seriously.
posted by bleep at 4:30 PM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: That's not a bad idea, rtha and bleep.

What's the best way to politely ask J's mother if she'd like help with us while giving her a way to decline without feeling obligated? We've known each other for years now but our interactions have always been based on MY son and not HERS. I don't want her to feel like I'm overstepping a boundary but that's something I'm certainly happy to do for the family...
posted by youandiandaflame at 4:38 PM on May 12, 2013

And by Ethan I meant rtha, autocorrect. Something like "Hey, do you want me to deal with the doctors for you so you can get some rest? I'm happy to do it." Would probably work.
posted by bleep at 4:42 PM on May 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

Preparing food that can be frozen and easily reheated can be helpful, so J's mother doesn't have to worry about cooking, but they can still be eating homemade food. I realize you don't live that close, but perhaps you could make some things to bring over next time you go that they can have on hand, or ask if you can do grocery shopping for her. If you know their circle of friends or other nearby family, perhaps you could organize having other people bring meals over for them as well.

When my (single) mom had surgery when I was in middle school, the other parents each signed up to bring over a meal for the two weeks after, and that was great. My sister's religious community also does this for births and illnesses, which seems so humane to me. This may not be something you can take on, but it's one way to help ease the burden of caretaking.
posted by sumiami at 4:49 PM on May 12, 2013

My father suffered a ruptured cerebral aneurysm about 20 years ago. I was a teenager at the time, and our family circumstances were different, so I don't know if I have a great deal of specific advice about what to do for J's family. I can tell you what our experience was like.

I'm sure treatments and therapies have changed a lot since then, but my memories are that it was a very long process. The doctors could point at MRIs and CT scans, but as to how that was going to be realized in terms of daily life -- they had no idea. It took awhile for them to figure out exactly how the bleed had happened even. He had a major surgery to fix the rupture, spent a couple of weeks in ICU, and weeks in a rehab center. But it was very hard to know what to expect. Neurologists and neurosurgeons are brilliant - but there's still so much they can't predict. I remember one doctor years later reviewing my dad's MRIs before he met him, and making the assumption that this patient must be nearly vegetative. His jaw dropped when my father came in walking and talking. Recovering from a brain trauma like this is a lot of waiting, a lot of uncertainty, and lots of teams of therapists and specialists. Marathon -- not sprint. Pace yourselves, all of you.

My father had a particularly bad bleed, and was never himself again -- his body functioned and he could walk and talk, but a lot of memories were gone and his personality was different. Similar, but different. His short term memory was so damaged he couldn't work. He lived a disabled life for 16 years and died recently after another brain bleed.

That's one outcome -- and I don't mean to worry you unnecessarily with his story, but its very hard to know how things are going to progress. However it happens, it is likely going to be long. The hardest thing for me to deal with at the time were the expectations (our own, and from other friends and family) that the outcome would be either he'd be totally back to normal....or dead soon. We felt kind of adrift when the reality wound up being a little of both. Try as hard as you can to not think "When things get back to normal..." but just get through where things are the next few days. Be there for your son in the moment as much as you can. Take good care of yourself too.
posted by pantarei70 at 5:31 PM on May 12, 2013 [2 favorites]

I don't think it's your responsibility. Your responsibility is to your son and to help him understand what is happening to his father. It's normal and natural to want to step into the wife/partner role, but for your own sake, I don't think you should take on that burden simply because no one else is there. It's loving to want to go above and beyond, but you are not his wife, just the mother of his son, and your primary responsibility is to your son only. You need your energy for that, to normalize this experience for him.

Be there for your son. If it was you instead of your son's father, there would be no going above and beyond on his part, guaranteed. Channel the energy into letting your son know he is safe, has a home and a vibrant, healthy parent.
posted by discopolo at 5:54 PM on May 12, 2013 [5 favorites]

Dropping blood pressure too fast can cause a stroke. I don't know if anyone told you that. They want to bring it down very slowly.

There is a community for caregivers of stroke patients (you would get help there even if you don't know if it is a stroke yet and also you would get support as the ex wife of a patient - you really need support because of you shared parenting responsibilities)

Or ask me a specific question here. I am caring for my partner who had a stroke one year ago. He was paralyzed on his left side. No brain damage.
posted by cda at 6:23 PM on May 12, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding discopolo's very wise advice.
posted by headnsouth at 8:40 PM on May 12, 2013

Nthing discopolo.
posted by jbenben at 9:02 PM on May 12, 2013

If it was you instead of your son's father, there would be no going above and beyond on his part, guaranteed.

I take it you know the man in question very well to be making this kind of assessment, discopolo. With a guarantee, even.

OP, I would find it presumptuous to advise you to focus on your son's well-being, since I assume you're already doing that, and that's not what your question is about. I also think that your desire to help out your friend/father of your son is admirable.

During times of illness, especially sudden, serious illness, a lot of small(er, comparatively) things tend to fall through the cracks. Getting bills paid on time, walking the dog, collecting mail, renewing car tags, etc. Offering to help out with some of the miscellanea once or twice a week could be a tangible way to help out while he's recovering without having to worry about HIPAA paperwork or inserting yourself into a family situation.
posted by jingzuo at 9:12 PM on May 12, 2013 [14 favorites]

[Just to clear up something that seems confused in your question, the doctors aren't disagreeing when some say a ruptured aneurysm and some say a stroke - a ruptured aneurysm is a type of haemorrhagic stroke, so they're saying exactly the same thing, but in a more general way.]
posted by kadia_a at 11:03 PM on May 12, 2013

I agree with jingzuo. I find it kind of alarming that someone would choose not to help another human being just because it would be a favor that may not be returned in a hypothetical situation. A person does a favor because they want to and they can, not because it's a debt based on the possibility of receiving a return favor in the future or an alternative reality.

That said, I really like the idea of being his "personal assistant"when it comes to shit that needs to get done. Here are some ideas:

keeping a care calendar so his other friends and relatives can see what needs to be done and choose to help
taking care of pets
doing basic grocery shopping (toiletries, cleaning supplies, food)
cooking a couple of simple meals (crockpot stews are easy to make and are satisfying)
checking bills and mail (with permission of course)
Helping out with medical documents (organize medical bills, diagnosis docs, appointment scheduling, etc.)
on the same subject, what needs to be done at work: faxing documents to HR, helping with any SSI related paperwork
Bringing over fun movies or books
Mowing the lawn
If you have money and he needs help with keeping house you could consider hiring a cleaning lady once every two weeks (or if you don't mind, you can help out with dishes, floors, taking out the trash)
He is in medical marijuana an option? You can help him figure that out
If his mom is exhausted and not sure she is being effective you guys may consider pitching in with other friends and family and hiring a medical advocate

You can make a list of ideas and go to his mother so you can both divide tasks. She probably needs a break, so she will be thankful.
posted by Tarumba at 3:24 AM on May 13, 2013

I find it kind of alarming that someone would choose not to help another human being just because it would be a favor that may not be returned in a hypothetical situation.

It's not about not helping another human being, it's about taking on a role that's "above and beyond" what the relationship calls for.

It's normal and natural to want to step into the wife/partner role, but for your own sake, I don't think you should take on that burden simply because no one else is there.

OP supporting your son's father, and supporting his family, are appropriate. VIsiting on the weekends as you're planning to do, as long as it isn't too taxing for the patient or for your son, and assuming you're staying in a hotel and not unintentionally becoming an added burden to his caregivers, is a great idea. Reading up on the literature so that you can understand what's happening and explain it to your son is a good idea. But be careful not to overstep or overpromise. You live an hour away and are raising a child and presumably working. Taking care of the responsibilities you have is already a full plate (and that includes taking care of yourself, getting enough rest, etc.)
posted by headnsouth at 3:47 AM on May 13, 2013

Response by poster: Ah, thank you all for the concrete suggestions of things to do! (Specifically rtha, bleep, jingzuo, Tarumba, and Sumiami. And thank you pantarei70 and cda for sharing your experiences. Truly.)

If it was you instead of your son's father, there would be no going above and beyond on his part, guaranteed.

Couple months ago I was quite sick (I even posted a question about it here and got some wonderful advice that urged me to see a doc which ended up being absolutely necessary). I was down a week and my son's father DID go above and beyond. I didn't consider it any sort of favor and I gladly accepted his help because we are FAMILY and this is what families do. This isn't the flu (which I'd gladly let him power through on his own); the man almost died and by most accounts, probably should have given how sick he is. YF(amilies)MMV, I guess.

I work part time and our son is currently between sports so our afternoons and weekends are free. When I speak to J's mother tonight I'll offer to take care of little things like grocery shopping and mail checking and errand running. That's so simple for me to do but it just hadn't occurred to me. This weekend I'll be taking along some pre-cooked meals as well. I think that'll really help.

You guys are awesome. Thanks for the advice :).
posted by youandiandaflame at 5:22 AM on May 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

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