Jim was a 52-year-old ex-marine built like Adonis. He had no significant medical problems, but had been experiencing vomiting and diarrhea that he thought was a stomach bug. Jim was not big on going to doctors and decided to wait it out.
Jim’s wife, Kim, called 911 when she found her husband unresponsive. He was dead on arrival to the emergency department. The couple’s parents arrived immediately after the ambulance and were beside themselves, asking repeatedly, “How could this have happened?”
The answer to this question centered around Kim. She was the next of kin and had missed the “Caregiver’s Code Green.” Like a “Code Blue” that alerts hospital personnel of a patient who has stopped breathing, the “code green” supports a caregiver’s authority in making sure their loved one receives advance care when needed.
Kim was used to Jim being in charge and respected the premise that “What Jim says, goes.” While giving him the benefit of the doubt, she supported both Jim’s denial and supposed invincibility. Kim was torn between being his wife and stepping up as his caregivers. If she’d been given the green light to take charge of the situation, she would have insisted that Jim go to the ED sooner rather than later.
Just as drivers anticipate the traffic light changing from red to green, family caregivers need to be prepared for the Code Green. This code is the call to action for caregivers to STOP! LOOK! LISTEN! FEEL!
Learn how to stop being passive and follow your intuition by using these tools:
Don’t deny the situation and get angry. When you care deeply for another, his or her thoughts and actions do affect you. Medical illness not only strikes your patient – it impacts your entire family. Deference is given to your patient, giving him or her what they want. But you need an equal respect for the illness in order to manage it effectively. When the buck stops with you, the “bunk” – a patient denying the illness – needs to be stopped by you.
As a family caregiver, your duty is to distinguish fact from fiction and not pretend that everything will get better. Begin to establish certainty about your patient’s medical condition and prognosis. Allow yourself to be angry and obtain realistic answers. You may become bossy in response to the patient becoming testy. Being bossy means you care. When given the green light to begin caregiving, you may be required to stop being nice and start acting in your patient’s best interest. You become distinguished as a leader when you stop being passive.
The Caregiver’s Code Green is not sounded at the life. This responsibility generally occurs in the “summer of caregiving,” when you least expect it. During the prime of life, the growing season, everything appears sunny and green. The days are long and you become energized by the sweet fragrance of success along with the impetus of full speed ahead! You are apt to become blinded by the sun until the eclipse occurs – your loved one being taken to the hospital.
Wait! What? Do your eyes deceive you or are you having trouble awakening to the new reality of life-threatening illness? You will need to come to terms with this illness before your patient is able to accept it. Believe it or not, all eyes are on your being in charge. Your “Code Green” triggers the response to get out in front of the illness rather than lead from behind. Look before you are driven over the deep end of denial.
Caregivers are focused on listening to their patients. Most people experience an awakening when they listen to their hearts. You may need to take what your patients say with a grain of salt and become skeptical. Are your patients hopes and dreams aligned with reality? Is the physician being realistic or overly optimistic? What you’re your own search for answers tell you? Do you want an unbiased opinion or do you prefer listening for what you wish to hear?
The metaphysical color of the heart center is green. When the Code Green is activated, you must fine-tune your listening skills – lending an ear to your heart. The Emergency Broadcast System has conditioned us to pay attention to the sound of its alarm and the words, “If this had been an actual emergency, you would have been instructed . . .” As a caregiver, you are inclined to take instructions from outside sources, but the best caveat is to listen to your own heart and trust your intuition.
A caregiver is blessed with a ‘mother’s intuition.’ This tends to challenge the perception that a medical degree is the end-all to physicians knowing everything. You are better in touch with your own feelings and those of your patient than a treating physician. This mutual exchange between you and your patient is referred to as empathy. Empathy allows you to say what’s on your mind and speak from your heart. You will never be faulted for using empathy to your advantage. Code Green implies acting from a call to duty.
Code Green allows you to act on a hunch or a feeling. You are not called to wait at that moment. Caregivers often say, “It’s better to be safe than sorry.” No one will fault you for playing it safe, but it’s difficult to forgive yourself if you believe that you have been negligent. Heed any distress signal your heart sends out. Recognize the pulsation of your heart as feelings and awaken to the messages they send. You cannot expect others to know what is in your own heart.
Like Jim, most patients use denial as a starting and stopping point with the prospect of life-threatening illness. This period of time calls you as caregiver to be on guard – to stop, look, listen, and feel. While waiting for the green light and opportunity to take the lead, plot out your strategy. Create an appropriate advance care plan in order to know where you need to go when your patient takes a turn for the worse and the light turns green.