Battling a personal COVID-19 diagnosis is hard enough, but what if your loved one becomes sick with the virus, and you suddenly find yourself as their caretaker? This can be a scary and stressful time, but know that you are not facing this alone. We want to make sure you feel supported and prepared to do your best to take care of your loved one — and yourself — through their illness.
Diagnosis at home. Now what?
First and foremost, when a family member is diagnosed with COVID-19, isolating is a must. You should avoid sharing items with whomever is sick and, if possible, give them space in the house where they can fully isolate. If that option isn’t available, have them wear a disposable mask at all times, as this will help protect you and any other family members as they recover. The CDC has an informative list to help guide you in caring for your loved one, but here are a few high points to get you started:
- Have them isolate in their own bedroom or area of the house.
- Avoid visitors.
- Remove waste from their room with gloves and a mask. Need a few pointers on how to make a face covering? Click here.
- Wear gloves when handling anything that comes from their room, and be sure to wash your hands with soap and warm water after removing your gloves.
- Disinfect commonly touched surfaces often, and wear gloves if possible when doing so.
- Dry your laundry on a hot setting.
- Look for signs that it’s safe to end home isolation — for instance, when they stop running a fever and suffering from other symptoms.
As you care for someone with COVID-19, be sure to keep them comfortable and hydrated, and keep an eye out for worrisome symptoms that may need to be evaluated by a healthcare professional. Common symptoms include fever, dry cough, headache, and loss of taste and smell. But if your loved one develops shortness of breath, persistent high fever (greater than 102 degrees), or severe fatigue, it may be worth talking to a healthcare provider, possibly via telehealth. Need to order a thermometer? Click here for one from Walmart.
If your loved one has any of the following symptoms, seek immediate medical attention:
- Chest pressure or pain.
- New or uncommon confusion.
- A slight blue coloring of the lips or face.
- Difficulty breathing.
What to do if your loved one is admitted to the hospital
If your loved one has to be hospitalized for COVID-19, this can be an especially hard time. You may not be allowed to visit them due to visitation restrictions related to the virus. While this can be scary, know that you can still be an advocate for your loved one and that it is important that you get your questions answered. Pack Health Clinical Director Dr. Vipul Shah, who is a practicing ICU physician, has the following tips:
- Make sure you let the nurses know that you are the primary person they should call to give updates. Give them working phone numbers, set up a regular time you will call for an update, and designate a single person as the point of contact for the whole family.
- Know who the primary doctor caring for your loved one is — oftentimes the “admitting physician” — and set up a time for a regular update from their team if you feel you need one beyond what the nurses can give.
- Ask if the hospital has a way to connect you to your loved one via video chat so you can see them.
- Be sure to know who your loved one’s case manager is to help with setting up any discharge needs.
- Have any paperwork ready related to being a healthcare proxy, as well as any advance directives or living wills that are available in the event that your loved one is unable to make decisions for themselves.
How to talk about the tough stuff
Discussing advance directives, also called “living wills,” can be tough for a lot of people, but this pandemic is giving all of us the opportunity to think about what we value and what is important to us. Unfortunately, some of us may be asked to make serious decisions about the care of a loved one, even someone who isn’t elderly or usually suffering from medical problems. A clear understanding of what they value and what they would want if they can’t speak for themselves can be a gift to you if asked to serve as their surrogate.
We have a couple of excellent resources, including the 5 Wishes document (which can be legally binding) as well as “Notes to My Family” from the Hospice Foundation (not legally binding but a comprehensive resource) that can serve as a framework for talking about these important issues.
In between caring for someone and keeping them safe, you’ll want to make sure you’re prioritizing your own physical and mental health. Here are a few tips from our oncology writer Sharon Worcester on how to prioritize your mental health. She’ll help you filter truth from fiction in the news, and give you tips to boost your immunity and stay connected to other family members and friends.
This time is tough. Go easy on yourself and show yourself grace when it’s needed. You’ve got this, and we’re here for you.