How Can I Help?

George MacKay IMG_1687We often ask “How can I help?” when someone we’re close to—a relative, friend or neighbor—loses someone to a death, or is burdened with caring for a convalescent or terminally ill loved one. How can we help?

We ask this with sincerity, but people burdened with caring for a loved one are often so overwhelmed they cannot concentrate on what other people could do for them. On the other hand, some of us find it difficult to ask for help. We don’t want to impose, or can’t even imagine what someone else might do to ease our burden.

Instead of asking what you can do, think about what you can do, then do it. Right now.
Here are a few ideas:

Fix a meal. This is a huge time and expense saver for the person responsible for feeding a family.

Prepare a goody bag for those waiting at the hospital. Those in all-night or all-day vigils hesitate to leave to go to a hospital cafeteria (if there is one). A selection of sandwiches, crackers and cheese, cut up vegetables, nuts, apples, bottled juices, and even a thermos of coffee is a welcome and healthful treat, and beats eating junk from a dispensing machine.

Consider a gift card. It’s expensive to have a family member in the hospital. Consider giving the caregiver a prepaid gas or parking card. It’s not only the money, but the thought that means so much to a stressed family member.

Find a helpful job. Look around and see what you can do to make a grieving family’s life easier. I once read of a neighbor wanting to help a family who had just lost a beloved relative and were preparing for a cross-country flight to attend the funeral. The neighbor took his shoe-shine kit to their house and said, “Bring me all the shoes that you’ll be taking.” He shined five pairs of shoes, filling a real need while at the same time showing his love and concern.

Maybe mowing a lawn would help, cleaning a house, or making a needed repair. Washing windows could be a blessing for someone short on time or energy.

Fill an urgent need.  A friend of mine took on the care of an adult son who was suddenly a quadriplegic after a diving accident. Her brothers stepped in to build a wheelchair ramp, redesign the bathroom and adjust doorways to accommodate a large wheelchair. This resulted in huge savings, but even more important, gave emotional support when it meant the most.

Offer to babysit or adult-sit. People can only be in one place at a time and it’s stressful to be concerned about children or an elderly parent at home while being needed at a hospital. If it’s too much for one person, organize a team who will take turns taking care of the child or person in need of attention at home.

Give a caregiver a break. Offer to stay with the patient for a few hours or overnight while the caregiver attends to her own needs, or just takes some time off. Everyone needs time to themself and this break can go a long way toward giving needed relief.

Offer transportation. Getting to a hospital or health center can be daunting to someone who doesn’t drive. Offer to drive, perhaps setting up a schedule so you can be counted on. If the frequency is too much for you, organize a team to provide transportation on a regular basis.

Give them a reason to laugh. Laughter is healing and relieves stress. Reminisce with a grieving or burdened person, recalling the good times, the funny times. Laughter also helps to bring life into perspective.

Express appreciation. Let the family know how much the patient has been admired and what good things he or she accomplished. It’s comforting to a family losing a beloved member to know how much that person meant to others. After my father’s sudden death, I delivered a promised set of tellers’ floor mats to a bank, a long-standing customer of my father’s. After the workmen unloaded the items from my car, they gathered around and told me how much they had admired my father, his steady good work, and his wonderful sense of humor, even telling me some of the funny things he had said. Of course, it brought fresh tears to my eyes, but I’ve always been grateful and touched that they shared those feelings with me.

Keep the family in your prayers and thoughts. No matter what the family’s or your religious affiliation, offer your prayers, or concerns and thoughts if that’s more appropriate. Letting someone know you’re praying for them, or thinking about them, offers moral support. Illness can be a lonely battle and it’s comforting to know others are rooting for you.

Whatever you do, be assured that you’ll be giving a grieving or anxious family a lift that will touch their hearts. Knowing that other people care helps lighten a difficult burden.

Take Winter by Storm

Damage from the Columbus Day Storm of 1962 in Newberg, Oregon Courtesy:  Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Fifty years ago, the Northwest suffered a deadly windstorm, named Columbus Day Storm of 1962. The storm was the strongest non-tropical windstorm in American history ever to hit the lower 48 states. Winds peaked at 150 mph along the Oregon and Washington coasts, with gusts of more than 100 mph in many parts of the Western Washington interior.

Hopefully, we’re more prepared today than we were then, but our world has changed in the last fifty years presenting new challenges. In today’s high-tech society, we rely on electrical power to conduct every day business. In stormy conditions, it’s entirely possible that we’ll have to do without modern conveniences for a matter of days. We can do much to minimize the impact of storms, earthquakes and man-made disasters.

Make a Plan Everyone, including kids, should have a plan for how they will communicate during an emergency and where they will meet family members if separated. Here are suggestions for family communication during disaster:

– Establish an out-of-area contact. This person would receive calls from various family members, letting callers know the status of the others.
– Be aware that texting may still work even if phone calls can’t go through.
– Telephone land lines may work. Surprisingly, long-distance calls will often go through even where local calls cannot.
– Establish a nearby meeting place where members will meet if it’s unsafe to go home.

Build a Kit Have on hand basic supplies, enough for your family for a minimum of five days. Include:

– Nonperishable ready-to-eat food
– One gallon water per day per person
– Medications and hygiene items
– Sturdy shoes and warm clothing
– Blankets
– Radio and batteries so that you can be aware of local conditions
– Flashlights and extra batteries. Candles are NOT recommended because of fire hazard
– First aid kit
– A whistle
– Pet supplies

Get Involved Disasters are managed by people who have taken the time to work together and learn life-saving procedures.

– Know your neighbors. Discuss emergency procedures with them.
– Learn CPR and basic First Aid. These skills can make a difference between life and death.
– Volunteer with community disaster programs. The American Red Cross offers training and resources as do local emergency response teams.
–Attend community events that discuss emergency preparedness.

We can’t stop disasters, but we can take realistic steps to survive them. By being prepared, we can not only protect people and property, we can have peace of mind knowing we’ve taken positive steps to protect ourselves from disasters.

Reference: “Be Prepared for Severe Weather,” Lynne Miller, King County Office of Emergency Management

Photo Credit: Damage from the Columbus Day Storm of 1962 in Newberg, Oregon Courtesy Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Obesity: It’s Time to Act

It’s a national problem. Look around and you’ll find obese and overweight people outnumbering the healthy and fit.

The statistics are grim. About 34 percent of kids 2 to19 years old in the U.S. are obese or overweight. One third of adults are obese, another third overweight.

What’s the difference between obese and overweight? Overweight means a body exceeds the recommended weight for height and bone structure. Generally, obesity in adults means 100 pounds over their recommended weight. Childhood obesity occurs when a child is well above the normal weight for his age and height.

A serious problem with childhood obesity is that it puts the child on the path of adult obesity and introduces associated diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Childhood obesity can also lead to poor self-esteem and depression.

Genes play a role, but DNA in humans has not changed in the last generation. The American lifestyle and eating habits have changed.

What can be done? How can we reverse this trend? Adults need to take the lead, not only to promote a healthy lifestyle for themselves, but for their children as well.

Following are ideas to embrace a healthy lifestyle:

– Think in terms of a healthy life style, rather than the negatively perceived “losing weight.” Do not restrict food, instead have a variety of healthy foods available. Avoid labeling foods “good” and “bad,” but rather emphasize that protein and calcium will give strength in sports performance. Fresh fruits and vegetables will give luster to skin and hair. Walking and/or running will make your legs shapely.

– Kids, and adults, will eat what’s in the pantry and refrigerator. Stock only healthy foods. Keep a bowl of fruit handy on the kitchen counter. A parent’s example is stronger than anything you can tell a child. Don’t expect a child to reach for an apple when he sees a parent munching on potato chips.

– Make meals count. Eat at the dinner table, not in front of the TV or in the car. Be mindful of what you eat. Make family dinners a pleasant event and a time for sharing thoughts. Prepare dinner plates in the kitchen to ensure balanced meals. After everything on the plate is eaten, allow second helpings of favorites. Serve the family’s favorite fruits and vegetables more frequently, giving everyone a say in what is served.

– Health experts suggest covering half the plate with fruits and vegetables. Fresh fruits and vegetables will satisfy appetites better than snack foods.

– Educate the family on healthy food. A diet soft drink isn’t a healthy choice, even if it has fewer calories. Praise family members and friends when you see they make healthy choices.

– Don’t use food as a reward. Instead reward yourself and your children with some fun time out that involves physical activity.

– Become physically active. Walk, play ball, swim, join a health club. Try to do something physical for at least an hour a day. Children should spend even more time with physical activity. Limit time in front of a TV, computer or cell phone.

As a nation, we must act on this unhealthy overweight epidemic. I often see people buying cases of soft drinks, giant packages of chips, super sized bags of candy. This trend must stop or we’ll have a nation crippled by our eating habits. Change won’t happen overnight, but it’s imperative we start NOW.

Book Review: My Stroke of Insight

Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D., a Harvard-trained brain scientist, woke up one morning with a sharp pain behind her left eye. She tried to continue with her morning routine, but one by one, her left brain lost its functions. Like dominoes, she lost the ability to walk normally, talk, read, write, or recall any of her life. In My Stroke of Insight (A Plume Book), Dr. Taylor describes her thoughts and progressively limiting reactions as she realized she was having a stroke.

Although her right hemispheric brain worked correctly, it was limited in what it could perceive from the non-functioning left brain. Dr. Taylor knew she needed help, but she no longer had the capability to figure out how to get it. Calling 9-1-1 did not occur to her. She did think of calling a doctor. She had gone to a particular doctor for the first time six months prior. Although she couldn’t remember the doctor’s name, she did remember the design, a right brain perception, on the doctor’s business card. Knowing it was imperative she receive help quickly, she clumsily pawed through her stack of business cards until she found the correct one. But then she found she could not discern numbers, she only saw unidentifiable squiggles. She painstakingly matched the squiggles on the card with those on the phone pad and managed to dial the number. Much to her dismay, when the doctor’s office answered, her voice came out garbled and she could not be understood. She then called a co-worker, after finally remembering the telephone number at work because it sounded like a rhyming jingle, again a right brain activity. When her colleague answered, he recognized the sound of her voice, even though he couldn’t understand the words. He immediately came to her assistance.

Diagnosis at the hospital revealed that Dr. Taylor had suffered a severe hemorrhage in the left hemisphere of her brain, caused by an undiagnosed AVM (arteriovenous malformation). AVM’s normally occur in people 25 – 45 years of age; Dr. Taylor was 37. She later described herself on the morning of the stroke so disabled she was like an infant in a woman’s body. She had surgery to remove a golf-ball sized blood clot and to remove excess blood from the left brain.

Dr. Taylor praises her mother who came to stay with her daughter in the initial months of recovery. Dr. Taylor had to learn everything from scratch: how to walk, talk, eat, read, write, dress herself. Learning to read again was the hardest and took years. In all, it was eight years before Dr. Taylor fully recovered from the stroke.

Recovery was a decision Dr. Taylor had to make “a million times a day.” The right brain was perfectly content to let matters float along in space, dwelling in a sort of “ecstatic bliss.” She knew the grueling work ahead of her if she chose the chaos of recovery. She had to constantly reaffirm that she was willing to go through that agony.

One of the important aspects of this book are the steps and influences necessary for others to observe in order to facilitate healing of a stroke or brain-injury patient. The author explains in detail what these steps are, such as needing people to treat her as though she would recover completely, or for people to offer only multiple-choice options and never ask yes/no questions.

As a brain scientist, Dr. Taylor’s explanation of how the brain perceives information gave me valuable insight. She goes into some detail as to the left brain (what you think) and right brain (what you feel) functions. She also discusses the conscious choices we make that affect ourselves and how we relate to others. The book offers inspiring testimony that inner peace is accessible to anyone. Much of the nature of these insights are not only useful to stroke or brain injury victims, but to those of us simply living our lives.

My Stoke of Insight offers tangible instructions useful for diagnosis and treatment of stroke. Dr. Taylor’s Warning Signs of Stroke are a valuable resource:

Warning Signs of Stroke

S – Speech, or any problems with language
T – Tingling, or any numbness in the body
R – Remember, or any problems with memory
O – Off Balance, problems with coordination
K – Killer headache
E – Eyes, or any problems with vision

STROKE is a medical emergency. Call 9-1-1

In addition, two appendices in the back provide valuable information. In Appendix A, “Recommendation for Recovery,” she lists ten assessment questions. In Appendix B she identifies “Forty Things I Needed Most to Recover.”

My Stroke of Insight provides valuable information about the human brain and particularly how it is affected by stroke. More than that, it gives us an opportunity to reevaluate our own lives and become aware of the choices we are capable of making.